Quote of the Week: Marvelous Ideas by Da Vinci

Quote of the week:

I photographed this wall 2 blocks from my studio in DTLA Arts District as I was taking a coffee break. Couldn't resist sharing with this Leonardo Da Vinci quote. I'm amazed at how relevant this guy from the 15th century still is today! In fact, he's captured exactly how I look at the world - always enthralled by such unremarkable landmarks. But I caught that building just as the sun lit it up, or noticed how that part of the garden looks almost like an abstract painting when seen through a gap in the fence. Things most people would never notice in the day-to-day hustle and bustle. For me, noticing the details has really paid off!

You can read the full quote here; it ends with:  

The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries...by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.
— Leonardo Da Vinci

So what stimulates you? Leave me a comment below to let me know. 

Luck is the Residue of Design

I was excitedly telling a good friend about a new venture I'm embarking on, and she quoted me these lines: 

This gave me pause. There have been several moments in my life where I have felt incredibly lucky, and have expressed this. But upon hearing the quote, I looked back at a couple of these instances, and I can understand what Branch Rickey* means.

For example, only when I stopped looking for love did it find me - quite literally. After having spent most of my college career (privately) lamenting my lack of a boyfriend, I spent my last semester focusing on my painting and my own emotional well being** and stopped giving much thought to boys. One month after graduation, I met my future partner at a friend's party and gave him my number. Six years later, I'm still in the most amazing relationship. Had I met my guy 6 months earlier, I have no doubt that the outcome would have been totally different, for a variety of reasons. Some might call this fate, but I can also see how only when I dropped my desperation at not having a boyfriend was I able to blossom into a more confident (and mature!) person who attracted the attention of this amazing man - and held it. As he has mine. 

Right now I'm feeling "lucky" to be pursuing my art as a career - something my high school art teacher might have predicted, but I certainly didn't. I feel "lucky" to be living in the great metropolis of Los Angeles, and at a time when I'm finally embracing my "urban landscape" moniker - this city has too much to offer in terms of inspiration for me to worry about being "just another urban landscape painter." If that's what I am, so be it. And I feel "lucky"...scratch that - I actually feel grateful for my past work experience in administration, operations, communications and event planning. All these "day jobs" have taught me skills that continue to come in useful daily as I run my own business - in a creative field, with creativity. I could say, what an amazing coincidence! Or, I could acknowledge that where I am today is actually a result of my past life and work experience, working for my benefit - who I am and what I'm doing in this moment - without me consciously knowing it. Now that I am a little tuned in, I feel like my intentional decisions and actions can be made and taken with more confidence; more "design," if you will. 

I can't wait to see what happens next! I'm feeling lucky ;)

*I'm not a baseball fan so I had no idea who Branch Rickey was, but it turns out he was an MLB executive who, among other things, broke the color line by signing Jackie Robinson. 
**I began seeing a therapist, which completely changed my life. 

In Review: 2016 LA Art Show

This quote was stenciled on one of the walls in the exhibit - a good reminder. 

Having the opportunity to go to the 21st annual LA Art Show (Jan. 28-31) this year really blew me away.

Selections from Flower Pepper Gallery, featuring paintings by Leila Ataya (top left) and Valerie Pobjoy (bottom left and right).

For those of you unfamiliar to so-called “art fairs,” these are events usually hosted at convention centers where galleries set up booths to showcase their stable of artists. It’s a great opportunity for collectors to find new work, showcased artists to get more exposure, and emerging artists (like yours truly) to find inspiration.

I spent most of my time in the “Littletopia” section. This part of the exhibit, curated by Red Truck Gallery, featured work by contemporary artists, most of whom dabble in pop surrealism. What is pop surrealism? (I had to look it up too, so just including the link because they explain it better than I could). 

You enter Littletopia through a cardboard archway reminiscent of a castle and worthy of Burning Man, created by Jeff Gillette. His "Dismayland" paintings line the walls as you enter (Jeff did indeed collaborate with Banksy on Dismaland, but after many years of already subverting Disney, as this article attests). Other highlights included the selection of paintings on display at Flower Pepper Gallery, and could be better than a maze made of cake and icing by Scott Hove?

