I wanted to share with you that I am teaching art classes at a variety of locations this winter! My first venue is at the Adams County Arts Council, where I will be teaching Classic Drawing and Introduction to Pastel. Both are beginner classes, but Classic Drawing focuses more on value than color mixtures, which I focus on in the Introduction to Pastel course. Click here to learn more about these classes, https://www.adamsarts.org/classes/.
As an artist, I often hear comments such as, “You’re so talented,” or some variation on that theme, whether it is a comment that is posted online or an in-person encounter. I’ve gotten this remark from friends, family, strangers, etc. And while it is always nice to hear such ego-boosting compliments, I feel the need to pull back the curtain on the mystique of the talented artist’s conception. In fact, when others interpret my completed paintings and drawings as evidence of a natural talent for art, that I was born with, my facility with drawing and painting has been the result of a systematic and long-term method of continuous practice, sometimes on a daily or weekly basis. This process is composed of some of the following ingredients: a strong passion to master drawing and painting skills, bloody-minded determination not to give up on art, and more often than not, failure. Not everything I draw or paint is successful is a masterpiece, and I am learning that that is ok; it is just part of the process of learning.
And perhaps most importantly, I grew up with parents who were very supportive of my pursuit of art education. For instance, my mom was the first one who introduced me to painting when she enrolled me in a watercolor class at the age of 9. I’ve been hooked on making art ever since! In fact, this summer I have embarked on a long-term drawing challenge to improve my drawing skills and I am realizing there is still so much I need to learn, and that I need the discipline to get better at my craft.
With regard to my weekly drawing practice, I have been working on a drawing challenge since June of this year, called, 100 Faces in 100 Days. In this challenge, I practice drawing on an almost daily basis. I focus on sketching celebrity portraits with paper and pencil, keeping the drawings simple so that they can be completed in about 45 minutes. Some days, the portraits seem to come together almost magically and I have very few drawing errors to correct, but, on other days like today, I really struggle to get things right with the portrait measurements. On days such as these, I make a lot of revisions to the drawing, erasing, measuring, and standing back to compare my drawing to the reference photo, until I am happy with the result, or the kitchen timer dings. And this phenomenon is nothing new. As an art student at McDaniel College, I had a lot of ups and downs, with paintings and drawings. Some were successful, others were not.
But, to return to my initial question, does natural talent exist? Although I am not a scholar or even a cognitive scientist, I theorize that many factors play into whether a person is able to show exceptional skill in drawing or painting or any other impressive level of aptitude in a given domain. For example, in specialties such as singing, playing an instrument or sports, etc. I think it is a combination both of one’s environment, (the conditions you grew up with), specific personality traits, such as a strong work ethic, and a strong desire to master a subject, and perhaps, introversion, since the practice of the fine arts and performing arts is often a solitary pursuit. I think if I just relied on my innate talent, (whatever that may mean), I wouldn’t grow artistically, because I would feel that no effort was required on my part to achieve growth. The question of where natural talent comes from has been discussed by Kauffman, (2013), who states that there has been an ongoing debate about whether natural talent exists or not.
Kauffman, 2013, states that in ancient time’s people believed that individual talent was linked to divinity, and that interest in this topic took a scientific turn in the nineteenth century, with the publication of the work, Francis Galton’s Hereditary Genius, which was published in 1869. Source: The Complexity of Greatness, by Scott Barry Kauffman, 2013. For example, Kauffman (2013), states that Galton made a study of “eminent lineages” and based on his findings, he theorized that talent was passed on to families from one person to another (Galton, 1874). According to Kauffman, 2013, Galton also acknowledged the importance of not giving up easily, but he discounted the significance of the environment as a determining factor of personal greatness for the individual, specifically with regard to celebrated scientists. The basis of Galton’s theory was that individuals were born with talent (Kauffman, 2013). On the other hand, Alphonse de Condole, (1873), “a French-Swiss botanist”, made the assertion that environmental factors play a critical role in the creation of exceptional talents, such as political conditions, religion, economic, social, and cultural factors. ( Source: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-complexity-of-greatness-beyond-talent-or-practice/) and www.wikipedia.org.
