Talking about encaustics of industrial landscapes with CAW member Kellie McDermott

IMG_3216Kellie McDermott is working around the clock on her upcoming exhibit,Luminous Landscapes, at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington. In addition to her studio, she has a temporary set-up in her basement with all the necessary supplies. With pools of wax melting in a muffin tin on an electric griddle, Kellie joked that she has co-opted her mother’s kitchen gifts for her art practice. She uses these melted, pigmented waxes to create encaustic works depicting industrial landscapes, a subject matter that has fascinated her since childhood.

 

Save the date for the opening reception of Luminous Landscapes -
Thursday, March 5, 6-8 PM.

What was your first foray into working with encaustic?

Before I knew it was encaustic, I was in college my senior year (at CCAD) only about six weeks away from my senior thesis show and I felt like everyone else knew what they were doing. They had their themes, their oil paints, their sculptures and I still had no idea what I was going to do. I was panicking. So one night in my tiny apartment on campus, I was sitting on the floor at my coffee table sketching. For a while I had done sculpture so I had a bunch of slabs of slate laying around. I started doodling with charcoal and some ink on top of the stone. I was very frustrated because it looked terrible. I took a candle that was burning on my coffee table and just dumped it over the whole thing. To my surprise, I was really excited about the way the drawing was coming through behind the transparent wax. From that moment of huge despair, I had that aha moment. I started practicing on little, tiny panels with charcoal and inks with wax over it. From there, I developed a more solid technique and created an entire thesis show based around architectural streets and cityscapes using the wax and charcoal.

Please describe the process of encaustic.

I start with a hard board panel to support the structure of the wax. If I am doing a smaller scale [piece], I have a hot plate melting a muffin tin filled with beeswax and Damar resin. The wax needs to be hardened by that resin. I tint [the waxes] with either powder, oil or encaustic pigments. As they melt down I’ll apply layers and layers of wax using natural bristle brushes – usually working light to dark. Then I will start carving in some details with my paring knife before adding more details with wax. Finally, using an encaustic stylus pen which is like a hot inkwell pen, I go in and pull out the fine details like the telephone lines or very sharp shadows. Every time I do a layer of wax, I use the industrial heat gun to seal it back in. Encaustic really means “burning in.” Fusing each layer of wax to the previous layer makes it stable.

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Do you consider the process of encaustic more like painting or more like relief?

Maybe in the past it was more painting, but now I am using it more as relief. I go back and forth – addition, subtraction. So it’s pretty much fifty-fifty. I’ve watched tutorials on YouTube about how to do encaustic, because I am pretty sure I am doing it completely wrong. Their whole thing is to work on a very small-scale and make it as smooth and glasslike as humanly possible. To me that goes against the material. If something has such beautiful texture and can be worked with in such a tactile way, why not pull that out? Why subdue its natural tendencies?

You create mainly industrial landscapes, what attracts you to this subject matter?

I grew up in West Virginia and my small hometown had that early 1900’s “stopped in time” feel. The old architecture and original buildings weren’t kept up; they had broken down. I really was attracted to that from a very young age. Along the river and along a lot of the roads, there were always these massive factories and refineries. I was mystified that you had this beautiful countryside and this lovely river and then across were these billowing smokestacks with fire spewing out. Every fifteen minutes or so there was another and another and another. I found the contrast really striking. I have always been so fascinated by abandoned spaces. Always having the story of what was there before – the legacy of the building and what it meant.

Your work employs fairly high contrast – how do you strike the right balance between light and dark?

There isn’t a lot of nature in the encaustics. I try to show it through the sky and the light – have that be the nature of it. How do I know when it’s done? I usually go way too far and take my trusty paring knife and start carving the layer off. There is something called too dramatic, and I go there every time. I take it over the edge and I bring it back in.

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Road to Chillicothe II by Kellie McDermott

What do you mean by “deconstruct the details”?

A lot of time I use my photography as references and I find that if the image is too clear or too detailed, I will get mired in the little windows and structures. I will start noodling too much on the individual elements instead of looking at it holistically. Sometimes I’ll just smudge out entire areas, not really abstract them, but deconstruct them. Instead of getting so into the small details, the focus can be more on the feel of the entire piece.

Why do you usually work in series?

