The Great Studio Migration!

 

My new studio! © 2016 Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

My new studio!
© 2016 Amy Funderburk
All Rights Reserved

Things have been happening very quickly for me lately! After diving down Alice’s rabbit hole and following a proverbial trail of divine, gluten-free bread crumbs, what is the exciting end result?

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: September 22nd will be my last day at my current downtown studio location. 

As of that date, I will be moving to a gorgeous new space that can only be called…well, sexy! Take a look at the photographs above, and you’ll see what I mean. And I will even have a lovely view of trees outside the windows, as opposed to my current view of a brick wall. The natural light in this space is phenomenal. 

Not much says “Amy Funderburk” more than that painted floor. Some splashes of my ubiquitous purple and some additional lighting, and I’ll be off to the races.  

For those of you who are familiar with Winston-Salem, my new studio will be located in the historic West End Mill Works community, in the cobalt blue building at 915 Bridge Street. I am delighted to be joining this thriving area, home to a variety of creatives and businesses, including The Breathing Room Yoga Studio and The Olio Glassblowing Studio.

Once I get settled in, I look forward to hosting some sort of Open “Studio Warming” Event to show off my new space. When you visit, you will find ample off-street parking here too, another asset of this move.

And if you don’t want to keep calling it Sexy, you can call it Studio 111.

Stay tuned to future newsletters for details!

My new Studio in the West End Mill Works community Winston-Salem, NC © 2016 Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

My new Studio in the West End Mill Works community, Winston-Salem, NC
© 2016 Amy Funderburk
All Rights Reserved

Posted in The Artist's Studio

Complementary, My Dear Watson!

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016 Lit by green gel to show red shadows © 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016
Lit by green gel to show red shadows
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

In this Still Life, what colors do you see?

If you aren’t familiar with the Color Wheel, in essence, it is a system of organizing the colors of the rainbow by placing them in a circle that flows from one color into the next. Red and yellow make orange, so red flows into orange which in turn moves into yellow. Yellow and blue create green, so yellow melds into green, which flows into blue, and so on. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet move around the Wheel, then violet connects back to red.

The way colors combine with other colors on the Color Wheel, interacting with our eye to create certain optical effects and emotional reactions, are called color schemes.

For my recent Mastering Color workshop, after setting up these objects, I lit them with a spotlight covered with a green theatrical lighting gel to demonstrate how a color will create natural shadows of its complementary color. Complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel — in this case, green and red.

Look in the shadows cast by the objects in this still life. Once my angled green light hit the objects, the shadows appeared dramatically redder.  The complements look for one another.

They also neutralize each other when mixed, and look for one another. This is the most dramatic of color schemes, and provides the highest color contrast. As artist Marc Chagall said, All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”

Claude Monet knew this when he painted his wife and son in Camille and Jean on a Hill — or any number of other works, for that matter. He did not hesitate to daub red within the dramatic cast shadow in the green grass, rather than simply relying on a darker green. This results in a lively, rich shadow.

The other main pairs of complements are yellow and violet and blue and orange. Start looking around you!

The Report on Mastering Color

On the weekend of August 27-28th, I hosted the Mastering Color workshop at my studio, and was thrilled with the color scheme projects created by the participants.

We explored the nuances of that most emotionally evocative of elements with the help of the Color Wheel, and examined some of the reasons behind our physiological and psychological reactions to color. The participants’ enthusiasm was infectious!

Many thanks to all those who attended! If you missed it, I hope you can join me the next time I offer the workshop.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

August 27-28, 2016 © 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

Mixing demonstration in watercolor, Mastering Color workshop with Amy Funderburk August 27-28, 2016
© 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

Posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Photography and photography techniques Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Art Requires Courage

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH oil on oil primed linen, 36" x 48" ©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved My interpretation of The Fool tarot card in the series Wisdom of the Ancient Lore.

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH
oil on oil primed linen, 36″ x 48″
© Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved

My painting professor once called me fearless. I have since come to realize that this is the highest complement I have ever been paid as an artist.

“I’m frightened all the time. But I never let it stop me. Never!” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Pursuing your dream, in art or any other field, brings its own rewards. Yet art requires courage. It is a leap of faith in a society that prizes safety nets and security. Art, however, feeds on risk taking.

Fear is a wide umbrella that gives shelter to many shadows lurking in our minds: fear of failure, of rejection, of being judged, of not being good enough, of not making enough money. Much has been written about the artist and this, our creative nemesis.1

In his blog post, The Perfect Creative Personality, David J. Rogers describes his ideal recipe for an artist of any discipline. According to Rogers, the perfect creative is bold and fearless, and one who creates sincere work with integrity.2

Boldness, observes Rogers, is important for achieving success in any field, but “…especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks.”

“What I do is face the blank canvas, which is terrifying.” – Richard Diebenkorn

What Diebenkorn (one of those great creative personalities) describes is a painter’s version of the infamous writer’s block faced by pressured wordsmiths. This is perhaps the first taste of fear experienced by a budding artist.

One of the advantages of the underpainting technique is that you cover up the intimidating white surface. When you apply this initial thin, lean layer of pigment to the primed substrate, it physically loosens up your arm and gets both your mind and your painting jump started with broad, energetic strokes. Then you’re just adding more paint on top of paint, which looks much less intimidating than a pristine canvas staring back at you.

Fear fades with more practice. There are ways around – or better yet, through – the fear.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” – attributed to Joseph Campbell

But like all great challengers, sometimes fear – or more precisely, the learning from it and moving beyond it to a higher emotional state – is what helps us mine up the deeper riches of creativity. You may have thought of the memorable cave scene from Star Wars: Episode VIthe Empire Strikes Back when you read the above quote. Our greatest so-called enemies are usually ourselves, and whether or not we move forward depends on our choices. Do we listen to the often crippling voice of fear or boldly follow the light of inner growth?