Other theorists, such as the 18th-century painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, argued that art students should not rely on their talent alone to produce great art, but that they should practice their craft diligently, (Kauffman, 2013). The contention about where skill or natural talent comes from has continued to be debated and studied among Scientists, scholars and researchers even as recently as the 2000s. For example, According to Lynn Helding, author of, Innate Talent, Myth or Reality?, 2011, the topic of greatness was more recently discussed by Psychology Professor, Anders K. Ericsson, who teaches at the University of Florida (Helding, 2011). Ericsson studied both the quality and amount of time it requires for an individual to achieve greatness in a specialty (Helding, 2011). In addition, some of the research he published on this topic was published as recently as 2015, in his article entitled, The effects of experience and disuse on Crossword solving, published in the periodical, Cognitive Psychology. Source: https://psy.fsu.edu/faculty/ericssonk/ericsson.dp.php. His studies into this topic have formed the basis for “the magic number 10,000 for the number of practice hours that it seems to take for anyone (including “so-called prodigies”) to attain a level of mastery at such high-level tasks such as tennis, golf, chess, piano, and violin. This term is also known as “The Ten Year Rule of Necessary Preparation.” (Helding, 2011).
Talent: Myth or Reality, Lynn Heliding, 2011, Mindful Voice. Journal of Singing 67, no. 4, pgs 451-458.
The question of whether natural talent real continues to be debated on discussion threads in Quora and Reddit, which are some forum-type websites, in which users can type in their questions and get responses to them from other community members. Users ask such as: “Does natural talent exist or are all skills learned?” cited in www. Reddit.com, in 2013. In addition, this question is much like the nature or nurture question, frequently discussed in academic psychology courses. Students and scholars alike have questioned how environment and genetics play a role in determining how an individual, “turns out.”
However, we may never know the exact percentages of how much genes or environment can affect individual outcomes, or even if there is some type of gene that gives people an advantage in subjects such as math, athletics, music, or art. But one thing I know for sure is that I am going to keep practicing and not give up my painting and drawing practice because I want to continue to grow as an artist. What about you? Do you think greatness is a skill that is solely learned by deliberate, ongoing practice or are some individuals born with some type of gene that gives them an advantage others do not have?
On that note of practicing your art, I want to add that I am now teaching two beginner art courses, at the Adams County Arts Council, and at the Delaplaine. The beginner courses I am teaching at the Adams County Arts Council are Classic Drawing and Introduction to Pastel. The first course is for beginning artists or those who want to refresh their drawing skills and focuses mainly on constructing simple shapes and forms. The second course, Introduction to Pastel, combines basic drawing skills such as shape and form and introduces students to color theory and pastel techniques. To learn more, please visit http://www.adamsart.org. I am also teaching a pastel course, Getting to Know Pastels, at the Delaplaine Art Center, in Frederick, MD. It’s the same course like the one at the Adams County Arts Council, but it has a different title. To learn more, visit www.delaplaine.org.
This week I would like to talk about one of my greatest struggles, and that is, making time to create art. It probably seems ironic for me to say that since I think of myself as an artist and art teacher, and I make art for art shows, clients, and I studied art in college. However, sometimes the things I want to do the most, such as painting and drawing, seem to be the most, difficult to make time for in my schedule. So many things battle for the competition of my time: everyday stuff like laundry, cooking, balancing my checkbook, or other activities such as marketing my art classes or time-wasters like internet surfing and excessive social media use on Instagram or Facebook, etc., etc. All these need to get done, but if I am not careful they can crowd out too much of my time. And if that isn’t enough, I have been battling with artist’s block and self-doubt about my abilities to succeed as an artist, (whatever that means), ever since I have taken my art to a more professional level, by showing at art galleries and art fairs. My standards for making art have really skyrocketed, (and they were already ridiculously high) since I now feel the pressure to try and please others by making artwork that “sells.”
However, in all this, I have lost my joy in making art, and don’t even know what it is that I want to say with my art anymore. This period of my life reminds me of another time period, when I was a senior at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD, studying art. I was in my final year at McDaniel and taking an art studio thesis course, where I had to make artwork that demonstrated something I wanted to say and write an artist statement to support that work. After I got that assignment, I felt paralyzed with indecision.
