Category Archives: Art teaching

From Creating to Admiring Art in a Matter of Minutes

I’d only been sketching a few minutes when a friendly voice approached. “Whatcha doin’?” he said as he sat on the bench. After spelling his name, Theophilus said, “Most people call me “T.” I’d been here so many times as a child, and thought I’d met every person and explored every detail of the island. But there are always people to meet and learn about and there is always more to see and consider.

I’d been drawn to this social corner store for several days, sometimes snagging a seat on the shady bench across from Terrie’s Take-Away and other times, sitting the sun on the side deck of the liquor store. Though this spot was hot, I loved the view of the Terrie’s, cloaked in sea grapes, surrounded by chickens, cats and people. From here, I can also see Uncle Ralph’s house and tableau, a group of items on a glass table that for years Ralph has arranged – and rearranged – with found items: shoes, conch shells, beer bottles, crumpled paper bags. I’ve never seen an artist or art professor arrange a still life with as much flair or cohesion of disparate items as Ralph who explained, “That table I work on and this whole corner – the store, the license plates, the colors – is a result of my own creative expression. We are all creative and this is my way of showing it.”

Uncle Ralph’s Still Life, 2015

Uncle Ralph’s Still Life, 2018

With his words in mind, I considered the act of photographing, sketching and painting Ralph’s corner. In my art, I am copying another person’s art. Ralph composed this corner and I am simply presenting it from one view. So much art is like this, especially two dimensional work which must be why my friend Angela half jokingly calls two dimensional artists “flat-eye” indicating that all we do is copy while 3D artists CREATE. She’s got a point, I admit. But copy I continue because the magic of drawing and painting is in creating a little portal to show the viewer a place, color, idea, memory, or person. It can be a reminder or a window presenting a person or place we have known or a painting can introduce an idea or place not yet imagined by the viewer. I believe there is value to the prompts two dimensional art becomes. So with due credit, and permission from Ralph, I find myself drawing at his corner frequently on a recent trip to Harbour Island. And talking with people like T.

Sometimes, when sketching, it occurs to me that I don’t get much accomplished. People are friendly and curious and I end up in deep conversation more than I end up drawing. It also occurs to me that I can sketch at home but I can’t talk with Ersley, Donna, T, Ralph, Bernadine, and Bernadette at home. Being with them now is my only chance to hear their stories, their views, and their wisdom. In paying attention to people, I learn about a place that, though distant and not my place, has been in my heart since I first visited as an 8 year old. My hope is that the stories of the people here are conveyed in my paintings and one way to start this process is to listen closely…which brings me back to T.

T told me about his work as a fishing guide and about the people he meets from all over the world. He also told me, with intense passion, about his brother’s artwork. He went into great detail about the driftwood his brother and sister-in-law prepare for paintings and about the colorful scenes and people the talented couple, Ersley and Maxine Wilson, are able to create. The pride, admiration and support in his voice was contagious so I packed up and headed down to the shop, following T’s instructions.

Along the way, however, I was temporarily distracted by the church were Stephen and I married 22 years ago. It was being decorated for a wedding and I had to stop for a quick sketch. I’d barely begun when a man approached asking about my drawing. After several questions, he described his own artwork and his self taught methods. Before I could respond, a golf cart flew by with T hanging off the back yelling, “Laura, That’s my brother! That’s my brother!”

I am delighted by the multiple coincidences but shouldn’t be surprised. This is how things go here with people who are willing to help each other and talk to each other. The lives here are a part of a tightly woven web and if a visitor is lucky, she can find herself caught in the web and a part of the connected community…at least on the periphery for a magical moment. Again abandoning the sketch, I walked briskly to the bayside and found the Wilson’s store. But not before saying good-bye to Ersley who gave me a bonus tip: “My 13 year old, Madison, will be working in the shop. Be sure you ask her to sing you a song, her own song.”

Some 13 year olds might clam up if a stranger approaches and requests a song out of the blue, but as I stood in the middle of the store, Madison sang a song about summertime and I knew I was in the most special spot in the world at that very moment.

