I started this blog five years and two days ago, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about it is sharing the work of my students. I never try to over-sell it. Most of my students are not Art majors. Many of them have had very little art-making experience before they take my classes. Yet they always make transformational movements, always end up showing themselves things they never imagined doing. I want to share a few of my Spring 2014 students’ works and words below. They were inspirational to me this semester. All images and words shared with permission.
I first met Geo when my wife and I lived up in Evanston, IL. He was iconic on our street, his long gray hair always a sight to see. He and his family own several of my artworks, and I have always enjoyed my conversations with the man. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and given to grand gestures and deep sincerity. Once, back in 2009, he drove 8 hours (one way!) to see an exhibition of mine and take me out to dinner. He’s a really unique soul and I’m glad to know him.
In late 2013 I had the opportunity to draw Geo at a pastel workshop I was giving at the Evanston Art Center (in conjunction with an exhibition I was in there). I was glad that Geo was willing to sit for me; I’d always though him a man possessing a regal bearing, similar to a Founding Father or deity.
After I began working on my Becoming the Student series, I realized that my drawing of Geo was, perhaps, the true initiation of the project. So, in the spirit of Becoming the Student, I asked Geo to tackle a few questions for me, and his answers are below. After reading through them, be sure to check out his website to see his fantastic work!
On How Long He Has Been a Woodworker
“I started in with wood even before I knew it. Then in college I had the opportunity to study with a real master carver and through that experience I just knew… it seemed to be in my blood. That was back in 1975, so at least that long.”
On What Life Lessons and/or Epiphanies Working With Wood Has Given Him
“I guess I’ve learned that it – the work, regardless of subject or use – is all the same. Here’s the bottom line: it is not what you do but HOW YOU DO IT. Every stroke of the chisel counts, whether you are carving The Baby Jesus, the Presidential Shield, or just making a Push Stick to use on that big table saw. You must come to know that everything counts forever or nothing matters at all. I would suggest that you move toward the light in all things.”
On The Most Beautiful Work of Art He Has Seen or Heard
On How His Creativity Had Changed Over The Years
“I believe it has gotten thicker, not just longer or with greater elasticity. This is a blessing to be sure. But all things considered I’d have to say it’s thicker, yeah. More thick.”
On What Values Motivate Him as a Man, Dad, and Artist
“OTHERS! All my life, it has been the ability I have to help others, to inspire others, to challenge them. That’s what I love.”
On How To Recharge Creativity
“Go outside. OPEN your eyes. Read a book. Take in a beach, a mountain, a river. Go to the Wailing Wall. SEE and BE. Remember: hard work is hard work. The ‘best you can do’ is rarely the easiest answer.”
On His Earliest Art Experience
“I’m not sure how old I was, but I have clear early memories of my aunt sitting in a kitchen somewhere knitting. I asked what she was making and she said, “Another sweater, just like the one your uncle is wearing.” Well that seemed hard to believe: ‘YOU made THAT??’ Sure enough. At the time I didn’t know yet that my mom and her sisters could knit like that: an Irish fisherman’s sweater with those rope patterns up the front. How could a person do that? It was impossible for me to imagine how it was done. It’s like at the Consecration, but even better. I mean, you get to WEAR the sweater. Yes, I was raised Catholic; I always thought that catholic meant, ‘closer to the real Art’.”
On How Being a Dad Has Changed His Work
“My son is here to remind me that we are all but links in an endless chain. As the old poem (Thanatopsis, by William Cullen Bryant) goes:
Thanks, Geo, for your friendship and exuberance over the years!
In continuing the Becoming the Student project, I’m aiming to use different methods and mediums in building the portraits. In this piece, I focused on something tied directly to Billy’s identity and his presence in the world: his tattoos. I wanted to depict the color, the saturation, and the overtness of these artworks that have been put on his body. They’re really important to him as a way to tell a story and represent his deeply held beliefs.
Billy on his portrait:
“That’s really cool. I was wondering why you were staring at my midsection the whole time…”
Billy on maintaining awe:
“There’s not a method. I think our hearts are prone to becoming numb. Derek Webb has a song with a line that says ‘we love lovers less wild’ and I think that’s the truth. For me it’s about constantly coming back to the place where I’m asking God to reveal Himself. I want to create good longing in my heart. Difficult moments and hardships and conflict and frustrating things in my life point me back to grace. Another practical way is having people around me who can speak into my life; that’s been huge.”
Billy is on a quest to complete an entire sleeve of tattoos. To help him out, I suggested the classic image from The Cloud of Unknowing. I definitely think it’s skin-worthy:
Bobby Schembre is a pastor, musician, questioner, lover of fine bourbons, and grill-master. In many ways we are different, but in many ways we are very similar… from the deepest hopes we harbor to the sorts of challenging questions we explore. Last week Bobby agreed to be a part of my “Becoming the Student” project. I greatly looked forward to our conversation. We moved through some intense existential territory over the course of our 2+ hour session. Some topics we touched on were: Pink Floyd and spiritual awakenings, how to understand the taste of bourbon and scotch, the nature of musical liturgy in contemporary Christianity, the glory and grace of our wives, and our experience of scientific awe.
