If you are a creative type or if you like to make things, you have probably encountered the moment when the finished product you imagined, does not live up to your expectations. Creative types such as musicians, composers, producers, dancers, writers, artists, photographers, cooks, and makers of all types, can probably tell you what it feels like to hit a wall with a project, how it felt, and what they did to navigate that feeling of utter frustration. As an artist, I have experienced this frustration more times than I can count. Some paintings and drawings are simply learning projects and are difficult to salvage, while others can be fixed.
I know it’s been said that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, but when I get to a point in a painting or drawing and I realize that the painting or drawing doesn’t look right, it can be really frustrating. I start doubting myself, feel like giving up, or doing something that I am not good at, like cooking or cleaning because I know that I am not good at these things, so my expectations of success in these domains are much lower than for painting or drawing since I have no training in cookery or housekeeping. Since I know I am not a good cook, if it doesn’t turn out so well, it’s a waste of ingredients but I don’t feel as emotionally attached to the outcome as I would to a painting or drawing.
I recently read a forum question on the website, Wet Canvas.com, and the question of the day was,” When should I stop working on a painting? I was intrigued by the question, and wondered how other artists dealt with paintings that can “look like a dog’s breakfast.” I read about a variety of solutions suggested by artists who had hit the wall creatively. Some were familiar to me, like my tendency to put the painting away and stop looking at it for a few days, weeks, months, or even longer. Others were not as familiar such as putting the painting somewhere where you can see it, such as on an easel in a living room, and then taking time to look at it from time to time to diagnose the problem. Another favorite technique is to write a list of things I want to change in the painting, be it the drawing, colors, value, edges, etc. In my case, some of the artwork I have abandoned was started about two years ago, and I am just now starting to look at the sketches and Photoshop files.
This week I took some time to work some more on my acrylic painting, Waiting: Creative Block. I realized that there were several things bothering me about it. The colors and values, and composition were some of the biggest glaring errors. I am realizing there are many reasons why this painting series of poetry illustration works have been abandoned. One of which was being too busy with other things to give the series the proper amount of time it requires to get things right, such as the composition and the drawing. Since I dropped out of the Social Work program at Frederick Community College, I do have more time to work on paintings.
And since I have deliberately looked at my schedule e and started marking studio days on the calendar, I have more “intentional “time. But I am also realizing just how hard this series is, as I am making some paintings almost entirely from scratch by combining different photo references in Photoshop and then drawing and painting them, with this technique, I do not have the luxury of working from reference photos already taken. I have to look for source material and then combine it to make it my own. This project is highlighting areas of weakness in me as an artist, and one of them is composition. I have a tendency to put everything in the middle and don’t often use more unconventional compositional styles. I want to change that and start looking to master artworks to try and broaden my skills in this area.
Another great way to improve your painting skills is to draw, yes draw. Regularly and in a sketchbook if you can, as much as you can so that you can practice things like composition, color, proportions, etc. It can also help you see patterns in your work, such as a favorite subject you return to, or a color palette. A sketchbook is also a great place to try out a variety of art media since it doesn’t feel as precious as a large painting can sometimes feel. This week I am featuring photos from my old sketchbook to show just how diverse you can be in art media. I include mixed-media collages and colored pencil drawings. The sky really is the limit with sketchbooks!
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.
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!
Mixed media Explained: Part 2, Types of Mixed Media
Hello friends, family, and fans,
This week I am continuing to elaborate on the theme of mixed media art, and I will be highlighting specific types of mixed media art, such as sculpture, assemblage, and torn paper collage. Last week I covered a broad definition of mixed media art, and I also explored the historical roots of this art form, through the artwork of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. They began making cubist collage works in 1912, with a variety of materials including canvas and rope. (Source: Eapen, Boaz. 15 Inspiring Mixed Media Art Portfolios that You Must See, retrieved from November 12, 2019, pixpa.com.)
