Artists To Know: Amazing Artist and Designer Parents

In homage to this season where we honor parents through mother’s and father’s day, I wanted to highlight successful artists with families. There is this widely accepted perception that artists (especially women artists) can’t be successful if they start families. The stereotype of the the lone artist dedicated to their craft, eschewing any and all serious relationships lest it distract them from their ultimate purpose of creation still reigns supreme. Acclaimed feminist artist Marina Abramovic has repeatedly spoken in interviews about how having children holds artists back and is a disaster especially for women’s careers. However, isn’t viewing parenting, a role that is traditionally considered feminine, as less then an inherently sexist view? Disclaimer, this is all coming from someone who actually doesn’t want kids! However, it boggles my mind that being an involved parent is often looked at in society as “doing nothing” or underachieving one’s potential. I never thought about it much when I was a kid or teen myself, but how much of a full time job parenting truly is has really hit home for me as friends of mine are beginning to have children, and I see and hear firsthand about their experiences. Even with pretty awesome, well behaved kids, parenting is a 24 hour job. After 18-20 years, the hours may be cut back a little but really it doesn’t end there, it’s a lifetime commitment, and a vocation that is far from “nothing”.

Abramovic made headlines and sparked heated debate when she told German newspaper Der TAgesspiegel: “In my opionon, having children is the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that”. The following amazing artists and designers with kids prove that you don’t have to.

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Mark Ryden,  forerunner of the pop surrealism movement, used his daughter as the model for this famous (or to some infamous) piece, Rosie’s Tea Party. The painting ended up in the middle of some controversy over the inclusion of Catholic symbols embedded in the piece. Asked amidst the uproar whether he felt people were imposing their own interpretations on his work, Ryden responded, “There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of. The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to the making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery. They need to literalize it all and tie it up in a neat little package”. As someone who has had people misinterpret the intent of some of my work based on their own bias and subsequently fly off the handle over it, I can empathize. Wrongfully interpreted or not, I am also very against censorship in general and feel people need to be able to handle being confronted with things they don’t always agree with. Ryden’s wife Marion Peck is a successful working artist as well.

 

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Jason Lee, a wedding photographer working in San Francisco, started this project in 2006 when his mother became ill. Because of the need to be careful about germs, her granddaughters’ visiting was restricted. Lee started a blog with these whimsical photos because he wanted his mother to still feel connected to what was going on in the girls’ lives, and he also wished to give her something that would cheer her up and make her laugh. Lee collaborated with his elementary aged daughters to come up with a host of ideas for surreal, comical photoshoots to share with their grandmother. More of the creative and adorable results can be seen here.

 

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Remy Coutarel is an illustrator from France, now residing in Seattle. He sites his young twin boys as a constant source of inspiration for his work, especially with his children’s book illustrations. His cheerful and imaginative illustrations span a variety of styles and subject matter, all with a recognizable sense of movement and unique character creation.

 

 

Children’s clothing line Princess Awesome got its beginning on kickstarter, the collaboration of two moms and good friends, elementary educator Rebecca Melsky and stay-at-home mom, part-time web developer, and seamstress Eva St. Clair. Melsky had a daughter who loved cars and dinosaurs, but would only wear skirts or dresses. Of course, there were no patterns of cars, trains, or prehistoric beasts to be found anywhere except the boys’ section. The two moms saw a gap in the clothing market, and decided to fill it. They started bringing their designs to craft bazaars, not sure whether other parents would like their designs that featured fabric patterns far different from what could be found in the typical girls’ section in department stores. The clothes sold out immediately, and they started getting orders. St. Clair also home schools her 4 children (She’s basically a superhero), and the two knew there was no way they’d be able to keep up with one person sewing out of their home, which is when they turned to kickstarter to fund their business. The rest is history. I love this company. As I think of myself as a child, one who was also not a fan of wearing pants and liked playing with dinosaur figures and matchbox cars and collecting  bugs and rocks just as much as playing with Barbies, I know I would have adored these clothes. Most clothing companies that pop up as an alternative to the typical “girls section” fare tend to veer entirely in the opposite direction of no pink, and no dresses, so that the girls in the middle who may love  stereotypical “boy” things and stereotypical “girly” things end up left out. The company even makes scarves for adults featuring the fun fabrics covering their kids clothing. I need that dinosaur scarf ASAP.

