Sunday, January 31, 2010

Go Figure

Artists were intensely focused while drawing from the live model

A medley of my drawings from the two-hour session

The paloelithic era brought us voluptuous figurines such as Goddess of Willendorf. The Greeks offered up their version of the "ideal" body through exquisitely sculpted statues, and Botticelli painted us a modest, long-haired beauty in The Birth of Venus. Matisse collaged paper for Blue Nude, and where would the Sistine Chapel be without the genius figure renderings by Michaelangelo? Andrew Wyeth had his Helga, and Rubens had his Three Graces.

My students, when flipping through the pages of art history books, often ask me "why would an artist paint a naked person?" It's hard for their young minds, who only know the body as something that is required to be clothed in public, to understand why rendering the nude figure is considered an art. Their only knowing of a naked body is that it belongs in adult magazines or in R-Rated movies.

I try to explain that it requires great skill to be able to draw the figure, and that it has been drawn, painted, and sculpted for hundreds, even thousands, of years by many of the great master artists. I go on to say that for these artists, the body is seen as something beautiful, but also a challenge. Furthermore, it is required in art school that students draw from a live model, and that they learn how the body form connects, moves, and works as a whole. How would a fashion designer draw clothing if they didn't have a thorough understanding of proportion? And where would the medical field be without artists who illustrated the figure, inside and out, for textbooks.

I remember my first drawing class at USM with Professor David Schneider. At eighteen years old, I was not yet an art student, and had no inclination to be one at the time. I was merely required to take an arts-related course to fulfill the core requirement. I liked drawing well enough: still-lifes, landscapes, cute little cartoons. It never even crossed my mind, not once, that I would have to stare at a naked person for the duration of a three-hour class and attempt to render the structure of a human figure.

To my surprise, after the initial embarrassment wore off, I fell in love with the process. My drawings became more free, lines expressive. It wasn't about seeing an arm or a breast. It was about sensing hills, valleys, curves, and shadows. In much of my artwork I am calculating, methodical, careful. When drawing the figure, my arm comes to life and the lines emerge quickly, without thought.

That first college drawing course, where we drew and clay-sculpted the live model, set a foundation that still, twenty-two years later, impacts my work as an artist.

Yesterday I played hostess for a live model session. Eight artists from Lubec and Eastport areas gathered to draw and paint. After the initial frenzy of trying to find enough chairs and supply stands, folks settled-in. The focus was so intent that the only sound heard was the scratching of art materials against paper.

The model was fantastic, leading us through a series of two to twenty-minute poses. What was most impressive was that, with her beautifully-rounded seven-month pregnant belly, she was still able to contort into challenging positions that accentuated graceful lines and muscle tone. The drawing session cumulated into a one-hour pose that was reminiscent of Delacroix' Odalisque Reclining on Divan.

I felt a bit rusty at figure drawing since it had been perhaps three years since I last worked with a model. I made a mental note to self that I need to put-in some time with hands and feet. I patted myself on the back for doing an adequate job with the foreshortening, which I admit, I often avoided in the past. The hub bub of the day's activity began to subside as artists packed-up their easels and drove away. I finished returning the chairs and stands to their appropriate spots in the house and went back into the studio to photograph my sketches.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of movement. Camera still in hand, I lifted it up in time to snap a shot, though blurry and unfocused, of a fox in the front field. Moments later, a second fox emerged and the two playfully chased each other through the snow before winding off into the tree line.

What a gift that was, after an artistically fulfilling morning, to witness such playfulness and beauty in nature, even on a bitterly cold winter day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Things Don't Always Go as Planned

Sketchbook entry, 01.22.10

First day working with clay in basement studio, 01.23.10

Story Loom warped and ready for weaving.

Have you ever noticed how no matter how much you plan something, work out the details in your mind, sketch it down on paper, that things never....NEVER....go as planned. Not precisely, anyway.

Sometimes the veering off-course brings about disaster, but sometimes (hopefully most times) it brings about new insight and interesting new directions.

Enthusiastically, I am a student again. I love to learn and had been waiting for an opportunity to present itself for me to return to school. When Heartwood College of Art came up with a low-residency MFA program that was feasible for me to do while still keeping my full-time teaching job, I jumped on-board. The official start-date of classes was January 18th. My mind has been working overtime for the past month mentally mapping out project ideas and physically pushing myself to the point of exhaustion to get the two studio spaces primed for production.

How this new program works is this:

The student artist moves at a pace of two "classes" per semester. A mentor/advisor is assigned who oversees the student. Before this current semester began, I submitted two "class" proposals. There were some basic guiding parameters which needed to be followed, but within those parameters, there was still plenty of room for my own interpretation and ideas. Other than self-directed work, we have weekend intensives on campus where we participate in critiques and workshops.

I designed two well-thought-out proposals. I knew the clay I would use, the way I would warp my loom, the surface treatments, the final presentation.

However, from day one working in the studio, things started to not go as smoothly as I imagined in my mind.

It threw me off for a bit. I had this set plan and finished product that I had sketched. I knew what I wanted. wasn't going to happen.

