Tag Archives: art teaching

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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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.

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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