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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Technique Tuesdays Nature at Mixed Media Art

Artists find inspiration in a variety of things: music, food, memories, and in their surroundings. But nature is unquestionably one of the more popular sources of inspiration for many artists. Whether it’s using found bits in artwork, being inspired by what is seen in nature, or using natural elements to create media to make art, artists continue to show us how nature fits into their art-making processes. See how some of our contributors incorporate nature in mixed-media art, and share some expert ideas, tips, and suggestions.

1. For artist, author, and instructor Nick Neddo, nature is more than a source of inspiration. Neddo looks to nature for art tools and media as well, making everything from paintbrushes and pens, to inks, crayons, and more. In his article “Charcoal Drawing Sticks” May/June 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, he shares how to make your own charcoal sticks, using a backyard fire, an old tin, and narrow sticks from your surroundings. After scraping the bark from the sticks (he includes tips for the best types of wood to use), they are packed tightly in the tin, and the tin is set in a hot fire for at least an hour. Once cool, you have plenty of charcoal sticks for drawing. If you don’t like getting your hands dirty, Nick also provides instructions for hollowing out another stick to create a holder for the charcoal.

It’s easy to make your own charcoal pencils using twigs. (Art and photo by Nick Neddo)

2. Rebecca Ruegger creates beautiful stick figures, inspired by her walks in nature with her dogs. Made from a variety of sticks found on these adventures, these whimsical creatures will make you take a second look at how you can include nature in mixed-media art. In her article “Stick Figures” in the September/October 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Rebecca shares her techniques and tips. She says to look for sticks that have intriguing curves and perhaps knots for joints. Though joining the pieces sometimes requires a little creative thinking, Rebecca suggests filling in holes, divots, or depressions with clay, allowing it to dry, sanding the joins, and then paining them so they match.

Artists who incorporate nature in mixed-media art often use interesting materials such as twigs and rocks. (Art by Rebecca Ruegger, photo by Sharon White Photography)

3. Mixed-media artists are well known for using all kinds of everyday and found objects for stamping, and Rae Missigman is no exception. In the June 2016 Art Lesson Volume 6: Nature Stamps, Rae uses the ends of branches with paint for mark making in her collages. Done correctly, not only is the shape apparent, but the rings show well, too. Rae says it’s important to “properly prime your organic stamp.” Make the first application of paint heavy, and stamp on scrap paper before stamping on your canvas. It’s also important to use firm pressure, and to hold the stick in place for a few seconds before lifting to ensure a good print. The first stamped impressions will be heavy, but subsequent prints will reveal more of the wood-grain pattern.

The end of a branch, primed with some paint, becomes a stamp in the hands of a mixed-media artist. (Art and photo by Rae Missigman)

4. In the March/April 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Colleen Ansbaugh shares in her article “Felted Stitched Landscapes” how the shapes and colors on the horizon inspire her small landscape pieces, along with some tips for felting success. To begin, Colleen felts basic fabric shapes to the background, laying the foundation for her landscape. She stresses the importance of using just enough wool roving when felting to secure the pieces to the background without completely obscuring these additions. Alternatively, be sure to do enough felting to adhere the pieces so they don’t fall off. Though felting is usually done front to back, Colleen suggests flipping the piece over and felting from back to front for a different effect.

Surrounding landscapes inspired this felted mixed-media piece. (Art by Colleen Anspaugh, photo by Hornick/Rivlin Studio)

5. Graham Keegan is another artist who looks to nature for materials. Keegan creates one-of-a-kind fabrics using natural dyes he concocts, some incorporating plants he harvests in his Los Angles neighborhood. Keegan created “A Shibori Flag” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. The star section of the flag was created by accordion folding the fabric, first parallel to the long side, then parallel to the short side, and then tying off each corner with thread, blocking the pigment from those areas. Keegan stressed the importance of applying the dye in thin layers, saying, “You cannot achieve a stable, long-lasting deep shade with a single long dip.” Important to remember!

