For the Joy of Learning

I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like we live in a culture that encourages us to pose as a "master" in our field, rather than celebrating the joy of learning. As a kid, I tried to be a know-it-all for a short period, but honestly it was b-o-r-i-n-g! As it turns out, life is much more full and exciting and inspiring when I'm learning new things. So, I decided to take a drawing class.

In-progress charcoal drawing; source image on the left. 

In-progress charcoal drawing; source image on the left. 

I don't really enjoy drawing - to me, painting is much more fun because it's more tactile and you can almost always correct your mistakes by moving around the paint. But, I also recognize that improving my drawing skills will make me a better painter. Plus, as Calvin's dad would say, doing stuff you don't like to do "builds character."

Luckily for me, a peer recommended taking classes with Sandy Jones (stratfordschool.com), who is fabulous! She actually makes drawing fun. I've really been enjoying myself. Not just the actual assignments and tutoring, but also being in a class with other artists and building community. We've started with charcoals, but stay tuned for some pastels soon. 

Finished charcoal

Finished charcoal

So, are you going to try and learn something new this month? 

Tip of the Week: Your website is judged by the weakest piece

As 2013 came to a close I happened to be working on re-doing my website on a new platform. As I shopped around a bit, I came across a couple of good tips and lists of Do's & Don'ts via this Year in Review from Artsy Shark.com. I'm still working on putting a few of these into practice, but in case your new year's resolution was to improve your online presence, here are some resources:

New site: Top 10 Mistakes Artists Make When Building a Website
Old site: 8 Ways to Improve Your Online Portfolio

Tip of the Week: Save photos to GIF format

Tip for the non-technical artist: save your photos as GIFs before uploading them. I don't know why none of the photographers I've worked with told me this, but I recently learned about this simple trick that has made my website look markedly better. Converting your JPG to a GIF ensures that your images show up online more true to the original. In Adobe Photoshop you do this by going to File > Save for Web and Devices > Save.

Fun fact: according to Kai Ryssdal of Market Place, GIF is pronounced "Jiff - like the peanut butter"!

A Few Kids' Art Projects From Me to You

The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy with a lot of transitions for me, so I haven't been painting. I have, however, been teaching art to some really great 1st and 4th graders.  Here's some 1st graders "3-D aquariums" made from paper plates, a project I got from Tim Sensai, instructions here. Aquariums2

And here's a 4th grader's "blow painting" - made by blowing watered down paint across the paper with a straw. While most kids made abstract pieces, she turned hers' into a tree!

Kendra's Blow Painting

I can't remember who told me about this project, but it's a very simple project that is fun for a range of ages and yields satisfying results. This can be a great way to introduce kids to abstract art and/or you can use these colorful papers as backgrounds for other projects.

IMG_2790

Lastly, here's a 2-day project called "Painted Tropical Birds", which I found here.  It sounds deceptively simple, but it's interesting how when there are more than twenty 6 year old kids in the room, you have to be very specific with instructions. Everyone had fun, though, and the results were great!

Painted Birds

While I have decided to take an indefinite hiatus from the madness of teaching children, I do have to admit that kids are awesome!

Create with Nature

A couple of years ago I helped teach a class with Zach Pine who specializes in nature sculptures and has designed a "create with nature" program using things found in the great outdoors (sticks, rocks, leaves, etc) to make temporary sculptures which can then "recycled" to create something new.  It's eco-friendly, simple enough for any age group, and fun!  This is an easy and great way to get inspired and refreshed through creativity and play, something that everyone - not just artists - needs to be encouraged to do more and more.  It's also an opportunity to collaborate and to create community.  Such a simple, beautiful idea.

Art of the Art Assignment

I highly recommend Draw it with your eyes closed: the art of the art assignment (published by Paper Monument) to all art educators. It's an hilarious account of the favorite/best assignments given to, or by, artists and art professors around the country.  These are mostly assignments in higher education, where the trick is to give students open-ended assignments with enough room for personal expression and imagination, while still having them learn something.  The embarrassing, kookie and sometimes inappropriate results had me laughing out loud (in public, no less) with the creative interpretations of students, some of which go very, very bad, along with the usual "happy accidents".  Inevitably, sometimes it's actually the teacher who ends up learning a lesson (eg. "never give that assignment again", or "only use that with grad students").  Covering all mediums, the book offers many fun, conceptual and useful assignments to take inspiration from as an art educator.

