Sunday, August 26, 2012

Make a Visual Journal to your Soul

For the last several months, since Beyond Barbie ended, I've been unclear about what my next step should/could be (as I've written about here several times already).  I haven't felt like creating large paintings, or, for that matter, any paintings at all.  It was a bit scary to go from a time period of such extreme creativity to this dearth of ideas.  Out of this time of "not knowing", I felt led to create a journal/sketchbook which I have been using almost daily.  I go into the studio where I have pulled out almost all of the art supplies I own (yes, what a mess!) and let the muse take me.  My mantra is "I wonder what would happen if..." then I allow myself to find out.  Sometimes I write inspirational quotes in calligraphy.  Sometimes I play with paint.  Sometimes I doodle with patterns.  Sometimes I paint flowers.  Every day it's something different, but it's always interesting to me, and, almost magically, it is lifting the fog I'd found myself in.  I'm finding it to be an incredible tool for self exploration.

Because it's been so powerful for me, I feel led to offer it to others.  The format I've come up with is a bit unorthodox - first we'll meet over a weekend, Oct 6th and 7th, to create the journals themselves - yes!  We will prepare the paper, make the cover, and bind the books ourselves!  Then we'll meet Monday evenings for six weeks to fill the journals.  The class will be skill-based in that you'll learn to make a book, and you may learn some skills in exploring different media, but it'll also be about personal exploration and opening to your creativity. This course will take you wherever you choose to go!
Three of the handmade journals I've created as part of this process.

Below I've pasted the blurb from my website so you can get the whole story.  Please contact me if you are interested, have questions, or would like to sign up.  I sense the class will fill quickly, so follow your urge, and sign up soon!

Happy creating!

Make a Visual Journal to Your Soul

Because our analytical brains (words and thoughts) sometimes get in the way of accessing insights, it can be helpful to take a visual approach to journaling to allow our more intuitive selves to emerge and teach us. 

In this class, we’ll spend a weekend creating a unique, personal 64-page bound journal, then we’ll spend the next six Monday evenings filling them with musings, experiments, drawings, paintings, collages, brainstorms, and whatever else we decide would be fun/enticing/creative/helpful/juicy and/or delicious to explore.  No art experience is needed whatsoever.  This is about play, experimentation, and exploration, a journey to your soul…

To sign up: Contact Susan Singer at or 804-267-3455 to sign up or with questions. 

To see my own visual explorations in a previous post, you can go to

Dates:   Saturday, October 6, 10 AM – 4 PM
               Sunday, October 7, 1 PM – 5 PM
               Monday evenings, October 8 – November 12, 6:30 – 9:00 PM

Location: Susan Singer’s studio off Huguenot Rd. near Stony Point.

Cost: $250 plus materials fee of $25

Enrollment limited to six, so please sign up early to reserve your spot.  (As for 8/24, there are already four people signed up.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My journey to vital gesture drawings

I had a breakthrough in figure drawing class, our last one, a couple of days ago.  We were doing gesture drawings at the beginning of class, as always.  I've become fairly pleased with how mine are starting to look.  When I first started class, they were pretty unskillful and I would come home feeling disappointed and frustrated.  I would watch Tommy draw his and could see how he got there, but I couldn't begin to draw something that pleased me aesthetically the way his did.  I didn't like my line.  Eventually, gradually, they began to develop, and I stopped feeling quite so constantly frustrated by them.  Here are some from 2 weeks ago.  Certainly you can tell what position the woman was in.  I don't think they're gorgeous, but they're not bad.

That same week, a few later, I decided to draw larger to see how that felt.  I wanted to stop restricting my movement, thinking that if I gave myself more space, I'd move more freely and the lines might get juicier.  This is the result of that.  I like it much better.

