ReCouture is an annual fashion show featuring designs made entirely from recycled materials. Last year’s show can be viewed on YouTube:
The 2020 show is on May 2, and I’ll be blogging my progress here with weekly posts on Thursdays.
I don’t want to share my sketch just yet, but I will share my mood board that I used to put together my proposal.
My design is focused on grocery store waste, especially the tension between non-biodegradable plastic waste (of which there is a LOT, even beyond shopping bags) and biodegradable food waste (of which there is also a LOT, which many people don’t even think about, perhaps because it is biodegradable), and the way these two categories of waste intermingle in our food system and in our wider ecological system.
The part I’m most excited (and admittedly nervous) about in my design is the material I’m using for my skirt– kombucha leather. Friends, I have officially become a kombucha farmer. I’ll share more about my process next week, but suffice it to say it involves brewing a LOT of kombucha, and growing a LOT of slimy SCOBYs. But it’s okay, it’s all in the name of art (and environmental awareness), and will hopefully turn into something like… this!
In addition to the kombucha leather skirt, I plan to create a train made of plastic bottles + produce bags, and a bodice made of coated (plasticized) cardboard cartons. Intrigued? Stay tuned for more, including a step-by-step of how I create my kombucha fabric!
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My first set of assignments for DIY Art School Orientation all revolve around thinking about my artistic style. “Style” is one of those things that everyone talks about, but it can be hard to define. It’s a sort of “know it when you see it” concept.
If someone has a well-defined style, you can identify their work without even seeing a signature or a byline. We often think of style in connection to fashion– a person with a “sense of style” combines different pieces of clothing in unique ways. Style can be found in literally anything people produce– I can recognize certain photographers’ styles based on composition, subject matter, and the way they edit in post-processing. Or different academics’ styles of writing based on sentence structure, word choice (ugh, jargon), and conceptual model. Cooks develop styles of making food, whether it’s in-line with a well-established tradition (eg. French cuisine) or simply a set of go-to home cooked meals. Style naturally develops when you do any activity over and over and over again.
I watched several videos and completed a couple of reading assignments about finding my artistic style, including:
I think the main takeaways from this week’s explorations can be summed up in three central ideas.
1. Borrow, Steal, Get “Inspired”
Art isn’t created in a vacuum. I think when a lot of would-be artists are young, they have a romanticized notion of being a lone wolf, holed up in her/ his (okay, usually his) attic studio, agonizing over paintings or typewritten pages, all alone day-in, day-out.
One of the most useful foundational concepts held in my previous profession (anthropologist) is that people are always already a part of a social group. We need other people (besides our mother) just to be born! It’s actually physically very difficult and dangerous (but not impossible) for humans to give birth alone, unlike many other animals. People are social creatures, we especially don’t do well being alone for extended periods of time. We eventually become mentally unstable, which is why extreme isolation can be so dangerous.
(Side note: any other fans of the Nine-nine? Occasionally bringing attention to serious issues, and always with humor! That’s Jake Peralta in solitary confinement, FYI)
My point is, we’re surrounded by people with their own ideas, making their own stuff. And we can’t help but see it and think about it before going out and making our own stuff. We’re constantly borrowing, stealing, and being “inspired” by other people, whether consciously or not. We’re social creatures. It’s just part of what we’re hardwired to do.
Both Lila Rogers’s class, as well as Christine Nishiyama’s classes, suggest looking at what you really like– stuff around you that makes your heart beat a little faster– to figure out where the roots of your style lie. In other words, make your inspiration a conscious activity. In addition, make it mindful! You don’t want to literally steal someone else’s work and claim it as your own, even “accidentally” :-/
I started this exercise by adding work by my favorite illustrators to a Pinterest board. I’ll admit, I was kind of bad at this. I think I just like a LOT of stuff. I was only supposed to collect 5- 10 things that I REALLY like, and I ended up with several dozen. Oops. I limited myself to artwork, even though style grows out of so much more– music, movies, physical objects, even food or travel experiences. I think as I go on, I’ll continue to add non-art items to this board to flesh it out (and whittle the existing selections down a bit).
