Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Totem Animals

Japanese scrimshaw shank buttons

I've been interested in the concept of totem animals ever since I was a kid and learned about totem poles in school. The teacher told us about a belief common to many Native American tribes that when each individual is born an animal spirit comes forward as a life-time helper and guide. Of course I was very curious as to which animal might have come forward for me.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel that having a totem animal guide is not in conflict with Christian beliefs, unless it becomes a form of worship. I have friends who consider their totem animal a "higher power." There must also be some who don't accept the idea of an animal guide. What are your thoughts and feelings about it?

Whenever I mention "totem animal" to anyone, they always ask how they can know which animal is their guide. One way suggested by Ted Andrews (who wrote Animal Speak), is to look at your past, especially your childhood.

What animal were you most drawn to in books?
What animal was first on your list to see at the zoo?
What animal story appealed to you most?
Did you ever have an imaginary animal friend?
Have you saved any childhood animal doll, picture, charm, etc.?
What animal have you collected?
What animal has shown up consistently in your life?

My favorite book as a child was Marshmallow, written and illustrated by Clare Turlay Newberry. Meet Marshmallow below. I still have my original childhood copy of this delightful book (which has totally fallen apart from constant reading), as well as a copy I bought on eBay (which is less worn).

illustration from the book, Marshmallow by Newberry

And here is Marshmallow with Oliver, who wasn't so sure about the advisability of adding a bunny to the family, but who by the end of the book was completely won over.

illustration from the book, Marshmallow by Newberry

Here is a poem from the book, which I could recite as a child from memory.
A bunny nibbles all day long.
A bunny doesn't think it's wrong.
He nibbles mittens, mufflers, mops,
He only pauses when he hops.
He nibbles curtains, lamp-cords, shoes,
He only stops to take a snooze.

Sofa pillows, ribbons, rugs -
He takes a mouthful, then he tugs.
Galoshes, boxes, books, and string -
A bunny nibbles everything.
Here are a few of the rabbit buttons I've collected in recent years.

rabbit buttons of assorted materials

And here are some of my more special rabbit buttons - scrimshaw on bone - made in Japan.

Japanese scrimshaw shank button
Japanese scrimshaw shank button
Japanese scrimshaw shank button

Here's just a few of the many rabbit things I have in my studio.

collection of rabbit things

When I took a needle felting class about 6 years ago, here's what I made.

needle felted rabbit by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here's a beautiful little quilted rabbit wall hanging made for me by a dear quilting/beading friend. It hangs in my studio above a picture of myself at about 3 years old.

quilted wall hanging by Christy Hinkle

I've always been drawn to rabbits. I am upset to tears (and financial contributions to PETA) by industry's use of rabbits for testing cosmetic and household products. Until recent years, I collected rabbit things without even realizing I was doing it. Could these things be an indication that rabbit is my totem animal? According to Ted Andrews, the answer is yes.

If there is an animal that has shown up consistently in your life, you might want to look it up on this site and check out what Animal Speak has to say about it. Also watch for frequent signs in the next couple of weeks. Did you open a magazine and there was a picture of this animal? Did you look at birthday cards for a friend, and the first one you picked up was of this animal? Were you suddenly aware of this animal in an ad during your favorite TV show? If you get signs such as this, it's further confirmation that this may be your totem animal.

At this point in my life, I'm fairly certain that I have two totem animals - one is my life guide, the other showed up in my late 40's. I will share some more about that in my next post.
Japanese scrimshaw shank button
PS. Click on any picture to see it enlarged. Look in the comments to this post for my reply to your comments.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Beaded Bag
& Syrian Wedding Dress

Nothing like three whole days with your long-time bead friends to make one happy! Lucky me... that's what I've been doing! Four bead sisters gathered in Mary's art-filled home to share ideas, recent work, sources of inspiration... and most importantly, time to bead. Life is good!

