Exhibitions and Other News

Now Showing : Breaking The Stigma

I have not been making as regular and in-depth posts as usual over the last year as I’ve gotten busier and have been devoting more time to youtube, but I wanted to share about a very special show I am a part of this month running through February 20 called “Breaking The Stigma“.

I was beyond thrilled with both the priviledge and responsibility of being invited to be part of a show centering around using art as both a personal therapy and a way to communicate inner experiences in a way that makes them accessible and understandable to people from all walks of life. I’ve written often on this site on what an important communication tool art always was to me as someone with anxiety, especially social anxiety. In a recent Throwback Thursday post (Yes, I promise I will be getting back to those!), I talked about how even as a young kid I was prone to using art to tackle darker themes or difficult emotions. Art allows for a method of transparency and vulnerability that can often be easier for others to understand and embrace than by using words alone. Aside from the end result, the process itself of art making has the power to manifest a sense of purpose and peace no matter what else may be going on around the creator.  Creativity allows people to unlock their untapped potential. I see this firsthand in the classes I teach where many of my students are beginning artists or artists with disabilities

You can read the article announcing the show opening which introduces the other artists involved in this show and shows photos of some of their work. I wanted to also share some of my personal thoughts about their art.

David Feingold’s art was exciting for me to see because a lot of it I would consider surreal portraiture which is the subject I myself enjoy creating most, but it was digital rather than traditional. His narratives were very personal, and spoke directly to the title of the show as they addressed the idea of mental health stigma head on. I found myself inspired to once and for all fully explore creating art digitally this year.

2 of Rebecca Allen’s pieces have been familiar to me since before I knew they belonged to her, as they take up residence in our elevator lobby display where I also maintain a showcase for my students with their work for sale. I loved the surreal nature of her figures. They are raw and honest, and the pain they feel is visually represented in the sharp, rough textures of her sculpture. They invite you to step into another’s shoes and imagine yourself in their situation and struggles.

Cynthia Keefe’s art dolls were very … approachable and trustworthy to me, though that may seem odd to say. They felt alive. Many of them have serious or even near faceless expressions and some in contrast are reaching outward, with mouths contorted in anguish or extreme emotion. Still, they seem like beings I would come to for reassurance or counsel in the important act of seeking the perspective of an older and wiser female. They have seen and experienced much, their story woven into their skin and intricate clothing.

For those in the area, we will be having a discussion panel on February 3. Follow the Creative 360 website and get on the mailing list for regular updates :).

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Techniques and Tutorials

Good Omens for 2022 With Pantone’s Very Peri

It’s that time of year again! Yes, a day after New Year’s, but also the time when Pantone assigns the new Color Of The Year ;). I actually found out what the new color was going to be before Christmas, but just got around to doing my annual themed artwork after the holidays. I hope it means something that 2022’s color is one of my favorite hues!

The collage of lovely Very Peri art inspiration above is by myself (including some of my recent Christmas themed ACEOs), Emiliano Vega, Bonne Idee Art, Coral REEFlections, Giacomo Carmagnola, Artologica, and beautyspock.

Happy New Year!

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Throwback Art

Throwback Chapter 3 : Fashion Victim

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!

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Throwback Art

Throwback Chapter 2 : Baby It’s Dark Out There

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

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Throwback Art

Throwback Art Part 1: Beauty In The Unfamiliar

When people ask me when I first got into art and my answer is shortly after birth, I inevitably end up mentioning my mother’s astonishing archival skills. I have drawings from every year of my life starting at 1.5 years old. After mentioning this, the response is usually that they sure wish I would share some of these older drawings on my website. As I was going through my past sketches and choosing some to post, I realized though my style over the years has changed quite a bit, there are common themes and purposes behind my work, including within my childhood scribbles. So begins the first part of a 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.