In one of Christine’s classes, she reviews several periods in art history and analyzes different characteristics of the work, such as color, subject matter, technique, etc. This is a great exercise to do not just with the “masters”, but with any contemporary artist or illustrator as well– and with your own work! My next blog post will explore a few of my pins in closer detail, analyzing what it is about them that draws me in so much, whether the line work, color, subject, composition, or something else.
So, identifying your inspiration– or sources, or references, or influences, or however you want to think about them– is just the first step in borrowing/ stealing/ being inspired. Jerry Saltz pointed out in his “33 Rules For Being An Artist” that everyone starts out as copycats. But it’s not enough to simply reproduce what you like (as if that were even so simple!).
You have to synthesize it, assimilate it into your own psyche and muscle memory, so that what you create is an amalgam of many different sources of inspiration and thus, uniquely yours!
You should definitely read this book. I found myself saying “yes!” and “of course!” and also giggling (because humor)at many points. It’s one I keep going back to, and I don’t do that with many books.
Austin Kleon talks about this in his book Steal Like An Artist— it’s his first “rule”, in fact! Your work must be greater than the sum of its parts. Or, if not greater (maybe that’s the ideal situation ;)) at least wholly different from the sum of its parts.
I love his example of genetics to illustrate this: you have genes from both your mom and your dad, but you are not just mom + dad. Your mashed-up genetics make you entirely unique. Maybe someone who doesn’t know you well would confuse you for one of your parents, but certainly none of your friends would. Likewise, maybe someone who doesn’t know your artistic work well might confuse it for one of your sources, but it should be mostly identifiable as yours and only yours.
2. Make What You Want to Make More of
aka: like attracts like
One of my goals with my DIY Art School is to put together a portfolio that I could start circulating to potential clients. The goal with a portfolio is to demonstrate what kinds of work I can do… but also what kinds of work I want to do.
In her Creativebug class, Lila Rogers says “What you show is what you get.” You won’t be hired to do editorial illustrations, for example, if all you show are repeat patterns. In your portfolio, like attracts like. If you show lots of one type of work, or have a very well-defined style, you will be hired for that work or that style, and so you’ll produce more of that kind of work/ style.
This isn’t a difficult concept, but it is a little tricky, especially if you’re already working and/ or have an established portfolio, but it doesn’t quite look like the sort of thing you want to be making. The key, then, is making time for personal projects that reflect where you want your style and work to head.
In my case, starting out on my own from scratch (without even professors telling me what I should/ shouldn’t be doing!) is kind of a benefit. All of my projects are personal projects, and I can focus on wherever my interests lie. Of course, the drawback here is that I have many, many interests, and a rather short attention span, which can lead to a scattered and unfocused portfo— ooh look! Something shiny! 😉
Another way to approach this idea is, as Kleon says, to “write the book you want to read.” By making what you like, you’re guaranteed to have at least an audience of one (yourself). And if you like something, there’s a good chance that other people like it, too. Even if they don’t like it, you’ve made something that makes you happy, which is something even if it doesn’t pay the bills (he also suggests you keep a non-art day job, which is very sound advice, IMO).
3. Keep Making Stuff
Style isn’t fixed, just as you-the-person aren’t some static, never-changing thing. Your interests change, your goals change, your personality even changes as you mature (hopefully… goodness knows it would be awful to be a 70-year-old with the personality of a 3-year-old… ahem).
But, if you freeze up and refuse to challenge yourself– or even refuse to make things that you’ve always made– your style will stagnate as well. In order to mature as artists (and as people!) we’ve got to put in the work.
That’s right. Two Nine-nine references in one post! Nerd alert.
So keep making things! Make the same stuff you’ve always made, that’s fine. The thing is, human beings terrible at reproducing things exactly as we see them, whether it’s our own work or someone else’s. So even by drawing the same flower (or chair, or whatever) over and over again, you won’t be able to help but change it a little each time. And those incremental changes, over time lead to stylistic evolution. Imagine if you applied incremental changes to multiple drawings or paintings each day! Just think of how much you’d grow and develop as an artist!
I decided to adapt these exercises to focus only on illustration (for now), and to think specifically about the defining elements and techniques these artists use that I would like to emulate in my own work (this is a bit of a preview of next week when I’m going to review the “foundations” of art + design).
