Monday, October 17, 2016

On the Road

This pic has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of this post but it was the best I could come up with in the midst of packing. I'm traveling this week to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my art students and most of the middle/high school teaching staff; we'll be seeing Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Charles Dicken's Great Expectations, touring the Southern Oregon University campus, shopping & eating in downtown Ashland, taking acting classes, keeping a travel journal, and trying to sleep somewhere in between. My biggest hope is that the weather improves between the California coast and the Oregon interior: it has been raining buckets here and since most of our Asland adventures are outdoors, a tapering off of the precipitation will be welcome. I'll get back to posting once I return and catch up with sleep, peace, and quiet.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Inktober 2016 Days 3 through 7

So far I'm keeping up with this challenge but I anticipate having to quit midway through because I'm traveling to Ashland with my students the week after next and there'll hardly be time for sleeping, much less personal drawing projects. Nevertheless, I'll keep on doodling until the time crunch catches up to me. The alternate title for this piece is "Me, Before my Morning Coffee."

As I said, I'm working in an "old school" Moleskine sketchbook (before they changed their paper stock) and I'm trying to stick to black, white, grey, and the occasional pop of red. I am not following the official Inktober prompts; in general, prompts tend to freeze up my brain rather than inspiring it. That said, my very loose theme for this challenge is "Science Fiction TV and Movies." This piece is an homage to Roger Corman's cheesy B-movie, Wasp Woman (1959.) If you haven't seen this flick, trust me when I say that my version is much more sexy and appealing than the original.

Sometimes I am rendering classic movie creatures in fresh situations such as this Creature from the Black Lagoon ready for summer in his straw hat and vintage swim suit.

I am also trying my hand at a bit of caricature. For me, no retrospective on science fiction would be complete without mention of Twilight Zone creator, Rod Serling. I still watch this show on a regular basis even though I've seen some episodes dozens of times. To me, its writing and themes are timeless.

This piece is supposed to be a nod to Frank Gorshin's Riddler from the 1960s Batman television series. This did NOT turn out how I envisioned but I'm setting aside my hatred of this piece and moving forward. There really are no mistakes or failures in art; each misstep is a learning experience and I gain as much from pieces that don't work as I do from ones that are successful.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Figmenta Finally Out in the World

My 2016 show, Figmenta, is finally up on the wall out in the world! I was unsure how these relatively small works would look displayed on a very large wall but I was delighted to discover that I had made just enough (22) to fit the space perfectly in a soft, flowing line with a bit of breathing room between each piece. Everything is at eye level so people can get up close to see the details and read the tags.

I love this show for many reasons. First and foremost, I followed an inner voice that told me to take a risk, set aside the canvas for a while, and to make my character sculptures the focus. In addition, this show was very easy to execute from an inspiration perspective. I never tired of creating these pieces and in fact, I had to force myself to stop production so I had sufficient time for the labels and show signage. My 2017 show is already scheduled and I know that next year I will return to painting but I have a feeling that more sculpture work will worm its way into Figmenta, Vol 2.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Inktober 2016

I confess that I'm not terrific at participating in online art challenges; my life just doesn't seem to remain steady and predictable so I can rely on enough time to see things through. However, every little bit I do adds up and occasionally, I do manage to complete something despite the constant roadblocks. In this spirit, I am trying to participate in Inktober this year as much as possible. This has grown into a very popular challenge since illustrator Jake Parker started it in 2009; I believe he said in a recent Facebook post that upwards of 200,000 people are posting art this year with the Inktober hashtag.

I like this challenge because it is deceptively simple: every day in October, create a drawing in ink (pre-drawing in pencil allowed.) However, for mixed media artists who are used to playing with every medium known to man all at once, it can be really hard to pare down to such basic supplies and technique. I find it very refreshing and I love the reconnection I feel to drawing.

I am working in an "old school Moleskine" (i.e. before Moleskine reduced the quality of their journal paper.) I'll never, ever buy another Moleskine (it is Stillman & Birn forever & always for me now) but this is a Moleskine I acquired years ago when my local Borders went under and the paper is wonderfully thick, cream-colored stock that is fantastic for dry drawing media.

