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

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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.

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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!

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The teacher and a student

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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?

What My Grade-School Self Taught Me About Owning My Art

I wasn't quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

I wasn’t quite grade school age here, but those pigtails!

When I was in first or second grade, my class read a book and then did an art project based on it. I don’t remember what the book was about, but I remember that the main character was a ho-hum-looking man. The assignment was to draw clothes on the paper doll version of the main character in the style of any activity we wished. Some put leather jackets on him, some made him a painter or a fighter.

Keep in mind that this was the early cusp of the 90s, so 80s fashion was still prominent. I decided to do something a bit different and outfit the guy in workout clothes—short shorts, lemon-yellow headband, and all.

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“Funky Doodle” Colored Pencil and Micron Pen in sketchbook

There are two things I’ll never forget about this assignment after seeing the bulletin board with all of my classmates’ paper renditions of this book character. The first is how awesome my friend’s outfit came out. She was known for being a fantastic artist, even at that young age. Her paper doll looked like he was ready for the cover of a J. Crew catalog. He sported a smartly cut-out leather jacket made of brown construction paper, complete with a drawn-on zipper. Her paper doll had swagger.

The second thing is this: I admired the bulletin board behind two of my classmates. They pointed out their own work, then began commenting on the work of others. I’ll never forget what one of them said. He swept his eyes across the bulletin board and exclaimed to his friend, “I like all of them…except that one.” He was pointing to mine.

I don’t think the two boys knew I was behind them. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even know the paper doll outcast one of them had just singled out was mine. All I know is that one sentence rung so deep in me because it pointed out something I already felt: I’m no good at art.

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Two-minute sketch of Wonder Woman. Much swagger. Such wow!

Writing was a different story. That has always come fairly easily to me. My mom recently told me that around this same time in my school career, the stories I wrote during free time were shown to the principal because my teachers thought they were that good.

Yet I was hung up on that paper man. I knew that, technically speaking, mine wasn’t the best or most attractive of the outfits. But, dammit, I’d spent time on it!

I’ve gone back to this memory a few times throughout my life, convincing myself that perhaps it meant I shouldn’t pursue art in the public eye because people will react like my classmate: love absolutely everything out there except what I make. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that praise isn’t what truly matters (though it is nice). Community does.

And I now accept that paper man with short shorts and headband that I made all those years ago (though he doesn’t hold a candle to the snow lady I drew around that same time. She had a red bandana and nunchucks, a la Ninja Turtle style).

"Circle Study" Micron Pen in Sketchbook

“Circle Study”
Micron Pen in Sketchbook

In years passed, I’ve set out to make art more regularly and it never quite worked out so well. This year, I’m making it one of my goals to do a bit of art once per week, even if it’s a little doodle and even if I end up doodling a male Jane Fonda like my grade-school self did. And, dammit, I will own every last bit of it.

(Note: all photos in this blog post are part of this project so far. Already on a roll!)

IMG_1276Want to join me in owning your art? Include the hashtag #arteveryweek2015 on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. There are no restrictions on the type of media you use. Just have fun! Let’s collect our creations via this hashtag and create a community of artists that says, “We love all of them!” No exceptions 🙂

An Update, Some Great News, and a Poem for Your Monday

Hey gang,

As I shared in my resolutions update, I’ve been wondering how to restructure my blog so as to better facilitate posting more regularly. One of those ways involved making a three-sheet spreadsheet. Another includes making some tweaks to featured posts.

On this note: I’m trying a new format for Poetry Monday. Rather than posting a video of me reading the poem, I’m going to still share a poem, but in typed format, then give a few sentences as to why I like it. If this goes well, I’ll keep doing it. If not, I’ll go back to videos in a few months.

The great news: I got word on Friday that my chapbook,”Field Guide to Fire,” will be published by Finishing Line Press! No word on a publication date yet, but I’ll be sure to post when I know! Now that I’ll be on the author side of things, I’ve got a kick in the pants to support other authors and catch up on reviews I’ve been dragging on.