I have always been drawn to art depicting people. Portraits and figures were typically the vehicle for my art’s story from early on. Growing up I loved studying the differences in faces, how some could look so similar but no two were exactly alike. I would sit for hours studying my elementary school yearbooks as a kid, just staring at the different faces, observing. From a very young age I found beauty in that which was different and unfamiliar to me. I grew up in a very non-diverse setting, and didn’t see many people of color in my day to day life. However, I loved watching movies and television shows. As I started to see people who looked completely different from me and my family on the screen, I was fascinated by the wide range of hues and textures that could be present within these other faces – beginning to see people as truly living, breathing sculptures. I went through a period in younger elementary school where much of my figures I would draw were actually POC, much to the amusement and at times confusion of those around me. I also drew plenty of scenes from my day to day life; illustrations of my family, of my friends and neighbors playing outside; but only creating art depicting my own day to day existence just seemed so boring to me. Though a very socially anxious kid, I loved learning about other people and what their life was like, and even enjoyed when friends would show me photos and video of trips their family went on and other important life events. As you can imagine, they were quite pleased to have a not only captive but eager audience.

I’ve been told I was always one to stand up for the underdog, and this extended into the realm of art and fantasy. Although of course I drew princesses, I was also interested in the stories of supposed villians, witches, and other outsiders despite being quite the kind hearted soul and a bit too much of a rule-following goody-two-shoes, at least outside of the home ;).

Once I got a bit older and started actually learning about art, I connected instantly with surrealism, especially as it relates to the human figure. In junior high one of my favorite shows to watch was Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. My favorite stories were the aesthetically bizarre tales of extreme body modification which are all over on youtube now, but back then such slices of life weren’t as readily available. There was the man who had turned himself into a human-tiger hybrid, the woman who got specialized dental implants so she could live out her dream of being a real life vampire, the one who got their tongue split into 3 independent forks that could all move on their own … Though I am in no way a big advocate for plastic surgery, there was something interesting to me about individuals “making the internal external”, a term I use often to describe the aim of my artwork. The idea of people crafting their external persona as a living sculpture to match who they are on the inside was captivating, and though these exact characters never made their way into my art, I did end up drawing a series of 4-legged ballerinas and people with animal heads.

As I continued to develop my surreal portraiture, I depicted facial expressions that wouldn’t typically be captured in a portrait drawing or be considered beautiful, such as negative emotions like fear, anger, or anguish. I also continued to blend human and animal physiology in some of my portrait and figure drawings under the observation that oftentimes, animals can be seen acting like people would and people can act more like we assume an animal would act and react. The lines blur more often than we’d like to think.

Today, uniqueness of spirit, self expression, and animal representations still play a large part in my art just in a different way. When I look at my aerialist mixed media works, I can’t help but be reminded of the dark, vintage circus aesthetic of my earlier 4-legged ladies. I have no tie to gymnastics or dance myself – I am horribly awkward and unskilled at anything requiring physical coordination and spent my time in gymnastics lessons as a kid climbing up to the highest possible spot at the recreation center and simply jumping into the foam pit over and over. I took a ballet class once as well and recall ending the day giggling with a friend as we rolled ourselves up in the dance mats and pretended to be burritos. I pretty much joined just for the outfits. But, again there is that attraction to the completely foreign, those characters that are completely different from myself. Animal imagery abounds, mainly in the form of birds, but it is no longer a bodily extension and more instead a physical representation of the figure’s soul.

I continue to celebrate beauty in all of its forms, especially that which is underrepresented. One of my favorite pieces to date that I’m sure I will cherish forever is the portrait in the center that was part of a 12 part series I created for ArtPrize on year depicting a young woman with down syndrome. She exudes joy, confidence, and freedom.

For a number of years I have worked with an inclusive arts program suited for young adult and adult artists of all abilities, including those with disabilities. I suppose looking back I was always meant to use my gifts to reach people of all abilities. I have a distinct memory from first grade. 2-3 students from special education would spend the first half of the day in the traditional classroom I was a part of, including recess and lunch though during lunch all of the kids from special education would sit at their own separate corner of the lunchroom. One of the girls who visited our class in the mornings wore a fantastic velvet dress with black and pink flower print on it one day, and though remember, I was severely socially anxious at this age and only ever spoke to my one neighborhood friend in class, I gathered my courage and told her I liked her dress because it was just too cool to not say something. From that point on we were kind of friends. She asked me to swing with her at recess, and eventually invited me to sit with her at lunch. Ridiculously enough, I accidentally caused quite a scandal by breaking social lines and sitting at (I will not repeat the name fellow classmates had for this particular table) with my new friend. Differences were never seen as anything for me to fear, but parts of another to appreciate and learn about.