 

Independence Day clothing

Independence day clothing is another line of designs created by a mom that saw a need that wasn’t being filled, and rose to the challenge. ABC news interviewed designer Lauren Theirry in 2015, shining a spotlight on the new company that aims to provide accessible and fashionable clothing to the autistic community. Theirry was a financial news anchor for over a decade before she decided to make the change to becoming an advocate for autism full time. Theirry had no fashion design experience when she started, but she had been helping her son with autism get dressed for 17 years and knew what others like him needed in a piece of clothing. Because people with autism often have issues with fine motor skills and can also have heightened senses, zippers and buttons or rougher fabrics can be extremely vexing and uncomfortable for them. Theirry decided that people with autism, “… deserve better than T-shirts and baggy sweatpants.” She designed a line of clothing in soft fabrics that feature no zippers, buttons, or laces that men and women with autism could easily take on and off themselves. All designs are also completely reversible with no defined front or back side, and are not designed to be gender specific, so that everyone can feel confident and comfortable while wearing them.

 

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The Huffington Post interviewed this last fashion entrepreneur, who is not just a designer mother but a designer grandmother. Karen Bowersox already had business experience from running her husband’s medical practice, but the decision to dive headfirst into the clothing business at 65 was inspired by her granddaughter with down syndrome, Maggie. Finding clothing that fit Maggie’s proportions properly was always a struggle for Karen’s daughter, especially with jeans or pants. Maggie’s family was not alone in this. Having no prior fashion experience, Bowersox reached out to designer Jillian Jankovsky in order to start her own company tailored specifically to children and adults with down syndrome, then called Downs Designs. Bowersox’s company was rebranded in 2016 to NBZ Apparel International after it expanded to provide jeans and slacks not only for people with down syndrome but individuals with other varying disabilities as well, including styles with no buttons or zippers for those struggling with fine motor skills. Bowersox wants people who look at her granddaughter and all individuals with disabilities to see the person first, not the disability first. She believes having clothing that individuals with disabilities can feel comfortable and confident in and that fits correctly is the first step. In the interview with Huffington Post, Bowersox said, “I can’t believe I’m changing the world, all with a pair of jeans“.

These artists, illustrators, and designers are successful because of  their family, not despite them, and their children have inspired them to generate ideas they would not have come up with otherwise. Don’t let others define what limits your potential based on their own fears and prejudices, and to all the parents out there, thank you!

 

Artists To Know: ArtPrize 2016 Edition

I almost thought I wasn’t going to make it to Artprize this year with everything going on, but in the end I knew I’d deeply regret it if I didn’t just make the time. I mean, even Donald Trump turned up for Artprize this year, albeit on different weekends. Apparently I went one week too early and missed him, oh darn ;).

Though my boyfriend and I missed meeting an actual candidate, the election still haunted us in the form of getting semi-lost by missing an exit due to a sociopolitical argument that escalated on the car ride over. I think election time makes all Americans go a little psycho. Otherwise, the day went off without a hitch…

Good food, good beer,

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silly photo ops,

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a sighting of my favorite Pantone color,

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and a chance to live as my favorite Peanuts character for a hot second (Lucy forever!!!).

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Granted, walking around town for one day you only end up seeing a fraction of the art that is available, but I wanted to share with you my favorites of what I was able to see.

Kathy WeaverWar Devours Us

Weaver’s intricate charcoal and mixed media pieces have so much detail, incorporating collage and  stitched elements as you zoom in closer. Weaver aims to show the strength and courage of the refugee community amidst horrifying circumstances, and often less than a warm welcome when they attempt to find peace and safety.

Saya WoofalkPose System

This piece, featuring collaged bodies and colorful details (and skulls, have to love skulls), grabbed my attention right away for it’s dynamic composition and unique style. It was so different from anything else I would see during the day, and there was so much visual movement in both the contortions of the figures and even the psychedelic dotted background.

