Wednesday, May 16, 2012

3 Good reads for artists-

I've been re-reading some of my favorite books and authors about art and creativity and wanted to share a few that I love. One of my favorites is "Gift by the Sea" by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Although over 50 years old, the ideas she shares about womanhood and being an artist are beautiful, honest and strike a chord if you've ever tried to balance a "normal" life with being an artist.
Free Play by Nachmonovich, I think I'm spelling that correctly, is another favorite for it's take on creativity and "play" throughout the ages, crossing lines of time, culture, age , race and religion. It is a book that will make you look at creativity from a different perspective.
Frederick Franck is another favorite; although he delves into the realm of Buddhism and new agey stuff a bit too much for my liking, I love his thoughts and ideas on the purity of drawing and seeing and being an artist- separate from what the world tells you "art" is. He sees beauty in everything from people past their prime with wrinkles and rolls, to a tiny weed poking out of a crack in the sidewalk. F.F. allows you to "see" in a new way and stop making excuses about not having the "right" time, place or subject.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Our need to create

It is incredible to watch the changes in students work as they progress. Not because of the new techniques or dexterity with the paintbrush, necessarily. It is so much more about confidence and the power that comes from finding and releasing what it is that brings you life! The longer I teach, the more obvious this becomes that this thing that I teach is less about painting and more about therapy, more about allowing people to get in touch with something they know is there, but have lost or haven't ever quite found yet. When they find it- when the moment happens and they "see" for the first time- it is nothing less than a little miracle.  Whether it's "seeing" for the first time what they have to say, or "seeing" a tree for more than the sum of it's parts, this new vision transforms the way they create because it transforms the way they think about creating. They finally know why they're taking art lessons! They never truly understand this until that "aha" moment when their need for and love for art clarifies and it becomes something they do for themselves, not anyone else.
Try creating something today, whether it's a song or a drawing or something out of play dough with your kids. It doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if you color inside the lines. It matters that you are creating, because when you are creating, you are being alive and experiencing life through your eyes, through your perceptions, and through your heart and soul. You owe it to yourself to be an artist today and you owe it to yourself to care less what anyone else but you thinks about it!  Here is a little piece on my students and some examples of their intuitive, one of a kind ,art.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Simplifying the complex

Simplify- we hear the word thrown around a lot in our culture of  "way too much of everything". Simplify your possesions, your home, your finances, your cooking- you name it. Why? Because it allows us to see what is truly important when we get rid of all of the "stuff" in our lives. We begin to see old things in new ways, we have more clarity in our thinking when we have clarity surrounding us. And simplification leads to clarity.
It is the same when drawing and painting. I have a student who had beautiful photos of a trip to Costa Rica. The colors, the palms, the waterfalls and exotic flowers. Truly breathtaking- but  how to begin a painting with this much visual stimulation and complexity is difficult. More difficult than one would think.
  So, we began trying to shift over into that right brain a little more and begin to see not flowers, sky, palms, and waterfalls, but instead look at the general shapes : the simplified outline  of the waterfall, the negative space formed between the palm trees, the general shape of the mass of rocks, etc.
 Once we sketch these shapes on paper, we begin to realize that we can now control what we want to have happen in our composition. This is no longer a painting of a photo. The true art has begun and we are now in the process of "abstracting" our photo into a drawing/painting. We are not simply imitating what we see, we are "steering the boat" ! Now the mass of rocks may become smaller and the horizon line higher. The palm trees move into the foreground, the waterfall extends, the mountain takes on a different contour. We "play" with these shapes and configurations' - remember "playing" is the
 essence of creating, so allow yourself this freedom until your mind becomes less apprehensive and
less self-conscious. When you have a sketch that you like,  it's time to figure out how you will make this composition a pleasing one. So take the time to do a value sketch: using dark, med, and light value. When you have decided where to place these values and sketched them in, decide what your dominant value will be. Don't worry too much about it not looking like the light and dark areas in the photo. You are creating a composition, and your composition will hold together better if you have done a good value pre-sketch. A value sketch is one more step that will help to simplify and clarify. Instead of 8 different values, you push the values one way or another, with the goal of getting to the  3 basic values.
Now, when you are ready to begin your painting, you have simplified and manipulated your shapes into a pleasing composition, and simplified your values into light, medium and dark. Now get out your paints and have fun. The hard part is over! To see some of my completed paintings using this method:

Friday, April 13, 2012

What I do when I'm not making art so that I can make more art...

