BIG IDEAS

December 29th, 2011

I love BIG IDEAS. Somehow, I magically come up with a plan for something and move in that direction. When I do that, I give it my all. I dig deep and research, ask questions, stay up late, get up early and do the hard work needed to achieve my goals. This behavior is a constant as long as I have a BIG IDEA.

For the last several years, I have had a BIG IDEA for my artwork. I have worked hard and some of that has paid off. But some, quite frankly, has seen me throwing precious energy into the wind only to watch it fly away.

The latter is unbelievably frustrating.

And so, here I am, reassessing my BIG IDEA. In fact, I’ve been doing it since late September, which is the main reason why I haven’t posted a blog since then. Reassessing BIG IDEAS is a bit paralyzing. It’s a mental transition that seemingly affects all of me. I am no good without a BIG IDEA. The transition takes time, but fortunately, I always seem to be able to move toward another BIG IDEA.

My new BIG IDEA begins with a return in the New Year to my traditional figurative roots. I was never very far from it, but it is hard to do everything I like to do. I have spent the last several years exploring my imaginative work with my surreal art. It will continue on its creative storytelling journey even as I take a more traditional turn. And as for my wildlife drawings, I have opted to only draw a few of them this year.

The biggest thing I am axing from my last BIG IDEA is the art show circuit. I want to focus on being a better artist ― strengthening my knowledge, honing my skills and just enjoying the process. Sometimes the art show preparation is so demanding that it is easy to forget that I paint or draw not for others, but for myself ― for the simple goals of expression and enjoyment.

I have other ideas tucked into my BIG IDEA but for now I think that is a good beginning to the New Year.

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Bug Week

September 29th, 2011

My art shows are over for the year – and to be honest, I’m somewhat relieved. As fun as they are for meeting new people and developing relationships with other vendors, they can be a grind.

But I’m not idle. I am now on to teaching. I teach three classes in painting and drawing. Two classes for 6 to 10 year olds and one for 11 to 14 year olds. I am also teaching my comic art class and an art portfolio class. Needless to say, I am a bit busy jumping back and forth. Teaching the various mediums isn’t the hard part. What is difficult is having such a range of students (age, maturity, accomplishment) in one class.

I base my teaching on the Ontario Arts Curriculum. The curriculum basically tells a teacher that a student in grade 4 should be able to do this or that by the end of the year. What I’m finding is that the “accomplished range” is not as high as it should be – particularly for drawing. Of course there are exceptions, but overall there appears to be a systemic issue that is concerning and challenging.

As a result, I have had to become inventive. In addition to poor drawing skills, the kids have incredibly short attention spans. So I’m trying to incorporate contemporary, pop culture references into my lesson plans to keep their interest. I am going to use “hip-hop” dance imagery to demonstrate contour, gesture, and movement for the older class. And for the younger class it is going to be “bug week” so I can teach repetition, form, and depth.

But with all that said, I think it is me who I am mostly teaching.

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Paint Me A Birmingham

August 30th, 2011

I like listening to country music. I heard a song today by Tracy Lawrence — "Paint Me a Birmingham." The premise of the song is that a man stumbles upon an artist who is painting on the beach. The man asks him "if he only painted ocean scenes." The artist replies, "For twenty dollars, I’ll paint you anything."

Twenty dollars? For anything? So the man says to the artist:

"Could you Paint Me A Birmingham
Make it look just the way I planned
A little house on the edge of town
Porch goin’ all the way around
Put her there in the front yard swing
Cotton dress make it, early spring
For a while she’ll be, mine again
If you can Paint Me A Birmingham."

All that for twenty dollars and the artist offers to paint the man "back into her arms again."

I have to admit I am a sucker for this kind of romantic ballad. What I wouldn’t give to be able to paint someone’s heartache away. Maybe that is why the artist only charged twenty dollars — to cover his material costs.

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Currently working on…Eleanor

August 12th, 2011

"Do one thing every day that scares you."  – Eleanor Roosevelt. (graphite sketch) by M-J Kelley

Eleanor’s full title is "Do one thing every day that scares you." – Eleanor Roosevelt.

I love that quote.

I’m not sure if I do that. I think if I did that it would require me to climb tall ladders and stand on roof tops or (gasp!) be enclosed in small spaces. No thanks, I’d rather be an artist. To some that is pretty darn scary. Actually, I think it is not so much about being a full-time "art-creating person" that is scary, but more so the fear of being a "financially destitute person" that causes people to avoid or delay a vocation in the arts. I don’t blame them. It’s touch and go.

