Art That Celebrates Life

Let’s be honest guys, the world is a mess right now. The world is not without hope, not without flashes of brightness, joy, and kindness, but we must admit situations could be better. Our world has a lot of problems; I would argue not any more problems than it has had in the past, just new and different problems that come with a changing world. It makes sense that with all the doom and gloom in the news day in and day out, it is easy for people to get overwhelmed. Unable to deal in their own mind with all the issues being plummeted towards them at once, they develop a sort of tunnel vision. With tunnel vision towards one particular issue, we get the culture wars, two sides so obsessed with one particular facet of our society that they are dissatisfied with that everything else, all the other big, important things that also need our help and attention, fall by the sidelines in favor of childish bickering. One of the worst examples of tunnel vision I’ve seen is the right to life debates.

Comedian and social critic George Carlin said of members of the pro-life movement in a well known monologue, Pro-Life, Abortion, and And The Sanctity of Life, “They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re f*****.” 

That may be hard to hear, and no, I’m sure it doesn’t ring true of every pro-life supporter out there. But unfortunately, most individuals that tout a pro-life belief are deeply lacking in a holistic advocacy for all of life. This can be seen clearly in this past election, which I know everyone is sick to death of hearing about, but it is important. The number one reason I have heard for why individuals didn’t vote for Hilary Clinton was her stance on abortion. Now, I am by no means a ride or die Hilary fan. Both candidates had issues, it is which had more that was a matter of personal opinion. However, think about this: people were saying they can’t vote for Hilary because she is a “murderer” based on her belief that the government should not outlaw abortion, though she personally believes it is a morally complicated issue. However, the alternative candidate’s first course of action that he just can’t wait to get started on as our new chief is to yank away the ACA, a provision that has allowed people with life threatening conditions and chronic or mental illness to be able to afford the care they need to, quite simply, not die. It was not perfect, but its impact was still not to be downplayed, as you can see from the many personal stories on Faces Of The ACA, a website started by a woman who credits surviving cancer to the Affordable Care Act.  As someone who works with individuals with disabilities and chronic illness, it is heartbreaking to see the people I care about fearing for their life and their future. Our new VP advocates for the psychological and at times even physical torture of LGBT youth in an effort to “change” them, often leading to eventual suicidal acts. But wait, with this option we were supposed to have “chosen life”. Many people knew of these concerns beforehand, and just couldn’t find it in themselves to care. This is the danger of tunnel vision.

Catholic nun Sister Joan Chittister‘s words have famously made their rounds in the media over this past year, “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

I wonder if we don’t focus on unborn babies because it is easier and less messy to care about someone who doesn’t exist yet, rather than the people who we already cross paths with in our day or hear about in the news, but who may be different from us, may be hard to understand, may make us uncomfortable, may have cultures or views or lifestyles that are different from ours.

Art speaks, so below, I would like to share a selection of impactful art that celebrates all life. I’m not telling anyone they have to stop caring about the things that they do; you have the right to your beliefs just as I do mine. However, I’d ask that you make an honest effort to open your scope and act on what you see, because there are so many who have already been thrust into life on this earth that need your help and support.

Illustrator Cloudy Thurstag – A beautiful visual reminder of the value of self care, important for everyone but especially relevant to those suffering with chronic or mental illness.

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Model Yazemeenah Rossi –  Because beauty, confidence, and poise doesn’t have an age limit.

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Stencil Artists Icy and Sot” using public art to envision a world freed from borders, war and gun violence.”

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Dancer Mary Verdi-Fletcher – There is more than one way to dance; innovation has no limits.

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Artist Joel Bergner in Collaboration With Syrian Refugee Children In The Za’Atari Camp In Jordan – Exploring conflict, dreams, fear, conservation, generosity, and hope together through art.

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If you have thoughts, feel free to share. Deep discussion can be quite a rush :D.

