My brief foray into illustration during high school drew heavily on my own life experiences 😉
Today – a fun blast from my past.
But first – We have been inside for nearly two straight days due to an extreme cold weather warning. Monday morning we woke up to wind chills of -40 degrees Celsius. It’s good we got out for a run on Saturday afternoon because as scary cold as that was, this is much, much worse. We can barely get the dogs to go out back to do their dog business. I literally have to push their bums down the deck steps. I’m like a crazy lady running around wearing my husband’s Canadian dinner jacket waving a broom in the air trying to corral the freezing dogs. I think Teelo could hold it just about forever but the potential consequence of this type of bathroom willpower also stresses me out. So, dogs bums pushed down the stairs by the crazy dog lady it is.
And now – may I present to you, Sandy Goes to the Hospital.
I created this cartoon for the old Mississauga Hospital back in grade 10 or 11 when I was volunteering there (and it was still called Mississauga Hospital). I volunteered there for a few years in high school. I had a vague idea that I wanted to go to medical school one day and it seemed like a good strategy to volunteer in a hospital. I helped for a long time as a greeter in Emergency intake which seemed pretty intense and high stress for a fifteen-year-old?!? I don’t think I liked it very much to be honest. Anyway, when I discovered that they were still using the same “welcome to the hospital” colouring book for kids that I received when I got my tonsils out in grade 2 (!) I volunteered my drawing services.
I actually ended up doing a few different art projects through volunteer services but the coloring book came first. They kind of entrusted me to redo the old one, page for page. I’m pretty sure I renamed the main character Sandy because my younger sister and I were heavily, heavily into the move Grease for several years through high school. I’m also pretty sure that the doctor was based on Dr. Carter (played by Noah Wyle) from ER which my sister and I were also heavily into during the NBC Must See TV era. So, so weird in retrospect but hey, there it is.
Sandy was surprisingly chill about being told that she would need to be admitted to the hospital and none of these people have fingers, just mitt hands:
Sunflowers were kind of my thing back in high school, that’s a sunflower on Sandy’s shirt – not the sun or just any old flower.
Sandy was getting her tonsils out because I had also had my tonsils removed years before and this was my closest frame of reference for an operation or medical intervention. In 2019 I think this is now an outpatient procedure – you go to the hospital for a few hours and go home the same day, it’s not really a thing – but in the late 1980s it was still a bit of a big deal. It was like a 10-14 day recovery (off school!!!). I remember being on the couch and watching A LOT of Little House on the Prairie reruns (you didn’t get to choose back then and that’s what was on TV on weekday afternoons apparently). Before the operation I had to go in for a pre-op work-up and you had to stay overnight. That was the most stressful part for me because 7-year-old me had to stay overnight at the hospital by myself after the actual operation.
This was how the actual entrance to the old Mississauga Hospital used to look. And these cartoon people kind of (?) look like my parents except my dad never owned a sweater like that.
I remember I really obsessed over the spelling of paediactric (or pediatric?). Even now this is making my head turn in a funny way to make it look right. I Googled it and it turns out this is a thing to wonder the correct spelling – and both are right. Count on me to use the spelling that seems more pretentious.
Again, so many happy people, including this poor boy with two broken limbs? What on earth?
And THAT is the most terrifying needle I have ever seen:
All together now:
I know that the point of this colouring book was to make the hospital seem friendly (and not scary) and more accessible for little kids but I just cannot get over how deliriously happy the characters in this little colouring book are. It’s pretty funny. I wonder if it’s still in use?
I even got a little bit of press for my work! This beauty of a pic was taken of me in my volunteer smock for The Mississauga News.
And another article in my high school newspaper (I think?):
Looking at these old drawings and clips reminds me that I used to combine my art side and my science side wherever possible. There was a fair amount of cross-over and I always had the prettiest science projects 🙂 There was a time, maybe in grade 11, that I went to the University of Toronto to check out their medical illustration graduate program. Sometimes I think that was a bit of a missed opportunity for me. I imagine myself working from home, holed up in my studio (the dogs are there too) and just spending my days drawing highly technical illustrations of teeth and eyeballs and whatever you might need to fill a science textbook. I think that would’ve been really, really cool. But, like so many things that have kind of gone more technical over the years, my sense is that there’s more computer illustration used now in medical illustration than actual watercolours on paper and that’s not something I would’ve really enjoyed. Still, it’s interesting to reflect on what could’ve been (you know, the whole Frost fork in the road quote, kind of sort of?) and in the very least share these funny little illustrations for you on this cold Tuesday.