So being an artist, sometimes I have to do things other than my art so that I CAN do my art. That's the goal.... Well today has been one of those days where I am simply trying to learn my way around the internet, backlinking, search terms, etc. I do these things because I want to promote my art the best way that I can, but I'm really starting from scratch, so it takes a lot of time and a lot of mental energy that I would like to be putting somewhere else. Today part of my "training" was to write my top 3 free places to go in St. Louis, and of course at the top of the list is our wonderful art museum. If you are interested in writing your "top" whatever lists, and getting backlinks, here is what I discovered today ="" I have also begun a series on best artist retreats around the country, which I love doing research for! One of those is the Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs and the flint hills of Kansas. If you want to read more about this secret getaway, here you go-

Friday, April 6, 2012

the art of painting- not exactly what it seems

I am continually inspired by my students. Most are over the mid life line, have raised families, had careers,, travelled, and can spend their time the way they please. And they choose to spend a lot of it painting. They choose to take lessons, to put their work out there for the world to see, to get constructive criticism, to be challenged, frustrated and overcome obstacles to become better artists. They are willing to do this because they are passionate about their art. Some well from deep within them is full and brimming with creativity, beauty, new ideas and desire to express themselves through the magic of painting.
Painting, however, is not all that it seems. Painting is not about putting water soluble pigment on paper. It is not about how well or perfectly graded a wash may be. It is not even about describing a perfect rock, or cloud, or shadow . I'm not saying these things are not valuable, or that a painter shouldn't strive to learn everything they can about technique, tricks, and tools of the trade. But at the heart of painting, you will find the eye of the painter. That eye, of course, is connected to the unique and individual  painter's ideas;their love, their pain, their experience and understanding of the world around them. 
The way one sees the world around them is magnificently different from the way anyone else sees that world. The things that hold importance to each individual soul;  the way the light falls on a hand, or the colors at dusk, or the beauty of an old woman's face- these are the stones that build the foundations of great painters. And the wonder of it is that each person has that capacity simply because they live a life no one else has lived, experienced the world the way no one else has or ever will. Each human being is on a journey all their own and whether we choose to express the experience of our journey through music, painting, writing, sculpture- really doesn't matter. What matters is that we are all artists, because we are here! So don't be afraid to leave a mark on the world, in whatever way you choose,  and let them know what you saw during your brief stay here. You not only should do it for yourself, you should do it for the rest of us.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Children and art

"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college - that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forget?' (Howard Ikemoto)

Children are natural artists. They take pencil or paint, clay, or an instrument, and put everything their little bodies have, into "making art". There are a few reasons for this, one is that they are not interested in judging their work. Their work is who they are! If you've ever had a child run up to you and noticed the look on their face when they proudly give you their fingerpainted masterpiece, you know what I mean. The global mind is at work- and not enough time on this earth thus far has spared them from their own critical eye. So they dive in- whatever it is, without fear- and create! Children's "play" is creation! In fact it is the very essence of what it means to create. To lose yourself completely, in allowing the art to take over. Watch how a child plays the next time and see if this observation does not ring true.

Teaching kindergarten and first graders art, and 7th - 9th graders art, gave me a clear understanding of the process that happens over these 6 or 7 formative years. Small children already have a "style". You begin to know each kids artwork because there is something recognizeable in all of their works. It might be the way they use bright paint, the soft way that they color, the bold design decisions they make. These things are already imprinted at this young age. And they are excited! Excited about creating! About sharing their work with others, seeing it in the hallway.
 By the time these kiddos enter 7th grade, a huge metamorphisis has taken place. The same kids have many times stopped doing any kind of art. They have usually decided that there are a couple of kids with a lot of talent who are "artists", and that they do not fall into that category.  Getting over the fear of creating is the thing you must address first and foremost with this age group, or you will get nowhere. That means making sure they have a lot of success at first and get up the nerve to try something new. Art goes from being fun and exciting and stimulating ; to a scary and vulnerable place of self criticism.
Thankfully, these preteen aged kids start to understand that they can find that childlike place again when they immerse themselves in art if you give them the opportunity. And the longing to do it has never dissapeared, it's just been snuffed out somewhere along the way. It's the same for 40,50 ,and 60 year olds- they come to lessons wanting to find that place they loved, but they have forgotten how to get there.  That is really all my job entails; to help them find their way back, to ignite the passion and fun of creating, wherever that may lead. When they remember that they still have the ability to "play", to lose themselves in the process of the artform without judgement - when they realize the freedom they have had inside all along- they won't ever leave it behind again. For more on creativity and how to be more creative, visit

