Thursday, April 27, 2017

Here is a little article that I wrote for the Mid Atlantic Pastel Society's Newsletter.  I know that I have not blogged in a while. Sorry!  I have had many amazing and positive things happen in the last year.  I do also use my facebook account as a blog, so if you want daily entries just go to https://www.facebook.com/EmFlowers and friend request me.

An Inspiration for Making “A”rt With Pastels

I have been asked by MAPS to explain why I love working with pastel and what inspires me as an artist, but these are not one sentence answers. I am not sure what motivates most artists, but what has motivated me for most of my adult life after art school was simply drawing my booty off to support myself. I was a portrait machine. I made most of my income as a street artist, drawing 5 minute profiles in pastel, which explains my comfort with the medium.  I averaged 100 or more faces on a good day when I was younger. I also worked from photos drawing pets that I thought would please my clients. Regardless of my degree and earlier ambitions this was all that I did. I only worked for extrinsic rewards.
I didn’t draw often outside of work primarily because many of my 1980s art professors were highly convincing that the only art worthy of hanging in public was non-objective work. I liked realism. I was harshly ridiculed for wanting to draw like a realist in school by both professors and fellow students. It was so humiliating. Realism was dead they explained. As a result of these experiences I hid all of my future studio work in bulging portfolios tucked away in the back of the garage. I know that sounds horrible but before you go and judge me let me explain a few things first.  You need to bear with me for a few more paragraphs before you can understand why I am now motivated much differently.
First let me answer the easier question about why I love pastel. I adore the feel of the dust on my fingers and the way that the medium moves over the tooth of the paper. It never “dries” so you can come back to it any time you want.  I also think that working with pure pigment without the hassle of a brush getting in the way is great fun. A judge told me once that another good motivation to focus on pastel is that there are not nearly as many pastel artists showing in art festivals as there are artists working in oil, acrylic or watercolor. That was good to know. Even if my work was lousy I had a better chance of getting into shows someday. Cool!
My artistic motivation is a much more complicated issue.  A few years ago I started searching for some sort of inspiration to create work that had some deeper meaning for me other than just a making a copy of a person’s face.  I was nearing 50 and had never entered a single competition or did one fine art fair. I began spending hours reading and studying other artists in between my craft classes that I was teaching at that time. I drew every day. I even sent up prayers asking for signs to aim me in the right direction but all I could do is draw what I thought people wanted to buy since that is all that I had ever done. I was just a robot, or at least that’s how I felt. I was very confused and had hit rock bottom art-esteem.
One day as I was crying into my coffee over my frustration I remembered that when I was a kid I used put on headphones and doodle to music to ease my teen anxieties. I came from a musical family and studied classical music as a kid, so music always whisked me away to a better place.  When I combined music with drawing it was almost magical. I didn’t care about the end product back then, I just needed to stay calm and it worked.  I would fill pages with swirls, squiggles and patterns wrapped around cartoonish looking faces and floating eyeballs. (Today they call this “Zentangle”, which I find highly amusing.)  I think I forgot about this experience over the years, but it suddenly came back to me. So, desperate for any form of relief from my mid-life anxieties, I put on headphones and just let it go. The experience was highly meditative. I had absolutely no ambition to please anyone.  It felt so good.  My technical muscles were still flexing out of habit, but the music took over and I just drew how the music made me feel.  It was not a portrait of my kid, but more of an auto-biography. It was better than meditation and far cheaper than a shrink. Heck, it was even better than alcohol!
I created many drawings after that based on music, choosing of course the medium that I was most familiar with, which is pastel.  Perhaps a better description would be that the drawings chose me and began to flow and ooze out of my head. Eventually I became more concerned with research, pre-drawings and all that boring but necessary stuff that realists are required to do, but the most important change was that I stopped trying so hard to please the world.  For the first time as an adult I was drawing for myself and only for myself.  I didn’t really care how anything turned out because I was not working for clients.  My pastel work became an auto- biography of my own grief and about how music calms me.  I entered in competitions and shows to keep me on my toes, but I never expected to actually win anything.  Oddly enough galleries and judges started to notice me. I am still astonished when I get an award.
I soon realized that by combining tight photo realism with pattern brings the viewer into a deeper state of consciousness, just as listening to music brings me into a deeper meditative state. The pattern that twists about the figure represents the music. If folks don’t get it, eh, oh well.
My advice to other artists and my students, (I teach fine art now instead of crafting), is to just stop caring what the world thinks and draw what you love and work however you want. If you are required to make art for your living as I still am, set some studio time aside for yourself. Use the materials that make you happy and start having fun with what you are creating instead of thinking about the extrinsic rewards. Your work will glow with your own spiritual energy if you work for intrinsic reasons. That is the truest motivation of all.
P.S. After writing this I was about to send it off for the newsletter when I received notification that I have been juried into the very prestigious International Guild of Realism.  Ha!  Take that art school professors!  