It took me two weeks to come out of that episode of artist’s block, and I really wasn’t sure what I would do during that time, as I felt that everything there is to say about art has already been saying and that everything has already been done in the thousands of years of art history. I felt I had to come up with some really “original” idea and I looked everywhere I could think to find inspiration: art magazines, art books, etc. I finally found my inspiration in the songs of singer/songwriter, Sting, which seemed an unlikely solution to me. I decided to try and illustrate the feelings in some of his songs like Lithium Sunset, by using myself as subject, and color as a way to express emotions. The crisis was solved and I made it through, but I really struggled to climb out of that pit.
Unfortunately, I am finding myself in that awful place again of uncertainty and doubt. So this week I am writing about how to make time for art, in hopes that it will help me to focus my time better and to get back into the habit of regular studio practice. I’d like to share with you some insights from two blog articles I read by Lisa Congdon, entitled, How to Find Time toMake Art When You Work Full Time, and an article entitled, How to Find Times for Art in aBusy Life, Tara Leaver, in hopes that you will find it helpful to you in managing your life and making time for creativity. According to Lisa Congdon, there are a few things you can do to help make time for art. For example, she recommends that artists and other creative types set aside a block of time every week, even if it’s only for a few minutes or a few hours, and that these small increments of time will add up over time.
She also mentions an all-important habit and that is to limit your time on your computer or phone screen. Another blog writer, Julie Fan Fei-Balzer, recommends a few time management apps she uses to track her time online, such as Flipboard, Tweetdeck, and Alinoff (an online computer app that records the amount of time you spend online.) One final really helpful way to make time for art is to schedule it, and that could mean enrolling in an art class either virtually through subscription websites like Domestika, SkillShare, and if you want free tutorials, YouTube has many excellent art tutorials. Some of my favorite YouTube channels are Rapid Fire Art and Virtual Instructor.
The first channel is mainly drawing tutorials in pencil, while the other YouTube channel, The Virtual Instructor includes a variety of media from pencil to pastel and many other media. I find this method to be the most helpful, especially when you are paying for a course, you might be less likely to renege on the time commitment. On that note, I want to share that I will be teaching several in-person art courses for beginners at two locations, The Delaplaine Art Center in Frederick, MD, and at the Adams County Arts Council in Gettysburg, PA. To learn more about my pastel courses you may visit: www.delaplaine.org or www.adamsarts.org. I am also teaching a beginning drawing course at the Adams County Arts Council, called Classic Drawing. This week’s featured images include some sneak peek images of the pencil and pastel drawings and exercises I offer in my Classic Drawing and Introduction to Pastel courses! Thank you for stopping by! Now, go make some art!
About a century ago (well I exaggerate a little); I was a college student studying art at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. I had a brilliant and successful art teacher named Steve, who demonstrated how the practice of art-making and the hatching of new ideas could be brought to life. He taught me many useful things, such as how to keep an art sketchbook pasted with photos of artwork by artists I admired, and how to write about my art in a way that expressed my unique artistic voice. Above all, his most important advice was that I should draw every day. At the time, that task seemed quite difficult. I was always an impatient artist as a student and I often rushed through the drawing stage to hurry up and get to the painting, the “good part.” Now that many years have passed since my graduation from McDaniel, I can truly see the wisdom of his advice.
With hindsight, I realize that he was so right about drawing every day. I no longer rush artwork and I have learned to love drawing, whether it becomes a painting or not. In fact, I have embraced his advice of a daily drawing habit and I have worked on several art challenges for both human portraiture and pet portraits on my Instagram account. One of these challenges is called 100 faces in 100 days, in which I drew a pre-selected photo of a celebrity using only pencil and paper. I did not add in a lot of detail or shading and I limited myself to 45 minutes a day. My latest art challenges were in October, in which I participated in Inktober, and also in December when I challenged myself to draw figures and portraits every day for about 3 weeks, with a pencil or whatever other media I felt drawn to use for the challenge.
