Stand by for Breakthrough…

My breakthrough piece!

My breakthrough piece!

My formal schooling is in English literature and poetry, as many of you know. However, I’ve lately been dabbling in the visual arts, which I’ve done most of my life, but for the past few months, I’ve been very intentional about it, drawing nearly every day and sharing my work on Instagram.

The other day, I had a breakthrough—I let the work guide me.

Allow me to explain: because of my training in writing, specifically creative writing and poetry, I have a bunch of tools in my writer’s toolbox so to speak. What I mean by this is that when I’m stuck, I have methods of pushing through. Put simply, I know how to “play” with language. If a prompt isn’t speaking to me, I move to another. If I’m experiencing writer’s block, I repeat what I just wrote until a new thought comes. I’m fairly comfortable with my writing sounding terrible in the first draft because I know I have the skill set to fix it up. I’m not intimidated by the “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott so eloquently puts it.

But when it comes to visual art, I’m terrified by that shitty first draft. After all, when you make a mark with paint, you can’t just cut it out and paste it somewhere else (like the trash) as you can easily do with writing. What happens when a mark I make isn’t what I want? What happens when I don’t know where to start? How can I “play” as freely as I do with language?

Over the past few months, I’ve been working diligently to add some tools to my artist’s toolbox and have done so fairly successfully by studying the work of artists like Lisa Congdon and Shantell Martin on platforms like Skillshare and Creativebug. (For a more comprehensive discussion of how I’ve come to accept my art as well as information on the tools I use, listen to the fifth episode of my podcast here).

As mentioned earlier, I recently had a breakthrough. Like with writing, I think I finally learned to “go with the flow” of my art and let the process guide me instead of me making the art piece strictly what I wanted.

I was inspired the other day to try my hand at a profile because of artists I follow on Instagram. It started out as a person, but as you can see from the finished product above, it turned into a lizard girl.

See? Totally needs texture!

See? Totally needs texture!

When I started adding color, I first added a darker flesh tone on the forehead, which I liked. However, the more of that particular color I added to the face, the more I didn’t like it. So, I scrolled through my digital color palette and found a color I liked–green. Without hesitation, I slathered that on. But when I stepped back, I realized I wanted more texture, so I added some scallop scales and, voila, my lizard girl was born!

This is really the first time where I trusted the artistic process and wasn’t afraid to stray from my original concept. Normally, I have an idea in my head and force it, even when the piece is clearly calling for a different approach or simply isn’t working. When I was adding green to the girl, it was fairly easy to silence the critic in my head that was saying “Hey, people don’t have green skin!” The part of me that said, “Yeah, but let’s just see what happens!” was way louder. I think this is because I’ve been practicing my hand at other techniques, so my “letting go” muscle has been exercised enough in preparation for a moment like this.

Is this piece the best thing I’ve ever made? Nope, but I’m really excited about this breakthrough and can’t wait to see what else I make when exercising my “letting go” muscle in the future.

Why Are People Staring at Me? Or My Experience as a Portrait Model

IMG_2290

Oh, hey, it’s me!

I recently hung out with a friend who does improv and loves it. On our train ride into the city for a show, we got to talking about our summers. She told me more about her improv shows, and I told her about the activities (paper marbling, sketching, and copy editing, among others) I was making time for.  Her reaction was, “Wow, you do a lot!” But I never think I do. And then later that night I told her how I used to bartend and that I was also an honorary member of my alma mater’s theater department back in the day. OK, maybe I have done a lot…

This past weekend, I got to add one more experience to my ever-growing list: portrait drawing model. I’m a member of the Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster. I’ve taken a few classes there, but lately, I’ve been taking advantage of the open studio time.

During one of those studio sessions, I was asked if I’d like to be a model for portrait classes. I accepted, and this past weekend was my first gig!

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I knew there’d be pencils and that I’d have to sit still. But otherwise? No clue.

In reality, it was both an exhilarating and surreal experience. In nitty-gritty reality, I sat still for about five hours (minus breaks and lunchtime), and my shoulders hurt somethin’ fierce by the time I drove home. In reminiscent reality, I actually learned so much. Yes, I had to sit perfectly still, but I also got to hear the teacher lecture. I got to walk around and see sketches during my breaks. It was a crash course in seeing myself how others see me, and it was…eye-opening? Thrilling? Scary? Pretty freaking cool? I can’t put one word on it.