Happy pastelling!

Emily Christoff - Flowers

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Listening to Mozart"  11 x 14"  Pastel and pastel pencil on La Carte pastel mat.

One of the very first tunes I was able to plunk out on our family piano was of course Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It was originally a French tune that other composers adapted to their own variations. The most famous adaptation was of course by Mozart. The Lyrics were later added in 1806 by English sisters, Ann and Jane Taylor.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Inspiring a series

"Listening to the Rocky Horror Picture Show" (Originally titled, "Brandon"), acrylic, 20 x 40"
Please understand that in my opinion there is NOTHING wrong with being a commission based pet portrait artist. However after 30 years of drawing what people told me to draw I felt like I was restless to expand, as I have explained in earlier blog posts. For the past few years I had been searching for some sort of inspiration to create a series that had some deeper meaning for me, but I kept coming up with blanks.  I spent hours reading and studying other artists. I drew every day.  I even sent up prayers asking for signs to aim me in the right direction.

Last season I filled my show tent with well rendered drawings of animals that I thought people might want to buy.  It was hard work and I took it very seriously.  There was no time for mistakes, I had to make money as an artist.  Don't get me wrong, I love the process of drawing, and often go into a meditative state when I do so, but I never forgot that I had to please the art world gatekeepers.

Last fall my friend Larry Vanover became the curator of a new gallery, The West Mercury Center for the Arts.  He thought it would be fun to have a themed show for Halloween.  Everything in the show had to be about the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or had to be scary.  I almost didn't do it.  I had a long list of clients waiting for their pet portraits for Christmas and I didn't have time to paint for fun. Larry however was so encouraging that I gave in and took a few days off from my portrait orders.  I decided that I didn't care how it turned out, I was just going to have a good time and if he didn't hang it, that was OK with me.  I needed a break anyhow.

In order to prepare I watched the movie and did some doodling, but nothing was coming up. I was actually quite familiar with the musical and saw it many times in the theater. It reminded me of my more rebellious days in art school, and the music always brought me joy. My future son in law walked in the room as I was researching and we got to talking about his practice of cross dressing and now much he loved the movie.  I grabbed my camera and did a short photo shoot in the living room with him. He was just wearing his usual garb of jeans and no makeup, nothing fancy, but wow was he photogenic!



I put my head phones on with the sound track playing, and grabbed my acrylics with a glass of wine. I shut my brain off and my hand just took over and danced with the music.  Listening to the music and shutting off my inner voice actually changed the way I painted! It was more like doodling.  I seemed to be able to reach a deeper state of meditation with the proper music. (Listen to "Sweet Transvestite")

Much to my surprise Larry hung it at the show, and we had a blast at the opening where Brandon was dressed as a classy, beautiful and very tall woman.  Larry dressed as Dr. Frank N, Furter.  I dressed as a color wheel. Larry and a few other artists at the reception told me that they thought I might be onto something.
They asked where I got the idea and I told them that I just listened to the musical while I painted and it sort of popped out.
At the opening of "High Heels and Horror" art show at the West Mercury Center of the Arts in Hampton Virginia. From left to right, My daughter's fiance Brandon, Me, and Larry on the right.  

I sort of forgot about the idea of painting while meditating to music as I was completing my long list of pet portrait commissions for the holidays. Unfortunately, soon after the holidays tragedy struck my family and my career was temporarily forgotten.  I was so angry at the world, I didn't care about pleasing clients, I just needed to get out of my own head for a while.   As a kid I always turned to either visual art or music to ease anxiety, so I grabbed a really odd photo of one of my kids, put on headphones and lost myself in drawing. For the first time in many years, perhaps since before art school, I just painted for fun.  I stopped taking it all so seriously and just let it flow.  The technical aspects of drawing have been so ingrained into my brain from so many years of pleasing the world that I didn't even really need to think about what I was doing. It was the deepest I had ever gotten into the automatic art that I researched last winter and blogged about in January. (See my blog about Surrealism.) This therapy felt so good that I did another one of my daughter, then another one and then yet another.  I didn't care how they looked to others. I doubt that they will win any awards or sell, but I don't care.  It feels right and I am healing.

