This week I am going in a slightly different direction than last week, but I haven’t given up on my poetry inspired work. I have started a new series of portraits based on the lives of writers, poets, and others to try something a little new but somewhat related to the poetry series. Next to working on artwork, my other favorite hobby is to read biographies of people I admire, such as Emily Dickinson, Julia Child, and others. So I thought,
what not combine my love of art and reading biographies?
Like the poetry series, the work focuses on the portrait and symbolic imagery to help describe the content of the piece. Similarly, I am working in a mixed media style with these portraits, beginning with a pencil sketch and then creating a tonal under painting in gouache. Finally, I finish it off with a more detailed limited palette with soft pastels on Illustration board. My goal is to make at least 10 poetry series portraits and 10 biographical portraits in preparation for applying to graduate school to get my master’s in fine art.
Today I wanted to show you my work process so far with these new portraits. The first one is a sketch of Emily Dickinson. Much has been illustrated regarding her and her poetry, but I wanted to show a different aspect of her personality and that was that she had a passion for plants and nature, even keeping a personal collection of plants in her home and a garden she tended frequently. It should also be noted that many of her poems are about nature, such as storms or sunrises, and so perhaps in some circuitous way, this painting is also about her poetry. To learn more about her passion for plants visit: https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/emily-dickinson/biography/special-topics/emily-dickinson-and-gardening/.
My second portrait is about one of my favorite writers who wrote the beloved Chronicles of Narnia series, with hints of Greek mythology and even an allegory of the creation story in the book, The Magician’s Nephew. I wanted to make a portrait that showed the creative process of Lewis’s writing and the flow of new ideas. I likened creativity as fire and used that as a way to contain the various characters concerned in these chronicles of Narnia books.
This piece was closer to home for me because although I do love nature and being out in it, I feel that creativity is a large part of me, and I would feel empty without it, I think. It is good to remember that there are rewards to creativity and making things, especially when paintings don’t turn out so well, which I experienced yesterday when I was trying to complete a painting that has been languishing in my studio. Needless to say, it did not go well. And instead of calling it a loss and going to do something else, to give myself time to think about what I didn’t like about the painting, I just kept adding different mediums to the dried acrylic paint, to see what would happen. The lesson here was, paint mindfully, and not mindlessly. Thanks for stopping by!
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I haven’t been painting much lately. This is a challenge because, without artwork to illustrate my blog posts with, I don’t know what to write about. Over the past few weeks, I have considered writing about art business related topics. However, since I have been having some doubts about whether I want my art to be made mainly for pleasure, such as a hobby or for profit, based on a business model. In fact, I sometimes feel that making art for profit, sometimes steals the joy of creating, and it often involves a host of other tasks I don’t enjoy such as marketing and bookkeeping, which also takes away the limited time I have to make artwork. To resolve this problem, I am going to return to an earlier topic which I had enjoyed writing about and that is, artists I admire. In this case, I will focus my discussion upon the life of John Singer Sargent, and his subsequent reinvention as a painter around 1900, in which he shifted his focus from creating oil portraits of high society figures to creating watercolors of people and places he visited in Europe.
Re-Invention of the Self: A pop culture staple
All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, and imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people. —Ursula K. Le Guin
The topic of reinvention is important to me because I am in the process of trying to separate others ideas of what they think I should be doing with my life, and my own conflicts between pursuing art, and what role I want it to play in my life. Is it a profession, a hobby or something in between? Along the way, I have also been sidetracked with other pursuits such as pursuing more practical lines of work, such as graphic design and social work, and even, art entrepreneurship. This is a process that began in 2005 when I graduated from McDaniel College with an art degree to the present moment.
That is why reading about Sargent’s journey to aesthetic reinvention, in the article, “Examining Sargent’s Shift from Oils to Watercolors”, by Judith H. Dubrinsky, of the New York Times, caught my eye and inspired me to write about him. I took classes in both graphic design and social work and after much ambivalence and indecision, decided ultimately that they were not interesting enough for me to complete a degree and change my career direction. It seems that I always return to making art no matter what other avenues for employment, volunteering or education that I have pursued. As I have been introspecting about this process of shedding layers of false selves, my truer self-seems to be emerging, and I am finding fulfillment in finally getting to pursue my dream of teaching art. Meanwhile, I am working part-time as a receptionist, who provides stable income and a sense of security, when art sales are low or the teaching contracts are not long-term, as is the case with my new contractual position at Buckingham’s Choice. The topic of reinvention, however, is not just limited to the past, as in the case of Sargent. Instead, it can still be observed in more current times.