One of the gals had previously shown us a little crocheted beaded bag that she had made. Two of us were highly intrigued, so she gave us a quick lesson. Below is my bag in progress. I still have to finish the top, and I plan to crochet a ruffle or two under the holes for the drawstrings. I'll show it again when it's done.

crocheted beaded bag in progress by Robin Atkins, bead artist

My experience with crocheting is VERY limited, having put a crocheted edging on a set of embroidered pillowcases back in the '60s and made a potholder or two in the '70s. I didn't know if I'd take to working with a #9 crochet hook and #8 perle cotton. Yet once I got the hang of it, the meditative quality of the repetitive movements kicked in and made it quite appealing.

After getting home last evening, I tried to find free directions for a simple scalloped edging on line, with no success. So now I'm trying to "invent the wheel." However, I did find this fine website with links to many lovely crocheted edge stitches (just not one that worked for this bag).

Mary's home is so filled with beautiful art that I could have spent the entire three days photographing it. (Sorry... I had to bead.) However, just before I left, I photographed the Syrian wedding dress that hangs in the entry way to her home. There wasn't good lighting in the hall, so we carried it outside. Here is the whole dress.

Syrian wedding dress, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist

The fabric is hand-woven, heavy-weight cotton (and possibly some linen) of an even weave. The embellishments are mostly cross-stitch. I totally love it... especially the way it's symetrical at first glance, yet on closer inspection you can see that the accent colors are not exactly symetrical. The "flags" which hang from the sleeves were stamped (with a poem), embellished, and added by Mary.

Here are two detail shots of the dress... the shoulder/neck area and the lower center front. Click on the pictures to see them enlarged. What an amazing amount of work! It almost makes me embarassed to show my little crocheted bag.

Syrian wedding dress, detail, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Syrian wedding dress, detail, photo by Robin Atkins, bead artist

While living in the Middle East for a couple of years, Mary learned that the Syrian girls begin working on their wedding dress at an early age. I've witnessed this same thing in Hungarian villages of Transylvania, where young girls become proficient with a needle at an early age and take great pride in making their own traditional wedding dresses. Often these dresses are worn for special occassions and to attend church for several years after the wedding, then kept as a family treasure. Although I'm sad that the need for cash forced a Syrian woman to sell her wedding dress, it certainly is a beautiful thing in Mary's home... cherished as much as it would be in Syria.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Answering Your Comments &
Question About New Beta Blogger ~

My picture post for today (about beaded treasure bracelets) follows, so please keep scrolling down after you read this....

Your comments mean so much to me... I value and appreciate them and YOU! So, thanks to all of you who take the time to add your insights, reactions and thoughts to my posts.

When I first started blogging, I spent quite a lot of time tracking down email addresses so I could respond to each comment with a private email message. Now, partially because I see it's a custom among many art bloggers and partially because the days just don't have enough hours, I'm responding to most comments by adding my own comment to the post. Many times your remarks deserve a full reply. I do my best.

IMPORTANT: If you have asked me a direct question, please return to the post a day or so later, and you'll find my reply in the comment section.

Has anyone out there tried Bloggers new version in Beta? If so, how do you like it? Is it any easier to upload images? Does the "category" feature work ok? Given your experience, would it be better to wait a while before I change over?

Now... BEADS!
Finger Woven
Beaded Treasure Bracelets ~

I'm going to return to the subject of totem animals in the near future, but for now, it's back to beads!

My latest book, Beaded Treasures, was published two months ago. On the last page it says, "Now you are entrusted with seeing where this wonderful, versatile technique will go next. You have the tools. I’ve kept no secrets, held nothing back. These pages represent the current state of the art. Yet, the possibilities are endless, the door just barely open. May your journey be most magical! I welcome pictures & stories about your woven creations."

Well, some wonderful readers out there took my invitation to heart! I'm delighted to share some of the pictures I have received so far:

Above is Mary Timme's first project. She made a sampler of some of the techniques for adding beads and learned the basics of finger weaving. Notice that she created a "ruler" on both sides of the cork work surface. GREAT idea, Mary!

In her first bracelet (middle one above), Mary featured some wonderful poppy buttons. How festive is this! More buttons show up in her next two bracelets, including tulips, dogwood blossoms, and just plain 4-hole buttons.

More buttons for Mary, this time they're mums. If anyone's interested, I'll ask Mary where she gets all her fun buttons.