I’m not sure what I expected after each of the Wilson brother’s passionate descriptions of the paintings, but I was immediately enamored with the work hanging in the space. Coming in all shapes and sizes, there is a definite cohesion to the group due to the use of color and the intimate portrayal of island life: Maxine and Ersley are able to beautifully capture the water, the sky, the greenery, the people, the animals and the architecture in a way that a visitor, like myself, can not do. Calling the artwork simple is not quite the right word. As an artist who tends to overcomplicate compositions and scenes, I greatly admire the straightforward approach in the Wilson’s work. In one last stroke of luck on our final evening on the island, I happened to meet Maxine (thank you, for the introduction, Charles!). She explained that often the couple collaborates on the pieces, with Ersley doing the drawing and Maxine doing the painting. I wish I’d been able to talk with Maxine more and get to know that family better – within a few chance encounters, I learned of multiple talents. And it all started with meeting T down at Terrie’s Take-Away. Perhaps next time, I’ll learn even more about the Wilson’s.

Next up: endless sources of inspiration everywhere including, of course, the Princess Street Gallery. Thank you for reading! Laura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One “Ah Haa” moment after another in beautiful Telluride

IMG_4298Telluride, CO is one of those places that has appeared and reappeared on my radar for many years. Imagine my delight when the opportunity to finally visit presented itself in the shape of a teaching job. Not only is the town known for its festivals, art scene, long list of heavenly summer and winter activities, and foodie atmosphere, there is an additional resource that serves locals and visitors well – the outstanding Ah Haa School for the Arts. Just visit the website to see the countless events, classes and activities hosted by the school. IMG_4343The school is so enthusiastically embraced by the community that growth has exceeded the space for a second time since its inception in 1990. Partnering with the city of Telluride, plans are in the works to move into a 10,000 square foot space in 2020. In the meantime, the bustling program, which includes a full schedule of children and adult art classes, is located in the historic train depot next to the gondola and along the idyllic river trail at the base of the Telluride Ski Resort.IMG_4250

For the past four years I have worked to hone a mixed media workshop. Teaching the class roughly 5 times a year brings me great joy. It is an alternative to spending long hours in the studio on commission jobs and getting ready for exhibits. Meeting and getting to know the students, who come into the class with varied degrees of art experience, is a highlight and has lead to many treasured friendships. Equally as valuable (as many teachers express) is the process of teaching – the demo prep, the lectures, the critiques, the exposure to student opinions and perspectives – provides me with a boost of inspiration, gratefulness and education.

IMG_4231Last week at the Ah Haa School was no exception to the joys and benefits of teaching. After settling in at the Mountainside Inn, I walked over to the art school to meet the people I only knew through email and to see the workshop space. Then I headed over to the recently renovated and wildly popular, Wilkinson public library to present a lecture about the purpose of art, mixed media techniques, and my own two bodies of work. Afterward, one of the students kindly offered to take me to a local favorite, Esperanza’s, for a quick bite. Starting with the shuttle driver from the Montrose airport and ending in a lively bar discussion about affordable housing, I immediately noticed the uplifting, positive, engaging atmosphere created by the people of Telluride.

The next day during our class introductions, I quickly realized the positive encounters IMG_4239from the previous day were not just beginner’s luck. In fact, as the students told a little about themselves and their workshop goals, I found myself in awe of their experiences, careers and achievements. I was relieved to learn that many of the methods and materials on my agenda were new to most of the students, so I would have something to offer the accomplished group.

For anyone out there interested in the agenda, here is a bare bones outline I use for the Mixed Media workshop series:

  1. Various ways to apply paint
  2. How to make and use stencils and stamps
  3. Image transfer 
  4. Collage techniques
  5. How to use gel medium (ie building texture)
  6. Incorporating lines, doodles, drawings and text

Throughout the workshops, we also discuss:

  1. Elements of Art and Principles of Design
  2. How to critique artwork including our own
  3. Compositional tips
  4. How to resuscitate a “failed” painting

Each morning was open to exploring and the afternoons dedicated to teaching. One morning I tried out cross country skiing in Town Park (thank you Telluride Nordic Association!), one morning I hiked up Wiebe trail (thank you for the directions, Kris!) and one morning I walked around town visiting shops and galleries.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting the galleries. Would I find a focus on the beautiful surrounding landscape such as the aspen tress? Would the galleries feature winter sport themes? Would most of the art be contemporary or traditional? Representational or abstract? Even with the three free mornings (there is so much to see and do in this little town!), I only had time to visit two: Telluride Gallery of Fine Art and Slate Gray Gallery.
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As the oldest gallery in town, the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, represents a range of artists from locally known to internationally recognized….and when I say “internationally recognized,” take, for example, Maya Lin, recipient of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. I’m still disappointed that I missed her lecture last year at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in my home state of Arkansas. The gallery also represents Malcolm Liepke, whose luscious figures I’ve studied since grad school. One of my favorite artists on their roster is Krista Harris (who teaches at the Ah Haa School!). Though her style is uniquely her own, the large abstract paintings are reminiscent of Cy Twombly’s mark making and Joan Mitchell’s energetic brush work. These are paintings one can explore and enjoy for a long time, discovering nuances and details with each visit.