Your hope and fear are often opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps you hope for success, yet fear it as well. By avoiding the quest for your goal, you give fear a comfortable home by choosing not to try. As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Being in the present moment assuages fear of the unknown.

“The two terrors that discourage originality and creative living are fear of public opinion and undue reverence for one’s own consistency.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 3

I feel that the more personal an artist’s or writer’s imagery is the more universal it becomes. With just the right doses of inspiration and skill, a creator can depict a firsthand experience and birth a symbol or narrative for the human condition.

What results from portraying such intimate subject matter is a certain peeling back of the usual protective emotional layers. You can be left feeling as though your soul has been stripped bare, all the while hoping that other people like what they see or read.

Emerson goes on to say, “The great figures of history have not cared for the opinions of their contemporaries.” 4

Yet meeting someone who fully connects with your work and “gets” what you do may feel like emerging into light after a journey through a dense forest. If fear of being misunderstood or not accepted has held sway over you, there is a sense of relief.

To move through such fear, first and foremost, create for yourself instead of trying to please the critics or chase the buyers. Write, paint, or draw what you feel called to create for the joy of it and then you can find the right target market for your work.

If you fall into the trap of trying to match everyone’s sofa, then you end up with a lot of framed wallpaper that camouflages the furniture. Then how will you know where to sit down? Be bold and sing with your own unique voice.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

As I read Rogers’ description of his artist friend who never finished a painting because she was terrified of it, I thought of certain unfinished works in my own studio. I vowed to pick up my brush and palette like a sword and shield at my next earliest opportunity.

I am always surprised when people who haven’t seen me for awhile ask me if I am still painting. Those who ask must have seen other creatives leave their path for some reason, or perhaps their inquiry is a reflection of their own experience. As Rogers astutely points out, “That’s why the top is such an exclusive place – because fear stops so many people from reaching it.”

Being waylaid by fear or doubt is often part of an artist’s story. For me, however, I agree with one of my artist friends, Jeremiah Miller. As he put it, as long as he is still breathing, he’ll still be painting.


Be sure to visit David J. Roger’s blog to read his eloquent post in full.

An internet poll called David’s book Fighting to Win the best motivational book ever written. He is working on a “how to be a writer” book. His blog is followed by creative people of all kinds. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife Diana.


1. David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. (Santa Cruz, CA and Eugene, OR: The Image Continuum, 1993)

I highly recommend this book for creatives working in any discipline.

Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, will also enjoy the book I am currently reading:

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear. (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2105)

2. David J. Rogers, “The Perfect Creative Personality,” davidjrogersftw (blog), June 10, 2016, https://davidjrogersftw.com/2016/06/10/the-perfect-creative-personality/

3. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” in Essays, First Series, 1841

4. Emerson, “Self-Reliance.”

Posted in Archetypes and symbolism, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Art’s Purpose

The Wishing Tree mixed media interactive installation © 2012, Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

The Wishing Tree
mixed media interactive installation
© 2012 Amy Funderburk All Rights Reserved

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle

I often engage in fruitful philosophical discussions about art with my sister, poet Julie Funderburk. During the course of one recent conversation, she wrote:

“Art’s most important purpose isn’t about permanence, is it?

Depending on environmental conditions and the techniques or materials used, the ravages of time can take its toll on even the greatest of the Old Masters. Examples like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper illustrate this all too well. Painted in the late 15th century, unfortunately the mural has suffered extensive deterioration – yet it remains one of the world’s most iconic works of art.

“A beautiful body perishes, but a work of art dies not.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Perhaps in unfortunate cases like The Last Supper, we can consider the ephemeral “beautiful body” that da Vinci speaks of to be fragile substrate and pigment, while the true work of art is the artist’s surviving conceptual idea.

I could list several other cautionary tales of artists whose works typically suffer from deterioration. Mark Rothko used unbound pigments to create luminosity in his oils. Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings, due to the artist’s careless use of his materials, are notoriously unstable.

“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism.” – Mark Rothko

Rembrandt, on the other hand, is considered a conservator’s hero. It was long assumed that he must have used a complex painting medium to achieve his effects. As it turns out, his secrets were simply linseed oil and great technique.1

How does one balance an artist’s drive for creativity and innovation with doing one’s best to foster longevity via the materials and methods employed?

I think the first answer to this question may lie in the intention for the work.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy masterfully uses natural materials such as stone, leaves, and ice, but the way time and elemental forces evolve or disintegrate his elegant works is just as important an element in his creations as the physical components.2

Tibetan Buddhist monks fashion intricate sculptures out of butter as offerings. Their colorful sand mandalas are created and then ritually destroyed.

The purpose of creating the sand mandala is to engender healing and enlightenment. Through its ritualized destruction, the monks then illustrate the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

As an artist who cherishes the ideal of greatest longevity for my work, I purposefully explored the liberating idea of impermanence during the creation of The Wishing Tree installation. Though my team and I coated the pieces of bark with wood preserver, I know the materials will eventually biodegrade. From the inception of the project, I planned to burn the wishes that visitors tie to the removable branches. The ultimate purpose of the installation is community interaction.

Yet despite my initial impulse to explore impermanence, once I had the idea to use the resulting charcoal and ash as a drawing medium to illustrate the participants’ wish categories, I tested the materials for durability prior to making a mark on the first drawing.

I was delighted to find that, once sprayed with a workable fixative, the homemade charcoal and ash seem much more permanent than traditional vine or compressed charcoal.

