New Work

New Work Inspired By Spring (and Stress)

I’ve taken a short break from my new series to work on a stand alone project for a competition coming up. I always have a couple sketchbooks going filled with any ideas for art projects that I’ve thought up over the past 10+ years, some I’ve gotten to and some I haven’t. I think it’s the fact that I live in Michigan and the winter has been never ending that made me want to work on something inspired by plants, insects, and basically signs of life. When I began this project, I had also been having a bit of a rough patch emotionally with some minor life trials, nothing vast on their own but when all occurring at the same time… yikes. I had done a watercolor sketch way back in 2008 of a crying woman with ladybugs crawling our of her eyes, but it ended up looking way too gross which took away from the original intent. Another previous piece (Seriously, check it out if you haven’t already – it has a fun story.) from more recently incorporating butterfly designs into the human form had been well received when showed at a curated exhibit and to my surprise actually ended up selling right away. With this in the back of my mind, I decided torn butterfly wings were the perfect vehicle for melancholia – not so creepy crawly.

From this creative soup came my newest piece, Torn, on 18×24 mixed media paper.

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One of the biggest challenges with this piece was maintaining a balance of light and dark and achieving the bold contrast I knew I wanted without the figure looking disjointed. The white outlined pattern taken from both the background’s ginkgo leaves and butterfly designs layered overtop the black watercolor drip of her torso helped to blend the dark areas into the light and remove some of the heaviness. I included pieces of stark black scattered throughout the piece to balance everything out, from the hair and parts of the wings to the thin branches in the background.

butterfly shirtAn additional challenge – my two loves are watercolor and colored pencil, and I especially love to utilize these two vastly different mediums together. What paper to use, though? Colored pencils just cannot blend on watercolor paper with the strongly textured, bumpy surface so I tend to opt for mixed media paper when using wet and dry mediums together. However, watercolor does not  act the same way on mixed media paper as on traditional watercolor paper. Doing wet-on-wet color application leads to some really blotchy, unpleasant results so I had to be patient and do a lot more light layering to build up to the look I wanted.

All in all, I am happy with the result and enjoyed turning one of my concepts in idea purgatory into a reality :). Prints of all types are available in both my Redbubble Shop and Ebay Store.

 

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New Work

New Art! 2 Down 2 To Go!

Struck by both some luckily timed inspiration and ever looming deadlines, I have buckled down on my series and completed 2 more pieces, which means only 2 more to go! I actually think these 2 new ones are among my favorites so far. Series-explanation-blurb time for those new readers! “Unlimited” is composed of 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. Pieces are primarily drawing and painting, accented with mixed media elements and metallic details.

october she is full of curiosity

For the above, titled “October: She Is Full of Curiosity”, I incorporated a lot more mixed media elements which I felt meshed well with the “vintage study” atmosphere of the background. I used quilting fabric for the wallpaper, leather upholstery samples for the book cover, decoupaged book pages for the inside pages and title, an art book clipping for the picture on the wall, ink for the woodwork, watercolor for the outdoor scene, lace overlay for the girl’s collar, metallic acrylic for her hair, and prismacolor pencil for most of the figure and clothing.

she is free

In this next piece, titled “July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit”, I took almost the opposite approach, not using any fabric or found object materials and sticking solely to the traditional art materials of prismacolor pencil, watercolor, and acrylic paint. I’d had all the pieces for my series pre-planned as far as composition and subject matter since late 2015. However, this one took flight (haha, bad pun) on its own quite recently after I realized that I had a variety of ages and races represented in my planned artworks, but not a variety of abilities. Given that I work with an art program that serves individuals with disabilities, this oversight stopped me in my tracks. I’m always harping on inclusion and the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the public and entertainment sphere to anyone who will listen (and even those who don’t want to sometimes), and yet I realized they were not included in my project that was all about inclusion, unity, and representation. I was thus tasked with coming up with a visible disability that could be seen in just a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full body rendering. This lively young woman with down syndrome who exudes confidence, energy, and life evolved over the incredibly short course of two interrupted days with no pre-planning or sketching beforehand which is very uncommon for me. I don’t know that anyone else will see it, but this piece definitely holds the most emotional connection for me.

