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.

 

 

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!

Artists To Know! Installment 7 : Seeing The Unseen

I have always been the type of artist and art appreciator who tires of complete realism. I abhorred the same old make-it-look-like-the-photo landscape assignments in school growing up. I liked portraiture a bit better, but only if I made it my own, whether desired in the class assignment or not.

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Circa 2005 – Oh noes! The punk’s left eyeball has cracked and now little rainbow glass shards are floating out into the universe towards the viewers eyeballs, surely meaning to skewer them!

I always believed art should only show us what we cannot see in reality, or else what was the point? However, how much of reality do we really see, and how much simply slips from our view unnoticed? Human perception is a funny thing. You could have two people walk down the same stretch of sidewalk in a park, and if in the end you asked them to describe the scene they just participated in, I am 99.9% certain that they would each describe it completely differently. We notice what draws us, and ignore what repels us. That idea is the basis of the following artists’ work, work that shows us the marginalized and disenfranchised; the very people who often slip to the periphery of our awareness either consciously or unconsciously. Viewing these works, we are shown a reality that seems like a completely different world.

Aaron Draper

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For his “Underexposed” series, Aaron Draper captures lit photos of the homeless, aiming to portray them in the most pleasant, visually appealing way possible. Draper sites author John Steinbeck as an inspiration, and admires how he used his craft to highlight the plight of the poor, and expose social issues and inequities.  With this series, Draper is using lighting to draw viewers towards the person shown, causing the subject to be viewed with humanity and compassion. Draper says, “When it comes to social activism, you achieve greater public awareness by communicating hope as opposed to hopelessness”.

Diane Arbus

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Famed photographer Diane Arbus takes almost the complete opposite approach to the previous artist. The black and white photographs of her subjects seem to be developed in such a way as to accentuate each imperfection, every wrinkle, blemish, and flaw. Her work turns its lens on society’s outsiders : those with physical abnormalities, nudists, transgender individuals, those with extreme tattooing or body modification, and rarities such as twins. Unlike Draper’s work, there is a darkness to it and a definite surreal quality (One of her photographs of twins actually inspired Stanley Kubrick’s iconic “The Shining twins”.).  She is certainly a disputed artist. Some argue she was voyeuristic and exploitative , her photos no better than the circus “freak shows” that thankfully no longer exist in this day and age. Her motives and connection to her subjects have been called into question since her photographs were not necessarily being used to communicate a social purpose or to inspire a change in the treatment of the individuals, but more for striking visual interest. Additionally, her series in which she photographed individuals living in group homes for those with mental challenges, of which the above is a part, brings up a consent issue. Since the photographs were taken between 1969 and 1971, a time when individuals at such institutions were given little to no rights, the permission to photograph the residents was not given by the individuals themselves but the institution. Such a project would not be allowed publication by today’s standards. Others argue she is possibly one of the most misunderstood artists of the 20th century. Consent between photographer and subject is important, and I cannot speak to the validity of the permission she received. However, to me, Arbus wasn’t looking at her subjects with revulsion and disgust. They don’t appear isolated or lonely but confident, happy and uninhibited. They are comfortable in their own skin and are completely unaware of how they appear to others. Arbus had a great respect for her unusual subjects she sought out, saying “Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.” (though I do flinch at the way she throws around the “f-word”.) If anything, it was the so called “normal people” Arbus portrayed as lonely and disconnected and silly.

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Asa Johannessen

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The subjects of Johannessen’s “Looking Out, Looking In” series are individuals who don’t identify with any gender, male or female. An article in Independent about her show describes the portraits as “challenging the onlooker defiantly to try and categorize them”. All photographs are untitled, the subjects unnamed. The goal is to draw the viewers in to whom each individual is as a person, rather than the viewers obsessing over the single facet of “Are they male or female?” This is an interesting concept to me as someone who has always felt gender is about the last thing I notice about someone. This has led to some interesting social kerfuffles in the form of myself ending up on dates I never knew I was on. I pretty much am this comic below anyway, only with brown hair and zero barista skills.

