Welcome to the next part in my series using the past to delve into why I create what I do… I hope others find this interesting and entertaining, and I hope it helps readers reconnect with their past selves and realize how all of those different “us-es” had a part in creating who we are today, even those versions of us we don’t like to spend too much time with.
Though you wouldn’t know it from my own childhood attire, fashion was always a large part of my artwork and I loved imagining my own clothing designs (Note me designing Barbie clothes in our home office on Windows95. Note also, I was wearing unnecessary glasses with the lenses popped out for fashion far before mid-2000s hipsters existed.) I adored designing extravagant imaginary partywear, but was also awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. It took me awhile to ever give a thought to actually trying to look cool myself ;). Once I got into upper elementary school, I idolized the girls in Disney channel movies who rode dirt bikes and skateboards and never seemed to be afraid of what other people thought of them. I really just wanted to be a cool tomboy but I had no athletic ability whatsoever, and I did actually care a lot at that time about what other people were thinking about me, so … I wasn’t too sure what to do with that. It didn’t stop me from rocking a soccer uniform at Disney despite the fact I’d never touched a soccer ball in my life.
My parents always encouraged art and creativity, and come to find I created my first “mixed media” project with my mom, using cutouts from scrap fabric for dresses at age 4. As I got older, my designs became a bit more sophisticated and I even began naming the pieces in my collection with such enticing titles as “Wide Country Gown”, among others.
Around 15, I finally got a clue and started developing my own personal style which also filtered its way into my artwork. I got hooked on loud, unique, alternative fashion that had a retro flair, and even became a bit interested in the whole club kid aesthetic though by happenstance of my birth year I kind of missed the whole raver trend. Below on the left is what I imagined it was probably like.
I’ve been told my interest in both fashion and interior design stand out in my work, and as I mentioned in my first throwback post people have always played a central role in my art. The way individuals choose to decorate both themselves and their external environment are central to telling part of the story of who they are.
Over this year, my passion for wearable art has jumped off the page and into reality as I began designing my own upcycled clothing. This was at first dove into as a project to help my art students with disabilities lead their own fashion show, and then for myself as I realized this is something I really enjoy.
This is also the first year I had the confidence to participate in some local modeling projects for art friends, and it was an absolute blast. Expression via how I visually adorn myself has been another way I have used art as a tool for communication over the years as someone who is an unwilling introvert due to social anxiety. People are all living sculptures, for the most part wonderful and fascinating (and yes, also challenging at times), and the ability to use how we visually present ourselves to show who we are to others before even speaking is an intriguing tool.
Like with my other art, with my wearables I hope to inspire, make people smile, and help them feel confident and comfortable in who they are. My pieces are available for purchase via ebay, etsy, and facebook so pick your poison ;). Let me know what types of colors, patterns, or images make you feel the most inspired and powerful!
Happy early throwback Thursday, since I likely won’t have time to post on Thanksgiving as I’ll be enjoying family festivities :). Today I’ll be continuing my series using the past to delve into why I create what I do… I hope others find this interesting and entertaining, and I hope it helps readers reconnect with their past selves and realize how all of those different “us-es” had a part in creating who we are today, even those versions of us we don’t like to spend too much time with.
These early drawings from age 1 and 2 respectively cracked me up when I discovered them (Yes, I have a drawing from one year old … in my previous post I mentioned my mother’s expert level archival skills.). The first is of a sad girl who lost her helium balloon she’d been holding to the skies – It seems I had a pretty good grasp on the fact that life is full of disappointments and setbacks after only 16 months of hanging around on this planet. The second drawing is of a reoccurring nightmare I had that actually continued into my teens where my regular, awesome mom would be replaced with an evil, distorted, imposter mom that would often try to kill me or something equally unpleasant. I had terrible nightmares as a kid and what I later learned is called sleep paralysis, and I still don’t logically understand where it came from, my only explanation being our brains are weird sometimes. Thankfully, I eventually grew out of these and started sleeping better.