Appreciation for all living beings that make up our wonderful world are a large part of the emotion that goes into my current work, and though sometimes I fail at this concept in practice as do we all, I hope the impulse to draw towards and not shrink away from diversity is a part of myself I always keep with me.

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Art Education

Surprise Box Challenge! (Like ‘Chopped’, But For Art) – Week 1

Those who have visited before may have noticed my affinity for art subscription boxes. Whenever I receive a new box, I always challenge myself to create a small piece of art using only the materials that came in my monthly box as a way to try new techniques and get to know the materials. I am also quite the fan of the cooking show “Chopped”, in which contestants are give a basket of mystery ingredients, some delicious and some just plain odd, from which they must make a cohesive dish. My “day job” is running a program for artists of all abilities, and this new Fall semester I decided to run a class based on this concept. Each week my group will get a surprise box filled with 3-4 different types of materials and be challenged to use only those to make a work of art. Everyone gets the same supplies each week, just different colors or designs. I will be sharing what people came up with, as well as some tips for those who want to try the materials featured at home.

I started the first week without anything too crazy. This week, our materials were: Tombo brush markers, Crayola Portfolio Series oil pastels, Lumineart Twinkling H2Os metallic watercolors, and a watercolor paper base.

Tombo is my absolute favorite brand for brush markers, and while these are often used for illustration and come with a colorless blender for drawing, they are also water soluble. This means they additionally work great as watercolor markers. I have yet to find another brand of watercolor markers that have such brilliant colors and blend as seamlessly. I’ve been a fan since I started using them for interior design project assignments and architectural drawings back in college.

When it comes to oil pastels, quality does matter. With cheaper brands, you will often end up with nothing but glorified crayons as you can see in my latest YouTube video where I reviewed art supplies from Dollar Tree (The oil pastels were actually the ONLY supply to get a poor review – Seriously, you should check this out especially if you have kids who love art.). However, we are also a non-profit with a tight budget. Though the Portfolio Series pastels are an art student spinoff of Crayola which is known for making “kid grade” products, these are decent for students and budget friendly. These particular pastels, staying with the kid friendly theme, are also water soluble. This makes for easy cleanup (yay!) but also allows for blending with watercolors for some cool mixed media art. Despite this, if you leave your watercolors more “painty” and don’t add a ton of water the pastels will still repel the color you are layering over for some great resist effects.

Last but certainly not least, I cannot say enough about the metallic watercolors we used. I’ve tried metallic watercolor sets in the past myself and they were underwhelming … Very translucent, hard and chalky texture that didn’t blend well, and only able to get a pastel hue when applied no matter how little water I added. This brand is absolutely fantastic. The metallic sheen is so intense it almost looks like a high quality acrylic, but it blends like watercolors. It also had plenty of bright electric hues and intense darks. I will definitely be getting a set of these for myself.

In my class with a variety of ages and abilities, including some students with intellectual/developmental disabilities and mental health struggles, here is what everyone came up with:

Some tips when using these materials together:

  • Metallic watercolors don’t look very metallic until they are dry, so have patience :).
  • If you draw with a light colored oil pastel first and layer a dark watercolor over, the light pastel will resist the watercolor and show through.
  • Tombo brush markers run with water, but can also be used for drawing just like regular markers. They can be brushed over with water for a paint like effect, but will not draw over a wet surface. They have two ends, including a fine tip that is perfect for adding details to watercolor paintings that beginning artists or those struggling with dexterity would have a stressful time adding with a brush.
  • Using multiple mediums works best when you layer layer layer! Pastels can be added right over the watercolor and ink. Often it’s easiest to create a light wash of background color over your whole surface first, and build up your design from there.

