Why Should Artists Work in a Series?

Why Should Artists Work in a Series?

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!

Dream of Travel Version 2, sketch_edited-1
Stage 1: The Sketch.

Photo College Dream_edited-1
Stage 2: Photoshop Collage.

The Dream of Time travel, with watermark
Stage 3: Initial color lay in.

Dream of Time travel, final, small

Mixed Media Art: Explained, Part 1

Mixed Media Art: Explained (A brief definition)

 

Hello friends, family, and fans,

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 CarrikerCS Lewis with watermark, flatEmily Dickinson portrait, flatmixed media self-portrait sketch, flatElizabeth Shue sketch, flatstill life sketches, flatunfinished sketches, flat, 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!

Constructed Realities: Finishing unfinished work

When I started this new mixed-media series, which is based on poetry quotes, I was brimming with excitement and energy. I was on a roll, reading poems, writing notes, making sketches,  and photo collages in Photoshop.  Somehow though, about mid-way through the process, difficulties in composition and drawing issues in my sketches began to rear their ugly heads. In some instances, I got stuck and was unable to move forward. Some works were abandoned, while I took a break and started new works. Now, I have several unfinished pieces in progress, and I am trying to find motivation and energy to bring them to a conclusion. So, my new goal is to complete one painting a week to keep the momentum up, especially focusing on

The Dream of Time travel, with watermark
This artwork was inspired by a  quote from Mary Oliver, “Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor.” 

those that have been languishing in my art studio. Why is it so easy to begin a new project, but difficult to finish it?

 

To that end, I am featuring a new work this week, focused on the theme of time travel. It has a bit of a surrealist tone to it with the theme of wishing I could go back in time to happier periods in my life, or at least, that is how I remember them. To represent this concept, I have included three self-portraits from different times in my life composed in a winter landscape. Time travel is something I used to be quite interested in as a child, during the 1980s. Popular books and films featured this concept such as Back to the Future, with Michael J. Fox,  Somewhere in Time, featuring Christopher Reeve. I also read books about this topic, such as the book, The Hunky Dory Dairy (1986), written by Anne Lindbergh, in which a young girl is transported from the 1980s to the nineteenth century one Saturday morning on an errand to fetch milk and a newspaper.

Constructed Realities: Part 3, A Focus on My Childhood

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.

Childhood Collage memory loss, watermark
Childhood Memory Loss, Gouache and soft pastel, and acrylic paint, 16 x 13 inches, Jodie Schmidt, 2020. 

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! 

Practice Makes Perfect: Value Sketches and Color Sketches, Constructed Realities

Art of Blog Schmidt: How to Build Artistic Muscles

 

Hello Readers. This is an older blog post, but I felt that it has some points which still resonate with me, such as the importance of making time to practice my craft as an artist, making daily and weekly time to work on my paintings and drawings. This new series, Constructed Realities has been challenging in many ways, with challenges in coming up with new ideas, overcoming weaknesses as an artist, and sometimes just getting started. I feel afraid to make a mistake sometimes, and just have to choose to jump into the deep water and see what happens. Below is a recycled blog post, How to Build Artistic Muscles. But the artwork I am posting here is new. This artwork is based on song lyrics and poems, and is all about the figure, using mixed media materials for drawings and paintings.

Axiety, flat
 Anxiety, Mixed Media on Crescent Illustration Board, Jodie Schmidt 2020. 

Value studies, flat
Top: Anxiety, (Value Sketch) Mixed Media on Crescent Board, Jodie Schmidt 2020.  

Bottom: Money is the Bait, (Value Sketch) Mixed Media on Crescent Board, Jodie Schmidt 2020.

color sketches, flat
Top: Money is the Bait, (color sketch), Mixed media on Crescent illustration board, Jodie Schmidt, 2020.  

Bottom: Abraham Lincoln Biographical Portrait (value sketch), Mixed Media on Crescent Illustration Board, 2020.

Let Your Soul be Your Pilot, flat
Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, (color sketch) Mixed Media on Crescent illustration board, Jodie Schmidt, 2020. 