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Why raptors? Why the heck not?! Thanks to Beth Colletti for helping me with this image.

Speaking of reviews, I know I don’t usually post star ratings, but I’ve come up with a system. I’ll give books “Raptor Ratings.” The highest rating is five raptors. Why raptors? Why the heck not?!

Now for the poem. I’ve posted quite a few poems by Kim Addonizio on my blog, but given my recent publication news, she’s the first that comes to mind. I’m over the moon with this news, so I want to share a poem that makes me feel unstoppable!

“What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio (from Tell Me)

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Photo courtesy of goodreads.com

Kim Addonizio - How badass is she? So badass. Photo courtesy of pirenesfountain.com

Kim Addonizio – How badass is she? So badass.
Photo courtesy of pirenesfountain.com

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,
it’ll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.


Why I like it
: My word, the sass! I love the no-holds-barred brashness of the language. “I want it to confirm/your worst fears about me.” I mean, damn! Addonizio dives head first in the face of what is expected of women and says, “Screw you!” I love those last lines. They’re so affirming, as if to say, “This is who I am, and I’ll be this ’til I die.” I read this poem and I have insta-confidence. And, of course, I just love red dresses.

Artist’s Spotlight – Stephanie Levy

I have to say that I’ve loved doing this feature and all of the artists included thus far, but I must say that this particular interview is close to my heart. Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features collage artist and e-course leader extraordinaire, Stephanie Levy. I’ve followed Stephanie’s work and have been a participant in her e-courses for about two years now. I’ve greatly admired her work and her generosity, so I was overjoyed when she agreed to do this interview. Enjoy this fresh and inspiring interview with Stephanie, one of my art heroes 🙂
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Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Stephanie Levy: I began studying Fine Arts at the university when I was 18. I’ve worked in all sorts of media, from painting and watercolor, to collage, jewelry, ceramics, photography, and sculpture.
a+a.berlin400RO: What first inspired you to art?
SL: I was one of those kids who was always drawing and painting and making books. And I guess I just never stopped!

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?
SL: Now I mostly work in mixed media collage and photography. Actually, I’m pretty happy with this combination, but I would like to create books in the future that combine my collage art, photography, and writing. This is my personal dream!

RO
: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
SL: I mostly work very intuitively and I’m often inspired by specific materials or colors that catch my eye. I usually work on small series of collages at one time, maybe 3-4 collages at one time, or sometimes larger series of 6 or 9. I like to listen to music when I’m creating visual art, but when I’m writing, I need quiet and a peaceful, cozy atmosphere. To make my photographs, I love walking around Berlin and taking snapshots of the beautiful and absurd things that I notice. That is one of my favorite creative activities at the moment (maybe because it gets me away from the computer and outside 😉 ).
30daysofcollage1RO: Most artists have 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?
SL: For years I worked on drawings and collages of interiors. Before that I worked on chairs. I tend to enjoy drawing still lives and objects more than people or animals. That is actually the same when I’m taking photographs too.
I would like to do more abstract collage and painting work in the future 🙂
stephanielevy.journalRO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
SL: It depends on how you define that. I usually need a few days to a couple of weeks for a collage, but there have also been times when I’ve been frustrated with a painting and I’ve just painted it white and started over. Which obviously delays things…

RO
: You are originally from the United States, but you now reside in Germany. How has that transition informed your artwork?
SL: I’m not sure how my move to Germany has influenced my artwork because it was so long ago, already 18 years. Most likely I’m a different person in Europe than I would be had I stayed in Tennessee. But I do love Berlin, and I truly enjoy taking photographs here. The city is so fascinating and creative and vibrant and changing—I don’t think I could ever get tired of living here and documenting what I see through my photographic walks. Berlin as a place has become a central feature of my artwork and life!

