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.

Better Late Than Never: 2015 Resolutions Update

I intended to have two updates posted by now, but the best laid plans and all that jazz…

OK, so let’s get this part started. In previous resolutions posts, I noticed that I tended to be down on myself when I didn’t do well on a goal (which was often!). So now, I’m taking a cue from Sunflower Paperie and posting both my successes and areas of improvement.

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1. Cook a healthy meal once per week

Successes: Shoprite from Home has helped tremendously in this area! Each week (or nearly), I sit down with the hubs, and we decide what we need for the coming days. We still buy cookies and such, but we buy a bunch more fruit and healthy snacks since we don’t have to putz around the produce aisle anymore. This has also helped us save money in the long run since we have a fairly steady supply of good food options, so we don’t eat out as often. One of my favorite meals we’ve made this year is roasted pork loin with roasted red potatoes. YUM!

 Areas of improvement: I need to plan meals better. While my snack options have improved, meals have not overall. I was using a meal planner at the beginning of the year. I think it’s time to bust it out again!
Not as healthy, but totally yummy!

Not as healthy, but totally yummy!

 

2. Meditate once per day

Successes: This has taken different shapes throughout the past eight months. I downloaded the Headspace app, which helped a lot. I also got a devotional that I like and have been (fairly) consistent with reading it. I’ve also noticed that I meditate better at night. I’m trying to meditate first thing in the morning, but perhaps my rhythm is better later in the day.

Areas of improvement: I fell out of rhythm with the app and am trying to get back on track. I need to make it a priority. Overall, this is probably the habit I need to make a priority the most. My iPhone tends to get in the way. Perhaps instead of opening up Twitter first thing in the AM, I should open up Headspace. If only there was an app for that….

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3. Work on art once per week

Successes: I have tried more types of art so far this year than any other in recent memory, so that’s a huge win! I’ve taken part in a few art challenges and have gotten to know quite a few great people through Instagram and Twitter. Given that my word for the year is “gather,” this area has been a big success in that I’ve “gathered” a lot of practical art tips, art friends, and prompts.
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Areas of improvement: I tend to work in bursts. I’m super prolific for a few days, but then I may not create anything for a few weeks. In the long run, this may just be how I work, but I do want to create the habit of a steady creative practice.

4. Read 60 books

Successes: I’m a little over halfway on my goal! So far, I’ve read 33 books and am 55% done with my goal. I’m pretty happy with where I am. I’ve read fairly broadly. Some titles that stick out to me include The Night Circus, The Fire Next Time, and Raising My Rainbow.

reading

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Areas of improvement: Goodreads says I’m three books behind, so I suppose I should catch up. I also haven’t read any books I own nor have I finished any ARCS I’ve received. I think I’ll make more of an effort to read at least one book in each of the aforementioned categories in the next 4.5 months.

5. Keep a steady writing practice

Successes: One of the bullet points I listed in this area was to celebrate the publication of my chapbook, which I did to the fullest! I did a bunch of readings all over New Jersey from April through June. The crowds were fabulous, and I saw so many familiar faces. I loved talking about my process and sharing my work with others. I also recently signed up for Sarah Selecky’s daily writing prompts, which arrive every day to my inbox. They’ve provided great inspiration, and I wrote a poem with one of the prompts that I’m pretty sure is a keeper!

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Areas of improvement: Other than celebrating my chapbook, I haven’t done much writing (other than that keeper poem). I have tons of ideas, but I’m not making time to write them down. Much like the meditation habit, I need to be more conscious of making my writing (and art) practice a regular habit. I’m just not quite sure how to do that, but I’ll brainstorm some strategies 🙂

How about you? What is one goal you are working on this year/month/week? What have been your successes and areas of improvement?

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 🙂

One Second Every Day – January

Photo courtesy of 1secondeveryday.com

Photo courtesy of 1secondeveryday.com

When watching a documentary or reading a snippet about the life of someone famous or someone who’s done something noteworthy, I often wonder what happened in the life of that person during the silences. By silences, I mean when the announcer says, “This person got a job, and then six years later, they had their big break.” I always wonder what happened in those six years, months, days, minutes. What was their routine? What did they read? Who was their best friend? Who did they talk to when they cried?

The answers to the above questions are pieces of life that history doesn’t see fit to record. They are moments that history often forgets, and history shouldn’t. We shouldn’t because it is routine that is the lifeblood of, well, life, even if it’s not as exciting as our biggest victories or lowest valleys. Most of what happens to us is mundane, but in those routines, we have small variations that surprise us and, whether or not we like to admit it, we are delighted.

In that vein, I’ve embarked on this ironically app-inspired journey that I hope to continue throughout the year and beyond. I’m doing the 1 Second Every Day project (I found out about it via the Storyline blog). It entails recording a second of every single day with the intention of splicing those second together to make a sort of movie narrative.

I want to do this so that I have a record of how I spend my spare time and have a memory for each day that I live, no matter how small. Of course these days and months will be punctuated by excitement, but more than that, the reason I’m doing this is because I want to remember. I don’t want certain things to get old, like my finace kissing my hand, like my roommate doing something zazzy (a word of his own making). I don’t want to forget my drives to school or the work that I do (yes, that includes grading). I want to remember what I put my time towards. I think that’s important. I don’t know that I can articulate why, but I think it is.

I found out about this project a few days into January, so this month’s video is a bit abridged. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you’ll consider embarking on a similar journey of recording your seemingly mundane days. I think you’ll find there is always something noteworthy to record 🙂

(The song in the video is “Pictures of You” by The Last Goodnight.)

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.