As you can see, Mary's really gone to town with finger weaving! Her most recent picture shows two more bracelets featuring buttons. The lower one is a showcase for buttons made from twisted, varigated cords. I'm not sure if the silver pieces in the upper bracelet are beads or buttons. Either way, they look quite elegant, don't they!

Next (above) is a recent bracelet by Nicole LeClaire Brown (previous post), featuring some of her own lampwork glass beads (the lime green ones). I admire her ability to keep it simple, yet give us a visual feast. That's a challenge.

I'm VERY excited about this last bracelet by April Logan. What's totally amazing to me, is that she didn't make this from my book, but in a class offered in a beadshop. The class was called "needle weaving," but it's the same basic technique. In my book, I give instructions for "split outs" - dividing the weaving into two or more sections. This is exactly what April has done here, and she says her teacher (Lana Johns) taught how to do it in the class. April says it was her own idea to twist the woven cord before weaving it back into the bracelet. I LOVE this look! It's new (to me) and wonderful! I can hardly wait to get out my beads and try it!

Thanks to Mary, Nicole and April for sharing pictures and their wonderful bracelets! By the way, click on ANY of these pictures to see a larger version. In fact, it seems you can click on any picture on any blogspot blog for an enlarged view.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Concerned Artists ~
Concerned Writers ~

Robert Demar, the man of my dreams (and luckily, my husband!), and I have been reading An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. One of the significant heartbreaks for Robert was reading about the polar bears drowning as the polar cap melts and breaks apart.

I'd like to share a poem that he wrote about this situation:

The polar bears are drowning
and there's nothing I can do.

Their winter world is melting
as the planet blows its cool.

Some call it global warming.
Some say it's nothing new.

Some say that changes happen
and there's nothing we can do.
If you like the photograph above, check out this site. The full sized image is here. If you click on the image, it opens a page of thumbnail pictures of polar bears, all worthy of a look. And, here is one more image that I really like from a different site.

I had a dream about a polar bear just after my Dad died. It was the most vivid dream I've ever had, including full color, sounds and smells. In some Native American mythology, the bear is thought to be the strongest connection mankind has to the spirit world. I believe in the concept of "totem animals," that each of us is born with an animal guide, a specific animal which is with us as a guide for life. This belief, in my mind, does not conflict with other religious beliefs, but rather coincides. Perhaps the polar bear was my Dad's totem animal.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

ArtFest ~
Registration Starts
September 5th

If you haven't heard of ArtFest or looked at Teesha Moore's website or blog, today could be a big treat for you!

handmade books and papers by Robin Atkins, bead artist

This is The Book of Plenty (which I made in Albie Smith's class by the same name) and Mini Prayer Book (which I made later for a friend). You can see more pictures of these books here and here. Albie doesn't have a website or blog, which is sad because she's my idol as far as teaching, painting, paper making and book making goes. A totally generous teacher, her classes are the best of the best in my opinion.

ArtFest, 2004 (and again in 2005) completely changed my life as an artist, opening doors that I never thought would open. Picture this:
  • 400 artistic, fun-loving, highly enthusiastic people from all over the country gathering together for five days
  • taking three days of classes from nationally known artists such as Anne Bagby, Lynne Perrella, Nina Bagley, Linda & Opie O'Brien, Keely Barham and Michael De Meng
  • hanging out after class in the art asylum, where tables piled high with free-to-use ephemera and art supplies and empty work tables sing their siren songs
  • exchanging ideas and trades during meals
  • enjoying the Olympic Peninsula, at least on the way to Fort Worden in Port Townsend, Washington state, where the event is held (once you're there, it takes discipline or extra days to see anything but art and more art)
  • being too excited and inspired to sleep

Before ArtFest, I was a person who didn't think she could paint. After ArtFest (with HUGE thanks to Anne Bagby, Albie Smith and Lynne Perrella), I became a painting fool! Before ArtFest, I made books. After ArtFest, I made books with my own painted papers.

hand painted paper collage by Robin Atkins, bead artist

This is a detail from a piece I did in Anne Bagby's workshop. We cut out pieces of painted papers, like a jigsaw puzzle, and put them together to make a design, then painted in the details and shading. I couldn't get Blogger to upload the whole picture, so have put it here, on my website.

