Elizabeth Jameson – Creative Minds Art History Project

Hello all, it’s time for another artist based creative project! I have a great group of ladies in my Creative Minds class this semester at Artshop, and have loved seeing how they interpret the techniques of the masters and make their creations their own. Though often times the focus of my class is renowned artists from history, I also love sharing inspiring and accomplished artists from the present with my students. I work primarily with adults with disabilities so I especially enjoy the opportunity to share the stories of artists with disabilities with the class, and how the artist’s identity as a person with a disability influenced their art and legacy.

Elizabeth Jameson is a visionary artist who found her creativity through an unexpected MS diagnosis. Jameson is a Doctor of Law, and her lifelong passion and driving force for her career was to fight injustice and poverty through the law, striving to make a difference. In the late 70s and early 80s her health took a turn suddenly, and she was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Due to the progressive nature of her illness she was unable to continue working, and she felt her purpose was lost. A caring friend pushed her into trying an art class just to get her out of the house, and this class ended up changing the way Jameson saw the world and her life. Art teaches us to look at the world through a creative lens, and upon receiving her usual MRI scans from a doctor’s appointment, she came up with  the idea to etch in the stark, clinical and emotionless black and white images with rainbow colors. Her work evolved from there. Today, Jameson is still living her dream of changing the world, and says the goal of her work is to encourage others to, “contemplate the beauty of the brain, discuss what it means to live in an imperfect body, and to stare directly at the imperfect brain’s beauty and complexity with curiosity”. She collaborates with Neuroscientists and a studio assistant to continue her work.

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Messages that can be learned from Jameson’s art and story are that with creativity it is never too late to begin, it doesn’t make you any less of an artist to ask for assistance, and individuals with disabilities have an unlimited potential to change the world for the better.

Obviously, we don’t have access to MRI machines ;), but to pay homage to Jameson’s art we did drawings with colored pencil on black paper. Students were asked to imagine a visual representation of the inside of their head, thinking about the emotions or memories different colors may symbolize, what straight, smooth lines versus wavy or jagged lines may say about what is going on inside their head, and to think of any representational forms that speak to who they are. Some students chose to indicate blocks of color for the different things that consume their thoughts, and some chose to do an all-over image or pattern. One student even dated hers in acknowledgement that one’s mental state changes over time.

I can see this project being an interesting activity for any age, and was pleased within my class on how a dialogue between the students about the meaning of their developing “artistic MRIs” grew as they worked.

As always, feel free to steal, share, or try it yourself at home :). I am hoping others will enjoy and become inspired by trying this project out.

 

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Blending With Watercolors – Stained Glass Ocean Project

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Hello! Today I want to show you a fun beginner project you can do to practice blending colors with watercolor paints and markers. If you are a complete beginner to color mixing, it is easiest to stick to either all warm colors (red, yellow, pink, orange …) or all cool colors like I did (blue, green, violet …). Some colors when blended together turn into “mud”, making a neutral like brown or gray. This is where understanding the color wheel comes in handy! For more about the color wheel, visit my earlier post Colors Aren’t Scary :). For this project, we will try out both flat brushes and round brushes. Round brushes have a teardrop shaped bristle that comes to a point at the end, and flat brushes have rectangular shaped bristles that are, well, flat on the end. Pretty easy to remember! It’s good to have a variety of sizes of each. Your brush size depends on the size of the area you are filling in. If your brush is too big, you risk getting paint where you don’t want it  but if your brush is too small, you will see all the little strokes and the paint won’t cover evenly.

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I started first with an outline, drawing my design in pencil on watercolor paper and then tracing over it with a waterproof black fine-liner pen (Sharpie fine points will work – You do not necessarily need a fancy art pen, though my preference when I do watercolor and ink work are these bad boys by Staedler.). You can draw your design however you want, or if you want to practice this technique without the added pressure of drawing, feel free to print this outline out and use graphite paper to transfer it right onto a piece of watercolor paper (Don’t have graphite paper on hand? Just shade over the back of your printout with a pencil, lay it on top of your watercolor paper, and trace over the lines and it will work the same way, though a bit more labor intensive.).