Thanks for reading everyone! Hopefully the cold will break later this afternoon and we will finally be able to get the dogs out to walk off some of those crazy sillies that have been building up!!!
Acrylic painting for absolute beginners. Everything you need to know ☺️
If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of my Absolute Beginners painting series, you can check them out here and here.
So, you’ve chosen to paint with acrylics! Excellent choice! Or maybe you’re just reading this post for the heck of it – also excellent! Thank you so much. If you’ve never painted with acrylics before, please, let me be your guide.
Today we are going to paint this (if you want to):
First up, let me explain the basic of acrylic paints in this video below:
What exactly are acrylic paints. Well, as we covered in Part 1, all paint is made up of a binder or vehicle (the stuff that keeps the paint together, sticks to your painting surface, and holds the colour in place once the paint is dry). The pigment is mixed with the binder – this is what gives your paint its colour. Acrylic paint has a similar consistency to oil paint – both are generally pretty-heavy bodied and thick. The binder in acrylic paint is acrylic polymer emulsion. Straight out of the tube acrylic paint is water soluble. So all you really need to thin your paint and work with them is basic water. If you like you can buy a product called retarder which is an additive for increasing the working (drying) time of your acrylic paint. Once acrylic paint dries it is water impermeable and permanent. It is a great paint for beginners.
Basic acrylic painting shopping list
Yay, you get to go shopping! Here’s what you’ll need to get started with acrylics:
Acrylic paint, 60 ml tubes (I recommend TriArt or Golden paints): Alizarin crimson, cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow medium, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna, chrome oxide green (optional), Payne’s grey, titanium white
Brushes: Round #6, flat 1/2″ thick, filbert #2 or #4 – short handle if you’ll be working at a table, long handle if working at an easel (I prefer synthetic soft bristles, other option is hog hair, see what you like) – inexpensive is ok, but I don’t recommend dollar store paintbrushes – you would regret it
Pre-stretched canvases – you can buy a bulk pack for a volume discount (12 x 12″ is a good size to go with) and/or pad of inexpensive canvas sheets for practice
Retarder (optional) – Golden makes a good one
Palette: Disposable palette sheets (optional, looks like a pad of paper) – or a piece of plywood or Masonite board – it is up to you
Paint-Along: Still Life With Apple
Here’s what you’ll need for our paint-along:
Cadmium yellow medium
Naphthol red medium (or cadmium red medium from basic palette0
Chrome oxide green (optional)
Click below to watch me paint. You can paint along with me! I recommend you get all your supplies assembled, a nice cozy tea, and then press play! You can follow me, skip around to the parts you need. You’ll have your first painted masterpiece in no time. I’m no Bob Ross but I really try to break it down for viewers. And I apologize for the length! This is my first kind of “paint-with-me” video and there’s definitely a learning curve. But I thought, ah, I’ve got to start somewhere so here we are.
I hope you all enjoyed this little how-to and tutorial. The best way to learn how to paint, is to paint – as much as possible. If you painted along, please please please share your work in the comments below! Any comments? Questions? I love to hear from you!
It’s been awhile since I did a week in review! I think a lot of people start the New Year with big plans for how it’s going to be the best.year.ever. While I’m cautious to make too many grand plans, I know I’m usually as excited as the next person to get a fresh start and plan out my time. Unfortunately Christmas and New Year were a little rough around here this year and it caught up with me in the past few weeks. I’ve spent a lot of time at home, cuddling with the dogs. I haven’t had the feeling of wanting to start any big projects for a couple weeks, and I had a bit of writer’s block. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back, but also sometimes I personally need a bit of a kick in the pants to get back to it when the step back goes on for too long. For anyone out there whose New Years are not going as shiny and sparkly and positive as your favourite celebrity Instagram feeds – I hear you!
