Friday, April 25, 2014

What makes an artist an artist?

A recent Facebook discussion about whether art teachers are artists got me thinking.  Like most of you, my little students always have told me that I am 'the best artist in the world'.  (Except for maybe their grandma.  Their grandmas are always world famous artists, evidently.)  The kids' impression of me as a world renowned artist always makes me laugh.  How do they see me as an artist?  They see me as someone who can make magic happen with a brush loaded with creamy tempera paint.  They know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I evidently can draw/paint the best cats, fish, lizards, and dragons in the world!  And they are aware that I can doodle like there's no tomorrow.  Furthermore, they see me as someone who can create the most amazing creature out of a plastic bag, some newspaper and cereal box cardboard, and a box of Art Paste.  And they know that I built my 5' dragon Lucy (in the Sky with Diamonds) and her baby Sparkle, and Sparkle's egg all by myself.
But an artist...  am I one?  What makes someone an artist?  If I'm an artist, what kind of artist am I? I seriously don't know. (Note: all artwork featured in this post, whether jewelry, sculpture, painting, or whatever, was created by me.)  Do I call myself a painter?  A photographer? A jewelry designer?  A Project Runway wannabee?  A crafter?  A sculptor?  What am I?
I think perhaps I have what I will call AADD - artistic attention deficit disorder. My first serious artistic passion was oil paint.  I love the depth of color, the smell, the way the paint feels on a brush. Oh, and doodling with Flair pens (which I still adore).  Then in a college freshman drawing class, I fell in love with giant sticks of charcoal.  And charcoal mixed with washes of colored ink.  But then, along came darkroom photography, and the associated dangerously wonderful fumes. That passion lasted for years, until I sadly no longer had access to a darkroom.  For a brief period, I was hugely enamored with rapidograph pens, doing tons of detailed ink drawings. (Until I got tired of cleaning them all the time; what an annoyance!) Meanwhile, I kept painting.  I loved typography and I painted posters and signs, and even the sides of a van, a bus, and a fleet of beer trucks.

I got interested in hooking rugs, and I designed and made a HUGE rug, still hanging in my home, and after I made a couple of pillows with the leftover cut yarn, I gave up rug hooking.  Then I fell madly in love with batik, and while I haven't done authentic batik in several years, I still have all the necessary equipment and I plan to batik again. Yes, another art material with marvelously enticing and toxic fumes...
I love fabric, and I have pretty much sewn all my life, and lately I've gone seriously 'Project Runway', getting adventurous with my sewing projects.  Should I have been a fashion designer perhaps?  And I love beads, and several years ago began making jewelry obsessively.  Since I retired, I discovered PMC (precious metal clay), my latest little (and pricey) jewelry-making passion.  And of course that fun Cool2Cast stuff I wrote about last week.  And then there was that bead embroidery I learned to do....
Somewhere along the way, teaching made me fall in love with both papier-mache and plaster bandage, and I often think that maybe I should have been a sculptor. 
 Somewhere along the way, I bought acrylics when I didn't have a place at home to paint with oils.  and lately I've done some acrylic painting incorporating textural collage. 
 And I finally discovered digital photography.  Photoshop?  I'm totally a beginner, in desperate need of a tutor.  But I take pictures ALL the time, and have approximately a million zillion on my computer in need of editing..
HELP!  What kind of artist AM I?  Will I ever figure it out?  Do I have to give up one for the other?
Am I less of an artist if I don't want to give up all these various pursuits in favor of just one media?  Am a photographer?  A painter?  A jewelry designer?  A multimedia artist?  Or just a doodler, a dabbler, a crafter (after all, I did recently make a purse of out of a gourd, you may recall)?  When someone asks me "what is your medium?", how do I answer?  I mean, just about the only artistic pursuits I am NOT real interested in are printmaking, videography, and ceramics (though I'd be happy to dabble with that, too, given the resources). 
 What about you?  Do you also have an artistic identity crisis?  Should this worry me?  Will it say on my grave "She dabbled and doodled."? 