The first half of the class was dedicated to getting a sketch of the model (me) that would be refined in the latter half of the five-hour course. The teacher showed the students a method of measuring the spaces between my features using a pencil and his thumb. When it was the students’ turn, I took all my strength not to giggle at all the thumbs and pencils I saw pointed in my direction. From a different perspective, here were eight students of all ages (literally high-school students to elders) who were practicing their craft side by side. It was heartwarming and inspiring.

During my breaks, I walked around to see half-drawn, rough sketches of myself. But they were distinctly me! This was the surreal part. I walked around, talking to the students and taking pictures, all the while thinking, “Woah, that’s my nose!” or “That’s totally the curve of my lower lip!” I’ve experienced the thrill of getting a feature just right when I draw, but to walk around and see a room full of “me” sketches was unreal.

IMG_2285IMG_2288

IMG_2289IMG_2286

After lunch, we all convened again, and the students added more detail to their drawings, trying to make them appear three-dimensional. If I thought the drawings from the first half of the class were great, these were even more spectacular! It was so cool to see each student’s take on how to render my form. One student drew me as a graphic-novel-type heroine. In another, I thought I resembled Joan of Arc, with a very stately pose. Yet another drew me with very undefined lines, making me look almost like a watercolor painting. It was fascinating!

IMG_2294IMG_2295

IMG_2291

The teacher and a student

IMG_2292IMG_2296

IMG_2297

The teacher’s final rendering

 This experience made me recognize all of the little idiosyncrasies of my face that I don’t normally pay attention to. It also made me realize that I can sit stone still for a pretty long time. Being on the other side of the drawing pad was a great experience, and I met some really great people. One student even took a photo of me beside the drawing he made of me. Even though my face rested while I posed, I left the class smiling!

What experience with art or writing has left you with a smile?

Artist Spotlight Follow-Up: Chris Ernst

My personal fave piece of the exhibit! (Photo courtesy of Beth Colletti)

My personal fave piece of the exhibit! (Photo courtesy of Beth Colletti)

About one month ago, I posted an Artist’s Spotlight on Chris Ernst. This is a follow-up post featuring one of his local NJ exhibits.

On February 5, his exhibit “Urban Pop: 1989-1990” opened at the TrentonWorks Art Gallery in Trenton, NJ. As soon as I walked in the door, I could feel the the good, old-school vibes. Bel Biv Devoe was playing, and among the crowd, I found Chris talking it up with some of the art admirers.

When I walked around to look at the pieces, I found a nice sampling of varied styles. Sure, Chris tends to specialize in pop art, but he also does landscapes, as shown below.IMG_1438

The colors and repetition of the circles were particularly intriguing.

True to the title, the exhibit largely featured work that related to late-80s/early90s pop. Among my favorites were the paintings of Edward Scissorhands, Janet Jackson, and the 8-bit Nintendo controller.IMG_1434 IMG_1433 IMG_1437

I wasn’t the only one taking photos either. Many folks observed the paintings with great interest and took their phones out to snap a few shots.

IMG_1436

All in all, it was a great evening filled with laughter, mingling, and, of course, great art. Congrats to Chris on a spectacular opening!

10917441_880186758669570_6535571835046484453_n IMG_1435

All paintings shown are for sale. To get in touch with the artist, Chris Ernst, you may either reach him via Facebook, e-mail (cernstart [at] gmail [dot] com), or Instagram.

Artist’s Spotlight – Robert Garcia

When I first met Roberto Garcia a few years ago, what stuck out to me was his incredibly easy-going and fun personality. As I got to know him, I realized he had much insight as well. These qualities make their way into his artwork. Enjoy the interview with my good friend, Roberto Garcia!

578946_10202347129268988_259647203_n

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Roberto Garcia: I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember. As a kid I’d take my toys apart and combine them. GI Joe’s with Transformer body parts, and stuff like that. Then I tried my hand at comic books and portraits. Recently, I’ve been working with acrylic paints, markers, and newspaper. Let’s see where that goes.