While artists cannot control future environmental conditions or how a buyer may handle one of our works, if we do due diligence by researching, networking, and experimenting before using new materials, we are doing the best we can to insure longevity.3

If you agree with my sister’s point that art’s most important purpose is not about permanence, however, what do you feel is the primary raison d’etre of my field?

When I asked Julie, she replied:

“Art affects and reflects what is human.”

When she said this, I immediately thought of the title of an old art book: Man Creates Art Creates Man. Despite the gender-specific title, the concept expressed is the same as my sister’s statement.

“Art, like life itself, does not have to be defined or understood to be enjoyed. It must simply be received,” author Duane Preble states.4 “Above all, works of art reflect us.”5

I agree with Julie’s definition. Artists reflect what we – or sometimes our patrons – consider important. We chronicle our environment and what is happening around us in society, politics, or religion.

As Pablo Picasso said,

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”

and

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

How would you answer the question, “What is art’s most important purpose?”


Julie Funderburk is the recipient of a 2015 North Carolina Arts Council fellowship. LSU Press will publish her first book, The Door That Always Opens, in December of this year. Her poems appear in 32 Poems, The Cincinnati Review, and Ploughshares. Her chapbook Thoughts to Fold into Birds is available from Unicorn Press. She teaches at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.


1. Virgil Elliott, Traditional Oil Painting: Advanced Techniques and Concepts from the Renaissance to the Present. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007), 98.

In this book, Elliott includes a thorough and enlightening section on Rembrandt’s painting techniques.

2. Andy Goldsworthy, Time. (New York: Abrams, 2000)

3. There are a lot of resources available to artists if you have questions about your art materials, though you may find conflicting information. Art making is sometimes subjective like art itself.

Start by contacting the manufacturer of your materials for one of the very best sources of information. Leading manufacturers conduct rigorous testing of their products. The various technical support representatives with whom I have spoken have all been very thorough and helpful. Networking with other artists who use the same materials is also invaluable.

New technology and conservation discoveries are expanding our field rapidly, so even certain information published a few years ago could now stand to be updated. As a good starting point, however, I highly recommend the following book:

Mark David Gottsegen, The Painter’s Handbook. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006)

Additionally, an invaluable resource is a forum hosted by the University of Delaware: Materials, Information, and Technical Resources for Artists (MITRA). Look through their copious extant information, or post a question of your own. I highly recommend this website.

4. Duane Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man. (McCutchan Publishing Corporation, 1973) 5.

5. Preble, Man Creates Art Creates Man, 7.

Posted in Artists' Materials and Resources, Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques Tagged , , , , , , , |

No Fooling

This post first appeared as a feature article in the April 2016 issue of my newsletter, Off the Easel.

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH oil on oil primed linen, 36" x 48" ©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved My interpretation of The Fool tarot card in the series Wisdom of the Ancient Lore.

O. THE LEAP OF FAITH
oil on oil primed linen, 36″ x 48″
©Amy Funderburk 1999, All Rights Reserved

In my painting from 1999, 0. THE LEAP OF FAITH, I depict a rich and misunderstood archetype — the Fool. What better work to feature here for April Fool’s Day?

The only Major Arcana tarot card to survive the transition into the modern playing card deck is the Fool, known today as the Joker. Often it is considered the card of the querent. The Fool denotes the beginning of a new journey as well as the end of the previous cycle.
 
A playful character as well as a bit of the trickster, the Fool’s complex wisdom lies beneath the veneer of seemingly foolish behavior. What may be judged as foolish by others may be just what is needed to dislodge old energetic patterns. Who else but the jester was able to satirize the king in front of the court and get away with it? In fact, an important function of the court jester was to act as the king’s spy, since he could move within any group.1
 
Such ambiguities abound with the Fool, from the motley garment to androgyny. Even the designation of zero helps to explain the Fool’s great dichotomy, for zero is both nothing and everything. What happens to a number when followed by a zero?2

Within the Fool is the potential for every possibility; like the concepts of yin and yang, within all these apparent opposites is wholeness.3
 
The Fool is often depicted with a few bundled belongings tied to a staff, but in this painting she carries only a hazelnut. In Celtic lore this is the symbol of wisdom, for all three realms of the Celtic universe are said to be contained within a hazelnut poised on the edge of the Well of Segais.4

Nine hazel trees grow over this Well. The Salmon of Knowledge lives within, attaining his wisdom by eating the nuts as they fall into the water. Whoever partakes of the Salmon of Knowledge then absorbs that wisdom.

The hazelnut represents the end of the year cycle for the parent tree, yet is also the beginning germ of new life. While it appears to be a small thing, it is the seed of new potential with which we all jump. Like the nut, The Fool is the first step towards manifestation.

On the far right of the composition, at the edge of the cliff, is a copse of hazel trees, with the waters of the well running forth in three streams.

The inclusion of the hazelnut is the result of a dream in which the model, Robin, came to me with a hazelnut in her hands, saying she had dug it up in her backyard. Within the dream, I proceeded to tell her the story of the Celtic hazelnuts of wisdom. Upon waking, I knew this had to be included in the painting.

My mother said of this painting that the dog was the one who really had faith, loyally accompanying the Fool wherever she goes. Does the dog warn of impending danger, or does she encourage the jump? The Fool does not look down; she is joyous and not afraid.

I am revisiting this archetype in the upcoming work, Dreaming of the Fool. This time, I get to wear the jester’s cap!

The imagery for this new painting was inspired by meeting a gentle fellow who was dressed as a perfect Fool while we were at the Merry Maidens stone circle in West Penwith, Cornwall — but that is another story for another time.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1. Sallie Nichols, Jung and Tarot – an Archetypal Journey. (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1980), 23.
2. Nichols, Jung and Tarot, 37.
3. Nichols, Jung and Tarot, 41.
4. John Matthews, The Celtic Shaman – a Handbook. (Rockport, MA: Element, 1995 edition), 37.

