Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's been a while, but I try my hand at pottery again.....

At my daughter Amandas school, they have an open studio for the pottery class on Wednesday afternoons, and Amanda has been asking me to join her there. Today I was finally able to make it....

So, I decided I wanted to work on the wheel. I hadn't done that since I was her age, and I had enjoyed it then. Her teacher had told Amanda and her friends that they would be allowed to use porcelain for the first time, and the girls were excited to do so. I asked the teacher what the difference is to work with it, as opposed to working with regular clay. She said, "It is soft like jello, and much harder to work with because it's so much more fragile." So, when the girls asked me if I wanted to also work with the porcelain, I declined. I reasoned that with the expense of it, the fact that it's more difficult to work with, and that I hadn't done any wheel work for so long, I didn't want to waste it.

I opted to work with a regular white clay. My first attempts with it, ended up in a lump of goo, from re-working, and re-working, until it was almost more water than clay, and had to be put back in the bin to be reconstituted.

When I went back for more clay, I ended up with another white clay that was soft and smooth in my hands, and a total pleasure to work with. One of the girls asked me if I was using the porcelain, and I said I didn't know, but this one was sooooo buttery, and felt wonderful! She replied, "Yep, that's porcelain!" 

Ooops! Oh well, it was for me, much easier to work with, and I ended up with a nice porcelain bowl, which is currently drying. I'll go back and finish it with some design next week, and after it has been fired, I'll get to glaze it. :)

Meantime, I have some plans, that may just include porcelain after all. ;)

Monday, March 22, 2010

I am an artist… I am here to live out loud. - Emile Zola

Today I finished a nude. I have been really excited to do this one. We had a nude model last semester, but I missed it when I went to Scotland for a funeral. So, we finally had another nude model, and I am really enjoying this. I put a call out to my friends to see if anyone would be willing to send along a nude picture of themselves for me to paint, but no such luck. In the meantime, here is my first nude. It's acrylic ons a stretched canvas of 16x20 inches.

I have been feeling really inspired lately.  I feel something coming in my art. I am not sure exactly what that thing is, but I can feel it in the same way that a person with arthritis feels the rainstorms approach. It is a little intimidating, precisely because I don't know what it is. I'd like to just break open the shell, and release it, but I am not sure exactly how, so I wait as patiently as I can, and continue to "play" until then. Who knows, maybe the act of sacred play will release it.

I finished off a couple of other paintings, some of them just reworking bits and pieces that I wasn't satisfied with before, and others finishing off last details that had been left blank.

My apologies for the glare on these next few.

This one is a 16x20 oil on stretched canvas. I had a little more than 2 hours to get it done in class, so I finished off the hair at home.

This one I just reworked the background, as I really hadn't liked the look of it before. It's an acrylic on stretched canvas, and is 18x24.

You remember this guy? I simply added a 5 o'clock shadow. The nude and this guy will both be going into the show at the school, and a third  one will be as well, but I am not sure about which one that will be. I will post about that last one when I know which will be the third and final one to go into the show.

The show is called From Portraits to Abstraction, and will be at George Brown College, Fine Arts building, starting on April 16th, 2010. My work along with that of some other students will be available for purchase. Hope you get a chance to visit.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Recently, I started taking night courses again. I wanted to get back to Life Drawing, since I hadn't done any for years, and then I decided I'd take a few courses on portraiture, since I had never done any of that. So, in September, I headed to school for 2 classes: one Portraiture in Oil, and the other Life Painting in Oil.

One of the things about portraiture classes that never ceases to amaze me, is the fact that we all put something of ourselves into the portrait. Literally. The very thin faced woman, who always makes her models look thin faced; the Asian girl who always makes her models appear to be Asian; the wider set man with bushy eyebrows, whos' models always have a likeness to him. It's absolutely fascinating to me. Psychologically, I know why. We all know our own faces the best, so unconsciously, we will paint what we know, rather than what we see, until we learn to paint what we see.

What fascinates me even more though, is that, for the life of me, I cannot see in my own paintings, where or how I put myself in there!

This semester, I thought I'd try the acrylics class, since I hadn't really ever worked with acrylics.

We started the acrylics class with a still life, to get the feel of the paints.

What I love about the acrylics, is the ease with which I can quickly overpaint and correct. What I find challenging, still, is the lack of time for blending. Having worked with oils since I was 9, I am used to long periods where I can play with colour blends. This has been especially challenging when we moved to portraiture.

That lack of time may not be a bad thing though. I am finding that sometimes, the speed with which I am forced to paint, makes me think less, and feel more, and I seem to be slowly allowing myself to loosen up a bit.

I still sometimes find my paintings too stiff. For now though, I want to concentrate on accuracy. From there I can branch out to more loose, and abstract. I just need a little patience to get there. (Yeah, right. I'm a Gemini, and speed is the name of the game!)

Here is another I finished last night.