RO: What first inspired you to art?
RG: Hmm. I suppose it’s just something I had to do. Writing, drawing, and music just called to me. It didn’t hurt that my mother had all kinds of books on hand at home. I was just moved to do it all the time.

RO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?photo1
RG
: Writing is my favorite medium, but I love painting with acrylics. Something about what you can imply with the colors. I’m no expert, I just enjoy it.

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
RG: I like to explore my world and see what it gives me. It could be an article, a scene, a photograph, or a moment. I try to complicate whatever it is that inspires me, and present it in a thought provoking way.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
RG: I spent a year on a really terrible piece of art! It was pastel chalks, acrylics, an actual poem glued to the canvas, and it was horrible. I finally let it go, but after that I painted four to five pieces that I really like. So, I guess I had to get that ugly out. Haha.

RO: Your chapbook, “Amores Gitano,” was recently published, which is very exciting! Could you speak a bit about putting together the chapbook as well as the publishing process? How would you describe the feeling of holding the chapbook in your hands for the first time?photo2
RG
: Most of those poems came from an erotica themed reading a friend of mine put together. I worked them and worked them, and sent them to the editor of Cervena Barva Press, and the rest is history. It’s a fun book because it morphed so much as I revised it. They could be read as poems of desire and longing, or the artist’s struggle with art, and the muse. I was fortunate to deal with a professional press, and they made everything smooth and painless. When I finally held the chapbook in my hand I was like, Wow!! The publish date was right before AWP, and the Cervena Barva press had issues for sale at their table, so it was surreal. I was at AWP Boston and copies of my chapbook were on sale. Wild!

RO: Your chapbook has a Spanish title, which means “Gypsy Loves.” Please speak a bit as to why you chose to have a title in a foreign language for an English market. What does that title mean to you?photo4
RG
: Might seem cliché, but everything sounds better in Spanish, and French. The title is a nod to Garcia Lorca. These are passionate poems full of longing, searching, and the mysterious. I had an English title for the book, just in case. Thankfully Gloria Mindock, the Editor/Publisher at Cervena Barva Press, insisted I stay with the Spanish title. I think it captures the feel and passion of the poems. I should also add that the title is in no way a slight to the Romani people.

RO: How does your background as a writer inform your visual art? Conversely, how does your background in visual art inform your writing?
RG: Sometimes a line of poetry will spark an image, and I find myself kicking a painting around in my head until I put it on canvas. However, art greatly inspires my writing! I write a lot of ekphrastic poetry, and flash fiction pieces based on art work I see.

RO: Every artist has subjects that pop up again and again in his or her work. What are those subjects for you? Is there a different subject you’d like to tackle in future work?
RG: Race always pops up in my work. As I study race relations in America I’ve begun to realize why. Everything in America is hypersexualized, and hyperracialized. So in a way it is inevitable for an artist to either write/draw about it, or avoids it. Relationships are also a subject that comes up in my work. I find interpersonal experiences fascinating, and that comes up a lot.

photo3RO: If you could spend an evening with any writer, living or deceased, who would you choose and why? On a similar note, if you could spend an evening with any visual artist, living or deceased, who would you choose and why?
RG: Wow. Can it only be one? That’s impossible. However, I’ll cheat a little. I’d really like to go back, and hang out with the Harlem Renaissance artists, the whole crowd, at one of those big band jazz swing clubs!  I believe that the artists of the Harlem Renaissance are the American version of all those European writers that wrote under communist, and dictatorial regimes. The conditions they endured, (racism, brutality, being marginalized, economically) and they still produced amazing work. Yes, definitely the Harlem Renaissance.

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
RG: I like to collect old stuff, but nothing handmade that I can think of. I have an old Olympia typewriter from the 60’s.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
RG: Easy, a healing factor. Wolverine is one of my favorite characters for that reason. Yep, indestructability, if I could have a second, The Force! I want to be a Jedi slash Mutant!!

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
RG: I’d like artists to know that working at your craft every day strengthens the muse. It’s nice and whatever to think about the muse. However, hard work is the best muse. Or maybe it is the best thing we can do for the muse. Thanks Michelle!!

 

And thank you, Roberto, for sharing your insights! If you’d like to follow Robert’s happenings, visit him on Tumblr and Twitter.