Chadwick and SpectorMuseum Anatomy

These pieces are painted on human bodies – enough said. The concept statement said that the artists used female portraits from the Renaissance that had been either hidden, lost, or destroyed. To recreate these paintings on paper alone would be a challenge. Can you spot the eye in the second photo?

 Scott Leipski10 Thoughts On Tuesday

This artist challenged himself to create a new piece every Tuesday for 10 weeks, and this is the end result. I loved how different each piece was from the other, like an eccentric cast of characters. I had a soft spot for the Alice In Wonderland inspired piece, of course.

Joao Paulo Goncalves – Portraits of Light and Shadow

This artist created portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring using pixel art. But, this was no ordinary pixel art. The pixels are actually wooden blocks that protrude from the surface in varying degrees, and the different shades that you see are created by light and shadow from the light from the fixtures above hitting the blocks. I honestly can’t even quite wrap my head around how the artist figured all of this out to get such a rich gradation. It gives me a headache, so I think I will stop trying to figure it out and just enjoy the masterpiece :).

Zhao naIsomorphic Interpretation of the Four Seasons

These stunning paintings do one of my favorite things in art – merge living things in their environment. The detail is stunning, and the use of white space, absolutely perfect. These works incorporated a lot of symbolism, outlined by the artist on her Artprize profile, which I would encourage you to read for further insight.

Hope Network Neuro RehabilitationUnmasking Brain Injury

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I love love love the concept of this project. I work with a program that provides opportunities for expression through art for individuals with physical and mental challenges, so this was right up my alley. Using masks to create a visual representation of each artist’s personal story, 28 artists who attend the Hope Network’s rehabilitation program joined together to express how brain injury has affected them personally, and how they have triumphed. This project, featuring not only the mask itself but each individual’s accompanying personal story, was one of the most meaningful and powerful pieces I saw. I love art that visually represents personal stories. I have previously talked about the power of telling people’s stories through art, and also about shining light on the truth through telling your personal story. Stories are a powerful force for both recording history, erasing prejudices and misconceptions, and personal therapy, letting go of the burden of things you cannot change.

Has anyone else gone to Artprize this year? What were some of your favorites?

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! 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.

Revisiting Photography

In the last post I introduced you to some inspiring photographers with intricate, fantasy based, mind-bending designs. Little known to many, I myself enjoy photography as well. Photography is certainly more of a hobby for me than something I was ever interested in pursuing professionally. I mostly use it as a relaxing exercise for stress control :). I have not actively gone out to take photos in quite a few months now. Between working on my own pieces, working on commissions, teaching, and crafting accessories and plush toys I’ve had to pick and choose which creative pursuits to focus my time on to avoid the whole “jack of all trades, master of none” trap. When I do get out with my camera, my favorite things to photograph are street art, graveyards, and nature (though I’m not too into flowers, unless they are ridiculously colorful). Most of my street art photos are from when I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Europe with my family back in 2008. “Street art” in Midland, MI where I grew up is rather uninspired … mainly consisting of F-bombs and anarchy symbols, the actual political meaning of which is probably lost on the perpetrators anyway, sloppily scrawled in red spray paint. For some reason, it is always red, and any additional words are usually misspelled.

I was going through my photo storage drive last night, and realized that though I’ve taken a lot of photos over the last 7-ish years, I’ve never really done anything with them. I enjoyed the journey of traveling to a new place, or hiking in a wood nearby to town, dumped my camera card, and then just kind of left the images sitting there in limbo. I decided it wouldn’t take too long to put them to good use, and began uploading them to my Zazzle and Redbubble shops. If I’m going to enter a piece into a gallery or a juried exhibit, it is always going to be a drawing or painting rather than a photo print because that is where I want to focus myself and that is what I am known for, but where my watercolor paintings or pencil drawings are softer and more flowing, the bold colors and sharp graphics of a digital photo really bring a nice look to a T-shirt, skirt (I am absolutely in love with how the rose one shown below turned out!), tote bag, or phone case. I will be continuously adding more products and different photographic images over this next week (I do have 7+ years worth to sort through :)) including cards and stickers. With the nice weather, maybe on my next day off I’ll even dust off my camera and go for a good hike, see what catches my eye.