Also of note in other parts of the show: the hyper realistic bust of Frida Kahlo by Kazuhiro Tsuji; Justin Bower's huge, fragmented portraits; and Desire Cherish Obtain’s lollipop sculpture. Click here for more info and better photos in this article.

Sculpture by Kazuhiro Tsuji (left), painting by Justin Bower (top right) and live painting by street artist Robert Vargas (bottom right).

Paintings by Eric Forsythe (left, top and bottom), Liz Brizzi (top right) and Jolene Lai (bottom right). 

Artists Commute Too

Here's what my commute to my studio looks like:

David at Angel's Gate  by  S.C. Mero

David at Angel's Gate by S.C. Mero

I walk past this sculpture by @s.c.mero on my route from the metro to my studio. 'David at Angel's Gate' uses 7,501 pennies! Love the hair and the (one) copper-colored shoe. Located in Broadway Spring Arcade in DTLA.

Grey on grey . Waiting for the train. 

Grey on grey. Waiting for the train. 

Yes, I did say my walk from the metro. I am blessed to live relatively close to a station, where I can park for free, take a 22-minute ride downtown and walk 4 blocks to my studio. Besides not having to pay for parking nor deal with traffic, I love this because it means I get to enjoy all these amazing murals!

I don't have the best photos - they're so big it's hard to capture - but I would actually suggest a mural tour yourself if you ever happen to be in the area. I know that's next on my list - I want to find out what I'm missing!

Top: unfortunately I couldn't find the artist name on this one; it's on Main St. near 5th.  Bottom: Marilee Spencer, 2015. On Main St. at Winston.

Top: unfortunately I couldn't find the artist name on this one; it's on Main St. near 5th. 
Bottom: Marilee Spencer, 2015. On Main St. at Winston.

Art Biz Breakthrough 2015: here I come!

Great piece of advice from Art Biz Coach, Alyson B. Stanfield

Check out more of Alyson's useful advice on her website:  artbizcoach.com

Check out more of Alyson's useful advice on her website: artbizcoach.com

So what's my action this week? I'm investing in my own professional development by heading to Golden, Colorado (just outside Denver) for a conference of art professionals getting together to talk shop. I couldn't be more excited! I am looking forward to learning a ton and building my community of working artists like myself at Art Biz Breakthrough. The very existence of this conference designed specifically for the business side of being an artist is such a validation for me as a small business owner/entrepreneur. What a great way to begin this next chapter of my art career and life!

As always, I will be posting updates to my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts - follow whichever platform works for you!

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? 

Featured Artist: Roberto Matta

I dread it when I tell people that I am an artist and they ask me who my favorite artist is.  I don't have many favorites in life -- I'm either too enamored by multiple things or too indecisive -- and I certainly could never have just one favorite artist.  That's like having one favorite band or one favorite food - impossible! But I do have artists who influence my work. One of these is Chilean artist Roberto Matta Echaurren (most commonly known by his first two names only), who was an artist prominent in the 1940s and '50s.  When I first saw one of his paintings in the San Francisco MOMA back in 2006, I immediately fell in love.  I didn't know anything about him or his work, but that painting, Invasion of the Night, was enough: Roberto Matta: Invasion of the Night, 1941 Invasion of the Night, 1941

I was taken with the colors, with the depth, the creation of this whole world that seemed somewhat familiar yet so alien.  It seemed amazing that someone would be making something this weird and abstracted in 1941, yet it felt so contemporary.  Above all that the technique is what really got me.  I couldn't figure out how he had created the thin, wash-like yet cloudy layers of paint that make the shapes more bulbous, add shadow and depth, or make something appear see-through. So I did some research and found out that at least one of his techniques was to wipe away the paint (subtractive glazing, if you will).  I have experimented with this and it is fun and sometimes effective, but also more difficult then it looks!

