Friday, April 27, 2012

Experience is the Best Teacher; Failure paves the way to Success

Instructors and teachers are wonderful. I have fond memories of my favorites, and can’t even remember the names of the ones who weren’t. But over time, we forget. Unless we put into practice what we’ve learned, the lessons fade; the voices become less audible.

Let’s face it. As miserable as failure is, it’s the hard knocks of experience that teach us the painful life lessons we need to learn. Most of them come when we’re children. I remember well my favorite pair of shoes. They were shiny black patent leather that I wore only to church and on special occasions.

Never put your coffee next to your turp!

One spring we were celebrating Easter at my aunt’s farm. All the cousins were there; the girls dressed up in ruffles and sashes, and the boys in white shirts and dark trousers. While dinner was cooking in the kitchen, the children were sent outdoors for an Easter egg hunt. My uncle had hidden the eggs in an adjacent pasture.

We carried our baskets into the field with our eyes peeled for color. My cousin, Dale, found the first egg and cracked it on his head to show off. He peeled it on the spot and swallowed it whole. My older sister shouted a warning to us about cow pies. Dale blew her off as he proceeded to stomp on a crusty pie.

I followed his lead. It was great fun hearing a cow pie crunch and collapse beneath my feet. My sister’s warning was forgotten as my confidence and power grew. I found another pie that looked ripe for the crunching. I lifted my patent leather shoe and slammed down in the middle of it. Shock and awe left me speechless. My shiny patent leather shoe and white ruffled stocking were covered with warm, steamy cow dung.

Don't "touch up" a painting before going out!

Bawling and blubbering, I ran across the field, not caring whether I found any Easter eggs or not. My mother pulled back as she pushed my reeking shoe and stocking from my foot. The smell was overwhelming. My new shoes were ruined.

 Did I ever step in a cow pie again? Never! Did I have new found respect for my older sister’s advice? Yes! Did I ever make the same mistake again? No!

Why is it when we grow into adults we forget these lessons of the past? Why do we get so discouraged and think the world is coming to an end when we fail? It is not! Like children, we must pick ourselves up, clean off our shoes, and begin again.

Life is all about starting over. It’s about new beginnings. Every day we wake up to a fresh start and new opportunities. Life is never over “’til the fat lady sings,” and none of us knows when that moment will come. Make the most of each day!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Famous Foreign Films bring Laughter, Soul Searching, and Insight

"Tansy's Pride"

I’ve always enjoyed foreign films from the plays and comedies coming via BBS to America’s PBS to imports on the big screen. Like Shakespeare’s dialogue, the subtitles are a temporary impediment. Once you get used to the rhythm of speech and the nuances of character, reading while watching is a snap.

My most recent movie was “In Darkness,” filmed in Poland with Jewish, German, and Jewish actors. My husband and I were able to absorb the interaction of three languages and experience Nazi anti-Semitism at its worst.

Crowded in an underground sewer, we see the stress of the hunted testing each individual’s character to the limits. Their lack of simple amenities, the stink of the sewer, and their fear when the sewers were searched increases tension.

Man’s inhumanity to man was the thrust of the plot; balanced by refreshing scenes where kindness and empathy offered the hope that led to a positive conclusion. The movie was an authentic glimpse into the horrors of being a Jew under Hitler’s rule and rise to power. His insatiable hunger to conquer the world became brutal; his reactions savage.

We can learn from foreign films. There are vast differences between a Hitler and a Gandhi, for instance. One worked for his own aggrandizement, the other for the good of his country and his people.

"Skudeneshavn Norway

On a lighter note, the film “Life is Beautiful” shows another side to grim evil: Guido, a Jewish Italian waiter is sent to a Nazi Concentration Camp along with his wife and young son. “Refusing to give up hope, Guido tries to protect his son’s innocence by pretending that their imprisonment is an elaborate game, with the grand prize being a tank;” An uplifting look at the courage and optimism of the human spirit.

Another favorite: “Amelie” played by Audrey Tauton helps us understand the life of ordinary people in France. Amelie’ finds a long-hidden trove of toys behind a baseboard in her tiny apartment. She is inspired to give them a new look and offer them to the poor children in her area. Her impulse at generosity “sparks more benevolent acts” not only in her own life, but in the community. Amelie’ is a celebration of life and love. It reminds us that small wonders surround us if only we will look. A joy to watch.

“Babette’s Feast is filmed in Denmark. Two sisters turn down a chance to leave their small Danish town to remain and take care of their Pastor father and his small church. They realize all too soon their dismal future and the fact that they will never marry.

