Interview With The Artist

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for an article on the website of a local artists’ group I’m a part of. The interviewer asked some thought provoking questions, so I thought I’d share my answers here for those who are interested in gaining a little more insight behind my work and process. You can also check out the resulting article on the Exploding Circle of Artists website. Friend and fellow artist Heather Deogracia manages and writes articles for the site, and I’d also encourage you to check out her blog. She is an innovative artist, fierce mental health advocate, and regular volunteer and supporter of art happenings in the community.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I have been drawn to creating pretty much since birth, and was lucky to be supported and encouraged in this from a young age. Art has always been a therapy for me and a vital avenue for communication and expression as someone who has also experienced social anxiety well, pretty much since birth. In addition to creating art myself, I also run an inclusive arts and wellness program at Creative 360 geared towards adults with disabilities. Every day I see how creativity both empowers the creator and impacts those around them. Integral to my own personal art and my day job is the idea that everyone can be an artist, everyone can do something creative that touches another person and it is never too late to begin.

2. How do you work?

For the most part I work in my home studio. I started out as primarily a pencil and ink drawing and watercolor artist, but at this point it is rare that I only use one or two materials in a piece. I have fallen in love with mixed media, and though the main bones of my art are usually created in prismacolor pencil, ink or watercolor, I enjoy mixing in acrylic, metallic enamel paints, beads, fabric and lace, old jewelry pieces, collage from old books, and other findings. I especially enjoy using materials I have been gifted by friends or family that have a specific memory or story attached. For a recent project, I used sparkly lace scraps leftover from a very extra angel costume my mom sewed for me when I was five, and some mismatched clip-on earrings that belonged to my grandma.

3. What are the background themes and ideas that makes your work stand out?

With my art, I enjoy making the internal external. I’m very interested in the dynamic of the individual’s public/interacting self versus their private self. Rather than using dramatic facial expressions in my portraits, I tend to leave their expressions mysterious and neutral and let the external surroundings speak to the content of the subject’s mind and soul. This most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the people who inhabit it. Much of my work involves psychology and is inspired by my own thoughts and experiences, but I like to leave the visual narratives open ended so that each viewer can bring their own experiences to a piece and connect with it in their own way.

I am fascinated with the detail in both the external and internal structure of all living things; humans, plants, and animals. The natural world around us is truly filled with the most amazing forms of living sculptures if we take the time to look, and keeping this idea in mind reminds me even on the worst of days how luck we are to be alive. This appreciation of observing and exaggerating the most minute details in the world around us is another element that finds its way into my work.

4. How would you describe your style and how is it integral to your work as an artist?

My style is very vintage inspired, and I like to make my art timeless in a way by incorporating visual elements from all different time periods. I am also influenced by surrealism, and always want to show people something in my art that they can’t see in real life. In my work with portraits and figures, I look to antique photos as a reference and usually combine multiple sources to create the exact body and face I am picturing in my head for a certain piece. I am very much a visual thinker, and one day a friend was venting to me over the phone about a stressful week she’d had. (I promise I was listening, but …) As she was talking, I started to see a little cartoon in my head of her standing staring at me, wearing a tall top hat, and her brain was growing out of the top of the hat with all types of different objects representing what she was thinking about sticking out of the protruding brain … The image was a nice blend of hilarious and disturbing, and also gave me the idea to start doing portraits with visual representations of each subject’s thoughts flowing outside of their body.

5. What role does the artist have in society?

Though we don’t always realize it, art and design is everywhere around us in our society … In the music we hear, in the buildings we live and work in, in the ads or posters we see, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, the movies and tv shows we watch, and the list could go on and on. Without art, our world would be empty, inefficient, and without meaning. Beyond that, art has the power to give people a voice. Art is an important tool for communication, and is able to open people’s minds to ideas they may not be as receptive to if delivered in a different way. Each artist has to define their own role for themselves based on the goals they have for harnessing their own personal form of creativity. As for me, I feel called to use art as a tool for connection and reaching out to others. Sharing the therapeutic benefits of creating with others is a priority for me because of the anchor I know it has been in my own life. I aim to make art and creativity accessible to all, no matter their age, ability, income, or any other qualifier. Do artists have to use their skills to make the world a better place? I suppose no one technically has to do anything as we all have autonomy over our own lives, but I certainly think they should.

