About Technical Support For A Creative LifeThis blog is dedicated to helping people find their creative zone and master artistic techniques for joyous expression. As an artist and painting instructor, I pay attention to what works for people as they pursue their creative goals, and that is what I present here.
During a visit to Civil War sites in Winchester, Virginia, I learned that convalescing Confederate veterans were encouraged to work on quilts. The wartime headquarters of Stonewall Jackson (1861-62) had such a quilt on the General’s personal bed, made by an amputee.
Traditionally women’s work, quilting was recognized for its therapeutic benefit to wounded soldiers, who were undoubtedly suffering from PTSD, as well as physical injuries. Artists and crafters know well the meditative zone one enters while immersed in repetitive, creative work. We forget to eat, we forget to stop working, we forget the world.
In 1858, a friendship quilt was made by a group of young Quaker girls in Frederick County, Virginia. There is a bull’s eye block (square) sewn over one of the original blocks, a lovely tulip design which is clearly visible in an x-ray photo. This young seamstress was elided from the community, as well as the quilt, after she committed the sin of marrying outside of her faith.
It is notable that the design chosen to blot out her design, which would be a permanent reminder to the quilt’s owner of the painful breach, was a bull’s eye, a rather hostile mark.
The quilt was in the estate of the Hollingsworth family, who left England because of religious intolerance towards Quakers. Their home, “Abram’s Dream,” was the first house in Winchester, Virginia. It had a hinged wall in the parlor to permit enlargement of the space for Quaker meetings.
Marc Chagall’s epic mosaic, “The Four Seasons”, was an inspiration for this ketubah. Jennifer and Justin live in Chicago and chose to include their home city as well as the golden city of Jerusalem.
Have you seen “The Four Seasons”? We are so fortunate to have it here in Chicago, at 10 S. Dearborn, next to the Chase Tower, at Monroe St.
I enjoyed transforming the story of a couple, Anna and Andrew, into visual motives for this ketubah (Jewish illustrated marriage contract). Andrew works in his family’s steel business. Casting steel is a wonderful metaphor for creating a new, strong relationship. Thus, the foundation of this design is the glowing forge, where a steelworker is pouring molten metal into the mold of a heart. The forge also symbolizes the hearth, source of warmth and sustenance in the home.
Extending the “building” metaphor, reading counter-clockwise from the bottom, there are steel girders, followed by a pair of bower birds. The male of this species creates an elaborate nest, which he decorates with colorful bits of paper and plastic, in hopes of wooing a mate. So romantic!
Above the birds is a huppah, symbol of the home Anna and Andrew will create together. Flying above the jasmine and hibiscus flowers is a hawk, a personal symbol for them. Chicago’s majestic skyline at sunset surmounts the circle. Continuing the circular motif are golden rings: wedding bands, symbols of eternal love. Here they double as microscope lenses, through which we see slides of healthy breast and cervical tissue. This represents Anna’s profession as a medical doctor, specializing in women’s health.
Returning to the personal narrative of Anna and Andrew, the circle is completed with a Lake Michigan sunset, as seen from the eastern shore, where they go to relax and unwind.
Finding a way to incorporate such disparate elements as the steel industry and gynecology was a wonderful challenge! Anna and Andrew gave me free rein, which helped me fulfill the commission while allowing my creative stream to flow, unimpeded.
For Melissa and Andrew, who met at U-Maryland, and love the Ravens:
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Sometimes invitations that appear in my inbox are too tantalizing to hit “delete”. About six months ago, I received a “Call For Artists” for an event called “Really Big Prints” in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It was described as an opportunity to create a huge (3’x 5′) woodcut print and have it printed by a steamroller!
The thought of seeing a steamroller re-purposed as a press to create huge works of art was irresistible. Being inexperienced as a woodcut artist, naturally, I jumped at the chance(!) I conferred with my experts, who were generous with their knowledge and time: Ellen Holtzblatt, who makes exquisite woodcuts; and Alex, the owner of McClain’s Printmaking Supplies.
The event requests that each artist (there will be 45 working over 5 days) create an edition of 4-5 prints and donate one copy to the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc.
I did the drawing and carving in 3 1/2 days. My cutting marks improved as I got a feel for the tools, and gained some fluidity and expressiveness. The final day I started at 10 a.m. and finished at 8 p.m., and didn’t feel the day pass by. Carving is wonderfully addictive; what a joy to lose myself in work that way, and have the calluses on my hands to show for it.
I will post again after the event, with photos and videos.
BLOG TOUR . . .
A wonderful artist and compassionate spirit, Catherine Meyers, from Catherine Meyers Art Blog, invited me to participate in a Blog Tour. It’s been going on for a while, with many wonderful studios involved! So in order to participate, I’ll answer a few questions and then introduce the next couple of artists who will be the next stops on the Blog Tour.
What am I working on? I have been creating works of calligraphy and illumination. I specialize in the Ketubah (illustrated Jewish marriage contract, a folk art.) Since marriage season is in full swing, I’ve been busy writing out texts by hand in calligraphy with hand-painted, customized illustrations. I’ve also been producing art for reproduction, where the image is printed with a digitally-produced text that I generate in a graphics program. Here are some recent works:
I also participated in a gallery show in March at ARC Gallery called Fractured Yet Rising, about violence against women, where I hand-wrote one of my poems on the gallery wall.
How does my work differ from others of its genre? I think of myself as a painter who includes calligraphy, rather than a calligrapher who decorates text.
Why do I write/create what I do? I was raised in a family environment that was richly steeped in my Jewish cultural heritage, and text (reading lots of books, learning to read and write Hebrew as a child) was a big part of this. So, it seems natural that text would be an integral part of my artistic expression, along with narrative imagery. I also am a people person, and I find the collaborative aspect of my work to be very joyous and inspiring.
How does your writing/creating process work? My commissioned work begins with people requesting a ketubah. I interview them and sketch, which leads to the finished work. For work I produce independently, I work with ideas or materials that engage me, and this feels more like play.
So, now you know a little more about me, let me introduce you to the next amazing artists in the tour.
Peggy Schutze Shearn is a Chicago area painter whose work incorporates letterforms, abstract calligraphy and text into colorful semi-abstractions. Her sense of color and pattern is gorgeous.
Nancy Charak is a committed abstract expressionist who makes paintings and drawings in Tucson, Arizona, recently transplanted from Chicago. Her watercolors are sensitive and reflective of nature.
New ketubah: inspired by the beautiful skyline of Chicago, as seen from out on Lake Michigan. This is a new interpretation of an earlier painting, which I created for my son Cameron and his wonderful wife, Blake, for the save-the-date for their wedding:
Blake’s beautiful mom, Raina, just married her beloved, Jeff, and they asked me to create a ketubah for them inspired by the earlier painting I had done for Blake and Cam.
When I look at Raina and Jeff, I can see the sparks fly between them, so I suggested we add fireworks. Raina asked for lots of flowers, which is also appropriate for love, joy and the motto of the City of Chicago: “Urbs In Horto”, which means, “City In A Garden.”
So much joy and fun for our family this year! Blessings and joy to both couples! See it here on my website.