Artist’s Spotlight – Elizabeth Catanese

Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features my very talented ekphrastic artist friend, Elizabeth Catanese. I have admired Elizabeth’s work for a few years now. She deftly combines two of my favorite types of media: words and paint. Enjoy the interview, which is quirky and profound—just like her!

artistphoto copy - Elizabeth Catanese

 

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Elizabeth Catanese: Humans are born symbol-makers and art has been my form of symbol-making for as long as I can remember. Currently I am making acrylic and mixed media paintings, but I have created conceptual art installations, sculptural work and photography. I also write poetry and fiction.

RO: What first inspired you to art?
EC: My aunt Tricia Catanese Adler, a visual artist, would often have my cousins, Mary Anne, Tricia and me over to her apartment to make art. We did a variety of projects like sewing imaginative creature pillows, painting bird houses and making crazy hats. I liked being around her free spirit and having social time with my cousins, but I was also learning how art can be an important way to express individuality and engage with emotions. Many of my relatives are visual artists who taught me how to draw and paint as well as how to observe the world with compassionate, fresh eyes. I am surrounded by creative friends and students who always inspire me.

BrickFlameRO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
EC: My most recent favorite medium is mortar on canvas. I like it because it’s what masons use to close the gaps between bricks and this feels metaphorical to me. My art is about trying to both close and expose gaps in my life. For example, my painting “Red Brick House” is about recalling formative moments at my grandparents house (closing the gaps of memory) and also about the fact that these moments can never exist in their original form again (exposing the memories themselves as gaps). Mortar also allows me to stick a lot of stuff onto my canvases and it’s a really fun material to blend with acrylic color.

I have a lot left to explore with my current media, but I would someday like to learn encaustic painting.

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
erasureEC: My creative process for painting is a little bit different each time, but generally I go to the color-organized book shelves in my living room and pick a book to look at for a bit on my blue beanbag chair. It might be an photography book like The Lines of my Hand by Robert Frank or a painting retrospective like Cy Twombly by Richard Leeman. I might read poetry by Lynda Hull or Dean Young or even an excerpt from an old college bulk pack about Freud and the uncanny, medieval music or how to differentiate classroom instruction. I don’t look at the book for long. I’m really just trying to absorb some of the creative energy in the words and pictures created by others. Then I draw a spacial arrangement in my sketchbook. This is how I think shapes might appear on the canvas. After that, I go to my art studio and freewrite with permanent marker on the canvas. I might be inspired by the book I just looked but I am always ultimately freewriting to get at the “shadow” side of myself: whatever is going on in my life that I’m trying to deny. After that, it’s a non-cognitive visual process of putting shapes and colors on canvas and, at times, adding relevant textures. It’s also an emotional process because as I go, I learn what the painting is really about. When I’m finished with one session of painting, I wash my brushes and clean up to clear my head. Then I sit on the red couch in my studio and look at my work. I can usually tell why I’ve put that wire there or that patch of red in the corner or why the whole thing looks like a dress or a skeleton or a flame. I think about what I might do to the canvas the next time I return to my studio.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
EC: The longest time I’ve spent on a piece of art is eight years. That’s how long it took me to write my first (and only!) middle grade novel. I still have more to do! My conceptual art installation at Bryn Mawr college, “Once Upon a Time is Now,” was completed over three months with about five hours a day spent working on the art and another four to five hours reading for inspiration. These days, I usually don’t paint for more than two hours at a time, but I will often have many two hour sessions with the same painting or edit a painting even when it’s supposedly “done” and hanging on the wall in my living room. It’s only truly finished when it’s been purchased and is hanging on the wall in someone else’s living room!

healingRO: You are currently teaching. Do you incorporate visual art into your courses? If so, how? How do the students react?
EC: I incorporate visual art into all of my courses. In my Humanities 101 class, I just taught my students how to do formal analysis papers where they describe an ancient Chinese landscape painting of their choosing. In my composition and reading classes, I often take students to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts or the Philadelphia Museum of Art to work on specificity in writing by engaging with paintings. In my poetry writing course, there is a unit about ekphrasis, or writing about art, in my syllabus. We look at visual art and write poems based on the art.

