Dreams and Creations

Art21 shared a post featuring Loie Hollowell, explaining why she creates her art and the history behind it.

Loie’s video was refreshing; I appreciated her honesty about the questions she asks herself and her thoughtful reflections about her memories. It makes me wonder about the reasons why I create art but it also makes me question what I create and why. I think these questions are difficult to answer when we take our abilities for granted. We don’t think about what we do, we just do it.

Most of my work is based on my environment, on nature. Would I be a different type of artist if I was raised in a city? Most likely. But would my reason for creating art be different? I don’t know.

My preparations for the last quadmester of the school year have me wondering if I have a solid understanding of my own reasons for producing art. I want to talk to my senior artists about developing their own artist statements but how can I do this if my own vision is unclear? The last thing this teacher wants to be is hypocritical.

Time for this teacher to become a student again.

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A New Community

It wasn’t unusual to wake up at 3:00 in the morning to let the dogs out, but what was unusual was the thought process that followed.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about taking my first steps toward my new goal as an artist. Since then, I’ve been thinking about changes I’d like to make to my Artist Statement, the potential to apply for more online exhibits, and how I’d like to develop my skills. I connected with artists whose work inspired me and learned how incredibly supportive this online community can be.

I had been thinking about Mona Lerch’s suggestions for writing an effective Artist Statement, but until last night’s early morning puppy excursion, I hadn’t had the words to express what I truly wanted to say. It takes time for me to clarify my thinking and my goals, and maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself. Apparently having a sleepy, relaxed mind worked better for me, so I quickly grabbed the notepad on my nightstand and scribbled down my thoughts.

The timing of this sleepy epiphany couldn’t be better – I had noticed the looming deadline for Visionary Art Collective’s latest call for art, and now that I had a potential statement that worked for me, all I had to do was to take a few pictures of my art.

This is where a few more people stepped into my community of artist friends who were willing to share their expertise and experience with me. I reached out to Alex McLaughlin, whose work has inspired me over the past year. Her paintings appeal to me because I am mesmerized by her ability to capture beautiful textures and movement in her landscapes – and she is an Ontario artist, so I secretly hope we can meet one day to hang out and paint together around Georgian Bay.

Alex explained how she takes advantage of outdoor lighting to capture images of her paintings, making sure to use a tripod and using props to reduce reflections. We also spoke about the differences between using a DSLR and a camera phone, because I was concerned that I might not be able to get pictures that were good enough for submitting my work. After sharing so much advice (thank you, Alex!), she also shared links to a post from Opus Art Supplies, where David Ellingsen (of Dazed & Confucius) provided tips on how to use a phone to take pictures of artworks.

Another opportunity presented itself when All She Makes shared a post allowing artists to ask questions to Alicia Puig, CEO and founder of @pxpcontemporary.

I highly recommend reading through the article suggested by Alicia. It’s easy enough to understand for beginners like me, with opportunity for growth if you’re looking to build your skills (also me). I know I’ll be investing in a tripod soon, and I intend to take more pictures of my work outside whenever possible.

So, here I am, sipping coffee and writing down my thoughts after submitting my work for an exhibit. I’m nervous, but also happy and satisfied. I know that I’m doing what I need to do as an artist and I’m following my heart. If you’ve made similar decisions for yourself (which I hope you have), you’ll know that this is a wonderful feeling.

If you are beginning your next steps as an artist, I hope this helps you a bit. At the very least, I have more stories to share with my students.

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Growing as an Artist

Spring is a time for new growth, and this teacher is feeling the excitement of new beginnings ahead. Along with a new season, this past week brought opportunities for me and I couldn’t be happier to begin a new journey after keeping ideas tucked away for much too long.

This past week, a few sleepless nights caught up to me and I finally scheduled a personal day to get caught up on rest. It turns out that I picked the perfect day since a snowstorm resulted in cancelled buses and no students attended classes. As the winds howled outside, I rolled up my sleeves and decided to do something new: submit my work to two open calls for online exhibits.

I began to realize that I had a lot of learning to do because the submission requirements included an artist’s bio, artist statement, a write-up explaining the connection between my work and the theme of the show, a CV (yes, I had to look that up), and files with specific file names (thanks for helping me, Google).