Thirty five years later, a French woman seeks refuge after losing everything. The sisters take her in. Everyone in the village is skeptical of this new stranger. Babette seeks to win them over by preparing an extraordinary feast in gratitude. A heartwarming endeavor “eclipsed only by her secret.”

Foreign films show us that in spite of our differences, we human beings are more alike than we can even imagine. Perhaps that’s why I not only enjoy watching films made in other countries, but I adore painting exotic and endearing scenes of fellow human beings. I like to illustrate how beautiful people everywhere show goodness, bring laughter and comfort, and have the capacity to uplift us through their humanity.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Build a Shine from Within, or Slather Gloss on Top? Your Choice.

When I first started painting, the glow I wanted to shine from my artwork escaped me. Why didn’t my paintings sparkle? Why didn’t they seem “alive?” I painted a shiny coat of gel or “Liquin” over the top to revive the paint. It still didn’t work.

What I later discovered is that the “glow” comes from within; caused by the differing values and contrasting colors. Coats of sheen on top can never make up for what is missing beneath the surface.

A perfect example of this is my latest painting: “Sunset on the Nile.” A friend had told me she loved painting on grey because the top coat seems to “pop.” I had always used light colors such as yellow ochre or alizarin crimson for the under painting. Experience had taught me that inner light is created from within. But what did I do? I went against my personal inclination and slathered on grey gesso. After all, my painting was an evening scene, and there were clouds in the sky. Perhaps a grey under painting would work.

What happened later reinforced my first theory. The grey under painting worked like a sponge absorbing all the light. No matter how many coats of eye-popping color I placed on the canvas, eventually it got lost in the grey and became dull and dark. I put on several coats of color and glazes to make up for the light being swallowed up by the darkness.

Moral of this story? Once you learn or discover a truth, don’t let fads or someone else deter you from what works, at least for you. Now when I see a lacquered or varnished painting, I’m always suspecting: was it purposefully done, or is it there to make up for lost luster?

I admit I’m not a fan of shiny art. The one exception is when working with metallics. The natural glow of metallic pigment may add a unique and sophisticated touch to an otherwise ordinary painting. Even better is the placing of paint directly on a metallic surface so that the frame and background become part of the painted surface.

Putting a gloss gel or gloss varnish on a painting is almost like placing a glass over the canvas. The reflections are almost as bad, and you must stand in a certain place to avoid the glare that distorts the painting. I personally love the matte finish of natural pigments and bold brush strokes. But it’s a matter of personal preference.

Personal taste is what art boils down to. We all see things from our own prism of preconceived notions and experiences. What attracts one person deters another. Thank goodness there is room for all types of art in the cultural spectrum. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Are the Values of Honor and Integrity Lost?

"Insett Kirke" Norway

The news media hammers us with negative news 24/7. We are bombarded by seductive ads, sleazy commercials, and tales of woe. Crime, including murder, happens every day in our communities. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is safe.

What does this have to do with art? Even though most artists make a small pittance for their work and for the hours put in, rather than pay for their work, it is being copied and reproduced for free. In our digital age, ripping someone off is easy. First it was downloading music and now it is artwork.

You see it everywhere: Dishonesty in the work place; theft in the marketplace; even our neighborhoods are unsafe. We are being assaulted by our own decay. The firm handshake of the past when a man’s word was his bond is gone. That scenario has been replaced by empty promises and contracts that can be broken with a wink of an eye or the point of a pen.

"Moody Blues"

What has happened to us? Have we turned off our conscience so many times that we no longer hear it? Have we lost our moral compass? Do we think because no one sees us our actions are all right? Have we lost our way – our belief in God?

And why is it nobody wants to talk about God? Is God “unfashionable” and so uncool that we’re ashamed to be a believer? Do we disregard God so much that his laws and commandments seem “old fashioned” and out of date? Have we turned our creator into a legend, a being of fantasy that we turn to only in the proverbial “fox hole?”

"India Rising -- Prince of Thieves"

If ever the world needed a God it would be today. We have lost our way in a world that shouts about “rights” and pursues their dreams even if it means stepping on someone else. We think nothing of destroying someone else’s character in the name of humor or politics as long as it boosts our ratings or success.

In a disaster such as flood, fire ants cling together. Microscopic hairs on their body trap air bubbles and make them float. They form huge living rafts. Alone they would die, but together they stay afloat and survive the raging waters.

"India Rising -- the Found"

In order to preserve goodness and integrity in our world, we need honest and upright individuals to “stick together” and form groups, and communities, and citizens who are willing to preserve what is good. We need people to stand together and fight this assault on our property, our lives, and our survival. Let it be me! Let it be you!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Illustrators of Children’s Books – the Best of the Best

It has been said that illustrations are literature, even without the words. With or without text, illustrations may sharpen a child’s perception, stimulate imagination, and make them aware of their surroundings. Add humor which increases a child’s enjoyment or attachment to a book, and this connection may last a lifetime.

