Artsnacks Unboxing

May 2022 Artsnacks Unboxing

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Exhibitions and Other News, New Work

New Art Series : Peace

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a series … since Unlimited from way back in 2017 to be exact. This new one is going to be on 22×28″ canvases and will be completely multimedia. I love mixed media because it allows the artist to use the best tool for each component of their composition. I draw people better than I paint them still at this point, so figures will be in colored pencil. Interesting silhouettes or clothing … fabric it is! Skies and birds? Acrylics of course, and why not palette knife paint the birds ;).

This series is going to be a way different theme than I’ve explored before. I always like to include deeper messages in my work, but have never done an explicitly spiritual message because it is important to me that my art is able to speak to viewers coming from all different places. Each work in this series will represent one of the fruit of the spirit, and though this idea comes from the Christian tradition, these principles are positive to cultivate in everyone’s life.

I started with Peace, maybe because this is something I have been desperately needing to grow in my own life over the last couple of years.

Peace is active. Peace is a verb, it is not simply the absence of noise. Peace takes work, and it involves risk and often involves stepping out and becoming uncomfortable. Making the changes necessary to grow peace are often painful. To truly be at peace our view of life’s value cannot be determined solely by circumstance, because external circumstances will undulate up and down completely out of our control, leaving us to be in emotional chaos, completely sucked beneath the waves.

Being a bringer of peace in others’ lives and in society as a whole is equally difficult. It means listening when we would rather shout over someone, it means sticking your neck out to protect or defend someone else even at personal risk of how others may view you or treat you afterwards, it means setting strong boundaries.

In this image, a woman is guarding a crowd of people that are behind her, blocking them from the shadows of chaos. These shadows have tried to grab her and drag her down, her arm is marked. However, the shadows cannot penetrate. Doves circle around her head which symbolize an inner strength and calm within her spirit, and can also symbolize her halo of protection that shields her just as she is protecting others.

The source from which we draw our peace protects us. The source can be sturdy and formidable, or … not so much. I am reminded of a speech one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace (who was actually an atheist), gave that really had an impact on me when I was floundering in the waves. “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship”. I’d encourage you to check out the entire speech discussed here. Another author that probably has about as opposite a personality from me as you can get but has really made me think, Mark Manson, writes in his self help book perfect for people who hate self help books, “True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving”. Much of life is composed of struggle, which is why if we wait for the perfect external circumstances to be at peace, we will never have it. Similarly, he discusses the importance of choosing the right metrics to determine what makes us and our life “good”. Faulty metrics used to define our life’s success and value are anything we don’t have control over, such as money, social standing, etc. which DFW also cited in his speech as destructive forces to worship. He calls worshiping these forces slipping into our “default mode”. They are the things we chase after and value when we are living without reflection, consideration, or deeper evaluation. They represent our base human nature, so to speak, and we all slip into this mode from time to time especially when under considerable strain.

Where does your peace spring from? What creates your circle of protection as you brave life’s trials? Are you more often a bringer of peace or of chaos to the people whose paths you cross in your day to day life? These are all questions I considered while creating this work. I strongly believe this series is going to be true art therapy for me as I work, and that my eyes will be opened throughout the process. I truly hope I am able to impart something of value to viewers as well.

There are layers of meaning, as I am a big believer in the fact that art should make people think. I’d love to hear what others see in this image, so please share if you are so inclined!

PS … I am so honored this first installment won an Award of Excellence at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition last night, especially amongst such a fabulous collection works! Click here to view the entire show virtually. And yes, I made my jacket and paintbrush necklace! More on the inspiration for my wearable art creating spree soon.

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New Work

An Early MerMay Surprise!

Timely as May is getting closer and closer, I recently after long last finished my mermaid painting that I started at the beginning of 2020. This poor little lady kept getting brushed aside for more urgent projects over the years. It is also the first human figure I’d ever started with acrylics when my preferred mediums are colored pencil, ink, or watercolor, so there was definitely a self education process.

