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 …”

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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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New Work

New Work : January

Happy 2016 Everyone!

Since I took a year off after showing at Art Prize in 2014, I have been trying to come up with another big idea to enter in 2016. For Art Prize, you kind of have to go big or your art will get lost among the crowd. The problem is, I hate working large. I’ve tried, but it’s just not as fun for me. I like the intimacy of smaller pieces that you really have to step right up to to acknowledge all the finer details. I also can’t imagine limiting myself to just one subject or image. With art, I tend to zoom around from one idea to another like a little bee who has accidentally found its way into someone’s cup of espresso. Because of this, I knew I wanted to do another series of smaller pieces hung together for impact. Another thing I have to be careful of, as with any artist, is falling prey to the “Master of None” syndrome. Master of None : Great television show, death when used to describe an artist’s body of work. After kicking around (and half starting) a variety of different ideas, I decided to stick to the conceptual portraits I have been developing over the last two years rather than trying a style that I like, but haven’t spent much time with. I will be doing a series of 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.

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A new piece will be released each month, with an accompanying title, “She Is ________________”.

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January – She Is Far Away

As with much of my other portrait work, I find my inspiration in nameless antique photographs. The simple, faded photos tell me a story, which I then bring to life in my mixed media drawings. I was drawn to a photo of a young girl, her hair piled and molded into an elaborate, fashionable sculpture, draped in a fine, silken dress an adult would surely appreciate, but that did not look like it was very conducive to play. Her eyes had a far off look to them. Her expression was a mixture of bored and melancholy, but to me it even looked like she was trying to hide these negative emotions to remain neutral and pleasant for the camera.

In “January”, her traveling thoughts are personified as children’s drawings on a crumpled piece of notebook paper, flowing from her mind. Though she has been made up to look like a miniature adult, the very model of sophisticated fashion, her imagination dreams the dreams of children: dinosaurs, astronauts, rocket ships, and animal creatures of the air and sea. These thoughts are purposefully camouflaged into the rest of the image, the colors so paled and harmonious the viewer almost doesn’t notice. What does stand out is the heavy grid work of the window behind and the bold, contrasting pattern of the adjacent curtains. She is closed in, separated from the free, bright winter landscape outdoors, hidden behind frosted windowpanes.

How often are children treated like dolls, especially young girls? I mean last week, I was at the mall and I saw sparkly high heels for babies. You heard that right, high heels for beings that haven’t even entirely learned how to walk yet. Let me know how that works out. The words we use to describe them are even descriptors we would use for dolls : pretty, cute, adorable, beautiful … Now, there is nothing wrong with compliments, nothing wrong with telling someone they look nice. However, as parent Sharon Holbrook states in her  Washington Post article Little Girls Don’t Need To Be Told They’re Beautiful, “The more I talk about beauty and looks, even in a positive way, the more I’m conveying the importance of those things.” Disproportionately young girls are complimented for their looks, while young boys are complimented for their performance. The thing is, looks change, and by emphasizing “prettiness” over all other traits, girls can be set up for poor confidence in the future. When girls feel that their value lies in how they look, it limits their perception of their own potential, and they will even start to limit the activities they engage in for fear that they will look “bad” or “ugly” while trying a new activity. I am a big fan of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and think it is just about one of the coolest organizations out there right now. This concept is behind Smart Girls’ Get Your Hair Wet campaign, encouraging young girls to live life the fullest, be open to trying new things, and focus on the experience itself rather than worrying about how you look while doing it. I remember being a kid, and seeing some of my female classmates refuse to get into the pool in swim class because they “don’t look cute with wet hair”, or not wanting to play tag at recess on a hot day because they might get sweaty and “look ugly”. Do you think any 9 year old boys were out there worrying about being sweaty???

All in all, it all comes down to a vocabulary adjustment, and complimenting girls on things that they actually have control over, rather than things gifted to them in the great lottery of nature. It comes down to being mindful, complimenting a young girl (or adult woman for that matter) on the creative way she put together the awesome outfit she is wearing, or the great smile she has when she gets excited about something. It also comes down to treating kids like kids; holding them back from trying to grow up too fast, letting them get messy, letting them wear things that might look insanely goofy, and allowing them to hold onto that complete lack of self-consciousness that comes with being a kid for as long as humanly possible.

 

 

 

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New Work

New Work Reveal – Wonderland

I have been slowly adding to this piece over the last couple months. It went through some stages where I wasn’t really sure if I even liked it, but lo and behold, in the end I think it all turned out just fine :). I usually use only one or two shocking, bright colors in a piece at a time (with the exception of illustration/graphic design stuff when it calls for it) and never primaries like this, so I must admit the color scheme did freak me out a bit and I was sure for a moment that I’d made a terrible mistake. However, adding the dripping watercolor from the bottom to blend into the blurred figures in the background really tied it together. I wanted to use these “childlike” colors to reinforce the idea that we are seeing the environment through the eyes of the girl. This is also the reason why I made the drawn on windows on some of the buildings in the back simplified, and more “sketchy” and didn’t use a straight edge. This decision also greatly freaked me out at first. Apparently I don’t do a whole lot of “childlike” illustration. This was definitely something new, and it’s been a wild ride and I am pumped to move on to the next thing :). I really don’t know how some artists work on one piece for years, I’m always anxious to finish up and get on to the next big idea! I took in-progress photos this time, a first, and really must remember to do this more often.

WONDERLAND – 18×24 – COLORED PENCIL, INK, AND WATERCOLOR

Starting with the midtone shading of the skin ... I know I have mentioned before it's usually best to start with the background first. However, since I knew I wanted to do the background in ink, I reversed the process. Since primsacolor pencils are oil based, they provide a barrier so that the ink mess doesn't get all over the area where I want the figure. Sometimes you have to alter your process to best suit the materials, learned mostly through trial and error.

Starting with the midtone shading of the skin … I know I have mentioned before it’s usually best to start with the background first. However, since I knew I wanted to do the background in ink, I reversed the process. Since primsacolor pencils are oil based, they provide a barrier so that the ink mess doesn’t get all over the area where I want the figure. Sometimes you have to alter your process to best suit the materials. I’ve learned this mostly through trial and error.

Next on to the hair, and I did a little trial filling in the rabbits in color on her shirt ... still scared of the bright color!

Next on to the hair, and I also did a little trial of the color idea by filling in the rabbits on her shirt … still scared of the bright colors!

Decided to fill in black behind the pattern on her shirt to balance the dark areas in the composition, and also to "anchor" those darn rabbits to something! I also inked in the blurred figures rushing by in the background, softened the edges with water, bleeding the ink.

I decided to fill in black behind the pattern on her shirt to balance the dark areas in the composition, and also to “anchor” those darn rabbits to something! I also inked in the blurred figures rushing by in the background, softening the edges with water, bleeding the ink.

Added more color by putting a pattern on the lapel of her jacket, and began rendering the cityscape in the background in ink.

I added more color by putting a pattern on the lapel of her jacket, and began rendering the cityscape in the background in ink.

Buildings inked in!

Buildings inked in!

Further developed shading on the skin where needed to have harmony with the values of the background, dripped colorful watercolor up from the bottom of the composition, and chalked dark clouds over the background to recede it further back, and draw the eye to the figure. I believe it is now finished :).

Last, I further developed the shading on the skin where needed to have harmony with the values of the background, dripped colorful watercolor up from the bottom of the composition, and chalked dark clouds over the background to recede it further back, and draw the eye to the figure. I believe it is now finished :).

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