Some of the finest artists in the world are illustrators of children’s books. Pictures that appeal to children must be colorful, oftentimes humorous, detailed, and depending on the purpose of the book and the age level of the child full of imagination and wonder.

Illustrators for children must think outside the box and appeal to the senses. It requires a highly sensitive nature and an ability to laugh at life and the paradoxes within it. Life is not always as it seems. There are inconsistencies and incongruence’s that don’t often make sense. Turning these situations into fun and seeing them in a new light may make a child’s life seem less threatening.

I remember as a child relishing the colorful paintings in a favorite book and studying every detail. I loved finding new things I hadn’t discovered before. Details are important. Every element placed in an illustration adds information and delight to young readers.

Repetition helps desired information sink in and may add some fun as a child discovers that an animal he has just learned about is hopping or bouncing from page to page. By the time the book is finished he has learned a new name, recognizes a new animal, and has interacted in play across the pages.

Artwork for older children may be more detailed, more sophisticated. The artwork and text may deal with more complex feelings like fear, separation, loneliness or death. Once children are able to deal with these emotions, they are ready to face their fears head on and enjoy scary illustrations with imaginary monsters and treacherous journeys that the hero or heroine conquers successfully.

Illustrations for children are more than colorful, pretty paintings. They are tools for education, celebration, and fun. They are a means for teaching children how to deal with serious issues in their lives where the outcomes are positive. Children’s illustrations may also take the edge off of sadness and pain by providing an outlet for fun and whimsy. They can reassure a child that there is balance, beauty and harmony in the world.

Most illustrators create from imagination and allow their minds to run wild while they explore the essence and the purpose of a story line. Their unharnessed minds become childlike as they answer the “what ifs” and “how comes” through line, color, and movement. Characters are fashioned, actions are defined, and stories unfold in unique and carefully planned ways.

Too often unrecognized, illustrations and paintings prepared for children contain some of the most remarkable and amazing artwork produced in the world.

Illustrations in this blog come from my book: "Inez Ibis Flies Again; the story of a courageous Ibis who never gave up." Click on the book icon in the right hand column.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Children’s Artwork – What can it Teach us?

"Map of Cleary's Lake"

I’ve always enjoyed looking at the artwork of children. It’s raw, emotional, and bold. Children’s thoughts link directly to their hand and arm movements; unfettered, unedited, open and joyous.

Their enthusiasm is unequalled. What they depict often mirrors their emotional health which is why psychologists use art as a tool to measure and investigate what’s going on in a child’s life.

Art can also be good therapy, allowing innocent minds and hearts to depict what the mind and heart can’t possibly express. This wordless vocabulary of vibrant color and terrifying images reveals what a child’s simple words cannot. Their drawings and paintings help us reach a hidden place within where healing can begin.

"Wyoming Wind"

Children’s artwork may help us get in touch with our own emotions. Their efforts may teach us about communication and help us to explore our own inner turmoil. The freshness and innocence they posses can teach us about trust and openness. Children’s art may expose our own inhibitions and allow us to take that bold step into freedom of expression, unafraid.

"Watercolor Wonder"

Children don’t worry about reality. If they feel like painting a dog blue, they will. If they want to outline forms in black or red, they will. Their vivid imaginations are unlimited in scope and open to every possibility. They have no preconceived notions. They don’t have the drumming of “don’ts” and “do’s” playing in their heads. 

They grab a crayon or brush and execute, allowing the mood of the moment to dictate where their inner feelings and thoughts will take them. Uncensored, yet at the same time innocent, their drawings may seem provocative or outlandish. Children have no sense of shame or remorse until it is taught to them or they experience it through their parents or peers.

Children can be cruel at times. They haven’t learned how to harness their feelings. They say what they think, and they act out what they feel. Children are wild and untamed until they are nurtured, molded and taught. Sometimes the teaching may curb their attitudes and actions; if severe, it may also cause them to sneak and to hide.

"Birch Tree Landscape"

As adults, we must maintain certain decorum. We must live by the rules in a rigid society. If we could dig beneath the layers of masking and conformity and allow the inner child to run free, we’d all be better off for it.

If we could run naked (at least in our minds) and once again feel the urgency of life, of love, and of beauty and capture this in our work, the freedom and flow would definitely affect our artistry.

