I had a great time as a presenter at Mennonite Arts Weekend in Cincinnati. I met a lot of wonderful people who shared their experiences as artists, writers, actors, and musicians. I enjoyed the presentations and performances I attended, among them by painter Freiman Stolzfus, jewelry maker Kat Luginbuhl, poet Julie Swarstad Johnson, artists Brooke and Justin Rothshank, the DeCapo Chamber Choir, and hammered dulcimer musician Ted Yoder. I wish I could have attended every panel — I know I missed some great ones. I also appreciated the opportunity to share my slide talk about my art over the last six years, and my new work, “Sound the Climate Alarm.”
Imaginative Drawing is a beginning-level drawing class. It is one of my favorite classes to teach, and I’ll teach it again this winter at the Lawrence Arts Center. This class begins on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, and meets each Wednesday evening for eight weeks, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.
The class is based on drawing prompts and exercises that we do together each week in our own sketchbook-journals. By the end of the eight-week session, we’ll use what we’ve learned to create a drawing-related work of art in any medium we choose, as a finished piece.
For the first few weeks of class, we’ll explore drawing as making expressive marks on a page using all kinds of pens, pencils, and other mark-makers. We’ll make comic-style “timed” drawings as a way to doodle, and we’ll also doodle by building up a series of spontaneous lines that eventually turn into pictures and patterns. We’ll “noodle” our doodles, using a controlled hand to create a finished look by adding color, texture, and shading. We’ll make drawings that are based on observation, drawing the objects and people that we see, as we see them. We’ll consider how observational-drawing informs imaginative-drawing, and vice-versa. Sometimes we’ll draw at drawing “stations” where we choose from a menu of exercise options, staying for as little or as long as we want to at a station. These sorts of exercises will focus on stretching, distorting, or abstracting images that we’ll draw from observation. On a different station-day we’ll explore the use of “randomness” as the basis for making something new: random squiggles on a page, random cracks in the sidewalk, or random shapes of clouds can provide the building blocks for making faces, creatures, or monsters. Each week we learn something new about the creative process. Along the way we’ll ask the question, Where do creative ideas come from? We’ll engage exercises that seem to get to the heart of creativity, bringing disparate ideas together in ways that are new. We’ll also learn about how to keep a sketchbook-journal, using artist Corita Kent’s focus on the journal as a “sense diary,” and cartoonist Lynda Barry’s “daily diary” formats to bring words and images together. Towards the end of the eight-week session, we’ll discuss composition, that is, how to arrange the elements in our drawings with attention to the drawing as a whole. We’ll then imagine a drawing that we would like to make, plan it, and make it.
A writer-friend who took Imaginative Drawing several years ago recently said about this class on Facebook: “Take this class! About two hours ago, I pulled out my sketchbook from the class. It is part brain health, part creativity, part stress relief.” And I would contend that the class is also a way for students to build confidence in their drawing abilities and to learn imaginative drawing skills to be used in art forms as different as comics and quilting.
I strive to create a warm atmosphere where students will feel encouraged and comfortable drawing in ways that are new. While I encourage students to share their work with others in class, because there is so much to learn from each other’s experiments, I also make it clear that no one is ever required to share; “passing” is always an option. And homework is optional, too.
Winter classes begin during the first full week in January. Registration now for Winter session. Senior discounts and financial aid are available. Register either on-line or at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., Lawrence, KS, phone 785.843.2787. To register for “Imaginative Drawing” on-line, visit http://enroll.lawrenceartscenter.org/browse-classes/event/2941?fbclid=IwAR1tS5t8oXpsnJfo_AlpjN-yTufrYNYN78CARP9OOr3taLmbexoLf96S9To.
I am excited to have an exhibit of mosaics, scratchboard, and drawings at the Carriage Factory Gallery in Newton, Kansas! The exhibit runs July 27 – September 20, and is located at 128 E. 6th St., near downtown Newton. Gallery hours: T-F 12-5pm, Sa 10am-5pm.
