Category Archives: Inspirational Quotes

Here There Be Dragons: Utilizing Pareidolia in My Art Process

Pareidolia Clouds at Sunset
August 21, 2017; digital photograph
Rabun Gap, GA
© Amy Funderburk 2017 
All Rights Reserved

What do you see in the clouds above?

I see a giant moose. Or someone with a tiny head, sitting back on his heels while flexing his muscles. And a pyramid in the distance.

The Druids practiced such cloud watching as a form of divination called Neladoracht, so for a recent #FolkloreThursday, I tweeted my question with this photograph. Answers ranged from a horse rearing backwards, to a dog with something on its nose or fetching, to a kneeling, bearded old man in various guises. A couple of folks even saw a Xenomorph – the chillingly aggressive adversary from the Alien movie franchise.

For those responders, I could only predict one of two outcomes: a bucket of popcorn with a movie marathon, or a very bad day.

Pareidolia is the impressive sounding word for something I have done all of my life, always recognizing familiar shapes in the natural chaos of the commonplace. Faces, features, and animals emerge out of wood grain, lichen, stone, and smoke, or dance in the sky as clouds. On a metal dresser at my grandmother’s house, finished to make it look like wood, the twisting would-be wood-grain shapes conjured up all manner of faces and forms to my eye. At my childhood home, the bathroom walls were covered in some truly ugly pink marlite, patterned with a thin, undulating, gold line in a feeble attempt to masquerade as marble. Evoking my visual adventures was this interior design nightmare’s only saving grace.

Merriam-Webster.com defines pareidolia as “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”1 The ink blot tests of Swiss psychoanalyst and psychologist Hermann Rorschach are another example of this phenomenon.

Along with the primal color red and the written word, the human face gets what I call “automatic emphasis” in an artist’s composition. If you don’t want the viewer’s eye to go right to the figure, you will need to do your best to somehow downplay it, because our eye has the tendency to home in on the human face. I have always wondered if this is because we look at our own reflection, then seek out the familiar, or because we are taught to make eye contact when we communicate, but, as cited on Merriam-Webster.com, “The human brain is optimized to recognize faces, which could also explain why we are so good at picking out meaningful shapes in random patterns.”2

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

~ Edgar Degas

In his November 2015 workshop, Water: Reflections and Translucence, artist David Dunlop recommended that artists utilize 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 the weathered texture of my beloved standing stones or cloud formations, the brain has a tendency to make sense out of textured chaos. Such visual cacophony as you would also find in grass or weathered texture, your mind wants to make sense from that visual information. In this way, the viewer’s brain does part of my job for me.3

This is pareidolia.

I bet most of you have also experienced pareidolia, but you might not know that in his notebooks, Leonardo da Vinci recommended this as an observation and creativity technique to up-and-coming artists. As an artist, inventor, and scientist, da Vinci was a tireless observer of natural forms and forces. In one of his notebooks, he wrote:

“I will not refrain from setting among these precepts a new device for consideration which, although it may appear trivial and almost ludicrous, is nevertheless of great utility in arousing the mind to various inventions. And this is, that if you look at any walls spotted with various stains, or with a mixture of different kinds of stones, if you are about to invent some scene you will be able to see in it a resemblance to various different landscapes adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills. You will also be able to see divers combats and figures in quick movement, and strange expression of faces, and outlandish costumes, and an infinite number of things which you can then reduce into separate and well-conceived forms. With such walls and blends of different stones it comes about as it does with the sound of bells, in whose clanging you may discover every name and word you can imagine.”

Little did I know that I have been following da Vinci’s advice all along, though usually in a different way. As an artist, it was only natural to take the brain’s inclination a step further. As I work on a drawing or painting, I automatically make correlations between the random shapes that I am depicting and the forms that I see in them when determining how the shapes interlock to create the whole. This is one of the ways I can best conclude how each area relates to the other and if I am successfully transposing what I see to paper, panel, or canvas.

Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progressFictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progess detailFictitious Pictish Standing Stone - in progress, detail showing pareidolia

What do you see in the detail shots above of my charcoal rubbing drawing, Fictitious Pictish Standing Stone? I photographed the smallest detail (third image) while looking at the drawing upside down, so you would not otherwise have seen the face that I saw as I inverted my reference photograph while working. In other areas not necessary to describing the features specific to this stone, I have had the opportunity to stay much more general, utilizing Dunlop’s “tableaux of confusion”.