Quilt & Poppy Diptych by Nina Tichava

At the Slate Gray Gallery, I had the pleasure of visiting with the manager Bekah Kolbe, who I previously and serendipitously met on a Facebook group page. It is strange how social media can enrich in-person meetings by providing a little context and familiarity. Bekah kindly gave me a tour of the space while we talked about art, artists, process and politics. I was immediately drawn to the work of Nina Tichava possibly due to her use of my favorite art element that students hear me talk about constantly: Contrast. For example, in “Quilt and Poppy Diptych,” she employs contrasting lines (thin versus thick, measured versus organic), contrasting colors (orange against blue, black against white), contrasting shapes (organic versus geometric), contrasting sizes (tiny and delicate versus large and bold) and contrasting marks (soft and loose versus hard and rigid). What’s the result? Tension, energy, focus and movement that grabs the viewers attention and makes me want to lookIMG_4315 at the work for a long time. These two galleries were well worth the visit with a mixture of mediums and styles of fine art. To get a more complete picture of the Telluride art scene, next time I will be sure to visit more galleries and will check out the Telluride Arts HQ as well as the American Academy of Bookbinding.

Before signing off, I need to make note of a few food favorites (confession – this is one of those posts where the food might take up as much space as the art). I wish I could have visited Ghost Town for every single meal. I don’t know what makes it spectacular, but they have the best avocado toast I’ve ever had. Maybe it is the bread? Or the seasoning sprinkled over the avocados? Or the zesty hint of lime? It was almost impossible to IMG_4256decide what to order when looking over the menu and I’ve heard every breakfast and lunch item is equally as delicious. The tea and coffee made it a mandatory must stop each day even though the Mountainside Inn keeps their coffee caraft hot and full all day long.

IMG_4266And I must mention Tacos del Gnar. As I waited for the place to open, another customer joined me at the table out front. A couple walked by and asked if the tacos are good, and the man sternly answered “Well, yes, of course they are!” The woman asked what makes them so special, and he stampered, “I can’t explain, just… everything!” Which sums up my description. I don’t know what makes their tacos supreme – but they are.

As mentioned earlier, I ate at Esperanza’s one night with a student and I’m not sure which was better – the welcoming crowd or the food. I found myself wishing I could take the coleslaw home like my companion did. The same student kindly ushered me one evening after class up, up and away to Allreds. Accessible only by gondola, I expected a rustic ski joint but I was wrong. This is fine dining with the most spectacular views. The reservation list is full for months and we were lucky to squeeze inIMG_4246 at the bar (hello Trenton and JoJo!) which is a bit more affordable than the dining room. I would have disturbed too many diners by taking photos of the surrounding San Juan mountains so instead I give you this: a mountain of strawberry rhubarb cobbler.

As a finale, several of the students were available for dinner at Siam on my last night in town. While classmates Nancy and Laurie were certainly missed, I am so grateful for the extra time spent with many of the students. Being treated to dinner was almost more than I could bare as a grand gesture of kindness that perfectly mirrored IMG_4357every special interaction in Telluride. Finally, I must thank Kris Kwasniewski at the Ah Haa School for accepting my teaching proposal and inviting me to the school as a visiting artist. Kris and the Ah Haa staff were organized and accommodating, making the job and visit a smooth and rewarding experience. Thank you to Kris, Kathleen, Jess and Tara!

Until next time…thanks for reading.
Laura

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Contemporary Figure Painting Part 2: A Painter’s Perspective

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Workshop “Alla Prima” Demo by Felicia Forte

As an artist, learning new techniques and breaking bad habits is a neccessary part of the journey. When one struggles for months or even years to acheive a technical goal, the frustration can settle in like an univited guest who refuses to take leave at a reasonable hour.  When I read that one of my favorite artists, Felicia Forte, was scheduled to teach a workshop at Warehoue 521 in Nashville, TN, I knew that a six hour drive was a minor hurdle and that I must attend despite a busy schedule at home.