I am exhibiting my art along with two others, Rachel Epp Buller and Emily Willis Schroeder. The title for our collective exhibit is, Our Lives. Past. Present. Future. My portion of the exhibit is called, “Sound the Climate Alarm,” and my artist statement follows:
Sound the Climate Alarm
In my exhibit of drawings and mosaics, cardinals honk and chickadees sing razor wire. Death chases a prairie chicken with a blaring saxophone. Animals, drawn from memory, reveal the loss we find when we are without them. Origami cranes, an international symbol for peace, fly over walls and meander through chain link fences. And yet, archways that imply the presence of barriers also show a way to pass through them. The cardinal’s song is visually amplified as a message of hope and renewal. A car with loudspeakers on top blasts an unusual wish for the world. With a sense of beauty and compassion, through images that visualize sounds that are both real and imagined, my work “sounds the alarm” on climate change, animal extinction, and other urgent concerns, encouraging the viewer to “listen” with an open heart towards creating a future where there is enough to share and compassion for all.
With Nature Sing is a collection of six mosaics, dedicated on Februday 11, 2018, for permanent display at the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas.
The hymn All Creatures of our God and King celebrates the visual beauty, music, and force of the natural world. I chose imagery from this hymn as the basis for my mosaics. The cardinal and honey bee mosaics represent all creatures lifting their voices in song; the sun and moon mosaics illustrate the burning sun with golden beam, and thou silver moon with softer gleam; the tree mosaic shows the rushing wind that art so strong; and the mosaic with the human face in profile visualizes sensory response to the beauty and sound of birds, and appreciation for mother earth, who day by day, unfoldest blessings on our way.
The mosaics remind us of our relationship with mother earth. As we delight in the beauty of birds and honor the necessity of pollinators, we must also live in accordance with them, embracing the sun and wind as vital sources of renewable energy. (Click here for information on my mosaic process.)
Special thanks to Darlene Dick, David Kreider, Bob Regier, and Margo Schrag, members of the Art Committee of Bethel College Mennonite Church who are overseeing the commissioning of new artworks for the church. Recent art installations include works by Bob Regier, John Gaeddert, Conrad Snider, and me.
Peace and Reconciliation by Bob Regier, in the church’s gathering place
Many Gifts, One Spirit by John Gaeddert, in the south entryway
Vessel by Conrad Snider, near the columbarium
With Nature Sing by Lora Jost, in the gathering area
These photos of my mosaic process are on display at the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas, through March of 2018. The photos accompany a recently-installed permanent exhibit of 6 mosaics titled, With Nature Sing
Making mosaics is a complicated process with moments of magic. Fitting the tiles in place is like putting together a puzzle, except that I create the puzzle pieces as I go along. Although one can buy tiles for mosaic-making or use all manner of things like paper, macaroni, seeds or rocks, I chip my own tiles from secondhand ceramic plates and other dishes that I find in a range of colors and patterns at thrift stores. I have accumulated many dishes over the years, with occasional gifts from friends and acquaintances who sometimes leave their broken dishes on my front porch.
Because I work with dishes that need to be continually broken and shaped, my tile nipper is always close at hand. But before I cut and shape the tiles with my nipper, I use it to break the dishes first with a good solid whack, dividing each into smaller pieces that I can more easily work with. I look for broken pieces that are the right shape and size to fill spaces, and I also cut and clip them to fit more exactly. By the end of a project my work table and floor are covered with tiny discarded bits from this process.
Before the tiling begins, I develop an idea and then make a plan. I play around with images and ideas by drawing in my sketchbook, often little pictures that would only make sense to me, and then I change and expand on these. When I have played around enough and have settled on a concept, I make larger drawings of the key elements at scale, sometimes using reference pictures from my own photos or ones I find in books or on the internet. The last step in the design process is to map the images and key color choices onto a plywood work surface, also called a backer board, with simple outlined shapes in black marker.
