Sunday, January 27, 2008

Creativity reigns at PSU weekend class

This elegant collage to Sofonisba references her diplomacy and wit

I had the greatest time this past Friday evening and Saturday teaching "Living to Paint/Painting to Live", a weekend PSU class on two women artists. The students were enthusiastic in their discussions and their creative projects. We studied the Renaissance artist Sofonisba Anguissola and the Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, both Italian women of great courage and talent. The students all showed great courage and creativity as well, and came up with innovative and diverse work. Several made collages of the two artists and their lives and work, some wrote original poems or made original drawings. The students inspire me as much as I inspire them, and the artists we get to know inspire us all.

A brave student reads one of her poems

Thanks to Serenity for taking the excellent photos. (My camera battery proved to be dead.) Thanks to Maeve and others for tech support. Thanks to all the students for a wonderful class!

A colorful collage evoking Sofonisba Anguissola

Artemisia Gentileschi is represented here as a compelling, complex woman

These students had to work fast, having only a short time to come up with their ideas, execute them, and present them to the class. Nobody complained and everyone did a magnificent job. All the collages were colorful and full of meaning. The drawings were lively and original. The poetry gave me shivers and tears. It's always so exciting to see what people come up with and how creative we all can be, even when we don't think we are.

A powerful poem to Sofonisba with a delightful and accurate image of her

An innovative 3-D collage for Artemisia

A bold collage of Artemisia as Mary Magdalene

Wow, Artemisa drawing Artemisa drawing...

By the way, the students gave me permission to show their work here. I'm glad they did, because I want others to see their extreme creativity!

Images and text create a strong sense of Artemisia's life

A playful mixed media tribute to Artemisia

This student also brought in a work she painted several years ago after a painting by Sofonisba. She said she was happy to learn more about the artist who had inspired her own work.

Vibrant collages for both artists

A moving poem and drawing for Artemisia

In this symbolic drawing Sofonisba Anguissola leaves Italy and family
obligations to sail for the Spanish court to be a court painter.

Artemisia plays the lute looking just like herself

This student created a calm, ordered collage for Sofonisba.
In her other collage she created the vivid, chaotic world of Artemisia.

Thanks for sharing with me the delightful fun of teaching about women artists and seeing what amazing things my students create!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

One Ancient Artist Interviews Another / First Friday Show

I recently discovered a blog that got me really excited. Another Oregon Artist, Sue Smith, has a delightful blog devoted to those of us who are "Ancient Artists." I respond deeply to her work and want to show you a few of my favorites. Her blog also addresses issues for artists making a career after 50 and offers wonderful support for those of us who fit this category (and for any artist!)

I sent Sue a post letting her know how much I love her work and her blog and telling her that I am also an Oregon ancient artist. She responded very warmly and let me know she has just started a "Sunday Salon" post where she will interview a new artist each week and show samples of their work. She even asked me if I would be her second interviewee!

Ancient Walls: Lost Vessel
by Sue Smith

I was honored by the offer and had a great time
answering the interview questions she sent me. I think
we should all make a point of being interviewed from time
to time--I learned a lot from the process. I think it will help me to talk about my work moe coherently in future. Thank you so very much, Sue! To see the interview and Sue's beautiful work, go to Ancient Artist. Sue writes on her blog about her eyes being opened to new possibilities by the light and color of Florence, Italy. As it was going to Italy that got me painting, I could appreciate her experience highly. Her ancient wall series captures the look of aging buildings in Italy and New Mexico--my two favorite places!

Ancient Walls: Santa Fe II (Sue Smith)

Ancient Walls: Santa Fe III
(Sue Smith)

Sue also paints stunning oils of the Oregon countryside, such as the one shown here, and of the Italian countryside and towns.

Evening at the Reservoir (Sue Smith)

The Art of Your Life First Friday!

After taking January off, the Art of Your Life Studio will again open its doors for the First Friday Art Show. This month's artist is Lily Witham. Lily, like me, is a lover of the work of Joseph Cornell and is a devotee of the past. Here is how she describes herself:

Born in Memphis, TN 1955. The things I make and my general aesthetic all refer to the funky things I saw all around me while growing up in the South. I am an avid re-cycler, and I love bits of funky detritus from the past. I use house paint, found objects, wood, just about anything I can get for free or cheaply. I have always loved old signage and typography, and feel a very strong affinity for the 19th century. I only use old things as "ingredients" for my tableau boxes. I hate the modern world and have spent most of my life trying to ignore it.

A woman after my own heart!

Know by Lily Witham

You can see more of Lily's art in the SITO archives. I can't wait to see what Lily has come up with for her show!

Here's the information about First Friday.
Hope to see you there!