The following is a list of some frequently used types of mixed media art:
Sculpture: A sculpture can be made with a variety of materials; therefore, it can be classified as mixed media art. Some materials which can be used to create sculpture include wood, glass, wire, metal, or readymade objects, etc. To begin, you can start by making a base for your sculpture and then, incorporate other media to the piece such as paint. (Source: ibid.) While writing this blog post, I found a fascinating sculptor through an internet search, who specializes in fantastical animals with a surreal twist, named, Ellen Jewett. To see her work, go to my modern met website at https://mymodernmet.com/surreal-animal-sculptures-ellen-jewett/.
Collage: A collage can be defined as a base, or a surface such as wood, paper, stone, or anything which is adhered to another material such as paper or fabric. (Source: ibid.) You can use a variety of materials in a collage such as newspaper cuttings, photographs, ink, paint, magazine cuttings, fabric, etc. The artist, Romare Bearden (1911-1988), specialized in creating collages based on the African American narrative, using imagery from magazines, such as Look, Life, and Ebony. (Source: Romare Bearden Biography, (1911-1918), retrieved from, https://www.biography.com/artist/romare-bearden
Assemblage: A close cousin to collage, assemblage has three-dimensional characteristics, which are composed in a new way to create a narrative. Readymade objects, such as children’s toys or items from the great outdoors, such as leaves or flowers can provide valuable fodder for this type of art. For instance, the artist, Joseph Cornell, (1903-1972) made assemblage boxes out of shadow boxes, photos, “Victorian bric-a-brac”, etc. He collected these items in junk shops throughout New York City and re-imagined these items to create artwork that expressed nostalgia. (Source: Wikipedia, Joseph Cornell, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Cornell.)
With all of these options, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin your next project. As for myself, I like to look for supplies that are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. One good starting point for a mixed media project could be using paper as a surface or substrate. I have used Crescent cold press illustration board for my latest mixed media projects, which is a combination of cardboard and “100% cotton rag cold-press surface”. (Source: https://www.cheapjoes.com/crescent-no-310-illustration-boards.html#:) My self-portrait pieces were made with a combination of wet and dry media such as acrylic paint, gouache, oil paint, and soft pastels to add texture and interest. There are many other ways to use paper as well in different types of mixed media projects such as torn paper collage, and printmaking, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The possibilities are endless!
For example, below is a list of ways in which you can use paper in a mixed media project:
Printmaking: There are many types of printmaking such as linoleum block prints, silk-screen prints, and Gelli-plate printing. To make prints, you will need a surface on which you place or carve an image and then transfer it to your paper through various means. For instance, in linoleum block printing you can transfer your image on the block to the paper by applying ink to your design, and then pressing the block onto your paper to make a print. The supplies you will need may vary depending on what type of printmaking you choose to work with. To learn more, you can go to https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/drawings-and-prints/materials-and-techniques/printmaking. (Source: The Beginner’s Guide to Making Mixed Media Art, 20 September 2018, retrieved from format.com).
The sky is the limit as far as what you can do here, although it’s a good idea to find out what the journal is made out of and what media it accepts, before attempting to paint in it. I recently obtained a Strathmore mixed media art journal from Amazon. It’s made of Bristol paper with a vellum finish. It’s designed to work well with dry media such as pencil, charcoal, and pastel. Or it can be used with pen and ink, marker, or college papers.
I’m hoping to use this journal to start some new projects from the Skillshare art classes I am taking online. Today, I tried my hand at the torn paper collage technique, and I used the tutorial by Jeanne Oliver provided in her book, The Painted Art Journal, which I highly recommend! My artwork was based on a family photo of my grandmother, Gladys Carter. Starting with a tracing of a sketch, I transferred the image to mixed media paper, using carbon paper and a pen. Then, I used a variety of different media here, with soft pastel, watercolor pencil, water, and torn papers affixed to the mixed media paper substrate. I’m hoping to post photos of this portrait project in next week’s blog post, I ran out of time today and had to go to work this afternoon. It’s a work in progress, and getting outside of my comfort zone to mix up all these different media types! That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading.
