Monday, January 30, 2012

From Destruction Rises Beauty

Last Friday, my high school art students finished the first project in their sculpture unit: deconstructed books.  I picked up a stack of old hardback novels at a local thrift store and turned them over to my students with permission to cut, roll, fold, punch, color, crimp, collage, tear, and glue to their heart's content.  Our first semester was devoted to an in-depth exploration of design elements and principles so after a brief review of balance, emphasis & rhythm, the students were off and running.  They blew me away with their creative vision, problem-solving skills, and ingenuity.  Here's just a couple of the incredible sculptures that resulted:
Malila created a softly-colored rose to bloom out of the center of her book...

Blue layered lots of simple dog-ear folds that lead the eye inward to a origami crane that rises from his book...
Annie has a trio of origami cranes in the center of her book sculpture surrounded by beautifully complex constructions.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Too Busy Saying Yes to Hear the No

My fish sculpture finally complete; approximately 14" long; wire and tissue
Connie over at Dirty Footprints Studio has been posting some wonderful stuff recently about teachers & teaching and it has triggered some thoughts of my own.  Here's my story:

It was late December 2000, I was newly diagnosed with bilateral Kienbock's disease, and I had just had the first two of four hand surgeries.  I was in college, aiming for a bachelor's in art education so I could teach art at the high school level.  My gem of an advisor had just retired and I was meeting with my new advisor who also happened to be the chair of the school's small art education department.  (I believe she still is.)

I was explaining my situation, how even though I was dealing with a fairly serious and possibly life path-altering disease, that I was charging ahead anyway because I wasn't going to let anything, especially some dead bones, get in the way of my dream.  I talked about how the previous advisor and I had been adjusting the degree requirements so I could avoid difficult and painful coursework like metalsmithing.  The advisor got very quiet.  Finally she said "I don't think you should pursue teaching because there's so much you won't be able to do.  You can't teach ceramics, or sculpture, and you won't be able to break up a fight in the classroom."  I remember her words so clearly because I was stunned.  It had never occurred to me that I might have a disability or that it was something I couldn't overcome.

Now, legally, the advisor could not make me drop from my degree program and in retrospect, I understand that.  I could've defied her, continued forward and eventually, she would've probably been supportive.  I don't know how far she would've taken her opposition.  But at the time, I was weary.  I had already faced so many obstacles.  I wasn't interested in wasting precious energy, butting heads with an unsupportive advisor.  I just wanted to get my degree.  So I switched my major to studio art and let go of the idea of ever teaching in public schools.

Years later, I found myself doing exactly that, teaching art to middle school and high school students at a local charter school.  I didn't need a credential for this particular assignment; what I needed was hands-on experience, enthusiasm, and an ease with kids.  By the time I found my way to Laurel Tree, I'd already been teaching art to adults for many years.  So every Friday (the school devotes an entire weekday to art education), I teach and I love it!

Every other year, I have a group of high school students who need a year-long course in art to satisify graduation requirements.  I have free reign in curriculum development (keeping in mind state standards) so as I began creating this year's class, my wheels began turning furiously.  The first semester would be devoted to learning and applying design elements and principles, two-dimensional work that would help build the students' confidence and vocabulary.  What if (I asked myself tentatively) the second semester was completely devoted to sculpture?  It felt like a natural progression.  Of course, the advisor's doubtful voice piped up in my head but I decided to plunge ahead.

No, the students are not forging bronze or chipping away at marble.  They are, instead, sculpting in wood, paper, wire, air-dry clay, and found objects.  They are creating some beautiful, crazy creative things and I am quietly thumbing my nose at the person who tried to tell me no.  I'm too busy saying "Yes!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Fancy Fishy Comes to Life

Up to my elbows in brightly colored tissue and 350 feet of wire as I craft a sample for this Friday's lesson in sculpture for my high school art students.  After a semester of learning and practicing the elements and principles of design, my students are now launching into a semester-long exploration of sculpture.  That fish you see in the middle of my supply-bombed studio table will be completely covered in tissue; I'm about halfway done.  You can't really tell by this photo, but the wire "skeleton" is three-dimensional so when finished, the fish looks like a fancy balloon and in fact, I plan on hanging all the students' fish sculptures from the ceiling at school.  It should make for a unique, colorful, and lively display.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wherein a Mysterious Girl Throws Me a Lifeline by Just Showing Up

Whether it is the dreadful cold and gray of winter, the busy busy busy of distracting daily errands, a touch of depression, seemingly endless migraines, or just a routine fallow period, I've been mired in creative block so thick and deep, it feels like I'm up to my neck in quicksand.  I've been able to keep up with my "daily diary"/Full Tilt Boogie journal but other than that, my creative life has generally ground to a halt.