Now let’s get to it and on to the week that was. We’re hunkered down this weekend, in the middle of a snowstorm and avoiding the extreme cold temperatures as much as possible. We did venture out for an extremely refreshing run on Saturday afternoon and the three little vizslas were total troopers. Everyone is happier after a little bit of exercise, dogs included.
And away we go! Quickly dogs because it’s cold AF.
The vizslas are genetically programmed to lie in front of fireplaces when the temperatures dip 🙂
I kind of waded back into painting and writing this week after taking a bit of a break from both. I did my favourite combination of personal and art instruction posts. In case you missed something:
I talked about my favourite artist Edward Hopper and my painting Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Roomhere.
I finally published a massive post all about colour mixing and colour theory – it’s the second post in my Painting for Absolute Beginners series.
I finished a sketchbook and gave a tour of my favourite drawings and paintings.
I also spent some time early this week transferring this sketch to a prepped canvas for an oil painting I hope to get to this weekend. You can see the time-lapse video of me working here above!
I always love watching these and I hope you do too! They are definitely fun to film and edit.
And to round things out, I did get some painting done, just nothing too serious. A bit of a fear of commitment right now, lol. Felt good to shake the cobwebs off – they gather quickly (actually, painting is a LOT like exercise in that it requires the same level of routine to make progress – if you workout every single day, you’re more likely to keep working out everyday. And eating healthy. Miss one workout and I’m a ball on the couch eating an endless stream of Jalapeno Cheetos. Same for painting lol).
This week’s work:
Oh, and lastly I started a Pinterest account for evachristensenart – I’ve never used Pinterest before, ever (apparently that’s weird?) but it seemed like a good idea for getting my ideas out there, especially my how-to posts. Please check me out on Pinterest and let me know how I’m doing. I’m not sure how things are supposed to look, or how I avoided knowing about Pinterest for so long (I swear I don’t live under a rock!), but I definitely feel totally out of the loop now. Thank you to my Pinterest-loving sister-in-law for checking it out for me and helping me to navigate 🙂
Next week is all about getting back on track – exercise, painting, life (hopefully).
Hope you all had a great weekend. Any big plans for next week, art-related or otherwise? Comment away below. Thank you for visiting!
Happy Friday all! I finished a sketchbook yesterday! It feels great! This was an especially good one so I thought I’d give you a little tour to celebrate. I used to treat my sketchbooks a little too preciously. I was afraid to start something unless I was sure it would be really good. I was always worried about wasting any of the pages. I just ended up with a lot of half-used, not very interesting books gathering dust. I’m in a place now where I view it as more of a visual diary. Don’t get me wrong – if something is downright awful, I’ll probably rip the page out – there’s no need to keep a drawing if it makes you cringe every time you look at it. You may not be able to crumple up any other types of life mistakes and toss them in the trash, but you can certainly rip creepy/ugly/awkward/what-were-you-thinking? drawings out of your sketchbook.
Anyway, I date everything in my sketchbook and it ends up being a really nice journal and a great way to look back on work in progress. Some stuff may stay in the sketchbook, other drawings may have been the spark for a great painting or phase of art (my Clicquot phase, my Hopper phase). I love it.
I purchased this sketchbook from Endeavors the Artist Shop in downtown Fredericton on Monday, July 30, 2018. It’s just the best little art store packed with great supplies on Queen Street right across from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and Garrison Square (double love!). When my husband used to live in Fredericton he would go to Endeavors when shopping for presents for me 🙂 🙂 :0 so my history with this great store goes way back. I was actually walking around Fredericton all by myself on Sunday, July 29th, during the hottest summer ever in history. The scenery is so nice on Queen Street and you’re close to the water. I was waiting for my husband and I thought, I should find that cute little art store and buy a sketchpad and pen – and a fancy iced coffee! and find some shade to sketch the city. I thought that would be so artsy-chic of me.
Well, Endeavors was closed that Sunday (wuh wuh) and my plans to look like a fabulous artist sketching in the park like it required no effort at all were foiled. We returned the next day, and I loaded up on sketching supplies (including this book) and then had lunch at my favourite lunch place of all time, The Abbey. As an aside – We ate there almost every single day that we were in Fredericton last summer and I couldn’t get enough. Local art work on walls? Check. Creative vegan food served in big bowls? Check. Air-conditioning? Check. I still love that place so much but I digress… (sketchbook tours will make you do that, all the happy memories just come flooding back and you go off on a tangent).