The most important takeaway I can say about drawing and getting good at it is that it really helps your art practice to flourish. For instance, once you have the drawing and composition mastered, you can enjoy the next step more fully, whether it’s collage, painting, or some other art form such as graphic design or sculpture. With an accurate drawing, you won’t have to worry about continuing to fix it and can fully embrace your next steps.
In conclusion, I am currently preparing myself to teach a beginner’s drawing course at the Adams County Arts Council in Gettysburg, PA this winter, and the drawing practice has been great practice. To learn more about the course, Classic Drawing, please visit http://www.adamsart.org. I am realizing just how fundamental those drawing techniques of using basic shapes and practicing observing what I see, whether it’s a photo or a real-life object, are so important for accurate drawing. Here are some examples of the drawing exercises and projects I have been working on to prepare for this class. Enjoy! Thanks for reading!
Hello Friends, I am recycling an old blog post here, because it seems so relevant to the struggle I have had in getting this new series, Voices, and Visions off the ground. It has taken me several months to get traction, but I finally have some sketches to share! At last! The series is about the human condition, and is inspired by poems, by writers such as Williams Wordsworth, who wrote the poem, “The World is too much with us.” Though it was written several hundred years ago, in 1807, about the conflicts between our connection to nature, and the pull of materialism driven by the industrial revolution in England during the 19th century, it still seems so relevant today. Anyways, on to the blog post, which is about the Artist’s Block.
What is Artist’s Block?
Art of Schmidt Blog Post
This year has been a difficult one with lots of transitions and changes. One of these big changes was my decision to drop out of the Human Services Associate’s degree program at Frederick Community College, after 18 months of double-mindedness between feeling like I had to finish it because I didn’t have any other solid plans for my career, and I had already put in countless hours writing papers, studying and completely fieldwork. I had felt burnt out and unmotivated to finish the program, and I also felt split in half between my desire to be a professional artist and the need to carve out a definite career plan for myself. It was a difficult decision but I finally decided to drop out after some soul searching and talking with my academic advisor for a variety of reasons. In addition, the workload that this academic program demanded left very little time for creating art. And if I am 100 percent honest with myself, I have always wanted to take my art to the next level beyond just a hobby, but felt unsure of how to pursue this goal after I graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Art in 2005, and it didn’t seem “practical” to pursue art as anything more than a hobby. I always felt somewhat unsure if Social Work was really the right path for me in contrast.
Lately, I have been learning that creative time is important to me and my well being. Creating artwork has been an outlet for me at various times in my life during stressful moments and personal struggles, especially during my father’s long illness and eventual death in 2011 from heart disease. Making paintings and drawings in oil, watercolor, pastel, and pencil has provided me with a safe way to process difficult feelings and emotions. However, lately, making art has been very challenging and more like a test of endurance and skill than the oasis or refuge it used to be. In spite of the difficulties, I have been pressing on with sketches and paintings to prepare for my October art show at the Frederick Coffee Company as Artist of the month. However, the joy I once felt in making art seems to have deserted me. I am making very slow progress with starting only 1-2 paintings a week, after looking at some reference photos I took of Catoctin State Park, here in Thurmont, MD. What is going on here? How can I go from feeling like creating artwork is my lifeline, to it has become my enemy and tormentor and relentless critic? After reading an article, entitled, “7 Types of Creative Block(And what to do About Them)”, by Mark McGuiness, I think I am beginning to understand that this lack of forwarding motion is the dreaded Artist’s Block that seems to afflict creative types from a variety of field from musicians, writers, and artists.
Back in September of last year, I posted about getting started with a new body of artwork, Voices, and Visions, based on the human condition. However, I am sorry to say that the work on it has not been going well. Not at all smoothly in fact. For a while, work on it has ceased as other priorities took center stage. But the biggest obstacle to getting any headway on this project has been that I have been afflicted with an artist’s block and a lack of studio schedule structure. While I did finally get to the oil painting version of my painting, Maslow’s Hierarchy, I hesitate to even post a picture of it, it was so disappointing. Although I usually love to work in oils, things in this portrait just did not gel, and the piece ended up being stale and overworked. Another challenge about this piece was that it came almost completely from my imagination and I had very few reference photos to guide me.