 

 

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Art Discussion: New Year’s Resolutions

I have to admit, I never make New Year’s resolutions; partly because if you are truly dissatisfied with something, it seems silly to arbitrarily wait until the turning of the calendar to fix it. In part also because we all tend to set the same goals, those goals that we know everyone else is setting so we can easier relate to those around us as we share that we want to find our soulmate, get a promotion, or lose weight, and we can all laugh together about how we probably won’t actually do anything to work towards most of those things. But, what would happen if we committed to doing one thing that we were truly passionate about in this new year, one thing that we didn’t over analyze to death, asking ourselves, Should I want this? Is it too silly? Too shallow? Too lofty? Too weird? No one would understand anyway … 

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During my senior year of college 7 years ago (Whoa! 7 is a big number.), I entered an art book into the Annual Student Exhibition at Central Michigan University. I asked a sampling of the people I encountered in a day, some I knew well and some I did not, to think of a couple of experiences they would like to have before their life was over, and pick the most obscure one to share with me. I chose 35 different submissions to illustrate, and Underneath was  born. This was my first experiment with creating art based on collected personal stories, something I would use to create many more projects in the future. I also ended up winning the Grand Award for this piece, which was the first time I’d ever won anything for my art aside from a coloring contest in 4th grade, and not a bad way to exit my college career ;).


As annoying as it may be that the first thing anyone asks when meeting someone for the first time after “What’s your name?” is, “So what do you do?”, we kind of are what we do. This doesn’t have to mean our day jobs, or even be workplace related at all. What we do with each day is a choice, and it is these choices that reflect what we value and shape who we will become. True goals can give immense insight into each individual’s unique personality, drive, and psyche. That is why I so enjoyed sifting through the responses I received for this project.

I was reminded of Underneath recently for an unfortunate reason. The young woman who 7 years ago submitted the far right response above took her own life in a murder-suicide earlier this month. She attended my high school, but our school was so large growing up there were tons of people who walked in graduation with me that I felt like I’d never laid eyes on my whole four years there. I never knew her well, but our paths did cross and I remembered her submission deeply affecting me back then, as the news of what occurred deeply saddened me now. A couple of my good friends had had classes and clubs with her, some even keeping up over the years at least through texting and facebook, and the news hit them even harder.

This may not be a typical resolution, but something to be mindful of in the new year is this: we do not know everyone else’s story. We have no clue about everything the people we run into in our day to day life may be going through. People learn to adapt, and to act, and to portray themselves in person, at work, and in social media as how they want others to see them. I know I do it; I think we all do to a point. I have always been fascinated with the dichotomy between individual’s alone personas versus their public personas. It is a concept that is interesting to explore. It can also be a concept that is dangerous, because it can prevent people from reaching out who need help. If you make one resolution (aside from foregoing all convention and chasing your oddest dream / within reason and lawfulness, of course), resolve to be transparent and authentic, and resolve to be someone who is willing to make that reach when someone needs support either in the form of just a listening ear or otherwise. Christmas falling on a Sunday, I attended the Christmas morning church service at MFMC with my family this year. We spoke about how there is the whole Christmas story which most of us, churchgoers or not, have known since childhood. But, we all have stories, and our story, how we live and interact, can change someone else’s story for the better if we allow it to happen. We have nothing to lose for trying.

To see the rest of my art book in order, visit the album on my website.

Art Discussion : Deliverance

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I have always thought of doing an art discussion post on this particular piece. Whenever I show it, everyone wants to know the story behind it as the fact that there is a symbolic visual narrative is clearer in this piece than in many of my others. Still, I have been putting it off for quite some time because explaining the concept behind this piece is very personal and would involve being really freaking transparent, so hold onto your hats. (I’m actually a big fan of transparency, but it usually manifests itself in the form of out-bursting deeply personal information in a sort of accidental social vomit, not neatly typing my feelings out for the world to see.)

This painting is a prayer.


When I started this piece, I was newly graduated from college and had been back to living in my childhood home for awhile afterward, which was super uncomfortable. I’m sorry, no matter how much you love your family it just is, unless said family adopts a sort of chill,  we are mutual adults living together almost like roommates sort of attitude, which nearly never happens.