Monday, February 27, 2012

My husband and I went to the art museum the other day. I love the St. Louis art museum, and every time I go am amazed at the quality and quantity of world famous art, and the fact that there is no admission fee!
We walked around in the impressionists area first, both having just read the newest biography on Van Gogh, we wanted to see some of his work up close. We've seen it before, but each time you look at his work, its as if he has just finished, you can see it in it's unframed state, leaning up against the wall drying. His work is truly alive, and the photos never do it justice. The thick paint, the swaths of vibrant, intense color, the movement - it's as if all that he couldn't "be" in his life, is there in his painting. The friendships he wanted, but couldn't sustain, the love and family he ached for his entire life, but could never quite reach. His quest to follow Christ, to do his work, to help the needy; and his fall from grace. His drive to observe and record people, an observation that most of the time took the place of genuine interaction in his life. This need to draw people in their daily activities, the quest to unearth what was underneath the facade; Van Gogh relentlessly worked at portraiture and people- It's what he always went back to but was never able to get the recognition or satisfaction from it that he needed. And although the "potato eaters"- the painting of a peasant family sharing potatoes and tea around a table- was seen as the earliest in expressionistic painting, that's not what he was striving for. He wanted to do it "right" - he wanted to capture people, but could never do it the way that he wanted, in life or in his art.
So I guess it is with all artists, what we strive for in life, we strive for in our art to some degree. "Who" you are comes out in your work- peeks through, sometimes taunting, sometimes celebrating, but always present and alive in what we put on paper or canvas. The soul of the work is the soul of the artist and creator, as it is in life. So the next time you get out your paints , or clay, or graphite, or whatever it is that you utilize in your art, be looking for the clues that you leave about yourself, some you may not even be aware of.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

being an artist: allowing yourself to be an artist

being an artist: allowing yourself to be an artist

allowing yourself to be an artist

The one thing I come up against constantly in my private lessons with students is how to help them let go. Let go of preconceived ideas about how they should paint, or what a final product should look like. I try to help them see that it is okay for the process of art to be messy; not just making the studio or their clothes messy, but the process of creating and "playing" is messy. Its not always pretty, it doesn't always look good, you dont even come out with a final product a lot of times. It is in the creating and the playing and making mistakes that we learn who we are as artists. What we want to say, and struggling with how we want to say it are a part of the process. Just as one cannot learn to speak another language fluently after a few days, one cannot learn to be an artist quickly or cleanly. It takes time for the artist to put themselves fully into their art, whether that is playing an instrument or picking up the brush. The easy part is the technical part. Learning brush strokes and washes, terms and new techniques. The difficult part is when you begin to try to infuse that brush with some of "you". The line that embodies a feeling. Knowing the intensity of the color that describes most beautifully what you are trying to set free in you painting. These are things that can't be taught. They must be experienced, felt, nurtured and practiced freely. In doing so, the artist and the artwork become one, and I know after my students have felt that for the first time, they will never put down the brush again.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

being an artist: experimental watercolor

being an artist: experimental watercolor

experimental watercolor

Today my student and I did some watercolor "pouring" , always interesting, and messy and wonderful!! Did some atmospheric paintings, painting wet in wet circles of yellow, red, and blue, then spraying and rotating until getting a beautiful, glowing, transparent atmosphere. This can be used as a backdrop for a street, lake scene, or any scene where the light and atmosphere are the focal point.
We then did some wave and sea scenes, starting with dabs of pure color, in dark green, blues and even some alizaron crimson- then spraying some areas while leaving some areas dry to create wave patterns. Finally, pouring color washes and moving the paper around so that some wave-like patterns occur. The hardest part while doing these is stopping to let dry before going to far. It is in the drying and watching that inspiration comes and then adding detail to bring into focus your vision.