I keep looking at this, and thinking I need to learn how to paint a 5 o'clock shadow.

Friday, March 5, 2010

You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. ~ Mark Twain

I am not a fan of going to the dentist, and that, is putting it lightly! My first memories of going to the dentist as a child, involve numerous adults standing around the dentists chair, all holding down my arms and legs, so they could put a big, scary, black mask over my face. I remember the first few panicked breaths, convinced I would not be able to breathe, the smell of the gas, and finally a weird sort of oblivion. This oblivion consisted of black and white psychedelic dreams, and the "music" of buzzing in my ears.

Fast forward to recent years, and the problem has become worse. My experiences of the past few years have left me pretty much incapable of sitting in a dentists chair without the aid of some sort of relaxant, like nitrous oxide, or more.

I also have a sensitivity to epinephrine. It's used in the shots they give you to help make you freeze faster, and stay frozen for longer. I was once told I was allergic to it, though since then I have been told you can't be allergic to it, since your body makes it. However, during a hospital visit I was told a sensitivity to it, can be dangerous. I was told to wear a medic alert bracelet, just in case. 

So, when a dentist gives me a shot to freeze an area, without the epinephrine, the shot doesn't last as long. Consequently, I have a long history of telling dentists that I can feel what they're doing, and they either don't believe me, or they try to rush through to finish it up before I can feel more pain. While I would agree that the less time I spend in a dentists chair, the better, the rushing itself makes me even more nervous. 

In the past week, I have spent about 5 hours in the chair, getting some stuff fixed that really just couldn't wait any longer. My friends told me to be sure to ask for the "happy gas". During the first 2.5-3 hour session though, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why they would call it happy gas. I was not happy to be there, and did not even feel all that relaxed. 

Today, that changed. I'm not sure if they used higher levels of gas, or if I was just a little more relaxed going in there, but today, the gas was working. At one point, I thought that something was going to be painful, but was so relaxed, I didn't think I wanted to even raise my hand to let them know. I suddenly could see why, in spite of being gassed as a child, there could potentially be some unconscious memories there that contributed to the fear. What if, as I lay there thoroughly gassed, the work being done was painful, but I was not able to let them know?

That brought to mind another thought. Just over a year ago, I had some work done. That dentist used what we jokingly called "blue juice". It made me conscious enough that she could tell me to open my mouth, but unconscious enough that I don't remember a thing from when she did her work. I only know that when she was done, I was bruised, swollen  and in pain from my neck to my cheekbone for a week. I looked like I had been in a fist fight, and whatever she did, since then, my terror of dentists has increased significantly.

So, what does all this have to do with art? Meh, not much. Except, that in my drug induced woozy brain today, with all my musings, I had the thought that my state of mind was much like a couple of paintings I had done. Those two paintings were so totally not inspired by drug induced states in a dentists chair, but I do think now, they represent that state quite nicely. As I just about merged with the seat, I happily thought, "I feel a blog post coming on." Then I had to try not to giggle, since he was playing with the drill at the time.

The first one was actually inspired by seeing some highlighted writing. Out of the corner of my eye, I "saw" the image as I was flipping pages of notes. The image so captivated me, that I had to paint it. Cheery Bouquet of Flowers

After I did that one, I thought it might be nice to do a series like that. All fuzzy, without defined edges, and I thought about this next one. So totally what I don't usually do. Since painting this next one, a number of friends have commented about how it makes them feel like the are seeing the auras of the birds, so I named it that. The Auras of Birds

I have not done anymore fuzzy edged paintings since then. But, if I have to go back to the dentist for more work, I may just take a few images with me and see what works best. You never know, there could be a great painting waiting for me in the fuzzy edges of my mind.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good taste is the enemy of creativity - Pablo Picasso

Earlier today, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a story from New Jersey. A brother and sister team, inspired by the great Venus de Milo, carved a curvy woman from snow, rather than your run-of-the-mill snowman. Unfortunately, someone anonymously reported the snow-woman, and the police were sent to investigate, which resulted in orders to cover her up. She was then given a bikini top and a sarong, which, according to the mother of the snow sculptors, made her look even more objectified and sexualized. I agree.

It brought to mind an incident from when I was a teen in the suburbs of Montreal. A copy of Michelangelos "David" was brought in for an art exhibit in our local mall, and people complained, loudly, that it was indecent.  The complaints bought David a pair of shorts, and I remember our art teacher saying how ridiculous it was. Luckily, he was not the only one who thought so. Art lovers counter-complained that David is a tremendous work of art, and that the shorts were equivalent to defacing a great art piece. What, they asked are we teaching our children about great art when we deface even a replica? The art lovers won, and the shorts were removed. I have no doubt that until they were removed, Michelangelo was turning in his grave.

I tried to find a picture of a replica of David with shorts, as a demonstration of my point. I was sure that our town couldn’t possibly be the only one with such sensibilities. But, there were no pictures like that to be found. So, I searched for a picture of him with a fig leaf. After all, I have heard a number of different stories of replicas being covered with a fig leaf. But there were no pictures of that either.