Second Sight/2nd Site
diptych, 12″ x 30″
oil on oil primed linen
©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
The Rollright Stones, King’s Men Stone Circle
Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, England

I definitely experienced pareidolia when painting Second Sight/2nd Site. When I photographed the stone, I focused first on the subject and then on the background, exploiting limited depth of field with my camera. After printing a reference photograph of the stone the way it actually appears (as seen on the viewer’s left of the diptych), I flipped the other version with the landscape in focus using photo editing software before printing. Once I had both reference photographs in hand, I played with cropping the proportions and the location of the intersection between them until I arrived at a pleasing orientation. To echo the concept of sight, I wanted an arrangement reminiscent of eyes or a mask.

I folded the two reference photos along the guidelines I had drawn, but when I placed the two sides together, I discovered something quite amazing – at the intersection between the two photographs, a perfectly formed swallowtail butterfly appeared at the very top edge of the stone! When painting this, I only had to clarify the bottom forked edge of the hind wing; the butterfly shape was clearly there. Had I cropped and joined the photos in any other way, it would have gone undiscovered.4

I purposefully arranged the diptych to look like a mask or eyes, but otherwise, the butterfly is the only shape within the stone that I intended for viewers to definitely identify. When painting, however, I saw several other forms in the stone that I used for my own purposes of correct pattern placement.

Perhaps you have only looked through the holes or at the butterfly, so take a moment now to look at the stone texture. What can you find? As I painted, I tried to put such things in the left canvas as a fat rabbit with its ears pinned back, an askew skull, and a paw print; and in the right canvas, and a yellow bird, monkey, guinea pig, and a little white ghost, all in their proper places.

Sometimes I intend hidden things to be a visual reward to attentive viewers, but I am delighted when they often find things I didn’t necessarily include. As I look at Second Sight/2nd Site with fresh eyes, I now also see part of a peering kitten and quite a proper dragon on the left. One of my friends sees dragons in just about everything I paint, and now you know how and why. Let me know what you find!

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1 “Pareidolia,” Merriam-Webster.com. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pareidolia (accessed December 12, 2017)

2 Ibid., citing New Scientist, December 24, 2011, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pareidolia (accessed December 12, 2017)

3 To read more about my workshop with David Dunlop, please read Say, One Out of Two Ain’t Bad! Tales from my recent art workshops…

4 To read more about the story behind Second Sight/2nd Site, please read Origins of a Painting: Second Sight/2nd Site

Also posted in Art Travels, Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel, Works in progress Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Liberty Leading the People: Art Reflects History

Aberlemno Stone #2: The Battle of Nechtansmere, reverse of Pictish carved stone, Aberlemno kirkyard, Scotland photograph ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

Aberlemno Stone #2: The Battle of Nechtansmere
reverse of Pictish carved stone, Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland
photograph ©2012 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

As the world watched, there certainly seemed to be no room for a grey area reaction to this November’s US presidential election. It is no secret that this nation finds itself tremendously polarized, resulting in a cycle as pockets of violence born of fear create yet more fear.

In her post-election article, “Dear Artists: We Need You More Than Ever,” Katherine Brooks, Senior Arts and Culture Editor for the Huffington Post, quoted writer Toni Morrison:1

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work.”

Of course, artists have been a mirror for society for centuries, documenting and satirizing historic events. The famed Pictish carved stone from Aberlemno, Scotland shown above depicts a battle, most commonly believed to be the famous Battle of Nechtansmere, an important Pictish victory fought in 685 CE.

Certain dissident artists, including Ai Weiwei from China, are well known for work that is steeped in social activism or political commentary. One look at Guernica, Picasso’s mammoth monochromatic painting from 1937 in which he depicted the brutal bombing of a northern Spanish village, can show just how powerful the voice of an artist can be.

According to legend, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, Picasso’s apartment was raided. After seeing a photograph of Guernica, an officer asked the artist, “Did you do that?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.”

“If I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.”

— Eugène Delacroix

In 1830, the French Romantic artist Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People. His masterpiece was apparently considered so politically revolutionary that it was placed in storage for years after being purchased by the French government. 2

In sharp contrast to the sequestering of the Delacroix work, Picasso’s Guernica went on tour to raise international awareness for the Spanish Civil War. The artist decreed that the painting could not enter Spain, however, until the country enjoyed “public liberties and democratic institutions.”3

Both Delacroix and Francisco Goya are frequently cited as influences on Picasso as he planned Guernica. In Goya’s stirring work completed in 1814, The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid, the artist shows an emotional event: French troops systematically massacring Spanish freedom fighters.