For more deeply personal and unconventional portraits, check out self-taught contemporary artist Stephen Martyn Welch’s “Everyone Deserves A Portrait” series inspired by his son who was born with Kabuki Syndrome. Keep checking for the last two! I’m on a roll ;)!

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Art Discussion, New Work

New Work: She is Sheltered By Faith

Organized religion has always had an interesting relationship with women. While many of the ways in which various religions are practiced (notice I say practiced, because often how one chooses to express their religion and how they are kind of supposed to practice it based on the basic tenants of their religion’s teachings can be quite different) have not been too kind to the ladies, even in this day and age, women on the whole are practicing their faith in greater numbers than their male counterparts. This is especially true in Christianity, the faith I will be discussing as it is the one I practice, and the one I am most familiar with.

Interested in this dichotomy, I knew I had to do a piece on women and faith for my current series surrounding women and the various themes that intertwine their lives. Thus, this art nouveau inspired piece was born, titled “April: She Is Sheltered By Faith”. The lush flowers and vines radiate in growth around the central figure, sheltering her from the rains of darkness. She is surrounded by a metallic gold halo of light, and smiling calmly and assuredly through the storm.

april she is sheltered by faith

As one who strives for equality for all, including between different genders, I often find myself in an awkward space where it comes to my Christian faith. Though Jesus himself surely stood for equality, churches don’t always do the best job carrying this message through in our everyday life today. One need look no further than the recent trending hashtag on twitter, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, to read statements that range from laughable in their utter lunacy to those that are absolutely heart wrenching.

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…And, there are many, many more. These are not made up stories or exaggerations. As thankful as I am that I grew up in the same church I attend now that I feel comfortable in for the most part, many of these messages are familiar through the stories of friends of mine and through articles and advice in Christian teen books or magazines I remember from my youth. We need to do better, and it starts with listening to others’ stories, speaking up when you do hear any of these toxic messages spoken, and knowing the truth. I used to feel so uncomfortable about being the very antithesis of what both mainstream and religious conservative media would have you believe a practicing Christian is “supposed to” be, but nowadays I kind of embrace it. I feel like I’ve finally found a lot of my purpose in life, and besides, aren’t we supposed to stay true to what’s right and not worry about “fitting in” with everyone else? Maybe, this sometimes even means not fitting in with those within our own little group.

So what draws women to faith based lives despite the challenges of organized religion? I’d say it is because the Person they follow advocated for equality way ahead of His time, and that in the stories of His teachings and examples of how He treated others, justice and love have always been at the forefront.

I didn’t want this post to turn into a theology lesson so I kept the background brief, but here are some resources concerning women and Christianity that I think are worth a read, and that definitely challenge the status quo of what Christian women are hearing from society:

On Being A Christian and Being A Feminist … and Belonging Nowhere / Sarah Bessey / (Pst! This cool lady actually started the #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear thread.)

15 Christian Women Get Real About The Role Of Women In The Church / Huffington Post

Women’s Faith and Power / ReThinkChurch / “We believe advocacy for the equality between women and men results in positive change that improves the world.” – Yeah!

Jesus and Women / Christianity Today / “In His treatment of women, as in many other areas, Jesus of Nazareth was a radical contrast to the standards of His times”

The Case For Women In Ministry / ReKnew

On Being ‘Divisive’ / Rachel Held Evans

10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up In The Church / The Junia Project

 

 

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Art Discussion, New Work

New Work – September: She Is An Atlas

This was one of the most challenging pieces in my series thus far, because I was working with multiple layers of meaning and thoughts. It also is the most “mixed media” of all my series installments, utilizing not just mixed fine art mediums but fabric, metal chain, tiny rhinestones, and torn book pages. I have been so into metallic accents since the collaboration with my friend and student, Heather. I also blame her for the inclusion of rhinestones – she encourages me to be sparkly.