My 20+ years as a teacher usually gave me confidence but I was in a new world and felt very, very inexperienced. I wasn’t sure what to include in my CV, I wasn’t sure about the difference between a bio and an artist statement, and I found myself questioning simple instructions. When they request an image of *just* the artwork, does that mean that none of the background can show? Not even part of the wall behind it?

If you need a little encouragement, listen to Erika Lee Sears, whose advice will have you clicking *submit* in no time.

I realized that this was one of those moments where I had to choose whether or not to dive in. So I did. This was something I wanted in my life and I was tired of finding reasons not to do it. Bit by bit, I created and uploaded the files to each open call and sent them away for someone else to look at.

But how do you know if you did it the right way? How do I know if my bio had the right information? What if I don’t really know what to include in an artist statement? These questions left me lacking confidence and unsure of what I could do about it. I sent a message to Mona, founder of Art Mums United (a site built to support artist-mothers as they develop their skills, experience and online presences) who was curious as to why I might feel uneasy about my applications so she scheduled a Zoom meeting with me the next day so we could talk about the process.

I’ve followed Mona and her progress since last summer, where we connected on Instagram. I was thrilled when she used her platform to share my work, and I’ve enjoyed connecting with her through events she has hosted over the past months. On Sunday mornings, I’ve enjoyed sitting down with a fresh cup of coffee as she interviews a new artist live on Instagram – it’s wonderful to be part of a supportive, growing community. So you can imagine how surprised and excited I was to have the chance to visit with her last night.

We chatted at length about questions I had as well as her experiences helping people prepare their work and their submissions for exhibits. She shared some of the common fears that are obstacles for artists who are looking to promote or even sell their work. I could identify with some of those fears, which is why it’s so important to talk to people in the art community whose experience can help guide you in the right direction.

My questions prompted her to develop an amazing resource that includes information and guidelines for artists who are preparing to submit their work. Head over to her website to find “freebies”, where you can get your own Submission Guide that will walk you through the steps of preparing an artist bio, statement and much more. I used this guide to completely re-write my own bio and will use it for future submissions. Thank you, Mona! I’ll be sharing this resource with many of my friends and hopefully they will use it to help them share their work too!

She also recommended signing up for an event with Visionary Art Collective, and I’m glad I did. This afternoon, I had the pleasure of joining a chat with several artist-educators including Victoria Fry and Rebecca Potts, where we discussed our home studios, organization, and related topics. I was happy to talk with them about the challenges of taking my own photos of my paintings, because they shared advice so freely. Isn’t it amazing when you can connect with like-minded people??

Thank you to Victoria, Rebecca and the other participants in today’s session ~ it was lovely learning from and with you!

I have a lot to learn, but I have already had so much support as I took these shaky steps this past week. I’m looking forward to what comes next!

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#OneWord 2021

One of the (many) things I appreciate about my friends is knowing that they are there even though we might not talk every day, every month, or even longer. Time doesn’t affect good friendships, and if either of us decides to send a text, a message, or if we tag the other person in a post on social media, there isn’t any serious expectation of commitment. Just a little reminder that “hey, I’m thinking of you. You’re awesome, btw.”

Lisa is one of these friends. She tagged me in a post she retweeted from @jacbalen that encouraged her friends to participate in the #OneWordOnt challenge. I wasn’t sure if I would have the ability to decide on just one word, but after an impromptu chat with Sara & Stephen on VoicEd Radio last night, it became clear to me that prioritize would fit quite well. A note: I don’t often take the time to sit and listen to a program while it’s being broadcast but last night’s decision to tune in turned into a lovely experience, and I found new appreciation for one of my favourite words, serendipity.

It would be easy to look back on 2020 through a negative lens; there were so many challenges that affected our lives, and “normal” became a memory in many circumstances. These challenges could, and often did, overwhelm us but there is a place inside us that chooses to look past these obstacles and search for opportunities. Our lives became simpler and the busyness that often accompanies normal life subsided. We were given a chance to think about what mattered and make a difference in our own lives since our distractions and excuses couldn’t hold us back.

Last night, we spoke about our actions within this past year, and what got us through. Without hesitation, I know that diving into art made all the difference for me. I produced more paintings last year than I have in the past 10 years combined, and it was so fulfilling. It also boosted my sense of self, and gave me purpose again.

Until this past year, I felt like an imposter because I wasn’t making art the way I knew I could, or should. 2020 was a gift for me. I spent time focusing on my family, my finances, my health, and art. If there is anything I can give to myself this year, I will continue to prioritize the things that matter most.