Overall, students have responded well to studying art! In a world that is fast paced and all about multitasking, one of the best skills that can be taught to students is how to slow down and look.

I’m very grateful to work at Community College of Philadelphia. My colleagues have taught me a lot about incorporating art into the classroom, and the administration has been very supportive of my desire to create and deepen partnerships between CCP and local art museums. I love how open my students are to different ways of learning and thinking.

RO: How does your background as a writer inform your painting? Conversely, how does your background as a visual artist inform your writing?proust
EC
: Studying and making art always gives me something to write about and writing always gives me something to paint about. Having multiple projects going allows me to not feel stuck for long. I love creative hybridity. In addition to writing on canvas, I love graphic novels. I am currently experimenting with this form.

RO: You mix both writing and painting onto your canvases, which gives a nice layered effect and allows you to broach sensitive subjects at times. Is there a subject you have yet to approach/wish to approach in the future?
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEC: When my work was in the Layers and Folds exhibit at the Therese A. Maloney Gallery at the College of Saint Elizabeth, a viewer came up to me and asked me where my words came from. I said “from my head” and suddenly realized that it was important to me to incorporate voices other than my own into my work. I began a painting called Mistakes, Hopes, Desires where I emailed people about mistakes they had made, hopes they had and desires they had. I recorded my voice reading their responses and played it in a loop while I painted. The mass of voices made for a cluttered canvas (even though the canvas is five feet tall!) I haven’t resolved that painting visually, but I’m interested in keeping at it. I want to integrate other people’s sensitive subjects onto the canvas in addition to my own.

There are so many subjects that I haven’t approached because I’m scared to approach them or I feel that doing so might betray others. Overall, I think it’s important to let myself approach those subjects whether or not I share the painting or the writing afterwards. I’m not always ready to be open right away.

firedress copyRight now I am painting a lot about the death of my grandfather, with whom I had a really wonderful relationship. It’s been a profound loss for me, and I’m thinking about how I wish I had told him certain things or spent more time with him. I have much more to paint about this.

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
EC: Yes! My favorite handmade object comes from the artist Arlene Gale Milgram. She is a very good friend and was my first art teacher. Years ago, she made me a wall hanging that was a small book made of handmade paper. On the inside it said “get crazy, find inspiration, fulfill your dreams.” I had an apartment disaster that caused me to lose all my stuff, and I wrote to her to tell her how sad I was to have lost this gift. Within a week she had made me a new wall hanging which I treasure just as deeply as the memory of the first.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
EC: I’d like to have the ability to fly powered by my own arms. To be clear, I would not like to have to flap my arms, I just want to spread them and soar.

I love being up high. As a kid, I loved swinging as high as possible on swing sets, and now I love balconies that overlook landscapes of any sort. I wish I could say that I want to have a superpower that will create universal harmony, or something that I think sounds more noble, but the truth is I’d like to fly because I think it would be the most fun thing ever.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?ElizabethCataneseRiver
EC
: I have learned, through making art, that being vulnerable and authentic with oneself can make life easier and happier. Art has made me more integrated as a human being (okay with both the outward presentation and shadow side of myself) and better able to form genuine connections with others. It has helped me become less anxious and more able to be present with others. In a lot of ways as I make art, art also makes me.

 

 

Elizabeth, thanks so much for sharing your creative process with us! To check out more of Elizabeth’s work, visit her website.

Artist’s Spotlight: Beth Laky

Here’s this month’s Artist’s Spotlight, featuring the lovely mixed media artist, Beth Laky!

Beth Laky Artist Photo

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what mediums?
Beth Laky: Gosh, I’ve been creating since I was an little girl. As the firstborn in my family, my creative and crafty Mom had more time to do art projects with me, and we did A LOT of them. As a child, my days were filled with construction paper and crayons, Fashion Plates and fingerprinting. By the time I was 8, I was taking watercolor lessons and dabbling with all sorts of different mediums. I created quite prolifically all through my school years – looking back I’m thankful to have had exposure to so many different arts and crafts.