Not surprisingly, I found myself drawn to some of the same illustrators over and over– they have well-defined styles, and so use many of the same elements and techniques repeatedly in their work. The main artists whose work I love, love, love and which I am going to look at here are Lisa Congdon, Brigette Barrager, Sarah Walsh, Andrea Lauren, and Dinara Mirtalipova.
I think the thing they all have in common is that they are “perfectly imperfect” in their representations of people and things. None of them are setting out to create photo-realistic paintings, and they’re often drawing people or flowers or animals that don’t necessarily exist in “real life” 🙂
(I’ll add that it’s super interesting to see how their work has been licensed in different ways, and how they work in different media for personal projects– if you click through to their websites you can see how their styles translate from a 2D page into something 3D, whether a hand-made personal project or a manufactured brand collaboration).
One of the things I like to paint the most are houses, so it’s no surprise that the largest number pins on my board were house-related. While I admire the skill necessary to create precise architectural renderings, the styles I’m most attracted to are more fairy tale-esque and illustrative. I’m all about the charm and character when it comes to houses– both in drawings and in real life!
The first one I’m drawn to is this street scene by Dinara Mirtalipova. I have a thing for street scenes in general, particularly rows of houses. What I love about this one is her use of black, especially to bring attention to the little details– the curved balconies, the embellishments around the windows, the textured doors, the cats on the roofs! All of the details make the scene SO charming. I think by using so much stark black it not only makes them stand out, but also gives it an extra layer of fantasy-illustration. True black is not very common in nature, even in architectural scenes, so when you use it to outline or add in detail linework, it emphasizes the fact that this is intentionally not a photo-realistic rendering.
Something I find interesting about this one is her use of color. Usually Dinara uses a more saturated, flat color palette– and a lot more red! This street scene is much more muted, textured, and earthy (it looks like she may have used a watercolor or ink wash under the linework). The illustration is still really clearly identifiable as hers, I think because of the black details.
This house by Brigette Barrager is so “perfectly imperfect”– the wonky lines and uneven windows give it so much personality. She uses very little true black (just in the wrought iron grates and a little in the roof), but it still has the fairy tale-like character to it. You kind of feel like you’re about to step in to a children’s book (which I like!).
Even though she doesn’t use much true black, there is still a lot of contrast in this painting. The background colors are super muted, making the house pop. The details– like the bushes and the lower windows– are very dark and stand out a lot against the white house. The pinks in the upstairs windows play nicely with the greens in the bushes around the house. I think that helps to make the painting feel polished and complete, especially when the lines and textures are deliberately wonky.
The colors!! I looove flat, saturated colors. One of the things I like most about Lisa’s paintings is how she uses color to define shape (but note the difference from her drawings– see below!), and then goes in later and adds linework– so the color and the line really stand on their own and do two totally different things (define shape vs define texture and details).
Of course, I also love the geometric, impressionistic elements of this painting– it is unapologetically *not* a photograph. But at the same time– there’s no question as to what each element represents! I also like the way she plays with perspective and makes the ground somewhat flat.
Did I mention I like flat, saturated colors? Yes? Okay. I think that’s part of what draws me (frequently!) to block prints and stamps. Andrea Lauren has such a great style– I love **her book and find the compositions in it so inspiring. I think it’s a nice example of “modern folk art.”
I get frustrated because my carving skills aren’t up to par, but I love the effect. I used to do a lot of cut-paper art, and like the sharp definition it gives to shapes. A lot of the work I’m drawn to accomplishes that in different ways– like block carving– by using high-contrast, highly-saturated colors to define shape.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m *afraid* of drawing people, but I don’t often feel like I *succeed* at drawing people… especially faces! That is why I am so, so impressed by people who do it well. Sarah Walsh is kind of known for her people, especially people with diverse appearances. I love the hard edges in this illustration, and the way she combines flat saturated color- shapes with textural overlays (digital brushes, line) and plays with transparency in a few key places like the food. I like the wonky perspective (kind of like Lisa Congdon’s)– you can see everyone’s eyes even though the viewer is from a slightly overhead angle.