 

With watercolor, you want to start with the background and move to the foreground, and you always want to work lightest to darkest. It’s all about layering and building up colors since the paints themselves are translucent. In this more simplified project, we will be focusing just on blending this time, not layering. Still, working with the background first ensures that if any background color does find its way into the waves, which it inevitably will, we can just work right over it later and you won’t even notice by the end. Starting with the background, you want to choose a couple of colors (I used a cornflower blue and a cerulean blue.) and water them down so that they are consisting of mainly water with a small amount of pigment. Then you want to use a larger round brush and start filling in the space using circular motions. This will give our background wash a bit of texture, so that it has a hazy, cloud-like appearance rather than just flat streaks. I applied the cornflower blue on the bottom half of my sky and the cerulean on the top. Because both colors are wet, they should bleed into each other and blend together in a pretty seamless gradation. Be sure to overlap the two colors slightly where they meet. If they aren’t blending enough, you may also rinse off your brush and using the same circular motion run over the line where they touch with your damp brush to work them together further.

Color blending is one of the foundation skills of painting with watercolors, but it takes a lot of practice. Good thing you are about to get a lot of it! We did a textured blend for the background, but within an individual space inside our waves, we are now going to practice some flat blending with the goal of getting our colors to merge into as smooth of a gradation as possible. Now we are going to use a medium sized flat brush. A flat brush will be perfect for the smooth effect we need and will also be easier to keep inside the edges of our geometric shapes. You can tilt the brush so you are only using the tip rather than the whole side for narrower areas. Pick 2 different colors, and start painting one color on one end until you’ve gotten to about halfway across. Rinse your brush, and paint in another color starting on the opposite end, overlapping in the middle. A unique quality watercolor has is that when one color touches another while it is still wet, they WILL bleed into each other. In this case, that is a good thing as using wet-on-wet color with watercolors makes for some pretty low-effort, seamless blending. Still, watercolor can be finicky and things don’t always go as planned. I purposely filled the shape in so that there are darker, patchy areas and a harsh transition between the two colors. This happens sometimes, but can be easily rectified by going back over the uneven area with a damp brush. Be sure to always paint in the same direction, following the length of your shape.

Blending with watercolor markers is a similar process, but you need to be a bit more controlled with your water application so that you don’t completely lose the effect of the ink. I love watercolor markers because you can get such bold contrast, but a little bit of ink goes a long way, and with too much water your separate colors will just swim all together into one mass.  I cannot emphasize enough, quality also matters. If you get cheap markers, chances are they won’t blend nicely no matter how skillful the artist. They don’t need to be officially called “watercolor markers”, they just need to be water soluble so they will run when wet. I love using Tombow’s water soluble brush markers. You also need to think about the values of the markers you are using. Deeper colors will spread a lot farther than paler colors, and can overpower. I have started with a darker color, a royal blue, and a lighter more muted color, a sage green. Start by scribbling a bit of each color on opposite ends of your shape. You do NOT want to shade the entire area in. Again, a little bit of ink goes a long way when water is added. Then, still using a flat brush you want to dip your brush in some water, tapping off the extra on a nearby paper towel. Wet the ink on one side and work it into the middle of the shape. Rinse off your brush, and wet the ink on the other side, again working towards the middle where they will meet. The wet colors will again, flow together and seamlessly blend pretty much on their own once they meet, staying darkest where you first laid down the ink. You can see above that a gradation is apparent, but the blue has pretty much taken over as the main color you see.

Trying the process again using the same 2 colors, but shading in only a tiny bit of blue and more of the green, you can see we get a more balanced effect where the pure green color is still highly visible.

 

You can also create a gradation with only one color. The beauty of watercolor is the depth of value that can be captured from one single hue, simply by adjusting the amount of water added. To do this you would apply a bit of the same color on each end in a darker or medium value (mixing less water with your paint). Then, rinsing off your brush, add some water to the edge of the area of color on each side, again spreading towards the center from each end. The color will remain most saturated at the ends, and will be the lightest (most watered down) in the center.