Posted in Archetypes and symbolism, Art Travels, Celtic history and mythology, Sacred Sites Tagged , , |

Taking Time: Looking at things differently

This post originally appeared as a feature article in the March 2016 issue of my newsletter, Off the Easel.

Patterns, St Tabitha'sThe Purple SpiralCloud Planet with Jack-o-Lantern Face, Corrimony Cairn

“I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

When I saw the following tweet by David Borthwick (@BorthwickDave), I was delighted:

“Turn your back on sunset: watch what the trees do when you are looking the other way.”

His eloquent words were accompanied by a lovely shot of dancing limbs painted deep rose and burnt orange by the fading light. I have noticed this myself many times – trees facing the closing day are set aflame by the retreating sun.

Seeing things differently is a major component of the artist’s mental toolbox. Sometimes that means looking in an altogether different direction, or, like Georgia O’Keefe, taking the time to see things on behalf of others — which is perhaps as good a definition of the role of artist as any other.

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

When I was in Painswick, Gloucestershire, in the famed Cotswolds region of England, I made a discovery. Before our arrival, I had not heard of a holy well there, but as an enthusiast, I knew that wells could reveal their whereabouts via street names. The city of Wells in Somerset, home to the famed cathedral, is itself named for the presence of three wells. A bit of code breaking or translation is sometimes involved – it helps to know that Tobar is Irish and Scottish Gaelic for well or spring, for example.

When I saw “Tibbiwell Lane” on the map at the bed and breakfast, I was eager for the quest.

We found the modest well wedged between the lane and a retaining wall. The clear, refreshing water flowed from a stone channel into a small, shallow pool just below. A gentleman who lived above was out tending his garden, and he showed us an inscribed stone on the wall: Saint Tabitha, the origin of the “Tibbi” part of Tibbiwell Lane. This well was dedicated to her.

At first, I photographed the entire well in a more documentary fashion, showing it in its narrow space. As I got closer and started looking for more unique views and angles, however, I began to capture what I felt were more artistically successful images.

The Purple Spiral and Patterns, St Tabitha’s were two such works from this shoot. Focusing on the way the bright light fragmented the leaves below the surface or on the spiraled snail shells from the well’s encased inhabitants led me to discover more than just the small well itself.

Had I been satisfied with my initial photos and not taken the time to look closer, I would not have been so fully rewarded.

Another of my photographs, Cloud Planet with Jack-o-Lantern Face, Corrimony Cairn is perhaps a more extreme example of my desire to photograph the essence of a location beyond the appearance of the outer whole. I realize now that by lying down in the center of the Scottish cairn and looking up at the blue sky peeking through the clouds where the capstone had been removed, I aimed to capture the substance of the place as I experienced it.

I also now utilize this philosophy of seeing when installing certain paintings. My ceiling boss paintings are designed to hang from and parallel to the ceiling. When developing these works, I was inspired by the medieval carved wooden ceiling bosses in St. Andrews Church in South Tawton, Dartmoor, England. I designed this installation to give a viewer the same sense of place as I had when visiting the church. At the opening reception when I debuted these works, it amazed me how many viewers neglected to look up unless prompted.

South Tawton Ceiling Boss: The Green Man (Simhasana -- Lion's Breath)South Tawton Ceiling Boss: Sheela Na Gig (Supta Baddha Konasana -- Reclining Cobbler's Pose)Installation View, South Tawton Ceiling Bosses

I invite you to take up the artist’s stock in trade – to take the time to really see something. Perhaps this will be a subject that you pass by every day, like one of O’Keefe’s flowers. They say that artists can see approximately thirty values of any given color, whereas non artists only see ten. I think this is simply a matter of training the eye, of taking the time to discern subtle shifts in light, dark, and intensity.

If you are a fellow artist, I encourage you to look again, and to look within. To see with the wide eyes of a child, with that boundless level of wonder, enthusiasm, and curiosity.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Posted in Art Travels, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Photography and photography techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged , , , |

Loving the Alien: an artist’s perspective on the creative genius of David Bowie

David Bowie Fan Art gouache on paper, circa 1985 to 1988 3" x 4" © Amy Funderburk circa 1985-1988 All Rights Reserved

David Bowie
fan art; gouache on paper, 3″ x 4″
© Amy Funderburk circa 1985-1988
All Rights Reserved

Knowledge comes with Death’s release…

I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
I’m living on

Quicksand, Hunky Dory (1971)

 

On Friday, January 8th, we celebrated David Bowie’s 69th birthday and the release of his new album, Blackstar.

At 2 AM the following Monday morning, tremendous shock tried its best to cushion my sorrow as I read the news that slowly sunk into my awareness as unbelievable truth. David Bowie had passed away on Sunday, January 10th.

“You know who I am,” he said
The speaker was an angel
He coughed and shook his crumpled wings
Closed his eyes and moved his lips
“It’s time we should be going”

Look Back in Anger, Lodger (1979)

I was surprised at the strength of my grief; it felt as though a long-time friend had died. Memories of how his music had affected me in both direct and subtle ways kept floating to the surface.

I realized that, since my first David Bowie memory in high school of Let’s Dance, his music was part of the soundtrack of my life.

In college, I took it upon myself to further my David Bowie education. Unlike many bands that I was introduced to by other music-loving friends, I am proud that I purposefully sought out more Bowie, and devoured every album that I came across.