For example, in popular culture, a good case in point of the re-invented self is found in the 2009 movie, Julie and Julia, a biopic about the life of the renowned chef, Julia Child, which is intermingled with the life one of her fans, Julie Powell who aspires to be a cook, but struggles with finishing things, like her novel. Powell gets inspired by Child’s book, The Art of French cooking, and takes on the challenge of cooking all of Child’s recipes from the book, and blogging about her adventures and mishaps during this journey. In addition, the writer, Georgina Del Vecho, in an article, Can You ReallyReinvent Yourself? States that, “Countless teen movies revolve around the plotline of a transformation—“The Princess Diaries,” “Grease,” “She’s All That” and “Clueless,” to name a few—which, even if the transformed character ends up realizing they’ve forsaken their morals in pursuit of popularity/fame/a man, still suggest that changing your appearance or other aspects about yourself can help you reach your goal.” (Source: Del Vecho, Georgina. “Can You Really ReinventYourself?”The Chronicle: The Independent NewsOrganization at Duke University, 09/13/2007, https://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/09/can-you-really-reinvent-yourself, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
Another example of transformation, which is popular today, is the notion of changing your profession and seeking to find a dream job, such as leaving the corporate world to start your own business, especially during the retirement years. (Source: Freedman, Marc. “The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention.” The Harvard Business Review, January 1, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/01/the-dangerous-myth-of-reinvention), accessed on November 15, 2018.)
These examples, however, opens up the question, such as, do these types of transformations really change who you are as a person, or not? I’m particularly interested in this questions and the journey of reinventing myself because I have been making some significant changes in my own life. For years I have wanted to teach art, but haven’t known how to go about it. For example, I have faced many roadblocks to getting qualified to teach after I obtained my baccalaureate degree in art. Despite taking the standardized teaching certification test, called the Praxis 1 test many times, I could not pass it. This test is required to obtain teacher certification in the state of Maryland, and it allows you to apply for teaching jobs in the public school system.
After that, I was rejected to four graduate degree art programs, which is a required qualification if you want to teach art on the college level. It seemed that all doors for teaching art had been effectively closed. I have driven down many detours and pursued lots of classes and volunteering, most of which not related to art, but seemed more “practical.” Making time for art and thinking about how I wanted it to be a part of my life got sidelined. For years, I simply focused on survival and paying my bills, which was important because I had student loans to pay off. However, after my father died in 2011, it was a catalyst to motivate me to find a way to make art a part of my life again. Initially, this began by taking art classes with Rebecca Pearl, a local Thurmont, MD artist, and teacher. Later, it grew to include a sideline as a pet portrait painter and exhibiting my artwork in local art shows. Recently, I have begun teaching art classes in an enrichment art class at the retirement community in Adamstown, Md, called Buckingham’s Choice, and I have applied for a position as an enrichment art teacher at Frederick Community College in the Institute for Learning in Retirement. However, this journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work against my inner resistance to change, even good change, and fears of the unknown, to get to this new destination in my life. But, upon reflection, I’m realizing that perhaps the biggest failure of all, would be not to pursue one’s hopes, dreams or ambitions and settle for the unresolved life, which is characterized by “what might have been,” or “if only.”
John Singer Sargent: Artistic Scope and Reinvention
I tend to associate Sargent with oil paintings of well-known entities such as Theodore Roosevelt and the robber baron John D. Rockefeller. But, little did I know that he had much more range and ability in the arts than I can imagine. In fact, sometime around 1900, Sargent abandoned his oil paints and picked up watercolor paints instead. (Source: ibid) According to the author, Dubrinsky, he abandoned painting portraits of high society figures and instead focused on painting “gardens, exotic locales, and people at leisure, at work and at rest, often on his travels in Europe and the Middle East. Experimenting with unusual compositions and new techniques, he reinvented himself aesthetically.” (Source: ibid)
Furthermore, later in life, he painted a series of murals for the Boston Public Library, with the theme of the Triumph of Religion. According to the Boston Public Library, Sargent, depicted several themes in his murals, including “early Egyptian beliefs, Judaism and Christianity”, in his murals, located in the McKim building of the Boston Public Library. (Source: “Digital Commonwealth: Massachusetts Collections Online, Mural Cycles at the Central Library in Copley Square”: Boston Public Library, https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/collections/commonwealth:sq87dv033, accessed on November 15, 2018, and The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
He obtained his artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. (Source: ibid) Furthermore, some of his artistic influences included: the artists: Goya, Velasquez, and other contemporary Impressionist painters, and he quickly put into practice the lessons he learned from these masters. (Source: ibid)
What Made John Singer Sargent’s Work Exceptional?