About Eleanor…the image shown here is a drawing. I draw everyday in my sketchbook – which is where all these crazy surreal ideas come from. Mostly I begin a drawing and something forms and then I think about where it is going and what I have been thinking about, or have seen and then I guide my drawing in that direction. The process is rather organic. It is a bit like being a mother duck trying to get her ducklings in a row. I use that type of movement to coax a drawing into a meaningful vision. In Eleanor’s case, I believe I had a moment of darkness. I chose to push one of my flowers overtop of a pointed rock-like object. But then it occurred to me that the flower may have chosen to do so. It made me think of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote and its importance of reminding all of us to leave our comfort zone to become the people we are meant to be.

This drawing is dear to my heart, so I decided to turn her into a painting; a 16 x 20 full colour gouache painting which will be ready for display at the Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts show this September.

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Art on Steroids

August 8th, 2011

I recently listened to a 60 Minutes podcast reporting that Lance Armstrong”allegedly” used performance enhancing drugs in order to win the Tour de France races. The basic premise of the story was that a cyclist had to blood-dope – because everyone else was – if he even wanted to possibly have a chance at winning. And if he didn’t? Well, forget it.

We have this too in the visual art world.

At a recent art show, I was once again reminded to what lengths an “artist” will go to produce salable artwork. At the show there was an “artist” there who painted on top of a photograph to create realistic looking animals. I believe this to be a performance enhancing art aid. A photo is taken, sent to a printer and printed on canvas. The “artist” then adds paint and sells it as if it were an original piece of art in the traditional realm of high realism.

I mentioned this technique to a 13 year old student of mine. He said, “Don’t they know that’s cheating?” and “So it’s about the product and not the process for them right?” Right.

Before I get into why this technique is wrong, I would like to mention that photography does have its place in the visual arts either as photography or as reference material for visual arts and illustration. But when an artist blurs those lines for the sake of making money, there are several issues:

  1. The “artist” isn’t being truthful to his/her customer because the “artist” is not disclosing that he/she has painted over a photograph. The purchaser of such work believes he/she is buying a “painting.”
  2. Juried shows love traditional realism. Rarely do jurors ask about the art making “process.” As a result, the shows accept the cheating “artists,” while rejecting those who have worked hard to learn their craft.
  3. The work is usually priced far lower than a work created from scratch by another artist. This is because the time, energy, and knowledge spent to create artwork goes into the pricing structure. This creates an unlevel playing field.
  4. The “artist” misses out on the true reason why one creates.

I am incensed by the nature of this type of work and by the “artists” who practice this procedure. I just don’t understand why these so-called artists wouldn’t want to learn – truly learn – how to paint and draw well.

As always, comments are welcome.

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What Did You Learn?

July 25th, 2011

This blog is about learning. I am asked numerous questions about: how to draw, how to paint, creating characters, drawing animals, how to use watercolour and gouache, what kind of pencils I use, what crosshatching is, and how to do perspective. The list goes on.

People have many reasons for wanting to learn an art form. It may be because they want to go to an art school and so they tell me that they "need to learn everything!" One person I talked with wants to learn how to draw dogs. Another wants to finally understand perspective. Yet another wants to eventually teach art and give back to the community. These are all completely understandable reasons for learning art.

I graduated with a degree in Art History and decided that I wouldn’t be a very good art historian if I didn’t know how to draw or paint. And so I enrolled in a figurative drawing class. I spent the next four years learning how to draw the human form. By year five I dived into painting. By year twelve I was learning about comic art and cartooning. I am now in my twenty-second year of art learning and it will continue. Every year I take a course on something that is interesting to me and that forwards my learning. I also spend a lot of time reading books about painting and drawing and about specific materials.

At this stage of my career, I look for the little nuggets of wisdom in a class or a book. For instance, in an Extreme Anatomy course I learned that the space between the fourth finger and the pinky was slightly bigger than between the other fingers. Understanding that little bit of information allowed me to improve my hand drawings in both traditional drawing and comic drawing. It is these little nuggets that are so important.

At the start of every class I teach I ask my new students who have taken drawing before: "What do you remember from your last teacher?" The most common answer is: "nothing." Wow. They remember nothing of what they were taught. I find this totally unacceptable.

In teaching core fundamentals, I strive to teach elements that the students will remember. My teacher – 22 years ago – taught me these things and I in turn, teach my students.

  1. Draw lightly
  2. Draw general to specific
  3. Learn to draw through your mistakes

Obviously, there are more lessons that I teach. But these are the three elements of basic drawing that I repeat over and over again. I hope if my students are asked by another teacher: "What did you learn from M-J Kelley?" they will remember these three elements.

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But I’ve Never Drawn a Polar Bear!