One good look at my artwork and you might rightly guess that I like drama and romance in my music as well as the visual arts. Bowie offered all this and more in spades, and his creative methods are still excellent examples for artists of any discipline who quest for greater lateral thinking.

Turn and face the strange. For me, a scene from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture 1 epitomizes Bowie in his role as an uplifting flag bearer for all the black sheep, creatives, the disenfranchised, and all the rest of us who never felt as though we ran with the pack of normality.

Bowie’s arm is first outstretched to the crowd, and then he reaches for their hands in the front row. As the song rises to a nearly operatic crescendo, his voice soaring over Mick Ronson’s wailing guitar, Bowie’s famous alter ego plaintively cries:

“You’re not alone! Gimme your hands, ‘cause you’re wonderful!”

Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

As artist Paul Watson (@lazcorp) from Brighton, UK, puts it, Bowie was “the champion of the weirdo and the outsider.” Since some artists grow up feeling like square pegs that someone is trying to force into round holes, Bowie songs naturally became like rallying cries.

Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

Changes, Hunky Dory (1971)

“Relentless creativity.” The musician’s influence on other performers is well documented, but as one of my friends in the UK (@thesweetcheat) beautifully describes, “…(Bowie) was always there as a huge influence on all the musicians I like, a major part of that big continuum of inspiration, so his passing felt unthinkable.”

Not limiting himself to just the music arena, Bowie impacted a host of creative realms, including film, fashion, theater, and other genres. He was also a painter and visual artist who worked in a variety of media. After writing a song about pop artist Andy Warhol (the artist reportedly walked off when Bowie first played it for him), Bowie went on to play the mop-wigged icon in a film about another American artist, Basquiat, 1996.

As a musician, Bowie courageously stretched himself time and again creatively, famously reinventing himself as various personas, and blowing the doors off of societal gender mores in the process.

He was a remarkably prolific recording artist; the exact number of albums listed in his discography varies depending on the source and what reissues, movie soundtracks, and various greatest hits are included. A friend reported that in the days immediately following Bowie’s passing, all of his CDs were sold out on Amazon.com, and some titles still are. Since his death, I have been going through our own collection, and am nowhere near completing my chronological review.

Paul eloquently describes Bowie’s “fearless creativity and his ability to change direction and style, seemingly without missing a step” in this way:

“His relentless creativity and agility are inspirations on my whole artistic process. It’s good to master an art form or technique, and Bowie undeniably did this many times, but he also made sure he was never enslaved to (them). He’d take something, voraciously absorb and learn it, and then – shunning any notions of purism or preciousness – radically change it or combine it with something very different to create something new.”

One of my very favorite methods employed by Bowie to this end was his use of a Dadaist technique to create certain lyrics. He would take lines from diaries and other varied sources, cut them up, and then rearrange them in new, and often surprising, combinations.

Paul also cites Bowie’s frequent collaboration with others as one of his routes to arrive at the new. One of those collaborators was musician Brian Eno, who worked with Bowie on the so-called Berlin Trilogy of albums Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger from 1977 to 1979.

In 1975, Eno and his friend, British painter Peter Schmidt, created a deck of cards they called Oblique Strategies. Each card contained a suggestion designed to prod creativity. This exciting tool for lateral thinking was used by Eno on the Berlin Trilogy of Bowie albums. Examples of these cards can be found online.2

A New York perspective. My friend, artist and photographer Gina Fuentes Walker (@gfuenteswalker)3, is a longtime New Yorker. She shares her favorite memory of David Bowie, a New Yorker himself for over 20 years, as he performed at The Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

Held a month after the World Trade Center towers fell during 9/11, the concert was organized to honor fallen firefighters and other first responders. In his performance, Bowie both expressed and engendered a feeling of solidarity with other New Yorkers:

“He called out to his local ladder (our neighborhood fire department stations) and sang Simon and Garfunkel’s America. Listening to that performance again in the days following Bowie’s death reminded me how raw we all felt here in the city as we tried to make sense of what happened and as we wore profound sadness on our faces.”

Gina goes on to describe Bowie’s uncanny ability to make you feel that you belonged. “Like so many Bowie fans, I was deeply influenced by the passion in his voice, and this soulful rendition of America made me feel like we are all in the same canoe. We are all New Yorkers living and working together in the same city. Regardless of station, we live in close proximity to each other.”

Apparently, this side of Bowie, ever the collaborator, was not just stage presence. Gina explains: “As we all now share our memories of which Bowie song or album has meant the most to us, I am surprised to know how many friends and colleagues have had the pleasure to meet and work with him on various projects over the years. Almost to a fault, everyone mentions how courteous, supportive and kind Bowie was.”

The final persona. I find that whenever an artist digs deep to translate the profoundly personal into universal truth, the creative results are always powerful. With Blackstar, Bowie’s final album, much has already been made of the true meaning behind his lyrics now that we know the fullness of what the musician was experiencing. Even in the face of this major health crisis, not only was he continuing to work, but, as you might expect of Bowie, he was confronting his situation head-on as a true artist.

I will leave it to you to watch the video for the song Lazarus, to discover what you make of the layers of death symbolism depicted. It is raw, it is brave.

Look up here, I’m I heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

Lazarus, Blackstar (2016)

An outpouring of grief. My friend @thesweetcheat said he’d never before seen anything like the public outpouring of grief in the UK as that for Bowie. Impromptu memorials were also created outside the Manhattan building in SoHo where Bowie lived, as well as the New York Theater Workshop where the production Lazarus, co-written by Bowie, was playing at the time of his passing.

Paul shared his perspective: “The news of his death was a very strange event here in the UK – I’d never seen so many of my peers so affected, as I was, by the death of a celebrity.”