6. What is your favorite artwork you’ve created and why is it your favorite?

This is a hard question as I develop a connection to almost every piece of art I create like they are my children, no joke. That being said, at this point my favorite piece of art I created is “July: She Is Free”. This piece was from a 12 part series titled “Unlimited” that I showed at Founder’s Brewing Company for ArtPrize 2017. The series was comprised of 12 mixed media, surreal portraits in which the meaning was influenced by the use of pattern and color. The series depicted women of all ages, races, and time periods, each communicating a different story. The aim was 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 currently reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day lives 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. We are all worthy of love, safety, respect, and dignity. I am particularly attached to July because it depicts someone with a visible disability, something that is almost never seen in portrait arts. I am a huge proponent of disability rights, empowerment, and visibility. This piece was shown and awarded at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition of 2018, and I actually overheard an attendee afterwards whispering to a friend, “But why would you want to draw those kind of people?” This is why I do what I do. Visibility and education are vital, as prejudice is rooted in ignorance. I aim to continue to challenge what beauty is in art.

New Art + Forced Inspiration

So, awhile back I did a post on artist block, something I had been lucky to never really experience too much until very recently. It’s not that I didn’t have a ton of ideas, I quite simply wasn’t enthused about any of them for whatever reason and the execution just wasn’t flowing. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the crazy amount of stress I’ve been under this year for various reasons, but nevertheless I really desperately wanted to make some art I was actually excited about. I remembered how when I used to write poems and short stories back in college to unwind, if I felt the urge to write but had no clue what to write about I would put my iPod (HA, who has those anymore?) on shuffle and use the first song title that came up as inspiration for my short story, or else I’d use a random word generator and the word that came up had to be the title.

I decided to revisit this old, rather silly process of chance to see if it would jumpstart my creative but very stressed and exhausted brain. I did 4 trios of word generations, wrote them down in my sketchbook, and started drawing. It worked! I instantly came up with 4 ideas that I could easily relate to thoughts that had been jumbling around in my brain anyway, but that I just didn’t know how to access and release.

For this first one, inspiration was to be drawn from the words lung, tie, and morning.

Constrict

I ended up being so happy with how it turned out that I’m keeping it! I have the perfect spot in my living room, and actually only realized after I’d hung it up that the fabric I collaged for her jacket matches a swatch on my fabric scrap pillow I made about a decade ago that is now sitting on my accent chair ^_^.

“Breathe” was drawn using prismacolor pencil for the figure, and ink for the background. I used fabric for the jacket, old book pages for the wall art, hand marbled paper for the exposed lungs, and embroidery thread for the vein detailing that trails up to her neck and tangles around her fingers. The figure is a mix of multiple references I gathered to match the image I had in my head of what I wanted her to look like.

As I mentioned before, this year has been rough. I’d been experiencing sensations of feeling trapped, confined, constricted, suffocated … Even simple acts such as breathing, eating, sleeping were in a way loaded issues, made more complicated by both external and internal factors. This was some of what was on my mind while creating this piece, but as always it is not without elements of hope and promise of a future through the oxygen giving plants and botanical imagery throughout, and sunlight pouring in through the open window.

I’m sure others may even see something totally different in the story as viewed by their own thoughts and experiences, and if anyone wants to share what they saw going on I always love to hear others’ interpretations – Feel free to send a comment or message! Love to you all, and remember, you always hear that you don’t want to force inspiration but … sometimes you have to to get anything done and that’s okay ;).

Though I’m not letting go of the original as of right now, prints will soon be available so check out my eBay shop to snag one!

Betsy Youngquist – Creative Minds Art History Project

For my final Creative Minds class of this Artshop semester, I chose another current artist as the class inspiration that would also give us the opportunity to work with some summery materials (Based in MI, we are hoping it gets warmer someday!).

 

Betsy Youngquist is a surreal mosaic and sculpture artist who works with a lot of unique materials traditionally associated with crafting like beads and doll making supplies. On her website, she writes, “Children with their vast capacity for wonderment weave tales of gossamer, create magic kingdoms, and pass through invisible portals to lands of untold enchantment. As we follow the Yellow Brick Road in quest of Emerald Cities, those portals become hidden to us, removing our access to the wonderland within. Creating art is a means to return to the looking glass and reenter the garden where flowers whisper and birds can talk. As my beaded characters emerge they carry with them tales from the other side of the mirror. I am grateful for the joy and astonishment experienced through this journey.”

Since we only had one class to finish this project and student attention spans vary, I took inspiration from one of her smaller works, a bedazzled seashell! As mentioned before, this project was also perfect to get everyone in the mindset of warm weather vibes. It may only be a high of 45-50 degrees as of tomorrow but at least we didn’t get the snow that was projected to fall this weekend … Again, Michigan problems :(.