I’d just finished training for a new job in sales that I already knew I was going to hate. Approaching tons of random people I don’t know all day and having to make forced conversation until they buy something? I might as well just get into the fetal position now for efficiency’s sake. The month long training involved driving 3 hours away and staying in a hotel with all the other trainees, and everyone was either horrifyingly mean and offensive or overtly sexually creepy. On more than one occasion, I finished a bottle of wine by myself sitting alone in my hotel room and I’m not a huge drinker. Not by any means advisable, but I honestly could not conceive of getting through this sordid affair without self medicating no matter how physically and mentally unhealthy. I’d had anxiety so bad 2 years before during my junior year of college that I had actually experienced brief hallucinations brought on by stress. I was not looking to have that be a repeat experience.

Even before I had embarked on my ill-fated new job, my emotions had been cycling out of control. I felt like my body was constantly sending off fight or flight signals, releasing chemicals that triggered the feeling that I was about to be chased by a tiger, except nothing was actually wrong. I would be elated and laughing and feeling creative and motivated one minute, and then suddenly this deep sense of dread like the sky was filled with pianos tied up on ropes that were about to all drop down on my head like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would shake me to my core. I’d always been someone who felt BIG. When I feel joy, it’s intense and when I feel despair, it’s intense. I like to think it’s worth it for the times of joy, where the littlest thing can make me jump up and down like a little kid. A lot of people use that sense of celebration in the smallest details of life as they get older.

The first time I heard this song by one of my favorite artists, these lyrics really resonated with me because I think one of my biggest fears is people who never express their emotions. It’s just so foreign to me.

…But I would kill to make you feel
I’d kill to move your face an inch
I see you staring into space
I wanna stick my fist into your mouth
And twist your Arctic heart

The rapid up and down thing I was going through was something different, however. I’d always been in control of my mind and I felt like I wasn’t anymore. For someone who really likes to be in control of absolutely everything at all times, it was terrifying (I make itineraries for day trips even if I’m only traveling 20 minutes out of town. Excel spreadsheet lists are my best friends. Change plans on me at the last minute? Not unless you have a death wish. Just to give you a bit of insight…) It was also exhausting because the thing is, when your mind keeps sliding into that fight or flight state you actually feel as if you’ve just been in an extremely stressful and dangerous situation whether anything has happened or not. The fatigue is the same.

Another thing you may or may not know about me is that I am a Christian, albeit a Christian who has never felt very at home in the ofttimes bizarre sort of bubble of Christian culture (I swear people must have been able to sense it, because youth group was terrible. Maybe they could smell it like dogs smell fear.). This is mainly because it has always felt very exclusive, and also because being a female puts me in a sort of precarious situation with religion in general. It’s why the subject of “Women and Religion” actually has an entire college course of study devoted to it. Organized religion of any belief system tends to not be too kind to the ladies. (If I actually behaved how those super conservative “complementarian” advice articles advised that I do to be a “Godly woman”, never expressing a damn thought without asking “What do you think honey?” first, my current boyfriend would toss me off of our balcony. Or have me committed, one or the other. I found a keeper ;).) Basically, they just don’t seem to leave a lot of room for people actually being created with variation, people’s brains, hearts, and minds each working a little differently from the other. Luckily, Jesus doesn’t need you to be a robot that copies what everyone else in his bandwagon thinks, and He doesn’t need you to join any super special cool kids club. Also, despite how people like to twist religious truths to allow them to control others, he actually validated and lifted women up in contrast to society at the time. Don’t believe me? Some discussions on this issue can be found on God’s Word to Women, Sojourners, and a great interview on Christianity Today with one of my favorite christian writers, Sarah Bessey.

This is the first overtly faith based piece I’ve ever created, though my faith, my beliefs, and my passions inadvertently end up in all of my work in bits and pieces. I was obviously at a breaking point, and I was reluctantly praying about my struggle. I really didn’t even want to, because to be honest, I was frustrated, and I was pissed off. This was not what adult life was supposed to be like. I wasn’t supposed to still be dealing with this crap; I wasn’t supposed to still feel anxious and lost and overwhelmed; I wasn’t supposed to still feel like an outsider no matter where I put myself. Since drawing helps me focus and communicate my thoughts, I decided to draw my prayer.

