Happy “Inspire Your Heart With Art” Day!

Happy “Inspire Your Heart With Art” Day everyone! As I’ve told you before, I love holidays – I mean really love them. There is always that slight letdown after the marathon of nonnstop holiday excitement from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Years … Who knew there was this fun little holiday to tide us over until Valentine’s Day and Easter? I cannot believe I just learned of its existence this year … !

What a perfect opportunity to send some inspiration out into the world through sharing what my students have worked on throughout the beginning third of my first full semester as program coordinator for Express Yourself Artshop at Creative 360. My students pretty much feel like family members at this point, and I know I mention them a lot. But, for those new to the blog, Express Yourself Artshop is an inclusive arts and wellness program open to all students, including those with physical, mental, and psychological challenges.

I’ve worked with the program as an instructor since it was first established, and I am blown away by seeing how each student has grown since we first met a little over 2 years ago. Without further ado …

A snapshot of our amazing watercolor class! Everyone has such different styles and interests, so it is fun to see what each student comes up with.

Next, the gallery of Heather D.! I call this student and friend my “artistic soulmate” because we share a love of fashion, big eyed girls, and everything retro and vintage inspired.

Our classes are not all about art for your walls. Tons of cool functional and awesome looking wares are being created in our Woodshop class this semester as well. I love this log cabin inspired bird house, I think because it reminds me so much of childhood Lincoln Logs!

It is so much fun to be able to decorate your home with handmade pieces that are unique, and that no one else will have. You don’t have to be what people think of as a traditional “artist” to do it. The top two pieces, by Colleen D. and Amber E., are canvases wrapped in fabric with a cutout from an art print collaged overtop. The wreath below can be created easy and stress free with any medium sized to large craft punch, a wreath form, a free afternoon, and a lot of hot glue sticks handy.

Proud smiles!

Creating, whether your goal is to become a world famous artist or just to calm your mind and relieve some stress, is a HUGE confidence booster. It is also an important tool of communication and self expression, speaking from experience myself. I challenge all of you to try to make at least one thing today, even if it is just a doodle. Happy inspiration!

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Stories As Inspiration

Remember what I said about myself and movies … I haven’t had even basic cable in years, and television shows generally don’t hold my interest, but I can’t get enough of books and movies. When I last talked about films, I was discussing movies that had visually inspired me as an artist. Those I chose to include in the list were chosen for visuals only, having nothing to do with the story line.

Awhile ago, I happened upon an article online as I traveled down the rabbit hole that is the internet … you know how it goes. The article was something like “10 Questions To Ask Yourself In Your 20s”, meant to help us young adults find ourselves and figure out what the heck we’re doing by percolating on the answers we came up with (I use the word “percolate” rather than “meditate” intentionally, because I have far too active an inner thought life to ever even attempt tranquil inner peace. I’ve come to terms with this fact.). One of the questions was, “What are your favorite stories, what do they say to you, and what does this say about you?” It’s an interesting thing to think about, especially for creative people since stories whether in film or print are an art of their own. I’ve shared my list here. These books and movies are not all necessarily the most mind-blowing, best written, or most awarded in their genre – that isn’t the point. These are the stories that my mind has continued to wander to from time to time since I first experienced them, or that I’ve found myself watching/reading over and over for whatever reason. The fun part after you make your own list is to figure out why that is.

What are my favorite stories?

Benny and Joon (film) – I swear I did not pick this because it has Johnny Depp in it, though that is what first prompted me to rent it back in the day ;).

  • No one is unlovable. We all have difficulties that we deal with, it is just that some come with a label and some don’t.
  • People are capable of becoming so much more than we’d ever imagine when given the chance.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (novel, later film) – Don’t let the title turn you off, this is actually a whimsical, heartwarming story (with some dark bits) that I remain glad a friend recommended.

  • Don’t despise where you are at in your life right now, or wish it away; there will come a time when you will miss it.
  • Sometimes what you are chasing after, what you think you need and want, will distract you from the opportunity for true happiness right in front of you.

The Sound of Music (film) – I was listening to this soundtrack on my parents record player and dancing to it in the basement playroom as a little kid long before I saw the movie for the first time. I’m sure many of you have seen it at least once as well, because Julie Andrews is basically the Queen of Everything.

  • Don’t try to force yourself into a life plan that doesn’t fit you; it never will. You have a right to change your mind at any moment.
  • People don’t change by having anger or reproach directed at them, being insulted or accused. They change when someone is willing to love them where they’re at, but also respectfully challenges their ideals and pushes them out of their comfort zone in a kind but spirited way.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (novel) -This book made me an Oscar Wilde fan for life.

  • Don’t discount small choices, each decision we make shapes who we will become.
  • Be aware of who you allow influence over what you believe and what is important to you.

The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time (novel) – I heard this book has become a play now, and I hope to see it someday. This story is told from the point of view of a young boy with autism, and for perspective alone I would recommend you give it a try.

  • Again, people are so much more than we let them be. Don’t box someone in and limit your view of their capabilities simply because of a label they’ve been given, or because their struggles are different from yours.

Middlesex (novel) – Certainly one of the most complex and interesting character-driven stories I’ve ever read, by one of my favorite authors.

  • Don’t be so quick to judge who someone is or what has made them the way that they are. Everyone has a rest of the story.
  • Oftentimes, the most courageous and subversive thing one can be is who they already are.

Howl’s Moving Castle (film) –

  • Again, always remember that everyone has a story, you only see a part.

I was actually surprised that many of the core takeaways from each very different story often overlapped (Though I shouldn’t have been – it makes sense I’d be attracted to the same theme that I value again and again represented in different ways). I can see my draw towards the celebration of idiosyncrasies, and the affirmation of individual human lives as intricate and full of possibility, in my surreal portraits that I’ve fallen in love with creating. I can even see evidence of living out the themes found in these stories in my career choice, not only opening up people’s capabilities through teaching art, but in working with people with disabilities, a group that is often unjustly marginalized and discounted. Stories are important. For creators of all types, our stories come out in what we create. But, even those who view themselves as the least creative individuals on the planet still tell a story in how they interact day to day with other people and with the world around them. So, what are some of your favorite stories?