Orange Fox Collage with Milkweed Seeds

Orange Fox Collage with Milkweed Seeds

RO: What first inspired you to art?BL: I’m not sure I was first inspired to art. I never made a conscious decision to pursue art as a child – it just seemed natural and right to create with my hands – as if it was placed in me and couldn’t help but pour out of me in one way or another. As I grew, I’ve discovered that I must be creating – it helps me stay sane! But more than that, it seems it’s just what I was always meant to do. I believe my job as an Artist is to point to the wonder in the world, storing up beautiful things in my heart to share and bring joy to others.

RO: What mediums are your current favorites?
BL: I’ve gone through many different phases where I’ll focus on exploring one medium. For years I’d say my medium of choice was watercolor, which I do still love, but since discovering the vast possibilities of mixed media, I’ve been on a roll. I love mixed media because the possibilities are so endless, and I can draw from the many tools and techniques (including watercolor!) that I’ve stored up over the years and incorporate them into one piece in a new way. Lately I’ve also been working on a lot of embroidered pieces. This was another craft I dabbled with as a teen and it offers a nice break from oil pastel and paint when I need it.

Tomato Embroidery, Kitchen Wall Art

Tomato Embroidery, Kitchen Wall Art

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
BL: Being highly introverted, I am a big observer. It’s not uncommon for me to sit in silence while driving and simply take in the environment around me. For example, this morning I was quite taken with the dense fog caused by the unseasonably mild winter, paying particular attention to the layers of vanishing trees as I drove through the woods. I am constantly looking at the details of life (something I write about often on my blog). A hike in the woods will find me fixating on the color and texture of a mushroom or the brilliance of one red berry tucked in a mass of prickers. These outdoor discoveries are my greatest fuel when I create art. I am endlessly fascinated with discovering beauty and simple truths in places that are easily overlooked.

I admit I’m very bad at keeping a sketchbook, and this is something I’m trying to do more of. More often than not, I develop a picture in my head, and a sketch hardly does it justice, but if I don’t draw or write it down, I’ll lose it over time.

RO: If you could spend the rest of your life focusing on one art form, what would it be?
BL: This is a tough question, but I think I would say mixed media because I can incorporate many of my other creative loves into this medium.

RO: I know you have a background in advertising.  How has that experience informed your

Indian Corn Mixed Media Painting

Indian Corn Mixed Media Painting

artwork?
BL: When I worked in advertising as a graphic designer, I found that my personal pursuit of art all but died out for a period of about 10 years. It seemed that I was unable to balance my creative energies between work demands and my own projects. Eventually I lost all interest in graphic design and moved into a more administrative role at my current job in the non-profit sector. So if anything I’d say that leaving advertising and graphic design has actually been the greatest influence in my own artwork, by allowing my desire for it to be rekindled.

RO: You opened up a fabulous Etsy shop in November 2011.  Can you talk a little bit about the process that led you to opening up your own virtual storefront?
BL: Oh, thanks for the compliments! 🙂 A few months prior to opening my shop I had both taken a few art classes to jumpstart my creative juices, and gone on a humanitarian trip with Liquid Water Inc. and Living Water International to serve a poor community in El Salvador. On my trip, I had the opportunity to work with a small village which lacked clean drinking water by drilling a clean water well with my team. Having my eyes opened to the poverty and lack of basic necessities in countries like El Salvador, I began to wonder how I could use the skills I’d been given as an artist to make life more beautiful for, and bring hope to others.

This conviction was the primary motivation for opening my shop, Bettina’s Treehouse, on Etsy, where I determined to donate a portion of my art sales to Liquid Water Inc. for the drilling of clean water wells in developing countries.

Sunflower Collage with Burlap and Buttons

Sunflower Collage with Burlap and Buttons

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
BL: Well, I have some pieces of art that I started a few years ago and have not yet finished. This doesn’t mean I’ve been working on it constantly over all this time – rather I find that many pieces I start go through a sort of “waiting period” where I know they aren’t finished, but I am trying to decide where to take things next. The inspiration does come. Sometimes it takes a few days, sometimes a few months, and sometimes longer than that! It helps to be working on multiple pieces at once so I can move on to something else if need be.

RO: What do you enjoy when you are not arting?
BL: When I’m not creating, I can be found working with my hands in other ways – cooking, gardening or enjoying a quiet life puttering around my home. I love time with my family and friends, as well as reading, watching BBC movies or enjoying the great outdoors.