Unfortunately Matta's work is surprisingly difficult to find - it's hard to find good reproductions of more than just a handful of his work, which is such a shame because having bought a book with plates of his work I feel like everyone who does a Google search of his work is missing out on some gems. I feel like this is indicative of how overlooked Matta has been, despite his work being so influential and important for both Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism.  I am particularly drawn to his work from the 1940s, when he was hanging out in New York with a bunch of other Surrealists exiled from Europe, including one of my favorites, Yves Tanguy.  Matta's work differed in that while they created landscape-based pieces, he was creating what he described as "inscapes". In other words, he used "'psychological morphology,' a fusion of the psychic and the physical that refers to the idea of interior landscape" (from an essay by Elizabeth A.T. Smith and Collette Dartnall in Matta in America).

The Earth is a Man, 1941-42

The artist himself puts it nicely: "Painting has one foot in architecture, one foot in the dream."  That is certainly something I am interested in exploring in my own work, albeit in a stylistically different way. Being inspired by an artist doesn't mean that my work has to look like his/hers; rather, as Max Ernst says, "Art is not made by one artist but by several. It is to a great degree the product of their exchange of ideas with one another."

A Grave Situation, 1946

Artist as Story Teller

I heard a story on NPR the other day about this journalist, Paul Salopek, who is traveling the world by foot over 7 years and gathering stories along the way. The exact opposite to the book Around the World in 80 Days, yet seemingly just as crazy. What a wild and extremely fascinating idea! Clearly a journalist's job is to collect stories, but I think this is an innovative way of going about it - not rushing around to find the story but instead meandering and observing life along the way.  You can follow his stories here.

Most artists are story tellers, and I think their inspiration often comes from slowing down, taking time to smell the flowers or notice the color purple. For me, it's not that everything I see or hear goes directly into my paintings; rather, noticing the quality of light just before sunset in the late part of spring on my way home from the office, or the bird of prey that sits on a wire above the expressway every morning on my commute triggers something in me that makes me want to create.

I think my attention to detail and appreciation of beauty in the everyday comes from a childhood growing up in rural areas with limited electricity.  When I wasn't voraciously reading novels, National Geographic or World Book Encyclopedias (yes, I was a nerd), I was running around making up games to play. My family didn't own a TV or a computer until I was well into middle school, and I didn't get a cell phone (which I had to share with my twin brother) until I was 16.  So I had plenty of time to think and imagine things, something that has certainly affected both my world view and my art.  Of course, now-a-days I am all too often caught up in the fast pace of our tech-centered world, and I have to remind myself to slow down and find that centered vantage point of chronicler and story teller.

Which is why I like hearing stories like this Ted Talk by artist Shea Hembrey: How I became 100 ArtistsHembrey created a biennial featuring art by 100 artists from all over the world, except that all of the artists were personas that he created. Not only did he make multiple pieces of art in 100 different styles, but he also created back stories for each artist so that the concept behind each body of work was based on something to do with the artist's life experiences, interests or topics of exploration.  Now that is some great story telling!

Two takeaways from this fascinating project: first, Shea's criteria for the work that the artist must be able to explain the work to their grandma in 5 minutes or less, thus making it more refined and more accessible to the general public. I think this is extremely important in the current climate of overly-convoluted contemporary art. Second, that it have the three H's: head - "interesting intellectual concepts", heart - "passion and soul," and hand - "in that it would be greatly crafted,"  simple enough instructions that I, for one, hope to uphold in my work. 

Fighting Painter's Block

I  have a confession to make: I haven't painted since December.  Besides the simple examples that I made for my classes, I had done nothing to add to my portfolio. Now that I have the time and am trying to get back into a schedule, I am having some difficulty beginning again. A bit different than writer's block in that I have ideas, but am overwhelmed to the point of paralysis - where to begin? So, I tried a few tricks to get back into the zone. First, I cleaned up and rearranged my studio. A bit like spring cleaning, this seems to get me into the right mindset every time. I also decided that I needed some plants to bring in some life.  I actually get great afternoon sunlight in my studio, but I wanted another source of life that would help keep the creative juices flowing, even at night time.