This past Wed, I was working on getting into the groove again, still drawing a bit small.  I first draw with a large piece of willow or vine charcoal to get the basic form of the figure, then I go back and draw contour lines around the figure.  In these I particularly liked the articulation of her calf in the one of the left and of her right elbow and shoulder (our left) on the figure on the right.  As I was drawing one of these, I overheard Tommy suggest to the student behind me that she draw the figure as if it's all one continuous piece of wire and she's sculpting it.  I know I'd heard him say that before, but this time it stuck and the picture below was the immediate result:
To me, these have a completely different feeling.  They might not be quite as accurate proportionally, but then again, perhaps they are.  One thing I know they are is more vital feeling to me.  I love the lines.  They remind me of some drawings I've seen by Matisse.  I don't mean to give myself an overabundance of praise - it's just that I like the lightness of line and the looseness I was able to achieve.  It's a huge breakthrough for me since before these I always felt so verklemmt, tight, rule-bound.  With these I finally found some joy and pleasure in exploring her image.  

new method next to old
The next one I did, I tried the same method.  She was sitting in a more complicated pose.  I started to get lost and unsure of myself so I drew it again using the method I'd used before.  Even though the new style looks a bit bizarre, I prefer it.  It simply has more vitality, in my opinion.  For the next two images, I decided to work on the whole page.  These made me happy.  I so enjoyed running the very sharp charcoal pencil point across the page, imagining myself actually touching the contours of her body as I went.  And I love the looseness and lightness of the image!  THIS is what I've been trying to do all these years since I first learned to do gesture drawings.  Now I can't wait to go to figure drawing tonight to practice some more!
Figure Drawing by Matisse

When we started working on the first 30 minute pose, I began it the same way - full page, large, light touch with the pencil.  The image was more complicated since she was holding a guitar.  I notice it came out almost life size and left out her legs completely.  I was trying to figure out what to do next but couldn't decide so I flipped the page and started over in the manner to which I am accustomed. That result is the more realistic looking image above.  I'm thankful I'm finally starting to get some skill so I can represent the models with some accuracy realistically.  I have a long way to go for them to look good, but at least they don't look quite as gallywampus as they did at first.  BUT what I notice is that I like the first one I did better.  It's more interesting, more full of life.  

For the next long pose, Tommy suggested I start loose again but this time push it a little bit and see where it goes, be willing to "ruin" a gesture drawing I like just to see what's on the other side.  Good advice.  I drew the gesture drawing light and loose with some distortions (unintended).  Tommy came over then and suggested I try to draw the way Sargeant did - stand back from the canvas to get some distance, look at the model carefully, then approach the canvas and place the mark in exactly the right place.  I was yearning for color, feeling like I could approach it much better with color, but having just white and black conte crayons along with vine charcoal and charcoal pencils restricted my choices and helped me learn all I could from what I had.  I tried to be mindful of each stroke and to place it carefully and exactly.  
I am very aware that her face looks weird, but it doesn't bother me.  I kind of like it, in fact.  And I like the overall piece.  It keeps me looking and more intrigued than does the above realistic one with the guitar.  I wrote about the experience of drawing this one on my blog from 8/24/12.  

I'm excited to have found a different way of approaching the models and my drawings of them.  I feel like I pushed through some fairly substantial resistance and came out the other side.  Tonight I'm going to Figure Drawing Session and will bring my pastels and some good paper so I can play with yet another way of approaching the drawings.  Experimentation is the life blood of art.  I'm becoming more and more grateful for this time away from pressure when I can take chances and can learn more about materials, methods, and myself.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The path to enlightenment is figure drawing

Each Friday I meet with a group of women to write.  Each week a different one of us is the leader who picks readings or artwork to prompt us to do the best writing we can.  This week Denise chose a poem by Billy Collins called Tension.

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh time.

When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.

A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.

I observed a window of leafy activity
and, beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving

to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.

Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
Another drip from the faucet?
Another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue

to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on their shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone's guess.

The sun rose ever higher.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning

began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountain to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats
suddenly fringed with little colorful, dangling balls.

From The Paris Review via Turk's Head Review.