So this sketchbook features a lot of east coast drawings, most from pictures that I took on site, and a few randoms too. What are sketchbooks without the randoms? I started the book on Monday, July 30, 2018, and finished it yesterday, January 17, 2019. Not bad!
Here’s a selection of my favourites 🙂
Owl’s Nest Bookstore, Fredericton. I’ve been visiting this place every time I visit Fredericton with my husband for nearly twenty years now! We were both distressed to see that there was a closing sign up last July. This store was just always absolutely crammed with books, it was actually kind of claustrophobic for me. A downtown institution nonetheless. And an obligatory stop on our semi-annual trek around downtown. We did give it one last wander last summer before I insisted we leave because it was too warm and I felt like bthe store was closing in on me.
The Citadel, in Halifax Nova Scotia. Did I mention that the summer of 2018 was literally the hottest summer on record, like everywhere on earth? Including the Maritimes? Oh my god, it was intolerable. This really came into play when we went to visit the Halifax Citadel atop the treeless Citadel Hill and I forgot to put on sunscreen. We hung out in these tunnels a whole bunch until we felt like we had got our money’s worth. This is a view from one of the underground tunnels, looking out into the blinding sun. That’s my husband at the top of the steps.
My husband at Moxon’s Country Pumpkin. My nephew was in the other half of the drawing but he took on an unfortunately creepy sort of Chucky-like appearance so he’s been cut out of this picture for the sake of my pride. I don’t know what it is about drawing/painting kids – when it goes wrong it goes really wrong.
Backstreet Records – also on Queen Street, Fredericton. My husband has been shopping @backstreetrecords forever, and this is another one of our usual Freddy stops. This drawing was pretty good but then I feel like I ruined it a bit with my limited pack of pastels that I bought on a whim when I purchased this sketchbook. Not a huge fan of pastels to begin with so I don’t really know what I was thinking??? these ones certainly didn’t do anything to convert me to a pastel artist, they just made a mess.
Le Coq Bistro in Halifax. Of the few days we were there, this was hands-down the best meal that we had. It didn’t hurt that the air-conditioning was perfect and it was a great escape from the heat. We drove east in search of seafood and authentic donairs. I never would have guessed our most memorable dinner would have been French food. But @lecoqbistro was so lovely, we just couldn’t stop talking about it. I loved the food here, loved the atmosphere. My sketch is a little busy, but at least the dinner was very good, and looking at this reminds me of our really nice Haligonian date night.
I saw this little dog chilling out on Richmond Street in Charlottetown, PEI on another horribly hot day in August. His people were having brunch and he seemed pretty happy out beside them in the shade. I imagine that his name was probably something awesome like Milkbone. Our dogs are always on high alert so they would never chill on a curb like this, ever. I’m jealous of people with really chill dogs because they are living my dog fantasy. We don’t do stuff like this with our dogs, ever.
Down at the Khyber! I love this sketch. I love this building. Down at #thekhyber is one of my favourite albums of all time, steeped in personal happy memories and feelings and finding the actual Khyber was so awesome. I took many photos at many different angles of this awesome building. The above drawing led to a great little watercolour painting that was part of a really productive week last fall where I felt like everything I touched with my watercolour brush was awesome.
Another great view of The Khyber 🙂 Just loved those angles and the pretty architecture.
St. Paul’s Church in Downtown Halifax. We were walking around one evening and this striking building just called out to be photographed. This sketch is one of my favourites! Now that I’m writing about it here in my sketchbook tour I’m wondering why I didn’t paint this with the rest of my east coast watercolours??? I especially like all of the horizontal lines and how simple it looks. It was really easy to draw which is always the way with sketches you end up liking most. Love the perspective. Maybe this one is worth another look for a painting? The tough part is, any attempts to reproduce this will lose something in the reproduction process and I have a feeling that the spontaneity of the drawing is part of what makes me like it so much.