Using natural dyes brings in a bit of nature in mixed-media art. (Art by Graham Keegan, photo by Sharon White Photography)

6. Nature printing is a fun and easy way to create any number of art pieces; Sharon Gross created greeting cards using leaves in the article “Nature Print Greeting Cards” in the September/October 2013 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Unlike other methods, Sharon suggests applying the paint to the back, or the vein side, of the leaf. She places a paper towel over the leaf before gently rolling over the leaf with a brayer. The paper towel keeps the paint from splattering, resulting in a nice crisp print.

Reveal the beauty of nature in mixed-media art by printing leaves directly onto paper. (Art by Sharon Gross, photo by Sharon White Photography)

7. Get an in-depth look at capturing nature in mixed-media art in a variety of outdoor locations in Cathy Johnson’s book Artist’s Sketchbook: Exercises and Techniques for Sketching on the Spot. Some of the most beautiful sights we see are things reflected in water. Catching that image in a sketch can be a bit intimidating, but Cathy has some tips for making it more doable. When a reflection occurs in still water, she says to mirror the shape or position of the reflection. If the reflection leans to the right, sketch the image in the same way. Also, it’s important to remember that the image will become less distinct the further it is from the reflected object. In this case, the branch becomes a scribble.

Paying attention to elements like shadows and ripples lends an authentic look to artwork.

8. Dorit Elisha has another way to create and use natural dyes that involves steaming or cooking plants, leaves, and bark from her own backyard. She reveals all in her article “Eco-Dyed Collage” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. The eco-dye process starts by creating a stack of papers with plant materials arranged between each layer, and then tying and submerging the stack in boiling water that also has plant material in it. This process not only dyes the papers, it also creates prints from the materials between each layer. Dorit added rusty bits to the mix for another punch of color, and used these papers for beautiful earth-toned collages.

Another way to print from nature is to boil plant material with paper or fabric. (Art by Dorit Elisha, photo by Sharon White Photography)

9. Deborah Wolff found inspiration seaside for her felted seashell cards, adding texture, line, and definition to her shells with free-motion stitching (See her article “Seaside Inspiration” in the July/August 2013 issue ofCloth Paper Scissors magazine). Once the needle felting is accomplished, for the best results, Deborah suggests steam pressing the shell piece, using the maximum steam option. This also helps to hide the holes created by felting, she says.

Shells were the inspiration for these bright and colorful felted cards. (Art by Deborah Wolff, photo by Hornick/Rivlin Studio)

10. Deborah Muller let nature inspire her doodle art, and she shares her techniques in the article “Building a Doodle Library” in the Spring 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop magazine. Deborah catalogs her designs by shapes or style, and says you can’t go wrong by starting with basic shapes. Here she started with simple leaf shapes, filling them with a variety of basic doodles for stunning results. Natural shapes are easy to reference and draw. Think about using flower, shell, and tree motifs as the basis for doodles. Deborah’s suggestions for doodling success include drawing out your designs in pencil first, since practicing the basic shapes will help you master them. Later you can forego the pencil. Start in the middle of your design and work outward; this helps balance the design. And, last but not least, remember to accept little bloopers and turn them into your own designs.

Here Problem Solving with Oil Painter Joshua LaRock

 Master drawing: Learn to put aside assumed ideas of what you are looking at, and educate your eyes enough to see what is actually in front of you. The maxim is “Draw what you know rather than what you think you see.”

Laura in Black (oil on linen, 20×16) by Joshua LaRock

To begin the drawing, think in two dimensions: Flatten the portrait as if looking at it through a window (the picture plane) and tracing on the surface of the glass.

1. Point relationships: Analyze where one landmark is relative to many others—the tear duct to the edge of the nostril, for instance. You may use two established points to locate a third in what is often known as “triangulation.”

2. Tilts: Think carefully about the angles of relationships. Are the eyes perfectly horizontal or tilted slightly one way? The nose and mouth should also be at the same tilt as the eyes.