I’m fascinated by the fact that I was using art as a tool to deal with troubling thoughts even in my pre-K years. This is a testament to the healing power of art that is the driving force behind why I am passionate about sharing art with others not just through showing my own works but through teaching as well.
In a very early blog post, I discussed how art has always been an important tool for communication and self expression as someone who struggled (and still does to a lesser degree) with social anxiety. When I would create art as a teen, I didn’t plan out a concept or specific symbolism as I do now. I just sat down and drew whatever came out basically. Even if I didn’t fully realize it at the time, I see now many of my drawings were communicating my specific anxieties and feelings of isolation or entrapment. In the leftmost drawing, my anxieties and meditations on long term relationships. On the right, titled “Timebound”, my fears of being behind my own personal timeline I had set and my impatience and frustration at being held back from the experiences I yearned for in life (I am still learning that life has its own timeline and good luck trying to force my own timing!). In the mixed media work below, titled “Actually, It Is This World That Is Too Small”, I put to paper my thoughts on confining gender roles, stereotypes, and expectations and feelings of isolation, of just not being the right “fit” for the world around me.
I appreciate artists that lay themselves bare and aren’t afraid to communicate uncomfortable emotions in their work, not for shock value or to be negative for the sake of being negative, but to let others know that they are not alone in their difficult emotions and personal struggles. It’s why my last big concert experience at the end of 2019 was so impactful. I have a deep love for fine artists, musicians, writers, actors, all creatives who are willing to risk transparency and forming a true connection akin to friendship with their clients and fans. It is a risk, and I’ll be honest it doesn’t always work out, but to me it will always be worth it.
In my most recent work that has an underlying darker feel to it, viewers have told me that even in the darkness, they still see that I have left a thread of hope in the narrative. That is another one of those unconscious things that sometimes happen in the art making process, and something to truly celebrate. For more information on some of these works, you can visit the links below.
Top Left: Outer Space Outer Space Is A Lonely Place To Be / Top Right: Flight Response (Currently installed by the river in Wenonah Park as a metal print for Bay City’s 50 Artists Of The Great Lakes Bay Region River Walk) / Bottom Left: September – She Is An Atlas / Bottom Right: Legacy
I usually wait until Thanksgiving weekend, but I couldn’t resist putting up my tree early this year ;). I love vintage Christmas decor almost as much as I love handmade ornaments, so I’ve combined my two holiday passions with this fun and simple craft. I hope you are inspired to give it a go!
This year, my main tree in the living room is covered in my paintbrush assemblage ornaments accented by bulbs in different shades of gold, some vintage pieces, and some softies gifted by friends and family. My second small tree in the spare room has all my bulbs decoupaged with images from art magazines. And of course, I have my own vintage jewelry tree hanging up in my kitchen! I did some tutorials showing my process for both the paintbrush ornaments and trees using old junk jewelry pieces last year, so be sure to check those out if you need some inspiration. I know for me, crafting these decorations has been wonderful art therapy in between my more taxing commissioned pieces, gifts, and pieces for upcoming shows. I know it can be difficult, but I hope you all take some time near the end of this year to reflect and unwind, and remember holidays are supposed to be fun – don’t pressure yourself too much or feel you have to stick to traditions that don’t work for you. Make these next couple months what you need them to be. ❤
Finding out Pantone’s Color Of The Year is always one of my favorite things about New Year’s Day (dork, I know). This year is a combination of 2 colors … Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. I’m not a big yellow person on its own, but love it paired with gray or black so I’m digging this theme (See my bathroom). To celebrate, I created a fun 9×12″ mixed media artwork using ink and water on watercolor paper, and some fabric scraps and old book pages for the background.
What’s interesting is I also started a new project late this year in collaboration with a supporter of the inclusive arts program I run, Express Yourself Artshop that ended up in this same color scheme. The project celebrates the independence and unique homes and lifestyles of adults with disabilities. My friend Ric LOVES yellow. More on this to come at a later date!
What do you think of this year’s colors? What kinds of videos would you like to see me share in 2021?