By the time I figure out what I’m doing with one composition or one color palette, I want to explore a little further and see if I can make it better the next time. Essentially every time I start a new piece it is a new experiment because I have no idea what the wax is going to do, where the colors are going to take me, or how they’re going to mix together. The first one is the experiment and the second one is making sure I’ve covered all the bases. And if I really like it, I’ll do a third and fourth, but usually no further than that. Then it’s just redundant.

You finish the image around the edges of the panel. Why do you do that?

I like the idea of having a structural piece. I like the visual appeal of it. I’ve always done it, without questioning it. I treat these more like objects than paintings. Especially the way I carve them and really dig into them.

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Road to Chillicothe I by Kellie McDermott
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Window Wall by Kellie McDermott

 

Your upcoming exhibit, Luminous Landscapes, will open at the McConnell Arts Center in March. How do you approach a show? What is the biggest challenge about exhibiting a large body of work?

The biggest challenge is deciding what to paint. The important thing with a big show like this is keeping a balance between the different compositions, color palettes, and styles – and to show a variety of pieces that still have the same concept. I usually take a blueprint of the space and start laying it out, deciding what sizes where. This is basically for me to decide how many pieces and what sizes do I need. Is my color palette too blue? Is it all yellow with one strange blue piece? It is a lot of background preparation to find the right balance.

Visit www.kmcdermott.com to view more of Kellie’s portfolio. In addition to her upcoming exhibition at the McConnell Arts Center, she is planning to exhibit at the newly remodeled exhibition space at the Columbus Airport. That show will run from May through August 2015. 

Uncomfortably Numb, Performance at the “Woman As” Opening

In CAW, we are blessed with artists of many disciplines.  CAW is happy to showcase our performance artist members and include them in our exhibits.   Instead of brushes and paints, these ladies use their bodies with choreographed pieces they debut at CAW openings.  While our visual artists work can be viewed the entire time of the exhibit, our performers have one opportunity for others to view their art.  I’m excited to share, beyond the opening, these artist’s heartfelt craft.

The following performance is by Heidi Madsen at the latest CAW opening for the show titled Woman As.   Heidi explores her emotions during a difficult time and the result had many audience members moved to tears.

Herstories and How-To’s: Wangari Muta Maathai

This month, on Herstories and How-Tos, in the spirit of optimism, and in preparation for the spring which is Definitely Coming Soon, guys, I want to introduce you to one of my new favorite ladies, Wangari Muta Maathai

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Wangari Maathai (b.1940 – d.2011) was a Kenyan environmental and political activist who, in 2004, became the first African Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wangari was born in 1940 and raised in Kenya. In 1966, After earning a couple of science degrees in the United States, she secured a research assistant position at the University College of Nairobi (later, the University of Nairobi). When she returned to take the position, however, she found it had been given away- she believed due to gender and tribal bias. Not one to mope, she used the opportunity to go to Germany for a bit of post-doc study, take up microanatomy, get married, start a business, start a family, oh, and become the first Eastern African woman to earn a Ph.D. from the same college that gave away her assistantship 5 years earlier. By 1975, she had become the senior lecturer in anatomy for said university (MIC DROP.)
The next 5 years (and really, the rest of her life) were truly incredible. Wangari casually acquired a whole slew of positions never before held by a woman in Nairobi, worked her ass off to improve women’s rights within the university and became involved in a number of socially engaged volunteer positions. (Seriously, do your brain and heart a favor and read about it all, because it’s all awesome). During this time, she came to believe that many if not most of Kenya’s problems can be traced back to environmental degradation. In 1977, Wangari combined this belief with a lifetime of championing for women’s rights to create the Green Belt Movement. The Green Belt Movement, which seeks to “…strive for better environmental management, community empowerment, and livelihood improvement…” among communities (particularly women) “…using tree-planting as an entry point.” You know what I love? Elegant solutions to multiple, interconnected problems. Nothing makes my heart soar like seeing words like ‘community empowerment’ next to ‘plant trees.’ *SWOON* In honor of her lasting impression as a leader in the ecofeminist movement, and in hopeful preparation for Spring, this month’s how-to is,
How to Plant a Seed: 