June 14th, 2011

There is a lot to like about participating in an art show. The art, the people, being outside, etc. But sometimes there are things that make you want to run screaming from one. No, it’s not bad weather. I can handle bad weather – high winds, downpours, and extreme temperatures – all of which is fine.

What makes me a bit bug nuts are some of the things people say to me. It’s amazing really. Most of the time all is lovely. But then, every so often I am thrown for a loop. Take this little nugget of conversation from an elderly man: “My favourite painting is a copy of a French painting that I have. It is an exact duplicate painted by a man in China.” Now, I have no problems with Chinese painters. They are wonderful painters. But I do have a problem with forgery. Forgery is bad. How is it someone doesn’t understand that? Or does that become a larger discussion about art in the public domain?

Moving on…this past weekend a man in my booth turned to me and said, “I recently bought one of your pieces…from the Goodwill,” to which I responded, “No you didn’t.”

“Yes I did. Same style, same last name.”

“No you didn’t. This is a new series of drawings.”

“It was of a polar bear.”

“Right, I’ve never drawn a polar bear.”

Throughout the conversation, the man’s girlfriend nodded in agreement with her boyfriend.

Finally, I asked: “How much did you pay for it?”

“Fifteen dollars. It was a good deal.”

And with that they strolled out of my booth.

I hope they enjoy their artwork. You realize I have to draw a polar bear now.

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8 out of 9

June 10th, 2011

That is the number of art shows to which I’ve been accepted this year. I think that is pretty darn good.

Sometimes, I tell you, it is a crap shoot. Neither rhyme nor reason as to why an artist is accepted into one show and not into another. Or why an artist was accepted the year before and not the following year.

But one thing is for certain: an artist should never take “rejection” personally. And though I’ll admit to a slight disappointment – which lasts momentarily – what follows is a fire in my belly and then I’m onto another new project. Rejection grants me precious time to work on new ideas.

Oh, but first you are probably wondering what show didn’t accept me. That would be the Queen West Art Crawl. I was informed in a “batch” email, broken down by alphabet. I was in the J, K, L, and M rejection pile. Who knows how many others were informed from A to I or N to Z. How do I know this? Because the author of the email used the CC line to address her bad news to me and 19 other artists. Can you believe that? Really, how rude to be batch emailed like that. I know 4 of those 19 artists – and their work is fabulous.

They, like me, should have been emailed directly and personally. We deserve that respect, even in rejection.

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Getting Ready for the Art Shows

June 1st, 2011

I’ve been cramming. Getting ready for the art show season is like preparing for final exams in a really hard subject. This year getting ready has been doubly difficult because I moved my home and studio last December and I decided that I wanted to show two lines of work this year – wildlife drawings and surreal landscape paintings.

For the most part, I have been working on my wildlife/farm life drawings – an eagle, a cow, a sea otter, a pig, a hare, etc. I have chosen animals that live in Canada. And it’s a broad range. They are all so different – their nose, fur, skin, eyes, fur, antlers, ears, beak. It’s a lot of focus to figure out how to draw well something that is unusual. Each animal has had its own unique challenge. But each is a labour of love.

So far the hardest part of all the animals to draw has been the feathers on the back of the mallard. And the delicate soft appearance of a pig’s skin.

Molly Mulhern - Mallard (graphite on board) by M-J Kelley

What is easiest for me? The eyes. The intricate structure of the eye is fun to figure out. It’s also the most rewarding part of the drawing — the eyes bring the animal to life.

The Riverdale Art Walk (RAW) is this weekend. It starts off a 7 show run with my wildlife drawings. For more information about the art shows please see my Event listings. Hope to see you at one of the shows!

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Updated Website

April 25th, 2011

I have spent the last three days rebuilding my website. It was time. Can you see a difference? The corkboard layout perhaps? It’s bigger. It allows for larger images and less scrunchy text. I have also removed a few tags (comic, web) and added a few others (surreal art, teaching, purchase).

I separated my surreal artwork from my fine artwork and have added my comic work to the illustration section. The teaching section used to be in events, but now it has its own home. And purchase? Well, it needed to be added as well, though I have yet to create the layout and write the coding for that. But soon!

The biggest differences you will note are the images. There are more and they’re bigger. The slideshow is built with moo tools and it does an excellent job of rotating from one image to the next. You won’t have to do anything, only sit there. I’ll warn you, it can be quite hypnotic—kind of like watching fish.

Another section that can now breathe is the blog. I didn’t change its layout, only the space size. What you might notice is the change in colours of the font headers and links—red and orange. These seemed to suit the colour of the corkboard the best, though I did toy with a lovely teal for a while before making my final decision.

So give it a spin, and let me know what you think.

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