Sunday, February 28, 2016

Microexpressions & Identity

The self portrait is a strange notion: who would want to buy a piece of art that depicts someone's portrait, particularly if the subject is not you or someone you love? Yet, self portraits abound in the art world.

In fact, self portraits are what selfies used to be. Our instructor recently stated, "Selfies have put artists out of a job!" Before the invention of the camera (and of course even afterwards too), artists slaved over artistic images of themselves for hours, manipulating paint or collage or marble or whatever medium, along with the use of a mirror, to encapsulate the essence of the self.  I tell you now: even with a camera as an extremely helpful modern-day tool, the self portrait continues to demand several hours and focused intentions.

Microexpressions are a phenomenon which were introduced to the world at large in the 2009-11 TV show Lie to Me. In this show, an expert could read the slightest change in facial expressions and interpret them in a way that led to to solving crimes. I found the show fascinating and indeed, agreed that there was something to the idea. I had no idea until I tried to draw myself. Microexpressions DO exist, people!

There is a fantastic Fort Collins artist, Haley Hasler, who uses self portrait almost exclusively in her work to explore truth and imagination, whimsy and earnest. I've puzzled over this channel of artistic expression for years--that is, until now. Now that I've made a self portrait, I finally understand the appeal. I almost feel as addicted to the idea of making more self portraits as I was to that TV show!

What a very complex topic 'identity' is! Our self portrait assignment was to incorporate identity in some way. As I sat with myself for so many hours, my most prominent identity of the day--being a non-parent--is what kept coming to mind. What face could I possibly depict that would show all the feelings that accompany the way I engage with the world around my experience of this identity?

I tried several faces. I think I took about a hundred selfies. Once I picked ones that I think showed what I was feeling, the drawings of those selfies manifested in ways that were and were not always so successful. 

To claim any one identity is to deeply explore the various facets of that identity. I am lucky and grateful that I live in a time and place where I have the choice at all as to whether to have children. The choice was a challenging one to make and the process took me several years. Once I made the choice, the reaction of my community (friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers) added an entire, often unexpected layer to the experience. These reactions caused me to feel all sorts of feelings, from relief, smugness, validation, and a desire to advocate for others to make this choice for themselves to frustration and exasperation that my lived experience of womanhood might not be considered valid or as rewarding or meaningful or even purposeful.

To delve into this experience, this claim of being child-free, and to share my experience with you, took some courage. The last thing I want is to alienate anyone. Instead, I want to talk about things. I want to engage in dialogue about your experience and mine. Both matter; one is not better or worse than the other. But this is my truth, and I am emboldened by having taken this step to put it out there in the world.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Join HLM's 9th Annual Card Swap!

It's Card Swap season! I invite you to join in the 2016 Six Degrees of HLM Card Swap. 

Here are the details:

1. After I hear from everyone who wants to participate and I give you the signal, you'll have 7 weeks to make ten (10) greeting cards, most often somewhat identical in design (although this is not required).  These cards can be any shape or size, blank on the inside, themed... wherever your whimsy takes you. Every medium is welcome: fabric, stamping, painting, beads, collage, photography, papercraft.... Most important is that whatever you make fits into an envelope that can be mailed either domestically or abroad.

THEME:  This year's theme can be either "surprise" or "text." By "surprise," you can be literal if you'd like, but my idea for this theme is based on wanting to surprise the recipient with some aspect of the card. For "text" I mean something that integrates text into your design. You could pick one alphabet letter or word and build a design around it, or do like you may have seen me do several times and have words embedded in the background. Be creative! Interpret as loosely as you need to. (And if you're totally uninspired, just throw the theme out the window and do what you want!)

2. On or before the given postmark deadline, you'll send all the cards you make to me with enough envelopes for each card and five dollars. When you sign up, there is also a way to pay electronically if you prefer.

3. Once I receive everyone's cards, I'll divvy them up so that every person receives ten cards from other swap participants. Using your moola, I'll send them back to you.

4. You'll receive a set of handmade greeting cards to use over the next year in the mail for a limited cost and a ton of fun.

Here are the dates you need to know:
·   RSVP to participate in the card swap by clicking HERE.
·   Start thinking about/making your design as soon as you can.  You'll be surprised how quickly that deadline will be here.
·   I'll host a Work Party at my studio in Fort Collins, CO one weekend in March--anyone who participates in the swap is welcome to join us.
·   Monday, April 4 is the postmark date for getting those cards, enough corresponding envelopes, and cash (if you didn't pay electronically) in the mail to me. (If you're local, you obviously don't have to bother with the sending business--we'll just rendezvous!)  
·   I'll send out a reminder about 4 weeks through.
·   Around May 1 is when I will hopefully send your cards back to you. 