IMG_2854       IMG_2856   IMG_2858

Then, since I was still having some fear of taking the plunge -- using any excuse from lack of energy to higher priorities to get out of going back into the studio -- I watched some TED Talks, which I find both interesting and inspiring, even when completely unrelated to my own art. In doing so, I remembered a talk from several years ago by Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity and the creative process that I have found helpful, so thought I would share that with anyone feeling a bit depressed about, or stuck with, their creative output.


I also realized that I spend a LOT of time inside these days due to my new desk job (which is actually very inspiring, but inside none-the-less), and that going straight from the office into my studio as getting me down. So I went on a beautiful hike yesterday and enjoyed the fresh spring air and endless greenery. Ah! Just what I needed to clear my head and give me some inspiration.



So, now I feel well equipped to go into my studio and uphold my end of the bargain, as Liz Gilbert suggests, by simply being present.  I look forward to sharing my new creations with you soon!

One Billion Rising - Global Dance Movement 2/14/13

Happy Valentine's Day! Actually, I am not a big proponent of said holiday, but I am a supporter of V-Day - the global movement to end violence again women and girls. Started 15 years ago by Eve Ensler -- also the playwright of the well-worth  watching Vagina Monologues -- this year there is a new campaign called One Billion Rising that encourages a global dance party to support the safety of women. You can watch live performances on their website, go to a local event or join in! Here's a shout-out to my fellow artists Dhol Rhythms Dance Company who are performing at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, check out the details here.

Featured Artist: David Mills

Like most artists, I am very process-oriented: the thrill of creating rather than the final product is where I really feel alive.  When I look at other people's art, I am often trying to figure out, how did they do that?  Not because I want to steal their idea or try and one-up them, but simply out of creative curiosity.  So being able to visit another artist's studio and talk with them about their process is one of my favorite things to do. Recently I found out my friend and fellow artist David Mills has been uploading time-lapse movies of his painting process (and by "painting" I don't just mean paint and a brush like most of my work; this guy really takes it to another level with all sorts of cool materials), so I thought I'd share one with you:


You can see more where that came from on his youtube channel, blog, or Facebook page.

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer

Happy 2013 everyone! My year has started off very busy, hence the lack of posts, but I hope to get back on the wagon as I have lots of fun new things to share. I'm going to start by sharing the work of photographer Vivian Maier, whose work I was introduced to through a lovely book given to me for Christmas called Vivian Maier: Street photographer by John Maloof.

Maloof stumbled across hundreds of thousands of negatives of Maier's in 2007, which she had apparently "kept secret  for over fifty years". A nanny by trade, she lived in big cities and documented city life, but never showed the images to anyone.  In the past couple of years, though, Vivian's work has become something of a sensation due to the quality of the work, the period it is documenting (primarily 1950s and '60s America), and the incredible number of images. It seems both impossible and romantic that this woman who was not trained as an artist nor a photographer should have such amazing work and also have kept it all to herself.

  Self-portrait  of the artist

You can read more about her story at the links above (or wait for the film Finding Vivian Maier), but I just want to comment on what I find inspiring about her work. First, it appears she was making art for art's sake - not for shows or fame or anything like that. And because she was taking photos only for herself, she seems to have the freedom to choose whatever subject matter she wants and in doing so manages to capture some really intimate and fascinating subjects. For example, she has this picture of a dead horse left in the street. Part of my fascination with this gruesome scene is that it gives a window, albeit a black and white one, into the streets of post-war America, when horses were still commonly used as transportation even in big cities. But I also think the photo says something about the artist (for trained or not, the quality of her photographs confirm that she had both an artist's eye and artistic talent), about the types of things she felt worth documenting. In a way many of her photos of every day occurrences remind me of Norman Rockwell illustrations, but often grittier and less optimistic.

I also really like that even though many of her photos have people in them, none of them are posing. They often seem unaware of her presence -- which is somewhat odd to me considering that cameras were much bigger and more rare than they are today -- except for this lady below, who has such an awesome expression of disgust.

Another reason I identify with her work is that Vivian was a professional nanny, and from my brief stint as a nanny I know that it can be quite a lonely profession with a lot of down time, especially if the child is young. During that time it is easy to get bored, but Vivian seems to have used whatever moments she had to take hundreds of photos of the big cities (New York and Chicago) in which she lived. I wonder if she ever shared her photos with the children in her care?

