What Makes Art Useful?

I want my art to be useful.

This has been plaguing me for a little over a year. Perhaps longer. Maybe the thought was always there, just resonating without words.

I want my art to be useful.

And is art useful when it’s simply framed? When it is placed on someone’s favorite wall beside a large window that overlooks the sea? Is it useful?

I think yes…maybe…to the person who hung it there. After all, once a piece is finished, it is no longer serving me. Once my signature is there, it now belongs to the rest of the world.

Are the evoked emotions the usefulness of art? The joy someone feels when seeing a beautiful landscape, or the smile that draws upon someone’s mouth when she sees a painting of a baby with chubby legs. The satisfaction of the artist as she signs her name on a finished piece? Are these the usefulness of art?

Is the illustrative art more useful? The art that appears in our everyday lives, even when we don’t realize it? Advertisements, puzzle pictures, and even the design on our fabrics. Gerald the Giraffe dancing to the night sounds in a beloved Children’s Book. Are these the usefulness of art?

Is only the art that promotes growth or awareness useful? The powerful images of warfare or suffering, the gorgeous documentaries that beg the beauty of the Earth be preserved…

What makes art useful? What makes it not useful? Is that even possible?

Can art be pointless?

And maybe that’s my fear. I don’t want my art to be simply there. I don’t want to create just because. I want an underlying reason, meaning, or purpose to be in place. Sometimes my art feels very close to me and to my heart and to everything I represent. Other times my art is just a frame on the wall.

On these days, I am an unfinished smudge.

I know a lot of artists who can create the same type of art with the same type of medium and with only the same two colors. And I suppose with their own focused style they have gained an appropriate meaning. A purpose. These are the artists we know of, we love, the artists we recognize when we see a piece we never have before.

But I’m not that kind of artist. I will wake up one morning wanting to draw bunnies and make people laugh and then next morning I will wake up in a monochromatic mood and want nothing to do with the sunshine outside and will paint nothing but dark figures among bare trees.

My style can vary, as my interests vary, as my soul varies.

And thankfully I’ve met a few artists like me. Artists who can’t sit still. Always wondering, discovering. Always curious. We have a childish spark in our eyes, and we want to climb that tree! Is there a purpose for us in the world?

Does our art matter? Or are we just frames on the wall?

Silent. Voiceless. Dusted over and slightly bleached from the window’s light.

Evolving as an Artist: My 2019 Resolution

Self portrait–Oil on canvas

I’ve always been creating, drawing, painting, but in 2018 I finally decided to pursue art as more than just a hobby. I started an Etsy and have been a part of local art gallery shows, and even won a ribbon at the state fair! I knew, because of my success–albeit minor, but still exciting–that I’d finally found the right career path for me.

But something got snagged around August, and I began to have a bit of an existential crisis. *Why* was I creating? What made my art different or important or ______? I was also struggling with this weird “I must choose only one medium” mentality, and which only starved my creativity more.

Not only that, but labels became sort of an obsession. Was I a fine artist? An illustrator? Was I going to be better known for my generic nature stuff? My bunny portraits? Was I going to be a zentangler on the side? Lots of people have told me I should become a children’s book illustrator. Why wasn’t I pursuing that? Should I be sending out more emails to agencies? What if I don’t want to illustrate children’s books? Does that mean I’m drawing the wrong things? What should I be drawing instead?

I got a break from this during Inktober because I was, well, having fun. In hindsight, I also notice that I most enjoyed the paintings/drawings in which I just did whatever I felt like and ignored that inner voice with all the questions.

Synapses–Watercolor and gouache on cold press

As soon as Inktober was over, I returned to the funk. I painted boring generic stuff because I felt that was what I was supposed to be painting. I stuck with Arches paper and let myself run out of my beloved Canson hot press. I limited my tools to just watercolors and/or the occasional pen. I even bought ink to try and narrow myself further to just brushes and watercolor. Occasionally I would start a cute illustration of a humanoid animal, but those remain unfinished and are still scattered in various places within my dining room art studio.

My 2018 New Year’s Resolution had been simple. I was going to follow my flow. I was going to listen to my heart instead of my brain. Be more intuitive. Let go of the nonsense and just be free. I realize I’ve been failing miserably these past few months. Instead of listening to my subconscious, I’ve been limiting myself. And starving.

Nonetheless I’ve been cheerful, which is strange because when I was trying to pursue a career in writing, existential crises like these would ruin my entire day/month/year. But art, no matter how “forced” it is, is still fun for me. It still puts me in a good mood and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.

So, bruised but not broken, I joined Skillshare. For those of you who don’t know, Skillshare is a website where creators from all over the world come together and teach classes on anything you can think of. I’ve been interested in it for a while, but it wasn’t until a friend gave me a code for the two month free trial that I decided to give it a try. I figured that perhaps learning a few things would help me gain some new perspective on the “why” of my art.