I started this challenge thinking that I would just draw random, unconnected things so I began with a sweet little gnome under his mushroom home. I just couldn't resist the call of October though; this month brings all sorts of creepy, oddball, and weird images out of the shadows in celebration of Halloween and the Day of the Dead. This is my most favorite month of the year so I quickly decided to focus on creatures for as long as I feel inspired to do so. Thus, Frankenstein showed up on Day 2 of my Inktober, complete with his "I [heart] Science" badge. Of course, I'm already behind: the drawings are up-to-date but I haven't inked them. No worries...I'll keep moving forward even if I'm behind and see where I end up. As per the challenge guidelines, I'll post my drawings as they happen. Hope you enjoy them...

Monday, October 3, 2016

Fleeting Art, Lasting Memories

This past Saturday morning debuted with deep gray thunderheads in the sky and a fifty percent chance of rain in the forecast. This was not welcome news given that it was also the day for "Pastels on the Plaza," an annual fundraising event in my hometown that brings together artists and businesses to chalk the town square. However, tradition demands that the sidewalk art party proceeds rain or shine (within reason) and since rain had not yet fallen, I packed my supplies for the day: soft pastels, chunky sidewalk chalk, spray bottle, water, rags, snacks, sunhat, sunscreen, anti-fatigue mat, camera, and sketchbook. At 7:15am, I headed for the plaza.

Upon check-in, I received a set of pastels and the go-ahead to pick a square. I tried to surmise (optimistically) what spot would be best to photograph once the sun was overhead. I steered clear of cracked pavement and aimed for something close to a bathroom. Once I settled on a square, I got to work.

Soon the plaza was filled with artists on their hands and knees, sketching, spritzing, chalking, smoothing, blending. My plan was to work quickly from the top down, trying to remember to take regular breaks to stand and stretch. It was easy to forget to do that since it actually isn't too painful to be on your hands & knees if you have a quality mat...until, that is, you decide to stand up. The process of sidewalk art is also quite mesmerizing as you aim to get solid coverage, grinding to pastels into the pavement. Entire sticks disappear in a matter of seconds. Luckily, event coordinators provide huge bins of extra pastels sorted by color in case you need more than what's provided at the outset.

I discovered two very curious challenges. First, besides being important for physical reasons, it is necessary to stand frequently so you can gain the proper perspective on your work. Up close, it seems like the bumpy stone will never get covered and that your image is blurry and boring. From a distance  - as these works are meant to be viewed - the image comes together. It was also interesting having a parade of people behind me as I worked. I had to set aside my self-consciousness (every artist's rear end was unavoidably on display for passersby.) It was also interesting to hear a constant stream of commentary and the almost ceaseless click of camera shutters. This event draws many onlookers and so it becomes almost performance art. Luckily, I never heard a negative comment; I did draw the attention of many children which, for me, was really the point of the image I chose to do. I wanted to create something full of color and whimsy, something bold and bright that would make people smile.

It took me about four hours to complete my "square" (which was approximately 3 x 4 feet.) I saved a lot of time by creating the initial layer of color with fat sidewalk chalks. I used the tiny, fragile chalk pastels on top of that to create a more solid layer of color and to add highlights & shadows.

I am very happy that I finally got to participate in this event. Not a single drop of rain fell on Saturday; in fact, the sun poked its brilliant face from behind the clouds on a regular basis. After just an hour or so of working, it was warm enough to strip off my sweatshirt and roll up my sleeves. Sunday morning I woke to a chorus of screaming muscles and the roar of a thunderstorm. Having graciously provided a beautiful day for the bloom of beautiful art on concrete, Nature reasserted herself the next day before dawn, washing the stone clean and sending a rainbow river rushing towards the street drains.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Extraordinary Destinations