Please DO forward this invitation to any of your crafty or arty friends and have them sign up here if they'd like to participate.  Anyone is welcome (even if card-making is not your main means of artistic expression!).  My only request is that everyone who signs up follows through to make/swap their cards.

For inspiring close-up images from last year, click here.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Human Figure and The Politics of Nudity

Who knew that drawing the human figure would be so interesting? The politics (for lack of a better word) of being in the same room as a nude model are fascinating, the exploration of drawing materials is curious and frustrating and demanding and surprisingly exciting all the same time, and the outcomes are rewarding, even on a bad drawing day.

What do I mean by "the politics" of being in the same room as a nude model?

For me, having a nude model to observe is an opportunity like no other. When are we ever granted license to stare without shame upon the likes of another human in his/her most vulnerable physical state? In this scenario, I get to appreciate the body for what it is--its forms, shadows, and weight, how muscles move around bones, how light bounces off skin, the body's ability, its strength, its imperfections, and its beauty. I first started to appreciate this when my mom took us to the ballet when we were young. But this is a whole different level. Up close and personal.

Even if the model appears to be other than what our culture would consider the most beautiful, it is unpredictably empowering to see someone stand before us in what one might consider a compromising stance. Their seeming fearlessness and nonchalance gives me courage to be in the room with them and a confidence which allows me to think of my own body differently. Why should I feel modest or embarrassed? Whether I like it or not, no matter how much I consciously don't want it and seek to diminish it, no matter how feminist I declare myself to be, I have to admit that from time to time, self-consiousness about my non-Heidi-Klum body prevails. But standing five feet from a disrobed person and being granted permission to gawk at them for hours helps me allot value to my own frame, more than I've ever allowed. What about the way my muscles move around my bones? What is the contour of my face? How would I represent just the tiniest curve of my elbow or the shadow on my back? How does my own breast fall differently on my chest than the model's? What shape does my hair have?

Fun fact: models are paid an hourly wage, and so they should be--it's hard work! Have you ever tried to strike a pose and then not move? Try it for just a minute. Then try it for 5 or even 20. And if you need entertaining while you stand there, completely still, watch this fantastic animated video (4 min) about someone who takes the job very seriously. (I have watched it five times and lo-ove it.)

When I first painted the nude figure in a painting class a few years ago, I found myself astonished at the experience itself of trying to represent the nude figure at all. My nervousness at the outset abated immediately when we were given just one minute to try to capture his pose. What? One minute??? It took a few 1-minute poses to get in the groove, but once I did, well... would you look at that? Strangely, I noticed that in my mind, the model had gone from a person to an object in a split second. Wow. Is that even ok? In art-making, I believe it is, as long as we don't treat the model as such!

To be fair, I did have to giggle about the whole thing with my 30-something friends for a few days after that initial experience. You know, to process.

Relatedly, an added component of being in a classroom full of mostly younger people (18-20 year-olds) in this circumstance is paying attention to their behaviors. Foreign to me in this context, perhaps because I'm not in pursuit of a life partner, is the idea of sex. Before that split-second shift from human-to-object, are some classmates actually checking the model out?? The thought makes me chuckle under my breath and shake my head. Also, I have what I consider the advantage of more life experience, and indeed, I have seen more naked bodies just for having lived nearly twice as long as they have. With that comes maturity and, contrary to what I said about Heidi Klum before, slow (and deliberate!) acceptance of one's own body. I can't speak to what is going through the minds of my fellow drawers, but I can tell that some of them are uncomfortable. 

I once knew a student who desperately wanted to change her major to art, but couldn't handle even the thought of being in the same room as naked person. As Figure Drawing is a requirement for the art major, she did not succeed in making the disciplinary change for this one reason. She "settled" (my own assessment) for something else. I feel that our culture's gymnophobia has let this young woman down. Not only am I sorry for her, but I am disappointed. What art will this world miss out on because she is literally unable to bring herself to see nudity as non-threatening? 

Knowing that someone else out there cannot do what I get to do, I will admit to feeling gratitude at the thousands of subconscious factors that allow me to be calm, collected, and even happy when I am given the chance to gaze upon the nude figure (whether in art class or elsewhere!).

For our first big homework project, I got to gaze at my husband's hands, and here is the result, from start to finish. (Click on the photos for a closer view.)