Friday, February 10, 2012

being an artist: teaching art

An article on why it's important to teach drawing to children and adults alike.

teaching art

This week I have been taking the students out to draw from life. That means coffee shops mostly in the winter. But what an amazing array of life you can see just sitting in a booth for a couple of hours. We've been talking about gesture drawing; quick, sweeping lines that describe the motion or stillness, curve of a neck, angle of a knee, the plane of the shoulders or hips. These drawings are not about details, they are rather about getting down the essential without getting distracted by the non-essential. It is a scary way to draw at first, as these aren't perfectly 'finished" drawings. But they are freeing and beautiful in their own way. It opens students up to begin to feel the drawing, to become the drawing. Eyes and hand working in sync - taking over and quieting "left brain" critical side.
So this week, go sit awhile at your favorite place. Wait for an 85 year old woman with a blue knit cap and white curls poking out of it, to come sit right in your line of sight, and eat a bowl of soup and a piece of bread with beautiful 85 year old hands. That's the gift I got this week. What will yours be?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

on teaching art

I have taught art now for quite a long time, to many different ages, not without trepidation and doubt as to whether I was truly inspiring the students to be artists, or merely filling time with ideas or techniques that they weren't ready to integrate into their artistic experience.
I have taught grades 6-12, mostly in middle school, and also kindergarten and 1st graders, while my last few years have focused on teaching and guiding adults through private lessons in painting.
Which of these was the most difficult? It depends- as far as needing a vallium
before I entered the classroom, it would have to be kindergarten and 1st grade-. ( I didn't actually take vallium, just thought about it a lot) This age is spongelike and excited about art, which is absolutely wonderful. The problem is the lack of time you have in this setting, and their limited fine motor skills. You end up teaching a lot of cutting, and clean up with kindergarteners and 1st graders should require a college class.

Middle school is wonderful and completely exhausting mentally. You have the opportunity to grab these kids who are not interested in school at all- but love art. You have the ability to help guide the artists who come to you with some accomplishment already. You have the chance to give students a shot at being proud of their work, and fitting into a group, maybe for the first time, with extracurricular things like art club and art shows.
So the opportunites are there, and ripe. The difficulty is the balancing act, which can be almost impossible at times. The balancing act of disciplining the students who need art the most, the ones you work on "getting on board" every single day. The balancing act of having to deal with the behavior disabled students ,who are sometimes physically and verbally abusive, in your regular classroom because you are an elective. This involves constant vigilance in protecting the other students and making them feel safe, disruptions, verbal abuse , etc. Mainstreaming other special groups works in art. Mentally disabled, hearing impaired, come in and are a perfect fit, but truly there are some gaps in our schoolsystem's method of throwing oppositional defiant, sociopathic and emotionally disturbed students in with the mix and expecting teachers to successfully teach.
Middle school is a precarious act of balancing discipline, organizational systems, teaching technique, allowing freedom of expression, artistic guidance, and inspiration, all the while keeping those artistically inclined but troubled kids afloat while still being able to reach and challenge those serious students of art that need to be stretched to reach all that they can..
What I found is that I was too drained emotionally at the end of the day to do my own art after teaching in the middle grades. But I won't say it isn't a satisfying way to earn a living. It is important work and difficult work if done well, but the rewards of teaching this age group are endless.

Right now I teach adults/teens and absolutely love it. I find it is a way to integrate my passion, my love for art and teaching, with the freedom to do my own work simultaneously. My lessons are private, and each one is completely different. Each student on their own artistic journey, and it is fullfilling and inspiring to help guide, seek, and facilitate their progress in becoming the artist that they were meant to be. It is a joy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

work in progress

My goals for the year are to keep working, every day- to promote my art(not my favorite thing to do) and to get more students lined up. Working on it. But I love what I do, and it fulfills me. I'm having fun on fine art america meeting new artists from all around the world. Here's a link-landscape canvas prints