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Having an array of hobby tweezers with different angled ends is a must for this project to help in placing the beads, though there is no need to use teeny tiny seed beads as you can see from the finished projects! All of my Creative Minds students have a disability of some type, and many struggle with dexterity. The tools I’ve linked above helped them enjoy the process and experience success in creating their surreal, whimsical shells. It was easiest for them to apply a bit of glue inside the shell first, and then use the tweezers to just set the bead into the glue, just in case you want to try this at home! All you need is an array of different sized and shaped beads for creating patterns – glass, plastic, or whatever material is available to you works just fine. Though you could use specialty glues like E6000, we used tacky glue in class which adhered well and dries crystal clear. I also made sure to get some “oddities” as a nod to the surrealist quality of Youngquist’s work in the form of some realistic eye charms, though of course students will add their own creative edge to the inspiration project (Frozen, anyone? 😉 ). They were encouraged to start with a central focal point created either by a larger found object or a grouping of one color, and work radially out from that point.

I am so impressed with the results! They really rose to the challenge and created some gorgeous conversation pieces to display in their home. Beaded mosaics are another project that can be adapted to all ages and abilities, and something that anyone can enjoy even if they don’t feel they are “good at art”. The repetitive process of placing beads becomes calming and meditative as you work. A new semester starts in a week, and I am looking to learning about more artists from the present and past together with a new group!

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.

torn

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.

 

New Series and The Symbolism of Color

I’ve always been interested in the social significance of color, both in cultural symbolism and in the psychology of how color can affect our emotions. Showing solidarity for a specific cause through a group of people all wearing the same color on a certain day or for the attendance of a specific event has become a common practice. My partner has a viscerally negative reaction to the color yellow, and will be caused agitation if surrounded by a bright yellow environment (so basically he just loves the bright yellow flower print wallpaper that was complimentary with the bathroom in our home upon move-in). I have received shocked reactions even from people in my own young-adult age bracket at the mention that if I ever get married at some point, I probably wouldn’t choose a white wedding dress. These are just a couple of examples of the strong reactions people have to color as a form of communication, tradition, and emotional influence in both our exterior environment and more personally in how we choose to adorn ourselves and present our bodies to the world.

Of course, I will be working on other separate projects in between but my main focus going forward will be on a new series exploring the symbolism of different colors worldwide, taking the significance of specific colors from regions all over the world and integrating these often opposing meanings into a single story about that color. I will be focusing on 5 main colors, the 3 primaries of red, yellow, and blue and then black and white. The first color I have represented is white.

Depending where you are, white can symbolize new beginnings and a clean slate, or endings and mourning making it very much a bookend sort of color. It symbolizes traits that are considered more docile like purity, innocence and virtue, but also more courageous sentiments like protection and sacrifice. White is also a color that across cultures is often associated with femininity.

white final

For “The End Is Also The Beginning” I used a mixed media approach, choosing the mediums that would lend themselves best to the look I wanted to achieve for different parts of the piece. I used watercolor for the ice figures, snow, clouds, and water. I used prismacolor pencil (including metallic silver accents) for the figure, rabbit, and areas of fine detail like the blossom trees and patterns in the sky. I used scrap fabric for the pattern on the dress (actually left over from the hemmed curtains hanging in my art room. This is why you never toss scraps!), and flat-back acrylic pearls and beads for the decoration on the neckline of her gown, and her earrings.

I have a couple of juried shows coming up, and this will be one of the pieces getting sent off, so wish me luck!

Sonia Delaunay – Creative Minds Art History Project

I live in Michigan, and we have been having some wild weather over the past couple of weeks, including over 10 snow days! Since I teach a couple art classes in the program I run in addition to coordinating all the goings on, I still have to get work done on snow days, just without my fun project break :(. I was excited to finally get to host my classes again this week and share a long awaited project with my group! This week’s artist was Sonia Delaunay.

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Sonia Delaunay was an abstract artist and designer who not only painted but worked in fabric and costume design, and in 1964 became the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at The Louvre in Paris!

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The literal geometry she brought to her most famous costume work for the play The Gas Heart by avante garde poet Tristan Tzara is just fabulous.

Saturday Night Live

You know you’ve got a good thing going if David Bowie is on board! He wore a getup inspired by her cubist suit when he performed on Saturday Night Live in 1979.