 

A few weeks ago, one of my art fans complimented me on a painting which she had viewed on my Art of Schmidt website, entitled, Phyllis and Dad. She said that she liked the colors, that she admired my talent, and wanted to know the story behind the painting. I told her that the painting was based on a collection of family photos that I had collected and that I always remembered my father as being older than other kid’s fathers. I also shared that this was the first photo I had ever seen of my father taken when he was young. Although I do not know his exact age, as the picture is not dated, I would estimate that he was in his early twenties when this photo was taken of him and his first wife, Phyllis.

I was of course, grateful to hear the compliments about my artwork, but at the same time, I wanted to share that the artwork I post on my website does not come about by magic. It takes a lot of effort.  Furthermore, sometimes more than one version of a painting or drawing is created to lead to the finished product that people see on my website, commerce site, and social media feeds on Facebook and Instagram. In fact, I have to practice on a weekly basis to keep my drawing and painting skills from getting rusty. During this conversation, I shared all of these insights with her and I hastened to add that if I relied solely on my artistic “talent” then it wouldn’t get me very far. Instead, I have found that practicing art is much like practicing a sport or playing an instrument. I believe that in order to get good at any of these disciplines, one needs to practice, a lot, and on a regular basis to maintain a certain level of skill. And sometimes it may require me to make a drawing or painting over and over again until I get it “just right.” In the words of songwriter, Sting: “I will reapply the needle of the record player again and again to the bars of music that seem beyond my analysis, like a safecracker picking a lock, until the prize is mine.” (Sting, Broken Music, dust jacket cover, 2003).

I was thinking about this conversation this week when I was trying to decide what to blog about. While I was pondering this, I wondered how to make this knowledge which I have gained about the need for artists to practice their art, into an applicable blog post that anyone can learn from. According to the author, and textile artist, Bren Boardman, one specific way for artists to stay “in practice” with their craft is to keep a sketchbook. The sketchbook serves as a repository to record their ideas and inspirations, such as “color swatches, quotes, magazine clippings, newspaper cuttings, or reference photos” for artwork in progress. (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, https: www.textileartist.org).

Bren Boardman, textile artist, and author of the article, “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, states that sketchbooks can help artists to develop their ideas for artwork and that using a mind map in their sketchbooks is an effective strategy for fleshing out ideas for new artwork. In her article, she provides some useful tips on how to start a mind map diagram, sort of like the “web” I remember from grade school in which my teachers used to help my fellow students brainstorm new ideas. In Boardman’s mind maps, she starts with a word or phrase that encapsulates her concept for a new artwork and draws connecting branches, which describe her ideas in more detail, sometimes using imagery. To start a mind map, she recommends that you write a word or phrase, with which you can associate, the main idea. (Boardman, Bren. 2013)

In addition, Boardman states that it is helpful to consider what type of sketchbook you would like to create such as a reference sketchbook, where you might “collect color mixing tests, color swatches or samples, or an idea generation sketchbook”; such as creating a mind map which describes the process and ends with the final result. On the other hand, perhaps you might make a sketchbook that would describe a trip or journey. Furthermore, if you still feel overwhelmed about the process of starting a sketchbook, I’m including a list of suggestions that Boardman offers in her article to get you started with the process. For example, you might include: “photos, magazines or prints, magazine or newspaper cuttings, drawings, sketches and doodles, text, poetry, stories, thoughts, thoughts, letters, extracts, statements, words, fabric, threads, wools, beads, buckles, papers of all kinds.” (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”)

In this blog post, I include my process for adapting  Boardman’s mind map idea and translating it into a project I wanted to create a genealogical portrait of recording artist, Sting. My inspiration for this project was based on an overworked watercolor painting I made last summer, a portrait by Durer of a man standing in front of a landscape,  and a TV miniseries, entitled, Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, J., on PBS. The segment I took inspiration from was called, “Sting, Sally Field, and Deepak Chopra,” and was filmed in 2014. Gates spoke with each individual in turn and he shared what he had learned about their ancestry through genealogical research. In particular, Gates shared that Sting’s third-great grandparents were lacemakers who started a family in Nottingham, England in the 1820s. However, due to the Industrial Revolution, which led to mass production of products and consumer goods, they were forced to seek work elsewhere in Calais, France, and Australia.