Thankfully, I put the perfectionist in me to the side, and decided to try another route. Once I did that, I was on a roll, back on schedule, albeit with some re-designing.

(note: I had begun this blog entry only to be interrupted by unforeseen circumstances....what follows is the rest of my blog entry, written two and half hours later than when I originally started this morning. I am making a great case for the title of this blog entry!)

Until this morning.

I woke raring to go. I "stumbled" out of bed, literally. A bit of a dizzy spell. No biggie. Happens once in a while. This won't stop me - I have a "plan".

1. 7:30 a.m., turn on heat in basement pottery studio
2. 7:40 a.m., feed cat, make cocoa, return to bed, blog, read a couple chapters in required book for MFA program.
3. 9:30 a.m., eat breakfast, put-on pot of chicken soup for quick lunch and supper
4. 10:00 a.m.,head into basement and put-in 5 hours with clay: pomegranate sculptures and test tiles, listen to some excellent tunes
5. 3:00 p.m., shower then spend a couple hours journaling or weaving

Well...that sounded like a wonderful plan. is 11:00 a.m. and here I am trying to finish the blog I began at 7:45 a.m.

here is how it actually went down:

1. 7:30 a.m., turn on heat in basement pottery studio. (Check)
2. 7:40 a.m., make cocoa (check)

Now this is where it all goes off-course.....

7:45 a.m. - What the heck? Still dizzy? The floors are feeling a bit rounded to me today. Is the house off kilter? I mean, any more than usual? This place is over 150 years old. Hmmm

8:15 a.m. - I think I'll reposition myself in bed. Oops, dizzy again just trying to sit up.

8:30 a.m. - downstairs to take blood pressure. gee, that looks fine. Hmmm. floors still feel funny when I try to walk on them.

8:40 a.m. - back to warm bed, work on blog. Mind wanders. Yesterday was first full day in basement working on pottery - with the new propane heater in a tightly closed space. What if? Oh no. What if there is a carbon monoxide problem in the house? Hmmm....what do I do about this? I don't dare to drive an hour to Calais to buy a monitor, too dizzy. Not safe.

8:45 am. -put on clothes, begin to open doors and windows....just in case. Open the door by deck that is closest to propane tank, smell gas, hear hissing noise. Crap. This happened back in December. A leak again?

8:50 a.m. - put on boots, stand back up after tying laces, almost fall over. Wow, that was fun (not). Sit down in chair to rebalance self. Stand up slowly, head down to basement, turn off propane heater. Open cellar door, walk to tank, still hissing, stinky propane. Open cover. Tighten cap. Hissing stops.

9:00 a.m. - Call poison control and ask "who do I call if I need to have carbon monoxide levels checked in house?" Lots of questions...they tell me to call fire dept. Call fire department. More clarifying questions, tell me to call 911. Call 911, assuring them not an immediate emergency, but "just wondering how I can find out if leaky propane is an issue."

9:05 a.m. - sirens, firetrucks, ambulance, cars....people with monitors walking through house, checklists. My vitals are good, no carbon monoxide issues.

10:15 a.m. - totally embarrassed but grateful that folks came along to make sure that things are okay. Closed up windows and doors, warming up under electric blanket, eating breakfast, blogging. Feet up. Propane company has been called.

So, that brings me up until now, which is 11:30 a.m. I am finishing up my blog, have a full belly, and am awaiting the next visitor who will check the tank and probably remove it since this is the second time it has leaked. I am itching to get into basement and work with the clay. Taking things slowly though and keeping check of dizziness.

I think Bello would be content for me to stay put here in this chair. He seems quite comfy laying on my legs which are just underneath the warm electric blanket. Alas, there is work to be done downstairs, and I will, being careful to keep myself steady, make my way down there, turn up the tunes, and begin to wedge me a clump of clay.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lubec Student Winter Art Show

Student artwork on exhibit at Lubec Memorial Library through January 2010

Bear, conte, grade 11

Sunflowers, tempera paint, grade 1

Collage drawing, conte, charcoal, pen, pencil, grade 11

Bike, watercolor, color pencil, acrylic paint, ink, grade 10

lighthouse, tempera paint, grade 1

Self-portrait, charcoal, grade 11

monet waterlily painting, grade K /Self-portrait grade K/ Self portrait, grade 4/ Self-portrait, grade 4/ Scarecrow, grade 3

Sunflower painting, grade Kindergarten

Mandalas by Grade 8

Giraffe, watercolor pencils, grade 5

Henna designs, ink, watercolor, color pencil, grade 7

Every January for the past few years, Lubec Memorial Library has played host to a student art exhibit. I traditionally spend the days preceding Christmas vacation sorting through hundreds of colorful pieces to jury about forty items into the show. It's a difficult task in that there are so many incredible artworks and so little space to hang!

It is an honor for a student to be included in this exhibit because of the fact that only a limited number of works make it to the final cut. And not only that, since each grade is included in this exhibit, there are only 2-4 students typically chosen per classroom. It furthers the difficulty in my selection in that I cannot choose every schoolwide favorite piece of mine to be in this show, rather it is a selection of the top from each class. I am also sure to include a mix of artworks from each grade level by both boys and girls. And one more dimension to the slection process, sometimes it is about choosing pieces that will work well together.