Yes, Bowie had kept his illness a secret from the public. Perhaps another reason that his death came as such a shock, however, was that throughout his career, we had watched while he symbolically died and reincarnated repeatedly, giving the man himself a sense of immortality. We did not know until the stage was dark that Lazarus was his final persona to be shed.


1 Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture was released in 1983 from a concert filmed in 1973.
2 Much appreciation to Paul Watson for alerting me to Oblique Strategies. To order the current 5th edition, visit Brian Eno’s website. 
3 You can check out Gina Fuentes Walker’s work by visiting www.ginafuenteswalker.com.


David Bowie As Ziggy Stardust, Fan Art markers on paper, 3" x 4" © Amy Funderburk 1985 to 1988 All Rights Reserved

David Bowie As Ziggy Stardust
fan art; markers on paper, 3″ x 4″
© Amy Funderburk 1985 to 1988
All Rights Reserved

Posted in Creativity, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists Tagged |

Ready, Set…Go! Rabbit Races Turtle

Which painting should I print next as a greeting card? Cast your vote today in the Comments section below.

Turtle took the leg on the 24 hour #RabbitRacesTurtle Twitter poll, but I am accepting votes here through January 31st! Scroll below to learn who won!

Manifestation of RabbitTurtle's Progress

First contestant: Rabbit

The original version of this article was first published in my March 2015 newsletter, Off the Easel, as “Counting Rabbits!”

In February 2015, I tweeted the painting above, The Manifestation of Rabbit. I asked followers to count how many invisible rabbits they could find, and I think a few people all over the world are still counting rabbits!

Local subscribers may recall seeing this work in person, and if you have visited my downtown studio, I probably had you looking for rabbits. But do you know the full backstory of the piece? As I always say, everything I paint really happened.

On our first trip to Ireland in the fall of 2001, I was thrilled to visit the Lough Gur region, around half an hour south of Limerick. Lough Gur is an area rich in both archaeological remains and legend. Nearby, in Knockainy, is the sacred hill Cnoc Áine,the ceremonial inauguration site for the ancient kings of Munster, the southwestern “fifth” division of Éire.

Cnoc Áine features several prehistoric sites, including a burial mound at the summit said to be the sidhe1 mound of the Irish Celtic Goddess Áine. A Goddess of love, fertility, animals, and prosperity, Áine created Lough Gur, and local legends about her abound. Honored on Cnoc Áine at Midsummer, in more recent times, she also became known as Queen of the Faeries.2

My map of the sites on the cnoc left a lot to be desired. I was searching for what was labeled a holy well, but we were completely turned around. Once we started heading in the correct direction, we crossed field after field, carefully dodging the electric wire fences that ran between each segment of land. Then at last, in the distance, we saw a fairly short standing stone.

As we approached, a rabbit ran out, appearing to form out of the stone itself! He is depicted here, but how many invisible rabbits can you find? Be sure to take a few moments with the painting before you read further.

There is also a secret to the stone. Do you see it?

After our rabbit friend ran away, I felt compelled to run my hands along the edges of the stone.3 It felt quite smooth, as if I was not the first person to have this idea — though it had likely also been rubbed by generations of cattle.

What surprised me, though, is how for all the world, the stone felt like the contours of a woman’s body. Inspired by the art of the Celts, in which they represented neither one thing nor another but both, I wanted to depict the stone as a woman with raised arms.

I did not have to alter the stone’s actual appearance much at all to create this effect. I tried to put the semblance of facial features on the stone with lichen to play with the balance, but this was way too much — thus confirming that I had the illusion exactly in the middle where it needed to be.

When seeking rabbits, some viewers see a running hare in the long, low cloud on the right — I wish I had thought of that! Some find a rabbit in the stone instead of a woman — her breasts become the cheeks; her arms, the ears. Rabbits multiply, and I agree she looks rabbit-like. Some viewers see her raised arms as angel wings.

I imagine she is Áine.

Want to know how many intentional rabbits there are and their location? Email me for the answer and the rest of the story!

Keep counting rabbits! High quality giclée reproductions, printed on archival rag watercolor paper with archival inks, are available of this painting. Visit my shopping cart page for details on pricing and available sizes.


1. Sidhe (singular sidh; pron. “shee”) or  is Irish Gaelic for fairy. For example, Bean Sidhe is Bean (woman) + Sidhe (fairy) = Banshee.

2.  These beings are respectfully referred to by a more indirect phrase, such as the Fair Folk or Good People.

3. Please note that when visiting such sites, one should take great care not to disturb any lichens or mosses growing on standing stones or other antiquities. In many cases, they can be quite old and valuable in their own right! 


Second contestant: Turtle

The original version of this article was first published in my April 2015 newsletter, Off the Easel, as “Turtle Always Gets There.

Not all of my paintings are derived from physical sacred sites — some are a result of meditation. One such work is Turtle’s Progress.

A few years ago, I experienced a temporary knee injury. During the rehab process, while meditating on the issue, I saw myself as a turtle, heading towards my higher self — my future healed self, if you will. The uplifting thought I came away with from this image was,

“It may take Turtle awhile to get there, but Turtle always gets there.”

My husband took the reference photographs of me in a field at a park just north of our city. I was pleased that daffodils were blooming at the time, because I saw them as a symbol of the new beginnings and growth that I felt was inherent in the message of the painting.

As for the turtle, my model was Jack from a nearby Nature Science Center. I selected him from three candidates, and after I described what I needed to the Center’s helper, she placed Jack on the floor, heading in the direction of the light.

That box turtle could really move! He was quite the sprinter — I have several reference shots that are out of focus because he was moving so quickly! A couple of years later, I was delighted to see Jack again and to learn that he and his wife were expecting, as she had recently laid a clutch of eggs: Turtle’s new beginnings.