In juxtaposition to such dramatic imagery of specific historic events, even the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers based certain works on social themes, including the plight of the Victorian woman.4 Through allegory and symbol, these British artists reacted against what they perceived as the societal ills brought about by the Industrial Age.

Art reflects history and preserves it for the future like a time capsule. Art is a catalyst for change, growth, and self-awareness. If you are a fellow artist moved by current events, think about how your visual voice can make a difference.

One of my friends in New York City, artist and photographer Gina Fuentes Walker, told me about the Subway Therapy project, a wall at the Union Square subway station now overflowing with primarily uplifting messages written on sticky notes by passers-by. Artist Matthew Chaves (who goes by Levee) started the community project to give people a place to express their feelings about current events. 5

“I was quite moved by the project because in addition to participating in a collaborative art installation, it was a moment to gather and come together as neighbors and residents of the city,” Gina said. Participants were respectful during their visit to the Subway Therapy wall, she added. “Occasionally the adhesive gave way and a message floated to the floor. Someone always picked it up and reattached the note to the wall.” This is a perfect example of how a simple idea can have powerful results and how art has the potential to make a difference in people’s lives whether they directly participate or are moved by the messages of others.

“Art is one of the most positive reaffirming things we can do in the face of adversity,” says Camille Seaman, who affects change with her stunning photographs of the melting Polar Regions.6 A champion for the issue of Climate Change, her recent works include portraits of the First Nations water protectors at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.

What is happening now politically has made me examine my own body of work, and what I aim to say through my imagery about the significance of the landscape and human condition.

However you may have voted, we can all make a difference. In my opinion, subjects that benefit everyone like the environment and the arts should be non-partisan. Such things that nurture the soul should be safeguarded.

If you are an art appreciator, now is the perfect time to be a patron for your favorite creatives who give voice to your shared points of view.

If you are a fellow artist, let’s roll up our sleeves now and get to work.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Detail of Aberlemno Stone #2: the Battle of Nechtansmere Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012, All Rights Reserved

Detail of Aberlemno Stone #2: the Battle of Nechtansmere
Aberlemno kirkyard, Angus, Scotland
photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012, All Rights Reserved


1 Katherine Brooks, “Dear Artists: We Need You More Than Ever – A Trump Presidency Requires Artists Get Political,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com, November 10, 2016
 
2 Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, speakers. “Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People,” Video, Khan Academy, accessed November 28, 2016, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/becoming-modern/romanticism/romanticism-in-france/v/delacroix-liberty-leading-the-people-1830

PBS.org. “Guernica: Testimony of War,” accessed November 30, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/guernica_nav/main_guerfrm.html 
 
4 Christopher Wood, The Pre-Raphaelites (New Jersey: Crescent Books, 1994) 12
 
Malcolm Warner, The Victorians: British Painting, 1837-1901 (Catalog for the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, New York: Harry N Abrams, Inc., 1996)

5 “Subway therapy: Artist creates an outlet for postelection venting in NYC,” Yahoo News, November 11, 2016, https://www.yahoo.com/news/subway-therapy-artist-creates-outlet-174618305.html 
 
Michelle Young, “Governor Andrew Cuomo Adds Post-It Note to Union Square Subway Therapy Project,” Untapped Cities.com, November 15, 2016, http://untappedcities.com/2016/11/15/governor-andrew-cuomo-adds-post-it-note-to-union-square-subway-therapy-project/
 
Check out #SubwayTherapy to view examples and learn more about this project. You can find Gina on Twitter @gfuenteswalker and check out her work by visiting www.ginafuenteswalker.com.

6 Currently Camille is seeking sponsorship through a GoFundMe campaign, “Into the Ice: Return to Antarctica.” (https://www.gofundme.com/returntoantarctica) You can discover her haunting iceberg photographs and other works on her website, www.camilleseaman.com. 

 

Also posted in Current Events, General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Skies Have It

Maxfield Parrish Sunset June 24, 2016 Winston-Salem, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Maxfield Parrish Sunset
June 24, 2016 Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

On October 2nd, we were very fortunate to attend a lecture by renowned surreal photographer Jerry Uelsmann at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, NC.Uelsmann delivered an insightful, sincere talk. His lecture was the best I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard more than a few.
 