Have you ever gone to an art gallery and observed a work of art that was labeled mixed media, and wondered what it meant? I know I have, and I have wondered, how might I incorporate these mediums in my artwork? This question was the catalyst for starting my new art series, Constructed Realities, which combines a variety of mediums including, gouache, soft pastel, acrylic, pencil, and oil paint with a cold press illustration board as a substrate. In some ways, my art is a mixture of mixed media and traditional techniques; because I use realism for the style, but I also combine it with a variety of media, rather than working on one media, such as in oil painting, as has been the traditional practice for painting.
Today, I am focusing on describing mixed media art, in terms of a broad definition, and more specifically to explain what I mean when I label my own art, mixed media. And now, I’d like to offer a brief definition of mixed media art. Mixed media is a type of art that doesn’t limit people who have limited experience with art skills such as drawing. (Source: Eapen, Boaz. 15 Inspiring Mixed Media Art Portfolios that You Must See, retrieved from November 12, 2019, www.pixpa.com.) Instead, it is an art form that is accessible to anyone, even beginners. (Source: ibid) However, one caveat is that after you decide what type of mixed media art you want to focus on, you will need to develop some familiarity with specific processes and specific media, (Source: ibid), such as watercolor interact with other media.
Did you know that mixed media art has been around for about 100 years? I didn’t until I started researching this subject in more detail. Some historical examples of mixed media art include the artwork of the cubist artists, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, his cohort. About 1912, they began to incorporate collages into their artwork. (Source: ibid) In addition, “Surrealists, abstract expressionists, pop artists and brit artists” followed suit, and added mixed media to their repertoire of art-making. (Source: ibid)
In recent years, there has been an explosion of mixed media artwork on the internet on websites such as Youtube and Cloth Paper Scissors, (which also had a periodical format with artwork featuring a variety of artists), and in art technique books, by authors/artists such as, Pam Carriker, Mixed Media Portraits (2015) and Jean Oliver, The Painted Journal (2018). These artists have used a combination of wet and dry media, charcoal and paint, and or gesso, in their portraits. On youtube, you can find art journaling technique video demonstrations by artists such as Dina Wakely and one of my favorite artists and teachers, Julie Fan Fei Balzer. It’s a fun and free way to learn new art techniques from the comfort of your own home, which is really important these days, since so many colleges and art centers are closed, due to the pandemic.
I started out my mixed media art journey by working in a sketchbook to conquer my fears about mixed media, and it gave me the courage to explore mixed media in this new series. There is little to lose if you don’t like the artwork, and you can simply turn the page, rather than worry about ruining an expensive art canvas. Creating artwork with mixed media techniques is also helpful if you find yourself caught in the dreaded state of mind called the artist’s block, where you know you want to create something but feel stale in your chosen medium and want to learn something new and feel excited about making art again. My favorite website for looking up art tutorials is youtube. If you have a specific artist you are looking for, you can search for them, such as Pam Carriker, who has many instructional videos. And to learn more about art journals, visit: https://mymodernmet.com/art-journal-ideas/, to read the article, “How to Combine Drawing and Writing into Deeply Personal Art Journals”, by Sarah Barnes, October 11, 2017. Thanks for stopping by!
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!
I’m so excited to announce that I sold two original oil paintings, Gerbera Daisy and Jack Daniels via my Etsy website, https://www.etsy.com/shop/ArtofSchmidt, with a little help from a Facebook post I made last night. It is a welcome relief after several months of no sales from original pieces. Now I need to start adding new work to make up for the missing spaces.
I’d love to hear from you about what subject matter I should include. What’s your favorite subject? Animals, still life, landscape or portraits?
After writing last week’s blog post about famous failures and depression, in which I compared the experiences of the famous failures, Abraham Lincoln and J.K. Rowling, I realized that I had failed to document a source for the statement I had made about her depression. Citing sources is very important to me since I come from an academic background. So, this week I am writing an addendum to last week’s blog post with some citations and some quotes from J.K. Rowling about her experiences with depression, and how she overcame it. How I made this mistake, I don’t know, since I spent many weeks proofreading the post, but there it is. Perhaps it’s like tunnel vision, the closer you are to something, and the harder it is to get perspective about an issue.