Dealing with intense anxiety cages you. You aren’t able to function as your normal self, or even interact with others in the same way because every ounce of your energy goes into self care and basically trying to not feel like garbage all the time. This painting is a right to left narrative. A death version of the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks are embedded into this girl’s torso near the location of where her heart would normally rest. Hands are coming up from behind her and touching her shoulder in an act of comfort, you are not alone. The hands represent God, but they are not passive like a pat on the back or a “there there, everything will be ok”. They are active and forceful, saying “No, I will not let you continue to suffer.” A suffocating darkness creeps up from below. In the next part of the narrative, those same hands are breaking the mask in two, and out of the center, though still tangled, falls the girl; her true inner self, out of the cage. She is holding a watering can. In the final part on the far right, she is fully escaped from the prison inside the mask and water flows from the watering can she is holding, while silhouettes of human figures with flowers at their hearts stand in it’s spray. She is “watering” their souls, symbolized by the flowers.

When we go through tough things, we can use our experiences to better connect with and support others. No, that doesn’t mean the trials we go through are “good” (Seriously, “everything happens for a reason” has to be my least favorite platitude, and I really, really hate platitudes), but it means we can use something that was bad for good later on. Because of the struggles with anxiety I have experienced, I am able to better relate to a lot of my Artshop students and their mental health struggles which are oftentimes far more severe than what I have dealt with. I am better able to help them when they are going through a panic attack situation, better able to understand why on some days it bothers them to have a lot of noise during class when they are already on edge, better able to understand and empathize with the fact that they were fine an hour ago, and now are very upset even though nothing tangible has changed. I am able to be someone who says, “I hear you. Your feelings are legitimate. And you are not alone”.

A week or so passed afterward, and I ceased experiencing the out of the ordinary, rapid ups and downs.

No, my anxiety has not magically “poof!” disappeared, but over time  I have become far better at managing it and breaking out of its cage using a variety of learned techniques. For some, engaging in their faith and educating themselves on emotional management techniques isn’t enough and they may need to additionally seek counseling or medication. Everyone is different, and there should be no judgement.

Also, everyone should read this post about high functioning anxiety. I have never been able to articulate an experience so well, and it is a must read for all in my opinion, because I do not think this experience is uncommon. I think people just are apprehensive, like I was, to talk about it. I guarantee someone in your life right now needs you to know this.

What are some things you do to recenter yourself when everything around you feels out of control?

 

1 Year At Artshop

So, I have that goofy little timehop app on my phone, and as I was checking it the other day a text popped up in the “1 Year Ago Today” section in which I was telling my boyfriend, “I have an interview scheduled for tomorrow!” It’s been almost a whole year already since I started at what is basically my dream job. I became interested in art programs geared towards individuals with disabilities and mental illness after picking up the book It’s Kind Of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini at the library (Before I knew it was also soon to be a movie. As always, the book’s better). The role that drawing his “brain maps” plays in the main character’s recovery as well as how he uses his drawings to bring joy to others was something that stirred immense inspiration within me. I knew I wanted to work with something like this, but all I could think was … crap. I just finished an interior design/art degree. I will not accept that I endured 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears to go into the wrong field. And … I tried to push the thought from my mind. After some weird forays at furniture stores and hardware stores being promised by prospective employers that I’d “really get to do a lot of designing!” yet ending up as more of a sales clerk, I received a mass email through the Midland Artists Guild mailing list calling for instructors for a new art program offering instruction to adults with physical and mental challenges at Creative 360. I had zero teaching experience at that point, but knew I could make art so decided to go for it since I needed a job. The rest is history. This post title isn’t quite accurate, as I’ve worked with Artshop as an instructor for 2-3ish years before becoming Artshop’s Program Coordinator, but it’s been 1 year as an “official” employee. This date a year ago was my interview, and even though I already knew everyone who I’d be talking to, I was freaking out. Artshop is truly such an important part of my life. Yes, it’s my job, but my students feel like friends and family. I want to share with my readers the first full year of my new adventure.
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December.