One additional thought - in my college curriculum, Art Ed was a double major: education and art.  And you needed a concentration in art.  I had two concentrations: one in painting and one in photography.  But knowing I planned to teach, I figured it was important to have experience with as many different mediums as possible to prepare me for the classroom, so I took basic courses in ceramics and pottery,  in gold and silversmithing  (where I was, sadly, an abysmal failure), in printmaking, and in sculpture (where, ironically, we used NO materials that you would ever ever use teaching elementary art, where I ended up 9 years later).  With all my carefully planned experience, I still never used stuff like plaster bandage, tooling foil, tempera paint, cardboard, papier-mache, and so much more.  Maybe that says something about the design of my education program.  Perhaps that's another blog post, another day?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cool2Cast from Michael's workshop at NAEA

If there is one thing I probably don't need, it is yet another fun crafty material to use for making jewelry. Yeah, another hobby...  But that's just what I recently acquired!  
At the NAEA convention, Michael's offered a selection of FREE hands-on workshops.  I attended one, where we learned about Cool2Cast, a really awesome and easy to use casting medium that dries quickly, with an almost porcelain-like look.  We learned to mix and cast it into molds (they even gave us molds to keep!), and we all got to cast a whole bunch of pieces.  We also had time to paint a selection of pre-cast pieces that were given to us, using alcohol inks and also some stamps and stencils.  

I packed everything I made into my suitcase, figuring the little pieces would all be broken by the time I made it home cross the country.  And even if it had all broken, it would have been OK, because the workshop was totally free, I had fun, and I learned to use something new.  But amazingly, not a single piece broke!  As a result, I have about a dozen painted pieces (in great sizes for pendants, earrings, and maybe even a barrette), and probably at least 50 unpainted pieces, to decorate and use however I like.  I even have some really large leaf shapes that I won as a door prize, that could be used to decorate a frame or maybe the top of a box, or ...  I don't know yet!  There are so many possibilities!
Meanwhile, I put a coat of gloss on the painted pieces that I thought were done, and glued jewelry bails on the backs of them.  Then, yesterday, while it was warm and sunny out, I took the first two of my painted pieces, and transformed them into necklaces.  And I'm sharing them with you here. The one in the photo above has not yet been incorporated into a necklace, but it will.  Soon.

Here's one complete necklace and earrings set -
And another, with a double strand -
And a closer view - 
When I've worked with some of the other pieces, I promise to come back and share with you again right here on the blog!  Cool2Cast is awesome!  Thank you, Michael's!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Olympics of the Visual Arts 2014

Today I served as a judge for OVA, the Olympics of the Visual Arts.  I first told you about this creative competition for kids, when I participated as a judge last here, in this blog post of April 2013.  OVA, sponsored by NYSATA (NY State Art Teachers Association) was modeled after the Odyssey of the Mind competition format.  Students complete long-term projects based on tasks in a selected category, and using research and brainstorming in their planning.  There is also a spontaneous component to the competition, that takes place on site, using minimal prescribed materials.

The cast of Project Runway might benefit by talking to these students when they are taking on one of their challenges with unconventional materials.  Here below (and above) are some of the amazing creations in today's fashion category. (Can't you just see Cassie Stevens wearing the dress at the top of this post?)  I wasn't a judge of fashion, so I didn't get to see the runway show component of their competition, but I was blown away by the pieces on display.  Their task involved creating a garment constructed from paper  Other materials could be added for embellishment, but the actual construction had to be from paper.  Big bold colorful pattern was the theme, and students were to use art history to reference  how pattern has been used in art.  The results were beyond amazing.  Here are some of my favorites.  I love the Klimt-ness of the peacock dress above.
 I absolutely adore this dress below, and would totally wear it if it just had some shoulder straps, or perhaps a little jacket over it!
I think the art historical references are pretty obvious in most of these.  I was intrigued by the one below, because their use of pattern was so much more subtle than the others, but definitely still there.  All of them, worthy of Project Runway for sure!
I certainly don't mean to undermine the other categories, which include architecture (there was a theme related to arches), sculpture (the theme had to do with knowledge and wisdom), illustration (something about a caterpillar poem), typography (unfortunately I didn't see these), drawing and painting (the theme had something to do with nano-something or other?) and photography (the theme was the passage of time).  Here's a random sampling.
I really love this arch below - the 'Pop Arch'
 And a few more random images of student work from various categories and various age levels.

