Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday Theme: The Road Goes Ever On and On

Hi guys!  This week, I'm continuing what I started last week, examining what my tarot cards suggested about my quest for artistic identity.  So since last week was my past, this week is where I am on the road.  Not much in the way of pictures this time; I'm just going to launch into it.

So, whereas the card referring to my past indicated teachers and tradition, the card for my current situation indicates a few confusing things.  The Seven of Swords suggests deception, deceit, or indecision.  It also can suggest standing alone.  Hmmm...

If I'm being deceitful, it's not on purpose.  I've thought a lot about how that could relate to my current artistic groove, and all I can think of is that maybe I'm fooling myself into thinking I'm making progress when really I'm not.  Otherwise, I don't purposely take credit for what others have taught or provided me.  When I blog my work, I try to remember to acknowledge the products I use and the designers of the stencils and stamps I use.  Beyond something like that, I haven't been able to figure out a way that this part of the interpretation relates.

Indecision is an interesting piece.  Anybody who's known me for any length of time will tell you that one of my flaws is that I'm horribly indecisive.  And my artistic pursuits are not immune from this.  Sometimes if I sit down to start something, if I don't have a project in mind already, I'll sit there and stare at my materials and not be able to decide what to use first and how.  On a larger scale, I've realized that there is a large part of me that just doesn't know what direction I want to go in.  Do I prefer working on a small scale or a large one?  On paper or canvas?  With ink or paint?  How much dimension do I want my art to have?  Is it really dimension and embellishment that I'm after, or just texture that can be achieved with paint or paper?  All of the above?  Some?  None?  It's like I have Art ADD and everything is shiny.  And I feel like, in order to go anywhere with anything, I need to commit to something.  Anything.  A journey starts with the first step, and sometimes I go back to the beginning and plant my feet.

The part that I've gotten the most out of, though, is the part about standing alone.  Independence, or reclusiveness?  I think there's a little of both in where I am right now.  To some extent, I've been working inside my own head, without looking outward as much, trying to just go with what I see myself.  The reclusiveness of that mode can be very isolating and a little frustrating when I get stuck and all I've got to work with is my own tangled mess of ideas.  But there's something stubborn in me that doesn't want other people's work to influence me more than it already has, and something that looks at a lot of work by people I know and thinks "that is SO not my style, time to get back to me."  But there's something positive about the independence of working alone, too.  It gives me the freedom to play and experiment and see what happens when I combine things or stop halfway or push things over the limit.  If I'm not trying to emulate somebody else, it doesn't matter much what my results are like.  I can look inside myself for inspiration, and while the techniques I use to present it may have been learned elsewhere, the idea and the image are mine. 

Now, all of this doesn't mean that I've stopped looking at other art and finding inspiration in other people's work.  I'm not living in a vacuum now.  But I've stopped trying to make my art look like other people's.  I'm trying to use what they've taught me and make it look like my own.  Hopefully I'm finding some success.

Next week, check back for a discussion of what I have to work towards, represented by The Emperor.  In the meantime, tell me what you think.  Let me know where you find yourself on your path.  Share your thoughts on any of this.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday Theme: Journey of Self-Discovery

Hi there Pocketeers.  This is going to be a long one.  I'm going to share with you something that I've been thinking a lot about lately, with a few visual aids.  Instead of being a normal Thursday Theme post where all the art shown has something noticeable in common, this is going to be the first of three posts on a progressive sort of theme.  These three posts are going to be about my search for my own distinctive signature style.  I'm sharing this partly to get my own thoughts organized and have some accountability for the process, but mostly to show any of you who are going through the same process what I'm going through in mine, in the hopes that it might be of some help.

It's been a little over a year since I started thinking about what might define my art and make it recognizable as mine.  It started because I heard some things about some artists, and was taking classes a lot, and started to feel like I was just copying others' styles.  So over the past year, I've been sort of stumbling around what I've learned and what I'm still learning and what I have figured out myself and what I can combine.  I think I'm forging a path but I'm never quite sure how much progress I'm making. 