Inevitably, some students feel disappointment in not being selected, and parents wonder why their child was not chosen as well. This is one of a few "juried" shows that we participate in each year. As with many "competitions", numbers are limited. However, I do make sure that each child proudly displays their work at some point during the year, most times more than once. Bulletin boards line the halls filled with grade level art projects, each month the principal selects an artowrk from each grade for recognition, the Women's Club Federation hosts a high school competition, the West Quoddy Visitor Center sells student artwork, and last year the McCurdy Smokehouse ran a student art exhibit as well. In the spring, at our school's annual projects' night, we have a huge art show where every student chooses their personal favorite artwork from their portfolio to show.

This year's exhibit at the library turned out quite nicely if I may say so myself! The opening reception is always enjoyable and I am grateful to those folks who help out with the set-up and food table. Kids are excited to see their pieces on display, and equally (or more so) excited to be able to snack on various yummy junk-food delights without too much parental complaint.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year, New Beginnings

Progress being made in the basement. Started out with a messy sawdust pile, wood scraps, equipment, boards, and a pile of tools and a plastic-sheeted room ready for more mess to be made!

Holidays have passed and this last day of school vacation has me feeling mellow and pleased with the past week's accomplishments. As it goes with vacation time, the sleep-in hour gets later and later. I rolled out of bed at 9:00 a.m. after an eleven-hour slumber. This is nearly unheard of for me, as I am usually up before daylight breaks and taking advantage of the still creative time. But the longer I have off from work, the later the sleep-ins get. Yesterday wore me out physically. By bedtime, I wasn't sure I would be able to get myself vertical long enough to get up the stairs to the bedroom!

The day began with four straight hours of emails, phone calls, and downloads. A documentary is being made about last summer's Lubec Arts Alive and I need to acquire multiple images from the artists involved. Sounds simple, but with various digital requirements, requests, and thirteen artists in is a lengthy process. We are fortunate to have Jon Wing Lum, a talented film-maker, on board for this project. I am eager to see the final result and hopefully it will be finished in time to debut at a public event this coming spring!

After a lull emerged in the onslaught of emails, I headed into the new basement to begin set-up for the pottery studio. Originally I had planned to have the pottery on the main floor - but this space (from which I am writing now) is so pristine and sacred-feeling that I decided it should be reserved for the less messy endeavours of weaving, drawing, and workshops. So off the the basement I went.

I actually enjoy working in such a environment, which seems quite a contradiction for me since I am one who needs my space "just so" in order to begin a project. But, my beginnings with clay at USM were in such a space, deep underground in the Robie-Andrews building. I remember the "long" walk down through the concrete-lined halls into the gray, cement-walled rooms, dirty, dusty, still, and lit by overhead flourescent lights. Not glamorous by any means, but it felt right. Maybe it is because clay comes from the earth, and what better place to work with clay than deep in it.

My father had planned to be here this weekend to work on more trim and doorway installation in the new addition. As it turned out, this storm that started Thursday evening proved to be too dangerous for travel. So, the wood that we had planned to use is still being stored in the basement. On a tight schedule and needing the clay studio ready for the MFA projects to begin, the first task on hand down there involved moving several boards from the right side of the room to the left. A mere three feet or less of movement, but awkward and heavy. Have you ever tried maneuvering 14 foot boards through 8 foot openings?

With careful calculation (and Chris' help!) the task was completed. Then I was left for a few hours on my own to strategically set-up the space for optimum production. Organiziation just happens to be one of my skills, and already I had been planning the placement of things in my mind for several weeks. My muscles got a workout as the heavy shimpo wheel was moved around, tables placed, glazes piled, and plastic hung.

Yes, plastic. The new clay studio eerily resembles a scene from Showtime's Dexter. In an attempt to isolate heat into the work area, I sectioned off a 12'x18' space with plastic sheeting. It is quite cold down there and am thinking the heat might be less likely to bolt for the high-ceilinged stairwell. I have a second heater on order. It is a tricky thing to plan out the heating for this space since I can have no blowers. Flying clay dust is extremely hazardous to one's health!

So - at this moment in time, the basics are set-up. After the student art show opens on Wednesday, and between storms, I hope to get to Calasis to buy some remnant linoleum from Marden's. This will be placed under the main work area in an attempt to make clean-up easy, or, more easy than having to clean up slop from concrete floors. That's the hope anyway. Then, another work table, clay organization, and I think I am good to go.

Today - I will try to recoup my energy for a hectic day of teaching and artwork-hanging tomorrow. I have some brain-type activities that need my attention: reading a book for the MFA program and more downloads and emails to tend to.

Holidays were a blast and it was wonderful to spend time with family. January, which is usally quiet time for me, is looking to be off-the-wall crazy with all kinds of activity: student art show, Chris heads to California, Mom visits, and the clay and fiber projects begin for the Heartwood MFA program. The new studio will be in full production, upstairs and down! It is also being used for monthly winter crystal bowl healing sessions and live figure drawing sessions with a beautifully full-bellied pregnant model.

January is typically my hibernation time. Seems that trend is coming to an abrupt end.