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All that aside, the point is once again using art to bring humanity to those who are often misunderstood or ignored. Everyone struggles with identity crises from time to time, but most of us can’t even imagine feeling that such a basic component of our personhood is alien to us. Many of us can’t imagine the feelings of confusion, isolation, and despair such a conflict would bring. Individuals like the ones in Johannesson’s photographs often get treated like unicorns, an interesting idea, but they don’t really exist. This series confronts those misconceptions head on. No matter what we each individually believe, empathy and above all love is possible, and I daresay required.

Debbie Rasiel

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The goal of photographer Debbie Rasiel’s “Picturing Autism” series is to explore what autism looks like across language and cultural barriers. The series spans New York, Mexico, Peru, Indonesia and Iceland.”I wanted to offer those not familiar with autism an opportunity to see what autism looks like, a safe space where social mores would not prevent them from staring,” Rasiel stated in an article for The Huffington Post. Again, art has urged people to lock eyes with and confront images of individuals from whom they normally may avert their gaze due to unfamiliarity or uncertainty.

Art not only has the ability to show us things we can’t see in real life, but it has the ability to force us to see the unseen, and that is a wonderful and magical thing.

 

Artists To Know : Halloween Edition

In honor of Halloween, I thought an Artists To Know featuring the spookiest of artworks would be quite fun. Though I won’t be getting any trick-or-treaters due to the very non-festive large wooden sign out in front of my apartment complex reading “NO TRICK-OR-TREATERS!!!”, I do have a costume party to get to later tonight which I am quite antsy for. I’m going as a flapper this year, which I know is an “every girl ever” kind of costume, but … not every girl will have a snazzy vintage 1920s style beaded fringe dress from an antique store ;). Now, without further ado …

Ana Bagayan

Ana was born in Armenia in 1983, and earned a BFA at Art Center College in California. Her work is inspired by aliens, spirits, and ghosts and she has coined the term “Futurealism” to describe her aesthetic. She believes that whatever we can imagine can also be manifested into our physical reality.

Gus Fink

Gus Fink is a self-taught artist who has been making a living off of his work full time since 2000. His medium and subject matter varies, but each work maintains his signature creepy yet somehow endearing vibe. His “Antique Horror” collection that spans over a decade was featured in a clothing collection for select Hot Topic stores over the summer.

Michele Lynch

Michele Lynch is a multi-talented artist excelling in painting, mixed media, and sculpture. The characters she brings to life are all a little bit retro monster movie, a little bit steampunk, balanced out with a lot of sass and personality.

Mizna Wada

Japanese illustrator Mizna Wada has just mastered the cute-creepy, pastel goth world. I have always been quite a fan of the adorably eerie universe, so her art certainly struck a chord with me. Wada is another artist who brings her characters painted on canvas to life in 3D form, this time as fun plush dolls and vinyl figures. I must own one someday, when I am not on such a strict budget ;).

Leslie Ann O’Dell

Leslie Ann O’Dell combines fine art, photography, and digital design to create her haunting works. SHK Magazine summed it up nicely when they said of her work, “O’Dell’s work is comprised of haunting imagery… Ranging from dark imposing landscapes to mystifying portraitures, that evoke sensations of vulnerability, demise and the fear associated with such sentiments”. Of course, being a portrait girl myself, I am most drawn to her depictions of figures. They are truly different from anything I have ever seen.

Happy Halloween everyone! Have fun being someone new for a day, and a lovely evening to all.

Have you ever wondered what monsters dress up as for Halloween? :)

Have you ever wondered what monsters dress up as for Halloween? 🙂

I’m Not The Only One Who’s Been Busy This Summer …

The summer flew by, and while I think this summer for me has been the most productive yet as far as art making, I am not the only one who has been hard at work. My Express Yourself Artshop students really applied themselves creatively, and pumped out a lot of amazing art over this past semester. Hard to believe what one can accomplish in only 6 weeks! I’ve shared some of the highlights here.