OK, so enough about me... If it's not clear already, the reason for this post is to encourage you to take a look at the workshops being offered by ArtFest Mar 28 - April 1, 2007.... And think about joining the fun! Registration begins September 5th, the day after Labor Day. Generally most of the classes FILL UP the first day or two after registration opens. Most likely the whole event, all available spots, will be sold in a week.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


daffodil, photograph by Robin Atkins

Do any of you remember back in the ‘60s when it became very popular to analyze your hair, skin and eye color to determine which season you were, and therefore which colors you should wear in order to look your best? I don’t remember what the system or book was called, but I remember clearly how it changed the look of my closet forever.

As a youngster, my Mom thought brown and aqua were good colors for me. I loved pink, and would beg her to buy pink anything… sweaters, blouses, and socks for sure. She let me wear pink sometimes, but always in combination with brown slacks, brown skirts, brown coats. Brown for fall and winter; aqua for spring and summer… with as much pink as I could get her to buy. In home economics class (which I loathed, because I really wanted to take mechanical drawing, which wasn’t available to girls), I remember making a brown corduroy princess-style jumper. Although I was quite proud of myself as a seamstress, I never wanted to wear it.

From the seasons system, I finally understood why not. I am a winter. Brown is an autumn color; aqua is a spring color. Autumn and spring are the warm undertoned colors; whereas summer and winter colors are cooler and more saturated. No wonder I never liked how I looked! Gradually, I began to shift my wardrobe colors to reds, blues, purples, grays, and black. No more brown on this body! When I went away to college, my first purchase was a RED bedspread and BLACK pillow with WHITE polka dots. Whooopppeeeee! No more living spaces decorated in gold, avocado and brown for this kid… never again!!!!

tulip, photograph by Robin Atkins

Hello! I’m back to writing about color! This post is actually about YELLOW! I don’t remember yellow being one of the approved winter colors. I never considered buying anything yellow, possibly because it was too close to brown in my mind. And I never used a single yellow bead until three years into my beading career.

At that point I started working on a piece of bead embroidery, which has remained unfinished for more than 15 years. It was the start of my In Case of Fire bag.

It all started when I took a class about creativity. Suzanne Kjelland, the instructor, posed this question: “If there were a fire in your home, and all the people and pets had gotten out, and you had one last safe trip into the house, what would you bring out?” The more I thought about that question, the harder it was to decide. My sewing machine? The quilt I made for my bed? My beads? My childhood books? A painting by my brother? The question kept me awake far into the early morning hours. I kept thinking about precious little things people had given or made for me, such as a cassette of Winnie-the-Pooh stories read by my Dad, a broken guitar string from a friend’s concert, a picture from a camping trip, etc. I didn’t even know where to find some of the things.

Over the next few days I found all of these special mementos and put them in a box, ready for rescue in case of fire. I decided it would be nicer to keep them in a lovely beaded bag, and set about immediately to make one. Well! As I beaded, it was so much fun to think about friends and family and the precious memories inspired by their gifts, that I eventually decided to make a bag for EACH ITEM. That’s why I’m not yet finished with the In Case of Fire bag, which will eventually hold all of the items in their individual beaded bags. I keep adding more items and making more individual bags… so I still don’t know how large to make it.

My plan is to make the bag eventually, and appliqué the piece shown below, which I embroidered way back then, onto it.

In Case of Fire, bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist

This was the first time I’d ever used a yellow bead in anything. You can see what a tentative and sparing use it was. Yet, inspired by the fabric print on which I was beading (swatch shown below), I just had to do it.

fabric for bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist

And, I liked it! Yellow beads began creeping into my work… more of them and more often. Orange too. As Margie Deeb says in this month’s Muse (about the color yellow), “In its full saturation, this most luminous color radiates and dazzles. Exuberantly cheerful, yellow uplifts our spirits, helps us gather self-confidence, and stimulates our mind to focus and think more clearly (a yellow legal pad keeps you more alert than white paper, though it may affect you more like a caffeine buzz).”

This is certainly true of the yellow beads in my sculptural piece, Rosie, The Uncaged Hen.

Rosie The Uncaged Hen, bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist

And, here is a piece I made to inset into the cover of one of my books.