I took inspiration from this TV series, a failed watercolor portrait of Sting, and from a sketch by Duerer which featured a portrait of a man and a landscape in the background.  To record my thoughts, I took notes as I watched the TV segment and I re-draw these thoughts in a mind map. I knew I wanted to make a portrait that was different from the typical face front painting or sketch of a person with a wall as background, and that I wanted to let the artwork tell a story about the person. I wanted to use symbols to tell the person’s story so that it would lead the viewer to contemplate the scene and ask questions about what the symbols might mean. After I completed the notes, I set to work looking for images on the internet of Sting, his home town of Wallsend, England, and some symbols to describe his ancestor’s migration to France and their profession as lacemakers. Then I put all the photos together in Adobe Photoshop to create a collage as reference for the resulting sketch and three value watercolor painting. I plan to continue this project as a larger acrylic painting in a 12 x 24-inch size. Stay tuned for more updates on my painting process of this portrait! Thanks for stopping by!

Drawing and Value Sketches, The Saga Continues

Hello Readers, Friends, and Family,

I am including my revised artist statement for this series, which I have called Voices and Visions, but I am now calling Constructed Realities. I am finally getting into he value sketches and drawings, and its starting to slowly come together. But I still have a long way to go toward the final product. I’m not sure if they will be traditional oil paintings or mixed media pieces. Right now, I am looking for readers to let me know how my artist statement sounds, and if the artwork I am posting here, “matches” with it. If you could, post a comment on my website,  http://www.artofschmidt.com or Art of Schmidt Facebook page and let me know how this statement and artwork make you feel. I want to be sure that I am not too esoteric, and that everyone who reads it can understand what I hope to express in my art. Anxiety with watermarkThe World, flat_edited-2Value Sketches_edited-1Thanks!

Artist Statement for Constructed Realities

 

How does an idea for a painting get born? For me, it’s sometimes a memory being replayed, hearing a song lyric that resonates with me, reading a poem that lends itself to telling a story 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. The works may describe a feeling, such as a search for love, broken relationships, and homes, uncertainty, nostalgia about one’s childhood, wishes and desires, journeys, the modern world and industrialization, overcoming adversity, artist’s block, etc. These themes are described using metaphors and symbols, such as maps, industrialization, etc. In addition, limited. The color palette in oil paint, to keep the focus on the content of the artwork and not the color.

 

Two things have sparked this re-current theme about visual storytelling, and they are: 1.) An art class that I took at Frederick Community College, and 2.) Learning about art journals and mixed media artwork. 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, “I dwell in a lonely house I know, that vanished nearly a summer ago, and left no trace but the cellar walls …”

(Frost) griped me with a strong visual picture. I immediately thought of a derelict house and I tried to create a narrative about this haunted house. Slowly, different images popped into my head, a derelict house, a ghost bride, a tree, a path, and some crows. To facilitate this process, I collected artwork that inspired me on Google image searches and checked out art technique books on vampires and fantasy creatures from the public library. To create this current body of work, I collected a notebook of images that inspired me, from Google searches or Pinterest, and stitching them together in PhotoShop to create unique compositions. Next, I read books on poetry or did Google searches to look for poems that lent themselves to visual depiction. Brief lines from the poems or songs which inspired these works are embedded within the works so that the viewer can make the connection between the imagery and words which inspired each work.

 

I then collaged various photos of the house, ghost bride, path, crows, landscape, etc. in Adobe Photoshop and printed out the collage on copier paper in the size in which I intended to create the artwork. The final step was to trace the image with carbon paper and Pen and to begin filling in the pastel paper with tones and shades of blue and purple pastels. Some of the poetry that has inspired this new series, entitled, Voices and Visions, are verses written by Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot, among others.

And my second inspirational spark to create this series is the art journaling movement. 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. She also shares that the idea of art journaling is not a new one, and well-known artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, kept a series of notebooks. Like Dina, I find that creating narrative art can be a meaningful process, either to express difficult emotions such as sharing universal truths with others in

Much the same way as song lyrics do. In a similar fashion to the poets, Dickinson and Frost, songwriters such as The Cranberries, Sting, Shawn Colvin, U2, Roseanne Cash, Johnny Cash, and Coldplay, and many others have masterfully shared universal truths about love, loss, uncertainty, identity, depression, and loneliness. A good case in point is Sting’s song, Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, an ode about uncertainty and the process of finding answers in the midst of it.