Cavendish Beach at sunset in August. We got to PEI after driving over the terrifying, vertigo-inducing bridge, we had a traditional lobster dinner, we got Cow’s Ice Cream, and then we drove up to Cavendish Park and dipped our toes in the ocean and called it a day. I loved these little red and white huts along the beach.
When we got to Halifax we walked all along the Harbour as the sun was setting. The reflection of orange light from the pier on inky blue-black water was so pretty. I took a ton of photos for reference and returned to them recently. It’s nice to reminisce about summer from the depths of winter. These harbour sketches inspired two paintings in one evening which is kind of a record for me. I was particularly happy with the perspective of the sketch above, and the resulting painting which I talk about in this post.
A few more studies of the pier at night.
These drawings turned into a fun little painting session and time-lapse video captured here.
Oh, and here are the dogs:
I’ve been doing these random cartoons of my funny little vizslas for awhile now. It started when Teelo and Riggs were the original gruesome twosome and continued when Clicquot joined the mix. They just have the most hilarious little personalities and facial expressions. This particular cartoon is just an illustration of their random food-related nonsense nicknames. OMG I love my dogs so much.
More vizsla cartooning. I imagine that in addition to being totally crazy Clicquot is also very stern and scares the boys.
I didn’t paint in my sketchbook very often but this view across from Garrison Square in Fredericton turned out pretty nicely I think and I really should return to this for a painting. I love Maritime architecture. Brightly painted wood in a rainbow of colours and all sorts of interesting lines and designs. I also love pen and watercolour paintings but I have yet to find a totally perfect pen. I tend to use fine Sharpies which are pretty good. My Micron Pigma pens, although highly rated, have been pretty disappointing. Most pens are good at first but once they start drying at all… that’s it, they’re of no use to me.
And here we are, the last few pages from my sketchbook:
The past few weeks were a bit of an artistic slump. It was so busy, busy, busy right up to and after Christmas, and then a bit of a rough time caught up with me. So even though at first I felt like I wanted to be busy and was painting and writing and running and cleaning and getting everything done… all of a sudden over the past week or two I felt like I had just had enough, and needed a bit of a break. So my incredibly prolific run came to an end and evachristensenart endured a bit of a radio silence as a result.
Anyway, two weekends ago my husband and I visited downtown with my idea of wanting to walk around and get some great pics to continue my watercolour and ink series closer to home. Not the best idea in a mid-January deep-freeze. We walked pretty quick, it was painfully cold, but I got my pics and my notes. I liked my east coast series so much my idea was to do the same with local landmarks and interesting-to-me places. These two paintings are my favourite downtown stores. I love the perspective in the painting above and I have tried three times to reproduce this as a more polished, final painting – each time was a huge fail. Not sure if I’ll try again as I’m just wasting my favourite Canson artboard at this point. Stay tuned I guess…
This particular sketch below was one of my most popular ever on Instagram. Maybe it’s the perspective? I like it quite a bit myself. Not sure if I’ll try another version outside of my sketchbook as that hasn’t been going too well for me recently. We will see. Sometimes I will put something away for a few months and then when the time is right I’ll be able to come back to it with the right perspective.
I finished the last pages of my sketchbook with notes and illustrations for my post all about colour theory. The art nerd in me thinks colour charts are so pretty and it was so much fun to create these for the post. It’s true – you know you’re doing something you love when it doesn’t feel like work. That’s how this blog and creating teaching-type posts feels for me.
I’m hesitant to take any pages out of my sketchbook but I’d love to frame some of these drawings and paintings. Especially now that I’ve had a chance to do a bit of a retrospective with this tour.
The Pentalic Nature Sketch Sketchpad was pretty good! The paper is 130 lb, acid-free, and has a cold-press texture. You have to have a light touch with any watercolour or wet media that you use because the paper does warp pretty easily. I loved the heavy chipboard back – It makes the sketchpad really sturdy, substantial. The texture is really nice for pen work. Like I said I usually use fine tip Sharpies and those worked really well here. I still feel like I haven’t found my pen soulmate but I suppose I can check out the pen situation this weekend when I go out to get a new sketchbook. Exciting!