I got to thinking about the best assignments that I have received from my instructors over the years, and I've paired it down to three:

1) My high school art teacher gave us an assignment where we had to go out on the town over the weekend and find all the stores that might have useful (non-traditional) art supplies.

I lived in Hanoi, Vietnam at the time where I attended an international school and took the International Baccalaureate Visual Art 2-year course.  This meant that not only did I have to document all of my findings in great detail for my teacher, but I first had to overcome the language barrier and navigate the bustling and winding streets of the old quarter on my mission. While at the time it was terrifying, it has become one of the most useful lessons I learned in high school because (a) I built the confidence to just go out and find stuff in an unfamiliar place, a skill that has served me well over the years, and (b) my idea of what art supplies should be and where you should get them was shaken and replaced with a more imaginative take on the whole thing.

 

2) One of my college professors, Craig Nagasawa, made me limit my palette to 6 colors plus white for a whole semester. The result was so successful that I didn't add any new colors until 2 semesters later. The purpose of this limitation was for me to stop being overwhelmed by the amazing array of color offered in oil paints today, and to really learn how to mix color and figure out how to make the colors that I needed.  I now teach a class on color and whenever I see my students -- especially the color enthusiasts like myself -- come in with a box full of paints, I turn around and give them the same advice: limit your palette until you understand color better.

3) In my 2nd year as an art major, I  took a class with Kara Maria, a visiting lecturer, and her assignment for the semester was: make ugly paintings.  This seemed quite shocking to us fairly new painters/budding artistes, but her assertion was that in our naive pursuit of perfection our paintings became dull.  By being given permission to make "bad" paintings, we were suddenly freed of our self-enforced restrictions and became bolder, more willing to experiment, and less afraid of "mistakes".  My paintings definitely improved as a result of this simple idea, which I not only employ on my own students but I also have to remind myself of whenever I feel like my work is getting stuck.

 

New city? No problem. How to break into the art world

Moving to a new city can be the best thing to happen to a creative person - it gets you out of your comfort zone and introduces you to all sorts of new ideas and inspirations.  It can also be a huge task just to break into the art world - either because there's so much it's overwhelming, or because it's so small that it's hard to find.  You have to be a  go-getter to find the opportunities, as I have good reason to know - I move every 1-2 years.   So I've learned a few tricks along the way that may help you to access your new city more quickly and effectively:

1) Showing up is half the battle:Find out where and when the art openings are and go; even if you don't talk to anyone that night, you will start to recognize people and see who's who.  And I'm not just talking about the gallery openings - many cities have open studio tours once or twice a year and/or monthly 1st Thursday/Friday art nights with streets stalls and extended hours at galleries.  These events are a good way to find out about alternative art spaces and collectives. To start you off on a good foot, here's a couple of things to try out if you're in any of these cities:

Austin: E.A.S.T. in November and W.E.S.T. in May + 1st Thursdays on South Congress

Oakland: Art Murmur 1st Fridays around Telegraph and 23rd

San Francisco: Hunter's Point Shipyard Artists Open Studios in November (and sometimes May) + 1st Thursdays in downtown SF

San Jose: Subzero Festival in June + South 1st Friday Art Walk in downtown SJ

2) Get it "from the horse's mouth": I've found out a lot more about the art scene from word of mouth than from the internet. You'll never be able to find everything on your own, whether it's because there's too much or too little information out there, so at point you do need to start talking to people.  The best people to talk to are people who work in non-profit galleries, museums or education facilities because they want to help you out! You can start by asking questions of anyone working at the venue, but then set up an appointment with someone in a specific department. This may seem intimidating at first, but I've learned that most people are a lot more willing to help you out than you would expect given their busy schedules. They appreciate that you scheduled an appointment so it's a win-win situation.

3) Find out who's who: When you are looking at galleries and organizations online, be sure to check out the "Staff" section - this will let you know who you should try and approach at an opening reception, gives you contact info so you can make general inquiries with specific people, and/or gives you a name to address your cover letter to for a job application (a good tip someone gave me). *Sometimes they even list bios of the staff so you can find out other places they previously worked, which can give you talking points and put you on to other places you should check out - this has come in handy for me on several occasions.   

