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Arts vs. Crafts April 17, 2014

Filed under: Art,Pressed Flowers — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I confess that, at my core, I’m a bit of a snob. I like sushi, opera, and the ballet. My sister and her tastes are not far removed from mine and, when allowed to socialize, the two of us can bear an uncanny resemblance to Frasier and Niles Crane from the 90’s sitcom “Frasier”. (I’m Frasier, she’s Niles.) We pass our time drinking coffee while dialoguing about current events, politics, fashion, and (on occasion) art.

On this particular afternoon, we’d been wandering through our downtown farmer’s market. A local gathering of would-be-professional farmers who simply lack the land, time, and technique to produce on a large scale, it has an atmosphere reminiscent of the State Fair. Live music echoes from the stage while vendors selling aromatic temptations block the pathway. Strange blowup toys dot various stalls along with hand thrown pottery and an assortment of African-made baskets and hand-dyed wool.

What we didn’t realize on this overcast day was that a market had been set up adjacent to this one. We soon found ourselves strolling through stalls of a very different variety. The pottery here looked different. It possessed a shape and form that indicated an artist’s attention. These were not simply nice looking dinnerware, but lovingly crafted centerpieces, unique creations.

We gazed in amazement at beautifully shaped hairpieces, the work of jewelers, not hobbyists. There were paintings reflecting hours of detailed attention (and likely, decades of learning). And then, there was the flower lady.

I admit that “Pressed Flowers by Michelle” doesn’t sound like much, but the art which lined her stall definitely was. These were not simple arrangements of dried vegetation, organized to look in death as they had in life, but actual expressions of the heart of the artist. Lovingly crafted vignettes displayed birds in all four seasons and fish swimming in coral reefs. There were houses covered in snow and paddocks filled with horses. The work wasn’t simply eye-catching, it invited you in and asked you to stay.

My sister and I explored the stall thoroughly as I silently ran my budget in my head. These were not mass produce craft items, but works of art and were clearly priced as such. Despite the temptation, I knew that I would have to depart.

It was at that point that my sister picked up one of the pieces I had been looking at. Water lily roots formed a coral reef while violets rearranged to look like tropical fish dashed in and out between the “seaweed”. “I’m buying this for you for Christmas,” she explained, then quickly added. “You have to promise that you’ll forget all about it.”

I admit that forgetting wasn’t that easy. In the months that followed, I repeatedly thought back to the piece and on Christmas morning, I was delighted to open the package and begin the search for a wall upon which it could be appropriately displayed. Each time I look at it, I think of Michelle (a relatively diminutive artist) and the loving way in which she prepared and preserved the work: a fine example of the difference between crafts and a genuine work of art.


An Introduction to Oil Painting Part II: “Wanna See My Panda?” October 10, 2013

This last week exposed new depths of talent which, to me and my family, were hitherto unknown.  Namely: I painted a panda.  For most artists, this is no great feat.  For me, it was the height of creative achievement… largely because I had no idea that I was painting a panda at the time.

It had begun with my instructor handing me a visual aid containing an abstract grouping of streaks and blotches in varying shades of gray.  The piece, she informed us, was entitled “The Birth of a Planet” and, despite my best attempts, I failed to see anything resembling a planet in the painting.  Still, I’d never painted with oils (or anything else) before, so who was I to question an expert?

I set to work, filling in broad sections of the canvass with the proper paints, working hard not to apply any of them so thickly as to leave a textured look.  According to my teacher, the great artists painted initial vistas exclusively in earth tones, using paints they’d mixed themselves from the local soil, before applying far more expensive colored pigments.

Aside from stops to correct me for holding my brush too close to the canvass (“Stand back from your painting,” was her repeated mantra), to show me how to use turpentine to neatly remove misplaced paint from my picture, and to remind me of the difference between “background” and “details”, it seemed I was doing fine.  So fine, in fact, that she even asked me if I’d ever tried oil painting before!  (I doubt that she really wondered about this, but it flattered my ego just enough to get me past the abstract art which was filling my canvass.)

Once we had finished, she moved between the pictures, examining each one, then instructed us to please turn our artwork onto its side.  “What do you see?” she asked, carefully daubing black eyes, a nose, and an extra ear onto the work of one of the students.

My heart leapt inside me; It was a panda!  I had painted a panda!  (And a pretty cute one too!)  Grabbing a tiny brush, I followed suit, adding in the real details down to the nails on the panda’s toes and the whites of his eyes.

Of course, this was all that my family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and passing strangers heard about all week.  Partly, of course, because I was pleased to discover that my father’s repeated repossession of my crayons had not actually played any role in inhibiting my artistic opportunities and partly because I was so tickled at having actually painted something that looked identifiable.

At the same time, I couldn’t quite get past the lesson to be learned: in life, just as in art class, we can’t always see what we are creating.  The strokes and colors don’t always make sense to us and we aren’t guaranteed to like the half-painted picture on our canvass.  In fact, we may even be tempted to give up in frustration!  But just because we don’t see where we’re headed, doesn’t mean we should lose hope.  If we trust the Master Artist, the end result will be far more than we could ever hope or imagine!  If you want proof, just ask to see my panda!



An Introduction to Oil Painting Part I: “The Birth of a Planet” October 3, 2013

I’ve always dreamt of being an artist, but my attempts at portraying what I see (either physically or in my mind) have always come up just a little short.  I attribute this largely to my father who squelched my artistic tendencies while still in their infancy.  Apparently, he felt my repeated use of the wall as my canvas was sufficient cause for repossessing my crayons.  Repeatedly. I was in grade-school at the time of the last repossession and, with a sense of martyrdom, resigned myself to the fact that I would never be a truly great artist.  I would have to look elsewhere for purpose and fulfillment.  And I did.

Just recently, however, I was perusing a catalogue of the enrichment classes offered by a local college and found “An Introduction to Oil Painting” among them.  A friend of mine (whose artwork is nothing to be sneezed at) had suggested oils as an excellent medium for experimentation.  “They’re very forgiving,” he had explained.  “You’ll probably discover that you’ll like it.”  After some contemplation (which involved asking just how likely my father would be to repossess any of my oil paints), I decided to invite my sister to join me in taking the class.

Our first lesson was basic: we discussed “values”.  These are essentially the different tones which can be achieved when paints are mixed, in our case “Titanium White” and “Ivory Black”.  Our instructor (who was trained by a friend of Norman Rockwell’s) walked us through oiling up our canvasses in order to ensure that the paints could be smoothly applied.  She then carefully explained the proper process for mixing colors on our palette.  (Lightest colors are mixed first, always starting with the lighter color as the base and adding in small quantities of the darker pigment until the desired “value” has been achieved.)  She followed this by handing each of us a “visual aid” – a sad looking black and white abstract which she had dubbed “Birth of a Planet”.

I admit to being a bit disappointed.  I’m not a huge fan of abstract art and, in my heart of hearts, what I really wanted was a piece that I would be proud(ish) to hang on my wall.  Instead, I was going to test my limited artistic skill on a 12×16 canvass that would find its way into the back of my closet, buried under other unwanted bits of stuff.

The purpose, according to our instructor, was to keep us focused on form and technique rather than upon recreating an exact representation of an actual object.  So I decided to go with the flow and give it a try… (to be continued).


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