Remembered most for her paintings, a lot of her fashion work gets glazed over which is a shame, because it is her fashion and costumes that I personally find the most interesting. Delaunay’s fashion work was revolutionary at the time because she didn’t just take her paintings and hang them on bodies… Her designs for clothing were specifically configured to work with women’s body shapes, and the clothing themselves was functionally designed for movement, not decoration. Come to think of it, this may still be considered revolutionary today! Given this, it was only fitting that our class project be something wearable. Inspired by Delaunay’s colorful, geometric art and design, my class created fabric collage necklaces.

I am all for any chance to upcycle! Discarded leather upholstery samples were cut into boomerang shapes to be used as a base for the collage bib necklaces. I pre-selected fabric for the students to choose from that meshed with the inspiration artist’s colorful, abstract style. All of my students have some form of disability, and a couple struggle with dexterity. Providing prepared shapes cut from matte board for the students to trace gave them a helpful guide to encourage project success and allow them to be able to work independently. They were also encouraged to look for shapes in the fabrics’ patterns that they could follow, as one did with a large red flower. Regular ballpoint ink pens can be used to trace the shapes on the back of the fabric. Fabric scissors were used to then cut out the shapes. Shapes were arranged on the base, and then students used a junky brush to paint tacky glue on the back of their fabric pieces and press them down. Once dry, holes were punched in the ends and jewelry chain attached and voila! Ready to wear!

Lesson planning has been so inspirational to me in my own art and handmade journey, and has pushed me to think outside of the box and come up with ideas I never would have otherwise. Creating this project inspired me to work on my own statement necklaces using not only fabric but my velvet vintage millinery florals I love to collect from ebay and local antique fairs. These necklaces are for sale in my own ebay shop for $25. More designs coming soon!

I’m Back With Some New Art!

This first piece in a new series was a long time coming … I am obsessed with working small, and tend to work in 11×14 or maybe 16×20 max, and wanted to start doing pieces that were at least 18×24 or larger to allow me to include more detail and further develop the background in my pieces. My new series, Dwell, really taps into my background of interior design study. These pieces will contemplate how our environment affects us, but also how we interact with and affect it. The word dwell also has a double meaning, not just the physical space where we live but the places we create inside us that we allow our mind to dwell in. How are these psychological spaces affecting us, and how much control do we have over them or they over us?

“Dwell In Possibility” was a challenge for me because it involved a lot of brown, a color I literally never use in art. I tend to create pieces that are mostly grayscale tones with pops of bright color, and gray just would not have been right for the earthy feeling I wished to evoke. The other challenge to this piece was that I was creating an interior that was not very attractive or intricate … the remains of a decaying building, dirt floor, rough wood paneled walls, weathered plaster ceiling once grand but now stripped of any color or design … The only furnishing an abandoned, sun bleached chair frame.

dwell in possibility

I did a lot of layering of different media overtop one another, and used my clear prismacolor pencil blender for the first time in my entire life. I usually use a white pencil to blend, but this time I couldn’t use an opaque blender because I wanted to be able to still see the underlayer of watercolor through the blended pencil. I left the flowers and hair purely impressionistic watercolor as opposed to the detail in the background and the model’s face. I didn’t use as much dimensional mixed media as usual, not wanting to add too much clutter, and stuck to a lace fabric overlay on her dress and clusters of beads for the centers of the poppy flowers.

dwell in possibility progress

The closer you look, you will see there is a lot more going on than just a smiling woman holding a bouquet. She is already stationed in an odd setting, an old deteriorated building. She is surrounded by decay, including uprooted, dying plants. Even some of the flowers in her hands are dead or dying, but they are slowly coming back to life as she grasps onto them, holds them and nurtures them. Behind her through the door there is a cavern of light, where a grand tree has taken hold. There are no leaves yet, hardly any soil for his roots to grasp onto, yet he is still alive somehow. Robins circle around, a bird that symbolically means rebirth. Change and growth are always possible.

As you can also see, I can’t seem to put down the metallic gold acrylic lately! At work, my students always want to cover everything they make in metallics and glitter, which often makes me shake my head, but I can understand the temptation ;). Speaking of which, I am starting a new class called Creative Minds where each week students will be learning about an accomplished artist of the past or present, and completing a small project based on that artist’s iconic style with a focus on artists with disabilities and mental health. I will be sharing my projects as well as some of the students’ interpretations, so be on the look out for a new project post each week! I am hoping some of you reading this will want to try it at home yourself. It’s always fun to play :D!