If at any point you add too much water, your gradation is in danger of all just running together into one flat tone. If this happens, you can blot the area with a paper towel to lift the excess water (and some of the pigment), and then blend right over again. You don’t want to see any “puddles” pooling on your paper … that is a sign there is too much water being used. Also keep in mind damp is ok, but if you are filling in a new area next to an old one that is still very wet, the colors will bleed together over your lines. Sometimes it helps to use a blow-dryer to speed along the drying process. Or, you could just work on filling in areas that aren’t touching each other until each spot dries. The paint air dries pretty quick.

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Here is a reminder of the final image! It is the same blending process for each section, which is what makes it good practice. I filled in some spaces using the markers, and some with paint. I kept lighter colors on the crests of the waves, and alternated medium and dark tones throughout the body of water, making sure not to fill in too many of the same colors right next to each other. It always feels good to still have some sort of finished product after practicing techniques, and I guarantee you will start to see a difference in the first couple spaces you fill in versus the last! Remember, it’s all about playing with color. Have fun!

Piet Mondrian – Creative Minds Art History Project

piet.mondrianI promised I’d catch up in posting all my Creative Minds art history projects from the Fall and Winter semesters!

You may not recognize the name “Piet Mondrian“, but I guarantee you’ll recognize his imagery. Mondrian was interested in simplifying art down to its basic essence, and creating a type of universal design that could be used for everything: visual art, furniture, architecture, clothing … I’d say he was pretty successful, as his primary colored designs composed out of different sized squares and rectangles bordered by bold black lines can be found covering posters, furniture, jewelry, shirts, and the pair of Nikes I would buy if I were rich.

We do a lot of painting in the Express Yourself Artshop program, so though we easily could have done the whole “make a grid on canvas with blue painter’s tape” thing, I wanted to try something more original – transferring a Mondrian design onto glass. The glass we used was just glass from the inside of an inexpensive frame. This could be done in any size. The actual frame could easily be used on a future project. We used primarily colored tissue paper for our rectangles, though we happened to have a bit of patterned and textured vellum on hand that can be found in the scrapbooking section of craft stores and is great for mixed media art. The goal is to use thin, transparent paper so light can shine through the glass. I cut a variety of different sized rectangles and squares out of scrap cardboard for students to use as a pattern. Students chose their colors, and then traced different shapes using the patterns until they had a good pile to choose from. They then laid out their shapes on the glass to create the desired pattern. After they were happy with their design, it was time to glue. We just used traditional liquid school glue, but squeezed the glue out on a piece of foil and used a crappy paint brush to paint the glue on the back of the paper so it didn’t get too saturated.

 

The front of the finished product is going to be the glass side without anything glued to it, so if you do end up using papers with a one-sided pattern, you need to glue the side you want to see face down. Once the paper dried, we trimmed any paper that was hanging off of the glass and used a ruler to draw on the glass side (NOT the side the paper was glued on to) with a black, medium tip paint marker. This sharpens and finishes the design, and also disguises any uneven edges.

These can be as simple or as intricate as you want, and are a fun project with a beautiful end result that can be completed fairly independently by all ages and abilities. My students with disabilities who struggle with dexterity were still able to do this on their own and end up with a piece of art they were proud of. Display in a clear plastic plate stand … It would be especially cool in front of a window or other lighted area. Have fun creating :)!

Alexander Calder – Creative Minds Art History Project

09e5c065d1594c85473cc0f55bc4e082I’m a bit behind on sharing my art history projects from Express Yourself Artshop … This one is from the first 5 weeks of the Fall semester! But, never fear, they will all be posted in due time! I am not really a 3D art person (love looking at it, hate creating it!) but even I enjoyed coming up with this upcycling activity based on Alexander Calder, the inventor of mobiles.