RO: As someone who takes great care in making each piece of artwork, is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
BL: Well, I’m a big supporter of buying handmade and supporting other artists and crafters on Etsy. One of my favorite pieces is a print by Katie Daisy of The Wheatfield which is an illustrated quote by Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I have this print in my living room and it often serves as a reminder to me that my life here on earth has purpose and meaning, and I must keep at the calling to be an Artist in every way.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
BL: If it weren’t so cliché I’d say “take time to smell the roses”! Seriously though, creating art in this new season (post my advertising job ) has helped me to realize how imperative it is to pause in our increasingly loud and distracted lives and reconnect with who we are, what we are passionate about, what is truly important. Our busyness causes us to miss out on true life. I hope that my art can illustrate this reminder to stop and remember, uncovering beauty in the most surprising places.

Moons and Stars Mixed Media Collage

Moons and Stars Mixed Media Collage

Thanks for sharing, Beth! Check out her lovely Etsy shop, Bettina’s Treehouse, and stop by her blog of the same name.

Artist’s Spotlight: Jeff Maksuta

So, remember when I started the new feature of the blog called Artist’s Spotlight?  I’m bringing it back to stay this time!

Here to revive the almost-gone-but-not-forgotten section is animator and cartoonist, Jeff Maksuta.

The professional shot

The professional shot

The artist in his natural state: playing!

The artist in his natural state: playing!

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what mediums?
Jeff Maksuta: I’ve been drawing since I was little, but I would have to say I didn’t really get serious about art until late in the game, which is around when I was 21.  So 7 years. As far as the mediums I work in, I like to start my work using an HB pencil and some computer paper.  Then once I get my drawings to a good point, I scan them into the computer, and ink and color them digitally.  When I shift over to the computer, I use a Wacom Intuos 2 and Adobe Flash.

CucumberMan_final

Cucumber Man

RO: What first inspired you to art?
JM: I was raised on video games, cartoons, and comic books, so those things really inspired me to start drawing.  I remember collecting those 1990’s Marvel Cards and being really fascinated by all the different superheroes and villains.  Reading up on their back stories and powers, in combination with their visual appearance, I thought was really awesome.  The Mortal Kombat games also had the same effect on me.  Each character driven by their own reasons to enter this fighting tournament, and want to kill each other, was/is pretty freaking cool.  So really, it is this combination of visuals and story that I’m passionate about. Sure, art is good on a strictly aesthetic basis and writing a story can be fun, but the combination of the two…well, let’s just say I nerd out pretty hard.  I could list a bunch of cartoons and other things that have inspired me over the years, but my biggest inspiration has come from my good friend Marc Basile.  He is the one I really attribute to helping me open that door to becoming serious about my art.  I cannot thank him enough for how much he’s encouraged me and how much he has taught me over the years.

RO: What mediums are your current favorites?
JM: An HB pencil is where I like to start (Staedtler Mars Lumograph is my favorite brand).  Sometimes I’ll start laying things out with a non-photo blue Prismacolor pencil.  As I mentioned earlier, I like to draw on copy paper and then bring it over to the computer.  If I was to do everything minus doing it digitally, I would finalize my work using Prismacolor markers and/or Micron Pens.  When I go digital, I feel most comfortable using Adobe Flash, because it gives me exactly what I like; I can get graphic with it.  The brush tool in the program, in conjunction with the Wacom tablet, can be compared to a brush tip marker.  I usually work in a limited color gamut; often times, I use flat colors with some minimal cell shading.  I’m also a big fan of applying heavy, black outlines to my figures.

A work in progress - Predator

A work in progress – Predator

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
JM: Usually my creative process begins with just a simple idea.  Then in this almost automatic, ADD kind of way, my brain runs with the idea, throwing in nonsensical twists and filtering through “what if’s”, which ultimately leads to a point where its spun into something I like.  So the story aspect is built on this snowball effect.  As far as the visuals go, I like to start off by designing my characters, and then once I figured out their look, I start roughing the story out with some thumbnails to get a feel of what the overall composition is going to look like.  Once that reaches a good point, depending on the project, I start the full-sized pages or storyboards.  Then I’ll scan everything, and digitally ink and color.

