Monday, 31 March 2014


A few years ago when I was planning my wedding, I really got into kimono silks. So often when I come across a textile I love, I get nervous about doing anything with it. The fans used here seemed an effective way of displaying the fabrics. I think the gold spray paint background sets the colours off nicely. The piece makes me think of Jeff Koons, the gold reminds me of the gold statue he did of Michael Jackson and Bubbles.
The gold seems contemporary in a cold, extravagant way, whereas the silks are warmer and inviting.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


I think it's time to put inspiration in its place.

In one week, I heard the word ‘permission’ used twice by two different art educators. Once was to describe using a sketchbook through the MOOC I am doing. Another occasion used by the teacher of my evening class on art, in reference to creating without a plan. I found it interesting that they both used that word: ‘permission’. It’s a gentle word, a considered ‘yes’with a gentle hush to it. Don’t ‘force’ or ‘try’ but ‘give yourself permission’ to work, to do. That’s the problem with inspiration, it denies us permission. Should we throw ourselves at the mercy of inspiration, we might never create anything. Inspiration says we should not work but wait and wait and if nothing comes then it is because we are not ‘good’ at whatever it is we're trying to do.

Inspiration is also, I think detrimental to the notion of education and teaching.   Some teachers see themselves as central to the learning process, they feel that it is up to them to inspire their students. I find fault with this. If you as an educator are trying to fill your education with pizazz and 'jazz hands', students become passive, back seat drivers to their own learning. Why bother to be curious when your teacher is going to present what they think is important, and only if they present it in a charismatic way will you sit up and take notice? Educators put excessive amounts of pressure on themselves to perform sometimes, and in so doing lose sight of what is important, creating an environment of curiosity and choice making.Without ego, thanks very much.

From my first degree, I remember the teachers who had charisma coming out of their ears. I do not remember anything about what those charismatic teachers were supposed to be teaching me. It is the pointless performance that lingers.
Below is a picture of the permission I gave myself to hang my work, in a room and not care about how it looks. To me they are each mementoes of an occasion when I was doing something I loved. Each one is a snapshot of a journey I took, sometimes in a class, but it was always between me and the work.  The teacher just gave me an idea of a path to try.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Art Veterans

I often arrive early to my art class, this time two of the other students were early as well. One of them I recognized from the collage class that I did in the fall.  We got to talking about the classes here at the college and comparing what we had done etc. it seems there is a core group that do these classes repeatedly. I was surprised: when looking for classes, I always focused on ones I hadn't attended. However, now I realize that may not be necessary.  I could do the same classes many times and always come up with new projects, discoveries etc.

That is the beauty of a thoughtful education. It's not about covering the content, ticking boxes, getting something done. If a class is constructive, then it becomes about what YOU are learning. On many occasion, our teacher has given us a task which we all completed with very different results. That is the point, you are growing as yourself, not as others feel you should. Therefore, why not do the same class again?

There is more and more being written about genius, talent and creativity and the most common thread that runs through all these articles, books, blog posts etc. is that creativity is work. According to Milton Glaser 'Good is the enemy of great.' And how does one become great? Through work, through doing.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Dying Everyday

My question was: Are all paintings redeemable?
I looked at my picture in dismay. I had started with such enthusiasm, making stamps out of push pins and stencils from cardboard. This lesson we were looking at pattern and the slides our teacher showed us motivated me to explore. But the more I worked, the more everything seemed to slip away. The push pin stamp resulted in a stipple effect, far less precise than the shape I thought would come out. Paint seemed streaky and the three sections lacked cohesion. My teacher could see I was not at all impressed and gave me some helpful pointers, which I did incorporate. The result is better, not great.

Despite my love and respect for process and work, sometimes I would like to end up with something pleasing. I assumed this would happen with my abstract class since I have always preferred abstract art to figurative, it hasn't. I mentioned to my teacher that abstract work is deceptively difficult. With traditional techniques, if the apple you are painting, looks like an apple then you have some idea of progress. With abstract work however, there is often no reference, how do you know it's ready? That you're making any kind of progress creatively?

Innovation must be a lonely business. No wonder Van Gogh went mad. Imagine, striking out, doing something new and perhaps you sometimes are excited by it but there must also be times where you really do question whether you are on the right path.