Remember this canvas?  I've been tinkering with it for almost a year, blogging about it here and then here.  This weekend, I puttered around with it some more and finally felt like the background was "done" and perhaps even on the verge of being overworked.  Anyway, I decided that I wanted to paint something on top of it and for about seven hours, I got no farther than that thought.  

I shuffled through my collage images.  I cleaned my studio table.  I glued some paper into a journal and then cleaned my studio table again.  I still had no burst of brilliant inspiration.  Sometimes I try to engage my muse with some playful art exercises but just as often, I just sit and wait...and wait...and wait.

Finally, around eight o'clock in the evening, I decided to try painting a face.  Now I am not very good at painting faces and I am always deeply dissatisfied with the results but I pushed ahead, knowing I would hate the results but happy just to feel like painting. 

This is the face that emerged and I thought I'd share a picture here before I gesso over it.  The head is oddly tilted and the complexion verges on sickly but this face calls to me a little bit.  I see my own melancholy and pensive self looking back at me.  And she does look a lot like a story character I've been meditating on for almost a decade.  So even though her presence will be ephemeral, this lady served a purpose.  Her visage emerged from the end of my brush to remind to keep moving for the shore, no matter how deep the quicksand and how tiring the struggle. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Letting the Marker & Mind Wander

Marley Bear is closely supervising my continuing efforts at "slow art" and this month's Sketchbook Challenge of "doodling."  The cool thing about this doodle work is that the brown paper is backed with adhesive so I intend to leverage this doodle into my journals by cutting it into strips and using it as faux washi tape.  Larger pieces can be used as instant borders

I find that I am resisting the idea of "slow art" just a tad because I like the idea of a finished product at the end of a studio session; that certainly makes for more exciting pictures to show on the blog!  However, for me, 2012 is all about embracing the process and using art more as a meditative tool.  So I doodled with a white paint marker in one hand while scritching Marley's head with the other and just let it be.  There's a time and place for focused, goal-oriented productivity, especially if I want to eat and pay bills from time to time.  But there's also a place for accidental discovery and aimless exploration.  The latter is something I have seriously neglected, so much so that my efforts at "letting go" artistically feel forced and awkward.  That's OK though; I'll just keep giving it a go.  I have a feeling that Mr. Bear will be happy to accompany me on my journeys, no matter how long or how far they take me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stitch by Stitch, I Shall Persist

Fabric is definitely one of the mediums on the top of my list of "must work with more" for 2012.  However, fabric and I have a funny relationship.  While I do have a twin bed-sized quilt under my belt, I really have done little more with fabric than stash it away.  I've sewn little things here and there and added a piece every now and again to a journal page or two but beyond that...well, I like to look at it and shop for it and horde it.  Oh, and read books about ways to use it.

While I am very comfortable around paper and paint, working with fabric (and patterns and that blasted sewing machine) makes me sweat.  It doesn't come easy so although I've placed my fabric stash front and center in my studio, I haven't done anything with it.  This is the year, folks!

Every day, I get a little email from Quilting Arts.com.  Many times, it is just advertising for new products in their online shop but sometimes, there is a little sewing project and just before Christmas, I received  instructions on how to make this very simple fabric bracelet.  I've been looking for something really light and pretty to adorn my right wrist.  The inevitable comparison of my very prominent zigzag scar to Harry Potter's mark got old about a thousand comments ago so I thought I'd give this little project a whirl.

It took me two days to complete this bracelet.  I'm just super slow when it comes to handwork.  I enjoy it immensely; I find it to be incredibly meditative.  However, having a wrist that doesn't bend makes holding a needle tricky, tiresome business so I have to pace myself.  And for some reason, no matter how simple the instructions, my brain's neurons simply don't fire as fast as they do when I'm manipulating paper and glue.  Sometimes I have to read the same paragraph four or five times before I understand what I'm supposed to do.  Frankly, sewing instructions make me feel stupid. 

