Gustav Klimt – Creative Minds Art History Project

I got a bit behind on sharing my projects, but have now caught the awful Fall cold that is going around, so no better time than the present to sit and type with a hot cup of tea at my side. Gustav Klimt’s work, like that of the earlier covered Van Gogh, is one of those bodies of historical work that is recognizable even by non-artists because of his unique style that has been made readily available in print form to this day, and is appropriated and referenced constantly in new art. Though I’ve never experienced an emotional connection to his work, I love the use of metallics and vivid, overwhelming detail of his pieces as well as the merging of both realistic and painterly elements.

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Klimt began as a decorative painter under the belief that art’s true purpose was to show viewers something beautiful, and got his start painting murals on the walls and stairways of lavish, wealthy homes. His personal work was charged with an eroticism that was not present in art at that time, and it earned him a good deal of disdain but he remained committed to depicting the beauty of the world as he saw it. His pieces have resonated and stood the test of time, enough that virtual immersive experiences of his work were made available this year in Paris and Austria.

Not all of his work is sensual in nature or contains nudity, and there are plenty of other examples to show as inspiration if you are doing this project with younger audiences.

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Klimt’s work incorporated figures and portraits, but learning how to draw faces and the human body properly is a whole semester of lessons within itself! To make a Klimt project that was accessible to all skill levels, fun, experimental, and stress free, we used collage. Some of Klimt’s portrait work does remind me of a very early form of fashion editorials, so we cut out models and celebrities from Elle and Vogue magazines to become the subjects in our Klimt inspired artworks.

Students were then encouraged to place their magazine cutout where they wanted it on the page, and trace around it with pencil to save the space. I recommend gluing the magazine cutout on last so it doesn’t accidentally get smeared with paint. After outlining, students could add on and sketch the outfit of their dreams with pencil. Once the basic outline was complete, students filled in the background and clothing in different shades of metallic paint first, and then could add detail overtop with pattern. As I’ve mentioned before, I work with a lot of adults with disabilities and seniors in my art program. Painting small patterns with a brush can be hard for some depending on their dexterity level so we made this project more accessible by also introducing the use of ink stamps for those who were struggling with fine motor skill. Innovation can lead to some simply amazing results, as can be seen by the work-in-progress above! Be sure to check back soon for more artist-inspired project ideas!

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Be My Eyes

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This newly finished mixed media piece, titled “Be My Eyes”, continues along a similar theme to my last piece. I love how it turned out, but I must admit this is one of the first works in awhile that was not buckets of fun throughout the entire process. I’m lucky in that I don’t get incredibly angry with my art much anymore. Like any relationship, if things aren’t working, I can say hey, I think we need to give each other some personal space, and leave it alone for awhile and work on something else. However, this one had a quickly approaching deadline for an all-area Michigan show I wanted to enter it into, so I didn’t have that luxury. It may be freaking gorgeous, but filling in all those detailed little butterflies was a chore. Like, I almost considered taking a break from working on art at one point to go clean my kitchen – that’s how bad it was. Cleaning my kitchen was a reprieve. What’s that about blood, sweat, and tears?

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After doing the basic outline lightly in pencil, I started filling in the figure from the top down. I broke my own guideline that I always give my students about starting with the background first, mainly because to be absolutely honest, I had no clue what to do with the background yet. The hair was so swirly, and fun, and free, and so the opposite of those technical, detailed little insects. I used prismacolor pencil for the face and skin, watercolor for everything else. I made some commitment to a background by dripping orange, gold, and magenta watercolor over it – similar colors to what were used in the hair. After this, my work of art temporarily looked like a 70s album cover. The photos don’t do it justice, the colors were BRIGHT.

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After that, I went back to ignoring the background because I still had no idea what to do with it, and finished the central figure. Rules in art really are just suggestions ;). I had known from the beginning that this piece required metallic gold somewhere, and the background now seemed just the place to put it. Huzzah to dulling all those bright Barbie Dreamhouse colors! I needed to break it up with some texture, so I used a crumpled paper towel to apply the first layer of gold, but it just didn’t do it. It was reminding me of a faux finish accent wall circa 1995. In a surprisingly impulsive move (Even in art, I am so not an impulsive person.), I squirted gobs of paint right on the background, and used a toothpick to marble the colors together. I have the technique down because of how many times I’ve made these nutella brownies. Seriously, same technique to marble the nutella and peanut butter. To lighten this now very dark background (Art is always such a Goldilocks situation.), I used white watercolor and added designs of blown up butterfly wing patterns over top. The finishing touch was the gluing the bunched lace over the dress, and voila!

The reason I’ve included this 100% honest rendition of this piece’s birthing process (including the part about my background being inspired by delicious baked goods) is because I’ve learned one thing from all the different students I work with, and it is this: They think artists always know what they are doing, have an exact plan in their head, and that their piece turns out just precisely how they imagined it in the end, and that real artists never get stuck or doubt what they are doing. This is absolutely not true. Everyone’s art looks completely wonky until it is all the way finished. It’s part of the process. When art is in progress, it’s awkward looking, we don’t always know what we are going to do next, and we don’t always enjoy every single step of the process. And that’s ok. If your art is easy, you probably aren’t pushing yourself enough, or being as creative as you could be.

I haven’t talked much about the meaning behind this piece, because I want to hear what you think. This image could definitely be open to innumerable interpretations, and that is one of the most fun things. What does it say to you?

New Work Reveal – On My Mind

My new piece ended up coming together rather quickly. I’m guessing it was due to a combination of the sudden dismal weather over the last couple days and also on and off feeling like I was coming down with something and being low on energy over the last week or so. Neither of these occurrences are fun, but they did force me to have lots of sit-down, indoor time when not at work which certainly upped my art production. Like the last conceptual portrait I did, I wanted this piece to be mixed media so I could use the artistic medium best suited for each part of the composition. I ended up using prismacolor pencil for the portrait, acrylic for the space scene, watercolor for the background, and fabric for her dress – the star print was just too perfect. I added some embroidery detail around the figure at the end to finish it off and really highlight the figure and bring her into focus despite her subtle, lighter tones. I found the inspiration photo first, and then built from there. I love finding interesting bits and pieces of inspiration in the unexpected. One wouldn’t expect a piece of art to spring from a blurred antique photo with poor lighting of a girl holding her head sulking as if she has a headache. But, I saw that photo and instantly thought of a heaviness or vastness she must be holding inside her mind. Hence, the universe concept. I wanted to add art nouveau detailing because I’ve never done an art nouveau inspired piece, and it is truly one of if not THE absolute favorite design period of mine. I knew the iconic swirling, rounded patterns would be perfect to compliment the outer space motif. I’ve actually been remembering to take progress photos to some extent. I’ll get the hang of this blogging thing yet ;).

Initial portrait shading finished, and just filled in the space scene with acrylic.

Initial portrait shading finished, and just filled in the space scene with acrylic.

Adding the art nouveau detailing by filling in the pencil outline with metallic gold acrylic.

Adding the art nouveau detailing by filling in the pencil outline with metallic gold acrylic.

Darkened some of the shading on the figure to balance the dark areas of deep space and the moon phases pattern, and added layers of metallic watercolor to the background. Also detailed some constellations over the watercolor.

Darkened some of the shading on the figure to balance the dark areas of deep space and the moon phases pattern, and added layers of metallic watercolor to the background. Also detailed some constellations over the watercolor.

More layers of watercolor, the final embroidery design around the figure, and voila!

More layers of watercolor, the final embroidery design around the figure, and voila!