Yellow Color Study, bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Now, after recently completing the Penguin Pin, based on the color scheme of the Emperor Penguin, I’m even more interested to see what I can do with yellow beads. I’m thinking about a deeply violet wild flower that booms briefly in the spring around here. It has the most intensely saturated yellow stamen and lovely grayed-green foliage. I think it will be an awesome color scheme. To experiment with it, I’ll make a couple of beaded buttons featuring different hues and proportions of yellow beads.

A friend once gave me a copy of part of a Doctoral Thesis entitled Universal Psychological Color Associations. According to this study, yellow is the favorite color of children, and the least favorite of adults. Not surprisingly, blue is the reverse… the least favorite of children and top pick of adults. Ever since reading this, I’ve thought that working with yellow beads must be a treat for the child within me. And, indeed, I find myself delighted in a happy, carefree, childish way, whenever I add yellow paint or beads to my work.

If you Google psychology of color associations, you’ll find some very interesting articles. Here is one I particularly like, especially the picture of the warm-to-cool room!

Questions for the day:

  1. What things or experiences do you associate with the color yellow?
  2. Which shades or tints of yellow appeal to you the most, and why?
  3. How do you feel about using yellow in your art work? How might you take yellow to the next step, beyond what you’ve already done with it?
  4. What if there were a fire in your home, and all the people and pets were out, what would you save on your last safe trip into the house?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Characteristics of Great Art ~

Today I want to wrap up the discussion of the previous two articles, which are drawn from a book by Kenneth Clark called What is a Masterpiece? As I mentioned earlier I’m not formally educated in art, nor am I much of a theoretical person.

Being asked to judge a number of juried competitions and the experiences of working with other judges is what initially peaked my interest in the study of art and design from a somewhat historical and theoretical standpoint. In each of the judging situations, I noticed that same tendency toward unanimity mentioned by Clark. Of course personal preferences played some part in our choices, yet even without discussion, the judges tended to agree on which pieces belonged in a category that we might term “excellent.” This surprised me. And for the first time, I began to wonder if there was more to the evaluation of art than “in the eyes of the beholder,” perhaps even more than “cultural standards.” That’s what eventually got me to Clark’s book about the characteristics of a masterpiece.

Clark studied the great paintings of Renaissance Italy, the portraits of Rembrandt and Ruben’s altarpieces. The conclusions he drew help me to understand the phenomenon of unanimity. There are certain elements he found in common among the works he studied. In his opinion, these elements are characteristically found and recognized in all great art.

What follows is my summary, in list form, of the elements he identified. They are not in the same order as his discussion, but rather in order of my appreciation for them:
  • A masterpiece does not aim at art, but at truth.
  • Immense spiritual energy is a component of most masterpieces.
  • In a masterpiece, form and subject are one. If form predominates, there is a loss of vitality and of that humanity which should underlie even the most idealized construction. If subject predominates, the mind releases its hold.
  • A masterpiece gives us a startling original vision of life. The life of the senses is raised by imagination to the condition of poetry.
  • The human element is essential to a masterpiece. The artist must be deeply involved in the understanding of his fellow men.
  • In a masterpiece, the artist’s imaginative power, supported by great technical skill, can force us to suspend the criticisms of common sense. It is a triumph of art when common sense does not even cross our minds.
  • There is a confluence of memories and emotions that together form a single idea.
  • The artist recreates traditional forms so that they become expressive of the artist’s own epoch, yet keep a relationship with the past. A masterpiece must use the language of the day. A masterpiece is not “one man thick, but many men thick.”
  • The artist needs, in addition to his innate gifts, the stimulus of some dramatic situation. He portrays a sequence of dramatic moments. The highest masterpieces are illustrations of great themes.
  • Unusually large works, elaborate works, in which an artist has put everything he knows in order to show his complete supremacy in his art, are sometimes thought of as masterpieces. This is because of the immense respect and awe we feel regarding the artist’s ability to dominate such a mass of material. However to be a masterpiece, such a piece must also possess the other characteristics noted.

Clark concludes: “Although many meanings cluster round the word masterpiece, it is above all the work of an artist of genius who has been absorbed by the spirit of the time in a way that has made his individual experiences universal. Not merely a superb piece of technical skill, it is the record of a profound and a prophetic experience.”