When I journal these days, it is mostly in what I call the "Mini Unexpected Convergences" journal. There was a full size "Convergences" journal once upon a time and I liked that one so much that I decided to do another one in a smaller version. This journal is different from almost all other journals I have in progress because it is non-compartmentalized; it doesn't have a set theme or goal. I slather extra paint onto its pages and then when I get around to the embellishment/journaling part, I just do whatever comes to mind in the moment. The spread was really all about experimentation and practice, just a day playing and meditating with art supplies. I used to write exhaustingly in my journals but I think somewhere along the way, I said most of what I needed to say to myself. Thus, my art journals are more art than journaling. That's okay because the beautiful thing about art journals is that they can be whatever you need/wish/want them to be. Sometimes I need a focused, goal-oriented project and sometimes...okay, a lot of times...I just need a playground.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Busy Days Ahead

After a stressful week split almost equally between teaching and doctors' offices, I stayed close to home this weekend to treat myself to lots of uninterrupted art time. I got a lot of necessary chores done too but mostly I puttered about the house and studio, slinging paint and binge-watching Netflix. I didn't leave the comfort of home until late yesterday afternoon, heading out to the local zoo to celebrate "International Red Panda Day." There were entirely too many people for my taste and it was blisteringly hot but it felt good to get outside. When there aren't so many people to get in the way of seeing the animals, our little local zoo is crazy inspiring. This small jaunt was just about getting out of the house, chatting with friends, and enjoying some beautiful weather. That mission accomplished, I returned home and spent the balance of the evening on the couch. Today I begin another work week. The kids are all in the middle of their Great Expectations comic books now, transferring their rough draft sketches into the final draft. They have two weeks to work on this project in earnest and then it is onward to travel journaling to prepare them for their trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. For my part, when I'm not teaching or recuperating from teaching, I'll be preparing for next weekend's "Pastels on the Plaza." My show, Figmenta, goes up early next week...busy, busy days ahead. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Switching Things Up in My Illustration Practice

It has been a wild and weird week...and it is only Wednesday! However, the weekend is in my sights so all things considered, life is looking up.

I've been experimenting in my sketchbook with new-to-me ways to shade and detail my illustrations. For a long time, I've felt that a strong black ink outline sucks the liveliness out of my creatures and critters. That thick primary line seems to work well with drawings from life but for cartooning, I wanted to have a softer, more realistic look. Then Doodlers Anonymous introduced me to illustrator Maria Tiurina and a lightbulb went off in my own head with the brilliance of her inspiration. For some reason, it had never occurred to me to use watercolors over graphite. I guess maybe I thought it would smear. After some experimentation though, I discovered that I could give my characters shading and detail without flattening the drawing. I need to practice a whole lot more but even these first experiments make me feel as if my illustrations are entering a new stage.

It is important to know when to shut out the inner critic but it is also good to know when to listen. It is also good to realize that sometimes we don't know when we are staying safe inside our usual toolboxes. I had started out illustration with one particular style of working and while my ability has improved drastically with all the focused practice I've done, I had forgotten that I needed unfocused play as well. It is a bit of a paradox because I do include a lot of playtime in my art practice but for some reason, I had overlooked this important component when it came to my efforts at becoming an illustrator. Lesson learned.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

How I Do Art When I Can't Do Art

Last week was a blur as a weird health issue arose, necessitating an Xray, doctors' visits, lab tests, antibiotics, and a CT scan. A separate issue in my left foot requires an MRI this coming week to evaluate for surgery. I worked every morning and tracked down medical help in the afternoons. When the weekend hit, I needed to clean the apartment from top to bottom because the first of two annual inspections is here. Needless to say, there hasn't been a lot of time for art-making. However, I still managed to make art.

Tammy over at Daisy Yellow recently posted a lovely little inspirational piece about daily art and it made me think about how I get anything done in the studio given my schedule and health challenges. And then I thought "Maybe that would make a good blog post" so here it is:

I Work In Teeny, Tiny Time Frames:
Sometimes, I only have 15 uninterrupted minutes at a time to sit and work on a project. Most days, I can find a couple of these quarter-hour chunks of time to devote to art. I might sketch a monster in one small time period; the painting part of the illustration could happen later in that same day or maybe weeks later. For me, the hardest part of working like this is accepting it as my reality. I would love to sit in the studio all day long but unless it is the summer or a holiday weekend, I don't really have the luxury of unlimited art time. I am building a cohesive, unique, and extensive body of work bit by bit.