We had ten minutes to write whatever we chose to in response to the poem.  Here's what I wrote:

Billy Collins' poem about the ordinariness of life became extraordinary the moment he added the word "suddenly" to it.  Then each action like opening a can of cat food took on a cosmic import.  Perhaps that is the way to enlightenment - to perceive everything, every single simple action, as sudden and surprising and noteworthy, even a lie-down on the sofa and a daydream about a land beyond the Andes.

How would it be if each stroke I drew were that noteworthy?  My teacher Tommy suggested I stand back from my two-minute gesture drawing we both liked with a fond attachment.  Stand back and contemplate with total attention the light landing upon her body, the shadows falling just so and defining her form.  Then, once I attained knowledge of the next right move, only then, approach the easel and carefully, mindfully, with absolute intent, place the mark I was meant to make.  Just so.

Then back off and contemplate her body again, the curved black armchair I've drawn scores of times now, the aqua-flowered pattern of her silk robe she sits upon, the perfection of her close-cropped boy-hair.  Notice the light and shadow on that spiky hair as it traverses her skull.  Trace the depth along her arm with my eye down my arm through the conte' crayon onto the newsprint.  Just so.

Suddenly?  In one way of looking at it, perhaps it is sudden, but to me several ice ages have come and gone while I observe and sense and monitor and express.  Each synapse is attended to as it transfers information about the bones beneath the skin of her knee from my eyes, through my brain, down my neck, into my arm, fingers, charcoal, all one - not sudden at all, a wagon train on the Conestoga Trail making its way at great peril to the ultimate goal of a new life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quotes to promote courage

I find it helpful to know what other people have said about courage, about failing, about injustice, etc., since I am working against injustice, trying to find courage to step up to the plate again, and working with the awareness that failure is part of the process.

Coincidentally, a friend sent me a blog post she thought I'd be interested in.  At the end of it was a series of quotes which I found very relevant to my above concerns.  I found them helpful so I'm pasting them here.  The link to the blog is at the end of the quotes in case you're interesting in exploring more.

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
            - Elie Wiesel

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.
            - Edward Abbey

You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.
            - Marian Wright Edelman

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
            - Elie Wiesel

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
            - Abraham Lincoln

Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.
            - Mahatma Gandhi

If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.
            - Albert Einstein

Who can protest an injustice, but does not, is an accomplice to the act
            - The Talmud

Urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not excuse. I will not retreat a single inch. And I will be heard.
            - William Lloyd Garrison

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth
            - William Faulkner

It hurts to care; the courage to care is the profoundest courage there is.
            - Julia Butterfly Hill

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
            - Edmund Burke

If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?
            - Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

To dare - is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare - is to lose oneself.
            - Soren Kierkegaard

He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.
            - Paul Tillich

It is only by risking our person from one hour to another that we live at all.
            - William James

Monday, August 20, 2012

Going on a Cruise!

From Dec 7th, 2012 - Jan 2nd, 2013 I'll be going on the first cruise of my life!

A few months ago, one of my students from the Visual Arts Center read my blog in which I mentioned that I was planning to teach at the Outer Banks this summer and was looking forward to teaching in other places should the opportunity arise.  I received a cryptic email from her saying "Be careful what you ask for ; )" and telling me to expect an email from a friend of hers.  When I asked her what the heck she was talking about, she told me I'd just have to wait and find out!

Several days later I received an email from a woman asking me if I'd be interested in applying for the position of Artist-in-Residence with the Semester at Sea program through the University of Virginia.  I'd heard of the program, but knew absolutely nothing about it so I called right away to find out.  Everything Elaine told me sounded exciting and just kept getting better, so I decided to apply.  Six weeks later, I got another email offering me the position.  I have been exceedingly excited ever since.  Here's the scoop:

Dec 6 I'll fly down to Ft. Lauderdale, FL to get on board the MV Explorer for a 25 day cruise and has the following itinerary:

Origins & Empires begins in Nassau, Bahamas on December 8 and travels to ports-of-call that include Montego Bay, Jamaica; Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Callao, Peru; Manta, Ecuador; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Corinto, Nicaragua; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico before finally docking in San Diego, California on January 2. 
There will be an opportunity to travel to Manchu Picu and the Galapagos as well!