RO
: Your Creative Courageous e-courses have become very popular! Please talk a bit about what inspired you to create these sessions. Also, your sessions involve so many wonderful goodies, like recipes and interviews. How do you go about preparing a session? Lastly, what is your favorite part about running these e-courses?
chickpea.spinach.soup480SL: Thank you, Michelle! I love putting together my Creative Courage e-courses, and the new year long course, Creative Courageous Year, is so much fun because it is so multidisciplinary. I myself enjoy the changing seasonal aspect of the course, and it makes me happy to create new recipes and projects for our wonderful international group.
Preparing involves a lot of brainstorming, some reading and research into beloved books and notes that I’ve gathered through the years, and then actually preparing and documenting the recipes, projects, photos, and other materials for the course. It is a lot of work, certainly not boring, and a true labor of love.My favorite part about the courses is seeing the connections made by the women around the world who are taking the course, and when I get positive feedback from someone who has enjoyed a course, it honestly makes my day!

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RO
: You are a woman who does it all! E-courses, artwork, and family, to name just a few. The audience, particularly the ladies, would like to know: how do you make time for everything? In other words, how do you do it all?
SL: The real truthful answer is: I don’t! I believe in our online world, sometimes other people’s lives look more fulfilled, organized, and/or “perfect” than they really are. I do a lot—but there is always more that could be done 🙂 I have unanswered emails in my inbox, laundry that needs to be folded, drawers and closets that need to be organized, bills that need to be paid—just like everyone else. Some days I’m better at getting these everyday things done, and other days I’m terrible.
berlin.sept2.400I think we’re all just plugging along, doing the best we can, and it is important to take time for our real life contacts—as well as our online ones. It can be a lot to juggle, and it is something I struggle with. I’m also learning that you can never make everyone you know 100% happy all of the time. It is impossible. So it’s important to set your own priorities and then go with that. This year, I’m making plans to begin delegating more responsibilities—with taxes and housework for example. I tend to try and do everything myself, and there are just not enough hours during the day. So I’m trying to learn to be less of a perfectionist, to let go and to let others help me out 🙂 It’s a process!

RO
: If you could spend an evening with any artist, living or deceased, who would you choose and why?
SL: Hmmm, that is an interesting question. I would choose Ernest Hemingway because he was also an American who loved living in Europe—and we share the same birthday, July 21st. I know Hemingway was a big macho and womanizer, but I do love his writing and he had a lot of great artist friends. I imagine hanging out with him for an evening in 1920s Paris would be quite an adventure!berlin.sept2.400

RO
: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
SL: Yes, I have a few handmade quilts made by my Aunt Pearl in Tennessee that I love dearly, and I now happily have these in Germany with me 🙂

RO
: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
SL: Time travel and the ability to beam myself wherever I’d like in an instant—for sure!!
berlin.400.june2RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
SL: The main lesson that I’ve learned from life and from creating art is: just do it! Make whatever it is you want to make, do whatever you want to do now—and without hesitation. Two of my favorite quotes are:
“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand—and melting like a snowflake.” —Marie Beynon Ray

and

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.” —Simone de BeauvoirStephanie, thank you so much for generously sharing your process and experiences with us today! If you’d like to check out Stephanie’s work, visit her website, blog, e-course website, and Berlin workshop website. If you’d like to keep up with Stephanie’s exciting happenings, sign up for her newsletter.

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.

Musing on Three Years of Waiting

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Image courtesy of AK Press

In December of 2010, my poem “Smooth as Scales” was accepted to an anthology titled “Dear Sister.” At the time, I knew that the manuscript didn’t have a publisher. So began the wait.

But let me back up a bit—
I should mention that the subtitle of the anthology is “Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence.” Before I submitted to this anthology, I’d gone through an event that qualified me to submit. I tried to convince myself that nothing had happened, but my nightmares and panic attacks told a different story. Looking back on that part of my life, I’m reminded of Jennifer Percy’s quote: “…The imagination of the event is so often more terrifying than the reality.” I know this is not true for everyone, but it was for me. I kept replaying the event constantly in my mind. In some ways, I think that rumination on the negative made me sick and my nightmares worse.