I hope as I continue to share, it will spark some ideas for your creativity at home. Stay tuned for next week’s challenge!

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Gifting, New Work

Support Artists With Disabilities! – Happy Disability Pride Month

As Disability Pride month comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the vibrant artists with disabilities I am priviledged to share my life with, and also remind you that we definitely shouldn’t confine our recognition of the talent and worth of those with disabilities to just one month. In fact, I never even knew there was a Disability Pride Month OR that disability rights had been part of the other early civil rights movements until I started working with individuals with disabilities and a disability rights activist informed me of all this.

For a fantastic, concise video on why there may be this disconnect and why it doesn’t make sense since we will all experience disability at least temporarily at some point in our life, check out Sitting Pretty.

I have never met a more innovative, unconditionally loving and accepting, open and expressive group of people than the neurodiverse artists I work with in the Express Yourself Artshop Program.

One of the hardest parts of supporting artists with disabilities is finding their work in the first place. We have an online store where you can purchase original art and handmade wares, as well as a print-on-demand Redbubble Shop that offers all our unique student designs covering wearables, bags, mugs, home decor, and a variety of other high quality products. I absolutely adore Redbubble and own many products from them myself. I feel they are the best value in a POD site. Myself and my team are passionate about discovering our students’ untapped potential, getting their art out into the world, and helping them support themselves through what they love to do.

This idea of inclusion and celebrating difference as something that makes our community better ties right in to my current largescale project: a “mini mural” for Midland’s Neighboring Week. I have 3 vastly different individuals represented: a middle aged white woman with down syndrome, a young black male, and a mid-late 20s-aged Latino woman using a wheelchair. Heart, Mind, and Spirit are represented by graphic elements connected to each individual. This symbolizes the importance of opening our hearts to others’ stories, and the fact that we need all different types of brains working together in order to be the best community we can be. 

Every person on earth has value, and every person’s story is important.

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Techniques and Tutorials

Happy (Late) Father’s Day Palette Knife Painting Demo

Sharing this nearly a week later, but my wonderful father at least received his palette knife bird painting on time ;)! I shared earlier how I’d been doing a lot of from-afar collaboration over the last year with my dad over quarantine through using his bird photographs as inspiration for illustrations and paintings. When looking through some of his more recent photos for inspiration for a painting to gift, this little guy stuck out to me. I loved the striking black and white pattern, which meshed perfectly with the already existing abstract background. (Seriously, if you want to paint more often prep a bunch of small canvases with random color blend backgrounds so they are already primed for when inspiration strikes!)

I hope you enjoy this peek into my process. I find birds to be one of the most accessible things to palette knife paint. If you visit my channel I have other videos with step-by-step verbal instruction accompanying the footage.

Flowers more your thing? Check out my Mother’s Day demo.

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Techniques and Tutorials

Palette Knife Tulips Demo (Dedicated to Mom!)

For Ashley

I’m going to start off by saying I used to be really bad at painting anything outside of my quite narrow areas of interest. I went through a phase where I was putting dragon wings on everything, for example, and only did fantasy or surrealism inspired art. I remember my roommate freshman year of college asking me to paint a picture of a teenage girl holding a cat surrounded by flowers after she found out I was an artist (She was the opposite of me, into all pastel cutesy stuff). Hence, this dead eyed girl and cat with guess what, dragon wings, was born. If I still had it, I’d consider submitting it to The Museum Of Bad Art.

Over the years and especially through teaching, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of creating itself and not just the end result, so that even if I’m making something that isn’t necessarily my go-to aesthetic, I can still harness the therapeutic benefits of creativity. This makes accepting commissions a lot easier, and creating art for loved ones that may not fancy surrealism and oddity as much as I do. I have literally never painted tulips in my life, but my mom loves them and while we were recently out walking remarked on the beauty of a particular variety planted at Dow Gardens. I hope you enjoy this visual walkthrough of the process!

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