Some months after reading Clark’s book, I gave a slide lecture showing the 31 pieces of contemporary beadwork (selected from 350 entries) juried into a traveling exhibition. I was one of four judges for the show. It was amazing to look at the ones we had selected with Clark’s list in mind. I had to conclude that we had been, more or less subconsciously, searching for and attracted by elements on Clark’s list in this body of contemporary work.

Questions for the day:

  1. Which of the characteristics on Clark’s list seems most important to you? Why?
  2. What is the human element in your current project?
  3. What does spiritual energy mean to you?
  4. What are some of life’s great themes? Is there one which is compelling to you at the moment? How could you work with this theme in a future project?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What is Truth in Art?

Thanks to all who posted comments on my previous post! Looking at your thought provoking remarks, two basic questions emerge, which may be fun for us to consider.

1. Are there really such things as masterpieces – art which is recognized over time and across cultures as being great?

On this point, the art scholar Kenneth Clark said that masterpieces exist “by the extraordinary fact that they can speak to us, as they have spoken to our ancestors for centuries.” He also suggests that although we may disagree about the reasons for it, “the impact of a masterpiece is something about which there is an astonishing degree of unanimity.”

Will you consider for a moment a painting suggested by the Lone Beader, Sargent’s painting, The Daughters of Edward D. Boit? While it may not have the general recognition of a painting like the Mona Lisa, it is a draw for art museums and acclaimed by critics of the day. At 124 years old, it stands the test of time in an Anglo cosmopolitan world. But would a Kuna native of South America see anything in it? Would a young girl of a Transylvanian village look at the two daughters in the background and identify with them in any way? Would she find them a bit peculiar and wonder about their future? Would she perceive that these two sisters would suffer mental illness and isolation for their entire lives?

It is questions like this that fuel the debate about whether there is or is not such a thing as a masterpiece, whether those works considered by many as masterpieces may simply be engineered by the shapers of public opinion. Let’s for the purpose of today’s post take the position that, for whatever reasons, some art works will stand the tests of time and location, to be considered by many as masterpieces.

Do we care? Do we want to create a masterpiece? Like me, most of you probably think creating a masterpiece is totally out of the question, way beyond anything you can imagine about your own art.

Yet I’m willing to bet that most of us want others to enjoy and appreciate our art. We want to grow as artists, to improve, to feel pride in our work. As Jackie y/il says, “To me, it is very rewarding/encouraging when others like my work, but the reason I do it and keep on trying to improve is that it makes me feel good and that is what, to me, is important.”

I believe that to improve and feel good about our art, we can benefit by understanding some of the reasons why certain art works might be called masterpieces, and then strive toward those elements in our own work. In the previous post, I paraphrased Kenneth Clark about one characteristic of a masterpiece, saying that it should not aim at art, but at truth. And, this brings up the second question that emerged from the comments:

2. What is truth in art?

Lane savant says, “The point to any honest endeavor is to pry a small chip of truth out of the face of the black wall of chaos,” yet he questions the availability of universal truth to us mere mortals.

Sharonb says, “I come undone because the word truth infers a universal truth – that truth stands for all time across all cultures- which I do not believe in.”

The Lone Beader says, “Realism in the visual arts is the depiction of a subject as it appears in everyday life, with no interpretation. This may also include depicting the unpleasant. In life, many people choose not to see the truth. So, I feel that expressing myself in this manner is a way to show others exactly what I see.”

Vicki says, “It seems like a bit of a philosophical question, but I'm wondering if we can EVER make art that is anything BUT our truth?”

I think there are some artists who believe they can tap into some universal truth, that they possess a gift of perception and that their mission is to reveal truth through their art. Perhaps Kenneth Clark leaned in this direction, believing that there is some form of universal truth in the great themes of mankind – birth, death, love, revenge, family, war – to name a few.

While I respect this opinion, what seems more important to me is the notion of personal truth. Like Sharonb’s recent post about bloggers who write with a genuine voice, I believe that personal truthfulness is a necessary and perhaps inherent component of art... that the artist is attempting to convey something important (to them) and truthful (from their own perspective). Maybe this is too obvious to be of significance. But it's helped me, especially when I'm stuck, to be mindful of my truthfulness rather than to ask what should I add or do to make my work look better. In other words, to aim at truth rather than at art.