When I Can Work for Longer Periods, I'm Prepared:
I don't want to waste time searching for supplies; thus, my studio is set up so everything I could need is within immediate reach. I also don't want to waste time trying to figure out what I want to do in the time I have so I am constantly writing things down: lists, brainstorms, quickie sketches, random ideas. I have a couple small "kitchen sink" pocket notebooks for when I'm out and about but mostly I keep my notes and lists and sketches with the project they relate to.

I Do Many Things So A Door to Art Is Always Open:

Some days, my fine motor skills are crap so I paint journal backgrounds. When I'm focused and feeling good, I draw or watercolor my illustrations. When I have time for a challenge, I sculpt or sew. I have projects for short time periods and long, sharp focus and poor, steady days and shaky. No matter my mood, health, or work schedule, there is always a project at hand to fit the circumstance of the day.

If I Don't Make Art, I Absorb It:
I read and watch things that inspire me on an artistic level. I pay attention to color schemes, shot composition, textures, and beautiful writing in movies and my favorite television shows; I write down anything I want to remember and tap into later. I read fiction that is heavy on description and that centers around topics that I play with in my art. All of my non-fiction reading has to do with art in some way: makers, history, technique. When I'm out and about, I look at the world through an artist's eyes and through an artist's hands. (When I'm in a store, I spend a lot of time touching things because experiencing textures directly is very stimulating; if I'm feeling stuck, my best bet is to visit a local furniture store to experience all the patterns and fabrics.) I take pictures of what intrigues me so I can tote that inspiration back to my studio. 

I Remember that Art is Everywhere, Not Just in the Studio:
I have found inspiring patterns in the dishwater, cool color combos in a stack of bath towels, and awesome shapes in the rocks my landlord uses for landscaping. Some of my best art materials and inspirations have been discovered in the course of casual walks to the trash compactor or corner grocery store. You become an artist not just in the doing, but in the seeing. It is also essential to remember that art is more than just "art stuff." Writing, cooking, traveling, music, theater, decorating, dance, getting into the outdoors: these are all artful arenas as well. 

When I'm Not Making Stuff, I'm Teaching Others to Make Stuff:
Of course, I also happen to be lucky enough to teach art and that alone is a fantastic way to maintain a connection to art when I can't make it myself. In the classroom, I create vicariously as my students tackle their art assignments. When I need to build up their courage or reign in their negativity, I give voice to things I need to remember for myself. I never give my students an assignment that I haven't first done myself so lesson planning becomes a making session for me.

Everyone has their own unique mix of responsibilities and distractions that get in the way of art-making. However, if you stay open to inspiration and get creative with the time you do have, it can feel as if you make and/or experience art every minute of every day.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Already Crazy Busy with Teaching

Aaah...the weekend! This school year - at least for the first semester - is going to be a doozy.

As I've mentioned, I have 85 students to start this year, ranging from 5th grade to 12th. They are broken down into 6 groups of about 15 kids per group and I see every group, Monday through Thursday for 30 group right after the other. I have an unusually large number of students simply because there is a teacher out on maternity leave until the end of January. That teacher usually takes half of this number for English and history. Since she's gone, the remaining upper grade English teacher (that I typically pair with) has all the students, all the time and that means I see everybody as well. In a nutshell, my job at this school is to use the English, history, and Spanish curriculum as a springboard for art education. I look at what material will be covered each year and then design art projects that teach both basic art principles and that strengthen students' understanding of the material.

We are beginning the year reading Great Expectations in preparation for seeing the play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in mid-October. The English teacher is approaching the book from a language/writing perspective and I'm helping the kids analyze the book from a visual perspective. My students will be creating their own comic books, character maps, and geographical maps based on our reading.

A week before we leave for a four-day trip to Ashland and the Shakespeare Festival, I'll switch gears with the kids and discuss travel journals/urban sketching as the students will be keeping sketchbooks for the entire trip. The journey to Ashland is an annual event for our school and virtually every student will go on the trip.