Recently, my friend RunningWave gave me a gift, a deck of tarot cards that a friend of hers designed and had published.  Tarot is something that has always fascinated me but, since I believed it was just for divination and I don't want my future told, I shied away from actually using the cards.  I've always liked the artwork, though, and uses of them in stories.  Well, I have since learned that tarot can be used as a prompt for your own intuition and consideration of an issue, so I decided to use my new cards to get my mind working on where my art is headed.  I did a simple three-card layout that is supposed to refer to past, present, and possible future.  What I drew were the Hierophant, the Seven of Swords, and the Emperor.  So that gave me a lot to think about, once I looked up what those cards mean.  Here's my ruminations on the first, the Hierophant, supposed to be connected to my past or where I'm coming from.

The Hierophant represents organized beliefs, spiritual authority, or traditional education.  It can also represent norms and standards, but what I picked up on the most was the suggestion of authority and education.  For a long time, ever since I picked up mixed media and paper art, I've followed the influence and styles of the artists I liked and took lessons from.  Way back in 2009, I was taking Tim Holtz classes and learning from tutorials and videos on his website and blog.  And, by following in his footsteps, I was producing stuff like this:

That's not bad, but all the elements are still quite recognizable, and even the style in which they're put together says, to me, Tim. 

Since a little while before then, I was stalking faithfully following Michelle Ward and her street team blog.  Her style is very different from Tim's, and it's very rock and roll, with a helping of medieval sauce here and there, and if you know anything about me you know that speaks directly to my heart and soul.  So, naturally, slavish devotion.  Thanks to Michelle, I started playing with stencils, carving the occasional stamp, and trying to do things with paint.  I had little success, and couldn't get into a groove with any of the techniques until I finally took classes with her last year.  As soon as I came home, I did this:

That is as close to a Michelle Ward rip off as I've ever gotten.  And I do love it, but it felt a little too much like copying.  Which just seems wrong when the artist I was ripping off always encourages people to "Make It Your Own."  Hence the start of this journey. 

So that "past" tarot card, the Hierophant, with its suggestion of authority and teaching and traditionalism seemed to be pointing to exactly what I was trying to push off from quite accurately.  But as I've thought about it more, a couple of other things came to the surface.  Things I have to overcome in my head before my hands can really be free to just MAKE stuff. 

First is an idea that there is traditional art like I used to do (sketching and realism), and there is mixed media art with all its abstractness and patterns and textures and assemblage-y thingamabobs, and never the twain shall meet.  The idea that I have to be in a different mindset for each task, and set aside different times for each one, which is why even though I tried to return to drawing last year, I didn't do much with it.  Later posts will address the progress I think I've made there.

The other is something that, again, relates directly to teachers.  My late friend and high school art teacher, who I was privileged to be allowed to call "Aunt Linda," was encouraging and helpful and really liked my art.  There was one criticism, however, that I found somewhat crushing, and I don't think she ever knew that it had bothered me and it still nags at me.  On an early assignment in Art I, I had done a poor job of placing the elements we were supposed to draw on the page.  She indicated this to me by telling me that I didn't have a very good eye for composition.  I'm pretty sure that's the only time she ever gave me a critique that wasn't constructive.  Even now, working on collages or assemblages, it's always in the back of my mind that I have no eye for composition and therefore don't really have a good sense of where to place things so they harmonize and look good.  And I'm pretty sure that "poor composition" is not a style.  So that is something else to consider while working through this process.  Do I try to let go of the criticism and forge ahead, relying on my intuition and lots of trial and error?  Or do I try to find a way to learn better compositional principles somehow?

Well, that's a lot of words, mostly about me.  I hope I haven't bored you too much.  Tell me, are you working on finding or re-discovering your artistic groove?  Do you have ruts or criticisms or insecurities that you need to find your way out of?  Has a criticism ever gotten under your skin and stuck with you?  Please comment, I'd love for this to be a conversation.

And next week... the current state of things, represented by the Seven of Swords.