Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Finding My Voice


I've been absent for a while from my blog for the best of reasons: I've been immersed in a frenzy of new art-making that has completely absorbed my attention and thrilled me to the core.

In the last couple of years, I have experimented with a wide variety of visual journaling styles, trying to find something that felt natural and authentic. I've studied many how-to and eye candy texts; I've browsed plenty of web pages of most of the big names in the industry. However, my own journaling always felt like a chore. Sigh! "I guess I'd better do another journal page...it's been weeks, months...oops, my last entry was a year ago." And so it went. I journaled in fits and starts because I hadn't yet really found my voice or better yet, I hadn't listened carefully enough to the voice in my head, whispering insistently, trying to guide my head, heart, and hands.

Finally, I just sat down with the names of all the art journalists I admired and asked myself one simple question: "Which artist's work sang the loudest to me?" The answer was immediate: Teesha Moore. There was not a doubt in my mind. Teesha's whimiscal style delights me, inspires me, and most definitely speaks to me. I decided to listen to that inner voice for a change.

While I have long played here and there with the "Zetti" style, I've avoided applying it to such a major component of my art like journaling. I didn't want to be a copycat, a mere imitator. I thought that eventually I would develop a look never before seen in the art world. Something that I could claim as completely, totally, absolutely my own. I waited...and waited...and waited for inspiration to strike like lightning. Everything I tried seemed to have some tiny component of another artist's work and so I rejected it, drastically changing course over and over again. Well, I tested out many paths but made little progress. I struggled to journal consistently. The pages felt forced. I felt tremendous pressure to create something meaningful and/or beautiful. I would start a journal and within a week, or even a day or two, my energy would fizzle, leaving behind a grand but sad collection of unfinished journals and a backlog of thoughts, experiences, and feelings left unexpressed.

At the beginning of August, I had my epiphany. I decided there must be a reason I kept coming back to Teesha's pages. I decided that I would begin with Teesha's work as inspiration and move out from there, seeing where MY mind, talents, and interests took me. I radically changed several things about the way I journaled. I set aside every "fine" art supply I owned and turned instead to the art tools of my childhood: crayons, fat markers, cheap colored pencils as well as some more modern playthings like gel pens and blow pens. I dug up every weird and bright color I could find. I pulled out all the papers I have handpainted and rejected the heavily pre-determined scrapbook papers. I turned my back on every rubber stamp I own and dusted off my box of hand-carved images. I started perusing my collection of Dover copyright-free books. It all came together effortlessly. Something seemed to click in my brain and my excitement felt limitless. I studied Teesha's work some more, decided what technical elements I would borrow and what I would adapt to represent my personal vision.

I begin by cutting cold press watercolor into several sizes and painting a variety of colorful backgrounds with watercolors. After a brief but unsuccessful effort to work in a bound watercolor pad (the pages fell apart), I began punching individual pages to fit in a paintable binder. This way, I can work on a flat surface and in whatever orientation suits my fancy. I use Dover images for the head of my characters and draw my own bodies, often in elaborate costumes. Once the character is drawn and embellished, I doodle around the page border and think very briefly about the title of the page. I journal all around the image, sometimes covering up my entries with more painting or coloring. From time to time, I pull from my box of clipped letters, words and phrases to add a ransom note look.

Yes, Teesha's influence is evident: striped body parts, funny headgear, bright color schemes. However, I use nothing from Teesha directly such as her collage sheets or rubber stamps. In fact, the only stamps I've used are some tiny letter stamps from Hero Arts if I wish to give my character a name. I discovered that I am incredibly content with my own drawings and handwriting. In fact, it feels refreshing to go back to where I began. The little girl with a pocket full of Crayolas and some typing paper has finally been able to emerge once again, this time with a few new tools but the same old unbridled joy for art. I think as time goes on, these pages will evolve into something that perhaps has shades of Teesha but that screams "Michelle!" I don't feel the least bit guilty about using Teesha's work as a launching point. Art has a long, storied history of artists beginning with the inspiration of other artists to find their own, unique vision and voice. In fact, that approach was encouraged (and many times required) in all of the world's major art academies.

The pages have been pouring from me. It is almost hard to keep up with. I complete a page just about every day (unless I'm busy with lesson plans or other work). Then I sketch out the page for the following day. It is difficult to walk away from the studio but it is thrilling to have that overwhelming desire to return. I cannot wait to see where this path ends up!
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