Rather what I did find was a, well, charming light switch cover. It’s available for only $4.99 on Amazon. It gives new meaning to the phrase, “I’m going to turn on the lights.” In fact, with a light switch cover like this one, I may forget about blogging, and just spend all my time playing with the light switch.

We humans are a strange lot. We are either busy vilifying nudity, or laughing at it. We all want to look, but no one wants to admit it. We all want to enjoy sex also, but few dare to admit to that either.

After graduating high school in Quebec, the next step is to attend CEGEP (a French acronym for Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel, translated as "College of General and Vocational Education"). Because high school finishes earlier than elsewhere in Canada, you need to take a 2 year pre-university course, if you'd like to go to university. 

So, there I was in CEGEP studying Fine Arts. Our teachers decided we needed to be desensitized to criticism, and to lose our shyness about the naked bodies that we were drawing or painting. They had a rather strange way of achieving that objective. While we were in our Life Drawing classes, one of the two sculpture teachers would invariably show up, and walk behind us checking out our drawings or paintings. They would proceed to make very loud comments such as, "Oh! Look! John has made the models breasts so large," or "Wow! Look at how detailed Mary has made the penis!" or even, "Oh, see how Jane has left the penis off altogether?"

Once in a sculpture class, the teacher loudly exclaimed that I had put my own breasts on the nude bust I was sculpting. Of course every guy in the class had to then check out the bust, just to be sure he was telling the truth.

Two years later in my first university level Life Drawing class, I was busy drawing the contortionist who was modeling that day. I had left a certain part of the paper blank. As our teacher passed behind me to check the drawing I had in progress, he commented, "Very nice, but don't be afraid to draw it," he said pointing to the suspiciously blank spot. 

Caught out for having not produced the perfect penis in my drawing (one that would not draw any attention at all) I tried to cover for myself with a quip. "Oh, " I replied, "It's not that I'm afraid to draw it, I've just had to erase it so many times to get it right."

He laughed, then pointed to the blank spot and got very serious saying, "Draw it!"

At the end of class he revealed that he had many new students even in his other classes who were in some way afraid of drawing sexual parts of the various models. I started to name them all, he was stunned, and wanted to know how I knew this. When I explained our experiences in our CEJEP classes, he was furious. 

At the start of the very next class, he told the entire class that he'd heard about some teachers behaviors "from other colleges", and that we need never be afraid to fully express ourselves in his class. We could colour it in, make it large or small, it didn't matter to him, and he promised he would never make fun of us. I later heard from all my previous CEGEP classmates that he'd repeated that talk in all of his classes.

Here's a look at the first drawing of our contortionist I did after that.

Recently I have gone back to Life Drawing classes, and I'll be posting some of those pictures soon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

Hello! My name is Jaqui Michells, and I am an artist who is currently living and working in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

A little bit about my background. I was born in London, England, and lived there until I was 7 1/2 years old, when my father was transferred to Canada. We lived in the suburbs of Montreal, Quebec, and I stayed there until 2000, when I moved here.

I got started in art when I was very young. For as long as I can remember, I told my parents, and anyone else who would listen, that I wanted to be an artist.

My artistic story starts as follows, in a funny story that was told to me by my mother. I would have been too young to remember it, so I am relying on her memory of the incident.

At 5 years old, I attended kindergarden at a very strict school in England. They had a school nurse on staff, so you had to be really sick before they would call home. Either that, or very, very naughty.

At that age I was still shy enough to be hiding behind my parents legs. So, when the school called home to tell my mother that she needed to go and see them about me, there was no question in her mind that I had to be deathly ill, because there was no way I had been that naughty! Off she raced to the school, expecting to find me at deaths door.

When she arrived, she was told to go and see the head mistress (oh, this must be bad!). The head mistress sat her down and proceeded to pull out a drawing, and asked my mother to look at it. She explained that the drawing was done by another child in my class. My mother looked at it, and said, "It's a stick man, running."

"That's right," said the head mistress, "now, look at this drawing done by your daughter." She handed over another drawing, and my mother looked at it and replied, "It's another stick man, running"

"Yes, but don't you see the talent in this one!" The head mistress exclaimed, and proceeded to tell my mother, that she ought to get me into an art school, because I had definite talent.

I am sure relief flooded my mother, and after she got home, she and my father shared a good laugh about it. But, year after year, the teachers told her that I had talent, and I continued to say I wanted painting lessons. At first no one would take me because I was too young. At age 9 though, I did a drawing which amazed my mother, and she came home the next day and asked me, "Do you still want to take painting lessons?"

"Yes!" I replied

"Good, because I just signed you up."

So, here is a picture of my very first painting in oils (age 9), an exercise in perspective. 

To this day, I still want to be an artist.