I was kind of eased into the job by happenstance because I officially started right around the holidays, which means there was a lot of fun activities going on and of course, parties. Basically, maximum events, minimal drudgery, and everyone was in a really good mood all the time :). The previous coordinator, who was quite an awesome lady herself, came back for a visit for our Christmas party.

 

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I know I’ve mentioned my Art Clash buddy Heather-Dawn Deogracia before (psst! She’s pretty much Midland famous with her recent front page story. Next – the world!). Our artistic styles are pretty in-sync so we’d always clicked, but I had the opportunity to get to know her even better as I was around Creative 360 more often. We started sharing drawings with each other and giving critiques from time to time, and currently we are even working on a collaboration together.

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February.

My dear friend Heather-Dawn again! When I started as coordinator, I was still teaching 3 of my previously 6 classes. With so many other things going on now I’m down to 1 fine arts class, and I do miss doing fun, crafty, pinterest-esque projects with students. A heart wreath made out of puzzle pieces covered in iridescent paint, what? I find myself sending other instructors lesson plans sometimes being like Do this! …. Or wait, I mean if you want, it is your class now but …. seriously do it. Luckily, most of them don’t see it as bossiness and actually appreciate the suggestions … at least I think ;).
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March.

One of the things I’ve always been passionate about is empowering artists to get their art out into the world through selling it to the public. It’s not about the money, it’s about having the confidence to say my work is worth something. We opened our Virtual Gallery on facebook, and had our first “live” art sale at Dollar Daze. The guy in the blue Artshop T-shirt is Doug. He is our top salesperson, no joke. Like, I should tip off my previous employer Art Van about giving him a job.

 

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April.

Our Artshop Redbubble Store is another opportunity to get students’ work out there. We sold a ton of these Easter cards. Look at that adorable pink bunny, how could we not?

 

 

may

 

May.

Everyone knows those wine and canvas or painting party things are all the rage and have been for quite some time. They’re super fun but can be pricey for those on a tight budget, and aren’t really structured for one-on-one assistance. I began teaching Creative Canvas Workshops for Artshop following the same format, and it has been a blast. The workshop in May was tiger day! What has been the coolest thing about these workshops is that a large number of participants often aren’t our usual Artshop students. There is a lot of research coming out now about the benefits of inclusive environments. I love getting together to paint with people of all abilities, and seeing how they encourage each others’ work and learn from each other.

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June.

Summer is the season of outdoor art fairs. This time, I got to be a vendor not a looker in setting up a booth with the students’ creations. The temperature was in the record highs. I was hot, I was tired, and I realized that for my own art I am only doing indoor art fairs around Christmas, if I ever do any for myself at all. Did I say I was hot and tired?

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July.

Another month, another art fair. The things you do for love … There’s Doug again! What did I tell you?

 

 

 

 

 

august

 

August.

This wonderful lady would come every Wednesday with a different animal she wanted to paint, and complete a piece start to finish without fail. Seeing what she would come up with next was seriously a highlight to my week. After the summer, she unfortunately had to move to an assisted living facility out of the area. Suffice to say we will all think of her for months and years to come. Her talent and cheerful spirit is simply amazing.

septemberSeptember.

The fall brought our long awaited showcase. Artshop students were able to show their work in a gallery setting along with pieces sent to us from VSA and Do-Art. There were also monologues, musical and choreographed dances performed. It was a celebration of joy, expression, and accomplishment.

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October.

What’s this? Another art fair! I asked for more opportunities for students to show their work, and I got it. This fair right at Creative 360 was nice because it was indoors and also students had the option of setting up their own table so they could be there with their work throughout the day. The variety and skill level of the handmade works shown was incredible, as was seeing the excitement and pride on students’ faces, many of whom had never had the opportunity to participate in something like this before.november

November.