she is an atlas

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when I feel, I feel BIG or not at all. There is no other way. The sketch that inspired this piece started as a way for me to process the weight of my own emotions and feelings of powerlessness. As  I began further conceptualizing this current series, I realized the idea could fit as one of the 12 pieces. For new readers, here’s my blurb briefly explaining the series (If you are already in the know, feel free to skip ahead 😉 ): I am creating 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. The title of each piece starts with the month it represents, followed by “She Is _______”. The figure in this piece quite literally has “the world on her shoulders” through the pattern on her clothing, much like the mythic Atlas. Atlas the physical object is also defined as a book of maps or charts, and can signify one feeling that they alone must have all the directions and answers to all of the world’s problems, a grand and impossible responsibility.

The exposed heart necklace represents empathy, an open heart waiting to be wounded , left unprotected and raw. She leans against a bulls-eye wall, surrounded by an outline of thrown knives, a target girl like in the well known circus act. With each act of injustice and malice directed at others, she feels as if she is standing in their place, each offense a knife thrown at her, just missing. Though fearful, her face is strong and even. I’ve written before about how compassion and empathy does not equal weakness. To stick one’s head in the sand and be ignorant of the world’s ills is weakness; foolish, avoidant, and selfish.

Another way the subject can be viewed is not as the empathizer but as the victim. Some people are born into situations that are so difficult, living day to day is much like standing against a target with knives being thrown at them. It can be their geographic location, their income, the people that surround them or lack thereof, and the list goes on. Though yes, our personal choices certainly can influence outcomes, isn’t so much of life like a gigantic, living lottery when you think about it? Yet we shake our heads and wag our fingers when we see people who are struggling both around us and abroad, because certainly they must have done something wrong or things would look different? This way of thinking frees us of the responsibility to help others, and gives us a false sense of power that by doing certain things we can be 100% sure we attain the exact sort of life that we want. It all goes back to empathy and control.

One of the things I love about art is the way people can discern completely different meanings from a piece based on their own thoughts and experiences. Did something different strike you as you looked at this piece, did it remind you of something? Please share, don’t be shy!

 

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Techniques and Tutorials

Start Drawing Amazing Eyes!

Eyes have always been my absolute favorite thing to draw, and I tend to accentuate them in all of my artwork. They can also be one of the most difficult things to draw, and it takes a lot of practice to get them right. There are a lot of picky little details to pay attention to. When we begin drawing an eye how we “think” we should, without really observing an actual eye’s appearance as if we have never seen one before, we tend to end up with a drawing like below. Generic football shape, outlined individual eyelashes, harshly contrasting pupil and highlights, and those pesky little lines jutting out all around the center like a kid’s drawing of the sun. In reality, an eye’s darks and lights are much more subtle and blended, each person’s eye is a completely different shape, and unless we are drawing a huge zoomed-in eye filling an entire 18×24″ piece of paper, you wouldn’t actually see individual eyelashes. I’d like to share my tricks of the trade with you. Grab a piece of paper and follow along. It will be fun, I promise! Don’t worry about doing everything “perfect”, just enjoy sketching. Every artist does things slightly different, and the more you practice you may discover some of your own “tricks” that work for you.