Here is the resulting portrait:
Bobby on musical liturgy and storytelling:
“I love the fact that we talk about how God is holy and untouchable and yet He’s here and gracious. It doesn’t make any sense really. Or that He’s indescribable and infinite and then we turn around and spend the rest of the service describing Him.”
“Part of the reality for me is that I can’t believe the bible or have a real experience of Christianity without being OK with deep tension. Everywhere, everything has a balance to it. Everything has a paradox involved in it. Nothing is just something you could put in a box and tie it up neatly and say, ‘I’ve got this.’ When we explore something about God there’s something else that makes us think, ‘well, what about this?’ And so one of the things I’m always thinking about in creating a musical liturgy is how can we expand the way we think about God, uphold the paradox, and marvel at the paradox of God.”
“I’ve been pondering my job as a ‘worship leader’ – which is just something we’ve made up – you know, what is this? I think part of the answer is that I’m a storyteller. I’m helping people think the story and sing the story of the gospel. It’s practicing a pattern.”
Bobby, with his manly beard and barrel chest reminds me of a few other bearded big men of history…
Famed Christian pastor and author, C.H. Spurgeon
Russian Composer Mussorgsky by Ilya Repin
Thanks for being a part of this portrait series, Bobby!
In just four more days – February 18 – we’ll be celebrating the year anniversary of becoming a family of four! It’s hard to believe that on this day a year ago we were walking the streets of Beijing and taking in the sights and sounds of China! The time has really flown and so much has happened! So many people helped us get to that adoption day and then continued to support us over the last year. It’s truly been a year of serious joy and strange challenges.
To mark this event with some art I decided to have a Studio Sale – and everything is going to be priced in multiples of 18 (February 18, multiples of 18… see what I did there?)
Anyway, stop over to the Etsy Shop to see what’s new over there. All the work will go back up to “normal” prices next month, so get some glorious imagery while you can!
Below are a few of the pieces you could be hanging in your place for next to nothing – click them to see their Etsy listing.
Starting this month I will be periodically posting a new series of portraits, beginning with the one below. The title of this series, Becoming the Student, is based on my desire to be quieter and learn from others rather than be entirely bound up in my identity as an educator. In Becoming the Student, I hope to present thoughtful, dignified portraits and use the time while creating the works as an opportunity to learn from the people who sit for me. With each post I will include some observation, quote, or other tidbit of glory that the subject shared with me.
The one below was created in 3 hours or so at a portrait workshop I conducted at The Columbia Art League yesterday. Pictured is my friend (and fellow CAL instructor) Shalonda Farrow. I was struck by how often she used the word “love” (as in: “Thank you, love” or “Do you need any of this, love?”) during the session. In speaking to her friends, she’s always intentional about communicating care and awareness. Shalonda seemed like a perfect initial entry into the Becoming the Student series. Here’s to many more. And thanks to Shalonda and the ladies at CAL!
Shalonda, 13 by 11 inches, pastel on paper. 2013.
We’re halfway through another great semester of Color Drawing. Below are just a few examples of some of the standout work from this year. Click for higher res!
Danielle Wallace, Chalk pastel of reflections.
Emily Brewer, Oil pastel study of colored and fluid filled glass.
Emily Brewer, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.
Jessica Bremehr, Colored pencil study of a lamp.
Jessica Bremehr, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.
Jessica Bremehr, Chalk Pastel study of reflective surface.
Ginny Algier, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.
Kevin Moreland, Chalk Pastel self portrait in a reflective surface.
Julie Bennett, Oil pastel large arrangement of reflective and glass objects.
Click HERE to see more of my posts on my Color Drawing class glory!
Glory in Color Drawing 2
Marcus, the Assistant, casts chroma
Null’s large drawing in anamorphic distortion
The array of shadows in Color Drawing 1
And another view…
The box, electric.
Did I mention that I love teaching Color Drawing? Epic, every semester. Stay tuned for good shots of current students’ works.
Every semester I have to make more posts about how awesome my Color Drawing classes are.
Above: Marissa Valentino’s amazing Colored Pencil drawing of a head from our group project.
Students assembling one of our large group drawings.
Hannah and Vincent hard at work on a final figure work for the course.
Emily Armstrong’s 44 by 30 inch figure drawing in progress on the easel. You can see our parachute stage setup there behind. We love that parachute!
Above and below: A selection of drawings from the second half of the semester we pulled out for a group crit – some in progress, others complete. Overall a great effort by my students this year!
India Watts working on her Matisse master study.
The final group project installed in one of the stairwells at the University of Missouri.
I’ve got another amazing group of Color Drawing 1 students this semester. Below I’ll highlight just a few of the many who’ve distinguished themselves this year. Please click on each to see them up close.
A work in colored pencil by Marissa Valentino. About 18 by 18 inches.
A drawing by Lirong Gong. Chalk pastel, 24 by 18 inches.
Megan Schaffer has an amazing sense of material handling. Her oil pastel work here is 30 inches by 22 inches – it’s just one of 4 or 5 that are really stellar.
Carly Kurka working the chromatic shadows, 18 by 24 inches, oil pastel.
Becca Wholey’s grid work fulfilled the project parameters expertly – 16 by 16 inches, colored pencil.
It’s been a privilege to work with these students – here’s hoping they continue on with me in Color Drawing 2!