The great thing about this project is you can use scraps of literal junk that you have just sitting around the house (or if you are super cleanly and don’t let junk collect, start saving with this idea in mind 😉 ). We used primarily painted embroidery hoops, shower curtain rings, hardware odds and ends, painted toilet paper rolls, and the cardboard part that is left when you’ve finished a roll of colored duck tape!

Students were instructed to pick out a variety of small, medium, and large items that struck their fancy from the pile of supplies, and then start laying them out flat in front of them on the table so that they could plan the basic composition they wanted. Calder’s big focus was kinetic sculptures, which led to his eventual mobiles. These babies are meant to shift and move as they hang (part of why I couldn’t get very clear pictures … That and the fact that there is NO dead space to use as a backdrop in our art studio!). Once they had a layout they liked, they could start tying their most prominent “anchor” pieces together using fishing line with a dot of hot glue on the knot to secure it. After the main components were attached, they could focus on adding smaller pieces both to achieve the balance and/or movement they wanted and add visual interest.

If you have a spare hanger or anything else that you can hang your mobile on to step back and look at how it’s hanging while you create, this helps a lot. As they held it up, it bobbed and shifted and was a great opportunity to play around with some simple physics, adding different smaller weighted objects to either balance or cause purposeful imbalance to their growing mobile. Glass beads attached by making eye-hooks through them with jewelry wire made great counterweights if a student didn’t want to add anymore major elements to their design, but wanted to adjust how the mobile hung.

I work with adults with disabilities and some have dexterity issues and needed a bit of help from time to time with the knots, but this project is for the most part something that all ages can do relatively independently.  When you are done, you will have a dynamic piece of modern art that you’d never guess was made out of castaways!

Henri Matisse – Creative Minds Art History Project

Another week, another artist! I shared my Van Gogh project last week. In week 2 we covered Henri Matisse. His personal story really resonated with the students, being a group of adults with varying disabilities.

Matisse spent the majority of his artistic career as a painter, being one of the leaders of the Fauvism movement in the early 1900s. Fauvism is characterized by a painterly, non-realistic representation of people and objects and a strong use of bold “crayola crayon” colors. Unblended strokes of pure color divide objects from their background rather than shading. He wanted his art to be calming and cheerful, an escape from the world’s troubles. In 1941, everything changed when Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. His life was saved, but from that point forward he required the use of a wheelchair for mobility, and struggled with dexterity. Matisse famously said, “Creativity takes courage“, and at the age of 72 no matter how he had changed physically, he refused to give up on creating. He shifted gears to a cut paper collage format for his work as painting was harder to manage with his dexterity changes, creating yet another influential body of work. He ended up liking this new, modern style even better than what he had been working on before, and you can still see similar shapes, styles, and color schemes taken from his paintings and applied to his collage works, such as the organic leaf shapes. His final project was stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence as seen pictured above, designed in his iconic collage style.

Though the term disability pride wasn’t part of our vocabulary at the time Matisse was alive, I think his legacy perfectly embodies this concept. He did not look at disability as a barrier, but an opportunity to innovate.

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For our project, we created beautiful decoupage bowls inspired by Matisse’s paper cut works. I chose to focus specifically on shapes present in his chapel design, though if you do an image search of his collage work you could find many other ideas. I cut patterns out of some scrap matte board for the students to trace. We used colored printer paper for the cutouts – It is thin enough to be able to bend along the round shape of the bowl without popping back up or creating massive wrinkles, but thick enough that the color of the bowl won’t show through. We used matte Mod Podge to apply and seal the shapes onto the bowl, and the bowls themselves were picked up at the dollar store, making this a ridiculously inexpensive project with beautiful results.

This would be a fun project to do with all ages from kids to seniors, and makes for a great gift idea if planned closer to the holidays or Mother’s Day. Since Mod Podge is not food safe, obviously you do not want to try to eat cereal out of these or something ;), but they are a perfect catch all for jewelry, keys, pens pencils and paperclips, or change. Also a cute decoration when filled with decorative orbs, glass marbles, or stones. I love color, and may just have to make one of these for myself at home!