Lastly, while most of the photos have a person or an animal as the subject, I, of course, love the photos with interesting framing of architecture. I don't know what Vivian felt when she framed this shot, but amidst the interesting shapes and overlapping lines I see the buildings as a stand-in for people or relationships that appear so strong yet can crumble and leave a giant hole. Of course I'm reading into the psyche of someone we will never know, and perhaps that is the thing that strikes me most about Vivian Maier's photographs: that they make me want to have a conversation with them and create a connection with the woman behind the camera.


Michele Pred: (IN)Security

Have you ever wondered what happens to the items that get confiscated before you board a plane?  I have, but only when a TSA agent took away the yoghurt I was planning to eat for breakfast, because he considered it a liquid and it was over the 3 ounce limit.  I suspect it became his breakfast...  However, I hadn't given much thought to the objects that are confiscated -- all the scissors, razor blades, pocket knives, etc.  But Michele Pred has.


Travelers, 2011

She asked the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) if she could have the confiscated items to use in her installation art work.  I recently saw a show called (IN)Security at the Thompson Gallery on the San Jose State University campus featuring some work from her series Homeland Security.  The work is partly about curiosity, wondering how dangerous the tiny (formerly travel-size) sewing scissors could be, or to whom all of these pocketknives belonged?  Did they have sentimental value, and have they been saved from a death in oblivion by being on display, in the shape of heart, in this exhibit?

The show also has more serious undertones, though, as a social commentary on how our culture views danger and threats.  Michele uses color and placement of objects to create an American flag out of razor blades, pocket knives, or, as in this piece, a combination of objects carefully placed in their own containers as if logged for evidence by a forensics expert or scientist.

Fear Culture
Fear Culture, 2007

Michele speaks about how she is capturing a moment in history, the feelings of threat and danger that has prevailed since 9/11, and the above piece certainly has the feel of creating a time capsule.  Check out more of her work at her website.

New paintings and what inspired them

Here are two new paintings to prove that although I have been slacking off in the blog-o-sphere, I have been hard at work in real life.  I hope you like them.

We Celebrate the Freaks

The title of the above piece is a paraphrase from a passage in a Salman Rushdie book that I love, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  The imagery is from photographs I took in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (NB: Although many famous Argentines are buried here, including Eva Peron, this has nothing to do with my painting).  I am inspired by the architecture of fancy graveyards and I like how the statues look silhouetted against the sky, something I accentuated in this painting. I was also reading The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon while painting this, which is set in Barcelona and has several scenes in graveyards. Although a great read, this is quite a dark book about a writer selling his soul to the devil, so I'm sure some of that got into this painting too...

When I'm Alone I Get Carried Away_small

When I'm Alone I Get Carried Away

The title of this piece is not a quote, but rather refers to the stir-crazy feeling I had while painting this piece.  Really, the turmoil I was feeling was in other parts of my life, and painting this was calming.  Yet some of that anxiety and loneliness got into the painting, something a friend pointed out to me upon seeing the completed piece.  Perhaps I subconsciously think that by having control in my painting I will be able to exert some more control in my life.  Isn't psychology fascinating? And just to thicken the plot, I should note that I actually painted these two paintings simultaneously... And yes, the dresses continue, albeit in an evolved way.

You can view these hot-off-the press pieces at my current show at Barefoot Coffee Campbell.  The opening reception is tomorrow, December 8th from 4-7, but the show is up through Jan. 31st so just pop by whenever.

Behind-the-scenes of Jordan Matter's Dancers Among Us

I shared some images from photographer Jordan Matter's "Dancers Among Us" series a couple of months ago.  Now check out this behind-the-scenes live action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgWfYisRr20

I won't lie, I am really taken with this work.  I think it's an incredibly successful merging of concept with artistic execution.  And I don't think I will ever get tired of looking at his new combinations of amazing dancers in often humorous "skits".  It reminds me that life is beautiful and humans are amazing.  Matter has just released the book version, also titled Dancers Among Us, which includes the story behind capturing each image.  I, for one, am excited to get my copy!