I’ve described this project as really giving the proverbial finger to gatekeepers who believe certain supplies can’t be used in fine art. Working at an arts non-profit, I am a big fan of use everything, and actually one of my favorite pieces I’ve seen at a museum in awhile was a giant panther in the jungle that was composed entirely out of flatback rhinestones and pony beads!

I first sketched the basic outline of my mermaid on the canvas base. I then used gesso to apply a variety of textured materials where I wanted a 3-dimensional surface: netting from avocado bags, tissue paper, and yarn. After I acrylic painted the main imagery, I dry brushed over certain areas I wanted to have an iridescent sheen with metallic craft paints which are also perfect for highlighting the texture. I glued tiny shells to the tail and the edges of the rock, brushing over with a watered down coat of black metallic to help them fade into the rest of the design.

She certainly exceeded my expectations! This is why you see projects through to the end past that “ugly phase” in the middle.

While we are on the subject of beautiful mermaids, check out this mermaid themed merchandise created by my Artshop Students! All designs were created by artists with disabilities. Show them some support by checking out our Redbubble Shop! Happy (early) MerMay 😉 …

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New Work

Surviving Winter In MI, Or Unleashing My Inner Bob Ross

I am like a plant. If I don’t stand in the sun every day I wilt. Unfortunately, I also live in Michigan and I am more wimpy about the cold with each year that passes. Incidentally, I have not been outside as much as I should over the last 2 months. I am always a big fan of if you can’t be outside, bring the outside in so I recently started doing something I never thought I would do after university classes … Painting landscapes!

Though I feel most at peace during a walk in the woods, I always shied away from nature paintings because I tend to lose interest creating something that one could easily just look out their window or at a photo to see. But then I remembered Eyvind Earle, who did the breathtaking background illustrations for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. He was able to capture a dreamlike quality in his landscapes that still showed us a world that was comforting and familiar, but that we couldn’t quite access in our waking hours.

Growing up in Midland, MI one of our local landmarks is Dow Gardens, a Japanese style garden that celebrates color and geometry. I chose this place as the subject for my first largescale landscape, replacing the blues and greens with purples, yellow ochres, teal, black, and burgundy. I embellished with abstract patterned upholstery fabric for some of the trees, floral cutouts and lily pads for the foreground, and accented some of the rocks and branches with metallic acrylic.

I actually just finished the above piece this past weekend though I started it before my triptych below. Just as I was starting my landscape, I was contacted by King’s Daughters Assisted Living, also in Midland (I live only a city over now but still work in Midland!), to come up with a piece of art for a blank wall they had that would tie together their newly renovated space. I was excited to not only put my painting brain, but my interior design brain as well, to use for this project. The new upholstery and decor was all in blues and greens, but much of the carpet in this mid-century-modern building was a brilliant fire engine red, and that was staying. I immediately thought of the red bridge at Dow Gardens, and suggested this nature scene as a way to tie together the carpet and the new furnishings. Many of the residents at King’s Daughters lived in Midland for decades, and being surrounded by images of familiar places brings joy and comfort, especially for those struggling with memory.

I’m inspired to capture more locations from my own past as I continue to develop my acrylic painting, a relatively new focus for me. Maybe some architecture will be next!

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Exhibitions and Other News

Now Showing : Breaking The Stigma

I have not been making as regular and in-depth posts as usual over the last year as I’ve gotten busier and have been devoting more time to youtube, but I wanted to share about a very special show I am a part of this month running through February 20 called “Breaking The Stigma“.

I was beyond thrilled with both the priviledge and responsibility of being invited to be part of a show centering around using art as both a personal therapy and a way to communicate inner experiences in a way that makes them accessible and understandable to people from all walks of life. I’ve written often on this site on what an important communication tool art always was to me as someone with anxiety, especially social anxiety. In a recent Throwback Thursday post (Yes, I promise I will be getting back to those!), I talked about how even as a young kid I was prone to using art to tackle darker themes or difficult emotions. Art allows for a method of transparency and vulnerability that can often be easier for others to understand and embrace than by using words alone. Aside from the end result, the process itself of art making has the power to manifest a sense of purpose and peace no matter what else may be going on around the creator.  Creativity allows people to unlock their untapped potential. I see this firsthand in the classes I teach where many of my students are beginning artists or artists with disabilities

You can read the article announcing the show opening which introduces the other artists involved in this show and shows photos of some of their work. I wanted to also share some of my personal thoughts about their art.