RO: If you could spend the rest of your life focusing on one art form, what would it be?
JM: Any form of sequential art.   As I mentioned earlier, I like the combination of art and story, it’s what I get really passionate about. So as long as I’m making cartoons and/or comics, I’m king of the world.

RO: I know you are a part of a comic group you helped start called Sideshow Comics.  Can you talk a little bit about what led you to create this group?
JM: Well, I remember talking to my buddy, Chris Mitchell, about wanting to create a web comic, and being that Chris is like a bother to me and knowing he has a great sense of humor, I asked him if he would be interested in creating a website together where we can post funny comic strips.  He was all for it, and so Sideshow Comics was born!  Actually we were having a hard time coming up with a name for the site.  I remember Chris said something about how it would be cool if we had a name like Sideshow Comics and we were both like “Alright…yeah -that sounds good!”  Haha. So yeah, me and Chris write and draw our own comics that we post on Sideshow.  We’ve also had Marc Basile and Joel Casimiro contribute some of their work to the site as well.  As of right now, Sideshow is slightly on the back burner, but it’ll be rockin’ socks once again…by which case I mean, it’ll make people explode because they can’t handle the awesome, which usually happens when I just walk down the street and people look at me.  But that’s a story for another day.

Mortal Combat Haiku - from Sideshow Comics

Mortal Combat Haiku – from Sideshow Comics

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
JM: Actually the longest I’ve spent on a single project was about 3 months.  It was an animation I did for my thesis project, titled Onion Boy.  The whole process from writing the script to animating the visuals took a good chunk of time to finish.  But I had a lot of fun with it, and I am thankful that my very talented friend, Dan Kypers, could hop on board and do all the voice acting.  So overall it was pretty time consuming project, but seeing everything complete and in action is an amazing feeling.

RO: What do you enjoy when you are not arting?
JM: I like to eat bags and bags of cheese doodles…Haha, nah other than arting, on my free time I like to watch a good movie, read comics, play some video games, be a dinosaur, fly a spaceship, make a burrito, eat that burrito…mmmm Taco Bell. I don’t really like fast food, but T-bell is one of those guilty pleasures of mine; just like Ghost Adventures, which is actually the only TV show I watch…Well, now I’m going to put my sunglasses on, because I realize how cool I sound!  Free time well spent.

RO: Do you have anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?

Last Laugh

Last Laugh

JM: Not to talk so much about my own art, but it’s really nice to hold onto old sketchbooks.  Thumbing through them not only helps me realize how much I’ve progressed over the years, but also it helps me appreciate a lot of great memories through the art I’ve created.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
JM: I think its really important to set deadlines for yourself.  It’s something that I need to do, otherwise I’ll procrastinate like crazy.  Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to get started on a project.  Once I get going, I don’t want to stop; I have a very obsessive personality.  So setting deadlines kind of forces you to take on this challenge of pushing forward with your initial idea instead of being tied down to a strictly mental projection of the project having to be some grandiose masterpiece.  Other than that, I’m going to reiterate the famous artistic proverb of draw, and keep drawing!  (Or, do the art you enjoy most on a consistent basis).  It’s important to build a good foundation, studying things like anatomy, perspective, lighting, texture, etc.  Study your favorite mediums; study artists who really speak to you.  Most of all though, have fun with it.  Don’t get bogged down by not creating something perfectly or not producing exactly what’s in your mind onto paper.  Sometimes we have great ideas in our heads, and it just doesn’t come out quite right on paper, but that’s okay.  This is part of the challenge and the fun of communicating ideas visually.  You’re having a dialogue with the page and coming to an agreement.  If you feel your art work hasn’t turned out quite the way you wanted it to, start again and try approaching from a different angle.  Also, whether you like it or not, a part of your personality is projected onto your artwork, so if you feel you’re “failing” at imitating a particular style, that’s okay. It’s in your own personal approach, your touch, that really makes your artwork yours.  I could keep going and get all artsy fartsy on you, but blah blah…just art.  ART!

And now for a quote:

“Bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?”

……………………..*Cough*……

Alright fine:

“The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the love and whatever skill you have, and it will come out.” -Chuck Jones

Thanks for sharing, Jeff!  To see more of Jeff’s work, check out his website at: www.jeffmaksuta.com.