According to the website, The Art Story.org, John Singer Sargent was a celebrated portrait artist who specialized in painting pictures of the elite members of society, such as the oil magnate J.D. Rockefeller, and the presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, in locations such as Paris, London and New York. (Source: The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
What distinguished him from other artists was the way that he revolutionized portrait painting by utilizing impressionistic brushwork and nontraditional compositions to “capture his sitters’ character and even reputation.” (Source: ibid) And sometimes his models did not like the completed painting and even refused to buy it, perhaps because it revealed uncomfortable truths? (Source: ibid) The portrait, Madame X, painted early in his career is a prime example of this tendency. (Source: ibid)
Sargent’s Range of Artistic Projects: Watercolors and Murals
However, he did not limit himself to portraiture; instead, he also painted outdoors with his colleague, Claude Monet”. (Source: ibid) In addition, Sargent also created murals which were commissioned by government officials in the US and in the UK later in his career. (Source: ibid) He was a talented young painter and he created a “spectacular array of exciting and masterful paintings while only in his twenties.”(Source: ibid)
Scandal in Paris Salon of 1884: Madame X Painting
Despite these accomplishments, in 1884 at the Paris Salon, his portrait, Madame X, created a stir amongst the leaders of the Paris art establishment, who found its depiction of the American ex-patriot, Virginia Gateau, too blatantly sexual, in her low cut black dress which showed a shocking amount of her skin for the 19th century time period and standards of the day. (Source: Baker, Harriet. “The Story Behind John Singer Sargent’s RA ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.” The Royal Academy, 13 February 2015, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/john-singer-sargent-carnation-lily-lily-rose, accused on November 15, 2018.
After his debacle in Paris, Sargent moved to England “and spent summer seasons in an artist’s colony in Broadway, Worcestershire”. (Source: ibid) At this location, he painted the stunning and timeless painting, Carnation Lily, LilyRose, which epitomized the innocence of childhood, and helped to bring him back into the arms of the art establishment. (Source: ibid) Sargent’s inspiration for this double portrait came from a variety of sources such as artwork by the English Pre-Raphaelites, and the Impressionists who painted en plein air. (Source: ibid) However, his initial inspiration for this painting can be traced back to “an evening boating trip along the Thames at Pangbourne in 1885, when he saw Chinese lanterns hanging from trees.” (Source: ibid) He began working on Carnation Lily, Lily Rose during a visit with Francis David Millet. (Source: ibid) The two girls who posed for the portrait were Polly and Dorothy, who were daughters of the artist Frederick Barnard. (Source: ibid)
Closing Thoughts: Why I feel a kinship with Sargent
In conclusion, I feel I can relate to Sargent’s life story in a small way, such as his search to find success, his failures, and his desire to reinvent himself in his middle age. In a similar way, I am at a crossroads in my life and looking for ways to reinvent my life via teaching art. I’m also shedding old selves, perhaps influenced or invented by others or myself. I’m trying to be completely honest with myself about what I really want to do with my life and what I want my contribution to society to be. I am not even sure I want to be an artist-entrepreneur anymore, and I am re-examining what it means for me to be an artist. For now, I am finding that teaching others to draw and paint is incredibly rewarding, and it seems to be part of that answer. I admire Sargent’s courage to break free from his comfort zone, and perhaps from the expectations of others about what he should paint. I hope that I can grab onto some of that courage.
Readers, Please Note: The paintings I am posting to accompany this blog post include not only a portrait that Sargent completed, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, but also some other master artworks
which I have copied and which I intend to make part of an art history blog series. Thanks for reading! Next month I plan to write about the artist Eastman Johnson. Have a wonderful day!
Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Depression
This week, I am diving into part two of the series I started on April 21, 2018, entitled, “famous failures”, a term coined by Sid Sivara, who wrote an article with that title. The personality I want to highlight this week is the author of the celebrated Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling. As I researched her life, I discovered that she has some striking similarities to the personality which I described a few weeks ago. For example, both she and Lincoln struggled with depression and poverty.
Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), was the sixteenth president of the United States and he grew up on a farmstead in Kentucky. (Source: James M. McPherson, “Lincoln, Abraham, (1809-1865), Sixteenth president of the United States”, American National Biography, http://www.anb.org, retrieved on 05/08/2018.) During his childhood, he carved out a life which was marked by hard physical labor and a lack of consistent education in a one-room schoolhouse. (Source: ibid) He also suffered from melancholy and depressive episodes for much of his life, as well as “brooding” which his friends termed, “the hypo,” short for hypochondria. (Source: ibid, and Shenk, Joshua, “Lincoln’s Great Depression”, The Atlantic). “Hypo,” was the term medical practitioners used in the 19th century to describe what we now recognize as clinical depression. (Source: McPherson)
Similarities between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln: Professional Failures
Lincoln also tried and failed at much life professional pursuits, including “store clerk, mill hand, a partner in a general store that failed, postmaster, and surveyor.” (Source: ibid). He also experienced failure in his political career from time to time, and in 1832, when he ran for the legislature, he was defeated. (Source: ibid, and Sid Sivara, “Famous Failures: Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln and J.K. Rowling”, https://sidsavara.com/famous-failures-michael-jordan-abraham-lincoln-and-jk-rowling, retrieved on 03/29/18) However, when he re-entered the political race for the legislature in the New Salem district of Illinois, he made a decisive victory in 1834. (Source: McPherson). Despite many setbacks, Lincoln developed a new direction and ambition during his years living in the town of New Salem, Illinois. (Source: ibid) In fact, he started making decisive moves towards self-improvement by joining a debating society, received mentoring from the local teacher in New Salem, Illinois, Mentor Graham, in both mathematics and literature, and he developed a strong interest in politics. (Source: ibid) In addition, he developed a lifelong interest and appreciation for William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. (Source: ibid)
Likewise, J.K. Rowling also faced extremely challenging life challenges such as poverty and depression. For example, she faced countless rejection letters for her Harry Potter books, initially at least. (Source: Elle Kaplan, “How J.K. Rowling Turned Failure into Massive Success, (And You Can Too),” https:// medium.com, accessed April 17, 2018). Also, like Lincoln, she seems to be a deep thinker and one who had a specific dream and ambition. (Source: ibid) Rowling’s dream was to provide a good life for her daughter, and she did not give up, no matter how many times she failed. (Source: ibid) Like Lincoln, she was successful, though it was far from easy. (Source: ibid).
J.K. Rowling’s Unlikely Success: What Motivated Her
While many of you may recognize J.K. Rowling as a bestselling author of the Harry Potter book series, did you know that she was once jobless, living on welfare and raising a daughter all by herself as a single mother? (Source: ibid) In her own words, she states: “By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.” (Source: ibid). In addition, she states that her failures helped to shed light on many aspects of her life, including her relationships with others, and that it gave her tenacity to “face adversity head-on to turn unfortunate circumstances into success.” (Source: ibid.)
One aspect of her experience that gave her the will to succeed and rise above her struggles was her wish to give her daughter a better life. (Source: ibid) During this pursuit, she held onto this truth she knew about herself and that was that she believed she knew how to tell a story. (Source: ibid) Understanding her “why” for wanting to succeed in life was crucial to her achievements. (Source: ibid) Learning about J.K. Rowling’s life before she was famous, makes her seem more human and relatable, and it gives us hope that if she can be successful against significant life struggles, so can we. But how do we do this? To investigate this question further, I referred back to the Kaplan article to see what suggestions the author made about being successful.
What to Do When Failure Occurs: A Few Suggestions
The author, Kaplan, provides some insights into what we can do to mitigate the sting of failure. For example, she states, when a failure occurs and it inevitably will, rather than letting it defeat you, get some perspective and ask yourself some questions, such as: Do I try again, or do I give up? What do I hope to achieve and why? Is there another way to reach my goal or a strategy I haven’t tried yet? (Source: ibid)
Another strategy you can use to rise above failure is to envision that you are actually being successful in your endeavors and to detach yourself from feelings of failure so that it doesn’t define you. (Source: ibid) According to Kaplan, “Visualization is a powerful tool for building confidence and changing your mindset toward success.” In fact, Kaplan states that: “A recent study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that parts of the brain activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were also activated when they only imagined lifting.” In conclusion, I don’t suppose that I will ever be as famous as J.K. Rowling or Abe Lincoln, and I am OK with that. In fact, I’m not sure that I would want the kind of pressure that they experienced, such as the ever-present imperative to achieve because of their phenomenal successes and contributions to society. I just want to stop letting past failures stop getting the better of me. If I focus too much on these types of things, it can be paralyzing and keep me from moving on toward my next goal. What about you? Do you have a dream that just won’t die, no matter how many times you fail in the pursuit of its fruition? What is your reason for living? I’d love to hear all about your dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Send me a note in the comments section of this blog.
This week I have really been struggling to come up with a new topic for this blog. At first, I thought I might write about time management strategies and how I have been implementing my Ideal Week schedule template I mentioned last week. However, the trouble with that topic is that I still haven’t taken the time to write it out, but I did download a copy of the Ideal Week schedule template pdf from Michael Hyatt’s website, and so it did get me started thinking about what I have been spending my time doing other than painting, and the reasons why I have been putting it off… Then I thought I might write about the top ten contemporary living artists in an article by Artsy.net, but as I read about what these artists represented in their work, it didn’t seem to fit the type of painting I do, so I decided not to do that.