During her demos, I began to understand what Forte deems as important, on a technical level, for a successful alla prima figure painting. Pay close attention to drawing the initial large shapes (“one look, one line”), to value, and to color. Think about how to paint each shape with the fewest brushstrokes as possible. As a teacher, Forte uses language with the same rich, saturated economy of her brushstrokes. “When you see someone down the street, you recognize them because of the largest shapes on the face and body, not because you can see the details. Always paint the largest shapes first.”

Best of all, on the first day of the workshop, she demonstrated four specific steps that helped her improve her own paintings. She was quite direct with every purposeful word she spoke and even told us HOW to be students. “Write this down. I want you to take notes. Later you will use the notes when you are painting.” “Take pictures so you can see the steps. I will ask you to use the snaps when you are painting so you can remember the steps while you learn something new.” “Next I will get more quiet. I will be painting. Just watch.” Her blunt language enabled her to do the best job she could while teaching and allowed us to do the best job we could while learning. I was tremendously grateful and impressed early in the first day of the three day workshop.

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As a bonus, Forte allowed me to ask her the same questions about contemporary figure painting I asked gallery owners in the previous post. Talking with several gallery owners last week about contemporary figure painting was exciting and insightful. Now I’d hear the  perspective of a rising star. While Forte’s current body of paintings is not strictly figurative, I wanted to pay attention to the similarities and differences between an artist perspective and that of a gallery.

Do you feel like there is a strong collector’s market for figure painting today? Is there anything specifically challenging about selling figurative work?

“It’s funny because…I have no idea. I mean, I’ve spent most of my time getting good at painting and teaching painting. The show I have now at Adend Gallery is the first big show I’ve done, as far as number of paintings. It is 25 paintings, many of which are not figurative. The gallery does say that since 2008 sales have been twice as difficult as before.”

In your opinion, what is the difference between a figure painting and a portrait?

“Well, I don’t think there is enough information in the question. A portrait can be a figurative painting and a figurative painting can be a portrait. It depends on the artist.”

What about when an art collector is admiring a painting and says something along the lines of not wanting a figure painting in their home unless they know the person in the painting? I hear this type of comment about my own work which makes me curious about the perceived difference between a portrait and a figurative painting. 

“Either the artist is not educated or the collectors are not educated. Your question tells me that people need to be more educated about what’s happening in the art world today.”

Will you name a few contemporary figure painters you admire and tell us what you appreciate about their work?

“I like Emile Joseph Robinson who I wouldn’t call strictly a figurative painter. I’ve watched his progress during the last three or four years. He started with pastels, then went abstract and now he is coming back around and is more representational. He is curious, his work is unique and he is inspiring.”

“Daniel Sprick – he is just a master.  I know that his work is unique and impressive and moving. But not moving in the same way as the first guy I mentioned. Robinson paints more like I like to paint myself. I do not paint like Daniel Sprick, but I admire him.”

Do you have any advice for emerging figure painters?

“Beyond the technical? Make sure you are painting for you first and foremost and not your idea of what the market wants. It will become not fun to do. I’d say, enter contests. It is a good way to thicken your skin, a good thing to do, there is a range of prestige in the available contests. In entering them, look at who the jurors are and see if it is worth your time or entry fee.”

“I’ve been conservative about putting stuff in galleries. I spend my time traveling to teach workshops and am not teaching regularly at home anymore. This gives me more time to paint, thus building the gallery career.”

“It usually takes longer and the path is much windier than you think it will be so be able to adjust.”

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In summary, taking a workshop from an admired artist is an incredible opportunity to push yourself, learn new skills, and gain valuable insight. Thank you to Felicia Forte fstudioblkandwhite2or honing your teaching skills, in addition to your painting skills, so students can learn more than they may have thought possible in a three day workshop. And thank you to Warehouse 521. In three short years, Jeanie Smith has developed an incredible program that attracts top artists from around the world. I’ll certainly keep my eye in the schedule and hope to return soon.