Grace, Watercolor

Grace, Watercolor

Nancy, Ink Drawing

Nancy, Ink Drawing

Brenda, Handmade Tote Bag

Brenda, Handmade Tote Bag

Lacey, Acrylic

Lacey, Acrylic

For those who haven’t read my blog before, Express Yourself Artshop is an art program I work with that is open to those of all abilities, and is an accepting, friendly and safe environment to artists with physical and mental disabilities. I know myself how important creating can be as a tool for expressing what you feel like you can’t with words, and how it has the ability to calm the mind and soul out of tumult and provide a reprieve from the stress and sometimes heavy weight of everyday life. One of my students loves owls, and so we collaborated on some trippy, colorful owls done in my go-to style for these birds (shown below). I drew in pencil, she outlined and painted. Along with an affinity for owls, we also share a love of Deco Art’s Glamour Dust craft paints – a win-win.

Look familiar? So glad to share my enthusiasm for quirky, surrealist owls!

Look familiar? So glad to share my enthusiasm for quirky, surrealist owls!

Anne Marie, Ink and Acrylic With Glamor Dust

Anne Marie, Ink and Acrylic With Glamor Dust

I love these people, and the unfamiliar environment of being in a truly judgement-free space … Everyone simply accepts and embraces each other as they are. I feel so loved in return while I am there, and it is one of the few places I don’t feel pressured to put on an act (Convenient, as I’ve never quite mastered the art of situationally adjusting my personality. For better or for worse, I just can’t seem to grasp that particular life skill.). I can’t wait for next semester. I’m going to be channeling my inner Mark Montano and doing a really cool DIY decor class, so hopefully that gets some interest. I am right on the cusp of finishing two new projects that will be going up with a selection of other pieces at Espresso Milano coffee shop in Midland in September, so I will be sharing that soon.

Montano, seriously, what a snazzy guy.

Artists To Know! Installment 5

I know I promised sculpture in my next Artist To Know! post; I even had all the images picked and everything! But, with another semester of Express Yourself Artshop coming to a close, it seemed like a good time to share some of the empowering art about disability and mental health I’d been archiving. I hope these images encourage, inspire, and maybe get you to think a little differently about the people you encounter in your day to day life.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”. – Wendy Mass

Carol Rossetti

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Kelly (inspired by this beautiful video – I implore you all to give it a watch. I never cry during touching videos but this one had me tearing up).

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I have been in love with Carol Rossetti’s “Women” project since I first discovered it. Since then, her incredibly personalized drawings have gone completely viral, and I’ve been seeing them everywhere in the great, vast world of the interweb! Her pieces highlight different women’s stories of judgement, with a response of affirmation from Carol herself below. Many of the stories are about women who have been judged based on their age, physical appearance, or life choices; but I’m so glad she also decided to include women with disabilities. Clicking the link on her name and also visiting her facebook page, which shows all of the stories, is worth a look. Some of the women’s stories I found myself nodding along with thinking “Oh my god, I know exactly how she feels!”, others were as far removed as can be from experiences I’ve had or decisions I’d ever find myself making. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? We all have stories to tell, and judgement gets us nowhere, it just blocks our ears from reading and our eyes from seeing a new story different from our own. As well as hurting others, we miss out on reaching out and forming important connections.

Christian Hopkins

20-year-old Christian Hopkins says he was never good with words, which is why he loves communicating with pictures. He is studying biochemistry, but has had to take some health leaves due to severe clinical depression that he has dealt with for the past 4 years. This struggle is the subject of his photography. Though his work has gotten notoriety, Hopkins says photography for him is just a hobby, and a medium through which he can express himself. He has never had a single photography class or any form of instruction, which is pretty amazing when you see his intense, moving images. Using creativity as a means to come to grips with personal struggles, and explain parts of your life you find hard to talk about with others is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and one of the reasons I have such a passion for art. Creating is so much more than making pretty pictures.

Viktoria Modesta

This Latvian singer and model was born with a dislocated hip and leg. She endured terrible bullying at school because of her disability, and underwent 15 unsuccessful surgeries. She moved to London for better medical care, but still the surgeries she underwent didn’t help. Finally, weary of surgery after surgery that did nothing she convinced doctors to amputate her leg. She has never looked back. She has more confidence now after what she went through than she ever did, and is living her life doing exactly what she loves. She is the first widely known amputee pop star, and is paving the way for other talented individuals with disability to take their turn in the spotlight.