In answer to the question: Are all paintings redeemable, my teacher responded that she thinks they are. She then went on to show me examples of painting she has reworked into bright woven squares. I wondered what the original pieces must've looked liked, a pointless thought. She had made them new and let the old creations die (for nothing that dies completely disappears).

John Updike claimed that everyday our old self is gone with the new day. We die, so how can we be afraid of death?

I don't know how we decide what to keep, what to throw away. I trust that at some point, I will know when to let it die, if need be.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Painting, Decisions and Meaning

According to Jean Piaget: "Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do." This quote became my silent mantra for my most recent art class as I battled with Fauvism and struggled with color fields.
After surprising myself with my first paintings I often ask myself now, perhaps it was a fluke.
 Painting is making decisions even if the decision is to keep going with no plan. It's hard and the results sometimes less than satisfying but it doesn't matter. It really doesn't. The process is the point and the process is becoming my addiction. What  joy it is, after years of being the adult educator to learn something new.

Unlike the beginning acrylics course which was more technical, more methodical, this class feels like a tour through modern art. This time we discussed the Impressionists, the Fauvists and Black Mountain College of Arts whose spirit still lives on in Asheville. I learned that the Impressionists used oils. I thought of those garrets in Paris in the summer, hot humid and reeking of linseed oil. The smell must've been intoxicating.
We learn and then we explore those techniques and it feels to me like I am developing connections with these artists. I mean this with great humility. Actually doing what they did brings it alive. To be honest I think EVERYONE who likes art should do a class, even if you don't have the desire to be an artist. I will never look at art the same again. I'll never look at life the same way again.  John Dewey said this: "Whatever path the work of art pursues, it, just because it is a full and intense experience, keeps alive the power to experience the common world in its fullness." (from 'Art and Experience')

I am sharing what I did, not because I think it is any good but to make those of you also struggling feel better. The finished product here seems so insignificant to the experience of creating it.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Watch: Cutie and the Boxer

I sometimes wonder if we haven't regressed when it comes to women's rights, especially in the media.  On TV shows and in films women are portrayed in ways that are alien to me, and I am a woman.
I especially get frustrated with the way creative and other historical female figures are portrayed in film. I could list many films, "Pollock", "What Maisie Knew", "New York Stories", "Sylvia" - to name a few, where the women's creativity is either seen as secondary to their male partner's, portrayed as silly OR their actual talents become a palimpsest on top of which a dreary or overblown romance is rendered.
See how many films and documentaries about male creatives you can come up with, then try and come up with an equal number for women. Good luck with that one.

That is why "Cutie and the Boxer" was so refreshing and thoroughly watchable. Rather than going for the obvious line of exploring Ushio Shinohara's career that never reached the heights of success that was forecast in his earlier years, or examining the complex relationship with his wife Noriko (who by the way has GREAT style), the filmmakers created a multi-layered documentary that incorporated the above to actually make Noriko, I think, the main protagonist as a talented artist whose circumstances curtailed her career. It was a surprising twist.

Watch it, it's great.

Monday, 17 March 2014

From Beginning Acylics to Abstract Art

Every now and then in life we experience a moment of utter perfection. The moment the teacher of my new evening art class turned off all the lights, illuminating the new falling snow while we practiced automatic drawing was one of them. This new class which began last week, is about abstract art. It's the same teacher I had before (local artist Ursula Gullow) but the tone is different.

In this first lesson we looked at the idea of automatic drawing. Ursula made an excellent point. When we create art with a clear plan of what we want at the end, the subsequent process becomes a series of tasks, with the creativity happening at the start. Whereas if we create art spontaneously, we become the medium along with the materials we use, the creativity is ongoing.  As someone who has always created with a plan, this has been liberating. That is not to say that it is always easy to work spontaneously, my brain doesn't do this naturally. But I am trying!

As part of the class we created our own automatic drawings in the dark using black lines. I chose to draw continuously from one line without lifting my pen from the surface. It was a good feeling to be with these people I barely knew, in the dark, collectively creating. We used the drawings as the basis for paintings. Many people used different colours and materials. I stuck with monochrome. The piece I did fought me for a while, then somehow it came together.  Below is the result.