I hope you enjoyed my sketchbook tour. Lots of east coast memories here @fredtourism. I may not be a real Freddy by geography, but after nearly twenty years of visits, I like to consider myself a Frederictonian by heart – or in the very least by marriage. Shout-outs to all of our favourite places: New Brunswick College of Craft and Design #NBCCD (if only I could be a student again), The Abbey Café #theabbycafe, @backstreetrecords, @beaverbrook_ag, @chesspiececafe. #Downtownfredericton we will be back soon 🙂
Thanks for reading everyone and welcome to the weekend!
My art history would not be complete without revisiting high school – however cringe-inducing it might be.
I started grade 9 in 1995.
Even though I’m talking about my past in the context of my artistic development, any walk down memory lane would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the glaring awkwardness. So let’s get it out of the way. I look back on my old photos from high school and I sincerely wonder, what on earth was I thinking? At the same time, I remind myself that it was such a different time from now. Just to give you an idea, the week I started high school the number one song on the radio (because we listened to the radio!) was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, and Friends was the most popular show on television. We all wore jeans, white t-shirts, and plaid button-downs over-top, sometimes tied around our waists. We all thought we were sooooo cool – even me! Pant waists were still pretty high back then – not total mom jeans but it wasn’t great. Nowadays people wear their high rise pants and feel ironic. Back then we did it because we just didn’t know any better. How could we – we barely had the internet!
I think most people usually just go from elementary school to their feeder high school. I had a few choices. I guess as an alternative to art school or my local high school, my mom actually lined up overnight at an all-girl’s Catholic high school that only did admissions via a lottery – it was really popular with local parents. Suffice it to say my mother put a lot of effort into getting me into this school attached to its very own nunnery.
This seemed like insanity to me. Grade 8 me was totally appalled. I already had my sights set on going to art school anyway. So in the winter of 1994-95 I applied to the Cawthra Park S.S. Regional Arts Program. The admissions process involved a few steps including a portfolio audition – it was all very proper. Two of the art teachers interviewed me, asked to look at my portfolio, and then had me draw a still-life scene for twenty minutes.
I was accepted and I was thrilled. My mom came to terms with it 😘
Cawthra Park S.S. was “famous” for being real-life Spike-from-Degrassi’s high school, but we never saw her. Students in the Regional Arts Program majored in visual art, music, drama, or dance. Art class was really great. I remember enjoying it very much right away.
The grade 9 art majors had Mr. Jensen, and let me tell you that was both an awesome and terrifying experience (I feel like that was a theme throughout grade 9). It really gave meaning to the expression, “baptism by fire.” Mr. Jensen was a no bullshit kind of guy. When you sensed he was in a bad mood (like the time he told us he got into a fight at hockey practice as an explanation for his black eye?!?) you would just stay out of his way. He was also awesome. Just a really awesome guy. He was a legitimate artist – he’d paint landscapes at his easel right alongside us sometimes. And he taught the most captivating art history classes. My knowledge of 20th Century art and the progression from impressionism through post-modernism is solidly intact because of this man. He was just a fantastic teacher. Kind of like Dead Poets Society: Cawthra Park Freaks and Geeks edition. Despite being a little bit scary, I just loved Mr. Jensen. His talks on Picasso and Dadaism and Michelangelo made me appreciate artists and styles I thought I knew or would have written off as being “dumb” or “boring”. And I loved the way he seemed to appreciate my art and my vision and what I had to offer. He seemed to think there was real merit in my work and I loved that because Mr. Jensen didn’t have time for fools – on this point he was incredibly upfront.
As an aside – I had really high hopes of finding magic again when I took art history as an undergrad at Queen’s but no such luck – it turns out Mr. Jensen was the diamond in the rough of our class. We had other art teachers over the years and they were good, but Mr. Jensen played a huge role in my high school experience and his teaching guides how I judge myself and my success as an artist even now. Definitely a lasting impression.
Academically I did very well. I think when I started in grade 9 I had enough raw talent to do reasonably alright and I thought a lot of the projects were fun. I liked getting good marks and I wanted to do well, that’s in my nature. At the same time, class didn’t feel like a chore in the first year or two. In the beginning we spent a lot of time drawing and then there were introductory “units” on painting, print-making, sculpture. Looking back, the projects were pretty disjointed. We spent time on colour theory and produced a series of abstract drawings focused on light and shadow. We spent a month on watercolours and produced a still-life watercolour painting at the end. It was pretty cool to get to go to art class everyday but I guess I’m not surprised looking back that a lot of my work has a sort of empty quality to it. It really wasn’t very inspired.