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Splendour in the Grass

Splendour in the Grass, by William Wordsworth

What though the radiance
which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Two days ago, my friend shared Wordsworth’s poem with me after listening to me explain the reasons why I felt as though I was grieving the loss of summer. The past few months have been some of my happiest; spending time with my family, hiking, baking, taking photos of scenery along Lake Superior’s shoreline, and most importantly, painting more than I could have hoped for.

I don’t easily cry with other people but I couldn’t help but cry during our chat. Bless you, Lindy, for understanding that I was having a hard time processing the thoughts and emotions that were making it so hard for me to face the upcoming school year. I didn’t know how much was bottled up inside until the tears began to fall.

The next day, a friend who is now a principal in Saskatchewan, shared the following post on social media:

Friends in eduction…if you are not following DeathEd.ca by now, start immediately! He is talking to us right now. Sending everyone connected to schools a huge air hug and best wishes as we (socially distance)navigate these new waters. We got this. We always have and always will 🤛🏻🤗💜

I clicked on the first video I found.

…and I ugly-cried.

And then I felt better. Not great, but better. And I’ve been able to breathe a little easier too, rather than clenching my jaw and trying to relax my shoulders after my chest tightens whenever a thought of September happens to drift through my mind. *Those who consider August a bit like Sunday night during the school year will understand.

I hope you are doing well with this big, weird adjustment we’re about to jump into. I begin work on Monday morning, and I know that it will so different than usual — but I also know that I work with amazing colleagues and my students are worth every ounce of effort we will use to make sure this school year is not only safe, but a great learning experience.

Cheers to everyone who has a hard time with change. We’ll get there.

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Morning in Red Rock

I woke up one minute before my alarm. 5:29 am. A confused and sleepy dog beside me, I quickly got up, grabbed a light jacket, my phone, and slipped the harness over Cooper’s fur. There was already a hint of light in the sky, so I didn’t want to miss the show.

The window kept fogging up on the two-minute drive down to the waterfront, but the vibrations from the windshield wipers were unnoticeable compared to the sound of Cooper’s breathing. He might have contributed to the foggy windshield.

We arrived to a satisfyingly quiet morning at the marina; the water stirred by a few slow ripples and the occasional duck, paddling to find a morning snack. Cooper happily jumped out of the car and began his usual zig-zag walk, something I’ve grown used to since our family adopted him. His excitement for every smell is so sweet that I decided quickly I wouldn’t train him to walk in a socially-acceptable straight line. I think more people should walk with as much enthusiasm as he does. Picture the Phoebe run from Friends.

Who wouldn’t want to get up early to enjoy this view?

I felt compelled to wander slowly. I didn’t want to spoil the experience of soaking in the sunrise by trying to find a good picture for my next painting. Besides, Cooper didn’t seem to mind leading the way, and isn’t it better to be surprised by unexpected views? In the end, it was worth it.

By the time we were ready to go home, Cooper and I were both breathless. His nose and my eyes were overwhelmed by everything we thought was beautiful, and I knew that whatever else came our way throughout the day, at least we had a wonderful start.

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Figuring out Priorities

Having more time at home has allowed me to reevaluate some of the things that are important to me, or should be. Although I’m an artist, I wouldn’t say I’ve been producing enough art, and I’d like that to change.

When I’m painting, I would say that it’s the closest thing to meditating I’ve ever experienced. It’s still a challenge to really get in the zone, because there are other people who share my home with me, and I don’t think it’s fair to chase them away just so I can get my art groove on. So, I plug in my headphones, find a good playlist, and tune myself in to my painting. *if you have playlist suggestions, please leave me a comment 🙂

Rossport Shoreline, 24 X 36″, acrylic on canvas

I finished Rossport Shoreline a few days ago, and couldn’t wait to share the image with friends and family. I was so excited that I had finished a painting after being overwhelmed by everything over the past few months. Teaching through quarantine was not fun. No studio, no students to see, not the same.

If I can revive myself by creating art, then clearly I need to do more of it. If I am going to be distracted by something, I’ll be happier because I’ll be thinking of the next composition, or the next colour combination. Over the past few years, I’ve had fun working with my daughter as a representative for a company, but it never felt right. So, this week, I decided that I will happily sever that unnecessary tie, and move on.