Every plant (and therefore, every seed) is slightly different and needs slightly different things. In general, however, sprouting seeds is a fairly straightforward affair. Remember, life wants to survive and has spent many, many millennia working on creating mechanisms to do so as effectively as possible. All you have to do is set up conditions to flip a few of those mechanisms ‘on’ to start the process of growing.
You will need:
-the seed you want to plant.
-something to plant it in (seed starting mix, soil, coir, etc)
-something with a porous bottom to hold the something you plant the seed in (t.p. tubes are perfect and cheap-o)
-Something to go under the something you’re using to hold the something you plant the seed in. A shallow dish or deep plate works great) 

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    1. Fill your container with your seed starting mix. You’ll want to make sure the bottom is packed fairly tight so that it creates a little sponge to draw up water. Whether you buy fancy ‘sterile’ mix, or get a cheap dehydrated brick of seed starting medium, the key thing here is that there’s not too much in the way of plant food/chemicals/organic matter. Plants carry all the nutrients they need for the first few weeks in their cotyledon leaves (like egg yokes!) and until those shrivel up and ‘true leaves’ emerge, giving them extra nutrients is, in the words of gardener Gayla Trail, like giving sugar to ten-year-olds.

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  • Make a hole, roughly twice as deep as your seed is thick. Stick the seed in there and cover it back up.
  • Place the whole thing on a plate or in a shallow tray. Add a bit of water to the tray, wait, then check the top. Keep doing so until the top of the dirt is just barely damp. How often you water depends on how dry or warm your house is, but always always water from the bottom and err on the side of not enough water. (Plants can almost always bounce back from being thirsty. They never come back from being drowned.)

And that’s it! There are other tips and tricks depending on what you’re growing and where, but with the embarrassment of riches that is the internet and your smart brain, I know you (and your new seedlings) will thrive.

 

sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_Maathai

http://www.greenbeltmovement.org

 

Travel and Creativity – The Creative Wellspring

I believe that travel is a renewable creative resource.  From journeys within our own imaginations, to road trips, to epic adventures in far away lands – travel is a wellspring.

Working intentional travel into your day is a fun and potent way to heighten your curiosity and become more aware of and inspired by the world you live in.  For example, I rarely use highways and actually enjoy getting lost. I build time into my busy day for exploration.  Traveling the back roads wakes me up and helps me see the wonder of the world.

Do you always travel the same roads to the grocery story, the studio, and the gym? Do you primarily drive on highways?  The following exercise asks you to re-frame your idea of the daily commute and approach your day-to-day travels with the intent of exploring your world.

Travel and Creativity – The Creative Wellspring

Creativity Boosting Exercise: Travel one day per week without highways. 

  • Purpose:  Take the back roads.  See your neighborhood and town as you’ve never seen it before, or haven’t seen it in years.
    • Alternate:  If you are already traveling the back roads, try taking a different route one day a week.
  • Why #1:  When you travel unfamiliar roads you develop your ability to see and live in the moment.
  • Why #2:  Driving is the exact kind of focused inattention that puts you into a relaxed brain state conducive to creativity.
  • Why #3:  There are more stories on the back roads and good art is often built on good story.
  • Why #4:  Transform your “just another morning commute” into a creative adventure. Take back your life and see travel as a fun and interesting part of your day.
  • Bonus points #1:  Add in a day of pure public transportation.
  • Bonus points #2:  If you get so lost you have to ask for directions, ask the person who helps you find your way about their life.  Make a connection with a stranger.
  • Bonus points #3:  Take your camera and journal along with you to record your adventure.

Do you find inspiration, creative freedom, and joy in travel?  Leave a comment below about how travel has affected your art.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Melinda Eliza Sabo is a an Artist, Creativity Coach, and Lecturer who believes that life should be an artistic journey:  truly well-seen and well-lived.  Visit www.MelindaEliza.com for more inspiration.

A Tapestry of Creative Inspiration – Lorette Luzajic

Lorette C Luzajic head shot by Ralph MartinLorette Luzajic is a mixed media artist and writer from Toronto, Canada. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Lorette in person, but we have mutual friends, and have worked together off and on for many years. I have admired her for her writing style…she takes up quite a bit of room on my bookshelf with her attention-holding poems and tales. She has an interest for fascinating people and has published a couple of books with essays about the people she considers her inspirations and muses.

When Lorette is not writing and managing the Crad Kilodney Literary Foundation for her mentor, friend, and Canadian cult figure, Chad Kilodney, who passed away recently, she creates rich tapestries of collages and abstract paintings. She shows her work a great deal around Ontario, as well as in the United States.  You can read more about Lorette on her site, but please take a few moments to read this interview here before you journey through Lorette’s beautiful works and explore her vast accomplishments.

How do you get the word out about your art and writing? Do you have a method to your communications?collage january 2015 copy

There’s no motivator like results. It’s been a long path of trial and error, and I’m still learning, but at a certain point you begin to see that you get more out of it, the more you put into it. You find what works for you and what doesn’t. My self-promotion is a work in progress and I have a long way to go, but the confidence that develops along the way is a vital part of the process and it is an essential tool for doing a better job of communicating.

I’ve always been of the mind that no one else is going to do something for me so I need to do it myself. If I made an ass of myself, well, it’s been known to happen. But in general, people want to help you, just as you want to share interesting music or writers that you enjoy. First, those people need to know about you. So tell them.

All the writers’ magazines I read when I was a tween told me to develop a thick skin. I thought this meant I should be matter of fact about getting rejection slips.

But I was in my mid 30s when I really got it. A piece I had written about a brilliant novelist had not gone over well, and I was referred to as “the worst writer in the world.” I was devastated. It can’t get much lower than that. I cried like there was no tomorrow, but tomorrow came, and something had changed. Grow up, I told myself. Not everyone gets everything all the time, and not every word out of your mouth is genius. Toughen up if you want to be out there, or else retire and do something else. That was a real turning point.

Itinerary of a Traveller Through Darkness 2015 Lorette C. Luzajic copyDo you think social media makes it easier for an artist or more difficult? How has it enhanced or impacted your life as an artist?

Social media has made it possible to reach people all over the world, to be in touch with other artists and their ideas. It’s a wonderful facilitator of networks and learning. What we are able to see, share, and discover has never been more abundant. But it is, of course, overwhelming- and really drives home how there are so many writers and artists, and only so many people with walls and money at the same time, only so many books even the most avid of readers can plow through.

Where do you get the energy to do what you do? What inspires you?studio thurs jan 8 2015 copy

I have more time I suppose than many adults, because I don’t have children. Other people do their work and raise kids, and I don’t know how they do it.

I’m inspired by human ideas- literature, art, music, the imagination of religion, cities, culture, technology.

I know you had a close relationship and were an avid supporter of fellow Canadian writer, Crad Kilodney. How did he influence your writing with his life and death?

Crad Kilodney is a Canadian cult figure famous for writing inspired by vanity press, pulp, and b-movies. He is legendary for having a rather cantankerous personality- he was a self described misanthrope. He did not see himself as an eccentric, but I can tell you that he most definitely was.

Crad encouraged me and pushed me and infuriated me and adored me- it was a potent tincture. I worked harder to make him proud. We had almost nothing in common creatively save for our shared DIY philosophy and absurd sense of humour. It proved to be more than enough.

Now my work will always be intertwined with his, because I promised him  I would start the Crad Kilodney Literary Foundation the day after his death and provide a hub for readers to access his work and share memories of him. So he became part of my life’s work and vocation.   It has meant being asked to read on his behalf at major festivals like Luminato, and to being approached by luminaries like Anthony Stechyson, a brilliant young TV producer.

Stechyson is turning Crad’s biography, Putrid Scum, into a documentary. And so it is that I am now doing creative consultation for him, working on a feature length film. I am so happy for an opportunity to participate in the production of a movie, and learn so much about an art I’ve never been involved in.

I Know It Sounds Strange, She Says, Because It Is a Strange Story, 2015 Lorette C. Luzajic copyOf course this is a blog for women artists about women artists, so I must ask you about the women artists, or writers, that have also influenced your work.

Women are a tremendous source of inspiration, and while there have been so many obstacles to creation and recognition, I’m curious about how women have really been integral to art history. The role of the muse is  a lively history filled with unconventional women whose beauty or charisma is part of the hidden story of art. Certainly we have talents to offer that don’t involve taking off our clothes or giving our ideas over to men to use- that’s not the point I’m making at all. It’s just that we shouldn’t miss or  dismiss the extraordinary power of women’s beauty and character to inspire. Women were always behind the scenes, and I suspect that art would be much more sterile and soulless had that not been true.

Perhaps the great genius of Marilyn Monroe was her instinctive recognition of the role of the muse. She created the ultimate muse from the fabric of her own life- strong and vulnerable, tragic yet triumphant, an orphan girl turned goddess at the twitch of her own magic wand. She brilliantly performed for dozens of great photographic artists, using technology to immortalize herself, and she made mediocre artists great by giving them a dazzling subject. I view Monroe as one of the world’s greatest artists because she took that history and turned it on its head- the muse had so long been behind the scenes, and now she was more famous than anyone. This is why I included her in my book Fascinating Artists, in the essay, “Marilyn as Masterpiece.”
Place Me Like a Seal Over Your Heart, For Love is As Strong As Death Lorette C. Luzaic 2015 copy
The Hard Way to Heaven 2015 Lorette C. Luzajic copyI’m also really drawn to women on the other side of the camera. Many of my favourite female artists are actually photographers, like Mexico’s Lola Alvarez Bravo, and Berlin’s Elsie Neulander Simon. Elsie mentored Helmut Newton before she was butchered by the Nazis; her fashion photographs were sensual documents of contrasting details and lines, hands and stockings and buttons and seams. One book I never tire of looking through is Naomi Rosenblum’s History of Women Photographers. All creative people should own a copy- it is a revelation to see a chronological compilation of women’s pictures. It really drives home the importance of diversity in art, because you can see how differently women see things.

Two other women who are integral to my creative education are the critics Camille Paglia and Sister Wendy. They couldn’t be more opposite- Paglia, fiery lesbian and guerrilla scholar whose massive intellect is matched by her controversial persona,  and Sister Wendy, the endearing nun whose insights are simple, delivered so the common populace can understand. Wendy’s sweet pablum avoids the intimidating elitism and jargon that prevents ordinary people from appreciating art- she opens the doors to thousands of paintings by empowering regular people to enrich their life with art by igniting their curiousity and validating their perceptions.  Paglia offers rigorous historical inquiry into western civilization, poetry and literature, and art- most of us need to keep a dictionary handy as we work our way through her books. But she makes connections no one else does, and has outrageous opinions and an unmatched wit.

What is the art scene like for women in Toronto? fascinating artists cover turn to pdf-page0001

Women in the arts continue to break barriers and change the world. Toronto is one of the greatest places on earth, and it’s very exciting to work in a country and era where I’m allowed to vote, to show my face, and to show my art.

You know, I could ask you a thousand questions, because you to me are a fascinating person, but tell me about your series of books on fascinating people. Did that sound a little lame? If so…my apologies.

I have always been interested in human creativity and inspired by interesting people. There are so many characters and so many stories. The series of books, which includes Fascinating Artists, Fascinating Writers, and Fascinating People, shares my encounters with the biography and work of various unusual people. I felt that essay length stories about the lives of people who have contributed to the rich human tapestry might intrigue people to go deeper into exploring that person’s creativity or biography. Of course, these are subjective pieces about my own response as an artist to the work of others- a way of introducing people to my many muses.

 


 

Interview and Post by Peggy MintunPeggyMintun. Thank you to Lorette for taking time for this interview.

You can read more about Peggy at peggymintunart.com.

A Week In O’Keeffe Country

In October of 2012 a friend and I drove west across the country.  Our ultimate goal and destination was to visit with friends in the highly anticipated and beautiful Santa Fe but, (no surprises here), we also found the journey along the way through ever changing terrain and color to be quite beautiful.  Those eleven days went quickly filled with beauty, newness and awakening.  So many memories were created that I revisit fondly and often especially on real life, daily grind, Columbus, Ohio February kind of days. Big blue skies, surreal landscapes of wind farms set against sunsets that could melt the coldest of hearts and an inspiring visit to O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu are my favorites.

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O’Keeffe. Standing where she stood, seeing what she saw, breathing in the same air, sun, sky that she did and seeing her pieces in the very real landscape that surrounded me was an experience that moved me and one that I hope to never forget.  It produced stomach butterflies, quickened my heart rate and at the very same time, enveloped me with a feeling of overwhelming peace.  In those moments I realized I was in the presence of greatness.  Also in those moments I knew I would return to this place again and again.

At Ghost Ranch we met the resident librarian (a friend of a friend) who told us of a recently published book by author and University of New Mexico grad, C.S. Merrill.  The book, Weekends with O’Keeffe, and related stories that we heard that day recount a young grad student’s first and once in a lifetime meeting with the artist and the companionship that followed.  The book is nicely strung together, built from pieces of journals kept, sound recordings taken and memories.  It replays the unbelievable account of Merrill’s first meeting with the artist, her weekend job of organizing O’Keeffe’s massive book collection and eventually the daily companionship that followed.  (I have goosebumps thinking about it.) O’Keeffe was in her 80s and Merrill in her 20s, O’Keeffe was strong, hard and closed and Merrill was open.  The relationship that followed was moving and proves to me in some way that magic does exist.

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You don’t have to be an O’Keeffe fan to enjoy this book.  It shares intriguing glimpses into the daily life of an aging artist, observations of another looking in at that mysterious life, and above all else an amazing connection between two women.

Weekends with O’Keeffe, C.S. Merrill, University of New Mexico Press, 2010

A Beautiful Death: musings on death and creativity  

 

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Death and creativity. How are the two interrelated?

Death is one of the ultimate mysteries of life. Regardless of whether you believe in an afterlife or not, it is generally agreed upon to exist, well, after your life is over. Kaput. The end. No more Taco Bell:(

As subject matter, death is great fodder for the imagination. There are so many questions! Do we go to live in the clouds with dudes in robes and fluffy beards? Will we burn in eternal damnation? Will our energies dissipate slowly, becoming a part of the cosmos? Will we wake up in another dimension, covered in alien lubricants, reborn???

It’s pretty cool, if you think about it, because the unknown gives us space to create.

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The Buddhist afterlife isn’t all Zen and roses.

Then there is the idea that our mortality motivates us to live a fuller, more creative life. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, as I’ve never been immortal (or am I?!). However, I do think that awareness of one’s own mortality creates an urgency to live well. To me, that means living creatively, as a way to improve the overall quality of my life.

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Death is coming over for dinner. Have you prepared a creative meal for him?

 

And how about creativity as a way to cope with your own impending demise or that of a loved one? And I don’t just mean through self-expression, thought that’s cool if you’re interested in dwelling on your “feelings” and all that jazz. But what if you don’t want to dwell on your emotions and instead use creative action as a distraction? What better way to redirect your mind than with a creative struggle? What better way to take back your life?

Maybe creativity is essential to every component of life, and death is just a part of that. Maybe it’s all the more necessary during the trials we face, including the ultimate trial…Dun dun dun…DEATH!

 

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When I look at my life and its secret colours, I feel like bursting into tears.” -Albert Camus, A Happy Death

 

 

Vicki Oster interviews Donna McCarty-Estep

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Donna McCarty-Estep is the driving force behind the collective arts group known as Cap City Creatives, a talented painter and photographer and has become a friend over the last couple of years through our many meetings at art shows and my attending some of CCC’s meetings. I was fortunate to feature her on my blog in August 2013 and I’m psyched to write about her once again on the CAW blog so here goes!

Originally from a small town in southern Ohio’s Highland County (New Petersburg), she has always been drawn to creating art. When she entered college, she chose to major in pre-law but quickly changed to Visual Arts before finally setting on Art Education. Donna made her way to the central portion of the state after graduating from Wilmington College in 2001. She and her best friend decided to get the heck out of small town Ohio so allowed a coin toss to direct their future. Heads was Columbus; tails would be Cincinnati. Guess we know how that turned out!

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Although she is professionally trained as an art educator with a BA in Art, she has never actually taught in a school setting. After interviewing for several positions, she got a job working for an art and educational dealer and liked it so much that she chose to follow the retail path. She is now the store manager for United Art and Education at Mill Run. As she states: I love working the other side of the teaching coin. I work with teachers and artists on a daily basis and feel that I have made my impact there, all while being able to do my own art as well. Read more

Herstories and How-to’s

Why hello there!

Welcome to the first installment of Herstories and How-to’s (I also toyed with the title, ‘Corpses and Crafts, but was advised that this was not quite as catchy). Each month I’ll bring you a different woman, no longer living, who rocked in some way, along with practical(ish) how-tos.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in anything other than making truly excellent pancakes and irreverence. Take all snark, sarcasm and advice with big grains of salt.  

To really kick things off, let’s talk about Claude Cahun:

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(via: the red list)

Claude Cahun (born Mathilde Schwob in 1894) was an original boss who pushed boundaries everywhere- Her haunting self portraits andtrippy collages defied gender stereotypes and classification.
There are lots of reasons to love Claude Cahun, but my favorite has got to be the way she and her partner, Suzanne Malherbe (a.k.a. Marcel Moore) sought to undermine the Nazis. Just when the two had settled in an island in France to live, and make and write, Nazis invaded and ruined the party (as they always do). Cahun and Moore fought back by creating collaged poems out of BBC news briefs, describing the atrocities and general ass-holeishness of the Nazis, which they then threw into car windows and slipped into the pockets of strangers at rallies.
This month, let’s follow Claude’s example and use our creativity and our voices to fight injustice and push at boundaries!
3 easy ways to fight The Man (whoever or whatever ‘The Man’ might be to you.)
  • Know your shit. Talk to people, read what you can, question everything- fill your brainy bits with both sides of whatever issue you care most about, so should you happen to meet ‘The Man’ you can talk intelligently and confidently. Knowledge is power! (double plus bonus tip: while  be sure to check your sources as you go, it will save you embarrassment later on)
  • Vote. ‘What? Vote? First you tell me to read and now…voting?I thought this list would be filled with Action! Excitement! Near Anarchy!’ Seriously, though, all of the former are great, but the best way to get your voice heard in a meaningful and impactful way is to get involved and cast a ballot. And I’m not just talking about big, sexy, presidential elections, either. Local and regional advocacy directly impacts your schools, your neighbors, and YOU. (It’s all about taking back power, ladyfriends.)
  • Plant a seed. Words can be forces for good in the world, but actions speak louder, and positive actions speak kinder. Is your version of ‘The Man’ the industrial meat complex? Host a delicious vegetarian dinner for your friends. Feel strongly about disposable fashion? Learn to sew, teach a friend, have ‘mending parties.’ Don’t just decry the actions of others- create opposite responses that make the world less crappy.

And then, after making the world more awesome, be sure to take seriously cool photos of yourself dressed as tap-dancing tinfoil angels and post about it on social media so all of your friends know how bad-ass activism, and you, can be.
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(via sfmoma)

Talking about stories of the past at a new studio with CAW member Mary Ann Crago

Mary Ann Crago just relocated her creative quarters to a newly renovated garage studio. From the inspiration wall to the shelves of bits and baubles to the finished works, the space is pure magic! As I listened to her reflect on past work, it seems that the studio has entered her life at the perfect time. After evolving her practice as a mixed media artist, she now has the space to build and expand her body of assemblage work. With an “installation-ish” piece planned for CAW’s Remnants in May and a solo show at Tacocat in September, this year promises to be one of exploration and pushing boundaries.

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After studying at CCAD you continued working at the library and attained your Master’s of Library Science. What brought you back to art?

I had been working on art all along, just not a lot. School and my library job had taken precedence over everything else, but I missed it. When I’m not creating, I’m just not as happy. I had a friend who did festivals and I would go see her at this one festival. I was kind of inspired by it. I remember leaving thinking, I should be doing this too. From that point I pursued that specific festival. I reached out to the organizer and expressed interest. I didn’t think it would happen, but she had a spot because someone had dropped away and I was in the very next summer, which is crazy. So that was some motivation to actually start creating and making some work and it was fabulous. That summer was really great.

Your work evolved from more painterly landscapes (first in watercolor and later in acrylics) to mixed media assemblage. What made you gravitate towards this new way of working?

I was in the same place for a long time with my work, especially with a lot of my paintings. At an Ohio Art League art talk I remember an artist pushing me a little bit in a really supportive way. He just kind of threw the idea out there that maybe I should try something else because what I had been doing for a long time was really safe. It stuck with me. I started exploring and looking at books – reading a lot about creativity in other artists. I’ve always been intrigued by fabric and collage artists. A lot of time people use collage as a way to explore creativity in a way that is less structured. This triggered something in me. So I just started thinking, what if? What if I added some cut paper elements to this painting? What if I would try this or try that? I experimented with gold leaf and with adding little bits and pieces. I drilled into panels and added grommets. I started adding painted panels to boxes or drawers that I would find. It has just evolved from there. I have tried to not worry so much about it being what I was taught in school that art needed to be. It sounds cheesy, but I felt like it was freeing. At some point, I gave myself permission to experiment and to try things. When I was painting I felt much more of a struggle than I feel now with the mixed media pieces. I don’t have these preconceived ideas of what it should look like. I have no idea. I just let it be.

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In addition to incorporating all sorts of bits as well as sculpted bird heads, you now scavenge old forgotten photographs to use in your work. How do you pick the photographs?

I try to stay away from extra creepy photographs. I think there is energy around objects, but I definitely think there is energy with photos. I am really drawn to pictures of women and kids. I have the occasional man photo too, but they just aren’t as interesting to me. I have refined what I look for. Early on I would collect or gather any old thing, but as I have started working with them I have a better feel for what I like and don’t like. I like actual photographs, not printed postcards. There is a lightness and darkness in the photos that I am drawn to. When I incorporate dots, the white against those lights and darks is amazing to me. There is something really special about their eyes, too. When I see it, I know it. Sometimes in photographs their eyes will connect with the camera as if it’s not even a photograph. It’s like you are sitting there staring at this person and they’re alive. Things that are atypical like groupings of people or family members are really interesting, especially when there is something odd happening in the picture. For instance, if not everyone is looking where they should be. Sometimes there is information about the person, like their name or the year, but often there isn’t. It is like there’s a story there, but you don’t know what it is. There are no real clues other than the image itself.

One of my favorite things about you is your love of books, which is totally fitting since you are Mary Ann the librarian. Words and narrative have entered your work in a very big way. Is this new?

Yeah I think it’s new. It has always been something that I’ve thought about. Sometimes I have hints of ideas that are just a glimmer of something that hasn’t quite solidified and I don’t know how to make it happen. The word thing has intrigued me for a little while, even when I was painting. Some of the earlier mixed media pieces I would incorporate a lot of numbers, which was a way to start playing with text. The photograph pieces are a perfect scenario for using text or words. Like I mentioned before, these people have stories, but I don’t know what they are. It is fun thing to figure out or create the story for them.

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You are going a step further and incorporating the public into the story-telling aspect of your work. You did this by crowd-sourcing ideas for Woman as Truthvia Facebook for your tile in the Woman As ___ exhibit. You also did this at the Upper Arlington Labor Day Arts Festival this past summer. Can you describe your booth?

[Along with my art,] I set up a typewriter and put a photo out. I asked people to come up with their own story or what they thought about the women and kid in the picture. It was amazing. It was really cool to see how people interacted with that photo – what they were thinking and what they saw in that picture. I have goose bumps just now thinking about it.

So the photograph and typed text was the impetus for a piece of art. Have you made it?

Not yet, but I will!

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Speaking of festivals, congratulations on your recent first place award at Upper Arlington’s Labor Day Arts Festival! You exhibit in both festivals and more traditional gallery spaces. Does the venue inform your work?

I don’t know that it does. I make the kind of work that I make. I personally like showing in all ways, but enjoy the festival setting more. I like interacting with people and observing them as they are interacting with my pieces. I love selling work. Obviously that’s awesome. It is cool to meet and talk to the people who are taking my art home. My work doesn’t really change depending on where it is. I enjoy both settings, but love knowing where my art is going at festivals.

You will be exhibiting in CAW’s upcoming exhibition Remnants at the Urban Arts Space in May 2015. The theme is perfect for your body of work. What do you have planned?

I have a plan and hopefully it will happen as planned. I want to explore the same path as my recent work with photographs and stories. I have thought a lot about the six degrees of separation. So I will have a big collection of pieces with photographs of people or animals and stories and how they are connected in different ways. I am still figuring out logistically what that will look like. I see red string. I see words. It is a little overwhelming to me when I think about it because it could be pretty massive. So I am trying to figure out how to make it manageable. Maybe there is a smaller set of these finished pieces and one bigger overall piece. Maybe kind of installation-ish which I haven’t really done.

Visit www.maryanncrago.com to view more of Mary Ann’s portfolio.

Interview completed by Allison Buenger.