I enjoy the creative process more if I leave some design decisions and color choices to resolve in the making process. I have twenty dishpans in my studio filled with dishes in various stages of brokenness, sorted by color, accompanied by smaller containers of smaller pieces that are sorted too, to choose from. I try to create mosaics where the imagery can be read through distinct color-shape areas, and yet I bring color-variation into these areas too, for added interest. Sometimes I sneak other objects into my mosaics to surprise the viewer, among them fossils, rocks, shells, or specialty tiles. My mosaics have become more sophisticated over the years, and yet I continue to learn more and more through the process of making them.
For small wall mosaics like the ones in this exhibition, I work directly on plywood. I scrape and mar the plywood surface first with a screwdriver, and then seal the surface with watered-down Weldbond glue, the same glue that I use to affix the tiles. (For largescale projects on walls or buildings, one would use different materials such as concrete backer board and mortar.)
The final stage is grouting. After I glue all of the tiles into place and the glue has dried, I vacuum the surface to sweep up bits of dust and debris before I begin to apply the grout, a cement-based material used to fill the cracks between the pieces. I use grey or tan grout which contrasts well with a range of colors, but colored pigments are available to mix into the grout, too. It is hard to judge what a mosaic will look like once grouted, so I usually go into the grouting process with some trepidation – how will it turn out? That said, grouting always brings a sense of unity to the work that is often pleasantly surprising. The grout is like magic that helps transform a pile of broken dishes into a pleasing cohesion.
The grout must be removed from the face-surface of the tiles before it dries. Cleaning the tiles is a tactile process because my use of dishes creates an uneven surface, different from mosaics made from uniform commercial tiles. I use my hands and a rubber spatula to remove the bulk of the excess grout from the tiles before I begin wiping away the grout with a damp sponge and rags. The final stages of cleaning remind me of dental work. In fact, I use old dental tools that a friend gave to me to clean the smallest and shallowest pieces that I can’t wipe by hand. Finally, I buff the tiles with Windex, and then the piece is complete.
I participated in the 30IN30 International challenge in November (2017), where artists were invited to make thirty art pieces in thirty days. The project was coordinated by Jessica Rold. I had a wonderful time participating, and was able to complete the project along with a number of other wonderful artists. Click on the boxes below to see each completed work, or flip through my Facebook albums #30IN30 and Process Photos for #30IN30.
“The conference during which this exhibition takes place, Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Cross Borders and Boundaries, invited presenters to consider border and boundary crossings in terms of ethnic and religious heritage, gender and sexual identity, geographic borders, private and public spaces, or disciplinary expression. The artists included in this exhibition most often cross lines in order to experiment and question, to make statements, or to think back through time.”
Artists in the exhibit included: Teresa Braun, Jen Dyck, Kandis Friesen, Jayne Holsinger, Jerry Holsopple, Mary Lou Weaver Houser, Gesine Janzen, Lora Jost, Audra Miller, Jennifer Miller, Teresa Pankratz, Jessie Pohl, and Karen Reimer.
“Does This Make Sense?” is a ballpoint pen drawing on clayboard (18″ x 14″) that I recently completed for an exhibition in conjunction with next summer’s conference, Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries, at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA, June 22-25, 2017. Rachel Epp Buller, Associate Professor of Visual Arts and Design at Bethel College in N. Newton, KS, will curate the exhibit.
This piece includes words that have personal meaning for me about critical thinking. Borders between cultures, between different ways of thinking, between different sets of values, even between groups within a shared culture offer both a dividing line and, if we can look across these borders, the possibility of thinking critically about the ideas on each side of the line. And I am of course never fully on one side of the line or the other at any given time; these borders are permeable. Who I am is formed out of ideas and values from my Mennonite heritage and from my experiences and commitments in the wider world. When I think across borders I often find myself asking the important age-old question, “Does this make sense?” By looking both ways, I find new ways to engage my commitment to decency and peace.