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  1. Lightly outline the contour of the eye. Don’t just draw an oval with half circles above and below it. Pay attention to the exact curvature of the unique eye you are trying to draw (photo references are always good.) Is it wider on one side than the other? Does the eyelid dip down drastically or does it curve more gradually? Are the curves of the eye and eyelid soft and smooth, or more angular? Is the eyelid rounded or more flat on top? Is the fold under the eye parallel to the bottom eyelid, or does it droop diagonally? Sketch lightly, as you don’t want to see harsh outlines through your shading.
  2. Shade the outside perimeter of the eyeball. The darkest shading is always at the two corners of the eye, and gradually fades as you get closer to the iris. There will also be a deeper shadow underneath the eyelid since the lid overlaps our eyeball, blocking the light from reflecting as much up top.
  3. Shade around the iris, again with slightly deeper shading closer to the top eyelid. Even if you don’t explicitly see shadows near the iris in your photo reference, the white of our eyes are never really pure white, and you will get a much more realistic look if there is a gradual transition between the iris and the white of the eye, rather than going from fully colored in iris to stark, clean paper in the white of the eye. This step helps the iris look “settled” into the eyeball rather than looking as if it is “hovering” on top if it.
  4. Add your darkest shading on the top of the iris. This should be a shade darker than your darkest value that you used previously underneath the eyelid when you shaded the white of the eye. Think of a crescent moon facing downward, with the thickest shading up top, getting thinner and then altogether disappearing as it trails down around the edges of your circle shape.
  5. Add in your pupil and reflections. The reason we do this next is because we want to have the reflection areas mapped out before you get to shading the rest of your iris. You can go in with an eraser and add highlights by removing shading afterward, but this can be messy and end up smudging work you don’t wish to be smudged. I find it easier to just leave the highlights white to begin with. The location varies by light source if you are using a photo reference. Without a specific reference, it is safe to add two highlights, one on top and one on bottom at a diagonal to each other. Fill the pupil in dark black. This will be your darkest value.
  6. Shade around the pupil using the same value you used to shade your crescent moon around the top of the iris, one step lighter than black. Again, this anchors the pupil inside the iris so it doesn’t seem as if it is floating on top. This gradual gradation from dark to light makes the separate parts appear as a whole.
  7. Fill the remainder of the iris with a medium value. Again, we want all our value transitions to be gradual, so get a little lighter when you begin shading around the edges of your highlight areas.
  8. While we don’t want radial stripes circling the inside or our iris, we don’t want to smooth all the visual texture out of it either, as the striations of dark and light we see are part of the deep beauty of eyes. Literally “scribble” some slightly darker shading shooting out from the pupil in the two areas between our highlights. Again, please scribble though it may seem odd and scary; we don’t want neat, individual lines extending from the pupil.
  9. Add the tear duct by simply finishing the shading around your eyeball, cutting off the little teardrop shaped dip in the inner corner.
  10. Shade your eyelid! Shade the darkest in a thin line over the crease you originally outlined. Don’t just trace your line darker, shade by moving your pencil back and forth swiftly in short strokes over this line. Above this, shade a touch lighter to again make a gradual transition from dark shadow to white paper. Shade darkly also over the curved line directly above your eyeball, the edge of the eyelid. This will provide a foundation for the eyelashes, which we will add later. Shade along the bottom eyelid like this also.
  11. Shade the bottom crease under your eye. This is not a direct “fold” so it should be lighter than the shading for the eyelid since it is less in shadow. Shade deepest along the line you originally sketched, and shade lighter around this line on top and bottom. Extend the shading up to the outer corner of the eye to really show the skin curving. Add some light shading under the dark crease of the upper eyelid.
  12. We’re going to scribble again! Add some jagged shading pointing out from the top and bottom eyelid where the eyelashes will go, more so on top than on bottom. Do this in a medium value.
  13. Now, you can go over and add some individual curved darker lines sticking out to add some detail to your eyelash area. Don’t make them all the same length, and try to curve them – no straight lines poking out! Add a bunch overlapping each other using swift, light strokes with your pencil. They should be dense and close together.

These are not hard and fast “rules”, and once you’ve practiced the basic guidelines you can twist them to create entrancing eyes in your own unique artistic style, both realistic and more comic or stylized.

Speaking of eyes, I just designed a new pattern for Redbubble covered in glamorous eyeballs for your enjoyment. Check out all the cool new products featuring my digitally drawn pattern Mascara Tears here!

Feel free to throw a comment my way if you have any other drawing questions, I’m always open for giving tips. Any best practices other illustrators out there have found helpful? Don’t hesitate to share!