P.S. Below are some paintings from the workshop and from my studio. Ever since returning home, I’ve been practicing what we learned in the workshop. Bad habits are hard to break but I think I’m making some progress. dsc_0655 dsc_0669 dsc_0666 dsc_0664dsc_0658 dsc_0660

Returning to Winter Park, Florida Among Memories and Art: Part 3

Winter Park continued….

Another Rollins memory that brings me joy is thinking back on bike rides to the numerous parks in the area. I loved escaping campus and just plunging forward on an adventure through Mead Botanical Garden, Leu Gardens, and Kraft Azalea Park. My first photography course was sophomore year and my big manual Pentax was with always strapped on for these outings. This trip, I decided to visit each of these magical wonderlands. Some days I struck out on a bike borrowed from the Winter Park Library (thank you!) and some days on foot. One day, after a great night of sleep, a hearty breakfast, and plenty of coffee, I decided to walk from the Alfond Inn to Rollins, to Kraft Azalea Garden, to Crealde School of Art, to Polasek Sculpture Garden, back to the Alfond Inn to recuperateDSC_0131, to Rollins to pick up my daughter at tennis, to dinner, and finally, back to the hotel room where I would fall into an 10 hour slumber. IT WAS THE BEST DAY.

The Kraft Azalea Garden in the morning is just as I remembered: full of flickering light and watery reflections. I tried to emulate my artistic photographic efforts from my college DSC_0181days but realized my efforts were in vain. Capturing the serenity of the park proved difficult but it was fun to try. Next, I worked my way through several beautiful neighborhoods until I made it to the Crealde School of Art. It was a long way and an iced coffee from Whole Foods gave me just the burst I needed to make it there. Thankfully it was still early in the day and most of the walk was shaded.

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“Retired” by Lynne Polley

Upon arrival at the school’s office, I met Jan Hurt who was gracious and welcoming. She answered all my questions about the school, the teachers and the classes and was very helpful as I asked about possibly teaching a mixed media workshop there someday. As I toured the onsite gallery and admired two exhibitions, it became clear that the school hosts many talented students and faculty. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced classes which draw all types of artists ranging from new hobbyists to professionals. There is a long list of classes offered in a variety of mediums: fiber arts, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, glass, photography, painting, and drawing.

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Between the beautiful grounds, the extensive class schedule and the friendly, professional staff, Crealde School of Art is a heavenly artistic oasis. I certainly hope to return, whether it be as a teacher or a student.

DSC_0190Choosing the shadiest side of busy Aloma Avenue, I headed for the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden. One of my favorite aspects of the tour was the staff. A docent guided tour departed just a few minutes before my arrival and the woman at the front desk insisted I catch up with the group. When the guide finished showing us the living quarters and sculpture studios of Albin Polasek, he insisted on circling back to the beginning and repeating the initial few minutes I missed. He was so engaging that one couple asked to return with us so they could hear it again! IMG_9026Out in the garden, I met two employees who started as volunteers and have since then been hired. Their passion for art and their expertise in landscaping make the two valuable assets to the property. One even contributes to the sculpture on the grounds (see garden hose chair below), though his materials are quite different from the wood, bronze and plaster used by Polasek. IMG_9032The staff almost outshines the studio and artwork due to their dedication, friendliness and enthusiasm for this special place. It is interesting what art can teach us, but when cared for and presented by passionate people, it takes on a higher level of impact on visitors. For this reason, I highly suggest a visit to the Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden. To read more about the artist, visit: http://www.polasek.org.

That wraps up this three part series on beautiful Winter Park, Florida. As always, thank you for reading!  Laura

 

 

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 6 Be Brave and Layer!

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This is the final post in a series about teaching a mixed media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center. So far, we’ve covered the use of stencils and stamps, image transfer, collage, language and text, and drawing. Finally, to pull it all together, we will focus on one overarching goal of every workshop: a willingness and ability to work in layers (as seen in the slideshow above).

IMG_4972The benefits of layering our mixed media pieces are numerous. For starters, a rich history is built into the composition. Intrigue is created with areas that become partially hidden or obscured. Layering creates an interesting surface, one that is dynamic and deep. During the layering process, we can develop texture. Finally, a willingness to cover up our work allows for the unexpected….the happy accident. If we see each mark as precious, we tend to get attached to mediocre work and wonder why our art isn’t growing or why we can’t seem to get to the next level. The “next level” requires a fearlessness and ability to paint over, to abolish, to cover our work in a constant exploration of style, material use and composition development.