If you are familiar with Uelsmann’s work, it will come as no surprise that I love his surreal vision. At a time before digital imaging software, he created such imagery – and still does – using only darkroom techniques.

As he mentioned old favorites like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, I was on the edge of my seat. I will undoubtedly refer back to more of Uelsmann’s many pearls of wisdom in the future, but one of the recurring themes he stressed was the need to be authentic in your work.

I completely agree, and believe that as you create work that is true to you, you can also discover even more about yourself in the process. Dancing back and forth, these two aspects feed each other as an artist goes deeper within. I often say that the more personal your imagery becomes, the more universal it is – the essence of the human condition, if you will.

“The camera basically is a license to explore.”

– Jerry Uelsmann

In the lecture we attended, Uelsmann elaborated by saying it this way: “A camera gives you license to stare at a crack in the sidewalk and folks don’t think you’re crazy.”

It is usually best for creatives to let go of such judgments or labels imposed on them by others, but Uelsmann’s aphorism reminded me of an experience Jimmy and I had in late September.

While we were in a store, we missed quite a hail storm. We emerged just before sunset to a dramatic sky, so when we arrived at our chosen restaurant for dinner, we immediately starting taking photographs. It was a clashing combination of drama meets delicate color and value shifts. J. M. W. Turner would have been proud.

Then through her open window, a woman in a nearby car asked us in a perplexed but innocent tone,

“Why are you taking photos of the sky?”

I was quite puzzled by her inquiry. But why wouldn’t we photograph such a sky? We are usually delighted to see others alongside us in a parking lot, comrades in admiration of nature’s beauty.

“We’re artists,” I replied simply. She nodded, seeming to accept this as a carte blanche reason for us to do anything she considered eccentric.

As an artist, I stockpile such moments as potential future reference photographs for paintings. You never know when you’ll need just the right dramatic sky with backlit clouds to complete your composition.

Yet even if I didn’t have the “art excuse,” there is something about capturing these fleeting moments that I find satisfying. The sky is never the same twice, which is quite a meditative concept to me. Skywatching instills a sense of peace within me as I navigate this busy modern world.

Dramatic Sky on the Way to the Beach Near Raleigh, NC, May 14, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Dramatic Sky on the Way to the Beach Near Raleigh, NC, May 14, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Serene Pink and Grey Sunset October 3, 2016 digital photograph for painting reference © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Serene Pink and Grey Sunset, October 3, 2016
Between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Here are some of my more successful recent attempts – because despite my best efforts, since I didn’t have my professional gear with me, capturing the delicate drama of the post-hailstorm sky on that particular day eluded me, so the results looked a bit lackluster.

I took all of these images spontaneously from various parking lots or on the street with just my mobile phone camera, so here they are complete with power lines and street lights.

Warm Dappled Sunset Clouds on a Vivid Blue Sky August 28, 2016 Greensboro, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Warm Dappled Sunset Clouds on a Vivid Blue Sky
August 28, 2016 Greensboro, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Flock of Sheep Clouds at the Beginning of Sunset, June 23, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Flock of Sheep Clouds at the Beginning of Sunset, June 23, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

So the next time you see a striking cloud or dramatic sunset, go ahead – grab your license to explore and stare at that proverbial crack in the sidewalk.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy


1. Uelsmann, Jerry N. Keynote Artist Talk, Click Triangle Photography Festival and Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC, October 2, 2016

Voldemort Sky, Winston-Salem, NC September 26, 2016 digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Voldemort Sky, Winston-Salem, NC
September 26, 2016
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Sunset with Light Rays, Liberty Street, September 14, 2016, Winston-Salem, NC digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Sunset with Light Rays, Liberty Street, September 14, 2016, Winston-Salem, NC
digital photograph for painting reference
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved

Also posted in General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists, 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.”

Also posted in Archetypes and symbolism, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, 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.

Also posted in Artists' Materials and Resources, Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques 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

Also posted in Art Travels, Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, 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

Also posted in Creativity, Other artists 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

Also posted in Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, General art discussion and philosophy, 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.”