Vicki seems to agree, saying, “I also have had the experience of trying to help my art more fully express my intention, rather than trying to make it more complete visually. The former was so much more satisfying on a soul level!”

I began yesterday’s post with a reference to The Divas, a piece in progress by the Lone Beader. To my eyes, it seems entirely authentic. Even at this early stage, it rings true of Diana’s love for dogs, her poignant attachment to the story of these particular dogs. The Divas is a good example of how telling personal truth raises the bar on one’s art, making this piece more than a cute picture of four dogs, making me curious about the story and highly interested to witness her progress.

3. Here are a few questions for you to consider:

  • What do you think about the concept of personal truthfulness and authenticity in your art work?
  • Is this something for which you consciously strive and plan? If so, how?
  • Vicki comments, “Art has such a subconscious component, like our speech or our dress, that even when we're doing it "intellectually" our inner being is always being voiced in a variety of choices - colors, shapes, composition, topic - that are somewhat beyond our rational control.” How do you feel about this? How is your subconscious truth revealed in your art work?
  • Suzyq comments that Van Gough was an artist who told his own “truth,” despite the negative reactions of others. What is your experience with fear of criticism or self criticism blocking the expression of your personal truth?

Although I’ll soon return to beads, treasure bracelets, dolls – pictures and process, I’m hoping you will stay with me and contribute to the current discussion for a little while longer.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

What is a Masterpiece?

This post by Diana Grygo (aka The Lone Beader) has me thinking about the general nature of art, and what makes really good art, as opposed to OK or not so good art. It would be fun to have a discussion about this right here, so I invite (read that as "respectfully ask") you to make comments reflecting on this subject.

I'll start the discussion by talking about a little gem of a book by Sir Kenneth Clark, a British art historian. Clark spoke at an international gathering of art educators and historians on the subject "What Is a Masterpiece?" His lecture was so well received and copies of it were so frequently requested that in 1979 it was published as a small book by the same title. Although it's no longer in print, used copies of it can still be found.

In his analysis of well-known paintings, mostly of the Renaissance period, Clark claims that masterpieces exist “by the extraordinary fact that they can speak to us, as they have spoken to our ancestors for centuries.” In addition, he suggests that “although we may disagree about a theory, the impact of a masterpiece is something about which there is an astonishing degree of unanimity.”

Looking at these paintings, he then lists and describes a dozen or so characteristics which make them masterpieces. This part of the book is fascinating, because these attributes apply not only to paintings, but also to beadwork, paper arts, quilting, knitting, sculpture, photography and any other art form you care to name. My favorite, the one feature that speaks most loudly to me, is this:

A masterpiece does not aim at art, but at truth.

Do not aim at art. Do not try to make art. But, rather attempt to tell a truth. In my opinion, truth is the seed from which all really good art is born. What do you think? What other characteristics are important? Do you want me to share more of Clark's list?

Back to Diana's blog (the inspiration for this post's subject)... If you read through her posts since July 26th, you'll see the start of her current project... a true story about four dogs, four very special show dogs: Bailey, Rachel, Eliza, and Genna. They weren't even personally known to Diana. But a picture she found on another blog and the story about them touched her in some deep way. She fell in love with them, and decided to portray them in a bead embroidery project.

I've followed her progress with great interest, and will continue to do so. Although I'm a cat-lover and not often attracted to dogs, Diana seems to be conveying a truth that totally attracts my attention. Every bead tells of her love for these particular dogs. To my eyes, it has the makings of a masterpiece.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Living Color!

To me, one of the most exciting sections in Margie Deeb's forthcoming book will be called "Living Color." Here she will show color palettes derived from plants, flowers, birds, bugs and critters.

In one of our recent email conversations, she commented about how poisonous animals and plants are often extremely colorful. Judging from what I've seen on her "Fatally Fantastic" page, with two drop-dead gorgeous necklaces based on poisonous critters, I'd say she's right. In fact, my final assignment for the book is to design and write instructions for a project based on a beautiful, but deadly, spiny sea anemone. (This is the critter, but not as colorful as the picture I'll be using for the palette.) I can't wait to get started!