I’m not sure that I became a better artist by going to “art school”. I do think that it kind of opened up more options to me. Being a creature of habit I probably would never have experimented with acrylics (for example) without being assigned to do an acrylic painting. Likewise for oils. And I learned I hated printmaking. Like, I hated it so much and could never apply enough pressure to get an even print and it was just so… messy.
I did so well in my first year art class that I was awarded the Year 1 Visual Arts Award. I didn’t know this even existed but once I did, and once I found out that it was offered for every year of the Regional Arts Program – the gloves were off. I feel like people are really surprised about this aspect of my personality but it’s true – I am really, really competitive. As such I mounted a Herculean effort to be “the best” at art class.
What did “being the best” mean to me? Number one it meant achieving the highest mark in art class, every year, which I succeeded at. This made each year less fun than the year before. And in the process of aiming for the top, I also totally ruined the enjoyment of learning for the sake of learning. I was just so obsessed with the number awarded to my work. Not only that, I know that I wasn’t “the best”. I don’t even know what this means now. A lot of my fellow students went on to become very successful professional artists. I just got to be really good at playing the grade game. In fact, one of my life regrets is that, despite doing so well on paper, I didn’t decide to do art as a career…
One of my lasting takeaways from art school is that I really got a bit of a bug in my head about art needing to have meaning. I kind of learned the hard way back then that it’s just not good enough to create a carbon copy of the world around you. It’s ok for practice, sure, but what you paint matters. Without meaning, without a story for a Mr. Jensen to tell his grade 9 art class, the work has no soul. The story can be the colours, or the choices made by the artist, or all the things in their life that led to the pivotal point in time when a work was created. For me, art without purpose really became art that’s not even worth doing. This concept created a huge artist’s block for me in my last year in the program and lasted for a number of years (as in, what’s the point if there is no point?) but I’ve come back to it in a big way now and I find it’s really my central motivation.
By grade 11 there was a significant contingent of students that chose to focus on abstract and conceptual art, especially for our thesis project in our last year. I thought it was all just madness. I just wasn’t open to it. We got a new department head around this time who really championed conceptual art… and I really struggled to continue to paint in a realistic style with some sort of heart. When I look back on a lot of my art projects from high school they seem kind of lacking, and I remember feeling a bit empty when I was creating them too. It’s funny how that feeling isn’t lost on me even now.
Because of art school I have a soft spot for the work of Mark Rothko because it reminds me of our class trip to the Albright Gallery in Buffalo. I also have a soft spot for the super weird movie “Metropolis” that we watched there and back. I love the Group of Seven even though they are “overexposed” perhaps in the history of Canadian art – it reminds me of art history class. I’ll never forget the day students were invited to bring their dogs to art class and we spent the morning sketching in the middle of this off-leash crew of pups just wandering around the room, coming up to us to say hello. It was the best. And I’ll never forget my classmates, because even though I’m not in touch with most of them now, it was a really great group of kids. I actually recently had the fortuitous experience of reuniting with a high school friend through kind of five degrees of separation and from our conversations – it was like no time has passed. We may be separated by nearly a continent, but having this shared history makes these friendships feel like home 🙂
If I could go back in time, I would try to enjoy the “journey of learning” a little more. I suppose that’s easy to say now that I’m twenty-five plus years removed from the awkwardness of trying to paint a masterpiece while worrying about being popular and pretty enough too. I felt so creatively burnt out after art school and it took a long time to want to go back to it in a meaningful way. I was so hard on myself and my work for so long. In the past year, the most freeing thing for me creatively has been thinking – it doesn’t have to be perfect. In so doing, I feel like I’ve been creating the best work of my entire life and I really feel like the best is yet to come. I’m grateful for the solid foundation provided by the incredible learning opportunities that I had when I was younger. I just hope it’s not too late to still make something of myself in the art world.
Stay tuned for part two of my high school reminiscing – my last year in the art program and my last year in high school was a pretty pivotal time and worth its own post… thanks for reading!