What is Artist’s Block?

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, The World with waternarkLONGIN~1, with watermark 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.

John Singer Sargent and the Art of Reinvention

John Singer Sargent: An Artist I admire

 

The problem of Choosing a Topic

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 Really Reinvent 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 Reinvent Yourself?” The Chronicle: The Independent News Organization 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

That’s why I was intrigued by an article entitled, “Examining Sargent’s shift from Oil to Watercolor”, by Judith Dubrynzynski, a writer for the New York Times. (Source: Dubrynzynski, Judith. “Examining Sargent’s shift from Oil to Watercolor.” The New York Times, March 20, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/arts/artsspecial/new-appreciation-for-the-watercolor-works-of-sargent.html, accessed on November 15, 2018.)

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.)

 

Note: You can view examples of Sargent’s murals at the Boston Public Library by clicking on this link: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/collections/commonwealth:sq87dv033,

John Singer Sargent: Biography

All of this makes me wonder, who was Sargent really? According to a biography written by Stanley Meisler,  Sargent lived a peripatetic life in Europe during his childhood, although his family originally lived in the New England area. (Source: Dubrynzynski, Judith. “Examining Sargent’s shift from Oil to Watercolor.” The New York Times, March 20, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/arts/artsspecial/new-appreciation-for-the-watercolor-works-of-sargent.html, accessed on November 15, 2018., and  Meisler, Stanley. “John Singer Sargent”. Smithsonian Magazine, February 1999, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/john-singer-sargent-65338011/, 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, Lily Rose, 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

Copy of Caranation Lily, Lily Rose
After John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. 1885, oil on canvas. I painted this portrait in 2017.

Sohpy Gray portrait_edited-1
After John Millais. Portrait of a Girl, 1857, oil on canvas. I painted this portrait in 2017 with oils on prepared illustration board.

The Family copy_edited-1
After Mary Cassatt, The Family, 1893, oil on canvas. I painted this painting in 2007 with oil paints on prepared illustration board.

Ocean park copy_edited-1
After Richard Diebenkorn, Cityscape 1, 1963. and Ocean Park series # 79, oil on canvas. I painted this painting with oil paint on prepared illustration board.

Woman on a Porch, 1958, Richard Diebenkorn
After Richard Diebenkorn, Woman on a Porch, 1958, oil on canvas. I painted this painting on a canvas with acrylic paintings in 2017.

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!

Why Should Artists Create Content Based Work?

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.) texture and color (Faith Ringgold), 2.) politics  (Kathe Kollwitz), 3.) death, (Hirst) or 4.) messages that uplift, like Kelley Rae Roberts.   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 on 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 power point 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.

Stories We Tell

Stories are a universal element in the arts, such as music, film, opera, theater, poetry, literature, dance and fine arts. They help us to know that we are not alone, that someone else has traveled down a similar path as ours, whether it is loss, uncertainty, joy, expectation, happiness, etc. As an undergraduate art student, I spent a lot of hours making content based work, mostly self-portraits that told a story about some event I was experiencing or a feeling I was working through. I primarily used color to express my feelings. For my senior thesis, I did a series of self-portraits, which were inspired by Sting’s songs on his album, Mercury Falling. These songs dealt with subjects such as depression, in  Lithium Sunset. Lately, I am feeling pulled back into more content based work, and this time I am taking my cue from songs and poetry of Sting, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, and Maya Angelou, among others. Here is a photo of my painting, Lithium Sunset, inspired by Sting’s song, Lithium Sunset:

Fill my eyes
O Lithium sunset
And take this lonesome burden
Of worry from my mind
Take this heartache
Of obsidian darkness
And fold my darkness
Into your yellow light. (Song excerpt from Sting’s official website: http://www.sting.com/discography/lyrics/lyric/song/178

I will post my sketches for this new series based on poetry and songs soon. For now, here is my painting, Lithium Sunset, Oil on Canvas, 2005. Enjoy!

Oil painting self-portrait inspired by the song Lithium Sunset by Sting.