Creative Minds Art History Project – Vincent Van Gogh

Hello all! This is my first post I’ll be doing on my Creative Minds class projects I am leading with my program this semester. Each week we will be learning about a well known artist from the past or present, and completing a project based on their process and style. I work primarily with adults with disabilities or mental health issues, and though we will not only study artists with disabilities, mental health issues, addiction, or chronic illness, these individuals will be a special focus.

Today I’ll be walking you through an enjoyable and easy project inspired by the art of Vincent Van Gogh. Being the Coordinator as well as an instructor for an inclusive recreational arts program, there is always a wide range of abilities and experience levels in each class. I am excited to make art history accessible and fun for all ages and abilities. Vincent Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite historical artists, so of course he had to be the artist I chose for week 1. I know that he’s a lot of people’s favorite, but I have always felt a special kinship with him as we also happen to share the same birthday!

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His use of light, color, and movement through swirling, visible brushstrokes has become iconic and easily recognizable even to those with no knowledge of art. Also common knowledge are Van Gogh’s struggles with mental health throughout his life. He was blessed with a supportive and loving family member, his brother Theo, who financially supported him so that he could continue painting despite being unable to hold a job or make an income for himself. It seems his brother saw firsthand the transformative power of art, giving Van Gogh at least a few more days, months, years, or sometimes just moments of peace and joy than he would have experienced otherwise.

Oil paints are pricey, require copious amounts of time to complete a piece, need adequate ventilation that may not be available in all classrooms, and can be frustrating for beginning artists. So, we ditched the oil paints for oil pastels!

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The first step in our project was to make a simple outline in pencil first. Students were encouraged to be inspired by the provided images of Van Gogh’s most famous works, but not necessarily to copy. They could make a scene, a still life, a person or animal, or anything else that came to mind. They could then use the pastels to trace over their pencil outline, and add more lines in between to mimic Van Gogh’s iconic style. Students could fill their paper with as many swirls, stripes, or dashes as they wanted as long as they still left white space behind, because next the magic happens!

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After their pastel outline was completed, students could fill in their different areas with watercolor washes, and watch the oil pastel repel the water. Though not a requirement, this technique is especially amazing to watch when washing darker watercolors over bright or light pastel. One of the students even commented that it was “like magic”. This process is simple enough to be enjoyed by students of all abilities with minimal frustration, but also fun for more advanced students. Pro tip: make sure you have enough water in your paints! If your watercolors are brushed on too dry, they won’t repel as strongly. Also, be sure to use paint brushes with soft bristles. Stiff, scratchy brushes are harder on the oil pastel and will not give as neat of a result.

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There is a common narrative that Van Gogh suffered so much because while he was alive his art never became famous and people wouldn’t buy his paintings. I don’t know about that … I am a Doctor Who fan, and for those of you unfamiliar with the show it’s about time travel. Who would have thought, but this whimsical sci-fi TV show ended up moving me emotionally more than any work of cinema I’ve ever seen, and I watch a lot of movies! In my favorite episode, our adventurers go back in time to pay a visit to Vincent Van Gogh. They end up whisking him away to the future, where he can see all his paintings on display in a museum, and hear his fame being lauded. It is hoped that after seeing this, Van Gogh’s spirit will be renewed, and once he is returned to his own time he will not end his life as he did in history. They hope that when they visit that same museum again after their adventure, there will be walls of new Van Gogh paintings, having altered the past by showing Van Gogh his future. That does not end up being the case.

We put so much emphasis in our culture on fame, money, talent, and popularity that it is hard to accept that these things are not a magical panacea to fix all of our problems, and that sometimes these things are not enough to make us happy.

We need to keep reaching out to each other. As this episode concludes,

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Make it your goal to add to the pile of good things for the people you encounter each day.

A student that had been reluctant about this project at first because they don’t draw or paint ended up having a blast, saying they felt like they were getting to play and be a kid again. A lot of times, that is exactly what art is about! As Van Gogh himself said,  If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. I hope some of you will decide to play and try this project yourself at home! Be sure to check back in the following weeks for more fun project inspiration.