When we get back from Ashland, we'll do about a week of closing assignments surrounding our travel experiences, and then we'll dive into our theater unit with dizzying intensity. The youngest middle school students will be learning and performing Midsummer Night's Dream while the older kids will tackle Hamlet. Some of the older students (who have already done Hamlet) may spin off to perform Eddie Zipperer's Don't Fear the Reaper. During the theater unit, I help the students learn the material through the creation of a journal. This year, each student will be constructing an accordion-folded journal that holds vocabulary lists/definitions, act summaries, Shakespeare caricatures, and faux illuminated pages.

Whew! You might be as tired from reading all that as I am in planning/doing it. Last week, I came home every day and fell into bed. I'm hoping as the days progress that I'll be able to find a healthy rhythm that leaves me with energy at the end of the teaching day to do my own stuff. I am trying to get back into journaling and other small projects (while preparing my show for hanging) so the photo I've included in this post is of my latest spread in my small "Unexpected Convergences" journal.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Winding Up/Winding Down

The school year has officially begun although I won't actually have students until after Labor Day; at my school, 5th through 12th grade students camp the first week of school, getting to know one another, reviewing/updating the school constitution, and learning school goals and expectations. I spent this week doing bulletin boards, setting up the library, planning lessons, ordering supplies.

Even without students around, I can feel the chaos brewing. It's like looking at an approaching tornado - all swirly with crazy energy and unpredictability - and saying "That looks like fun! Let's jump in!" In fact, I often feel swept up and away by teaching but this year, I am going to practice having more mental and emotional separation between work and the rest of my life. I need to be able to come home and detach so I can relax and focus on other things. 

Now that my show work is drawing to a close (just 4 weeks until it goes up on the wall!) I am returning to the myriad of other projects that have been lingering on the sidelines. This journal page is just a reminder to myself to play around. It is good to spend time on things that don't bear the weight of deadlines or expectations. In the past, after one of my show prep summertimes, I've felt drained of inspiration after so much intense focus on a single project; this year is quite a bit different as I still feel full of ideas for new pieces and shows. That's sort of cool but I need to dial back the energy I'm putting towards my work so I have energy to guide students towards their own art-making. Playing around in my journals will help me maintain a vital, gentle connection to myself. It also provides a great place to unwind after a hectic day swirling around in the tornado that is 85 middle and high school art students. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sidebar Survey in Progress

I am thinking about doing more how-to/instructive posts, perhaps as just part of the regular blog or maybe as mini online classes (either here or on a separate, private blog.) This content might be delivered in the form of my usual photo/text posts and/or short, simple videos. First though, I need to know what media/technique/topics you, my dear readers, are most interested in learning about from me. So think about the kinds of thngs you've seen me do here on the blog and pop into my sidebar for the poll. You can also leave comments on this post. Remember, consider your answer in terms of what I do; for example, if you really want to know about encaustics, you'd be out of luck because that isn't a medium that I work in. Think about my interests and style (I'm not big on a lot of collage for instance but I do a lot of original drawing/painting.) I've listed a few things to choose from in the poll; you can choose more than one. If any of those things happen to be something you'd like to learn about, let me know. And again, if you want to provide a more in-depth answer (or the poll doesn't work,) leave a comment.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Single instructional posts or a short series of posts would probably run here on the main blog. You could drop something into my tip jar if you felt motivated to do so but otherwise, free for all to see.
  • More complex/in-depth/lengthy instruction would be probably be on a separate private blog; you would send me your email and I'd send an invite back to you to join the blog. These classes would be low cost and/or by donation and you'd have lifetime access. My only firm stipulation would be that you not pin anything from that private blog/online class.
  • My video/editing skills are still in development so any videos would probably be in a "watch me work/listen to me talk" style. You'd have to be OK with that. I have a decent camera and a tripod but I don't have the brain power/computer program/time/energy right now to whip super-duper uber professional videos...

Nothing is set in stone right now. In fact, I haven't even gotten the chisel out of the toolbox yet. For now, I just need to get a sense of what you all come here to see and learn about. Baby stepping toward online teaching...

EDIT: Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote! In the end, most people wanted more information/instruction about art journaling followed closely by watercolor and drawing from imagination. This gives me a place to start when developing blog/teaching content which I hope will arrive in this space early 2017 (I've got to get through this first insane semester at work. After January, my student load will drop by half and I'll have much more free time for my own stuff.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Show Work Wanes; Teaching Looms

I've had my head down the last couple of weeks, tinkering away on my wall doll sculptures for my October show. I have 17 complete; I'm aiming for 21 in this series. I have the makings for a small side series (same technique/different characters) but we'll see how much I have time/interest for in the upcoming six weeks.