What you can't see in the picture is the areas that are raised, peaks of paint. I have decided to call it 'Cartography' because to me it seems like a map, a map of my subconscious perhaps.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Study of Glass and Light

It was with great trepidation that I approached the portion of my acrylics class that required us to practice painting still life. Partly because I never cared for representational art nor understood the point of most still life paintings. The other reason was, I thought I would make a horrible mess of it.
At school my drawings and paintings never looked much like the object I was trying to depict, it seems to be me that to the layman, a picture  is 'good' because they can recognize within the work the object that is being represented. While I have never subscribed to this idea myself, there is still the awareness that, if you are trying to master painting, painting from life is an important exercise, even if you don't intend to continue in that vein and branch off into a more abstract or conceptual direction.
Therefore I approached the exercise with an open mind as best I could. It was very difficult, and I was not impressed with the result. But I did learn a huge amount about composition, light and color.  At some point I realized that you have just stop looking at what you are trying to paint and work with the canvas/surface making decisions that will convince the viewer of the object/s although it may not be directly, visually accurate.

That painting I created showed me where I had gone wrong and where to focus in the next class. So I chose in the next class to paint a group of glass jars - in the previous still life there was a glass jar that didn't work and looked more like a tin can.
Here is the result. Not perfect but I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. It was much tougher than I thought it would be.

Again, perfect it is not. For example the jar on the far right was poorly done, the size is too squat and the mouth is not well defined, the bottle in the middle is asymmetrical and the base on the far left one is a mess, lacking depth and with too much heavy colour. BUT I do love the lettering on the far right jar and I like the base of the central bottle. Also think the shadowing works ok and the mouth of the jar on the far right isn't bad.  Now I can understand why Giorgio Morandi spent so much time painting vessels...

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Do This MOOC!

I am currently participating in a MOOC called Live! A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers provided via Coursera by CALarts.
It is a really great course full of wonderful resources. The CALarts teachers have done a superlative job at structuring a course around art theory but also encouraging collaboration.
Part of the course has been weekly sketchbook assignments.  Last week we had to create a visual of ten sources of inspiration. I did mine as a Pinterest board (see below).  I cannot recommend this course enough. For someone like me it has been endlessly useful, it has helped me structure my creativity and expand.  I am by nature lazy, I can talk myself out of anything, but the activities and networking with other members of the course have energized me.  PLUS I have found a new way to use Pinterest! When you are an independent lifelong learner like myself, it is hard sometimes to really know how well you are doing or come up with ways to assess and expand on the knowledge you are gaining. Courses like this help because they gave me exercises that I would not have thought of doing.

The advice on how to critique and articulate feelings on my own art and others has even helped improve this blog! 

We are in week 3 and the course lasts for 9 weeks, at this point I dip into the course and look at the videos and read forum posts daily but then also keep track on Twitter and other social media sites as well as blogs. I am by day an instructional designer and adult education specialist, and so I know what I am talking about when I say - this is how education should be! Collaborative, at the student's own pace using materials and technologies to aid learning when relevant. Well done CALarts, Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D. and her team!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Adventures in Acrylics

I've been taking night classes since November of last year. I started with collage because it was medium I know. To be honest, the clincher was that the teacher is a local artist that I love - Ursula Gullow. Her work is accessible and also compelling. I was really nervous to join a class, it's weird being a student when you have been a teacher for as long as I have!

However, it was a great experience and Ursula is a great teacher. While in that class I started to use paint, specifically acrylics. I don't think I have painted since being at school and through the years I actively avoided paint in favor or fiber arts and sewing. Turns out though, I love paint. So after that class I signed up for a beginner's class in acrylics with Ursula as the teacher. It was a revelation... I started with low expectations of my work but I have been immensely pleased with the results.

The last class was last week and I am now doing an abstract class, again with Ursula Gullow.
For more of my pictures, check out my Tumblr page.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Textile Art

To be honest, I don't really like this picture. I used spray paint for the branches and they lacked definition and the angularity one expects with tree branches. Ugh. So I tried to fix it with the running stitch and it improved it but still... Plus the kimono blossoms just don't do anything for me and look imposed. That's ok, it's all learning!