Girl in the Fog–Watercolor on cold press

The first class I took was by artist/illustrator Marie-Noelle Wurm, whose abstract art is just mesmerizing, and whose illustrations are imaginative and sometimes dark. The class was called: Abstract Watercolor Paintings: Explore Through Freeform & Planned Process.

I’m so glad this was the first class I chose to take! Had I chosen something different, a technical class, for instance, I might have slid down a different path (and crashed and burned).

This class was all about what my entire resolution had been about: following our flow. A few of the takeaways from the class:

* Art is about choices. When you’re ready to begin a freeform piece, limit these choices to one brush and one color.

* Stay in the moment. When you find that anxiety start to set in, regroup and return to the moment.

* Experiment. Play. Have fun. Basically, I need to just splash around and see what shapes the puddles make.

Because I loved this class so much, I decided to take several more classes by her, in which she uses all sorts of materials. In one video she’s using watercolor, the next she’s using charcoal and dying markers! Her studio is a playground. And dammit, I want a playground!

For 2019 my resolution is to not limit myself. If I want to use watercolor, I’ll use watercolor, if I want to use oils, then dammit I’ll use oils. If I want to use charcoals and colored pencils and acrylics all on one piece, then I’m game. Art, for me, has always been about having fun and trying new things. I just needed someone–in this case, a badass teacher–to remind me of this.

Despite the many existential crises, 2018 was one of the very best years of my life. In my art I got to be a part of gallery shows, share my coloring pages with kiddos, enjoy an art crawl, and more. In my home life, I got to enjoy my family, go on numerous hikes, and cozy up to many rainy days, and I’ve watched Goo grow an artistic passion of her own.

Here’s to 2019, friends. Happy New Year to you!

Am I a Painter?

I joke with my husband that I have an existential crisis at least once a month. And it’s true, I really do! I am always getting stuck in the muck of “why am I doing this?” and “who am I as an artist?” and “What on Earth do I have to offer this blue ball in the sky?”

My latest existential crisis was triggered by my experimenting with oil paints, which led to experimenting with acrylic and gouache. I freaked myself out a little. Am I leaving watercolor? Why would I do such a thing? I had so much potential with my watercolor pieces and even had four on display at a local gallery! Why change my medium just when I was starting to get the hang of another? Continue reading “Am I a Painter?”

Another Hurdle with Oil Paint

I have been adoring oil paint, but certain side-effects have left me dreading my art room, where all of my oil paintings are drying: headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

What gives? I’m using nontoxic mediums! I even placed a fan in the window and had it blowing the rainy air from outside onto my face. But it still wasn’t enough.

After doing some research, it appears a lot of artists run into this problem, and it’s a sensitivity to linseed oil that is the culprit. Guess what oil paint is made with!

Seriously. After all of that nonsense of falling in love with oil, having anxiety about toxic mediums, finding nontoxic mediums, then falling in love with oil again, this is just depressing. In fact, after learning I might actually be sensitive to oil paint itself, I curled up in bed for an hour with a “woe is me” attitude and then grumped about the rest of the evening. It just wasn’t fair!

The good news is, I did find an alternative: M Graham’s walnut oil-based paint. The bad news is, I’ve already spent my art budget this month. So I have to wait a few weeks until I can get some.

Until then, I’m back to playing with my gouache, which makes me super happy and I’ve even had the itch to pick up some microns and do a few zentangles and illustrations, already proving this break will be a blessing in disguise.

Oil painting to be continued I suppose.

My First Go at Oil Paint

Self-portrait

Ever since I started the “Ghost” series, I’ve been contemplating giving oil paint a go. I felt like some of the things I wanted to paint would do much better with a heavier medium, and I’m not a huge fan of acrylic. And ever since I’ve been a part of the local gallery, I’ve seen tons of gorgeous oil paintings, and I suppose I just got the itch in general.

So what was my holdup? Well, for starters, I’d heard it was toxic to use around kids and animals. Since I have a 5-year-old and three beloved pets, I have always just kept oil out of mind. Second of all, I always figured oil was too expensive for my budget. And finally…well it was just daunting. Only the “pros” use oil, right? The people who know what they’re doing? Not someone who just wants to dabble. Continue reading “My First Go at Oil Paint”

When You’re Too Scared to Draw

The past 1-2 weeks were difficult for me. Every time I sketched something out, I put the unfinished piece on my easel, and then it  would just sit there. Because I was scared to go further, to pull out the Micron pen and draw the “final” draft. I was scared to mess up, to make a problem mark somewhere, to overdo it.

I was scared to fail. Continue reading “When You’re Too Scared to Draw”