David Feingold’s art was exciting for me to see because a lot of it I would consider surreal portraiture which is the subject I myself enjoy creating most, but it was digital rather than traditional. His narratives were very personal, and spoke directly to the title of the show as they addressed the idea of mental health stigma head on. I found myself inspired to once and for all fully explore creating art digitally this year.

2 of Rebecca Allen’s pieces have been familiar to me since before I knew they belonged to her, as they take up residence in our elevator lobby display where I also maintain a showcase for my students with their work for sale. I loved the surreal nature of her figures. They are raw and honest, and the pain they feel is visually represented in the sharp, rough textures of her sculpture. They invite you to step into another’s shoes and imagine yourself in their situation and struggles.

Cynthia Keefe’s art dolls were very … approachable and trustworthy to me, though that may seem odd to say. They felt alive. Many of them have serious or even near faceless expressions and some in contrast are reaching outward, with mouths contorted in anguish or extreme emotion. Still, they seem like beings I would come to for reassurance or counsel in the important act of seeking the perspective of an older and wiser female. They have seen and experienced much, their story woven into their skin and intricate clothing.

For those in the area, we will be having a discussion panel on February 3. Follow the Creative 360 website and get on the mailing list for regular updates :).

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Throwback Art

Throwback Chapter 3 : Fashion Victim

Welcome to the next part in my series using the past to delve into why I create what I do… I hope others find this interesting and entertaining, and I hope it helps readers reconnect with their past selves and realize how all of those different “us-es” had a part in creating who we are today, even those versions of us we don’t like to spend too much time with.

Though you wouldn’t know it from my own childhood attire, fashion was always a large part of my artwork and I loved imagining my own clothing designs (Note me designing Barbie clothes in our home office on Windows95. Note also, I was wearing unnecessary glasses with the lenses popped out for fashion far before mid-2000s hipsters existed.) I adored designing extravagant imaginary partywear, but was also awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. It took me awhile to ever give a thought to actually trying to look cool myself ;). Once I got into upper elementary school, I idolized the girls in Disney channel movies who rode dirt bikes and skateboards and never seemed to be afraid of what other people thought of them. I really just wanted to be a cool tomboy but I had no athletic ability whatsoever, and I did actually care a lot at that time about what other people were thinking about me, so … I wasn’t too sure what to do with that. It didn’t stop me from rocking a soccer uniform at Disney despite the fact I’d never touched a soccer ball in my life.

My parents always encouraged art and creativity, and come to find I created my first “mixed media” project with my mom, using cutouts from scrap fabric for dresses at age 4. As I got older, my designs became a bit more sophisticated and I even began naming the pieces in my collection with such enticing titles as “Wide Country Gown”, among others.

Around 15, I finally got a clue and started developing my own personal style which also filtered its way into my artwork. I got hooked on loud, unique, alternative fashion that had a retro flair, and even became a bit interested in the whole club kid aesthetic though by happenstance of my birth year I kind of missed the whole raver trend. Below on the left is what I imagined it was probably like.

I’ve been told my interest in both fashion and interior design stand out in my work, and as I mentioned in my first throwback post people have always played a central role in my art. The way individuals choose to decorate both themselves and their external environment are central to telling part of the story of who they are.

Over this year, my passion for wearable art has jumped off the page and into reality as I began designing my own upcycled clothing. This was at first dove into as a project to help my art students with disabilities lead their own fashion show, and then for myself as I realized this is something I really enjoy.

This is also the first year I had the confidence to participate in some local modeling projects for art friends, and it was an absolute blast. Expression via how I visually adorn myself has been another way I have used art as a tool for communication over the years as someone who is an unwilling introvert due to social anxiety. People are all living sculptures, for the most part wonderful and fascinating (and yes, also challenging at times), and the ability to use how we visually present ourselves to show who we are to others before even speaking is an intriguing tool.