I’ve shared my fun mixed media necklaces I’ve been creating in the past, inspired by a class project the week my Creative Minds students learned about artist Sonia Dealunay. Today I wanted to show you the creative process firsthand!
I use a lot of castoffs and odds and ends like scraps of jewelry chain and fabric, discontinued upholstery samples, and pieces from broken jewelry. Antique stores, thrift shops, garage sales, and ebay are all great resources!
I love how fun and unique you can make these necklaces, collaging in any shape you want though I’ve stuck with the classic bib collar design for now. Most of mine are very nature inspired but again, you could take something like this in a whole different direction. The possibilities are endless! I hope some of you are inspired to play around, but for those who’d rather just buy one I do sell the necklaces I make in my ebay shop.
As always, if you have any questions shoot them my way. Happy creating!
Ok, so I must apologize for going MIA for the last couple months. Quarantine had a weird way of giving me more time than ever yet making me simultaneously less motivated and productive than ever as time went on. Also, the weather was beautiful especially in the last part throughout June, and I was spending a lot of time outside either at the beach or playing sports badly.
I did continue to work from home and part of my duties for the arts program I direct was creating virtual lessons. I’d been talking about starting my own YouTube channel for over a year, but was overwhelmed by the process of learning filming and video editing. Choosing to dive into this for work and help my teachers I work with do the same was the push I needed to get going, and once in-person worked resumed there was no reason I shouldn’t just start my own channel. It won’t be perfect off the bat, and I am operating off of a phone for the time being – no camcorder, no microphone, using a free editing app. I definitely plan to upgrade at some point, but I’m starting simple and seeing how things go before I invest in new equipment. This first video is an introduction to myself, my art, and what you can expect to see from my channel. I will also be collaborating with an artist I work with often, Emiliano Vega, for content.
Be sure to subscribe to see more! I have some more demos already filmed and am excited to post throughout the coming weeks. What do you want to see? Let me know! I love suggestions :).
Today’s post is going to be a bit different … I’m going to share a story. I used to do a lot of short story or flash fiction writing 8-10 years ago while I was in college, but got out of creative writing in favor of technical as other creative pursuits took over. My first mixed media piece was actually inspired by a story I wrote, and was a bit of a self portrait. I was very committed to and unapologetic about the use of rick-rack. Hard to believe this is where it all started … It’s crazy what 8 more years of practice will do!
Another reason I’m sharing this is because next on my list of new art things to try is to make some sort of illustrated short story or children’s book. The following story is not a children’s book, or a bedtime story. It’s actually rather sad and strange but if you feel like giving it a go, below is the weird little tale about self expression, human connection, grief, dependency, identity, and odd characters that inadvertently got me started in the wonderful world of mixed media art and birthed the piece that was the first inkling of what would be my future defining art style.
I am nothing without my telephone. I know when to wake up each Sunday morning because my neighbor and the only man I think I’ve ever loved calls me that day every week at 8 am. He suffers from delusions whilst he sleeps and every Sunday at 8 thinks he is calling his ex-girlfriend who lived in my apartment before me but died a few years ago. When he wakes up, he has no idea he even called. He used to sleepwalk and leave roses at my door too, but now he just calls. I saved them all and pressed them between the pages of a phone book, pretending they were for me.
I have 240 clocks in my one-room apartment, all 11 inches in diameter. I like to perform surgery on them so they all tick to slightly different beats, though I’m sure one of them must read the time right, I just can’t see which one. There are no doors in my apartment save a curtain in front of the bathroom so the 240 sets of clicks can be heard throughout the entire home, a pleasing tune that helps me keep my own personal rhythm in the outside world.
My telephone is how my best friend and I talk when she’s feeling depressed. She feels depressed often. I’ll pick up, and she’ll lament in a timbre so tragic I’m sure it could make angels scream, “I have no one at all. I am completely alone.” When I ask her if she’d like me to come over, she is only a six minute drive away after all, she usually says no, that’s fine. And then she’ll hang up.