Flowers! I love flowers. I really love leaves, though. While the traditional sort of soft, washy- watercolor flowers are lovely (and I’d like to learn to paint them), I love these folksy flowers and other foliage by Dinara Mirtalipova best. The color is what jumps out at me first– the saturated pinks, oranges, and reds, contrasting with the greens of the leaves. And then you notice the more subtle gold and yellow leaves filling out the composition. It’s such a nice balance of contrast and subtlety, and gives your eye lots of reasons to meander around the whole piece. There’s also a lot of contrast in size– BIG big flowers, and little little ones, all blooming together. Like in several of the other examples I’ve looked at, a lot of her shapes are defined by color, and the details are brought out with high-contrast (both white and black) line work.
More flowers! Lisa Congdon is kind of known for her linework, and here she uses it to create all kinds of fantastical flower shapes. I find it interesting to see how different her painting style is from her drawing style (at least, this looks to me like it was done with a micron pen, perhaps). Whereas above she used color to define her shapes and line to bring in the details, line is the dominant feature here. It both defines the shape of the flower as well as the textural details of each. Color is brought in as another way to highlight details and complete the overall composition.
I love the saturated, flat colors (it almost looks like they were filled in with the live paint feature in Illustrator, but I *think* she works primarily with traditional media). I think using the secondary and tertiary colors here really works with a somewhat broad color palette. It keeps the level of contrast from becoming too “buzzy” (see next week’s discussion of color 😉 ).
This is the cover image on my daughter’s (current) favorite book, Uni the Unicorn, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. I love the overall composition here, and the illustrations throughout the book are just as charming. I like the use of secondary and tertiary colors, and the fanciful flower shapes– they’re not too fanciful, though. You might expect to see some of them in an actual field of flowers.
And finally, this whimsical print by Sarah Walsh. I love the composition and collection of somewhat random, fanciful things (potted plants, prehistoric animals). I love the color palette. And I love the way the paint strokes (and gradients) are visible within the object, but the shapes have sharp, clear lines. I think this piece is a nice reminder for me that *anything* can be a composition– it doesn’t have to be a scene in order for it to be a complete, polished piece.
Want to see more work by these talented ladies?? I either own and love these books, or have them high on my wishlist!
**Uni the Unicorn (illustrated by Brigette Barrager) — one of my 4-year-old daughter’s favorite books, responsible for sparking her current obsession with unicorns, and for introducing me to Brigette’s illustrations
**Playful Painting: People (Sarah Walsh)– This one is on my to-purchase list for February. I’m love Sarah’s style of painting people, and can’t wait to pick up a few tips and tricks from this book!
**Hats of Faith(Sarah Walsh)– This is on my “to purchase next” list for my kids. I read somewhere that it began as a personal project for Sarah, which I think is super cool!
**Block Print (Andrea Lauren)– I love this book of printing projects. I haven’t completed any of the projects yet, but the designs inside are so inspiring! I pull it out whenever I need a quick dose of creative inspiration.
Come back next week when I review some of the foundations of art + design, and apply this same analysis to my own portfolio-to-date in order to think about where I can challenge myself and push my boundaries. In the meantime, I’d love to hear who some of your favorite/ most inspiring illustrators and artists are 🙂
Links on this page may be affiliate links. This means when you click on them, I may receive a small benefit at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!! 🙂
Happy New Year!
I’ve officially kicked off my DIY Art School adventure, starting with a two-week “orientation.” During this little warm-up to the main event, I’ll be easing in to work with a few fun “assignments.”
My focus this week is reflecting on my own artistic style and how I might want to develop it. I’m watching a couple of videos in Christine Nishiyama’s Art School Bootcamp on Skillshare, and starting Lila Roger’s class, “Treasure Hunt Your Artistic Style” on Creativebug. After watching these videos, I’ll create a mood board for my style as it is right now, and think about which areas/ techniques I’d like to expand or refine.
Next week I’ll recap some of the fundamentals (basic color theory, principles and elements of design, a bit of composition) and do a self-assessment of my portfolio, such as it exists right now! Then, I’ll get to start on the meat of the project, with a focus on illustrating plants and animals during January.
I’m hoping all of this will help me get my head on straight as I dive in to the practice-oriented part of my adventure. I’ll be doing sketchbook exercises every day starting… NOW, and posting those to Instagram daily. Each month I’ll designate a set of exercises from Creativebug to fall back on if I am feeling stuck or uninspired.
