Tag Archives: inspiration

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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How Looking Closely at Life Provides Artistic Content…and so Much More

When working on my recent body of paintings, a common thread appeared in my thoughts and observations: closely noticing things in our lives makes me feel more grateful. Compositionally, I capture moments that seem mundane or ordinary but once more deeply observed or considered, these moments become complex and provoking and can feel like little gifts.

DSC_0901What I didn’t realize is how watching closely in order to find painting content would morph into something much bigger and, for me, profound. By slowing down and doing a better job of listening, looking, and acknowledging my surroundings, I not only developed imagery for artwork, but a gratefulness practice that impacts my every moment and the way I view my world. Life becomes art and art becomes life, indeed!

At risk of straying off topic, I’d like to write about a recent experience. As I list the following kind moments, they might seem unrelated to my career as an artist and to the process of painting. But here’s the thing about it: as an artist, EVERYTHING RELATES TO PROCESS. These examples are an ongoing part of developing work and ideas. I also see them as a consequence of my gratefulness practice heightened through painting.

For those who like the image of a dark, suffering and brooding artist, get ready for an annoyingly optimistic one instead. Without further adieu, here are some lovely moments I noticed on a 4 day trip to New York City.

A young man (in his 20s) on the subway who was headed to an interview downtown kindly helped me with directions and then asked all about my southern home state (my country bumpkin’ accent was an immediate giveaway).

A man at the Museum of Natural History walked up while I was in the ticket line and gave me his extra ticket.

I tried to help a woman with three suitcases get up the subway stairs but her load was too heavy for me to carry up. This brawny arm reached forward from behind me. A big dude asked if we needed help and proceeded to carry the heaviest suitcase all the way to the top.

Again on the subway, a man gave up his seat for my daughter and me during rush hour. He was then smothered in the crowd during the rest of his ride which included several more stops.

UBER UBER UBER: Friendly drivers, good prices, spotless cars, fast service.

At the Brooklyn restaurant, Talde, every staff member in the place was aware of my daughter’s seafood allergy and made extravagant efforts to provide her with plenty of safe dining options. (note – in addition to extraordinary service, the food was delicious)

We arrived at the Beacon Hotel on Broadway and the desk clerk found a room so we could check in three hours early which significantly improved our day.

Two cleaning crew guys at Grand Central Station showed us the way to the restroom and teased us about looking utterly lost there during rush hour.

A college friend whom I rarely see invited us to her swell apartment for a home cooked meal with her family.

The aforementioned friend offered to connect me with an art dealer who specializes in contemporary figure painting. Really? Yes, so very thoughtful.

The bellman at the Beacon Hotel who stored and later retrieved our luggage was friendly and helpful.

The man who showed us to our bikes at Central Park Bike Rental, pointed to my daughter and said, “Come here, shorty.” She thought it was hilarious. When we returned the bikes later, he gave us perfect directions to our next destination.

When my daughter put a dollar in a saxophonist’s tip jar in Central park, he responded, “Thank you, little lady.” I know, I know, some might say this should be expected. But he did not have to say thank you at all. And he did not have to say it with such meaning and kindness in his voice.

The doorman at a friend’s apartment enthusiastically showed us how he works the manual “lift.”

We took a break in the foyer of the New York Public Library. As we ordered cold drinks, the salesman asked my daughter a few questions and said her answers reminded him of this little girl.

When checking my daughter’s shopping bag, the security guard at The Met talked with her about her soft and fuzzy new slippers and pajamas. She could have just rushed us forward or stared coolly into the bag. I guess this exemplifies most of what is on this list: human interaction and taking the time to care and connect, even in massive crowds, even when busy, even when working hard.

Though I have known her forever, the generosity of an old dear friend and her husband never ceases to amaze and humble me. They welcomed us into their Brooklyn home and into their busy lives and made us feel like nothing was more important than our time together (even though they have plenty of pressing tasks each day).

Every police officer was kind and helpful. In fact, everyone we came in contact with was actually nice…I mean really nice. People gave us directions, held doors open, answered questions, and said things like “Have a wonderful day!” It was like manners and helping each other was en vogue.

Even our experiences at LaGuardia and throughout our flights was better than I could have imagined: there were no long lines, the security check was short and sweet, the American Airline employees were jovial (yes, I just used the word “jovial” when describing something about air travel), the woman at the magazine stand was friendly and smiled. Other travelers looked and acted relaxed and positive. I wonder, have I become so jaded that I am absolutely stunned by the persistent loveliness we experienced at each and every turn?

So the next time you assume something about a person or a place, try to show a little kindness and appreciation. You might just get it back ten-fold. Without considering people and ordinary moments for my paintings, I migIMG_3451ht not have noticed and appreciated all the little, yet valuable, human kindnesses we experienced in New York. Thankfully, kindness, as well as artistic inspiration, can find each of us just about anywhere.

 

A little inspiration goes a long way

“The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.” Marie Anne du Deffand (1697-1780)

You know those words or quotes that jump out at you at just the right moment? Just when you need that extra nudge or new perspective? Well, this quote practically tore itself out of a magazine and pinned itself under a magnet on my fridge. And there it has remained for the past 7 or 8 years. I think I’ve read the tattered little paper almost everyday. It is simple, yet powerful. These words have enabled me to persevere during life’s ups and downs. Any challenge I can think of, no matter how gargantuan and hopeless it seems, is lessened and made possible when I read these words. They give me the courage to try, even when I don’t think I have the strength or skill to succeed. The real miracle occurs once I have started the task and taken “the first step.” I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, I can inch a little closer to a goal. I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, I do have the strength and skill I need. And I start to realize that, indeed, the distance is nothing and that anything is possible, or at least worth a try.

So, here I am, creating a new web painting portfolio and blog. Taking the aforementioned “first step.” I hope to start following writers and gaining readers who are interested in contemporary art and the ideas and processes behind the work. I imagine I’ll post various quotes and inspirational lessons, artists, writers and people whom I meet along the way. If anyone out there is reading this, welcome and thank you for visiting!

Laura