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Exhibitions and Other News

Super Exciting News (No, I’m Not Engaged. But Read This Anyway.)

First, I must explain the title. It’s a bit of a joke because the last time I did a post in which I professed exciting news, like everyone thought I was engaged. When I was like ‘nope, even better, I won Best 2D at an art exhibition!’ they were like, ‘Oh well, I guess that’s pretty cool too.’ I think this face of epic disbelief from the 10th Doctor sums it up pretty well.

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But, back to my still super exciting news. I had mentioned earlier how thrilled I was about getting into the Greater Michigan Art Exhibition at Midland Center For The Arts because I had entered the 2 previous years as well and had yet to be chosen to exhibit. Well, first I found out that not just one but all three of my entered pieces would be hung in the show.

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Then, I found out that one of them had actually won an award! I feel so unbelievably honored to have one of my pieces receive a Juror’s Recognition Award.

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(I hate closeup pictures of me holding things  because I feel like I have freakishly short fingers. No wonder I could never play the piano well even after years of lessons. Well, that coupled with my total apathy towards the vocation and complete lack of practice, but thatis another sotry for another day. Despite finger length, I had to show off the snazzy brochure.)

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The fact that they chose the piece that is going to be one part of my 12 part series I am planning to enter into ArtPrize next year was a welcome sign that I am going in the right direction with this project, and creating something that will bring people joy, make them think, and spark their imagination. If you are in the general vicinity of Midland, I would suggest you make a trek over to see this show. It is a humongous exhibit, and there is so much awesome art to absorb.

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Art Discussion, New Work

March: She Is Everything At Once

Obviously, though I had a fun idea of doing the whole “a drawing a month” reveal for my new 12 part series, that didn’t happen as I am on March and it is now almost September. I would like to enter this series into Art Prize next year, and decided if I have until next Fall, why impose such a crazy impossible deadline on myself simply for the sake of themed blog posts and risk the quality of the work? Impossible self-imposed deadlines are this thing I like to do that I really need to ease up on. For those who haven’t read my previous posts, my new series involves 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color, one representing each month of the year. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme and season. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. I want the series to flow together in its mainly black and white scheme with pops of color, soft mixed media application, and it’s classic portrait composition. However, I wanted each month’s portrait to still be distinctly different “characters” from one to the other, achieved via aesthetic theme and accent colors. For this piece, I went with bold, dynamic primaries and a nod to pop art. You can view January and February from earlier posts.

In this piece for March, my goal was to take the commonplace negative stereotype of women being “emotional” and turn it on it’s head, marrying caring and empathy with strength, and sadness and despair with hope for a better future. A surreal merging of classic pop art, which often featured dramatic beautiful women sobbing,  with realistic portraiture was the perfect fit for this concept.

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Women are constantly being told they are too much of something, despite the fact that they are often expected to wear far more different hats responsibility-wise than their male counterparts. Google searches have become an interesting way to peek into mainstream society’s views. Anyone who uses the internet knows when you begin to type something in, google will finish it with the most popular searches and subjects. A UN Women ad from 2013 was the first to make a statement using this innovative approach.

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I tried the same concept, only typing in the starting phrase “women are too…” What I’ve found is that women are apparently too picky, but also too easy, too intelligent and successful to find love, yet too weak and too emotional to be leaders, the president, or involved in politics at all, but at the same time also too dominant. It looks like we’ve got a Goldilocks problem here.

As one who believes that sometimes problems we assign dominantly to one gender are still just basic human being problems, I didn’t want to negate the idea that there may be similar findings for men. However, when I tried “men are too…” I got nothing. In fact, when I simply pressed enter to see what articles would come up, the main article up top was “Monkeys turn into grumpy old men, too” about aging primates and behavioral changes. While hilarious, it is clear that this whole “Be everything at once yet also be nothing at all” contradictory expectation is something that, while maybe not entirely absent for men, is something that women face more in mainstream culture.