My grief is continuing, but I feel a little better each day, although I have some very bad days yet.  I think that God and the universe answered my prayers in a round about way.  It seems that I just needed to get mad enough at the world to paint for myself.  I needed to connect the dots between music therapy and art therapy.

So far I have completed 7 music related pastels since February.  I will try to get around to blogging more of the series that I am calling "Listening". They will debut live this weekend at my first fine art show of the year, Art on the Square in Williamsburg, VA on Sunday April 24. The gatekeepers of the local art world may love them or hate them, I don't know.  All I know is that it finally feels right.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Listening to Ave Maria by Schubert" 11 x 14" Pastel

"Listening to "Ave Maria" by Schubert"
Pastel on Canson Mi-teintes paper
I am so sorry that I have gotten out of the habit once again of posting on my blog.  I'm so busy painting these days that I just forget to blog.  This was a very difficult winter for my family and I due to a family tragedy.  I have not been this down in many years, so I wasn't sure how it would affect my paintings. Much to my surprise I picked up my pastels and just started creating... and creating and creating.  It soothed my aching spirit.  I was not creating in order to please anyone, or to make money, I was creating to escape and cope.  My social painting classes and my portrait commissions were paying the bills, so I decided that I was going to make what ever appealed to me, and I was going to paint about something that I loved and understood. 

My new series is about my personal visual interpretation of music. I am choosing bands and composers who have had the most impact on my life. As a child my family was very involved in the musical program at our church, and I grew up loving Schubert, Bach and Handel. I sang, played trumpet and piano for various churches until my mid 20s when I felt that I had to give up music to focus on visual arts.  

I no longer go to church, but I have been doing a lot of praying lately.  I no longer perform as a musician, but I am constantly listening to music in order to stay calm and ease my anxiety. Finally, now I have decided to combine my loves into this series. Listen to this golden, rich song by Schubert. It is filled with love.  I hope that I have done him justice.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bosouX_d8Y

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Automatic painting and Surrealism.

I have always had a thing for Salvador Dali, Magritte and Escher, even as a kid.  Once, when visiting Florida as a 20 something year old I had the chance to visit the Dali museum and I was blown away, but highly confused by this master Surrealist because I didn't fully understand what it was about this bizarre movement that sung to me.  I mentioned in a recent blog that I think that it is important for artists to understand the art that they don't like, but in this case I want to understand what it was that resonated with me about Surrealism.  Why am I so attracted to it? Maybe I am just a freak who likes freaky art.  If that's what it is then I am OK with that, but I think there is more to it.  It's time to read up and then pick my own brain for answers since I obviously forgot everything from art history classes.

Salvador Dali, "The Hallucinogenic Toreador", a fantastical masterpiece of double imagery and visual illusion. - See more at: http://thedali.org/timeline/#sthash.8Il6LuQl.dpuf


Surrealism as it turns out, is sort of the sister movement of Dadaism.  In my last post I described the definition of Dadaism as being "anti-art".  It was the pendulum swing away from all that snobbish, over theorized, poo poo of the early 20th century. Surrealism is flipping the bird at the same art "gate keepers" as the Dadaists, but are doing it with a much more positive message and more of a technical approach to the craft of painting.  They base their work on Freud's research, and focus on dream like fantasies, but they paint in a very objective, almost photographic method  This worshiping of Freud would also explain why they often depict women as muses, or something to be admired from a distance.  Go Freud!  (not!)

André Breton defined Surrealism as "psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express - verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner - the actual functioning of thought." What Breton is proposing is that artists bypass reason and rationality by accessing their unconscious mind. In practice, these techniques became known as automatism or automatic writing, which allowed artists to forgo conscious thought and embrace chance when creating art. (http://www.theartstory.org/movement-surrealism.htm)

I think that much of today's popular movement called "Neopoprealism" moves along this same line.  In 1989 Nadia Russ first defined this new movement with her dream like paintings and drawings.   She later stated that "NeoPopRealism Art combines the brightness and simplicity with deepness of psychology, it has high energy colors and graphic nature."  (http://www.nadiaruss.com/)  Newpoprealism is NOT to be confused with Zen Tangle, which was copyrighted by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas sometime after Nadia Russ became well known. (https://www.zentangle.com/zentangle-method)  Zentangle is a form of meditation, not a form of "art" according to Russ. Like the Surrealist movement verses the  academic art world, Newpoprealists are the antithesis of the movements before it. The other thing that Zentangle meditation, Neopoprealism and Surrealism all have in common is the idea of Automatic writing.