The new school year is here and as I've been working on the show, I'm beginning to feel the familiar pull of other projects that need my attention. Bulletin boards, lesson plans, and the school library are calling my name. Outside of work, I am also practicing with chalk pastels to prepare for an annual hometown event called "Pastels on the Plaza." I've always wanted to participate but most businesses already seem to have artists that they call upon year after year. However...remember when I said that I was excited to hang my art at the local library because it meant new eyes and perhaps new opportunities? Yep. That's what generated the invitation to do a square representing the library. Anyway, "Pastels" is happening Saturday October 1st and the show will go up the next day. The show reception is the following Friday evening...lots to do before then.

I also have several other art projects that have been piling up and as my attention to show production starts to wane, it is only in the last week or so that I've actually started to see those things in my peripheral vision. This is a very typical work pattern for me when it comes to shows; I spend a couple months caught up in white-hot concentration and then the rest of the year, I do other things. I am forever trying to change this habit as I'd surely get more done if I worked year round but school usually dominates my time mid-August to mid-June. I rarely have enough energy leftover for such an intense process as making work for a show.

In about four or five more weeks, I'll concede (reluctantly) that I've run out of time for making new pieces and I'll turn my attention to the nitty-gritty details of the show such as labels, pricing, advertising, and signage. That stuff always takes much more time than I anticipate, mostly because it is so much less exciting. It is important though and I have found that my shows are more successful if I really make an effort on all those small details that bring the show together. I'll post on that process once I get there.

In the meantime, you'll see my post content start to shift to other topics and (fair warning) my post frequency might also change. Due to a staff member's maternity leave, the middle/high school English/art classes are HUGE this fall; We'll be breaking the group (about 85 kids) into many small groups and projects but it still means a lot of squirmy bodies per day that I'm trying to wrangle into art-making. I'm a little exhausted just thinking about it but it always seems worth it in the end.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bear Feet & Bear Belly

It's been a while since we've had some Marley Mania around these parts so here goes...

Because I'm sure you've wondered, Marley will show you how a Bear washes his feet:
1) Back support is particularly important. Bear feet are big so get comfortable.
2) Grasp the dirty paw with a clean one to keep it steady.
3) Lick enthusiastically.
4) Surrender your modesty because Momma is going to grab her camera. more's a bit of Bear belly love to soften the edges of your day:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Using Every Last Second of Summer Vacation

Soon I need to start turning the bulk of my attention to preparing for the new school year; this is the last full week that I can focus almost exclusively on work for Figmenta. It took a while but once I found my groove, the summer days flew by. I have lucked upon a great source for the perfect-sized wood blocks I need to create these "wall dolls;" a good friend with a large collection of lumber is cutting and sanding blocks for me for free. With this fortuitous development, I have decided that my show will feature my assemblage works only. It is a huge departure from hanging paintings for nine years and I'm sure it will take many in the community by surprise. I hope my audience will be as delighted by the final product as I have been in the creation process. I'm confident that I'll come back around to painting; my ideas just need some time to percolate and mature before I approach the paints again.

Meanwhile, I'll keep constructing these characters, trying to get as many done before October as possible. The space I show in is huge. My "Cyborg Relations" are long (approximately 18") but they aren't wide so it will take more than a few pieces to make to wall space look full. The venue (a local furniture store that participates in our monthly art walk) has two levels so I could hang paintings in other parts of the store. However, my town's library offered to host my work on its walls and since the library is a new venue for me, I am going to take the bulk of my painted work there for display. It is always fun to push out into a fresh space that taps into an entirely different audience. The more eyeballs on the work, the more chances for opportunity to knock. 

Thank you for your warm encouragement throughout this process! As I start back to work (and thus diversify my art-making again,) my blog content will become more varied. I actually have been doing other art aside from the assemblages but I haven't taken pictures of anything but show pieces this summer.
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