Well folk, this is Sarah’s Styling page. ūüôā (Tongue firmly planted in cheek).

These few touches in our house are about as close as I’m going to get to all the Christmas styling going on elsewhere. I am caught between finding a lot of the magazine and TV ideas for a ‘warm, country Christmas’¬†fussy and kitch, to envy¬†at people’s inventiveness and willingness to spend time sewing Christmas patchwork placemats¬†and such. The irritation comes from being overly influenced, I guess by the northern Dutch aversion to ‘cuteness’, which they call ‘tuttig’.

I did love making the hanging hearts though. They are from dottieangel. My own addition was to scan and print out some great wrapping papers I found. I used those as well as text from old magazines. And for Christmas, used hot pink thread!

The next batch I’m going to make¬†will be from the envelopes that have¬†brought¬† the Christmas cards from friends all over the world. The stamps, handwriting and postmarks will make it special.

Anyway, wishing everyone a late Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and inspired New Year.

photo by Rende

Still life by Giorgio Morandi

continued from Finding my way with oils and Copying someone else’s work. Scroll down the page for those posts.

Another inspiration over the years has been Morandi. For my birthday, my sister-in-law bought me a book on his work.

One of the essays, Giorgio Morandi’s artistic concept, by Gottfried Boehm¬†adds perspective¬†to our discussion on copying others’ work.

As I said in my last post,¬†being struck deeply by another artist’s work says more about¬†recognising an internal energy or essence, than it does about the¬†physical details of the painting.

It is natural and educational to start by studying and copying particulars, such as layout, colour and subject matter in order to understand them better. But at some point you have to let those go or give them an entirely new context in order to find your own way.

In Boehm’s¬†essay about Morandi, he speaks about the profound influence C√©zanne had on Morandi and others:

Morandi only found himself as an artist¬†once he had seen C√©zanne’s art and had advanced C√©zanne’s thought in a productive manner.
He goes on to say that Cézanne played this role for numerous modern artists including Matisse, Picasso and Braque. These artists :
did not seek to imitate him stylistically, but had recognised that his importance lay in something more fundamental. The signs that could be read in his art pointed in various different directions.
I won’t go into¬†a discussion here of the particular revelations¬†C√©zanne’s work contained for modern art, I just want to emphasise that¬†other artists can break open previously barred or even undiscovered ways for us if we are open to seeing them.

A hopeful aside here for people taking up painting in later life: Morandi didn’t start painting in oils until he was fifty. And I seem to¬†remember that C√©zanne did his most productive work in his 60’s!

Elizabeth Blackadder Blue Crab Still life

What I initially loved about Elizabeth Blackadder’s oils was the sense of space- the total lack of clutter. And her colours, but most of all how she used realism as a departure point and arrived somewhere new.

Krabb√©’s work is dear to my heart because there is so much joy in it. I love his exuberant colours as well as his sense of decorative pattern. But most of all, like Blackadder, he starts out from a realistic departure point and ends up with something entirely his own.

So how does one translate these things into one’s own work?

First of all, I have to have some work in order to even understand where these elements might apply. But even at this early stage of finding my way with oils I’ve learned this important point:

Anything you copy from someone else’s work without having developed and grounded it out of your own experience will¬†be a mere mannerism.

This is to say, that it will be only a superficial visual device. What is wrong with this?

Let me give you¬†an example. My first attempts at integrating what I saw in Blackadder’s work into my own were based on the way she used objects on a table with a lot of space around them. My usual way of working fills up every nook and cranny with elements. What I ended up with were bad Elizabeth Blackadders because none of these decisions were built on a learning experience over years of developing a working discipline.

After lots of false starts, I gained insight into what it was I wanted to take from her work.

It had to do with the sense of commitment underlying it rather than the colours, objects or layout. I wanted to become like that person who had worked hard over the years and finally found her own authentic expression.

That is what I recognized, the yearning and perhaps willingness to make that kind of commitment.

Theme continued the next time I post.

Finding my way with oils

December 23, 2011

Painting by Elizabeth Blackadder

 In August after being totally  inspired by the Elizabeth Blackadder retrospective in Edinburgh, I started painting again.

I’ve been keeping it up fairly steadily since then, and have been debating how much if any of this process I was willing to share here.

The searching process produces a lot of missers, and I didn’t see what sharing these publically would achieve. (Especially since¬†I do profile as a professional artist in other areas like oil pastel drawing).

But there have been¬†insights¬†during these past 3 months of work, and since I’ve personally missed having a teacher or advisor, I thought I’d share what I’ve been learning here.¬†Perhaps there are others also trying to find their way with oils (or other media) in comparative isolation. (Robert Genn’s list, Painters Keys¬†is¬†a great help).