Also posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists Tagged , , , |

Your Best New Year’s Resolution: Sing Like a Bird

It's Hard to Sing With Your Mouth Full Adult Carolina Wren digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2013 All Rights Reserved

It’s Hard to Sing With Your Mouth Full
Adult Carolina Wren
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2013 All Rights Reserved

First edition originally published January 3, 2015

The start of January naturally symbolizes new beginnings to most people as they take down last year’s calendar and pin up a fresh one, but the New Year’s Resolution is an often dreaded thing. Of those who do not scoff but earnestly attempt to shift habits, most try to take on too much in one way or another when they make such grand proclamations of change.

“New Year’s Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” – Mark Twain

Others talk of reasons why resolutions often fail. Perhaps someone has listed way too many things they want to change about their life, thus he or she becomes easily overwhelmed and discouraged. Maybe others give up because the change seems too vast, too deep, and too high; instead of taking small stepping stones to eventually reach the goal, these people try to leap to the top of the tall building in a single bound, so they give up.

“A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one Year and out the other.” – Anonymous

I offer an additional reason why you may have given up on a resolution in the past — it may have been something you tried because it was something you thought you should do — something that someone else thought you needed to change, but it wasn’t an earnest desire stemming from within you.

My Kundalini Yoga teacher reminded me last week that there are no “shoulds” — only your personal truth regarding what you want to do or not. Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga address each other by saying “Sat Nam” in the way that other yogic traditions say “Namaste.” The mantra Sat Nam means “Truth is my identity.” In that spirit, I offer a potential resolution for you to consider.

My suggestion for a New Year’s Resolution is a one-size-fits-all goal that will fit every person according to individual need. It is a message I have been seeing in a variety of ways for the past month or two, popping up in quotes and other forms like dandelions in my organic yard.  It is a simple yet profound thing:

To be your authentic self.

You may have read of another way to say this in my previous blog post, A Relaxed Mind is a Creative Mind. One of my favorite inspirational tea tag quotes I mentioned in that post is by Traditional Medicinals:

Be yourself  1 

This can mean whatever it needs to according to each individual. What would this mean for you? It can be general or specific, and could pertain to the spiritual inner aspect of your life as well as the outer physical.

For example, are you in a job you dislike because it is a path that someone else dictated for you, or are you following your dreams? Even if you are walking your chosen road to prosperity, are you being true to yourself?

If you are a fellow artist — are you creating from your heart, then finding the matching target market, or are you only trying to paint, sculpt, or photograph what you think will sell?

Being your true self — listening to your own inner voice of guidance each day and not worrying about what the Peanut Gallery thinks — is a concept beautifully encapsulated by Rumi in a quote I came across recently:

I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.

This quote seems particularly important for artists. We put our heart and soul into our work, and then we display these tangible symbols of our innermost secrets and insights to the public in hopes that someone will like our expressions enough to purchase the product. Artists can feel vulnerable when their unproven new work is on display.

This is a good time to remember how subjective art is, and that doing your best and speaking your truth are all you can do. Art is a “visual opinion,” and there is someone out there somewhere who will agree with that point of view. It is merely a question of finding the right fit of audience to artwork.

For a solo show in 2012, my creative team and I built The Wishing Tree installation. Visitors tied their paper wishes to the removable oak branches. After the exhibit was over, I cataloged all the open wishes before burning them, and am now creating drawings from the wish categories using the resulting ash and charcoal. One thing that some participants wished for was “To be my true self.” A powerful wish.

My most memorable and best New Year’s Resolution was one I made over ten years ago: to start practicing yoga. Always the last picked for teams in gym class, the non-competitive, spiritual, and holistic nature of yoga appealed to me, so it was a perfect fit.

The practice was something that had been calling to me for some time. I was fueled by the desire to do it, and I did not try to overload myself with a lengthy resolution list. I think these are two reasons why I bought the beginners’ DVD and my first purple mat. Since the day I made those purchases, I haven’t looked back — unless the asana I am practicing is a twist that calls for it.

I chose a photograph of the Carolina Wren to accompany this post. They are songsters, but I consider them to be curious, spunky birds that constantly delight us with their vast array of loud, wacky noises. Wren seem to be a bird who makes the precise sound it wants to make at any given time without a care in the world what anyone else thinks.

What is your New Year’s Resolution? Does it fall under the heading of being your authentic self? I look forward to seeing your own Resolutions in the comments.

Happy New Year, and all the best,

Amy


 1 “Be Yourself” is a tea tag quote from Traditional Medicinals, www.traditionalmedicinals.com .  Used with permission.

 

Also posted in General art discussion and philosophy, Meditation and yoga Tagged , , |