In addition, I’d also like to discuss another link between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln that I had inadvertently missed, which was that they both are writers. Abraham Lincoln wrote poetry and speeches, and some of his most famous writings were The Gettysburg Address (presented in November 1863) at the Gettysburg battlefield, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and his House Divided Speech, given on June 6, 1858, at the Illinois republic convention in Springfield, Illinois.(Sources: “This Day in History,” 19 November, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, The History Channel,https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincolns-gettysburg-address, accessed on 05/17/18, and “Lincoln’s House Divided Speech,” (1858), PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2934.html, accessed on 05/17/18).
Likewise, J.K. Rowling is a fiction writer and the celebrated author of the Harry Potter book series. Rowling’s writing was a major factor in her recovery from depression, and I wonder, might she have been on to something? (Source: “How J.K. Rowling beat Depression,” Justin Bennett, How I Beat Depression, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression/, accessed on 05/17/18. It is possible that Lincoln also found relief in writing from his depressive thoughts.
For example, in an article by Joshua Wolf Shenk, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” Shenk includes a poem that may have been written by Lincoln, though no definitive evidence exists, as the poem was unsigned. However, it seems likely that Lincoln might have written it because several characteristics of the poem are similar to Lincoln’s style with regard to “syntax and tone.” (Source: Joshua Wolf Shenk, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” The Atlantic, October 2005 issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/) In the poem, the unknown author wrote about depression and his/her intention to commit suicide, entitled, “The Suicide’s Soliloquy. (Source: ibid) The poem was published in The Sangamo Journal in 1838, which was a “four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois”. (Source: ibid, and Joshua Wolf Shenk, “The Suicide Poem,” The New Yorker, June 14, 2004, Issuehttps://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/06/14/the-suicide-poem, accessed on 05/21/18,) Here is a quote from this poem:
“Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.
J.K. Rowling and Her Depression
Similarly, in her own words, Rowling described her experience with depression as follows: “Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced…It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” (Source: Justin Bennett, “How J.K. Rowling Beat Depression,” May 15, 2012, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression, accessed on 15 May 2018.) In a similar way, Lincoln described is depression as untenable: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. I must die or be better, it appears to me.” (Source: Abraham Lincoln Quotes about Depression, http://www.azquotes.com/author/8880-Abraham_Lincoln/tag/depression, accessed on 05/18/18, and also, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic, October 2005 issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/, accessed on 05/18/18.
According to the writer, Justin Bennet, Rowling experienced a depressive episode, and suicidal thoughts following the break -up of her marriage to a Portuguese journalist that ended in two years. (Source: (Source: “How J.K. Rowling beat Depression,” Justin Bennett, How I Beat Depression, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression/, accessed on 05/17/18.) At the time, of her divorce, she was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her small daughter, and a friend paid the security deposit on her apartment. (Source: CNN, “Harry Potter author: I Considered Suicide,” 2008, http://cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ?03/23/rowling.depressed/index.html, accessed on 15 5 2018.) She was unemployed and living on welfare benefits to support herself and her daughter. (Source: ibid) Seeking medical assistance turned out to be her salvation, although the first Dr. she went to seek help, unfortunately, dismissed the severity of her depression. (Source: Bennett) However, her regular physician prescribed cognitive behavioral therapy to help her to overcome her depression. (Source: Fox News, “J.K. Rowling Considered Suicide while Suffering from Depression Before Writing ‘Harry Potter,’ www.foxnews.com/2008/03/23/jk-rowling-considered-suicide-while-suffering-from-depression-before-writing.html). She was caught in “fearful cycles of rumination and doubt,” as she started writing her series of Harry Potter books, which she had originally “conceived” in 1990, while she rode on a train. (Source: Bennet, 2012). Her first Harry Potter book was published in 1996 and was titled, The Sorcerer’s Stone. (Source: CNN) And in fact, one of the characters described in her book called “Dementors,” were “hooded monsters,” that were symbolic of her depression, helped her to express her feelings about depression in a constructive way. (Source: Justin Bennet).