A descriptor routinely used to discredit women’s abilities is the fact that they are “too emotional” by default of their gender. However, when men step out of their perceived box by showing any degree of emotion aside from anger, they too are often chastised and ridiculed. This shows that our revulsion towards caring at least is a societal problem on the whole, not just a women’s issue. For some reason, people seem to view caring as weakness. This can be seen clearly in the dismissive term bleeding heart, always used with a strong air of disgust. (A note to be made here… when I talk about caring I am not including people sitting behind a laptop screen typing angry, obscene responses to random articles that they don’t agree with because they get off on being offended and telling people off. Nor am I talking about people who shut down and throw a fit every time they have to hear something that they don’t agree with. This is not true caring or passion, this is an addiction to “being right” all the time and putting people in their place, and it is unhealthy.)

I recall a conversation had with a person from my past 5-ish years ago. We were discussing some political or sociological issue. The other person, whom supposedly respected me, was nevertheless making zero effort to understand my view though I myself had stopped and listened to theirs. I remember growing frustrated and stating, “I don’t know why you are refusing to try to listen and understand where I’m coming from when this is an issue that is so important to me.” Their response was given bitingly and with a wave of the hand, “Oh, everything’s “the most important thing” to you.” Though it was meant as an insult, the more I pondered it the more I thought, I’m ok with owning that. Because everything does matter, in some way large or small.

In our culture, it’s cool not to care. You can see this fact brazenly displayed in popular entertainment (The Hangover 1,2,3,4,5? They just keep going.) People are routinely being told the answer to their feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety is to just “let go”. But is the “ignorance is bliss” model really the one we should be following? This idea in and of itself seems to admit that caring is not weakness, but strength. Experiencing emotions of concern and empathy is an active state; not caring for anything outside of your own pleasure and needs is passive. To put it simply, caring about things is hard work. It can force us to take steps towards action that may make us uncomfortable, and take up a lot of our time and resources. It can be mentally and psychologically draining.

Caring is strength. Let’s lift up our mothers, our fathers, those taking care of an adult family member, our nurses, our teachers, our home health aides, our daycare workers, our counselors, our missionaries, our activists … No matter what societal norms tells us, they are our true heroes.

 

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New Work

New Work – Underwater Dreaming

I had some time yesterday morning before I had to leave for the Art Clash (more about that in a soon-to-come post), and I was determined to get this piece finished. There is nothing more daunting than smearing dark blue chalk all over a pretty much finalized piece you’ve been working on for months, but it was necessary to make the scene look like it was truly underwater, and also to balance out the areas of dark that were screaming out from a sea of pastel colors. For a progression of in-progress photos, check out my previous post.

Underwater Dreaming

I had originally intended to go with all blues, grays, and purples. I normally stick to a very limited palette in my pieces, but those crazy little plants in the background are in reality shockingly colorful, and I felt I had to do them justice. After I added the pink hair, it was color explosion time. It really makes the piece feel tropical, and I like that it’s way different from what I usually do. I have posted the design for sale in my Redbubble Shop on a variety of products, and it is also for sale in print form in my Ebay Store.

Redbubble recently added these new flowy chiffon tops to their available products that are just too cool.

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As promised, more about Art Clash later, with pictures! I have another art event to attend this afternoon (this one conveniently 5 minutes from home 🙂 ), so time to get out of my PJs! This weekend spent absorbed in art has been so wonderful, and necessary after many a stressful day this month. So long, April! You were great, but here’s to hoping things calm down from here on out.

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New Work

Who’s Really Teaching Whom? Allise Tries Abstract!

One of my favorite things about working with Express Yourself Artshop is seeing all of the creative ideas our students come up with. A few of them create abstract work, some of them just now delving into it for the first time. I myself work most closely to a surreal, whimsical, dreamlike aesthetic, but I have never been able to go pure abstract. For all those out there who say “abstract art is so easy, it’s just splatters and shapes, anyone can do it!”, I challenge you to go home and try making a piece. Of course it’s easy to make crappy, half-assed abstract art, just as it is easy to do anything that you don’t put effort or thought into. Making good abstract art that actually looks dynamic and interesting and makes people stop in their tracks is not simple at all. I had dabbled in attempts in the past, and grew so frustrated I gave up on the whole idea of even trying.