Like with my other art, with my wearables I hope to inspire, make people smile, and help them feel confident and comfortable in who they are. My pieces are available for purchase via ebay, etsy, and facebook so pick your poison ;). Let me know what types of colors, patterns, or images make you feel the most inspired and powerful!

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Throwback Art

Throwback Chapter 2 : Baby It’s Dark Out There

Happy early throwback Thursday, since I likely won’t have time to post on Thanksgiving as I’ll be enjoying family festivities :). Today I’ll be continuing my series using the past to delve into why I create what I do… I hope others find this interesting and entertaining, and I hope it helps readers reconnect with their past selves and realize how all of those different “us-es” had a part in creating who we are today, even those versions of us we don’t like to spend too much time with.

These early drawings from age 1 and 2 respectively cracked me up when I discovered them (Yes, I have a drawing from one year old … in my previous post I mentioned my mother’s expert level archival skills.). The first is of a sad girl who lost her helium balloon she’d been holding to the skies – It seems I had a pretty good grasp on the fact that life is full of disappointments and setbacks after only 16 months of hanging around on this planet. The second drawing is of a reoccurring nightmare I had that actually continued into my teens where my regular, awesome mom would be replaced with an evil, distorted, imposter mom that would often try to kill me or something equally unpleasant. I had terrible nightmares as a kid and what I later learned is called sleep paralysis, and I still don’t logically understand where it came from, my only explanation being our brains are weird sometimes. Thankfully, I eventually grew out of these and started sleeping better.

I’m fascinated by the fact that I was using art as a tool to deal with troubling thoughts even in my pre-K years. This is a testament to the healing power of art that is the driving force behind why I am passionate about sharing art with others not just through showing my own works but through teaching as well.

In a very early blog post, I discussed how art has always been an important tool for communication and self expression as someone who struggled (and still does to a lesser degree) with social anxiety. When I would create art as a teen, I didn’t plan out a concept or specific symbolism as I do now. I just sat down and drew whatever came out basically. Even if I didn’t fully realize it at the time, I see now many of my drawings were communicating my specific anxieties and feelings of isolation or entrapment. In the leftmost drawing, my anxieties and meditations on long term relationships. On the right, titled “Timebound”, my fears of being behind my own personal timeline I had set and my impatience and frustration at being held back from the experiences I yearned for in life (I am still learning that life has its own timeline and good luck trying to force my own timing!). In the mixed media work below, titled “Actually, It Is This World That Is Too Small”, I put to paper my thoughts on confining gender roles, stereotypes, and expectations and feelings of isolation, of just not being the right “fit” for the world around me.

I appreciate artists that lay themselves bare and aren’t afraid to communicate uncomfortable emotions in their work, not for shock value or to be negative for the sake of being negative, but to let others know that they are not alone in their difficult emotions and personal struggles. It’s why my last big concert experience at the end of 2019 was so impactful. I have a deep love for fine artists, musicians, writers, actors, all creatives who are willing to risk transparency and forming a true connection akin to friendship with their clients and fans. It is a risk, and I’ll be honest it doesn’t always work out, but to me it will always be worth it.

In my most recent work that has an underlying darker feel to it, viewers have told me that even in the darkness, they still see that I have left a thread of hope in the narrative. That is another one of those unconscious things that sometimes happen in the art making process, and something to truly celebrate. For more information on some of these works, you can visit the links below.

Top Left: Outer Space Outer Space Is A Lonely Place To Be / Top Right: Flight Response (Currently installed by the river in Wenonah Park as a metal print for Bay City’s 50 Artists Of The Great Lakes Bay Region River Walk) / Bottom Left: September – She Is An Atlas / Bottom Right: Legacy

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Throwback Art

Throwback Art Part 1: Beauty In The Unfamiliar

When people ask me when I first got into art and my answer is shortly after birth, I inevitably end up mentioning my mother’s astonishing archival skills. I have drawings from every year of my life starting at 1.5 years old. After mentioning this, the response is usually that they sure wish I would share some of these older drawings on my website. As I was going through my past sketches and choosing some to post, I realized though my style over the years has changed quite a bit, there are common themes and purposes behind my work, including within my childhood scribbles. So begins the first part of a series using the past to delve into why I create what I do… I hope others find this interesting and entertaining, and I hope it helps readers reconnect with their past selves and realize how all of those different “us-es” had a part in creating who we are today, even those versions of us we don’t like to spend too much time with.