Macro Magenta and Yellow Rose Zazzle

Macro Magenta and Yellow Rose Zazzle

Diner Girls Street Art Redbubble

Diner Girls Street Art Redbubble

Pisa Notebook Journal Zazzle

Pisa Notebook Journal Zazzle

Silent Angel IPad Case Redbubble

Silent Angel IPad Case Redbubble

Artists To Know! Installment Four

I really don’t give photography or sculpture enough love. I tend to have my eye caught most by drawings, paintings, and mixed media because it’s what I do and I understand the process, but there is so much more thrilling art out there in every medium. So, for these next couple “Artist To Know” installments I am going to focus on art forms besides the aforementioned. Today is photography’s day to shine. Though there is also a lot of stunning landscape and animal photography out there (I mean come on, nature is amazing!), I chose to feature a type of photography less often explored, utilizing props, costumes, and often times incredibly extensive handmade sets to create a new and different world that the photographer envisions. These photographs tell a story beyond the appreciation of beauty. These are not about capturing the perfect moment, but creating the perfect moment to capture.

Tim Walker

British fashion photographer Tim Walker shot his first fashion story for Vogue at the young age of 25, and has continued shooting for British, American, and Italian Vogue ever since. He has also created stories for W magazine and LOVE magazine. I love the entrancing worlds he creates ranging from the soft and ethereal to the colorful and kooky. As a kid, I always wished there existed a magic television that could record people’s dreams while they slept, so I could watch others’ dreams (curious and nosy kid, for sure ;)). I imagine Walker’s photos are what the recordings would have looked like. He invites you into his dreams. You really have to visit his website and see his series of surreal photographs featuring well-known actors and actresses that he did for W – they are of the colorful and kooky variety, and some of my favorites. Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Keira Knightley, and Eddie Redmayne? Yes please.

Alex Stoddard

Alex Stoddard’s first exploration with photography was a series of self portraits he began taking at 16. I find people that are able to simultaneously compose amazing shots and also act as model in them and convey the correct body position and emotion on their face mind blowing as it is. It is clear that each of Stoddard’s photographs tell a story, and the viewer is dragged straight into it, no longer just a passerby gazing at a scene or figure but an active participant in whatever is going on.

Lindsey Adler

Lindsey Adler is a professional portrait and fashion photographer, known for her bold, graphic compositions. What is also cool about her is she loves sharing her passion with others, and lectures tens of thousands of photographers each year worldwide. Not every artist is willing to share their secrets, or wishes to take the time out of creating work to teach others, and I find that very admirable and inspiring. What I was most drawn to  about her work is her super-close-up face shots that turn her model’s face into a work of art. There is obvious careful attention to color, space, and line, even when working with the natural hues and contours of a face rather than adding fantastical artistic details like below.

Kirsty Mitchell

Winner of Lens Culture’s Visual Storytelling Grand Prize in 2014, Kirsty Mitchell worked as a successful senior fashion designer for an international label until personal illness brought on unexpected life changes. It is then that she connected with the camera, and she states that it changed her life forever. Her series “Wonderland”; my personal favorite and the series from which the image below is a part; was inspired by her mother, who sadly passed in 2008. The sets, costumes, and props are hand-created and filled with exquisite details, which is what captivated me in the first place. Mitchell says she found herself creating pieces that echoed her mother’s stories, and the need to create the worlds of her dreams and make them tangible grew. The greater meaning behind these images is evident in the awe-inspiring end results of the project.

Michael Belk

Michael Belk is an accomplished fashion photographer whose work has appeared regularly in Elle, Vogue, and many other publications. He always said of his work “There is no hidden meaning in my photography, no agenda beyond the image itself. I am attracted to beauty …” Then suddenly, his focus shifted away from the model of “art for art’s sake” and he began spending all of his time composing modern day biblical scenes. In an interview with The Christian Post, Belk says of the inspiration for his new passion, “I was in New York prepping for a photo shoot a week after 9/11 and saw many people searching for something.” It was out of this realization that in the midst of chaos people were fearful and didn’t know where to turn, in conjunction with Belk’s own experience of faith in what he calls one of his “darkest hours”, that “Journeys With The Messiah” was born. Belk places the stories of Jesus in a modern day context to communicate timeless biblical themes in a way that is sharply relevant to today’s culture and issues. The strong light source and worn, sepia filter over all the images in this series communicate a strong feeling of sincerity, and seamlessly merge imagination and creativity with history. “Journeys With The Messiah” is beauty, with a purpose.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s photography! Next time, it’s sculpture. Have any favorite photographers I didn’t mention in this group? Give me a shout! I love learning about new artists myself.