Heather Deogracia is a fellow whimsy-addict when it comes to art, and has been in many of my Artshop classes at Creative 360. She has begun creating pen and ink abstracts within the last couple of years, and her illustrations have a ton of movement and always stand out in bold, contrasting colors.

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Find this design by Heather Deogracia on Redbubble!

Another student who is in the Artshop classroom nearly as often as I am, Colleen, has always had a great sense of color when painting with watercolors. Our painting instructor this semester prompted her to try an abstract piece and see how she liked the process. She reacted much like I did the first time I tried to create something nonrepresentational; quite apprehensive and not sure where to even begin. It’s hard to wrap your mind around creating texture, colors, and pattern without the “anchor” of a specific end goal, a plan that your picture will end up looking like a, b, or c when you are finished. With the instructor’s guidance, she ended up with this beautifully balanced, interesting piece.

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Find Colleen’s design on Redbubble!

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In fact, I liked the design so much, I couldn’t resist buying a travel mug from Artshop’s Redbubble Store. It’s so nice to be able to stare at 3 of my favorite colors while enjoying my morning coffee.

I use watercolors a lot, and after seeing how much fun it was for the students to play with bright colors, letting their paints blend and bleed and drip into each other, I had to try it at home despite my misgivings.

I ended up with two pieces that lo and behold, I am actually pretty happy with. The first is inspired by caves, gemstones, and geodes. I had a pretty well curated rock collection as a child, so maybe that is where the inspiration came from :). The second is a female figure fading into the dark background. I wanted to use a lot more contrast in both lights and darks and color for this one. In both pieces, I started with a basic background first, and then added the details over that under layer based on what I saw in the design, sort of like when you were a kid and used to lie on the ground staring up at cloud shapes, finding pictures in them.

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Cave of Wonders, 12×18 Watercolor, Ink, White Prismacolor Pencil, and Metallic Acrylic. Design available on Redbubble!

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The Power of Invisibility, 12×18 Watercolor and Ink. Design available on Redbubble!

A last bit of Artshop news, our fundraiser last weekend was a success! Quite a few students sold some of their work, and we also received over $170 worth of donated art supplies – woohoo! Check out Express Yourself Artshop on instagram to see more photos of students’ artwork and what we are up to :).

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Art Discussion

Art As A Tool For Expression

I had the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in awhile last night, so I thought it was a good time to reconnect with everyone. My lack of continuous rest can usually be attributed to one of three things:

A. Keeping myself awake having imaginary conversations with people in my day to day existence that will never happen in real life.

B. Making lists on various topics that I will never remember in the morning anyway.

C. Being kept awake by the sound of air molecules gently bumping into each other, even through my earplugs. Seriously, I am the auditory equivalent of “The Princess And The Pea”.

It was also the first week of a new semester at Express Yourself Artshop, which brings a lot to do and think about, so item B in particular was happening a lot ;).

It will be my first full semester as program coordinator after being involved as an instructor for a little over 2 years, and the fascinating idea of art as a tool for self expression is something that one is immediately confronted with the moment they enter the classroom.

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Many great thinkers and creators of all types have spoken on the importance of creatively expressing oneself, but rather than posting a list of 20 quotes or articles, I’d rather share with you through personal experience. Yes, I am an artist, but no, you don’t have to be to use something musical or visual or written to release whatever you are holding back. Often times, through written words or sketches is the only time anyone is afforded the opportunity to see our true selves, the selves we know we are on the inside that look so much different from others’ perceptions of us. It is why I panic whenever anyone I don’t know too well asks if they can look at my sketchbook. It’s not some temperamental artist thing where I am like “No, but it’s not beautiful yet! I can’t possibly reveal my rough beginnings!” It is because it reveals a 100% transparent view of my every thought and emotion, and that can be a bit embarrassing.