Valentine's Fripperies
by Lily Witham
Cards, Collages, Assemblages
First Friday: February 1
6-9 PM
The Art of Your Life Studio
1210 SE Oak St.
Portland OR

Member: Central Eastside Arts District

Monday, January 21, 2008

Flora, Ernest, and Alvah Become a Painting.

Lately I've been doing a lot of art work in
encaustic and collage and haven't done a canvas painting for some time. I started a new painting last Thursday at my friend Diane's studio. Seeing a lot of paintings in New York recently inspired me to get back to canvas and paint for awhile. After I got to Diane's for our weekly studio get-together, I felt like I wanted to start a painting immediately. Diane and I went to Art Media and I got a 36" square canvas. I have a show coming up in a large space so I wanted to do something BIG. When we got back to Diane's I roughed out this composition, based on this old photograph of my great-grandfather and his siblings.

I've been fascinated by this photograph for quite a while. The children have to hold so still, yet it seems that their personalities come through.

I decided to do this painting in acrylic, though usually I use oils when I have a large canvas. The time factor was the reason for this decision, as acrylics dry much faster and I could paint more quickly. I also wanted to work quickly because I wanted to work more loosely. One trick that helps me work loosely is using a fairly large brush and resorting to small ones only when absolutely necessary, such as for the highlights in the pupils.

Here to the left is the initial underpainting. I found I was able to be really loose and get the drawing down quickly. Often paintings from photographs look stiff. Here I had a photograph where the children held themselves stiffly to pose. I wanted them to look alive and like real children struggling to hold still.

I wanted the girl, Flora, to be the main character in the painting. I cropped the image when I put it on canvas, even more after the first draft.

Painting from a photo also offers a series of questions about how much to try to copy the photo and how much to create your own interpretation. I wanted to go for the characters of the children as I saw them, not just copy realistically.
(I don't tend to be able to copy an image exactly, so it is a good thing I don't want to.)

Below left is the next stage. I moved the older brother, Alvah, so that he was partly cut off from the frame. This was a modern kind of crop that I thought would be interesting in contrast to the old fashioned children. No face for anyone but Flora. I then gave the baby Ernest and Alvah faces. At this point Flora's dress seemed to be getting too stiff. I finished going over the background with a lighter color. Alvah's pants got very dark. His hands were too long. I went to bed.

Then oh dear, Alvah lost his face. For some reason I had trouble with it. On the other had, baby Ernest's face came into focus just the way I wanted it to. (Ernest grew up to own a general store in Nebraska. He and my great-grandma Nellie, daughter of a Civil War veteran, came to Oregon in a covered wagon.)

I used Photoshop to try out new shirt colors for Alvah. The purple is an example of what would not have worked. I was glad I tried it in Photoshop first!

Here is as far as I have gotten.
Alvah has a new face. I softened Flora's to be more like the original sketch. I got some family feedback that her hair looked odd so I parted it in the middle
and reduced the poofiness. Alvah's pants got lighter. The stripes on his shirt got darker. The curtain has a brighter pattern. I fiddled with the background and floor, changing it and then putting it back more where it was earlier. I improved the hem of Flora's skirt.
I changed her hands, making them truer to the sweet way she posed them in the original photograph.

Now, I really need to let this painting sit for awhile. I love beginning paintings and find the finishing to be the most challenging for me.

When I am sure it is finished I'll take a good photo and post it on the blog. Now, I need a rest!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Journaling Tips I've Learned

I've learned some interesting things in working on journals this past year. I find journaling to be a great way to find the art in the trivial and the everyday. I've also found that writing about an unpleasant event or aspect of life can bring me perspective and humor about the subject.

The two pages above left give an account of two inebriated men who crossed my path on Christmas Day, no less! The seated man sat next to me on the plane to New York. He was drunk, I realized, as he delivered himself of unacceptable opinions on the supposed sexual orientation of our flight attendant and of the need to close our borders to immigrants. He ended by calling us dorks for telling him to keep his opinions to himself. By including this delightful seat-mate in my journal, I was able to get rid of the bad feeling he left me with and to transform the experience into a somewhat humorous anecdote.

The man to his right I met while sitting on our friend

Thomas' stoop in Brooklyn. He too, had been imbibing and he mistook me for his estranged mother. It was an odd experience and again, it helped to get the incident in my journal. I also thought it was an interesting example of projection. In one day I had been a "dork" and a sainted mother.

Above right is an example of the trivial and fun--a slice of life!

I made the picture below left by using my imagination to create something out of a stain of spilled coffee on my journal page.

Below right is a page of the everyday--strange hats seen on subway riders during freezing weather. On the right of the hats is a page used to contain some emotions about a recent death in the family. I put the "stuff" in a box so I could come back to it at a later time.