Steve Rosenfield

The tagline for Rosenfield’s powerful photography project is “Building security through insecurities”. Rosenfield himself didn’t start out in photography, but network administration. He describes how his former self of over a decade ago as “a very opinionated and materialistic person with a huge ego”. He never shared his feelings or insecurities, afraid that they would shatter his carefully constructed image, and this left a lacking in both his relationships and personal happiness. Fed up, Rosenfield began to “research” why he was so unhappy through reading and journaling, trying to get to the bottom of the lack he felt. When he found that the key was honesty, compassion and transparency, he quit his 9-5 to travel the world and start over. A friend he met in France got him into photography. In his series “What I Be”, subjects are exposing a side of themselves normally hidden from the world, and proclaiming “I am not my ____”. It isn’t about whitewashing over their struggles, but admitting that though they have these issues in their lives, the struggles do not define them. “I am not my amputation.” “I am not my cycle.” “I am not my fatness.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed another art immersion! Lastly, I’d like to leave you with some work from some super cool artists with disabilities that I know personally through Artshop, my wonderful students. We’ve had another great run :).

Adorable mixed media birds

Adorable mixed media birds

Bright watercolor flowers

Bright watercolor flowers

Cool collage mandalas

Cool collage mandalas

Watercolor tiger

Watercolor tiger

Naked no more! These bears have a snazzy new wardrobe thanks to the sewing class.

Naked no more! These bears have a snazzy new wardrobe thanks to the sewing class.

Express Yourself Artshop – The End of Another Semester!

Another semester of Express Yourself Artshop is coming to a close, and so many amazing things have happened in just 12 weeks. I’ve watched students gain confidence and try new types of art, achieving inspiring projects that earlier they were convinced they wouldn’t be able to do. I’ve seen new friendships form. I’ve seen abilities grow – three of my students even got their work into the juried exhibition “Piece By Piece” that I showed work in as well in Creative 360’s gallery space, and one of them even made a sale!

My student Nancy's awesome mixed media piece, SOLD opening night of the show! :)

My student Nancy’s awesome mixed media piece, SOLD opening night of the show! 🙂

I am so glad that a little less than 2 years ago I responded to a mass email looking for instructors for a new program in Midland for adults with disabilities who love art. I sat on the email for awhile, and then finally shrugged my shoulders thinking, “Well, I don’t really teach but I do know quite a bit about art, so I might as well see what this is all about”. With that one decision to just go for it, I went from jumping between one uninspiring job to another, never feeling that I quite fit, to a job that I know I can excel at and that I actually feel passionate about. I have to be honest, I was feeling pretty defeated after doing quite well in college, expecting immediate success and a super-fun-creative-awesome job thereafter, and … you know, life happening. I was left bouncing around from one temporary job to another that was more of the same, where I wasn’t able to use any of my skills and the main goal wasn’t how can I invest in the people I came across on a day to day basis, but basically, how can I convince them to buy a ton of stuff they don’t need. Since then, Express Yourself Artshop has opened so many doors, and now I teach in a variety of locations and work with a wide range of programs for all different ages and abilities. I am so excited to work in a venue where the focus is on the personal growth, learning, and achievement of the individuals I work with, not how much money they can shell out for one product or service or another. Despite loving all my different classes, Artshop will always be a teensy bit in the lead as my favorite program to work with. Working with students with disabilities has opened my mind to new project ideas and materials, as I am forced to get creative in how I involve each student in a way that is best for their personal strengths and weaknesses. Be it cliche to say so, I’ve learned just as much from them as they have from me. I’d like to share an overview of the types of projects my students have worked on this semester. As you can see, we’ve been busy.

Mixed Media Pond Scene - Exquisite Detail!

Mixed Media Pond Scene – exquisite detail!

Awesome rings upcycled from vintage earrings - I loved how these turned out so much I'm making one at home just like the ring on the right for myself!

Awesome rings upcycled from vintage earrings – I loved how these turned out so much I’m making one at home just like the ring on the right for myself!

Vintage style fabric necklace made using marbles inside a fabric tube with pony beads in between

Vintage style fabric necklace made using marbles

Watercolor and Ink Silhouette, complete with 3D attached bow :)

Watercolor and Ink Silhouette, complete with 3D attached bow 🙂