The Analysis: I am Afraid
Only recently have I taken the time to ponder why things with this painting did not work out…Kind of like the analysis one goes through after a failed relationship. If I had only done this or that, or not done that, etc. Perhaps part of the problem is that I have been wanting to work with different materials, using mixed media, rather than oil paints and working in a more expressive art journaling style. From time to time, I have experimented with mixed media, but never really made a study of what mediums work well together, etc. Most of my mixed media pieces have been made for the Box Show at the Artists’ Gallery in Frederick, MD. Quite simply, I have lacked the courage to put pencil to paper, or brush to canvas and try something new. Just gessoing a new canvas brought on waves of anxiety that were difficult to banish yesterday. But I persevered anyway because I do not want to let fear win.
The Inspiration: Bermudian High School Art Show, Adams County, PA
This past weekend I visited a new art show which opened my eyes to the possibilities of artistic representation, and I finally felt inspired to go back to the drawing board and make some art. The art show in question was an exhibit of mixed media artworks by 45 high school students from the Adams County, PA area and was housed at the Adams County Arts Council. Students focused their works on the theme of human emotion and experimented with a variety of media, such as cardboard, newspaper, colored pencil, magazine clippings, watercolor, etc.
The Breakthrough: Back to the Drawing Board
When I got home, I literally began cutting up color sketches of unfinished color sketches and began re-drawing and re-composing the artwork, The Dream of Time Travel. I have yet to tackle the Maslow’s Hierarchy painting, but maybe this new project will give me some ideas about how to re-think the artwork, such as what media I could use instead of oil painting, as well as what style I want to work in. I have limited myself to working in oils lately, and it’s been stifling. I’ve also been struggling to find my unique style of painting, which represents my love of expressive color and emotional content.
This is particularly apropos for this series, and it seems to be one of the main failings of the Maslow’s Hierarchy painting, it feels devoid of any emotion. One final thought for today, as the writer Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Because I am not a writer, but an artist, I am going to modify that statement for myself and say that if I don’t make time to look at the artwork of others, I am not equipped with the ingredients to make good art. So I am going to make it an intentional habit to get out there, visit art galleries, read art books, go on Pinterest, etc., and fill up that creative tank.
I have been taking a break from blogging after teaching two classes back to back in Classic Drawing and in Pastel at Frederick Community College. An unexpected side effect of teaching others art has been learning that I have room to improve my own art-making skills. Lately, I have been dissatisfied with my artwork, especially a poetry illustration series that I can’t seem to finish. I think my drawing and my painting skills need more refinement.
To that end, I have been scheduling in-studio days, in which I work on drawing from sketchbook prompts and also from oil painting tutorial books. The one I have been working with most recently is a text by Angela Gair, entitled, A Step-by-step Course in Oil Painting. I have learned a lot about color mixing, drawing with my brush and working in the landscape. I have a bad habit of being mean with the paint and I want to start adding more texture, which I am glad to see appearing in these new paintings. My drawing sessions are showing me that I need to slow and really observe my subject. I want to be the best teacher I can and so I think I need to start nurturing the artist in me so I will have more to give others and remember what inspired me to teach art in the first place.
This year I have taught five drawing and pastel classes at Frederick Community College! Its a dream come true, after many years of wanting to teach art, but not being able to find a job in this field. And it’s been a giant learning curve going from being a perpetual college student to an adjunct art instructor. My hat is off to teachers, you work so hard and your work makes such a difference in the lives of your students! I’m thankful for my many teachers who inspired my love of learning, especially at McDaniel College, and for my best teacher, my father, who introduced me to the world of reading and literature!
But, maybe being a perpetual student can help me be a better teacher because I am always seeking out new knowledge or trying new approaches to teaching art from including art history examples to applying art concepts in small activities such as value scales and color wheels… Every class I learn something new about myself and the areas I need to improve, or I learn something new about art that I can apply to my own work. My students keep me engaged by their passion to learn and their curiosity in learning about art. One of my growing edges has been trying to be brief in my lectures and to only give out small snippets of information so that my students can absorb and apply the concepts I am teaching and not feel overwhelmed. This month, I have been teaching a pastel class that focuses on color theory, and my most favorite thing about art is color, so I love this new teaching series! We’ve been working on concepts such as value, the color wheel, color theory, and how to draw from photos and real-life objects, using gesture and contour drawing techniques.