I thought about this event so much that I felt I had to write it out; otherwise, it threatened to poison my body. “Smooth as Scales” came to me. I read it to a dear friend of mine, and she later encouraged me to submit to “Dear Sister.” When my poem was accepted, it was like being told, “What you went through matters no matter what anyone else says.” It was a validation not only of my poetry, but (perhaps more importantly for me at the time) it was also a validation of the pain I had endured.

Spring forward to Winter 2012: Myself and the rest of the anthology’s contributors got an e-mail saying that the anthology was going to be published! Following that e-mail and swell of happiness were proofs and bios and media kits. It was all worth it. The anthology was published by AK Press on January 15, 2014.

Dear Sister Box of Books

In these past few years, the less-than-pleasant part of my story that appears in “Dear Sister” has simply become part of my life’s tapestry. I’m in a very different place now than I was when I wrote the poem. Seeing it in print, I think, has helped me close a chapter. I’m healed…now it’s time to pass that healing on to others.

Since the contributors of this anthology are far-flung across the nation, we were all encouraged to set up our own events. I held a poetry reading at Bernardsville Public Library this past Sunday with some lovely readers from Adanna. We all read works that revolved around the theme of healing and grief. Below are the lovely ladies I read with.

Adanna Dear Sister Reading

Stepping behind the podium to welcome everyone to the reading was an incredible feeling. Everyone read beautifully, and I loved speaking with each person at the small gathering. It reminds me of a quote from the last section of the anthology: “Forgiveness is a possibility that happens in conversation.”

If you’d like a copy of “Dear Sister,” e-mail me at roaringout@gmail.com. I still have some copies. Each copy is $10. I’d be happy to mail one out to you!

In the Spotlight: Checking Off a Bucket List Goal

When I write a goal down, I have a vision for how I’d like it to look. Because of this, I didn’t realize I had accomplished one of my bucket list items earlier this year. I’ve always wanted to take part in a performance in New York City, and this summer, I did.

I am a teaching artist with an organization called Arts! by the People.  I’ve taught creative writing workshops with them as well as helped with jewelry, craft, and playwrighting workshops.  The experience over the past few years has been wonderful, so when I was offered the opportunity to take part in a multimedia performance with fellow teaching artists in January, I jumped at the chance.

In 2012, Arts! by the People put on a performance called “Across the Platform.” I was moved by the originality and message of the piece (which, to me, was that you need to be yourself and not conform to what others want you to be, particularly in the 9-5 job world).

This year’s performance was called “Tipping the Playpen,” and our main theme was “cerebral clutter.” As artists, everyone involved wanted to represent the creative process journey they’ve experienced. We wanted to represent the craziness of the beginning stage, the lovely moment when an idea comes together, and end with the fact that creativity is an ongoing cycle; a “finished” product does not necessarily equal a neat resolution.

The cast of "Tipping the Playpen" taking a bow

The cast of “Tipping the Playpen” taking a bow

Our performance incorporated dance, fine art, video, cello music, and, my specialty, poetry.  The process of putting this performance together took about six months. We debuted our finished work on June 9th at Dixon Place Theatre in New York City. (To see a highlight reel of the performance, click here).

One aspect of the piece that everyone was excited about was the built-in audience participation. For the first 15 minutes of our hour-long piece, the audience was going to be out of their seats and part of the performance through participating in dance, art, and poetry recitation, as well as through watching a video while standing up.

Our piece was very well received, thankfully.  I had a few friends attend, and they all said it was definitely different than anything they had previously experienced. Participating in this performance was different for me as well, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

To see the video we showed the audience as well as pictures of the performance, click here.

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.