Remember, whether you are on your first layer or your tenth, there are many ways to get the paint on the paper:

  • Large brush blob with drips (hold up and tap on table)photo 2 (1)IMG_0267
  • Straw blowing or blow dryer
  • Scraper with paint
  • Sponge on paint
  • Splatter paint with toothbrush and paint brush
  • Medicine dropper or spray bottle
  • Drip painting

Building a pattern in at least one of the layers is a strong visual tool. Patterns can be implemented using countless methods, for example:

  • Use acrylic gel in paint and create texture and pattern (the gel will add body to the paint and then you can press a tool into the gel; for example, drag a comb through the gel to create a striped pattern)
  • Make or buy stamps to create pattern (ie the end of an eraser can be used to stamp a dot pattern)
  • Use stencils for pattern
  • Use language for pattern by handwriting, collage, stencils or image transfer
  • Tear painter’s tape into shapes, or use it “as is” for a bold stripe pattern

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The student on the left is cutting out a tree shape from wallpaper to use as a stencil. In the piece above, the student made a hummingbird stencil and used painters tape to create pattern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One challenge many of the students face after days of fearless experimentation, is their work sometimes lacks a focal point – a place for the eye to land. When critiquing, we often express a need to “calm down” certain areas of the painting or a need to guide the eye. There are many ways to resolve this issue when applying a final layer:

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“Dissolve II” by Raphaëlle Goethals

1. Paint over everything (students are often resistant to this suggestion but once you learn to paint over your work, you are set free!). You can use a semi-transparent paint layer so the marks and patterns underneath remain somewhat visible.

2. Along the lines of painting over everything, you can choose areas to save and not paint over. One way to do this is to lightly draw shapes where you do not plan to put the final layer of paint. Another way is to use a stencil or stencils to block out areas.

Version 23. You can also use acrylic gel medium to create windows to the layers underneath the final layer. Paint the gel medium thickly in whatever shape(s) you choose, let the medium completely dry, then paint over the entire piece. Using a damp rag or paper towel, wipe IMG_0262back the paint from the areas where there is medium and you will have created a window. If the paint dries and seems stuck to the medium, use a razor blade to scrape paint off, which creates an interesting texture. Other resists that are fun to try include candle wax and one of my favorites: rubber cement.

You can also create a focal point by adding a dominant feature such as a collage item, an image transfer, a pop of color, text, a bold mark…anything that stands out among it’s surroundings. While figuring out what to do for your focal point, consider the previously mentioned design element: CONTRAST.

For example, below on the left, Robert Rauschenberg pushes some of the collaged text back by painting over sections with a thin white paint. The inclusion of thick red marks among the neutral color palette allows the red to become a focal point. On the right, artist Sigmar Polke uses white to paint around a stencil among dark colors. While the white is transparent, allowing the patterns beneath to show through, it is still a strong contrast to the heavy colors. Additionally, the patterns are detailed and meticulous which contrast the organic application of the ethereal white layer.
DSC_0842thWhether your work includes representational imagery, or is purely abstract, learning to work with layers will provide you with a strong tool to develop intriguing compositions. Especially freeing is the idea that any marks can be covered, any mistakes can be altered or hidden. Once we learn this lesson with the use of layers, we are more willing to take risks, experiment, and push our work in a new direction. I hope you have enjoyed the mixed media blog series. If you are in Central Arkansas, please check out the Arkansas Arts Center schedule of classes by visiting: http://www.arkarts.com/

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Laura Raborn, “Mixed Messages,” 2015, fabric, image transfer, collage, acrylic, and oil on wood panel, 16×20″

Thank you for reading!

Laura

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 5 Drawing

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David Bailin, detail of “Papers,” 2013, charcoal, oil, pastel and coffee on prepared paper

Throughout my time as a student and an artist, I frequently notice an assumption we make: we assume artistic talent correlates with an ability to draw representationally. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard statements like, “Oh, I’m not artistic at all…I can hardly draw a stick figure.” I take issue with this false assumption. Drawing is only one of many ways to create art. Furthermore, I believe most people CAN draw. I used to not be able to draw – seriously, I was terrible at it. With practice and instruction, now I can. I certainly have plenty of room for improvement, but I’m getting better. Sure, some people have a natural aptitude for it. They make it look effortless. For those who believe they “can’t draw,” sometimes it just takes a few tips and some patience.