3. Shapes: Attempt to see the shapes that make up the features, and, of extreme importance, do not ignore the shapes around the features that make up the cheek, forehead, chin, etc. Abstracting these shapes often helps you observe more acutely, and the portrait then becomes an interlocking puzzle. As examples, attempt to see “a bird” for the combined shadow shape of the nose and eye, or “a cartoon man in profile” for the light shape of the cheek.

4. Comparative measures: Use a pencil or paint brush, held at arm’s length, perpendicular to your line of sight, to measure various proportions and compare them to others. I always begin by judging that the distance from the chin to the tear duct is almost always the same as the distance from the tear duct to the top of the head. I establish this as an anchor point, calling it the vertical half.

Song Without Words (oil on linen, 15×15) by Joshua LaRock

Now think in the round: The flattened portrait, now in proper proportion, can be further understood and refined by imagining it in three dimensions. Try to re-create an imagined space behind the canvas or paper.

The Entrance (oil on linen, 36×40) by Joshua LaRock

Work with values by working with form: This is perhaps the most vital method for analyzing value—and the most difficult to fully grasp. In short, consider only the fact that the planes, which are more perpendicular to the direction of your light source, are brighter in value than planes that are less perpendicular—and forget almost everything else you think you are seeing. Please don’t misunderstand me! The phenomenon of light on form is more complex than this (not least of which is understanding the “highlight”), but thinking about this physical truth will take you a long way in your ability to refrain from the improper practices of copying values one for one and copying what you perceive as local contrasts.

Meet Joshua LaRock

In 2012 the artist’s portrait submission of his wife, Laura, was celebrated as “deserving special attention” during the historic America China Oil Painting Artists League (ACOPAL) exhibition at the Beijing World Art Museum. Reproductions of Laura became the best selling souvenir throughout the Chinese tour, and the artist was commissioned to paint many other Chinese personalities, including Mrs. Wang Limei, director of the Beijing World Art Museum, and Mr. Brian Lu, vice president and general manager of Apple Inc. in greater China. This past June, another painting of the artist’s wife, Laura in Black won the 2016 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery London.

LaRock is represented by Collins Galleries, Cape Cod; Portraits, Inc., New York; Stephen Ling – Beijing. He has participated in exhibitions throughout the U.S. and China, has received a number of awards from the Art Renewal Center, and is a much sought after workshop instructor.

Art Benefit for Kids

Think back to when you were in elementary school. In between doing all the dittos and spelling tests and times tables, there were specials (and aptly named, too). Nothing was quite as exciting as the gleeful anticipation of putting on your smock for art class or pulling out the wooden recorders for music. And when it was time for the class play, just forget it. Whether you starred as Snow White or donned a furry costume as Woodland Creature #7, school couldn’t get much better. And that was the whole point.

These days, however, not only are many kids lucky if they have art-on-a-cart, but when they do, proponents often have to justify the programs in relation to students’ performance on standardized reading and math tests. Because in the age of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), few things matter more than test scores (read our report on NCLB at Well, the bad news first: Although kids who are involved in the arts do tend to test better, there’s no direct cause-and-effect evidence that participation actually helps raise scores.

This sounds like awful news and justification to slash school arts programs even further, right? But “dismissing the arts if they don’t directly boost scores is a big mistake,” says Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education in New York City. “In fact, plenty of research shows that children who spend time in school doing visual art, performing music or dance, or even acting in a play gain a whole set of creative and analytical skills that are quickly disappearing from the rest of the curriculum.”

That’s because in the majority of public schools, the emphasis is on test prep, which means lots of memorization, rote learning, and following directions. In fact, many have more than doubled instructional time in math and English language arts (ELA) since NCLB was enacted in 2002. More math and reading instruction might sound like a good thing — that is, until you realize what’s being eliminated to make room for it. Those same schools have cut arts education by an average of 35 percent. Ideally, children should have an hour of each arts discipline once a week. But few schools make the grade. Twelve percent of school districts don’t offer any arts instruction at all.