But today, as promised, we'll stick with "Living Color" from our feathered friends. In addition to a palette and beautiful necklace based on the jewel-colored feathers of a peacock, this section of the book will also include a picture of an Emperor Penguin and the bead embroidered pin I made based on this palette.

Because of the copyright, you won't be able to see the penguin picture used for the palette until the book comes out. But if you go here, you can see a similar picture. For my piece, I concentrated on the color shift at the neck - from black to bright orange, to yellow, to white. Because I like that curved line at the neck where black meets orange, I decided to incorporate that into my pin as well. Margie told me she wanted an object that was tall and skinny, because of the placement on the page layout. Those were my constraints: color, shape and overall size.

Here is the penguin pin. It's not supposed to BE a penguin or LOOK like a penguin... just be inspired by the colors and shapes.

If you are liking this color talk, you might want to read about an international study on color preferences - Color Matters. Take the survey here and be counted among 60,000 other people world wide. After taking the survey, it might be fun to read what Margie has to say about it here and here.

Important! Here is a short but potent poem, written by a friend who blogs... Right ON!
The Thrill of Color!

I love color! Whether I'm starting a quilt, a bead project or a painting, one of the most fun things is to select my colors. Often I do it very quickly, without much thought... more like being in tune with my mood of the moment.

A while back I took a quilting class from Sandy Bonsib... her lopsided folk art quilt. To prepare for the class, we were to cut strips of fabric in various widths. She said to use any fabrics we had on hand. If we liked it enough to buy it, it would work for this quilt. It took a leap of faith to cut strips from fabrics I ordinarily wouldn't put together. But, I decided to give it an honest try.

An even greater leap of faith was required when we began to sew our blocks. According to Sandy's instructions, we reached into our bags or baskets and blindly picked each strip. Once in a while, I just couldn't do it... could not make myself sew one strip on another because of a perceived clash in color or pattern. Mostly, though, I did it.

detail of quilt by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here's a little segment from one of the blocks. I think you can see how the fabrics aren't ones most people would choose to put together.

detail of quilt by Robin Atkins, bead artist

And here's a corner, showing even more of the fabrics, and the randomness of putting them together.

detail of quilt by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here's a whole block. By the way, Sandy's model had light colored centers with appliqued hearts in each. I decided to use the centers to showcase some vintage German beads I'd been hoarding for years. The photos don't show them very well. Surprisingly enough, the bead grids are quite attractive.

detail of quilt by Robin Atkins, bead artist

I found as I worked on these lopsided blocks and sewed fabrics randomly, that it felt rather chaotic. Later when I sewed the beads in an even grid in the centers, the chaos of the rest of the quilt was easier for me to accept.

The relationship between the two opposite elements made me think about my life, maybe all of our lives, and how there is both order and chaos. Just as the quilt might be rather boring if everything were consistent and all angles were 90°, so might my life be uninteresting if events were always predictable. Working on this quilt has made me feel more appreciative of the times in my life when things don’t go as planned.

Order & Chaos, quilt by Robin Atkins, bead artist

Here's the whole quilt. I'll have to retake the picture some day and put it on my website somewhere. But you can get the idea of how it looks. Wish me luck... I'm going to enter it in our County Fair this summer.

Back to the subject of color. I've read quite a few different books on color theory - some for painters, some for quilters, and of course Margie Deeb's color theory book for beaders. I've especially liked reading Margie's Muse, which includes short essays about design and color. This is a really good example, about color balance, and this one, about traidic color schemes, is good too. You may want to bookmark Margie's site, because she writes a new essay every month!

However, the more I read, the less intellectual is my approach to color selections for specific projects. I simply trust that all the theory I've read is ingrained somehow, tucked safely in my brain, and will become evident in my choices.

The above quilt is perhaps the most improvisational I've ever been about color, and yet it seems to work. Does this mean we can let go of our worries, and just play with color? I think it does!

I had intended to show you one more color palette and project for Margie's forthcoming book today, but got sidetracked with the quilt.. so, in the NEXT post you'll see the Emperor Penguin palette and pin!