Today’s post will introduce drawing tips, as well as ways to incorporate drawing into your mixed media artwork. When teaching workshops at the Arkansas Arts Center, we spend about 30 minutes on drawing by focusing on:

  1. contour studies
  2. value studies
  3. mass studies

We also spend a few minutes looking at an important element of drawing: line. Line quality and variety is an essential tool when it comes to drawing. It can guide the eye, build a pattern, and emphasize an area of an abstract piece. Line can turn into all sorts of doodles and shapes. Best of all, you don’t have to know how to “draw” in a traditional sense to create lines. Before we review the specific drawing lessons, let’s take a moment to look closely at this Jean-Michel Basquiat painting:

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Untitled, 1982, acrylic and oil on linen, 76×94″

Do you think it is well drawn? Are there recognizable objects and figures? Is this more or less interesting to you than a highly realistic figure painting? Take note of the lines and shapes. If you get out a piece of paper right now, are you able to make the wavy lines such as those on the far right and the far left sides? Notice the variety of circles – on top of the skull, in place of the hands, inside the rectangular body. Can you draw circles like this? I am not asking that anyone imitate Basquiat. Simply allow yourself to notice the drawn line in the work of other artists. I can’t imagine that Basquiat asked himself if the figure is “good” or “well-drawn.” He freely works with expressive line. He paints over areas constantly experimenting with adding and subtracting information. Often, as artists and students, we do not allow ourselves this freedom based on the belief that we “can’t draw” or our drawings aren’t “good.” Well, enough is enough. You can draw and here are a few exercises to get you started.

  1. Blind contour: photo 4 (2)this is when you look at an object and draw it’s outline without looking at your paper or pencil. Just stare at the object and let your hand put down a line. By not looking at the paper, we are able to let go of perfection.
  2. Value: this is when you look closely at the light and dark areas of the object. You can include an outline but unlike the conphoto 5 (1)tour studies, you are not searching for the edges of the object or trying to get the outline just right. Instead, concentrate on light and dark using a simplified scale of three shades in a range: lightest, middle, and darkest. Often when we admire painters for their loose brushwork, their successful rendering comes from a masterful use of value to create an object and not necessarily a well executed outline.
  3. Mass: this technique, which I learned from artist David Bailin, is like magic and has probably improved my drawing skills more than anyphoto 3 (1) other. Using rapid back and forth sketch marks, try to fill in the inside of the object without accidentally adding an outline. You can include value if you choose. Initially difficult, as our eyes and hands want to concentrate on the edge of the object, this technique forces us to see how the object takes up space in an environment. Once you have the general mass filled in, take a step back and compare it to the object. After making adjustments by erasing or adding mass, you can outline the object. The magic happens when you notice your drawing is, perhaps, superior to a drawing that started with an outline. I have found this exercise particularly helpful when drawing complex forms such as the human figure.

There are many more drawing techniques than can provide all artists, no matter what level, with immediate improvement. If drawing interests you, check out the drawing classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. In the meantime, back to how drawing can be a valuable tool in your mixed media work. Remember the Basquiat painting? Let’s talk a moment about doodles. Sometimes we need a little nudge toward how to make a mark on paper. Look around you at the multitude of designs and lines. You can make designs on paper based on fabric on your couch, or lines on a garden gate. You can look at brochures, magazines and all sorts of pieces of paper. Below, I used a padded envelope that came in the mail and a brochure from a vacation to inspire doodles.

Using a pencil, conte crayon or charcoal, let the images you see in life work their way onto your paper. If you get in the habit of doodling in a sketchbook, these marks can become a treasure trove for layers in your mixed media paintings. You can also look up doodles in books and online for inspiration. Below is a piece by Parisian artist, Marcus McAllister (who originally hails from Little Rock, AR!). He beautifully arranges a drawing of a bird with abstract elements such as layers of dripping green and blue paint, a layer of creamy white using a stencil, and a pattern of yellow circles along the upper part of the composition.

Marcus

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Laura Raborn, detail of mixed media study

Whether you doodle, practice drawing from life, use printed material for design inspiration or choose a child-like approach to draw shapes resembling recognizable imagery, please have faith in your ability to add drawing to your mixed media work. Remember, any failed attempts can be obliterated with stencils, words, collage or any of the materials and methods from the last few posts.