4) Don't just look online: Check out the bulletin board at art stores, cafes, libraries and community shows for upcoming events, classes and venues.  I know going to a library might seem antiquated, but you would be surprised what free programs they offer related to the arts (eg. info sessions on grant writing for artists) and they post opportunities and resources in the community.  Also pick up the local arts newspaper -  it's free and lists shows in all disciplines.

5) Find groups: See if you can join a collective, get a studio in a shared building or check out meetup.com to find free or cheap art classes/groups. The latter simply requires you to create a free profile, and then you can access any number of groups. Even in the groups don't actually turn out to be that great, who knows who you'll meet? I've definitely found some great resources (and made some friends) through random groups that I joined.

6) Park & walk: I've come across some great venues when I've been lost in a new city.  This doesn't usually happen when I'm in the car, but if I'm cycling or walking, I'm going slow enough to look around. Often galleries and artist studios are in the same neighborhoods, so if you find one, you should walk around the area to see if there are others you didn't see online.

And if it all seems overwhelming and like too much work, just remember Thomas Edison's quote: "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." Your effort will pay off!

Making of "Shadows"

One of my original ideas for this blog was to post in-progress paintings so people can have a look into my process and/or get painting tips.  Since I haven't been able to paint in awhile, here's a step-by-step guide to an older painting - "Shadows", completed in June. Sketch: I often find that students new to painting want to draw with pencil on their canvas before starting with paint. I never do that. I map out my composition very simply with a brush and some paint like so. You can see how I changed the size of the figure dramatically, not worrying about erasing because I was just going to paint over it anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Color & Texture: Next, I start blocking in the painting, making adjustments and adding texture as I go. Painting is a very layered process for me, so there are often layers that never see the light of day, but add a richness (both in body/texture and in color) to the final painting.

I have been on this kick where when I use photographic references, I print them out in black and white and then paint my own colors. This has some challenges but also adds a level of mystery and excitement for me, the painter, because I'm letting the painting tell me where to go.

 

 

 

Figure: In this case I painted the figure and her dress in monochromatic colors because I was planning on glazing the colors on later. I purposefully kept her skin very light, while keeping the dress dark because I wanted the glazing to be more subtle on the dress.

 

 

 

 

 

Details: The picture I was working from was a night scene, so all the colors got more bluish in this stage. I also added more detail around the figure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glazing: I finally got to the glazing stage, but by this time had decided I didn't want to glaze any of the skin. I liked that it was fresh looking and yet nostalgic because the burnt sienna base made it look like an old-fashioned tinted photograph.

Critique stage: At this point I felt kind of stuck with the painting, so I went to the art collective I am a part of to get some some constructive criticism from my peers. It's always good to get some outside feedback, to point out glaring errors and/or minor tweaks that make a world of difference.

 

 

 

Final: The suggestions I got were most helpful and definitely helped finish the painting. By darkening a shadow here and changing the direction of a line there, I was able to get a better and more effective painting.

I was also reminded to include reflective light. This means, simply, that if the reddish dress is next to the purple pail, then there should be some purple on the dress and some red on the pail. Likewise, there is some color in the shadow from whatever object is casting the shadow.

Cindy Sherman shows her face(s) at SFMOMA

I find it very interesting and informative to see the arc of an artist's entire career, and it's a rare event among contemporary artists unless the artist has the good fortune of having a retrospective show.  The Cindy Sherman exhibit on view at the SFMOMA through October 8th affords such an opportunity by displaying her work from 1975 to present.  What really struck me about Sherman's arc is her remarkable consistency in subject matter. While I might get bored or frustrated with a subject and move on to the next thing, Sherman seems to delve deeper and find another way to represent her subject.  She does this through innovative portraiture, including simulating movie stills and Old Masters' paintings. All of her work has to do with the portrayal of females - in art, the media, film, fashion, etc. - yet her manner of doing this is subversive by her being both the (heavily disguised) model and the photographer.     

Another interesting thing to me is that by portraying so many different "types" of female - the diva, the plain Jane, the 60s housewife, the socialite - Sherman herself defies being typecast and throws light on the fact that the way one looks does not make up one's identity. It also seems to reflect on how women see themselves; how we try to remain young, beautiful, sexy. Yet beneath all that make-up and plastic surgery, there's a whole other person.

 

I was really impressed with Sherman's devotion to her craft, which involves her expertise as a photographer in staging the scenario just right, but also her skills as a make-up artist, including the use of prosthetics, and as a method actor. Her attention to the details - making sure the tattoos, the painted on eyebrows and the freckles match her character just so - show her devotion to her craft.  It really is a remarkable exhibit.