And it’s not like putting all the focus on nonstop test-prep is having the desired effect. Test scores have failed to rise as hoped. Meanwhile, Hong Kong as well as Japan, Canada, Finland, and five other countries that consistently outperform us in math and reading all require extensive education in the arts without narrowing their curriculum, according to a new report from Common Core, a Washington, DC, educational research and advocacy organization. For example, national guidelines in Hong Kong recommend that fourth-graders visit artists’ studios and study great works of sculpture and painting; in Ontario, Canada, learning musical composition and conducting are standard for eighth-graders. “The situation here is extremely frustrating,” says Lynne Munson, Common Core’s executive director. “We have lots of proof that a broad education that includes the arts works better than what we’re doing — and yet we’re ignoring it.”

Could your child have ADHD? Read our Parents’ Guide to ADHD to find out

All of this has education experts worried indeed. It should also worry parents. “It’s not as easy to test the skills that children learn from the arts, but that doesn’t make them any less important,” says Kimberly Sheridan, Ed.D., coauthor of Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education. According to a recent study she conducted with colleagues at Harvard’s Project Zero, an educational research group, participating in a school arts program increases a child’s ability to:

Observe the world carefully and discard preconceptions n envision something and then create it
Go beyond just learning a skill to express a personal voice
Problem-solve and persist despite frustration and setbacks
Reflect on the results and ask what could improve them

What’s more, other research using brain imaging along with behavioral assessments has established strong links between the arts and specific cognitive skills. In a landmark 2008 study by the nonprofit Dana Foundation, neuroscientists at seven universities found that:

Musical training improves reading by helping children distinguish the sound structure of words
Acting boosts memory and the ability to articulate ideas
Strong interest in a performing art leads to better attention and memory

But perhaps most crucial of all, the arts foster creativity and innovation far beyond the classroom. “Art gives kids a chance to learn by doing instead of just being lectured to,” says Jeff Gonzalez, a middle school art teacher in Dobbs Ferry, NY. “There’s no right answer in art, which means they can explore, connect new ideas, and learn from what they feel were their successes and failures without negative consequences. They just can’t get all that in math or history.” This is why our current educational strategy is so shortsighted. The arts have definite practical applications for our kids’ futures. A recent survey of business leaders rated creativity as a top skill that will only increase in importance. And as First Lady Michelle Obama said in a recent speech, “My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our leaders of tomorrow.”

The Obama administration is starting to act on this belief by launching a new survey to assess the state of arts education. Results aren’t expected until 2011, but in the meantime some schools are proving that wonderful things can happen when arts are a valued part of the curriculum. When administrators at Middle School 223 in New York City’s South Bronx realized that art classes were a big draw, they began to schedule them on Mondays and Fridays, when attendance was typically lower. Attendance went up immediately, says principal Ramon Gonzalez. More than that: “Once we got the students engaged and feeling confident in art, we were able to use that as a bridge to build engagement and confidence in other subjects. For example, we see that kids who don’t normally like to talk in class will discuss their painting or hip-hop routine passionately, and this new skill spills over to other areas.” That’s one reason Gonzalez goes against current practice and eliminates periods of math, English language arts, and other subjects on a rotating basis to make room for 12-week blocks of visual arts, drama, dance, and both instrumental and digital music. “The academics haven’t suffered,” says Gonzalez. “Instead, the whole school has improved.”

Across the country, in Flagstaff, AZ, third-grade teacher Diane Immethun incorporates music into her lessons as part of Keeping Score, a program that trains classroom teachers to enhance learning through music. “I’m not a music teacher, but ever since I began using music, I’ve noticed an immense improvement in my students’ logical thinking, creativity, and writing skills,” says Immethun. “Music enhances their imaginations. I’ll have them listen to Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ and make up a story. Their writing is much richer than it was before. Or I’ll use ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ to teach them how a composer gives a voice to a musical instrument and how that’s similar to the way an author gives a character a voice in a book. It’s a sophisticated concept for third-graders, but music helps them make the connection.”