I have always been drawn to art depicting people. Portraits and figures were typically the vehicle for my art’s story from early on. Growing up I loved studying the differences in faces, how some could look so similar but no two were exactly alike. I would sit for hours studying my elementary school yearbooks as a kid, just staring at the different faces, observing. From a very young age I found beauty in that which was different and unfamiliar to me. I grew up in a very non-diverse setting, and didn’t see many people of color in my day to day life. However, I loved watching movies and television shows. As I started to see people who looked completely different from me and my family on the screen, I was fascinated by the wide range of hues and textures that could be present within these other faces – beginning to see people as truly living, breathing sculptures. I went through a period in younger elementary school where much of my figures I would draw were actually POC, much to the amusement and at times confusion of those around me. I also drew plenty of scenes from my day to day life; illustrations of my family, of my friends and neighbors playing outside; but only creating art depicting my own day to day existence just seemed so boring to me. Though a very socially anxious kid, I loved learning about other people and what their life was like, and even enjoyed when friends would show me photos and video of trips their family went on and other important life events. As you can imagine, they were quite pleased to have a not only captive but eager audience.

I’ve been told I was always one to stand up for the underdog, and this extended into the realm of art and fantasy. Although of course I drew princesses, I was also interested in the stories of supposed villians, witches, and other outsiders despite being quite the kind hearted soul and a bit too much of a rule-following goody-two-shoes, at least outside of the home ;).

Once I got a bit older and started actually learning about art, I connected instantly with surrealism, especially as it relates to the human figure. In junior high one of my favorite shows to watch was Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. My favorite stories were the aesthetically bizarre tales of extreme body modification which are all over on youtube now, but back then such slices of life weren’t as readily available. There was the man who had turned himself into a human-tiger hybrid, the woman who got specialized dental implants so she could live out her dream of being a real life vampire, the one who got their tongue split into 3 independent forks that could all move on their own … Though I am in no way a big advocate for plastic surgery, there was something interesting to me about individuals “making the internal external”, a term I use often to describe the aim of my artwork. The idea of people crafting their external persona as a living sculpture to match who they are on the inside was captivating, and though these exact characters never made their way into my art, I did end up drawing a series of 4-legged ballerinas and people with animal heads.

As I continued to develop my surreal portraiture, I depicted facial expressions that wouldn’t typically be captured in a portrait drawing or be considered beautiful, such as negative emotions like fear, anger, or anguish. I also continued to blend human and animal physiology in some of my portrait and figure drawings under the observation that oftentimes, animals can be seen acting like people would and people can act more like we assume an animal would act and react. The lines blur more often than we’d like to think.

Today, uniqueness of spirit, self expression, and animal representations still play a large part in my art just in a different way. When I look at my aerialist mixed media works, I can’t help but be reminded of the dark, vintage circus aesthetic of my earlier 4-legged ladies. I have no tie to gymnastics or dance myself – I am horribly awkward and unskilled at anything requiring physical coordination and spent my time in gymnastics lessons as a kid climbing up to the highest possible spot at the recreation center and simply jumping into the foam pit over and over. I took a ballet class once as well and recall ending the day giggling with a friend as we rolled ourselves up in the dance mats and pretended to be burritos. I pretty much joined just for the outfits. But, again there is that attraction to the completely foreign, those characters that are completely different from myself. Animal imagery abounds, mainly in the form of birds, but it is no longer a bodily extension and more instead a physical representation of the figure’s soul.

I continue to celebrate beauty in all of its forms, especially that which is underrepresented. One of my favorite pieces to date that I’m sure I will cherish forever is the portrait in the center that was part of a 12 part series I created for ArtPrize on year depicting a young woman with down syndrome. She exudes joy, confidence, and freedom.