I'm going to persist because I really do love the feel of fabric and thread in my hands and I love seeing a project come together into a fun, functional object.  In fact, I promised my son that I would complete a quilt for him by Christmas.  The fabric for his quilt has been sitting in a box in my closet for years.  I even had to change out some of the fabric because he had outgrown the previously chosen motif.  I think if he even sees progress from stacks of fat quarters to quilt top, he'll be thrilled.  Guess I'd better get sewing!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Steadfast Companion

There's a lot of changes in the works for my 2012 art life but one steady companion that won't disappear is my art journal.  Art journaling is really at the core of my art practice and I worked really hard last year to cement journaling as a daily habit.

There are 214 days total between June and December and in 2011, I managed 145 days of journaling, improving each month until I missed only a single day in November and journaled every single day in December.  Practice makes perfect! 

As I continue to work in my "daily diary," I am feeling a deep desire to go back to other journaling styles I've done in the past.  Sometimes this format feels a bit limiting and some days, I really need some space to stretch my imagination and broaden my impact.  I have plenty of unfinished journals to play in so I'm going to revisit those old friends to find fresh inspiration.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sketchbook Challenge 2012 Begins

While I did fantastic with last year's Art Journal Every Day challenge, I wasn't nearly as on the ball with The Sketchbook Challenge.  I am continuing my participation in these challenges for 2012 and in the spirit of fresh beginnings, today's post features my first project for the January Sketchbook Challenge theme of "doodling" chosen by the wonderful Diana Trout.

Ever since I took that watercolor class at a local college, I've wanted to expand my use of this incredible medium in my work.  Beginning in February, I'm teaching a semester-long watercolor class of my own to my middle school students so I've been happily reacquainting myself with my paints.

This piece is a multi-layered watercolor monoprint that I then accented with more painting and doodling.  I find that I enjoy watercolor the most when I succumb to the paint's whims, let the colors flow into one another and basically just follow the paint's lead rather than trying to control it.

This is also a perfect example of my new embrace of "slow art" as I have worked on this particular piece for over a week, picking it up when I am otherwise uninspired in the studio or when I need a break from everyday chores.  Each time I approach this piece, I see something new that I can add.  I wonder what it will morph into after a month or so...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Expanding & Embracing

Happy New Year to all and welcome back to Lost Coast Post!

I took a bit of time to ease into 2012; typically, I hit the ground running, bubbling with enthusiasm and armed with a scroll full of resolutions (I take the whole process very seriously) but this year, I wanted to take things slowly, putting some changes into practice a little at a time.

2011 was a good year, a time full of expansion of my personal & artistic life as I really worked to move beyond the comforting confines of my studio.  I made a lot of plans and some I saw to completition and others I didn't.  So "expand" is a word I'm going to carry forward into 2012 as I think I'm far from where I want to be.

However, after much thought, I decided to add another word to guide me through the coming months.  I knew that I had grown in many ways but still I felt like I was hanging back, not allowing myself to fully realize a plan or accept a circumstance.  So I felt that adding "embrace" to my year's vocabulary would help me not only keep moving forward but perhaps more importantly, remind me to celebrate my successes, appreciate all that I accomplish, and treasure where I am in this very moment.

In 2012, I hope to move toward a more fully soulful life.  I want to embrace more quiet moments and expand upon them.  I want to tackle more projects but conversely, I want to slow things down.  I'm revisiting past pursuits and exploring fresh passions, all with an eye towards projects that soothe my frazzled brain and comfort my achy body. 

If you come to Lost Coast Post for art journaling, there'll always be that.  Promise.  But expect to see some new stuff too.  This post has a good preview of where I'm headed this year.  I'm sure there will ups and downs and stumbles along the way.  If you don't mind buckling in and stowing your tray table the whole way then please join me.  A wild ride is so much more enjoyable with friends.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

In Case Anyone's Still Around...

Just a fly-by note to say my hiatus from blogging will end Monday, January 9 as I resume Lost Coast posting for the new year...hope to see you all around this space!
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