I've always drawn and doodled but I never really cared if it was all organized in a sketchbook. Funny because I am actually quite an organized person. I had sketchbooks, but I just wasn't always restricted by them. I would pull the pages out and explore. But when I went to college that changed.
If you went to UNCG, you may have had a class or two with Mark Gottsegan. He was an intimidating man in my eyes. During my freshman year my locker was across from his office. Several times a day I passed by his office. Among the many things plastered on his office door was a cartoon with the question "what can you do with an art degree?" There was no need for an answer. The cartoon was of an artist flipping hamburgers. Now Gottsegan, (no one called him Mark or Mr., just Gottsegan) had an interesting sense of humor. But as an impressionable freshman, I was discouraged by that cartoon. Now, I think of it fondly and laugh at the half truth behind it.
Gottsegan taught drawing and painting. He was one of three professors who taught drawing but somehow I usually ended up in his drawing class. I loved drawing and was skilled at drawing anything except people. Give me pencil, charcoal, colored pencil or pen and ink any day. Before college I drew all the time. My dad saw me doodling at an early age and invested in books that helped teach me to draw. I didn't get to learn by studying my dad draw as much as I would have liked. So I learned from the drawings he had framed around the house and tucked away in the closet. I never have been able to draw figures like my dad, even after Life Drawing class.
One of the requirements when taking a class with Gottsegan was to draw in a sketchbook every day. Ugh this was such a chore for me. Me, the avid drawer! I dreaded it and would put it off. There was something about being made to draw that soured the practice for me. Every few weeks we had to turn in our sketchbooks for his review. I know he could tell I waited and sketched a weeks worth the day or hours before. It was a struggle to maintain it in between all the homework we already had to complete. And, it's not how I was accustomed to drawing. I spent hours working a sketch, developing it into a pen and ink drawing or a colored pencil drawing. I really didn't sketch just to sketch. At the time, I didn't realize that last part. I knew it because he constantly told me I was an illustrator not an artist. My sketches did look more like illustrations. Strangely, his comments didn't phase me. They made me stronger. I was proud of being an illustrator.
I had learned how to draw from my father and from books. My father was both a talented illustrator and artist. I had taken every art class in school but we only drew in middle school. The other classes were about exploring mediums and specific art projects that may have involved sketching but not in depth drawing like we were doing in college drawing classes. Which is not a slap in the face of my high school art teachers. They shaped me into becoming a mixed media artist. But it was Mr. Jackson in middle school that hired a portrait artist and introduced us to charcoal and chalk because he saw talent. For some of the students it was torture but for me and a few others, it was phenomenal. Had I had a teacher like him in high school, I would have developed my drawing skills to the level that would have truly prepared me for Gottsegan's drawing classes.
In sculpture class we were encouraged to keep a sketchbook but we were given the freedom to use it the way we wanted. I used mine for collecting images of things that were inspiring me. That was before cell phones had taken off or had a camera feature, before digital and before Facebook. I've lost track of those precious books but I remember almost every image.
Even today, I struggle to keep a sketchbook. The organizer in me likes the idea of all my sketches neatly bound in one place but the creator in me doesn't like feeling restricted by the book. Self-imposed restriction of course. I'm working on breaking that mind-set. I've come across a few artists who had sketchbooks I envied. It wasn't the book I envied so much as it was so apparent they didn't struggle with this silly issue. They painted in their sketchbooks. Painted! That never even seemed like an option to me. Paint! Paint equals color. Color! I only ever used pencil and once or twice used charcoal. I drew with colored pencils but not in a sketchbook. Oh the possibilities! The other thing is my sketchbooks always turn into journals. I end up writing in them more than sketching in them. In my mixed media work, some ideas have to be problem solved in a structural sense. Hence, more words than images.
An artist's sketchbook is a very personal thing. It's a living thing really. It's a window into the chaos of their creative mind. Their precious thoughts. You could almost describe it as feelings on a page. So when an artist shows you their sketchbook, if you are so lucky, it's a big deal. So the other day an artist friend opened hers up to me and I was not envious this time. I was inspired! It was a combination of phrases from books she'd read that had touched her, color, paint, pencil, glued in pieces of things tied to a memory. It was at that moment I remembered Gottsegan and that sketchbook requirement and how much I detested that process. And it was at that moment I realized I can do that! I'm allowed to explore and express my ideas and thoughts how I want in my sketchbook. What a freeing feeling. I went home and searched the house for the latest sketchbook I had tucked away, waiting for me to have this epiphany.
We all overcome obstacles in ourselves as we develop as artists. Perhaps it is the illustrator in me finally letting it's hair down a bit. We shall see. I have pulled out the colored pencils. No paint yet. But I'm only on the first page.
#jnicholsart #lifeofanartist #mixedmedia #art #wallrelief
Something is happening. I am not sure what, but there is something. Sounds crazy I know. But truly I feel that since I have stepped back from things and challenged myself to look at my world in a new way that something is happening. I believe we all get complacent. My students do. We all do. Even if we are reluctant to admit that we are complacent. Complacency stagnates creativity. I am in a unique environment at the company I work for when I am not creating art. The vision of the CEO and being surrounded by all types of art and creative expression is uplifting creatively.
On a personal level I am revisiting the things that help spark creativity, such as reading and gardening. I do not have a green thumb but being connected to nature is so central to me. I can never remember the name of plants but I know how they thrive and I love my herbs. I didn't grow up gardening, except for cultivating my little green bean patch that my mother still talks about to this day, so gardening has been a learning experience. I love learning. That too is a creative spark inducer. That's why I am exploring felt and embroidery stitches right now. Totally not art by art standards but I have always teetered between art and craft. Difficult not to appreciate and merge both when you grow up with a creative father who remodeled an entire house from the ground up and became a master carpenter.
I see art in what most people call craft. So be it. I'm content not being a fine artist or a painter. Give me wood, paper, clay, non-traditional materials any day. After all, Eva Hesse is my favorite artist. She threw out the accepted notion of traditional materials. Though I must give credit to Picasso for giving me permission early in my artistic career to explore all mediums. But he led me to her and I am forever grateful to both to never feel limited by the materials. In college it was the opposite. I was studying ceramics and my ceramics professor talked about pottery as sculpture. Inspired, I took every sculpture class I could. But because I had committed to ceramics, in my finally studies I was only allowed to work in clay. I explored and pushed the limits with the organic forms I wanted to create. Many of my complex creations exploded in the kiln. I felt constricted by the material. I wanted the piece to tell me what it should be made out of not force it to be made of a particular material. In my final independent study class I was allowed to explore a medium outside of clay. By then I knew I didn't want to be a potter or only work in clay. To my father's surprise I turned to wood. I had been studying him working for years, absorbing it like a sponge. I was drawn to Mondrian at the time. Frustrated with the organic forms I had been trying in clay, I turned to geometric forms and explored wood. I created several pieces and then stopped. Sometimes artists just stop for a while. I was searching again.
What finally burst out of me was a combination of my love of wood and my need to explore mixed media in a truly organic and abstract way. I was not ready really for that piece. I had started it and put it away. I revisited the piece and finished it many years later. Still, I was not ready for that piece. The work that followed and has followed since has not been similar. And now, I feel that burst brewing and I am trying not to hold it back.
As I said, I teeter between art and craft. I do like to challenge the notion of craft and ask the question, why. Art history is full of why. I didn't like studying art and having to memorize painting names, dates, etc. But I loved learning about the movement of art. I still get excited when I share a summary of this movement as I lead up to my most favorite period, modern art. Art has lost the "movement". Each decade has already challenged art down to it's essential components and exploded into contemporary art and social art which was a natural and likely result. But now we are here which is where I don't know. I would have enjoyed living in the 60's creating in the modern movement next to artists like Eva Hesse. Chef's today are experiencing a similar creative movement through food. But not art. Though some art historian somewhere will find a name for the art of our decade. In my opinion, we are stagnant. We need an art movement. All I can hope for is that my own personal art movement will happen. That it will not be like the tomato on my poor tomato plant. It is on the verge of blossoming but just sits there, in a holding pattern. Nope! I'm ready for the burst!
#jnicholsart #lifeofanartist #mixedmedia #wallrelief #art #flowers
Mark your calendars for my next show! This is the first time I am participating in the Greensboro Summer Solstice. I truly do not know what to expect but I am excited to be a part of this fun and creatively charged experience. Join me Saturday, June 18, 2016 from 2:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
401 Ashland Drive, Greensboro, NC 27403 (Greensboro Arboretum and Lindley Park)
#jnicholsart # mixedmedia #art #handmade #wallrelief
I'm Jennifer Nichols, a mixed media artist from North Carolina. I enjoy capturing the essence of nature through a variety of materials. I incorporate found objects such as strainers and bottle caps into my work. I am drawn to these items but it is also important to me to do my part to protect our environment by keeping things out of the land fill.