For a number of years I have worked with an inclusive arts program suited for young adult and adult artists of all abilities, including those with disabilities. I suppose looking back I was always meant to use my gifts to reach people of all abilities. I have a distinct memory from first grade. 2-3 students from special education would spend the first half of the day in the traditional classroom I was a part of, including recess and lunch though during lunch all of the kids from special education would sit at their own separate corner of the lunchroom. One of the girls who visited our class in the mornings wore a fantastic velvet dress with black and pink flower print on it one day, and though remember, I was severely socially anxious at this age and only ever spoke to my one neighborhood friend in class, I gathered my courage and told her I liked her dress because it was just too cool to not say something. From that point on we were kind of friends. She asked me to swing with her at recess, and eventually invited me to sit with her at lunch. Ridiculously enough, I accidentally caused quite a scandal by breaking social lines and sitting at (I will not repeat the name fellow classmates had for this particular table) with my new friend. Differences were never seen as anything for me to fear, but parts of another to appreciate and learn about.

Appreciation for all living beings that make up our wonderful world are a large part of the emotion that goes into my current work, and though sometimes I fail at this concept in practice as do we all, I hope the impulse to draw towards and not shrink away from diversity is a part of myself I always keep with me.

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New Work

(More) Quarantine Art

Since about mid-November, my state when through a second, more mild, quarantine which put classes and activities in my Artshop program temporarily on hold and sent me back to working from home again. I will be plunging back into things as they reopen TOMORROW, so today I’d like to share some of the work I finished over the last couple months.

This first piece was a very fun commission where I was asked to do a surreal portrait in my signature mixed media, vintage inspired style but based on the song “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix. I was given some guidelines as to the type of figure portrayed and color scheme, but otherwise the project was completely open ended. And so, this piece was born, communicating a sense of love and positivity, openness, kindness and warmth, and creative spirit.

Little Wing Commission, Prismacolor Pencil and Mixed Media

It felt really good during this time, which to be honest though less restrictive seemed to be a hell of a lot more frustrating than the first full quarantine, to continue the trend of just working on creating some beautiful, uplifting imagery. The piece below is my largest to date at 4 entire feet high! That may not seem like a big deal to some, but everyone who knows my work knows I work small, “big” for me usually being 18×24″. Also note, no people or animals in this piece! I have another large canvas still untouched, and to really step out of my box I think I should do something architectural next.

Where The Light Is Held, Acrylic and Fabric

I also finished a full size bird palette knife painting, the rest of what I’d completed being minis. Yes, these are real birds! I’m always saving photos of exotic and interesting birds on Pinterest, and the colors and adorable yet zany plumage coming out of the top of these guys’ heads was irresistible. I found a couple of reference images, and decided I had to throw a baby in there too.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but my new year starts tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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New Work, Techniques and Tutorials

Hand Drawn Damask Print Demo

I am a big fan of damask print. I know the design had a big moment about half a decade ago, but I’ve always loved it, especially since under the pattern umbrella there is so much variety. I always thought a snake would lend itself well to the curving, scrolled shape of a damask print but could never quite find exactly what I was looking for. When you can’t find the print you want, it’s time to make your own!

I used metallic ink and prismacolor pencils on black pastel paper that has a visible cross hatched texture to the surface. Since this sort of print only has one element to it that is repeated in an offset pattern, this was a relatively simple one to try for someone who is newer to creating all-over print.

I’m thrilled with how my snake damask turned out, and can’t wait to order a skirt or shirt for myself. To see more of my designs, visit my Redbubble Shop. Redbubble’s products are all reasonably priced and excellent quality – these art-covered wares make perfect holiday gifts. If you enjoyed the video showing how I created my print, please give me a follow! I will be posting some fun palette knife painting tutorials in the coming weeks as the weather gets colder and we find ourselves needing more indoor forms of entertainment.

For all my American friends out there, enjoy your Thanskgiving week, and thanks for stopping by my creative little corner of the world :).

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