Vote now!

Who will win, Rabbit or Turtle? Vote now in the Comments section below!

Fans of the animal last to the finish line need not despair, however — eventually, images of both works will be available in the greeting card format.

Thank you for voting!

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


 

And the Winner is…Rabbit!

In the end, Turtle couldn’t maintain his initial lead even with some additional votes, and his long-eared friend overtook him. Rabbit won by more than a “hare” with a final total of 61% of the votes.

I deeply appreciated the various thoughtful comments I received about both works. Several people remarked that they liked both paintings, and found the decision to be a difficult one. Much appreciation to all those who voted!

Posted in Art Travels, Meditation and yoga, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged , , |

Say, One Out of Two Ain’t Bad! Tales from my recent art workshops…

Originally published in my December 2015 issue of Off the Easel

Workshop painting ©2015 Amy Funderburk

Workshop painting ©2015 Amy Funderburk

…or the story of how one painting was indeed ugly, but one I rather liked. The biggest benefits of taking those weekend workshops last month were less tangible, however.

If you read my post last month, It’s OK to Make Some Ugly Paintings: the Importance of Artistic Exploration, I was prepared to make some not-quite masterpieces, but to learn from playing.

As I am referencing the adjective, to describe art as “ugly” is in the critical eye of the artist as creator, rather than the opinion of another viewer. If the artist fell short of his or her intentions, that artist might call their attempt ugly.

Art is, if nothing else, subjective.

My article sparked wonderful comments from some of my Twitter followers. My favorite came from fellow artist Karin Feickert, who wrote: “I love ugly or non-standard beauty.” As artist Alice Neel said:

“Nobody knows what makes good art. As an artist, when it happens, you’re grateful, and then you get on with it.”

Open to new creative experiences and prepared for ugly, I took two workshops that weekend. Making my choices carefully, I had selected topics that I thought would inform future paintings. I came to each class prepared with reference photographs, and can safely say that at least the end result pictured above turned out to be a proper study for the ultimate piece. But that wasn’t the true benefit of the weekend.

The first workshop was a full seven hour day on Water: Reflections and Translucence with David Dunlop. His impressive knowledge base in both art history and the Old Masters’ methods, as well as the science of seeing and perception, really gave my experience depth.

I found what David shared to both echo and augment my personal exploration of Old Masters’ techniques and my theories on how to paint faster, but still have a believable or “realistic” looking end result. One such Old Master technique is to use transparent colors within your dark values so as to give them depth, and save your opaque pigments later for the light.

David stressed “following the paint” rather than the reference photograph, and utilizing a “process of reduction and simplification” so as to exploit the brain’s physiological tendency to make sense out of what he called the “tableaux of confusion”. In other words, just as my brain easily sees animals in cloud formations, the brain has a tendency to make sense out of textured chaos. Such visual cacophony as you would find in grass or, say, the weathered texture of two life-sized standing stones awaiting completion in my studio, ahem, your mind wants to make sense from that visual information. In this way, the viewer’s brain does part of my job for me.

This was great news. Perhaps Edgar Degas was alluding to this phenomenon when he said:

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

The other grand pearl of wisdom that David rolled out that I immediately put in my basket was to remove stress for maximum creativity. Apparently, he explained, we have better access to subliminal memory when we are relaxed.

When David mentioned this, I immediately thought of one of my favorite Yogi brand tea tag quotes that inspired my blog post, A Relaxed Mind is a Creative Mind. If we learned nothing else in the workshop, David said, he wanted us to remember to take a deep breath before beginning a painting session.

Whereas David’s workshop was perhaps more cerebral, Linda Kemp’s three hour acrylic workshop on The Painted Nest was unapologetically my playtime.

In the workshop description, Linda’s techniques of concentrating on the negative spaces — she referred to them as “captured negatives” — seemed to be in tandem with my own way of thinking while I paint. She also uses glazes masterfully to push areas back in order to bring other shapes forward.

However, trying to replicate her fabulous splishy-splash method of creating an underpainting structure that she had demonstrated step-by-step with both ease and bravado had me feeling quite like Jackson Pollock — and having a great deal of fun in the process.

There was a bit of a “re-learning curve” for me, as I had not used acrylics at any great length since my college days when I switched to oil. Somewhere between a desire to improve my unfinished, ugly duckling end result from this workshop, and thinking that the faster drying time of acrylics would make them an ideal medium for future studies, I left the trade show with a sack of tubes under my arm.

I confess, I feel the pull to improve on the ugly painting, but upon examination, I find that this drive isn’t just habitual. I don’t feel the urge to make a would-be masterpiece out of it, but rather, I feel I have more to learn from the process.

Coming Full Circle. Writing a blog is not unlike journaling. Just as it is helpful to read back over old personal journal entries to discover connections — what Oprah Winfrey memorably calls the “ah ha moments” — apparently, it’s not a bad idea to review your other writings periodically.

As I recently uploaded my previous blog posts to their new home on my website, I found it extraordinary how entries tied into my article from last month about artistic experimentation, and the very concepts David Dunlop was touting in his reflections workshop.

If you will forgive me for quoting myself, in my post Seeking “whelment,” I share:

“Forgetting that it is about painting ‘the masses, the whole’ as one of the Old Masters said is admittedly one of my heavy things to put down. Why not let the viewer’s brain and eye fill in some of the blanks? There is no need to paint every blade of grass when the viewer could perceive the holistic massed texture of the grass instead….

“Johannes Vermeer painted in this manner — his clean style is what I love about his paintings. Everything you need is there; the extraneous is omitted. He may have only completed 35 attributed paintings in his short 43 years, but visually, Vermeer had no weights around his ankles.”