My “real” projects don’t really start until after orientation, but I’m kind of chomping at the bit to open up a few new pans of watercolors I got for Christmas, so we’ll see where that takes me over the next few days 😀
In terms of blog posts, throughout my DIY adventure I’ll review the video courses I watch and books I read, share any projects I make, and write reflections on my own process and ideas about creativity. At the end of each week I’ll do a “work in review” post, recapping my sketchbook work and what I completed during the week. I’m aiming to blog about DIY Art School 3 times each week.
Whew, think that’s enough?!?! I’d best get a move on, those videos won’t watch themselves!
What is DIY Art School? I’ve decided that for the calendar year 2020, I’m going to pursue a consistent and systematic exploration of art + design. Independent of any institutions. Using resources available for free or otherwise low cost. And you’re welcome to follow along!
My goals with this project are:
Develop a consistent daily art practice
Explore art and creative theory in a way that helps me to incorporate new ideas into my practice
Expand my illustration and design skills
Develop an illustration- and design-related portfolio that I can begin circulating to potential employers
Get a better idea of where I want to focus future personal projects
I’ll primarily be using resources that I’ve already purchased or that are freely available, including online classes, books, podcasts, and blogs. I would encourage anyone following along to check your local public library for resources first (inter-library loan rocks), and then any public university libraries you might have nearby. Fun fact: you can purchase memberships to most in-state public university libraries, and you can hang out in the stacks + read books for free without even being affiliated!
I’ll officially start on January 1. I’ve divided the year into four quarters, each with a different theme. Each month has a focus that ties back into the overall theme of the quarter, and allows for deeper exploration into a particular topic. I have reading and written reflection assignments, as well as video classes to watch– but art is something you learn by doing, so my emphasis will be on completing daily, weekly, and monthly projects, all aimed at developing my skills and ultimately building my portfolio.
So maybe you’re asking, “um, why? Why do it this way? Why not go back to art school if you want to go to art school?”
Excellent question! I’m so glad you asked! As it happens, I spent a lot of time in post-secondary education, but did not actually go to art school. Lately I’ve been regretting that particular life decision.
I’d love to go back to school but… actually, I wouldn’t. 13 years as a post-secondary student was plenty, thankyouverymuch. And then the 4 years I stayed on as a college instructor was even more than plenty. But if I learned anything in that time, it’s how to learn things. So I thought I’d put those skills to use learning something new, on my own, on a shoestring budget.
If that’s something that sounds interesting to you, I invite you to follow along with me! Watch the videos, read the books, try the assignments, and join in the conversation in the comments. I’d love to have your contributions. If not, I’ll still be posting regularly here on all topics related to creativity and craft, so stay tuned 🙂
Welcome to my weekly roundup of “things I’m loving”– stuff that made me smile this week!
1) My husband’s reorganization of our daughter’s books: In preparation for Baby #2 (due in February), we’re doing a little sorting and reorganizing in our house. We moved our daughter’s sizable book collection from the playroom/ craft room up to her bedroom, since that’s really where we do book/ story time. My husband– not usually one for thinking too deeply about the aesthetic presentation of things– single-handedly relocated all of the books. I heard him bumping things around for a little while upstairs, but didn’t think much of it. But then, when I went to put some clothes away later, I noticed how he had arranged all of the books on the shelves! By RAINBOW COLOR!!! This just made my heart sing. I think our daughter likes it, too 🙂
2) Spotify’s “Piano in the Background” playlist: Now that it’s officially too late to listen to Christmas music (even though our tree is still up), I’ve had this peaceful playlist on permanent repeat in the background while I work. It doesn’t matter what type of work I’m doing, it always sets just the right mood.
3) GGH Merino Soft Yarn: Okay, I know this isn’t extra-super-special yarn or anything. It’s probably considered “craft store yarn” in Europe, amirite? And hardcore knitters would probably roll their eyes at me. I confess, I usually buy craft store yarn here in the US (there is no local yarn store in my town, and I’m on a budget). But, considering the price of this yarn (~$5/ skein, not much more expensive than what I’d buy at my local craft store), it’s really lovely quality! And so much more pleasant to knit with than the merino I’ve bought locally. I’m using it for Epic Knits’ Yarn Quest 2018, and plan to buy some more to make socks when I’m done with this project. 100% wool, and superwash, so it can go in the washing machine! So, hip hip hooray for Euro craft store yarn!