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Transparency, 2012, Watercolor and Ink

I had a lot of social anxiety growing up. Even through early high school, I would often go through an entire day without speaking a single word. I’d go home after school and my mouth would have that yucky stale, dry feeling like when you wake up in the morning, because I had literally not used my vocal chords for around 7+ hours. Then of course, lovely acquaintances would ask the oh-so-helpful question,”Why are you quiet all the time? Is there something wrong with you?” which made me want to clam up even more. If people already thought I was odd, God forbid I should open my mouth! Then they’d really have something to talk about. I knew that the person I was presenting to the world wasn’t the real me. I was actually pretty damn opinionated and strong-willed from a young age (I think in one of our garage sales I saw that my mom actually had a parenting book called something like “The Strong Willed Child”, meant to advise parents in coping with this particular sort of, ahem, “gift”). I had ideas and interests and things to say, and I hated the fact that others may see me as dull or demure, but I couldn’t break through this seemingly invisible force that held me captive. That is where I turned to art, my sketches being anything but safe, quiet, or boring.

When I look back, my frustration with the self imposed isolation that I didn’t know how to navigate around is encapsulated in these visual expressions. Figures are often shown bound, missing one of their senses with eyes hidden or mouths literally sewn shut, or rendered immobile in an isolated environment.

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With Opened Eyes, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

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Patches, Tears, and Loud Noises ; Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

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Of The Sea, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Timebound, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

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Frozen, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

 

Though emotionally painful at the time, I luckily connected with a few good friends junior and senior year who struggled similarly and could understand what I was going through, something that I couldn’t explain since it was all internal. This, coupled with going off to college and being forced into uncomfortable and unknown situations in which I would have to communicate out of necessity, helped me adapt and change, growing away from this extreme anxiety. Did it completely disappear? No, but it greatly lessened. Within the last couple of years I have also found that when I have a purpose to my communication and am passionate about what I am sharing, such as with art instruction, no matter how large the group of strangers may be my fears disintegrate (Ask me to talk about menial conversation fillers like the weather or how my day is going, and we may have a problem. I always say I prefer “big talk” 😉 ). Not all are so lucky. Some individuals are permanently nonverbal due to developmental disorders or injury. For them, finding alternate means of communication is not just therapeutic but necessary.

I am going to close with another Kurt Vonnegut quote that I’ve probably shared before, because it’s that good:

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By expressing ourselves creatively whether the result is a masterpiece or not, we are not only helping ourselves, but are touching others positively as well. Through making oneself vulnerable, we “give permission” to others to do the same. We all think we’re the only one; the only one who thinks _________, the only one who feels _______, the only one who has experienced ________, when the truth is most likely we are not, everyone else is just too scared to say how they really feel. I can’t count how many people have looked at the piece below and simply said, “Yeah, I know the feeling …”

The Rush Hour

The Rush Hour, Prismacolor Pencil, 2014

Of this next piece, viewers have commented that looking at the work was actually uncomfortable because they could feel her claustrophobia. They understood the feeling of being confined and held back, of feeling like you have outgrown your current life or situation, of wanting to move and change while everything and everyone around you is staying the same. Everyone experiences feelings like this, there is just this unspoken rule that you don’t talk about it.

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Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small; Mixed Media, 2014

You don’t always have to be expressing negative emotions, either. A student in Express Yourself Artshop’s Painting Exploration class this week wanted to tell a story about bright colors, music, and dance with her piece, and made a modern art version of a dancer playing the flute, referenced from an old painting from an art history book that she had found and connected with right away. Another tried painting for the first time, and chose to celebrate her favorite colors and the things that make her happy, like gardens. Besides aiding in dealing with difficult emotions, de-stressing and joy are two other side effects of self expression through art.

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Artist : Colleen D.

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Artist : Michelle D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just pick up a pencil and play … you may be surprised what comes out, or whom you connect with and inspire along the way.

 

 

 

 

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