  

One of my favorite pieces was actually an early one - a stop-motion video titled Doll Clothes (1975). It's simplicity belies it's ingenuity. As someone who grew up loving to play with paper dolls, there's a nostalgia Sherman taps into while also highlighting many of the themes she went on to explore in her later work. She has, impressively, come full circle,  and yet it's not over: I'm sure there's much more good work to come.

Exploring the Central Texas Art Scene

Traveling and moving across country have kept me from posting on my blog over the past few weeks, but it's also thrown into sharp focus all that I have learned, and come to appreciate, about the art scene in Central Texas.  Having only lived there for a year, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface, but none-the-less I will share a few of my (paired down) recommendations: First and foremost, check out www.glasstire.com. They are your artist resource in the region, providing information and commentary about shows, artists, jobs and more.

AUSTIN

Despite having a relatively small art scene by some standards, there is actually a lot going on in Austin at many different levels, so I have just made a few selections from my favorites:

Women and Their Work, a non-profit gallery where you will find friendly and informative staff in addition to some very innovative and diverse works, largely installations, by contemporary female artists. They also host a lot of performances, info sessions and social events and are a good place to learn the who's who in the Austin art scene. One of my favorite exhibits from the 2011-2012 season was Laurie Frick: Quantify Me.

The Austin Museum of Art/Arthouse is a mixed experience for me, but with three venues you can definitely find something you like. I suggest the shows at the Jones Center and Laguna Gloria; the latter is located in a French riviera-style house with beautiful grounds and gardens to explore, plus the museum's art school.

Although most people know about the Blanton Museum of Art on the UT campus, which I also highly recommend, it seems the Visual Art Center (VAC) in the middle of campus is less well-known, yet with 5 galleries housed in an impressive building, it has a lot to offer, from both the art department and outside artists.  My favorite this year was Diana Al-Hadid: Suspended After Image.

For something a little off the beaten path and for those of you into contemporary and experimental art, I highly recommend Co-Lab. Primarily run by the amazing and innovative Sean Gallagher, this is a non-profit performance and art venue that always has something good going on.

HOUSTON

I only made it to Houston for one day, so despite it being an art hub with many attractions, I am going to simply recommend the  Menil Collection - "A museum and a neighborhood of art. Free of charge, always" as their website so aptly states.  Residing in a quiet residential neighborhood surrounded by trees, it is an oasis great for picnicking in between seeing some fantastic art.  It is home to the Rothko Chapel, an architectural feat and meditation spot open to all religions that houses Mark Rothko's black paintings and was founded by philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil.

Although I loved visiting this peaceful spot, I actually preferred the 6 or so black paintings housed in the Menil Museum that didn't make it into the Chapel.  Among other things, the Museum includes a fantastic collection of Surrealist art featuring mainly works by Max Ernst and Rene Magritte, but also some Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta, two of my favorite artists from this movement. Behind this building stands the Cy Twombly Gallery, which houses a retrospective of the artist's life works, which really opened my eyes to both the immense scale of many of his paintings and to the subtleties hidden in his brash style.

SAN ANTONIO

My brief stay in San Antonio did not allow time for an art tour, however the McNay Art Museum  was recommended to me, particularly for its Post Impressionist collection.

Also recommended is Artpace, which "serves as an international laboratory for the creation and advancement of contemporary art", according to it's mission statement. They do this through their support of established and emerging contemporary artists via international residencies and exhibitions, and through their education programs.

FORT WORTH (Dallas)

I am sad to state that I didn't actually make it up to Fort Worth, mostly because I missed two amazing shows that I would have loved to see: Caravaggio and his followers in Rome at the Kimbell Art Museum and Lucian Freud: Portraits at The Modern, the latter of which is up through October 28, 2012. These are two artists that I have great respect for, mainly for their very different, but equally impressive, painting styles. Of course I'm talking about Caravaggio's use of chiaroscuro (light/dark) effects and that wonderful deep yet bright red that shines out in many of his paintings; and Lucian Freud's use of thick, tactile paint and bizarre color combinations.