Art feels right. It’s who I am, and I can’t wait to head out for more excursions near water, collect way too many photos, and try to manage the nervous excitement of deciding on the next image to use for a painting.

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I Cried it Out Tonight

My friend Peter sent me a message after reading my tweet that I had posted just a few minutes before.

He wrote “Saw your tweet – want to vent? We are all ears.”

So I vented:

Most of the time I’m pretty good, but with June approaching, and only 3 hours allowed per week, the year is almost done. It hit me this week when the principal broke it down into hours and I didn’t know how to respond. Now that I’m planning final tasks, or trying to, I feel like I don’t know enough. I’ve taught art for 20 years, but NAC is slightly different and I’m not exactly panicking but not feeling confident that I’m doing a good job. I want to finish strong while not overwhelming students. I want them to have some good memories of this experience and of me too, if that’s not too selfish. Sigh.

And then I cried. About school, about this whole situation, about my students, about everything I don’t know.

Our conversation began in our group chat with Doug, who is another good friend. And in this little chat, my friends let me vent, sort out my thoughts, accept love and support over the internet, and eventually, I felt better.

I still have a lump in my throat because I’m not sure how to do a good job these days, although I’m trying. Is trying enough? I sure hope so.

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QuaranZine

My grade 10 art students have been studying Dali & Surrealism over the past while, and we’ve discussed possible connections between war time, and our present situation with COVID-19.  For many students, it was a bit of a stretch to compare the two time periods, but most students thought that people could use aspects of Surrealism to help them deal with stressful times.

I explored the work of Hannah Hoch, one of the main figures in Dada collage (Dada was an art movement, created at about the same time as Surrealism, and has some similarities).  Her collages reminded me of some recent posts by Austin Kleon, so I checked out his feed on Instagram.

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His collages and zines were a perfect fit for my class (or at least, I hope they will be), and provide a link between last week’s discussions, with something students can focus on this week.

The challenge for a studio teacher during quarantine is trying to plan while considering that students don’t necessarily have access to certain materials.  Even though I wish I could send them packages of supplies, it’s just not that easy right now.  So, it’s time to be flexible and creative.

I figured the best way to anticipate what my students would need, was to begin the project I’m about to share with them.  I began to search for paper, and found an old photocopied sheet for the booklet.  Then I searched for glue, which was hard to find.  And I’m sure that not everyone has glue at home either, so I made some after finding recipes online.

These quaranzines (I thought I was so clever and used this title on my zine, only to find out Austin had already thought of it in one of his posts!) will help me and my students to document this time period, while stretching our creative muscles… and being resourceful when we need to solve a problem or two.

If you’re interested in creating your own quaranzine, why don’t you try it out and take part?  Tag me (my class account is @niprockart) and I’ll share your zine with my students.  The more ideas, the better, right?

 

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Architecture + Minecraft + Social Distancing

I’m not sure when our current situation will change, but for now, we’re spending a lot of time inside.  Hopefully social distancing will soon become nothing but a memory, but until then, it’s helpful to have some ideas for ways to pass the time.

Since my kids were little, they spent time doing artsy activities.  They didn’t really have much of a choice – it’s a part of who I am, so naturally it just makes sense to share creative ideas with them.  Gone are the days of crayons and smelly play-doh, since both of my kids are teens now.  Which makes me happy because I teach high school.

Not that I’m structuring our time at home.  Not one little bit.  It’s time to relax, eat too much junk food, watch an insane amount of Netflix and Disney+, and every now and then, try doing something productive.  While I was organizing my school bag, I noticed an architecture book I had quickly packed away on the last day of school before March break.

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My son has always loved architecture, so I showed him the book and asked him to pick about five of his favourite buildings.  Within minutes, he had selected several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, his all-time favourite architect.  I challenged him to turn on his XBox and try to build his favourite building.

Voila:  hours of happy architecture studying, careful measuring, and then reading details about the building to find out more info.  I know it sounds a bit geeky, but when you find out that a child (or student) loves something, that’s where you start.  (If you want to learn more about this, research Teaching for Artistic Behavior, read The Open Art Room, or Dive Into Inquiry).

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As I write this, Ethan has moved on to another building, inspired by the Glass House, and is slowly creating a world that will be filled with architecture inspired by noteworthy architects.  Not a bad way to spend his time.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House inspired Ethan’s design

 

 

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