 I frequently saw people sitting on this swing below.  That's how strong it is!  And note that Louise Nevelson inspired arch in the background. 
Even though I was a judge for the photography category, I totally forgot to photography any of the pieces except for this fun entry below. 
 I loved seeing the unique solutions to the problem!  One 8th grade girl used a fairy tale book setup for her presentation, really spectacular (couldn't believe she was a middle schooler) and even her research portfolio and process documentation were presented in a book, in fairy tale fashion, right down to the last detail.  We couldn't find a thing about it to critique!  Another middle school student presented her research portfolio in folders displayed in an old suitcase, which really complemented the photographic presentation.  A group of elementary students showed the passage of time through fashion, and displayed a sequence of photos (of themselves modeling as people from various decades and eras) in windows draped with fancy purple curtains made from tissue paper.  And another group used a door that swung.  And there was a photo booth.  And a faux brick wall and a photo-collage table that became a clock... and so much more.  Wow, wow, WOW!

Ironically, though the press has been contacted year after year, they NEVER show up for this event.  I have nothing against sports (my son was on his school swim and tennis teams and we always went to swim meets and tennis matches), but still, I find it ironic that the press will travel all over the place to watch kids play ball, but when students participate in a competition like this, that involves extensive preparation, research (their portfolio of research materials is displayed with and scored with the piece), creative thinking, and hard work (not to mention the travel arrangements to bring these kids from all over the place along with their creations to this one central location), but they (the press) don't show up here.  Sigh. 

All in all, I am encouraged by the amazing minds and talents of these kids, and the hard work they did, too.  And oh - the spontaneous project had to do with drawing with scissors like Matisse - and while I didn't photograph those pieces, some of them, completed in less than an hour, sitting on the floor, were pretty awesome too!

Monday, April 7, 2014

A little blog update - now you can search!!

Just wanted to let you know, as of a few days ago, there's a new search bar on the right side of my blog.  It became a necessity when I was looking for an old post on my very own blog, and couldn't find it!  How embarrassing!!  I searched the label cloud at the bottom, and what I wanted wasn't there.  I scrolled through 4 years of month after month of archives, and it wasn't there.  I scrolled through my list of 609 posts on my dashboard, but the titles of the posts didn't jive with what I was looking for. 

So finally I did what I should have done ages ago.  I searched for new gadgets available for the blog, and discovered there was a search bar gadget that I could add, that I hadn't known was available. And I promptly added it to my blog layout. 

So now, if you want to find a lesson on surrealism, or collage, or weaving, or learn about the Chihuly tower we made a couple of years ago, or find out about my approach to still life and Matisse, or see pictures of our papier-mache garden gnomes, or see my very first blog post (which was about papier-mache fish) almost 4 years ago, or my opinions on just about anything, or find photos of my silly car, or learn about our hunt for my grandfather's totem pole, or see pictures of snakes and turtles from the vantage point of my kayak, or basically anything that I might have written about in 609 posts over 4 years, use the search bar!  Yippee!!  By the way, the links I've included in this paragraph are just a sampling.  If you search, for example, for surrealism, or collage, or Matisse, you will find way more posts than just the one I linked here today.  But feel free to visit these links anyhow!

Happy Searching!  Let me know if there's something you are unable to find!

Shalom mural part 2

 I first told you about our Temple Religious School mural project in a post a couple of weeks ago.  Yesterday, after their model Passover Seder, the kids completed painting on the mural.  Here, above and below, is how it looks right now. 
 First, all empty spaces were filled in with color.  Then, with smaller brushes, the kids went to town! I particularly love some of the happy faces that appeared.
 And lots of fun polka dots and lines!
 The kids are proud, the adults are thrilled, and I am happy.  There's a few things left to be done.  I have a bit of pre-mixed warm colors left, so I thought I'd make a simple frame around it with just brush-thickness strokes of the warm colors.  And I'm strongly considering using black paint to do a small left side and bottom shadow on all the letters to make them pop.  What do you think?  And finally, in the row of blocks below the bottom, or on the side, I want to get all the kids (I think there's about 16 of them) to sign their names, I think in colored Sharpies.  And I'll date it as well.  But if you have any suggestions or advice on how to complete and label it appropriately, please speak up.

By the way, the dove (below) was painted by me and I'm a little disturbed at what a mess he is anatomically, but since nobody else seems to mind, he'll stay as is.  But I still need to put an olive branch in his mouth.  And maybe those raindrops (also my doing) should be eradicated?  Your thoughts?
Anyhow, it's been an absolute delight working with these fun kids, bursting with ideas and personality, and so happy to be painting.  I'm sure we'll do more art projects together in the future!