If we are what we eat and it is what’s inside that counts, I wonder if I ate my telephone what would I become? I guess it depends if we believe we are defined by what we need or instead by what needs us. It depends if we are defined only by ourselves or by the other living beings that surround us, and if the latter is true whether the ones that shape us are those that choose us or those we chase after.
There is a group of people I call my friends that meet at the same bar every Thursday night. I know they meet there because social media tells me so. I know everywhere they go. I have a theory that the internet is so popular mainly because it is the only other communicable entity that can be as into you as you are. It also allows us to assume everyone else is just as interested. My mobile has a clock in its tiny right-hand corner, a sad clock that does not tick, a clock with no soul at all. These friends never tell me they are going but they say hello to me once I arrive, so that must count for something, right?
I have another theory that says human beings can be paralleled quite closely to furniture and architecture. Some people are chairs, tables, bedside lamps. Some people are windows, doors. Some people are picture frames or Persian rugs, and some people; some people are the entire room. They are the walls that contain all the other items that have no real value or function without them, just a hapless collection of what could have been a catalog worthy design if only there were walls and a floor to set the tone. I was a chair, and my friends were all the room.
They discussed memories from parties I never attended and shared stories about people I’d never met. I laughed along with them as if I had. I was a chair. People always liked the fact that I existed, but were all the same vaguely disinterested. As I sat on the end of a long table sipping a beer the conversation turned to a concert last week that I had actually attended, and when the break in conversation flow called for it I interjected. The others hardly so much as nodded in my direction. I could say the same things they said, use the same mannerisms and vocal inflection, dress the same way and listen to the same music but still my voice would remain at that inaudible frequency that results when chairs attempt to speak to rooms.
I was not the room, and nothing I or anyone else might do would change that fact. You see, rooms are only attracted to other rooms, and so houses are built of big, vacant cubes with no doors leading from one space to another, no windows to see into the other aside from themselves.
Sometimes, often, I feel different than how I seem to have been born. I am tall walls with cathedral-cut windows and boldly colored masterpieces on all the walls, masterpieces that can make viewers involuntarily excrete from one or more orifices, that induce early labor in pregnant women and that make the old and toothless drop their dentures. Only, there are no viewers. There is a round glass table, jade green glass and low to the ground with silken plum colored pillows surrounding; a place where no one sits. And this entire world fits inside a modestly sized rust-orange armchair, covered in dots shaped like pimento-filled olives. I’ve outgrown myself, my skin just a sack of old clothes too short at the ankles and awkwardly fitting under the arms. My visions of myself cannot fit inside my worldly receptacle but they have nowhere else to go, and I realize this now more than ever.
After leaving the bar I walk to the local everything store and pick up a roll of plaster bandages. That man I love, my neighbor, I didn’t tell you before but he works at a morgue. I imagine he too feels out of place, immersed in death yet his own organs and tissues still very much alive. He knows I am “one of those creative types” and together we have a special understanding. When he works the night-shift, dressing and embalming the newly deceased for funerals, he’ll let me in a back door most people who haven’t worked there for at least ten years don’t know about. “Hello,” he smiles and ushers me inside. New for today is an elderly man with a wide, exactly forty-five degree angle wedge of a nose and a distinguished, curled upper lip, a young woman in about her mid-thirties with round marshmallow cheeks and deep set eye sockets and a middle-aged gentleman with an extremely pronounced brow, a cliff casting a dark haze over the collection of facial features below. I set to work covering each cool face, like leather in air conditioning, with a thick layer of Vaseline.
“Not very old at all,” I indicate the one with the cavernous eyes, “What happened to her?”
“Poisoned. Something she ate they said. A severe allergic reaction.” He stops and tips his head up, away from the grey pillow before him, stuffed full with soft, springy fat and tender organs. His hair sways back against his face in one smooth, rhythmic motion, swinging forward again as tangled ropes hit against his elastic skin. Strands move and jump like pendulums and I wish he were made of wire and metal so a sound might reverberate, a sound I could record and add to my clock symphony. He was a clock, that was his parallel. He was a time bomb, but in this place more than any I knew that all humans were in their own way. He’d always said what he wanted to be more than anything was a broken tree branch, torn in a breeze carried far away from its tree.