Here are two great sites to explore more children’s artwork:

"Ryan's Pumpkin Patch"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Find your Inner Voice, your Power, and “Free Fall”

"Free-Falling Pelican" pencil drawing

I enjoy watching American Idol. It’s fun to witness frightened, insecure wanna-be’s grow and develop before your eyes. It’s miraculous to see what happens when someone with potential is provided with money, opportunity, and support. Their skills increase. Their confidence blossoms.  And they prove to themselves and others that they have what it takes to succeed.

In a recent competition, the contestant Hollie Cavanagh was advised that she “over thinks” her performances. She concentrates so much on the technicalities of singing, and in trying to implement what her coaches and teachers have taught her that she still hasn’t left her “comfort zone” after weeks of competing.

One of the coaches said to her: “Once you’re on that stage, you have to ‘let go.’ You have to free-fall.”

"Flying Your Way" Egret pencil drawing

This is good advice for any artist or performer. Once you step on that stage, you must execute through feeling and intuition what your heart knows. Your hand, your voice, your instrument will automatically follow.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “It’s all about confidence; trusting and believing in your inner voice. I was hoping Tom Petty’s song “Free Falling” would illustrate this point, but it didn’t. In Petty’s song, he dumps a nice girl with good values and lives the wild life as he “free falls” to his destruction.

I prefer to link the “free falling” process to “soaring” beyond our limits. Free falling should elevate us beyond the rules, structure and dogma of what we’ve learned and take us to a higher plane. Free falling should be the consummate experience of opening our wings and letting the essence of the moment carry us to a higher place.

"Para sailing Roseate Spoonbill" Drawing

“Free falling” is like flying. The hardest part is taking that first step. It truly is a spiritual experience similar to letting go of what you can see, touch and hold, to embrace the unseen, the invisible, the heart and soul. Free falling is akin to faith in a power greater than yourself; a faith that transcends time and space.

"Arabesque" 14x18 oil on canvas

Once you experience this feeling you will never be the same again. It’s the “stuff” that makes performers stars, fine artists successful, and writers remembered. Free falling people create the unexpected, surpass expectations, and win the hearts and minds of their peers.

"Leap of Faith" 16x20 oil on canvas

Achievement comes when your purpose is identified and your mind and heart work together toward fulfillment. If you’re holding back out of fear or insecurity, take that “leap of faith.” Free fall into the arms of God and fulfill your destiny.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reality may be Harsh and Ugly at Times

We have a terrible problem with mold and mildew in the Tropics. We go through gallons of bleach in the same way that most people do milk. We scour our sidewalks and driveways with bleach.  We use it in our sinks and toilets. We set our air conditioner at a certain level, even when we’re gone, just to keep the mold from taking over our belongings.

I can smell mold and mildew in the air when I step outside on humid days. It stings my nose causing my allergies to flare up. Don’t get me wrong. I love living in Southwest Florida. It is beautiful, alive with wildlife, flora and fauna; but the mildew reminds us of the realities of living in a tropical climate.

"India Rising -- The Lost" -- mixed media on canvas

The same could be said about art, and the reasons why some people don’t like political art. It may be that it reminds them of the harshness of reality instead of taking them into a sweet world of beauty, fantasy, and make believe.

Professional artists often enjoy jarring an audience from their predictable assumptions. They use their art to prick the conscientiousness of the viewer. They choose to show the reality of life, the one bubbling just beneath the surface. The one most people want to ignore; the ugliness like hunger, poverty, hatred, and violence. And yet this kind of art may actually move people into taking action which is what the artist hoped for when he envisioned his painting.

"India Rising -- Prince of Thieves," mixed media on canvas

Reminds me of the alligator we saw this morning on our walk. At first, we thought it was floating debris, but the elongated shape at one end made me suspicious. We walked to the edge of the lake to get a better view.

The water and the sunlight revealed ridges across the head and back, and soon the familiar bulging eyes appeared. No sooner did we get a good look than the gator plunged beneath the surface of the water.

Did the ducks and marsh hens realize what was lurking beneath the still idyllic water? Were the ibis, the egrets, the herons and anhingas aware of the danger in their midst? How many times do we, like these swamp creatures, choose to go about our lives ignoring the dangers that lurk beneath the surface of our surroundings, in our government and community?

If art can provoke others to act for the greater good or to become aware of dangers then by all means do it! If an artist can expand our compassion, enlarge our point of view, or create a dialogue then by all means do it!

"India Rising -- The Found" mixed media on canvas

Art is not only meant to be “fluffy,” entertaining, beautiful and inspiring. Art and artistic commentary may educate, uplift, shock, or motivate. Art that does this may have long lasting effects. Once the critics, like ravenous crows, finish picking its bones, the artwork will stand because its message is universal and eternal