                    

Art shows beating the heat around Austin 3: The Blanton

A great way to spend an afternoon and escape the heat (for free on Thursdays) is at the Blanton Museum of Art.  The architecture of the building is impressive with it's fantastically high ceilings and skylights that let in natural light, and then there's the great installation by Teresita Fernandez, Stacked Waters, on the walls as you climb to the 2nd floor.

I always enjoy their ongoing exhibit America/Americas: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Americas, which combines their North and South American collections, and love spending time in Cildo Meireleseery installation, Missão/Missões [Mission/Missions] (How to Build Cathedrals).

The current shows are:

The Collecting Impulse: Fifty Works from Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, through Aug. 12

Untitled (Portrait of the Vogels), 1988

"Our collection is about information. The role of art is to help us find our way in our own time." -Herbert Vogel, 1977

This show is probably most appropriate for lovers of conceptual and minimal art (or hapless art students), but may also interest those intrigued by the Vogel's story.  The couple lived off of Dorothy's salary as a librarian and put all of Herb's income from his postal service job into collecting art. They could only afford early works of many artists who went on to become more successful, with the encouragement of the couple.  The Blanton was the Texas recipient of the 50 works that the Vogels gave to each state when they decided to donate their work around the country (see Herb & Dorothy 50x50). The quotes by the artists included in the show reveal how influential the couple was and how well respected:

"Most of us go through the world never seeing anything. Then you meet somebody like Herb and Dorothy, who have eyes that see. Something goes from the eye to the soul without going through the brain." -Richard Tuttle, 2008

If you want to learn more about the couple and their collection, the museum is streaming the documentary made about them, titled Herb & Dorothy, and it's also available on Netflix instant-watch. Watch a trailer: http://vimeo.com/3069795

The Human Touch, through Aug. 12

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Woman and Friends), 1990

This is a mixed-media exhibit featuring selections from the RGB Wealth Management Art Collection. As such it certainly displays work across the gambit from well-known artists to lesser known ones. I liked Carrie Mae Weems' photographs because, in direct contrast to many of the other works in the collection that stuck to more traditional portraiture, Weems shows an interaction between people, a relationship and a story. I also liked the mixed media and bold colors of Radcliffe Bailey, and the playfulness of Robin Rhode's Bike from Top.

(this is not the image in the exhibit, but gives you an idea of the kind of stuff Rhode does)

Go West! Representations of the American Frontier, through Oct. 14

Jerry Bywaters, Oil Field Girls, 1940

Most of the exhibit doesn't look like this, in fact this painting is in a small room at the end of the exhibit focusing on the end result of the rush west in the form of ghost towns and desolate landscapes. I just find this painting very interesting and moving - I like to look at it. But the rest of the exhibit is good too, and a nice follow up, thematically, to the Hudson River School paintings exhibited in the spring.

Making of "Looking In"

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. You wouldn't know it, but this painting started out as a baaaaddd abstract painting. Apparently it was so bad that I didn't even take a photo of it.  So, having decided it was going nowhere, I started painting this new painting on top:

The good thing about painting over an old painting is that a) your fear of messing up the canvas is gone; and b) you already have a body of paint on there so your new painting has a nice richness to it.

A couple things to note when over painting:

1) While you CAN paint oils over acrylics, you NEVER paint acrylics over oils. Think of it like this: what happens when you mix water and oil? The oil rises to the top. Same with painting, the oil will try to rise to the top, forcing your acrylic paint off (OK, this may only happen over an extended period of time, but if you want your painting to be archival, just say no!).

2) Turn your old painting upside down before you start painting the new one. This helps get rid of the distraction of your first composition and allows you to concentrate on the new one.

 

 

By now you're probably wondering why I take in-process photos of my work. And no, it's not for these mini-tutorials (although they are helpful). Rather, I had a professor who suggested we take photos so that we could mull over the painting while not in the studio. They don't have to be good photos (in fact, this is a very dark shot of the painting), just quick shots even on your phone so that you can see it.

This can also be helpful if you paint over something you like and want to bring it back.

And, I've noticed that looking at your painting on a (camera, phone, or computer) screen changes how you see it. You notice different things, particularly about composition, when it's once removed.

Another good trick is to look at your painting in a mirror -- this means you're seeing it in reverse and it's much easier to see if you've made a terrible perspective mistake or something like that. I use this all the time, I even went out and bought a 5"x6" hand-held mirror from the dollar store expressly for this purpose!

And voila, the final product!

(No, I did not do this painting in only 3 sittings, although it was one of my faster paintings).