Muddled with Color: Working with Pastels

After a studio art drought, I decided to jump back into that realm today.  I’ve been wanting to get my hands dirty with oil pastels for a while as well as use a new art book I got in Florida back in March.  So I broke out both today.

A few months ago, a Louisiana friend of mine uploaded the following photo of a sunrise:

The inspiration behind my piece

The inspiration behind my piece

This image has stayed with me ever since he uploaded it, and I wanted to try drawing it.  Since it was such a pretty day out, I decided to print out the picture (in black and white since my printer doesn’t do color) and head out to draw among the cool breeze.

The printed reference I worked from

The printed reference I worked from

I will admit, I was a little nervous about sketching from a black and white photo since the color in the original is so brilliant.  But as I began laying down the color, particularly for the sky, and smudging, I realized I had a new freedom in picking the colors I wanted the sky to be, rather than painstakingly trying to match the color to the photo.  All of the little nuances of color and quirks were mine, and I liked that.  I know artists can do that with a full color reference too, but it’s something I struggle with.  Working with a black and white image freed me from my inner art critic a bit more.

When I first started the piece, I didn’t really like how it was turning out (as per usual).  But the more I smudged and added and got my hands muddled with color, the more I liked my rendition of the original image.  I hope you do too!

Almost there!

Almost there!

Finished piece!

Finished piece!

What is your current art project (in any medium)?

Adventures in Acrylic

The art class painting away!

The art class painting away!

Back when I was a kid and classes took a regular trip to the room with paint-splattered tables, I remember loving acrylic paint: the smell, the feel of it messing up my hands, the smoothness with which it colored the canvas.  But I remember the medium not liking me very much.  Even as a wee artist, I knew I didn’t have the best sense of proportion, shading, or dimension, though I couldn’t name these terms yet.

Yesterday, I took an acrylic painting class at Art Uncorkd in Whippany, New Jersey. I walked in and found it was a nice, small gallery space with a custom framing section and plenty of room for a painting class You’re even allowed to bring a snack and some beer/wine if you like!

The class was two hours long, and the instructor was great.  She took us through a step by step process of making our own interpretation of a picture very similar to this painting:Photo Jan 22, 7 13 19 PM

I decided to do something a little different.  I essentially cut the picture in half and only painted the right half (all of those fish were intimidating!).  At first, I thought I messed up right off the bat because my light half circle of water in the middle was not blending in to well with the rest of the color I put down.  But the instructor gave me some tips to smooth it out. The rest of the class and painting all the fishies was a lot of fun!

When I first sat down in front of my blank canvas, I was prepared to create something that, while fun to paint, wouldn’t live up to my perfectionist expectations. But for the first time, I pleasantly surprised myself!  Here is my finished product:

Koi Pond_LV Watermark Koi Pond_Side View

And here is a group shot of all the participants with the finished pieces:Photo Jan 22, 8 46 19 PM

I’m so happy with my finished piece!  So happy, in fact, that I worked up the nerve to list it in my Etsy shop, Lady Velociraptor.  Check out the listing here.

What is something new (or old) you have tried recently?  Did you like the results?

Poetry: A Spiritual Practice

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posed the question, “Is poetry a spiritual practice?”  I thought about this for a while, not because I wasn’t sure if writing was a spiritual practice, but because I couldn’t quite articulate why I believed it was.   Even though the question was posed via facebook status, I spent quite some time crafting an e-mail response…because I can’t say anything concisely.  And this is what I came up with:

Quill and ink

Image via Wikipedia

Poetry is a way for me to connect with people and nature, everything around me, which are all ways to connect with God.  I’m reminded of somethingone of my favorite authors, Don Miller, said: “We connect with God when we ask Him to defeat in us all the ways in which He cannot connect, all the untruth and games and manipulation and we come to Him finally saying, ‘Okay, I get it, you really are good, defeat in me the lack of faith, let your goodness rid me of the stuff that doesn’t connect with you or the world around me.'”

