This week I am taking time to inventory my completed artworks for my series Constructed Realities. This mixed media series is a collection of poetry inspired works that incorporate both text and imagery with a variety of media such as soft pastel, oils, acrylics, and gouache. I am making these paintings as part of a portfolio in preparation for applying to graduate school in two years’ time. I’ve been stretched in ways I hadn’t thought possible working with a variety of media, and the challenge of translating abstract ideas into visual art. Here’s a snippet of my Statement of Purpose, which describes these works in more detail.
In my new works, I have incorporated mixed media and text, which is inspired by art journaling and mixed media art. For example, texts from selected poems or songs, such as the writings of Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot, Dylan Thomas, and Thomas Hardy are included in my paintings to give viewers clues about the content of my work. Other influences include the song lyrics of Sting, and other musicians, psychological theories of human development, and current events. These texts are incorporated into my paintings to help the view draw connections between the emotional content in my art and the written word.
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, using a sketchbook. 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 an artist statement that reflected 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 to stick with. 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. I learned later that that was a mistake. Now that many years have passed since my graduation from McDaniel, I can truly see the wisdom of his advice.
In hindsight, I realize that he was so right about drawing every day. Now, 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 at various times in my life, 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. The process of a drawing challenge gave me many opportunities for both successful drawing and ones that I didn’t like, but it helped me to see my progress, and that the practice bore much fruit in terms of learning to take the time to really observe my photo references and record my observations on paper. You could say drawing is akin to yoga or meditation because you need to be completely mindful in order to capture the nuances prevalent in realistic drawing.
At present, I am struggling to carve out time for drawing. Sandwiched in between working, and preparing an art portfolio for graduate school applications, and other responsibilities, I am striving to make time at least 1x a week to draw. This time, I am focusing on making mixed media pastel and torn paper collage drawings. These take several days to complete so I only post about 1x a week on my Instagram account. But this working process works well for me, as the breaks in the
action, give me additional time to evaluate the accuracy of my drawing proportions and the values in my shading. The most important take away 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 its 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, and I am learning that it’s so much better to take the time and lay a good drawing as your foundation for your art.
A good case in point was my latest painting in progress, Money is the Bait, which started out unsatisfactorily because of several drawing errors in the initial portrait. I ended up starting from scratch in oils on a totally new surface, and it still isn’t finished. I hope to finish it by next week. Thanks for stopping by! If you want to follow my progress with the mixed media portraits, you can follow me on Instagram under my profile name, jsjschmidt.
Have you ever wondered why some artists, such as Andrew Wyeth, and others create their artwork in a series format? My first experience with creating artwork as a series was as an undergraduate at McDaniel College, taking art classes at the senior level. In this Senior Studio Capstone class, my fellow students and I were given the assignment to create a series of artworks that expressed a theme of interest or importance to us and to write an artist’s statement that described our artwork’s theme. For example, according to the website The Abundant Artist, some themes that artists might explore in a series include, 1.) “color and texture,” 2.) politics (Kathe Kollwitz), 3.) death, (Hirst) or 4.) messages that uplift, like Kelley Rae Roberts, Source: https://theabundantartist.com.
Prior to that, my assignments in drawing and painting consisted of drawing or painting to try and copy the still life or model in front of me, to teach the skills of observation. At that time, I had no idea how to even get started and had artist’s block for two weeks while I searched for artworks that inspired, all in vain. My Teacher did give us some guidance to the process though. He suggested that we create sketchbooks in which we pasted artworks of inspiration, no matter the medium, and he suggested that we look up art magazines, such as Art in America. Pouring over art magazines and artist websites, such as Forum Gallery, I could think of nothing new to say with my artwork that hadn’t already been said. I felt I had a lot of competition since there have already been many artists who have gone before me, who have created several unforgettable artworks to boot, such as Vermeer’s, Girl with a Pearl Earring, painted in 1665.