(I'm not sure if the embedded video is working properly, so here's the link to the video too)

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.

Every child is an artist: finding inspiration in play

Do you remember that familiar Picasso quote: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."?  I have been thinking about it a lot the last few months as the stresses of adulthood and my inner critic try to sabotage my art practice.  I say "try" because my many teaching gigs have taught me some valuable lessons that help me get out of my funks of second-guessing myself and agonizing over the smallest details.  Working with 8-10 year old students not only cracks me up, but leaves me wishing that I could recapture that reckless abandon that they display.

Kids truly amaze me!  Even those that may complain about not having much artistic talent will come out with the most breath-taking work: sometimes humorous, skillful, or just plain original.  It's so sad that the older we get, the more restrictions we put on ourselves to express our creativity.  The human mind is incredible and many of us have hidden talents that we have yet to discover.  Being around kids really inspires me to take more risks in my art, but I realize that that's something I have to work at and keep reminding myself to do, not an easy task.


I have also been lucky enough to work with some senior citizens who were taking an art class for the first time (none pictured here).  I really do think we come full circle: older people often exhibit a healthy recklessness that mirrors that of the kids, as if after a life-time it is finally OK to let go of one's inhibitions and play.  I was particularly impressed with one student, in his 70s, who liked to paint pretty landscapes and abhorred anything abstract, yet the week after I held a class on abstract painting, he came to class on his own initiative with not one, but two, (un-assigned) abstract paintings (unfortunately I did not get photos of these).  Now that takes not only courage - to try something new and scary - but also a certain level of playfulness that is truly inspirational.  While I hope that I am that willing and able to try new things when I am 72, I also want to start cultivating that attitude now and not wait until I'm older.


If I Could Dance...

Back in June and July I made a series of paintings of body-less dancers titled "If I Could Dance". While I received good feedback from many people, I also feel like I left a lot of people hanging by not having an artist statement to go along with the work.  Here I am talking about the values of making "ugly" paintings whilst making (purposefully) "pretty" paintings.  Yet it is not so hypocritical as you might imagine - the "prettiness" is part of the message.

I grew up in a culture where my first consciousness about my body was one of shame.  I was taught an extreme form of modesty to be culturally sensitive to, and safer in, the norms of Muslim Pakistan.  The idea was to become invisible and not react to the stares or calls or groping which my white skin and reddish-blonde hair sticking out in a sea of brown people did not help.  I remember being embarrassed at age 8, which led to being self-conscious almost all the way through high school.  When I wasn't hiding my body under baggy clothes, I was trying to play sports and pretending to be tough.  I thought any attention from the opposite sex was negative, and I scorned the "cheerleader"-type and swore to never be a "girlie-girl".  Along with this I tried not to make "pretty" paintings because I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and my lack of knowledge about successful female artists led me to believe that by simply being a woman my art was at a disadvantage - relegated to the cute category of "hobby".

Then a couples years ago I started to embrace the "girl" inside of me.  I started wearing dresses, make-up and jewelry -- heels even! I gained confidence as a woman and decided owning my femininity was to my advantage.  But I still resisted it in my art.  I now knew about and admired many successful women artists, but I still didn't want to make paintings about gender, again, out of some kind of fear of being taken less seriously.  Until this series.  I decided I wanted to celebrate the female form, critics of "pretty" paintings be damned!  And what better way than through dance?  I have always lacked confidence in dancing, but I love watching it - dance inspires me and makes me appreciate the human body even more. I feel connected through dance.

These dresses show the form of the dancer while being body-less because I didn't want to put a face or race or body-type to cloud the universal beauty of dance.  One of the amazing things about dance to me is that it can be so expressive and convey whole narratives and complex emotions without a single word, hence negating any language barrier.

I explored different types of dance from around the world because I find them beautiful and I suppose I was being instinctively culturally inclusive.  Dance is a celebration of the human body, and I've decided to be a part of it and celebrate in my own way.

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.