“You remember how I told you my mother was mentally ill?” I nod. I have finished with the old man and am now laying the wet strips of plaster over the Vaseline, an old tin bucket at my side. Once the strips are smoothed and set, I move on to the poisoned woman, rubbing clear jelly around her soft cheeks, over her eyelids, the skin jiggling back into place after it is rubbed like pudding left sitting too long in a pan. “Well she tried to poison me once. I was home from school sick, nine years old, and she put something in my tomato soup. My neighbor stopped by to drop off the homework I missed for the day since she had a kid in my class. My mom had been outside gardening. When the neighbor realized how sick I was she insisted on taking me to the hospital right away. I could have died.” He shrugged and looked out an imaginary window, for this room had none, “I guess I just thought you should know.”
I didn’t really know how to respond, so I just looked up attentively. Most stories like that don’t want a response. These stories just yearn for the simple knowledge that the storyteller is no longer the only one who knows. We spent the last twenty minutes while waiting for the plaster to dry in silence. This was not uncommon though. There are a lot of people that wouldn’t believe me but sometimes relationships can be built simply by both persons existing at the same moment. A misconception is that interaction only applies to two of the five senses, hearing and touch. Simply by thinking about someone you are interacting because they are occupying a space in your mind, changing your thoughts and perceptions either by replacing those you would have had were you not thinking of them or by interjecting within your psyche some of their own words or ideas … just as I was interacting with the dead. Twenty minutes later I had lifted the faces from their fallen owners and bid farewell to the clock and his companions.
Why do I do it? Why do I collect the dead’s faces? It is not for the reasons you’d expect. It, for starters, has nothing at all to do with preservation or memory. The dead are just subjective faces no longer present in the world at this given moment. Their fleshy counterparts do not speak and move and act out a life independent of the plaster faces any longer. They can be whomever I imagine.
In my apartment I have 240 clocks hanging right now. I grab three new faceless clocks out of the storage closet, housing clocks being all it is used for, and affix my new faces to them with strong, chemically smelling glue. I will have to find a space for them somewhere; the party is getting crowded.
I need these faces to define myself, just as much as I need my telephone. That is why I do it, face collecting. This way I am not the only one who knows I have a world inside of me with cathedral windows. It’s another question that bothers me often: Are we the people we see ourselves as or are we a collection of how others see us? Do we define ourselves or are we defined by the effect we have on others outside our own world, by the adjectives we bring to mind in their world? Or are all definitions as useful as broken clocks …
It is 4:30 am when I hear a frantic pounding on my apartment door. The rattling of the wood adds a new pattern to the rhythm of the clocks, their own sounds offset by the fact that they shake along the walls. I run to the door before the whole place comes crashing down. Through the peephole I see that, thankfully, it is just my neighbor from the morgue. I unlock the door and ease it open; he forces it the rest of the way and jumps into my arms, knocking me backward over the arm of my couch. My form is instantly surrounded by soft pillows and I can feel the contours of his limbs pressing into mine, imprinting. His breath is warm against my chest, my heartbeat pushing his face in and out. He is sobbing, the tears containing as much heat as his breath so that it feels as if I am being soaked in blood.
“It’s my fault she … it’s my fault … it’s my fault she died,” he gasps for breath. “She drank poison. I poisoned her.” His eyes are upturned and silvery blue, moisture on the tips of light yellow eyelashes like dew on a field of grass dead from winter. “I had meant the poison for me, but she accidentally drank from the cup …I, I hadn’t wanted her to be left knowing I killed myself. We were together, I loved her … I couldn’t have her knowing that was the cause of my death, I couldn’t do that to her. I was trying to protect her, have her think it was just a random act of fate. Instead, she’s left this miserable place and I’m all alone, still here …” he paused, “I wasn’t meant to live since I was nine years old, and now, now I can’t die. But if I would have, she would never … she would still be …” He turns his head and brings up his arm to caress the face of a clock on the wall behind the couch. “I’m so jealous of them all, every single day,” he caresses the plaster as one would a lover. His hand is shaking until suddenly in one final act of brutality he throws the clock from the wall, afterward burying himself inside of me once again. The woman from earlier now lies broken, dead a second time and so soon amongst scattered golden screws and clock parts, still making a slight twinkling din as they roll across the floor and into each other. Her eyes are in pieces now, but I can still feel those dark holes upon us, judging, always judging.