All in all, I am so glad I get to spend my the majority of my day around people who bring things like this into the world … yes, it’s a fierce looking hot pink and lilac unicorn. Things aren’t always perfect, and there are days I’m frustrated and just want to stay home like any other job. But overall, I love what I do and not everyone can say that. I’m thankful that I can.

Adventure and Inspiration

Sometimes things get tough. Sometimes it seems to take every modicum of energy to perform the most minute of daily tasks, from getting dressed in the morning to remembering that you’re supposed to say hello to people as you walk into work at 9 am. Sometimes you can’t even detect why everything suddenly seems so hard.

September has been a tumultuous month, but it has also been a month filled with excitement and events, travel and possibility. These little adventures, no matter how minor, are most needed when you are tired, ready to give up, and just want to stay at home sitting on your couch playing Sims.

Creative 360 had been preparing for its Artshop, Do-Art, and VSA Exhibition and Showcase for over a year, and it finally came together in the beginning of this month. It was so amazing to see the students I, as Program Coordinator, along with our many gifted instructors, had worked with finally get to perform their music, dances, and monologues as well as display their beautiful artwork in a gallery setting. For many, it was their first time showing their art to anyone other than friends and family.

I had to “entertain” guests in between performances, a challenge because I don’t think I am an overly entertaining person except for when I am not meaning to be. However, I lived to tell the tale, and was told I said many wonderful things although after the fact I could not for the life of me remember what they were :P. When having to speak publicly I tend to enter a sort of fugue state. Luckily, it is a brilliant one. There were a few kerfuffles along the way, but the whole show really came together in the end. (Kerfuffle is one of my favorite words, as it can be used to describe such a wide variety of daily societal occurrences.)

Our special highlighted projects made a splash as well. We had a 3’x4′ canvas composed of 80 squares in which each student filled in a square or 2 with the media and subject matter of their choosing to create an expressive patchwork. If you like what you see, it’s available in print form in Artshop’s Redbubble Shop.

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Another project by artist Heather-Dawn Deogracia was another that expressed the unique personalities of the students taking part in our show. Heather-Dawn asked students to write down their favorite colors and something about themselves. She used this information to create blind contour drawings for each, resulting in a series of vibrant abstract portraits.

There was another opening shortly thereafter at Studio 23 in Bay City, MI for their All Area Michigan show. I got 3 of my pieces in; Be My Eyes, I’d Have Been Happier As A Bird, and Be My Wings; which needless to say was ridiculously exciting. I also got into the Midland Center For The Arts Greater Michigan Art Exhibition which I applied to the last 2 years and didn’t get in. I almost didn’t apply this year but last minute decided, what the heck. That just goes to show … never give up and all that good stuff ;).

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My last recent adventure was a trip to New Orleans with my boyfriend. The first adventurous moment of this trip was traveling with nothing but a “personal bag” and a carry on between the 2 of us. I like to be prepared for any possible occurrence (or “kerfuffle” if you will, there’s that word again!), so this was a struggle. I’m so type A I made an excel spreadsheet listing everything I needed to pack with accompanying check boxes.

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Literally everything was rainbow colored, and everywhere we went there was music playing. It was like having your own theme music as if you were a fictional TV character, so basically amazing. It was so weird to return at the end of the week to shades of brown and grey, and peace and quiet.

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There was this great band that played Sinatra and Louie Armstrong covers  we discovered on the first night that we revisited every night afterward until we left.

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I also got to see a Warhol painting in person. Even though he seems like he was kind of an ass and didn’t actually do his own work, I must admit it still felt awesome.

Next up, Art Prize 2016! Check back for my “Artists To Know” Art Prize 2016 Edition post, where I will share my top picks from the art I was able to see over the weekend.

 

 

Who’s Really Teaching Whom? Allise Tries Abstract!

One of my favorite things about working with Express Yourself Artshop is seeing all of the creative ideas our students come up with. A few of them create abstract work, some of them just now delving into it for the first time. I myself work most closely to a surreal, whimsical, dreamlike aesthetic, but I have never been able to go pure abstract. For all those out there who say “abstract art is so easy, it’s just splatters and shapes, anyone can do it!”, I challenge you to go home and try making a piece. Of course it’s easy to make crappy, half-assed abstract art, just as it is easy to do anything that you don’t put effort or thought into. Making good abstract art that actually looks dynamic and interesting and makes people stop in their tracks is not simple at all. I had dabbled in attempts in the past, and grew so frustrated I gave up on the whole idea of even trying.