UVA offers cruises for college students during the semester, then, between semesters, it offers what it calls Enrichment Cruises for adults and families.  The median age is 54.  The classes offered are not for credit - just for enrichment. The cruise isn't like a Carnival Cruise Line voyage.  Rather than focusing on eating and entertainment, Semester at Sea cruises focus on learning opportunities - perfect for a nerd like me who tends to be a bit shy in social situations - I'll be able to take all kinds of cool classes and have that in common with people I meet.

On the days that we're at sea for the whole day, 10 days total, I'll teach two art classes/day to anyone on board who is interesting in attending.  There will be myriad choices of classes to take each day, and the people teaching it are impressive.  For example, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will be one of the professors on board.  Here's the link to the others.  We'll be able to learn all about the history, culture, geography, and politics of each country we'll be visiting before going there.  What a great way to travel!  One of the programs I'm most excited about is called Stories at Sea.  There will be three authors and a publisher who will give us the opportunity to write our own stories while we're on board.  I'm definitely going to sign up for that one! 

I can't decide if I'm more excited about the places we'll be seeing or the classes that will be being offered!  Both are such awesome opportunities!  I'm also very excited about what I'll be teaching.  I've been spending the last 2 months preparing.

My classes will be under the moniker Visual Journaling.  In one class I'll be talking about Visual Journaling to introduce the concept and will show lots of great examples of what a person might do.  Then I'll be teaching a session on vacation photography to help people get the best pictures possible while they're visiting such amazing places.  I'll also be teaching "real" art classes - several sessions of drawing and one of watercolor - to give people some skills to use when filling their visual journals.  I'll also teach Zendoodles for the fun and pleasure of it.  I'm excited about the offerings and have been having a great time preparing the lectures/slide shows/lessons.  Each class is only an hour long and may have as many as 35 people in it, so I have to plan carefully to make sure they meet the needs of so many people in such a brief time.

I feel so happy and excited to have the chance to travel again - my kids travel all the time, but I had sort of resigned myself to the idea that my travel time might be more or less over.  This cruise opens the world back up to me, and I can't wait to hop into it with glee!  I'm so grateful to my friend Jane who warned me to "be careful what I ask for"!  I'm going to get busy asking for more miracles each day!

If you were on such a cruise, what sort of art would you enjoy learning?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Redesign for Exploring Women's Bodies

I decided after 3 years of doing my blog, it's time to re-design it a little bit.  I might keep tweaking it over the next few weeks, so if it looks different each time you're here, no worries!  It's the same place!

My son, Dylan, has left for China for a year.  It'll be for his Junior Year Abroad.  While there, he's going to be writing a blog.  I was so taken with the design he came up with for it, it inspired me to refresh mine a bit.  Here's the url to his blog in case you're curious to see how this 20-year-old is experiencing his year:

It's been interesting doing this blog.  I've gone through periods where I've written something every day, sometimes twice a day, and others, like now, where I sometimes don't even write each week.  While I was doing Beyond Barbie, it was an excellent discipline to help me recount, to remember, what I'd accomplished during that day.  It was also a great way to let the public know what was coming up in terms of the show and/or performances.  Now that I'm not planning any huge show, I don't have as much to write about.  I'm in a quiet period.  I'm working in the studio a lot - playing, really - but am not doing much work which I want to share.  It's mostly private musing and experiments. 

There's something very freeing about doing work just for myself.  I'm reading about artists and studying their work and sometimes copying it.  I'm working in different media.  I'm preparing for the cruise I'll be going on in December as Artist in Residence.  And I'm teaching.  This Fall I have 11 classes scheduled at Crossroads Art Center and the Visual Arts Center.  Plus I'm doing private Creativity Coaching and Art Lessons.  I love the interactions with my students.  It's a fairly good balance, though I hope I'll find a bit more discipline about getting into the studio.