The first thing I want to talk about it what happens when someone else’s work blasts a hole in¬†your soul. I mean that feeling of suddenly knowing what is is to be alive and why you are here and what you want to do. All those doors opening at once. How do you ground that? What does is mean to your own path?

Most recent influences on me have been Jeroen Krabbé and Elizabeth Blackadder.

Jeroen Krabbé The Andeman Sea

Initially I copied elements of the work of both these painters. And this helped me to a certain extent to understand their approach and techniques.

But the main quest, of course, is how to find my own direction and create work that feels authentic to me.

I felt pretty good about my oil pastel drawings, but they didn’t translate easily into paint. And anyway, what touched me in the Krabb√©¬†and Blackadder work was the hint of a total new direction for my own work.

More on how to translate inspiration from other people’s work into your own, scroll down.

In his’ Making and Connecting’, Gauntlett hits up against a basic dilemma- how to work with a gift in a market based society. How could a discussion of craft and art not touch this issue?

This upsurge of people making things and sharing them in¬†on and offline communities¬†is distinguished by a strong current of giving and sharing. Think of book drops,art ¬†postcard crossing, many forms of guerilla art, etc. So much of this tendency is a reaction against the present system where¬†the worth of things…(and people!) is determined purely economically.

So how do we reconcile this genuine desire to share our creative efforts outside an economic framework with the just as real need to earn a living?

Free platforms as exploited labour*

*(This subhead is a direct quote from the book).

OK, we have some new channels for sharing our art and ideas- YouTube, Facebook, Flickr etc. These are open platforms where, for no charge, with no credentials, and hardly any conditions, we can put our stuff out there.

Some people claim that You Tube, for example, makes gobs of advertising money off the millions of people posting and viewing videos there. Gauntlett has done some research and writes that it actually costs YouTube more to host the site than they are receiving through ads. (Based on 2009 figures, YouTube makes a bout $1.20 per video on ads per year and spends $3 per video to host the site).

We generally accept that no ads would mean no free sites.

He also says that most of us don’t care about the ‘free labour’ harvested by these sites because we want to share our work and we have ‘no thoughts of economic value’ except being glad that we don’t have to pay to share our creative work online.

Around a campfire

David suggests that the atmosphere in most of the open platform sites is like being around a campfire. Maybe my singing voice is beautiful and I could print out tickets and charge a fee, but that would completely change the underlying agreement of mutual sharing.

OK, fair enough. But then he goes on to rightly say, that in a society where everyone gets paid for what they produce, creative people should also get paid for their efforts. This is where it gets tricky.

Gauntlett cites the¬† example of the music business to illustrate this point. People seem to feel entitled to download music free of charge while most of the musicians are struggling to survive from their music. Some established bands or star status artists make good money from their products and tours, but they represent only a fraction of the whole profession. As a rule, it is the managers, PR people and other middlemen who are making big bucks off the musicians ‘backs. Gauntlett has a suggestion to remedy this. Read the rest of this entry »

If everyone is an artist….?

December 15, 2011

There are several¬†points of discussion ,’Making is Connecting’, brings up for me. The first one is:

if anyone can make and sell their work on (and off) line, is everyone, then an artist?

If everyone is an artist, then, of course, no one is.
Not in the same sense I’ve been brought up to believe; that an artist is someone with a calling who devotes his or her life to learning to express themselves in their chosen craft/discipline. This almost always involves a rigorous path of education and then the required 10,000 hours of practice before one can even begin to make work of stature and relevance.

I think, though, that the ways to discern people devoted to excellence in their calling from the dabbler have been blurred. James Krenov acknowledged this in the last century and suggested that keeping  professionalism and amateurs strictly separate was the best way to honour the artist and leave the hobbyist to putter in their own domain. I apologise for sounding harsh, but for many years this is how I felt about hobbyists, even though in some fields, I am one myself.


Things are radically changing, though. In his book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson cites the rise of the¬†so-called¬†‘Pro-Ams’.¬† (partially¬† paraphrased)

This is a kind of amateur who works at increasingly high standards…the Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. The Pro-Am uses his leisure not for passive consumerism but¬†is active and participatory involving knowledge built up over a long period of practice.

While no professional in any field enjoys being undercut by people offering lesser quality work at cheaper prices, I actually welcome this democratisation of art and creativity because it frees us all from some very confining boxes.  Creative people are finding channels, not previously available to non-professionals, for sharing their work.  And professionals,too, get a chance to let down their hair and try out some other areas without the constraints of having to be perfect first.

Real Artists

I think there will always be a place for excellence and authenticity. There are simply artists who either reach such high levels of their craft that it communicates to whoever is receptive to it. Or they touch a nerve which the whole society is poised to express but hasn’t yet realized. And¬† in so doing give it a voice and a face.