Poetry is a unique form of prayer.  It is a practice that allows me to cut through all of my cluttered thoughts and feelings so that I can get to what matters, what I need to hear and what I need to share with others. It is my way of getting on my knees and crying out, it is my way of talking with God, it is my way of asking forgiveness, it is my way of asking for fire.

I’m also reminded of something the poet Matthew Dickman said in an interview.  He was asked about what sparked him to write a poem.  He told about how he’s usually moved to write while musing about something he enjoys.  Matthew went on to say: “I suppose it’s the “like” that moves me to begin writing a poem—some sort of celebration in my chest wanting some words to understand itself, some sort of grief needing a body.”  There are these urges, these pushes to write that must be followed and, in the process, feel sacred.  There is so much that goes on in one life, sometimes these occurrences beg to be written down.

Thoughts?  Is writing a spiritual practice?  Can it even be considered a spiritual discipline?

25 @ 25: A Photo Challenge

I recently read an article about self-portrait photography.  I’ve always shied away from self-portraits because I like to focus on other subjects when I’m creating the shots.  But Larry Lourcey, the author of the article, talked about how his creativity was sharpened by self-portraiture.  He made a challenge for himself: since he had just turned 40, he would take a picture of himself each week for 40 weeks. This project challenged Lourcey to turn himself and his interests into a series of captivating images.  The results are incredible!  You can check out his 40@Forty Gallery here.

I’ve recently turned 25, so I thought this challenge would be a pretty cool one to try (turning a quarter of a century old should be commemorated somehow, right?).  So, for the next 25 weeks I’ll be posting a self-portrait.  I’m hoping this discipline of regularly taking pictures will challenge me to get really inventive and sharpen my photography skills.

I’m definitely open to suggestions, so if you have an idea for a setting/theme/etc. feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail 🙂  In the meantime, here’s the first image to kick off the series:

The Link Between Grief and Song

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between grief and singing.  I know these can be thought of as pretty disparate concepts; one is filled with anguish and the other is (usually) associated with beauty.  And yet I can’t help but think they are inextricably linked.

I’m reminded of a poem by Jane Hirshfield called “If the Rise of the Fish”.  In this poem she writes, “If the leaves.  If the singing fell upward.  If grief./For a moment if singing and grief.”  I love these lines.  What would happen if singing and grief existed together in the same space for a moment?  What would that look like?  Would it be a mixture of light and dark?  Would it look gray and muddled or luminous?  I’m not quite sure but I love the fact that Hirshfield plays with this concept.

As far as my own creative process is concerned, I tend to write when going through a hardship.  Tension, living in the gray and unknown is what moves me to write.  And this creative process is helped along by music.  Most of my process has been influenced by the belief that tragedy is not necessarily found in the process of enduring a rough time; the real loss would be doing nothing to turn hardship into something beautiful.

There is a song by RED that I find myself going back to.  It’s called “Hymn for the Missing.”  Although these guys are pretty hard rockers, they compose some beautiful instrumentals.  And I think this song illustrates the concept of melding grief and beauty really well.  The lyrics clearly convey loss: “Where are you now?  Are you lost?  Will I find you again?  Are you alone?  Are you afraid?  Are you searching for me?  Why did you go?  I had to stay.  Now I’m reaching for you.  Will you wait?  Will you wait?  Will I see you again?”  So many questions.  I can’t help but think of this verse as depicting the bargaining stage of grief.  The uncertainty leads to questions, but questions don’t always lead to answers.  And still, we put them out there.  In the backdrop of this song is a beautiful piano arrangement that crescendos into an absolutely gorgeous, full instrumental – a reminder that grief and song can complement each other in the most heart-breaking, stunning way.  Listen to “Hymn for the Missing” here:

Hymn For The Missing

 

As I mentioned before, Red is a rock band so I wanted to showcase what they can do.  Check out their face-melting performance on Conan back in February: