Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tools of the Trade

I've been thinking a lot about Doc Watson who passed away this past Tuesday. While his music was brilliant and his determination palpable, the part of his story that keeps haunting me really has more to do with his father.
Doc's blindness was the result of an eye infection he developed when he was only a year old. His father, a local musician, put a banjo in young Doc's hands and told him "Now son, you learn to play that real good, and I'll get you a better one one day." Doc mastered the instrument by the time he was five years old, and his dad traded a week's worth of pay at the saw mill for a Stella guitar for his son.  
This story bares repeating because it communicates the power of true love. Rather than despair of his son's blindness, Doc's father gave him the only tools he had. He did not treat his son like a poor disabled boy. Instead, he worked and sacrificed to give him access to art, which allowed him to 'see' the world in some way. Doc absorbed his father's dream and determination and went on to become a more talented and celebrated musician than either of them could have imagined.
Now that's a story we can all incorporate into our lives!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bored, Not Dying

Did you hear this program featuring the President's point person on digital education? Karen Cator extols a number of ways in which providing each child access to his or her own computer will enhance education. After all, she argues, ask any child what she spends much of her time doing throughout the day, and she will answer "waiting." So the argument goes that if the Department of Education gives each child a digital device, it will eliminate the need for students to sit idly waiting for a lesson to begin or for a school bus to reach it's destination.
image from St. Peter's by-the-Sea School, NY
To which I say, have we learned nothing from "Baby Einstein" fraud?! And that is not even mentioning the millions of achievements in the sciences, arts and humanities that were born out of that "idle' time a person spends drifting between activities! Even the original Einstein needed time to ponder the way the world works. Can you imagine how easy it would have been for him to split the concentration that it must have taken him to say, visualize the theory of relativity, if he was never expected to wait between activities?
Harold, filling the void with the stuff of his imagination
Which brings me to the 2013 Sketchbook Project. How many artists do you think spent a good portion of their childhoods doodling in the margins of their school notebooks? If you were one of them, then you understand how 'Bored' can be a launch pad for big ideas. What starts off as idle scribbling can transform unexpectedly into a masterpiece as your mind wanders in and out of thoughts, connecting them in new ways. Instead of entering into a space crowded with bottomless information, you stroll onto a blank page, wondering lazily where you are, until you recognize the world that you've drawn around yourself.

Come to think of it, maybe the department of eduction should start providing students with sketchbooks instead of ipads ;)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I hope that you had a lovely memorial day weekend, Friends! Mine left me very satisfied (holla BBQ bonanza) and grateful for the sacrifices of those brave souls who protect our freedom everyday.
Despite a holiday packed with amazingness though, I have to admit to feeling a bit blue. An opportunity that I had really been hoping for did not pan out in my favor. While I'm not usually one to over-share about the things that get me down, I think that there may be someone else out there who could benefit from this one. You see it's easy to be all "grow tougher skin, blah, blah, blah," but we all know that the reality of rejection is that it is almost impossible not to take it personally. Add your art into the mix and, well, shiz gets real. 
In the midst of my wallowing though (seriously, just call me Ophelia), I came across author Neil Gaiman's commencement address at the University of the Arts. He recommended dealing with the problem of failure by envisioning requests for help (think: grants, fellowships, commissions) as messages in a bottle. You would be insane to think that every message that you toss out there would be answered. Instead you have to start thinking about the odds in terms of hundreds of messages that need to be sent out for every project. Somehow that visual makes each potential opportunity a lot less precious. 
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go rinse out a few new bottles;)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Case for Burning Your Work

I used to cringe at the thought of artists destroying work that they weren't proud of. It just seemed so selfish (not to mention crazy-pants). I mean, didn't the future have a right to experience those pieces? Then I heard about Joey Ramone's brother, Mickey Leigh, releasing the notorious perfectionist's demo recordings and song fragments as a posthumous new album--and I suddenly understood the impulse to burn a bad painting.
Last night at our creative conversations group, a song writer mentioned that her sketch book was a place where there was no fear allowed, both because she was the only one who got to see it and because every artist needs to make some bad art to get to the good stuff. The thought that someone could potentially hang some of that bad art in a gallery or release a few scratchy musing tracks as an album under our names one day could be paralyzing. Artists need the freedom of privacy to experiment in order to create innovative work. And since it is pretty much guaranteed that not every piece of that experimentation will be brilliant, I believe that the match is a perfectly acceptable solution.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Breaking the Mold: Lessons I Learned from Jonathan Adler

I'm hoping that you won't be scared off by this picture. In my defense, Adler is actually a really cute dude in real life, and he looks pretty terrible here too.
Last night I had the privilege to hear design legend, Jonathan Adler, speak at the Corcoran. (Thanks to my talented friend, Darlene Molnar, for the amazing opportunity!) Adler was hilarious, modest and inspiring all at once. He opened up the second half of the night by inviting audience members to ask their most irreverent, specific questions. AND ASK THEY DID. Here, in no particular order, are some of the insights that I took away from his talk:

1.) "Trusting Yourself" may sound trite, but it is vital.
When Adler asked his RISD teacher/mentor if she thought he had what it takes to make it, she didn't beat around the bush. Her answer was a resounding NO. Luckily, he chose to tune out the criticism and preserve.
 2.)"Good design looks like it has been uncovered rather than created."
3.)"People want to see faces."
OK, so I knew this one, but when he mentioned that this was one of his revelations and the source of inspiration for one of his collections, I felt affirmed. I have been working for what seems like forever on a urban portrait project based partially on this assumption.
4.)Being business savvy doesn't mean selling out.
Adler joked that he has two gifts in life: "One is potting and the other is delegating." Creating a team of professionals to run his business has allowed him to keep the production at arms length, and therefore freed up his creativity. 
5.)Don't be afraid to break the mold.
We take for granted the fact that Adler's clean ceramics are universally appealing. They are easy to appreciate. What I never considered though, was that he was breaking the potter's potter mold when he first started creating ceramics with the goal of a factory-made aesthetic. He did not want to live in a yurt in VT, perfecting a single organic style and watching his facial hair grow to extreme proportions. Instead, he wanted to follow a fashion business model, creating a new collection each season. Recognizing that he was not just a "Potter" but rather a purveyor of "Craft, Style and Joy" in any medium allowed him the liberty to create what he felt compelled to make, and to become enormously successful to boot! 
As an artist operating at the intersection of fine art and street art, I find this personally comforting. Definitions can prevent us from doing what we are meant to do, simply because there hasn't been anyone who has done it our way before. While I respect the idea of standing on the shoulders of those who have walked before you, I think that we have to remember that we are all unique individuals called to a unique purpose that will go unfulfilled if we are not afraid to break the mold.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Adler's redesign idea for President Obama's Oval Office
I'm really looking forward to hearing JONATHAN ADLER speak tonight at the Corcoran Gallery of Art! I love the clean graphic color combinations that he uses in his designs and the way that he incorporates art work into his rooms.

 Can't wait to hear what he has to say!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday Match: Longing Edition

{Every week I post an image of an interior that reminds me of a work of art either in its palette, composition or mood. I hope that you enjoy!}
refurbished cottage by Papa Stour
Andrew Wyeth, Christina's World


Thursday, May 17, 2012

GOing GOing Gone

As you've probably heard, the "Godfather of Go Go" died today at the age of 75. I like that GO GO originated in DC and that Chuck Brown describes the music as a type of on-going call and response. Here is a little music in honor of Chuck Brown's passing. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Be the Tortoise

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Jackie Battenfield, artist and author of the informative book The Artist's Guide, How to Make a Living Doing What You Love. She shared many of the practical tips outlined in the book, along with a few new ones like: Her rules of Three (Take three steps to advance your career every day. Talk to three new people before leaving a gallery opening.) My favorite part of the lecture though was her closing line:

"I'm here to tell you that I'm a BIG NOBODY ARTIST. I have never had my picture on the cover of Art in America, but I am successfully leading a life that I love."

Sometimes I think the idea of artist as 'Art Star' or 'Starving Artist' can hinder us from setting practical goals (financial and otherwise) and leading successful professional careers. It doesn't have to be all or nothing though. We can be the tortoise chugging determinedly toward the finish line, calmly passing the inflated egos on the side of the road, resting prematurely on their laurels.
I highly recommend this book for its practical tips on reorganizing yourself as a professional whose profession happens to be art-making.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

From the Studio

I have been working on a project for the Metro Montessori program this month, painting typical scenes from their different Washington D.C. school locations. I decided to focus on very different aspects of each school for these two paintings, and I'm very please with the way they turned out.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Match

{Every week I post an image of an interior that reminds me of a work of art either in its palette, composition or mood. I hope that you enjoy!}
two views of Anouck Lepere's apartment (via miss moss)
Robert Rauschenberg

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Weekend!

image via the NY Times
 Did you read this New York Times article? It's not a new subject but an important one nonetheless. In fact, I think that it is so important that I'm dedicating a multi-year, unpaid art project to it. It is called As Is: An Urban Portrait. The project asks a lot of questions, primarily this one: Do we see each other any more?
I'm looking forward to sharing more with you as it unfolds, but for now do yourself a favor this weekend: Look up from your screens for a few hours and really enjoy the people around you. I'm going to try to do the same.  
Happy Friday, Friends!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Painting with Chocolate

Tonight the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC) is hosting a Cuisine des Artistes at Meridian House. My chocolate-making friends over at Fleuir have invited me to team up with them to create a culinary/artistic masterpiece for the event! We spent last Friday night in the studio painting with cocoa butter on transfer sheets that Robert later pressed on to a tray of chocolates. The finished product will be displayed mosaic style for guests to sample. You can check out a sneak peak of my design plan (sideways) above. Can't wait to see what the other artist/chefs have made!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

You showed up to create--OLAY!

OK creative people, raise your hands if you've ever felt crushed under the burden of making something beautiful, important, profound. I've been there before. The fear of creating something incredible out of the poor stuff of your being is downright paralyzing.
Now who has also felt that frenzied blur of elation as the train of inspiration plows through you? I can't tell you the number of times that I've looked up from a canvas after feverishly racing to capture some fleeting thought and wondered where the hours went (or why I am so hungry/need to pee so badly ;)
painting by Emilio Valerio D’ Ospina
 If you answered yes to either of those questions, then you need to go watch this TED talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert right now. I'm not kidding. I'll wait.
I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but this talk is so good that I scribbled every single one of her words down in my sketch book this morning. She talks about the necessity of forming psychological constructs to protect yourself from the narcissism and despair that accompanies being an artist. She argues that it is just "a smidge too much responsibility" to put the burden of genius on one human psyche, and explains "the utter, maddening, capriciousness" of creativity in terms of the ancient Romans' understanding of an external genius who helped shape the outcome of an artist's work.
Her anecdotes of poets and musicians' brushes with the muse are hilarious and inspiring. She tells stories about dancers becoming so enraptured in the spirit of their dance on the African plains that the people around them cried out "Allah, Allah, Allah!" (These people where crying out "It is God!" but the meaning has morphed over the years into the "Olay, Olya, Olya" that we yell at big soccer matches.) In other words, we are not alone. This 'genius' is not ours with its glories and burdens, but rather "on lone from some magnificent source." 
image from here
 Josh Ritter's little song, Long Shadows, has been on repeat in my studio lately and I wasn't sure why until today. After listening to Gilbert's talk I know that it doesn't matter if I'm "afraid of the dark." God is not. I am just the vessel to hold his glory and if I keep showing up to do my work, he just might let me do that sometimes. OLAY! Now go make something!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Happy Weekend!

painting by Oscar Arroyo, super full moon @ Big Bear
Are you ready for tonight's huge full moon? I'm taking it as a sign that this weekend will be a bright one. I'll be collaborating with my friends over at Fleurir painting on chocolates, and celebrating an important family event with ice cream cake and whiskey sours (maybe not together)! Monday and Tuesday I'll be in NY for the James Beard Awards, but promise to be back to blogging on Wednesday--MmmMMmm--Can't wait! 
Happy Weekend, Friends!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My dear friend, Laurel Dugan, explaining her current work
The life of an artist can be a solitary thing.  I personally need time and space apart from other people to make my work, but sharing that work and thoughts on art in general is invaluable as well. So I'm beyond thrilled to have been invited to join a monthly creative conversations group. Last night was our first meeting. Over French 75s and plates of cheese, a group of film makers, painters, writes, musicians, designers and textile artists discussed current work, reasons for working in a particular medium, and greatest fears about art-making. It was a smash success and I'm already looking forward to our next gathering!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

From the Studio

This house portrait began post-snowstorm.
Here is how it turned out. There is something really lovely about the quality of light on melting snow and ice.

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