And reluctantly I must admit, that maybe the distinction of the Real Artist might be passé.  Or it is expanding to include various degrees of commitment and expertise.

There is to my eye definitely a distinction between the talented crafter who at this moment is flooding Etsy with (extremely popular) owls, birds and vintage. And the artist drawing from their own experience to give wings to a vision.

More about art vs craft another time.

I really liked David Gauntlett’s book, ‘Making¬†is connecting’. His clear and readable writing style shed light on many issues I am concerned with. He provides well researched and -formulated arguments for the value of craft and everything to do with its resurgence both on and off line.

Craft is political

Gauntlett ‘s particular contribution with this book, is I think, to show that

the current rise of crafts is not some charming sideline to more important social changes, but it is an urgent political statement in its own right.

From creating our own clothes¬†to making our own internet content, we are moving away from the ‘sit back and be told’ society to a ‘making and doing’ one- and that is individually empowering. He shows how the rise of internet has made it possible for the many users of open platforms (like YouTube) to form not only an alternative, but even a serious threat to mass-produced media entertainment.

People are not mindlessly accepting what the mass media is feeding them but are creating their own alternatives to reflect their views in the form of videos, zines and photo sites to name a few.  He says this choosing leads to a whole new perspective and potentially a political shift to how we deal with the world.

Craft creates community

Speaking of craft today, Gauntlett says that making things with one’s hands (or with software tools) take time. This slowness contrasts with our guzzling, fast-consumption society, and leads to self-reflection and eventually self knowledge. Seeing something through every step of creation from conception to realisation makes us more proactive and constructive.

Craft has become more than just a few individuals making nice things, there is now a sense of community and shared purpose, largely because of the internet.

continued in next post.

Another important point David Gauntlett makes concerns the democratisation of art.

Make it yourself/ourselves

He sees our choices of media, art and culture up until now¬†limited to either the mass market¬†channels (TV, newspapers,magazines) OR,¬† more distinctive but elite ones (such as the artworld’s system of ‘star’ artists and international galleries).

But now, in the ‘middle ground’ between mass populist culture on one hand and exclusive elitism on the other,the¬†‘make it yourself’ ethic is emerging as a viable alternative¬†with its own products such as YouTube videos, photo sites, craft fairs, guerilla gardening and interventions, eco-art, etc.

Previously, to get your work out in the world, you had to be an artist where ‘having the right education, sponsors and jargon are necessary markers of worthiness’.¬†¬†Galleries, art and literary societies, publishing companies etc., all have their own gatekeepers. Creative people without the right credentials¬†were/are denied the channels for sharing their work.

But now, anyone can get their work out there without worrying if the credentials are worthy. Regarding the internet:

The relevant filters now operate after, not before publication. (Clay Shirky)

Continued in next post.

continued from previous post

Joie de faire

A significant part of the joy of craft and online creativity is that it does not rely on hierarchies of experts and elites to be validated and doesn’t depend on editors or gatekeepers for its circulation.

Craft is more about creativity and the process of making at a grass-roots level and not caring so much about star status, commercial returns or validation by the established art world. There is an inherent joy at creating something and then sharing it within a community or group with similar interests. Gauntlett speaks about the need to keep the web a free platform and defend it against being turned into one more instrument for consumerism. It needs to be a bit messy, chaotic, and personal to keep the creative element alive.

And of course the web isn’t everything…people create their own networks and experiences around the process of making things because they like to see and share the whole fruits of their own creativity and to feel connected to other inventive people, and to feel part of meaningful productive social processes which have continuity. This urge appears to be timeless and enduring…

He concludes with:

Making things shows that we are powerful creative agents- people who can really do¬†things, things that other people can see, learn from and enjoy. Making things transforms materials but also one’s sense of self. Creativity is a gift in the sense that it a way of sharing meaningful things, ideas or wisdom, which form bridges between people and communities.

Having read and studied this book, I am armed with yet more arguments for why creativity is so vital to a healthy society as well as happy, purpose-filled individuals. And though the massive subsidy cuts and other hostile actions against the arts (tripling art sales taxes) here in Holland will do some damage, I am less worried by them than I was. With the widespread emergence of a sense of craft as important to our well being, and a renewed appreciation for things made well by hand, I feel that in the coming years there will be a lot of healing and amazing positive developments in creative areas.

Artists have a key role to play in this new scene, to not only do ethically sound, relevant, and socially engaged work, but to open other people to their creative potential.

I trust that then, the questions of livelihood will start to resolve. But it will take a while before the society and the systems change sufficiently to allow that to happen. At least we have a better idea of what we could be moving toward.