My daughter, Laura, introduced me to the TV show Friday Night Lights, and I hate to admit that I've been watching it when I would do better to be in the studio playing. It's a very good show!

Hopefully as Fall comes and my psyche understands it's time for school to start again, I'll kick back into work mode.  It's very odd not producing a lot of work each day, but rather just learning new things and experimenting.  I'm thankful I don't have any shows looming since that would put pressure on and stop me from this valuable learning time.

Have you ever gone through a learning time for yourself?  What did you do during it?  What were the positive results as you moved out of it?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Figure Drawing Class

Six weeks ago I started taking a Figure Drawing Class with Tommy VanAuken at the Visual Arts Center here in Richmond.  That may sound odd since I've been drawing and painting the figure for several years now, but I'd never gotten good at drawing the figure from life, and I recognized it would be a great thing for me to do.

Last summer I took the same class with Lisa Johnson, also at the Visual Arts Center.  Lisa is a terrific teacher.  She analyzes the figure and teaches how many head lengths there are to the body and other proportions.  It's very helpful for figuring out precise placement of body parts.  It's also great for learning measuring and comparison skills.  I loved the class and planned to go to Figure Drawing sessions afterwards to continue practicing my skills.  Alas, I didn't.

So this year, feeling like my skills were rusty, I took Tommy VanAuken's class.  He has a completely different approach.  He teaches through gesture drawings.  Gesture drawings are VERY fast (between 15 seconds and 1 minute) representations of the ENTIRE - yes, the entire! - figure.  The point is to capture the essence of the movement.  It also has the incredible bonus of allowing the artist to capture proportions accurately without even trying.  If the eye is attuned to the figure and the hand is attached to what the eye is seeing, the proportions come out accurately, almost like magic.  There's a major skill to doing gesture drawings well, and I won't say I'm terrific at it, but I have improved dramatically over the course of the six weeks. 

The first ones I'm showing here are after about 3 weeks.  Tommy made us do about 40 gesture drawings with thick, fat vine charcoal in 15 seconds.  That was a great opportunity to stop thinking and to capture the essence.  These drawings were made first with the fat charcoal then I went and did some contour lines around the form.  We had a minute for each of these.

 These next drawings are from this past week.  Again I used the fat charcoal then a thinner charcoal pencil to get the contour.  I admit I am fascinated by how possible it is to capture so much in such a brief time. 

Chris, my husband, asked me the other day what it is about the figure that is so endlessly fascinating that people have been drawing it since time immemorial, and, more specifically, that I want to do it twice a week.  I had to think about that.  I think part of it is that it's a discrete object, unlike the landscape which contains so many zillions of objects that they can never all be comprehensively drawn.  The landscape overwhelms me.  Also, we know the human figure.  We know when we're on target, and we know when we aren't.  It's a constant challenge to draw it well.  And there is such beauty, such infinite beauty, in the human form.  The curves, the subtleties, the shadows, the light, the spark of soul. There are so many different forms the body can put itself into, and each person can do each of those (barring physical issues), so there is a never-ending assortment of positions to draw.  I haven't gotten bored yet. 

When I was painting from photographs, I also experienced the spark, the luminosity, the soul, but I got weary of copying from a grid.  I am excited to be trying to convey the beauty now from life. 

Here are a few pictures I drew 3 weeks ago in class.  The first two were 20 minute poses.

We had 40 minutes to capture this pose.  It's very helpful to have more time to shade the figure and to indicate the pillows she's resting on, etc.

Below is the picture I did last Friday.  There's a lot of foreshortening going on.  That means that part of her body is much closer to me, therefore larger, than other parts (her head, arms, etc.)  In order to draw it accurately, it's important to measure the different parts.  Otherwise, she will end up looking totally bizarre and out of proportion.  Foreshortening is one of the more difficult things to manage when drawing the figure (or anything else, for that matter).