I have also learned once again how important it is to have a solid foundation in drawing from observation and have been adjusting my teaching lectures to include small nuggets about this important concept. If you want to make realistic art it is most important to work from photos, or from life, setting up objects for still life, hiring a model or painting on location for Plein art painting, (that’s French for painting outdoors, a concept that Impressionist painters made popular in the 19th century). My drawing professor from McDaniel really was right, I should be drawing every day! Here are some of the projects and exercises I have been teaching at Frederick Community College for my pastel art class. Note: Many of these projects are not my original art, and have been copied from art textbooks such as Pastels Made Easy, by Anne Heywood. These projects are for instructional purposes only, and not intended for sale or copyright violation. Thanks for reading!
I have been taking a break from blogging since I started teaching art classes and my posts have been somewhat irregular. It’s partly a result of not having much spare time to write, and also because I haven’t made much new work lately. But now I have something new to share! I have finally begun working on a new series of portraits based on the human condition, which I have been working on and off for quite some while. This new piece focuses on psychological needs for belonging, shelter, etc., which are expounded upon by Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs, and features self-portraits of me at different life stages, based on family photos. The oldest figure was one that I had to imagine though since I have not gotten to the senior citizen stage yet. These sketches are preparation for an oil painting I hope to get started on soon! Below is the artist statement which explains the inspiration behind this work. Thanks for reading!
Artist Statement: Constructed Realities
How does an idea for a painting get born? For me, it derives from a memory, hearing a song lyric that resonates with me, reading a poem that lends itself to narrative or visiting an inspiring art exhibit. This series of paintings focuses on the connection between the human condition and stories described in the written word, through poetry and song lyrics, and other sources such as psychological theories. For example, these works may describe a feeling, a memory, a season, or the human condition, such as a search for love, broken relationships, and homes, uncertainty, belonging, stages of life, nostalgia about one’s childhood, etc. Using symbols such as rainbows, pregnancy, desert landscapes, storms, and ravens, and houses, I tell visual tales in oil and pastel paintings. In addition, I use muted color schemes to keep the focus on the content of the artwork and not the color. The subjects of this series are my favorite subjects to draw, including the human figure, portraits, animals, and landscapes, which I have previously explored in other paintings.
Two things have sparked this visual storytelling theme. The first was an art class that I took at Frederick Community College several years ago. In January of 2015, I took a drawing course at Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD. One of the final assignments I tackled was to illustrate a poem of my choice using pastels. A major challenge in this assignment was to find a poem that had some concrete images to illustrate. I chose Robert Frost’s poem, Ghost House, which has an abundance of concrete imagery. The first lines of Frost’s poem, Ghost House, griped me with an intense visual impression: “I dwell in a lonely house I know, that vanished nearly a summer ago, and left no trace but the cellar walls…”
The second inspirational spark was learning about art journals and mixed media artwork. A new trend in popular culture is the concept of the art journal, in which the artist writes and illustrates specific things, feelings, seasons, etc., often in mixed media materials. According to mixed media artist, Dina Wakely, art journaling is a way to express your emotions through imagery and text, and no specific rules need to apply to this process. Like Dina, I find that creating narrative art can be a meaningful process, either to express difficult emotions or memories. This new series is entitled Voices and Visions. It was inspired by poetry that includes verses written by Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot, among others. Memories, feelings, and desires have also inspired this series.
Maybe you’ve been wondering where I disappeared to, or not. I haven’t written any new blog posts in months since I started teaching as an adjunct art instructor at Frederick Community College. Its been a really busy season. I’m no longer trying to sell my art, (although the occasional sale would be welcome nonetheless) and my focus has now been on teaching art classes and juggling my other part-time job. My lastest adventure in teaching has been in instructing a drawing class at Frederick Community Colege, where I have been teaching senior citizens the basic skills of drawing, such as how to draw simple shapes, create the form by shading and how to draw from observation. Here are a few photos of my teaching demonstrations. Enjoy! And thanks for stopping by.