I have always slid into this deep meditative state when working alone.  I cant really do it when I am sketching in public as I often do, because I am constantly gabbing with the audience, but when I am working alone I go someplace else and hand someone else the wheel. (I feel a country song coming on here.) I know this all sounds strange, but remember I have the artist ticket, so I am allowed to be strange!  Sometimes I wake from this trance and realized that I have added something to  my painting that I did not expect, or I went a bit deeper than I intended to.  I have been able to do this whole leaving the body trick since I was a kid.  I guess I was embarrassed about it at the time because I didn't really talk about it until I started developing ghost tours in 2010.  When learning about human/ghost communications I researched the phenomenon of automatic writing.  I had no idea that other people actually did this kind of thing.  Wow, I am sort of normal?  REALLY?! I do not consider myself to be psychic, (just a bit psycho perhaps), but the paranormal idea is that you relax your own mind and let the spirit take over and write his or her own ideas with your hand.  I am not convinced that it is a ghost doing this, but that would be kind of cool if it were true.  When I was 12 I thought it was an angel who used to be a painter taking over, or perhaps an art guide from another earth plane shutting my waking self up.  It was rather beaten out of me in art school. Now I just don't know what causes this meditative state, but I embrace it anyhow as being rather normal and common.

Lately I have been doing more of it.  Not being normal, but automatic painting.  For example, I was doing this portrait of someone very close to me who was in recovery from a lifetime of substance abuse.  I ended up drawing her shadow to look like a demon coming out of her head.  I never gave it to her, but I could not destroy the portrait either because it came out of my own deep personal feelings. It crawled out of my hidden subconscious and buried emotions about this person who I love very much.

I think that it is because I have always drawn automatically that I am attracted to Surrealism and now to Neopoprealism.  I think I would prefer to think of today's current pendulum swing as "Neo-surrealism".  It seems to fit it better.  I didn't realize it 30 years ago, but I must have recognized the automatic approach to painting when I visited the Dali museum and that is what confused me.  I think I also see it in the works of Gustav Klimt, so I will study up on him very soon.

What ever you want to call it, it is highly attractive for me to think that anyone can reach deep down into their subconscious muck and pull out this art stuff that is more real than reality itself.  Lets take it a step further and say that I think that when we juxtapose photo-realism with pattern, symbols and fantasy, we get to a place where we are viewing a lucid dream.  This combination of realism and fantasy creates a reality more real than our waking world. This is why I got so excited when I saw the amazing works of Salvadore Dali, and then more recently when I first viewed Neopoprealist, Kehinde Wiley.  I want to be Mr Wiley when I grow up!  (http://kehindewiley.com/)


Samuel Johnson, 2009 , 2011
Oil on paper 84" x 55"

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why Franz Marc is a better pet portrait artist that I am.

I really intended to write about another movement today  before my client meeting, but as I was sipping my coffee and randomly pooping around on Google and I stumbled across the works of Franz Marc.  I remember him from my studies in school, but as usual I must have been half asleep in history class that day because this man's work really resonates with me now.  He was a German Expressionist who primarily painted animals.

This morning I said a little prayer for God and the universe to show me some way to make my work deeper.  I think God answered today. (I know that sounds nuts, but I have the nutty artist ticket so that's ok.)  Do I need to change my focus?  I don't know.  It's frustrating. I ask myself, "Why do I paint animals?" (Yes, I talk to myself and usually answer myself too, but hey...I have the nutty artist ticket, so that's ok!) I answered, " I feel energy from animals.  I feel their innocence. I see their aura and spirit.  I feel their connectivity to their environment, something that we humans often do not have."

I will be honest with you, and I hope that I do not offend any of my fellow artists, or my clients when I say that there are A LOT of artists out there doing what I do.  Yes, it takes great skill and talent to correctly paint an animal, but so much of the work out there  looks all sort of the same, my own included. A friend told me the other day that he refers to them as decapitated dog heads.  HA! The clients want beautifully crafted photographic sweet images of their beloved pets, so that's what we give them.  But what if I gave them more?  What if I said more?  Is it enough to just copy a photo and create a pretty painting?  I feel like I have been focused only on technique, and if I am lucky a message or some sort of point pops out.  My clients disagree.  They are often moved to tears when they see their portraits. 