After some reflection, I am realizing that one of the reasons I have been putting off painting has been that I have not had any inspiration about what to paint, despite the vague idea that I might start up my poetry series again. But somehow I haven’t been making much progress there. Instead, I’ve been working on other things for my art business that needed to get done, and which I have been procrastinating on, due to a large number of art shows. One of these tasks was to get up to date with my profit and loss sheet. Yesterday, I researched different blog topics that I thought might get me motivated to paint again, and I read my blog topics list. Amongst the topics I have listed, was one that stood out for me. That topic was to write about artists that you admire and why you like that particular artist. Immediately the name Richard Diebenkorn came to mind.
Perhaps I thought of him because it reminded me of a conversation I had with an old friend about artists, and she mentioned that her stepmother had introduced her to the art of Richard Diebenkorn. On the other hand, maybe I was reminded of a documentary about Richard Diebenkorn I had watched on YouTube several months ago which featured a presentation by his daughter in which she described his works and shared some interesting facts about his life, such as how his home in California influenced his art. Or perhaps I thought of Diebenkorn’s work because it reminds me of the kind of subject matter I used to draw and paint when I was an art student at McDaniel College, which was figures in interior spaces, with an emphasis on color. For whatever the reason, he came to my mind and so I started researching facts about his life and trying to learn all I could about his artwork.
From the article, Diebenkorn’s First Steps, on artsy.net, I learned that he was introduced to art at an early age by his father, Richard Diebenkorn, Sr. who entertained him “with pieces of cardboard placed between the folds of crisply pressed shirts from the dry cleaner.” (“ Diebenkorn’s First Steps”). As a young child, Diebenkorn drew trains and locomotives on the “smooth, white surface of the paper.” (Ibid). And, he continued to pursue art for many years after that, despite a lack of support from his father, who wanted him to pursue a more practical career path in law or medicine, during his time as a student at Stanford University, where he attended undergraduate classes in 1940. (“Richard Diebenkorn: Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works”). Instead, he decided to study art and art history, and he successfully combined influences from many art styles such as Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting and “belle peinture” or the beautiful painting.” (Ibid).
He was able to seamlessly shift from abstraction to figuration in his long career as an artist, painting figures in interior spaces, and abstracted landscapes and cityscapes of his home in California. (Ibid) But whatever the subject, he continued to incorporate bright color and shape, which gives his paintings an unmistakable brand as a Diebenkorn, not to be confused with any other artist. According to Amy Crawford, Diebenkorn was highly influenced by the artwork of Henri Matisse, another fine colorist. (The Lasting Influence Matisse Had on Richard Diebenkorn’s Artwork, Amy Crawford, March 2017, Smithsonian Magazine, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/lasting-influence-matisse-richard-diebenkorn-artwork. In addition to reading up on Richard Diebenkorn and his art, I gave myself the assignment to copy two of his paintings which describe his various subject matter of figures in interior spaces and abstracted landscapes. I had a lot of fun with drawing the shapes and mixing the colors. The two paintings I copied this week are Woman on a Porch, Richard Diebenkorn, 1958, oil on canvas and Cityscape 1, (Landscape No. 1), 1963, Richard Diebenkorn, oil on canvas. The one difference in approach to my paintings and Diebenkorn’s are that my version was painted in acrylic paintings rather than oils. I also include some of my original self-portraits in oils, because I think they show the connection in subject matter and color between my works and Diebenkorn’s paintings, although my approach is more restrained and traditional with subtle gradations of tone and color. Copying these paintings by Diebenkorn showed me just how much I enjoy painting the figure and using bold color. Since completing the 100 Faces in 100 Days drawing Challenge on Instagram, I have really missed working in color. Thanks for stopping by!
This is stage one of the painting I copied, Woman on a Porch, 1958, Richard Diebenkorn. Acrylic on Canvas. The original painting was made with oils.
Here is stage 2 in which I re-worked some of the colors to try and get closer to the original painting by Diebenkorn. Note: This painting is a copy, not an original work and is intended for educational purposes only.
Here is another copy of Diebenkorn’s painting, Citycape 1, (Landscape No.1), 1963. I just started this painting today. Also a copy.
Here is a self-portrait I painted during my years as an art student at McDaniel College. Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, 2005, Jodie Schmidt, Oil.
Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas, 2005, Jodie Schmidt.
Self-Portrait with Red Shirt, 2004, Jodie Schmidt, oil.