Next, I’ll wrap up the mixed media workshop series with a final discussion on layering. Until then, thank you for reading!   Laura

 

 

 

The Joys of Teaching Mixed Media: Part 3 Collage

Confession: Until I started teaching a Mixed Media workshop at the Arkansas Arts Center, I failed to see the value in collage. In my mind, collage reeked of the 1970’s decoupage trend combined with my memories of glue sticks in the 1st grade.

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Laura Raborn, detail of Untitled (workshop experiment), 2015, mixed media on paper

I had a total change of heart during a recent workshop, when gluing images of women from a fashion magazine on a heavily textured painting. Like many of the methods I describe in this series of posts, collage works well in the layering process. Images can be altered to create or emphasize a concept that has no association with the original meaning of the collaged image. It is simply a tool to CONTRAST other marks in the piece or a tool to allude to an idea. In the example to the left, the female figure is barely visible, as it has been sanded, painted, and scrubbed. Once the eye finds the figure, it is as if a discovery has been made and the search for recognizable imagery among the abstraction and texture is part of the allure.

The tools you need are minimal: any type of glue (acrylic gel medium is my favorite) plus text, photos, magazine images, or whatever you can cut out and glue down. Remember, you can also appropriate from your own photos or artwork – just incorporate them into a larger piece. I’ve used my hand-drawn stencils as collage pieces and it is now one of my favorite techniques. In the painting below, can you see the strip of fabric that runs vertically on the right side? And the cut out male figure behind the girl’s eye? The collage item can be embedded into the painting and does not have to be highly visible or representational. It can help build the surface, establish a pattern, or support an idea presented elsewhere in the piece.

16 x 20"

Laura Raborn, “Girl Looking Outward”, 2015, mixed media on wood panel, 16 x 20″

IMG_4803As I’ve stated about many mixed media methods, collage is a method that CONTRASTS hand drawn or painted areas. This juxtaposition makes engaging composition. Take for example the work of Tyler Hildebrand, seen here on the left. The highly recognizable Waffle House signage contrasts the childlike drawings. Had the Waffle House sign been hand drawn or painted, the acute idea of American food signage would be diminished. The collage material makes the viewer go back and consider the sign again and again.

IMG_4805In another Hildebrand painting, the artist uses a drawing from his childhood and with painted line, tethers the drawing to the bulbous male form. Including the actual paper drawing in the composition conveys history. It doesn’t just allude to keepsakes – the dinosaur drawing on notebook paper IS a keepsake. The collage item encourages the viewer to ponder ideas about memory or childhood experiences traveling with us throughout adulthood.

When considering various images to appropriate, remember the collage item(s) can become your surface under other media, as seen in the work of German artist, Sigmar Polke. Seen below, Polke draws scenes and uses stencils on top of fabric swatches. If you are a mixed media artist, it would be worth your time to further investigate the work of Sigmar Polke. As an experimental painter and photographer, he brilliantly used all of the techniques (plus some) we explore in the mixed media class at the Arkansas Arts Center – including image transfer, the use of language, collage, stencils, stamps, drawing, layers, patterns and textures. He was ferociously experimental with all materials, allowing for the accident to coincide with concept.

Lastly, another effective way to alter the meaning of the original collage item, is to merge photos in order to create something else altogether. Is there something you are passionate about but feel unable to convey through painting and drawing? Communicate your ideas through a creative fusing of photographic imagery. Let’s say my goal is to create a piece about sea turtles and human activity. After printing photos I found online, I am playing with various combinations (please note this is not a well thought out example – just a moderately successful demo):

photo 4 (1)photo 3photo 1photo 5

Searching for photos online to fit the sea turtle idea, and trying to guess about scale while printing was fairly time consuming. Many collage artists  keep organized files to store interesting images they come across in the mail, catalogs, magazines, and any other printed material. Then they just search their own categorized files when starting a project. Artist Holly Roberts does an excellent job explaining her process – and her work is inspirational for those trying to learn more about collage.

To see her work, visit http://www.hollyrobertsstudio.com/
For a short informative video about her methods, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5dqxGVI4sA

Next up in the mixed media workshop series: Incorporating text and language into compositphoto 2 (1)ions. Until then, thank you for reading….and a Happy Healthy New Year to all!