It's so nice to make people cry, but there is still something missing from my own work.  It's good but it's not brilliant.  It is too much craft and not enough concept.  I hate myself for saying that because I sound just like my art school professors who I resented so much, but maybe there is some truth to it.  Not that I should paint like a Dadaist, but maybe I could say something more, but what?  So, as I was gearing up for another day of painting dogs I googled randomly and up came Franz Marc.  (Did you know that the Grateful Dead randomly opened a dictionary and pointed and choose the first name that their finger landed on to name their band?  Try it sometime, it really works.  As a question then randomly open a book, or Google, and see what pops up.)

Ok, Here is the scoop on Marc.  We all know that German expressionists were searching for some sort of spiritual truth through their paintings right? Marc was different from the others however. Marc used two tricks to express a deeper emotional impact on his paintings.  First, he used color as a language to a deeper understanding, much as the way that we understand and respond to music.  The other trick was that his choice of subject was animals. Yes my pet portrait people... ANIMALS! For the first time in a very long time I was able to view animal portraits that were not purely representational but were narrative and spiritual.

"Franz Marc painted animals as they symbolized an age of innocence, an Eden before the Fall, free from the materialism and corruption of his own time. Animals in Marc's art are seldom painted in isolation. They are viewed as idealized creatures in perfect harmony with the natural world they inhabit. "  (http://www.artyfactory.org/art_appreciation/animals_in_art/franz_marc.htm)

Ahhhh what a beautiful concept!  Here are a few of his paintings. I encourage you to google more examples, especially if you are a pet portrait artist or a painter of animals.

FRANZ MARC (1880 -1916)
'Foxes', 1913 (oil on canvas)


The Large Blue Horses (1911)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Why art is fluid, and my opinion of Hugh Jackman

Hi, I'm back!  Lately I have been blogging on my facebook page but I will try to remember to share those blogs here in the future.  My page is public though and you can view it at https://www.facebook.com/Paintings-by-Emily-Christoff-354496231352637/.  I do not post embarrassing photos of my kids, cute animal videos or rants about Trump on this page.  I reserve that for my Emily Christoff-Flowers page.  If you would like to see videos of cats falling off of tables please friend me.  If you want to just read about art stuff visit the page above.

Ok, anyhow, I have been very frustrated this past year.  If you go back through older blogs you will read that I have always been a professional artist, but in order to survive and financially support my family I really didn't make "A"rt.  I drew portraits for a living.  I still do. I don't mean that I draw like GREAT portraits either. I draw 10 minute profiles from life, often times for tips.  I also draw pets from client's photos.  I am quite good at what I do, but it is not high art. Art snobs shudder when they look at my work and often walk off in a huff.  I also teach drunk people to paint.  (upaintnparty.com) I work a lot. In fact I need to hurry up here so that I can finish that German Sheppard sketch... heavy sigh..

A few years ago I decided that since I wasn't getting any younger, (but I am still hot!  HA!) I needed to do art shows.  That's what real "A"rtists do right?  I sort of thought that doing all of these art shows would open my eyes to the world of art.  I did learn a lot, but I still feel like there is something major missing.  As a result of feeling even more like an art hobbyist I am devoting an hour a day now to studying art history and theory.  I did take it in art school, but that was 25 years ago, and I was usually very hung over so I don't remember much about my history studies.

I realize now that as an artist I simply can not live in my own little bubble. Every art movement is the result of artists before them.  the art world is fluid, and the artist who is not familiar with the current trends and ideas is going to flounder. There is nothing new, only a fresh way of saying something.  Since I want to do more than draw fluffy and Fido I must understand art history. This little cartoon says it all!
 
I feel like I was pretty hip on art history up until we get to the abstract stuff, then I sort of lost interest.  It didn't help that my history professor droned on and on and on in monotone voice while he clicked from one slide image to another, and it also didn't help that I went to art school in the 80s where most of my professor's personal agendas concerned art from the past 20 years. Being a natural rebel I really hated having non-objective art shoved down my throat, and so I drew portraits.  One professor from my alma mater recently called me an art robot who, through teaching portraits, creates other little art robots. I did go to some great parties in art school though so it wasn't a total loss.
 
As I read up on contemporary art and then eventually move into today's current trends I will share my findings on the blog.  It's not that I think anyone will actually read this, but simply that when I write it down I tend to remember things better.  It's sort of like my personal diary that I kept as a teen, except I wont mention who my recent crush is on this blog. Ok ok, twist my arm...I have a huge crush on Mr. Hugh Jackman!