Creating Mixed Media Work Inspired By Photography

I love mixed media work that layers and collages varying elements into one piece, but still creates a cohesive universe, a dreamworld with the same depth and breadth as the natural world around us. I’ve found the best way to create mixed media work that maintains perspective and three-dimensionality is to base your piece off of photos you’ve taken. I usually build a concept first, then find photos that support the design I’ve constructed in my head. Those that don’t know where to start can begin with a photo that has meaning to them, one they find inspiring, or one that just plain looks pretty and build from there. I’m going to take you through my process for creating mixed media pieces inspired by photography, but each person may approach their own process a little differently once they get started.

The Dance, Awarded Best 2D; prismacolor pencil, ink, watercolor, fabric, book pages, embroidery thread

The Dance, Awarded Best 2D “Piece By Piece” at Creative 360 Gallery; prismacolor pencil, ink, watercolor, fabric, book pages, embroidery thread

Quite literally, frolicking in the woods. I knew these poses wood come in handy for something one day ...

Quite literally, frolicking in the woods. I knew these poses would come in handy for something one day …

An outtake from playtime :)

An outtake from playtime 🙂

Once you have your concept and your photo(s), the first thing you want to do is break your image down into components, and decide what material will be used for which component. A sketchbook comes in real handy for jotting down notes during this part of the *adventure*.

For “The Dance”, I first thought of what needed texture, and what didn’t. The ground covered in fallen leaves was certainly full of visual texture, as was the bark on the trees. The figures and the path could be left flat – you don’t want to overdo the texture or a piece can get confusing. Framed by the raised texture, this would also help the figures stand out as the focus. Only a handful of the trees in the woods were actually birch, but I knew I wanted a lot of light colors so the girl’s gowns would be in stark contrast to the background, similar to in the black and white photograph. Therefore, I decided to make all the trees in my mixed media birch bark. FYI, book pages are fantastic as birch bark. The color is already spot on, and the all over text compliments the black circles and rings that tattoo its surface. I twisted the paper into thin tendrils for the roots and branches to bring the trees off the page. As for the ground, I used torn muslin fabric. The white color allowed me to use the fabric similar to plain paper once applied, and layer watercolor paint over it until it reached the desired color. Torn fabric is great for ground cover because it frays, creating a believable texture all on its own. I knew I wanted the dresses to be done in ink because ink appears lighter in weight and airier, and would communicate the translucent flow of the skirt. Colored pencil works well for tiny, precise detail and I also am far better at drawing the human body than painting it, which is why I used pencil for the head and hands. Ink was used for the path as well, because once again I wanted a “light” feel to the path to help it stand out and so I could better capture the strong light source hitting it from the sun. The ink also transitions well into watercolor. Transitions are still important even in more “assemblage” type projects. When creating mixed media scenes, though you are in essence collaging, you don’t want to completely have that seamed together, cut and paste look.

The choices I made for “The Dance” were based on two things; first, what look do I want to achieve but also second, what is practical based on my strengths and weaknesses with the various materials? This second deciding factor will be different for each artist. I have learned from teaching that many, many other artists do not enjoy drawing people as much as I do, and quite a few even flat out despise it. If this is you, for a piece with people in it you may choose to have the figures printed and cut them out, pasting them into the scene rather than drawing them. A way to work photography into the piece so it doesn’t look separate from the rest of the environment would be to perhaps print them in black and white or sepia and then “colorize” the photos by lightly shading over the eyes, hair, cheeks, etc. with a colored pencil. You can also add three dimensional elements over the photo such as some fabric leaves blowing across the body, a small paper flower on the person’s jacket or in their hair, or gluing actual fabric over their clothing. This “anchors” the photo of the person/people within the environment to become part of the entire piece rather than a separate cutout element.