How Writing the Harry Potter Series Helped J.K. Rowling to Cope
In her depressed state, she thought that she had “nothing to lose,” by writing these books and that the worst that could happen would be rejection from “every major publisher in the UK.” (Source: ibid).
She turned writing into a daily discipline, and it became an outlet to help her overcome her depression, and the structure that this routine created provided her with stability during a very unstable stage in her life. (Source: ibid) It also helped her to stop worrying as she focused on creating plotlines and character descriptions for her Harry Potter books. (Source: ibid)
Is there Therapeutic Value in the Arts to help treat Depression or other forms of Mental Illness?
Could there be therapeutic value in immersing oneself in the arts, whether it is writing, music, fine arts, or creative movements, such as dance or sports? As for myself, I have found comfort in using drawing and painting as an outlet to express my feelings of grief, sadness, and anxiety. For example, in 2011, I started a painting series to document my father’s life, which I entitled, ALife Remembered. This painting series was based on black and white photos, which I used as inspiration for oil portraits of my father and the people and places he encountered during his lifetime. Similarly, J.K. Rowling found a daily writing practice to be of assistance to her in fighting her depression. (Source: “J.K. Rowling How to Deal with Failure,” Medium.com, https://medium.com/personal-growth/j-k-rowling-how-to-deal-with-failure-ff8c7cb0048, accessed on 05/17/18). Might Lincoln have also found solace in writing as an outlet for his feelings as well, while he was struggling with depression? I’m not sure of the answer, but all these questions are definitely food for thought. Could it be that creative expression has the potential to be advantageous to everyone, whether you consider yourself “talented” in a specific discipline or not? Maybe art for art’s sake is valid, even if your art is not award winning.
According to the authors, Stuckey and Nobel, (2010), there is evidence-based research which suggests that these four creative domains: visual arts, music, expressive writing and dance/creative movement, there is a positive and beneficial relationship to health and well being. (Source: Heather L. Stuckey, and Jeremy Nobel, “The Connection between Art, Healing and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature,” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, American Journal ofPublic Health,, 2010 February, volume 100 , issue (2):, pages 254-263 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/. Accessed on 05/18/18).
These authors examined the current understanding between “art and healing,” by studying various research and literature which documents this connection (Source: ibid) The goal of their literature review and research was to focus on the time period between 1995-2007 and to evaluate “the state of peer-reviewed research on art and healing.” (Source: ibid) They also sought to offer a concise summary of “both qualitative and quantitative research methods and results,” and to provide a description of all the main “categories of creative expression,” which have surfaced as enrichment to the
quality of life. (Source: ibid). The result of their research indicates that “in all four areas of creative expression,” significant indications pointed to a trend that showed that participation in the arts for enrichment’s sake has statically significant beneficial “effects on health.”(Source: ibid) However, the authors offer the caveat that there are limits to “many of the studies included in our review,” and it is therefore not possible to make generalizations about the relationship between the therapeutic benefits of engagements with the arts and one’s health. (Source: ibid) In addition, the authors also admit that their “sample of studies is not exhaustive, and other research has been added to the literature since our review was conducted.” (Source: ibid).
In conclusion, it;’s an interesting study nonetheless, despite its limitations, and it confirms my supposition that there could be a positive correlation between the arts and well being. I wonder if somewhere inside of ourselves, we really do know what is good for us, and just need to listen to that instinct more. What about you? Have the arts helped you get through difficult times or brought enrichment to your life?
Hello Friends, After posting the blog post, Administrative Aspects of Being an Artist: Writing a Newsletter, I realized that I had posted the images of my newsletter as a slide show. I realized that it would be nearly impossible to read the newsletter in this format, so I am re-posting the newsletter as a jpeg so you can read the newsletter if you wish. My apologies.