The pages below commemorate breaking my glasses and going to Starbucks (left side) and seeing John Singer Sargent's "Madame X"

Below is a silly drawing of two Oregonians out in the NY rain. On the right is a collage of hand-painted papers. Sometimes my drawing Sharpie shows through the next page, so then I just do a collage on the page with the show-through.

I'm working on keeping the habit of taking my journal almost everywhere, along with pens and pastel pencils. Later I can add paint or whatever else I want. I've decided no experience or subject is too mundane for my journal, and that my journal can console, comfort, and inspire me any time I get it out, add to it, or go through it!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New York Inspiration

I have just returned from a long-awaited vacation in New York City! We stayed with our old friend Thomas Krever in Brooklyn and walked a bazillion miles while we were there. Re-entry after a vacation in another culture is always challenging, and New York is another culture! Brownstones, subways, New Yawk accents, a melange of colors and heritages, crowds, and tons of energy. Of course I had to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

I have to rave about seeing The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. This incredible installation now has a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum after being in storage far too long. I have known of this monumental work since the late 70's, but have to confess my attitude has been, yeah, yeah, The Dinner Party, the early Women's Liberation Movement, yeah, I know, I know. Now that I have seen the piece in person, I can't praise it enough. Walking many times around the triangular "dinner table" was amazing. Judy Chicago and her many helpers created intricate and evocative place settings for goddesses, artists, queens, poets, writers, and many other women who were important in their contributions to humanity. I can only begin to imagine how powerful it would have been to see this piece when it was first created. At that time women's history and experiences were much more invisible than they are today. Even now, in this supposedly "post-feminist" era, I felt so healed by imagining the women portrayed sitting down together for a feast. I feel that by creating this piece, Judy Chicago created a new reality for women, or perhaps, illuminated one that had always been there but was hidden for a long time. I felt in looking at this work that the women were sitting there together and always would be. I don't know if this makes any sense, but if you get the chance, go and see this work!

I want to tell the story of how I met Thomas, our gracious host. In 1995 I decided I would go on a tour of Italy where I had never been. My Italian Fever had been raging for some time at that point. Since my mate was starting school and was unable to go, I decided to go with a tour since it was my first trip to Europe since 1970. On the last night of the tour, Thomas, a lovely man named Dennis, our tour director, and I went to a late night club and danced for hours. This was a big deal for me, as I was in my mid-forties and thought my dancing days were over. It was a magical evening and it was hard to say goodbye to my new friends. Thomas and I had really hit it off as friends. He was 26 at the time and from the other side of the country (Brooklyn), but our mutual love of Italy and art brought us together. For some reason I thought of him often after the trip was over and finally wrote to him. We began a correspondence. He actually came out to Oregon to visit us, something most New Yorkers would never dream of. Shortly after that I took my first trip to N.Y. One year we went to NY to see Thomas dance at Lincoln Center. My mate stayed with him a couple of years ago while on temporary work assignment in NYC. Thomas is now the Executive Director of New York's Hetrick-Martin Institute which runs many important programs for youth, including the famous Harvey Milk High School. He has lunch with people like Cindy Lauper! Success has not changed his warmth and good will toward his friends from the provinces. I tell this story to illustrate how amazing life is when we take some chances. If I had not taken that trip to Italy I wouldn't have started making art and would not have known Thomas and his wonderful partner.

It was literally below freezing much of the time we were in New York. We walked many miles each day as we pursued the sights. We were out in weather that would surely keep us inside here in Portland. The goal now is to walk more at home. Hasn't happened yet...but I have hopes.

I plan to keep the gray and wet doldrums at bay this winter by making lots of art and offering opportunities for others to lift their spirits by doing so. My first workshop of the year is a favorite from last year, "Layers of Imagination/Memory". This is a chance for beginners and experienced collage artists to make evocative and personal work that honors a family member or creates an imaginary world. Here's the info:

A Unique Collage Workshop

This is a great opportunity to honor loved ones or create an imaginary world. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced collage artist, you'll find inspiration and support for creating your own magical world with collage.

Bring two images that you love, such as a reproduction of a vintage family portrait or a face from an old master painting. Learn fun techniques and leave with two magical collages that evoke your unique vision. Beginners welcome!

Sunday, January 20 10-4 PM

Tuition: 90. including supplies

Call Serena at 971-404-7664 or email

Happy New Year and thanks for reading my blog!

Pictures: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party; Thomas dancing with the Joan Miller Dance Company (he's in the foreground); Serena freezing in Manhattan, Close-up of The Dinner Party place setting for my fave, Artemisia Gentileschi