"Actually, It Is This World That's Too Small", Mixed Media

“Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small”, Mixed Media

My 10 year reunion is coming up next year, and the clothes I used to wear are officially beginning to look silly. Short sleeved turtleneck sweaters for the win! And always striped tights, because The Dresden Dolls (would still rock those!)

My 10 year reunion is coming up next year, and the clothes I used to wear in high school are officially beginning to look silly. Cap sleeved turtleneck sweaters and pre-worn jean skirts for the win! And always striped tights, because Amy Brown fairies and The Dresden Dolls (I would still rock those!)

“Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small” is a mixed media piece I based on a photo a friend took in high school while we were hanging out, playing around with cameras in my basement. I never felt that I shared much in common with “typical” teenage girls, but a desire to constantly take photos of each other was one stereotypical trait my friends and I all did share – just sometimes my photos involved face painting or cardboard masks rather than manicures and false eyelashes. I found it interesting how the angle of the photograph made it look like the door behind me was miniature, like the door the white rabbit escapes through in Alice In Wonderland. You can see how the photo serves as a guide and an inspiration, but by no means dictates what your final piece has to look like. Creative alterations are always an option, and encouraged.

Old family photo with Grandpa (I can't believe I'm posting this, but for the sake of art ... I will publicly expose baby photos - at least the non-embarassing ones).

Old family photo with Grandpa (I can’t believe I’m posting this, but for the sake of art … I will publicly expose baby photos to the online universe – at least the non-embarassing ones).

What’s really awesome is that beyond conceptual art, you can apply this same technique to family photos, and make a truly meaningful piece of work that is entirely personal. I’m going to talk you through how I would approach this photograph above if I were going to turn it into a mixed media piece. This will give you another example that will hopefully help you solidify how to proceed on a project of your own. I would probably draw the people since I adore portraits and figures, but once again if figures are not your thing, you could print yours from an enlarged photo and collage them in – it’s totally allowed :). There is really no reason to just color in a solid red shirt, so I would probably trace a pattern to get the right shape, and then cut the sweater out of fabric and paste it over my grandpa like I did with the purple dress in the staircase piece shown previously. Remember, always look for places to add interest with different materials. Due to the light, reflective nature of the window glass, I would use a mix of ink and watercolor for that part. The bricks are definitely the most textural element in this particular photo, so for those I would mix a gritty element like sand into acrylic paint, and create a rough, uneven texture in dark red on the wall. Once dry, I would then paint the grey cement lines over with a thin brush. For the sake of my sanity and also to make it more interesting and less institutional looking, I would probably change the brick to an uneven pattern of varying size and shape as opposed to the uniformity that was there in real life. How else can we add interest? In the photo, there are no flower boxes on the windowsill, but why can’t there be? You can cut flowers out of paper or white fabric and color them with ink or watercolor, or you can glue on small ribbon rosettes available in the floral or wedding aisle of most craft stores.

I hope this post has given you some ideas, and I’d like to end with a simple (though not set in stone) guide as to when certain materials are most beneficial when creating your own mixed media wonderland.

Watercolor: overall background coverage, light or translucent forms, florals, glass, water

Ink: flowers and plants, light or translucent forms, fabric, glass, water, figures/faces/skin/hair

Colored Pencil: small details, figures/faces/skin/hair, birds or furry animals, stone or bark

Fabric: clothing, flowers and plants, ground cover (soil, grass, leaves, etc), interior wallpaper

Book Pages: trees and bark, interior wallpaper, flowers

Sand Mixed With Paint: brick, stone, dirt

Other Accoutrements: embroidery thread sewn through the paper as anything composed of thin lines: tree branches, eyelashes, veins, flower stems …; small ribbon flowers, tiny prints on photo paper as interior wall art, strung seed beads or glued on flatback rhinestones as jewelry, use your imagination and don’t be afraid to try something new!

Feel free to comment or message if you need any advice on a project you’re working on or a new one you are beginning. I’m happy to help!