And from my post, Taming the Inner Critic:

“My studio neighbor recently attended a week-long art workshop. Last night he showed me the results — he’d gotten four new pieces done, and was now applying the concepts in the studio to another new piece. Taking this time away from the large painting he’d been working on for awhile helped him to open a new creative door, as he put it. In his new pieces, I saw an awakening of some dynamic visual breakthroughs. My friend’s inspiration, kindled from working quickly and with freedom during this workshop, was infectious.

“So instead of worrying about what we have to DO, why not just BE, and have fun with it? Let’s all create something experimental, unexpected, and freeing, and in releasing our Inner Critic’s expectation that everything has to be a just-so Masterpiece, who knows? You just might create one.”

David was fearless as he demonstrated his techniques in a variety of painting media. As he said in the workshop, “Embrace the accident — there are no wrong notes. It’s what you do next.”

I am eager to see what comes next.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


David Dunlop is the host of a national Emmy Award-winning series on PBS, writes an art blog, and offers an instructional DVD series. For more about David, visit: http://daviddunlop.com/ and also look for his presentations on You Tube.

Linda Kemp has published several titles for North Light books, and has been featured in various arts publications. Look for Linda on You Tube, and visit her website: http://www.lindakemp.com/


Above: Workshop painting:
Experimental Study for Reflection
November 13, 2015
oil on gessobord coated with polymer gloss varnish
©2015 Amy Funderburk
All Rights Reserved
Madron Holy Well, Madron, West Penwith, Cornwall, England

Posted in Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Works in progress Tagged , , , , |

It’s OK to Make Some Ugly Paintings: the Importance of Artistic Exploration

Originally published in my November 2015 issue of Off the Easel

If you’ve been a reader for awhile, you may have noticed that I have been branching out lately by experimenting with new media and approaches.

From recent works such as the charcoal rubbing drawing Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone to the as-yet-untitled triptych of found aged cedar inspired by votive coin trees, I have been exploring new ways to express my ideas.

Yet how does an artist balance an innate creativity and desire to discover new working methods with the need to keep a focus in his or her artwork? As fellow artists have surely heard, everyone from grantors to curators are usually looking for a cohesive, committed body of work. Such devotion best illustrates the artist’s point of view and gives a sense of dedication to his or her craft.

Another way of saying it? A focused body of work looks like the same artist did it all.

Yet, take two artists who worked in a variety of media — Picasso and Gauguin. An influence on Picasso, Gauguin painted, carved wood, did ceramics, and worked in various forms of printmaking, including woodcuts. But despite this variety, each work, undoubtedly, looks like a Gauguin. This artist who notoriously booked a ticket to Tahiti summed up his philosophy on creativity in a very succinct, polarized manner:

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”

Picasso was not only a trained painter, but also an accomplished self-taught sculptor, as evidenced by the current exhibit of his three dimensional work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And don’t forget his collage work with Georges Braque. But you can always tell, no matter the media he chose as the vehicle for his self-expression, that each piece is a Picasso.

You can look to style, subject matter, and intention to thematically connect works executed in various media. To compare Picasso’s Blue Period to Cubism, however, you must look for the developmental stepping stones in between. You must look for the element of artistic expansion.

One of my Twitter followers, Carrie Brummer, creator of Artist Think,recently asked in a thought-provoking tweet:

“Does art have to be important to be worth creating?”

Seeing this tweet was quite timely for me, because I had already been meditating on this notion. Since my previous technique of indirect oil application 2 was quite time consuming, I had already recognized that I had fallen into the trap of feeling that every piece had to be, to use Carrie’s word, “important.”

Stepping away from oil for just a bit to explore media in which I might work a little faster, like a charcoal rubbing, or materials where I can just explore new concepts and play, such as found aged wood, felt like freedom to me. The first step to working faster is to prove to yourself that you can, no matter what the media.

This month, I am looking quite forward to something I have not done in ages — taking a workshop! I am taking two, actually, from among a veritable buffet of choices held in conjunction with an artists’ trade show. I chose topics that I felt would directly speak to certain painting projects I have planned, and one workshop is even in acrylic. What better way to pick up the painting pace than with a media that dries so quickly?

In such an environment where the fostered atmosphere is to learn new techniques and approaches, you go with an open heart and mind with an expectation of growth. You open yourself to the possibility of artistic expansion.

Just think: if Picasso had never experimented, Cubism would never have been born. So to stay fresh and to reinvigorate your creative practice, fellow artists, remember to play.

Another artist who worked in wildly diverse art forms, including film and fashion, was Salvador Dali. He said:

“Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.”

Wondering what my response was to Carrie’s tweet?  I replied:

Every piece teaches and leads to the next. Break free of the “every piece has to be a masterpiece” mindset — experiment and play! As they say, you have to break a few eggs to make a cake. Studies or “ugly paintings” feed into the “masterpiece.” Thus, all art is important, even the studies, experiments, and flops that help you to get where you are going.

This is how we artists grow from our own version of the Blue Period to our personal Cubism. It’s OK to make some ugly paintings along the way.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1 Indirect painting is the wet-on-dry technique of using layers. Each paint layer must dry before the subsequent one is applied. After employing the first layer, called an underpainting, the artist uses thin transparent layers called glazes to achieve luminosity on top of an opaque layer. Direct painting, on the other hand, is also known as wet-in-wet painting, or alla prima.

2 Be sure to check out Carrie Brummer’s fabulous website on creativity, Artist Think. On her About page, Carrie writes: “I’m here to help unleash your inner artist: our world is a better place because of your creativity.”

Posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Other artists Tagged , , , |