Heather Deogracia is a fellow whimsy-addict when it comes to art, and has been in many of my Artshop classes at Creative 360. She has begun creating pen and ink abstracts within the last couple of years, and her illustrations have a ton of movement and always stand out in bold, contrasting colors.

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Find this design by Heather Deogracia on Redbubble!

Another student who is in the Artshop classroom nearly as often as I am, Colleen, has always had a great sense of color when painting with watercolors. Our painting instructor this semester prompted her to try an abstract piece and see how she liked the process. She reacted much like I did the first time I tried to create something nonrepresentational; quite apprehensive and not sure where to even begin. It’s hard to wrap your mind around creating texture, colors, and pattern without the “anchor” of a specific end goal, a plan that your picture will end up looking like a, b, or c when you are finished. With the instructor’s guidance, she ended up with this beautifully balanced, interesting piece.

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Find Colleen’s design on Redbubble!

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In fact, I liked the design so much, I couldn’t resist buying a travel mug from Artshop’s Redbubble Store. It’s so nice to be able to stare at 3 of my favorite colors while enjoying my morning coffee.

I use watercolors a lot, and after seeing how much fun it was for the students to play with bright colors, letting their paints blend and bleed and drip into each other, I had to try it at home despite my misgivings.

I ended up with two pieces that lo and behold, I am actually pretty happy with. The first is inspired by caves, gemstones, and geodes. I had a pretty well curated rock collection as a child, so maybe that is where the inspiration came from :). The second is a female figure fading into the dark background. I wanted to use a lot more contrast in both lights and darks and color for this one. In both pieces, I started with a basic background first, and then added the details over that under layer based on what I saw in the design, sort of like when you were a kid and used to lie on the ground staring up at cloud shapes, finding pictures in them.

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Cave of Wonders, 12×18 Watercolor, Ink, White Prismacolor Pencil, and Metallic Acrylic. Design available on Redbubble!

the power of invisibility

The Power of Invisibility, 12×18 Watercolor and Ink. Design available on Redbubble!

A last bit of Artshop news, our fundraiser last weekend was a success! Quite a few students sold some of their work, and we also received over $170 worth of donated art supplies – woohoo! Check out Express Yourself Artshop on instagram to see more photos of students’ artwork and what we are up to :).

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The Art of Surprising Oneself

As many of you may know, I have a love affair with redbubble. Of all the print on demand platforms I’ve tried, they seem the most user friendly, visually appealing, and reasonably priced. For the past couple months I’ve been collecting photographs of my Express Yourself Artshop students’ work in preparation of opening our own shop, and the time has finally come!

I actually went to school for interior design, and the former furniture salesperson in me is so psyched about these throw pillows, because a good looking pillow really makes or breaks a sofa (even though they end up thrown on the floor 99% of the time).

I’d recommend that anyone in arts education do this, whichever platform you end up choosing. Many of the students have made the same surprised comment to me, “Wow, I feel like a real artist now!” And many of us can relate to that feeling – I know I can. A piece of art almost doesn’t feel real until it’s shared with the world, no matter how big or small that “world” may be. A drawing or painting on a loose piece of paper is one thing, but when it is matted and framed or transformed into a print product, treated and presented like the work of art that it is, it can take the new artist aback at first – “you mean  really did that?” Whether an artist cares about making money off of their art or not, there is something to knowing that other people are seeing the images they have created, that people even want to take something the artist has created home with them so they can look at it every day! Some artists make art their business, some may donate their art to auctions or causes or give it away to people. Still, the art has a life, it is being touched and seen, not in hibernation in some dark basement or storage closet.

If you’d like to see more, please visit our new shop celebrating artists of all abilities, artists that continue to surprise themselves as they learn that yes, they definitely are real artists!