The Creative Connections Arts Academy, a K-8 charter school in North Highlands, CA, has taken things even further. In addition to providing classes in music, drama, dance, and drawing and painting, the school has integrated the arts into almost all academics. In social studies, students act out plays or create drawings about the people they’re studying; in math, they make the connection between quarter- and half-notes and fractions. In total, students are involved in the arts for a whopping four to six hours each day. “Kids get tired of rote learning, but they never get tired of the arts,” says principal Joe Breault. “We have a wide variety of students, including kids with learning disabilities, but we have no trouble engaging any of them.” And — surprise! — standardized-test scores have risen at all three of these schools (Immethun even warms up her students’ brains on test days by having them sing rounds). “Research might not always be able to prove a direct connection to higher scores, but there’s no doubt that an arts program makes kids better at everything they take on,” says Breault. “It helps them become well-rounded, well-prepared thinkers and citizens of the world — and that should be our main goal.”

Hull’s Ferens gallery to reopen after £5.2m refit backed

 One of the most important regional galleries in England is to reopen on Friday after a £5.2m refurbishment, paid for in part by a cash-strapped local council that said cuts to culture funding were a “false economy”.

The Ferens in Hull has been closed for the last 16 months while it underwent an essential revamp to fix the gallery’s temperature, humidity and lighting systems. The work was deemed necessary if it was to be trusted to care for world-class art.

The investment, £3.7m of which came from the local council, is already paying dividends as Hull begins its UK City of Culture celebrations. On Thursday, 100 years after local industrialist TR Ferens purchased the plot of land on which the museum stands, its new star attraction was revealed: a restored 14th-century gold panel painting, Christ Between Saints Paul and Peter, by Italian Pietro Lorenzetti, saved for the nation after the government placed an export bar to stop it being snapped up by a foreign buyer.

Unveiling the painting on Thursday, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, the director of the National Gallery, said he was “very envious” of Hull for owning such an exquisite piece of art. “I do hope one day you will consider lending it to us,” he said.

Also at the Ferens in 2017 is the showFrancis Bacon: Nervous System, and works by the internationally acclaimed sculptor Ron Mueck. Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife will also arrive on loan from the Queen’s royal collection.

Hull council has been criticised by some residents who are unhappy that the city’s cultural budget has remained untouched while brutal savings have been made in almost every other non-ring-fenced area, admitted the deputy council leader, Darren Hale. Central government funding to Hull in 2020 will be 55% of what it was in 2010, he said, representing a loss of £136m over 10 years.

“Many cash-strapped councils are making difficult choices, with some choosing to cut arts, leisure and culture. At Hull city council we will not be doing that,” he said. “We have managed to not just preserve but enhance our cultural offering. It has been a struggle. People say ‘why are the cuts not applied evenly?’ But we see that investment in culture boosts the economy. To cut the culture budget would be a false economy. We spend £1.5m on galleries each year and we know that they bring in two or three times that amount to the local economy – hopefully much more than that this year. It’s a no-brainer.”

Matt Hancock, the culture minister, said councils that cut culture budgets were acting “politically”. The government contributed £1m to the Ferens revamp, with the Arts Council providing a further £500,000.

Hancock told the Guardian at the Ferens relaunch: “All the evidence shows that investment in culture improves the towns and cities where that investment is made. It improves these places socially, it brings people together and it boosts the economy.”

Asked if he had sympathy for councils that have slashed arts budgets, such as Lancashire, which is closing more than 20 libraries and shutting museums, he said: “Hull shows that you can make efficiencies elsewhere and deliver investment in the arts. Making a political decision not to do that is a mistake. I think that people right across the country in councils that are looking to balance their books should see the impact of cultural investment in places like Hull.”

During its closure, Ferens lent out one of its treasures, Nicolas Régnier’s Saint Sebastian Tended By the Holy Irene and Her Servant, to the National Gallery for its Beyond Caravaggio exhibition. Reviewing the show on Radio 4, an eminent broadsheet art critic said he had not seen the painting before because it had been “hidden away in Hull”. Hancock urged such critics to leave London. “Get on the train,” he said.