After weeks of struggle and seeking out artwork that inspired me, I had a solution. My answer came from an unlikely source, music. I decided to illustrate some of the songs of my favorite musician, Sting, using my self-portrait as a muse, along with color, and composition to portray various feelings of uncertainty, sadness, etc. Some of the songs I illustrated in my self-portrait series were Lithium Sunset and Secret Journey. The first song talks about how medication can help bring a person out of depression and make them strong enough to get back up again. While the second song, Secret Journey, talks about a mystical journey of enlightenment. I printed out the songs from Sting’s website, www.sting.com, pasted them in my sketchbooks, and underlined words and phrases that I thought were good candidates for illustration. And I referenced these songs and artworks of inspiration as I crafted my Artist’s Statement. As I searched through artwork that inspired, it became evident that I was drawn to the subject of the portrait, but I didn’t know how to make my work unique, because the portrait has been done numerous times before.
The imagery of Sting’s songs provided the perfect solution to my dilemma and I was off and running. My then-boyfriend, Dan, took photos of me to provide the source photos for my oil paintings. To make a long story short, I finished the series in time and even made a PowerPoint presentation as part of the project requirements of my finished works. In addition, I crafted an artist’s statement, which helped me to define the artwork by describing what the artwork would be about and what influences had to lead me to the finished work. I learned a lot about myself as an artist, such as how to distill ideas through writing artist statements and creating sketchbooks to illustrate my ideas by pasting artwork that inspired onto its pages. In particular, I discovered that I liked to make artworks that had a message, even if the search for the solution was far from easy. But back to my main question, “Why should artists work in a series?”
To investigate that question more fully, I did what many people would do, I googled it. The websites, Abundant Artist and Art Business.com, shed some light on the subject of content-based art. According to the authors, some of these benefits include: 1.) Making artwork in a series gives the artist a platform to connect with their audience on an emotional level because the artwork is focused and personal, 2.) Creating artwork in a series format helps others to understand what an artist’s work is about and who they are as a person, 3.) Artists who make artwork in a series are more likely to find art galleries to exhibit their work because they know how to market the artist and this format follow their business model, and 4.) Working in a series format helps artists to understand what topics/subjects are important to them, and which they like to draw or paint.
This week I am posting some photos of my latest painting, The Dream of Time Travel, which I started many months ago, and I am happy to say is finally complete! It is part of a series of paintings about the human condition, which is part of my portfolio for graduate school. These new works are a continuum of the series of paintings I completed as an undergraduate at McDaniel College, using the theme of the self-portrait, but expanding its representation to other themes such as poetry illustration. Thanks for stopping by!
I am slowly making progress toward my goal of making 20 new artworks based on poetry quotes. When complete, I am hoping to submit them as a portfolio to apply to graduate school for a masters in fine art, so I can teach college-level art classes. Over the past few weeks, I have been noticing a thread of common themes, one of which is my childhood. For some its a time of nostalgia, and for others, something to forget. For me, its a mixed bag, and the few memories I have from early childhood are fragmented, with few details. I took inspiration for this piece from many personal photos and from Billy Collin’s poem, Forgetfulness. The piece was created in stages with gouache sepia-toned paints, acrylic paints, gesso, and soft pastel with a limited color palette.
I took additional inspiration from this artwork by searching for poems written about the subject of forgetfulness. I found this gem of a quote from Billy Collin’s poem, “Forgetfulness,” “As if one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village with no phones.” Though the poem does not specifically address the issue of childhood amnesia, I felt it captured the feeling that memories are unstable and sometimes inaccessible.
I can remember small details, like elementary school book fairs, and my love of reading, library visits with my father, and being outdoors a lot on my favorite tire swing. However, more specific details have been more difficult to access, such as specific memories of how I got along with my sisters, who were many years older. It’s as if a giant hand has wiped out these memories, and without the aid of family photos and my mother’s memories, I would really be at a loss. All of this inspired me to make a pastel and gouache collage based on family photos of things I can no longer remember. This series has been a marathon, and a mirror, endless practice, mistakes, and setbacks. And all the while, it’s holding up a mirror to all of the weaknesses I have as an artist, especially in figure drawing and composition. How I wish I had paid more attention to figure drawing class as an art student! So, whatever the outcome of this series might be, getting into graduate school or not, it has been a journey chock full of lessons and opportunities to grow as an artist. Thanks for reading!