His frame is so tiny and fragile in my arms, I’m cradling him like one would a small child. I want to protect him from the woman’s gaze. His arms reaching tight around my neck, I can feel the smooth contour of muscle against my shoulders and clavicle and I know he could hold tight enough to strangle me but despite all his strength, I have never seen anyone look so small. “I’m just like my mother,” he whispers. “No matter how hard I tried to stay away, how hard I tried to make my branch fall. I became her I became her I became her …”
I hold him tighter until his face seems to seep through my chest … his eyes crying my blood my heart pumping his tears until I can feel us containing each other. His eyes might seem vacant now, his face expressionless but that is only because he is wandering in the room with the cathedral windows, looking outside upon a tree with many fallen branches. I can hear the clocks even louder now as he has stopped crying, and to their rhythm I in my own mind chant, I am the room. I am the room.
Amidst a lot of bad news on a worldwide scale lately, I was blessed to receive some good news: One of my pieces shown in Art Reach’s Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit, July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit, was awarded Best Of Show. This piece received a 2nd place award previously in 2018’s Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, and was a part of my Unlimited series shown in ArtPrize 9 in Grand Rapids. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to delve into this work deeper.
A vital part of my Unlimited series was being sure I represented a variety of ages, races, and also abilities in my portraits. Though varying abilities can mean many things and a lot of disabilities are invisible, I wanted to represent an easily recognizable visible disability that is not often seen represented in art. I chose to depict a young woman with down syndrome.
When people think of the lives of individuals with disabilities, often all they can see is the struggles. Yes, we need to be aware of the struggles and be sure that we stand up for the rights of individuals with disabilities, make sure they have access to the healthcare they need and tools to help them live as independently as possible in their communities. But, like all people, individuals with disabilities are multifaceted beings. People with disabilities are rarely seen depicted in art, and are seldom shown in any media as empowered beings with their own unique personality beyond having a disability. I wanted to depict a woman who was confident in her own skin, and believed in her own unlimited potential.
The symbolism in this piece can mean different things to different viewers, and I love the fact that art is open to interpretation. That being said, I wanted to share what I was thinking when I created this piece. But remember, even as the artist, my interpretation is by no means the only interpretation :). I drew the face in prismacolor pencil. I wanted a scene around the head(mind) that exuded peace, so I filled in the hair with a watercolor landscape scene. Along with inner peace I wanted to depict the idea of freedom, of this woman not being limited by anything despite what others may assume. Birds taking flight have always been one of the biggest symbols of freedom to me, so I used prismacolor markers to draw birds in the same colors as the landscape circling around her. I reinforced the bird imagery with metallic gold prismacolor pencil in a radial flying bird pattern on her shirt, with an empty birdcage in the center of her chest. I wanted the figure and background to be seamless and flow into each other, but also wanted something to set off the figure so that she was the main focus. I wanted her face especially with its welcoming, content, confident expression to stand out. Using a black base created contrast, and I filled in this galaxy background with stars in the same pastel colors used throughout the rest of the piece. In most of my portraits I use the background to speak to the content of the figure’s mind and soul, and a galaxy fit perfectly to me as something vast and unlimited.
“July” is very close to my heart, and the meaning behind it signifies why I am involved in the arts to begin with. In running an arts program for adults with disabilities, I feel I have found my purpose. I am excited to continue using art to form connections between all different types of people, help others tap into their unexplored potential, give a voice to those that often go unseen, and challenge ideas of what beauty is in art.
Art prints are available in my ebay shop!
There will be virtual tours of the show available through Art Reach soon. I can’t wait to see all the other work up close!