3 Shows I Recently Saw

One of my goals at the beginning of 2019 was to see more art in person. As a suburban dweller, this can be difficult. There are always art books and the internet, but seeing art in person is so much more impactful. Here are 3 shows I saw in the past few months.

Matt Bollinger’s Three Rooms at Zurcher Gallery in N.Y.

I was absolutely elated to see this show. I’ve been following Bollinger on Instagram for over a year now and his work has been super inspiring for me. Bollinger’s work makes the ordinary magical, and I love that. Three Rooms is Bollinger’s newest stop-motion animated film that’s about a sci-fi writer, a botanist, their daughter, and a future where fungi have made the world uninhabitable by humans. The film is eerie and mysterious, with lots of wind and slowly opening doors. The ending leaves the viewer to interpret the two timelines and their connections. The paintings in the show are used to animate on throughout filming and then eventually finished or “frozen in time” for the final gallery show. My biggest shock when I got to Zurcher was the painting of the writer’s room (see first photo above). While watching the film, so much is going on in this room. There are notes on the wall, a box opens to reveal the sci-fi novel 4036, a laptop computer is typing. But the final painting looked still and quiet. It made me feel as if I was gazing into a familiar room, knowing what had happened within it, and seeing it still and empty at the end of the day. So much happened on this painting and then was painted over - and that’s brave as hell.

Bollinger also used miniature props for the hallway and to animate doors opening, which were displayed in the middle of the gallery. There’s so much more I could say about Bollinger’s work. I can’t wait to see his next project. Check out Bollinger’s website here. Watch his animations on Vimeo here.

Rebekah Callaghan’s Brighter Later at Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia

Luckily, I caught this show on the last day. It was a somewhat random google search that lead me to finding this show, but I’m glad I did. I was really struck by the unique and very particular combination of colors for each painting. Each one felt like a mood or time of day. I also kept noticing the paint thickness and textures. Some of the paint was thinly spread on the canvas. This helped illuminate some of the colors and gave a warm feeling to each piece. Like a quilt, or stained glass. Really enjoyed this. I wonder if the title of the show had anything to do with Nick Drake’s “Bryter Layter”, a fav of mine. This show has definitely inspired me to keep trying to use color. More of Callaghan’s work can be found here.

Edwin Dickinson at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art recently acquired some Edwin Dickinson paintings, so I hopped over the bridge one morning to check them out. I was happily awaiting moody and subdued colors and strange compositions, but was surprised by seeing the actual paint. Some of the paint was very thin and with canvas showing through. Some of the color looked black, straight from the tube. I still have some “rules” about painting rattling in my head. Voices saying ‘don’t use black’ or ‘don’t show empty canvas’ were quieted. Dickinson’s almost monotone palette made me notice and appreciate the subtle colors that shone through - cold pinks and fleshy yellows. Next time you’re at the PMA in Philly, check these out!

Making "Night Light"

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I recently finished my illustrated story Night Light. Making this book birthed an entire new art making process for me. I had so much fun doing it, I just had to share! 

It began a while back, when I decided to try my hand at woodcut prints. I've always loved the rich black tone of relief ink in etchings, but don't have access to a print shop. Woodcut prints seemed like something I could do at home. I decided to buy ink, a baren and a brayer from McClain's Printmaking Supplies. I found McClain's through a great Youtube channel called Diode Press. Artist Graham Stephens has a ton of awesome videos on printmaking techniques. When I got my supplies in the mail, I was ready to begin making woodcuts.


Since I hadn't used relief ink in a very long time, I decided to roll some out and just play. Play is something that has been missing from my process since the beginning of my art education. I tend to be careful with my materials so as to not waste them. Luckily at the moment, I had plenty of relief ink and paper. So, I made random shapes with my brayer on a piece of plexiglass that I had lying around and started making monotype prints. They weren't all that exciting to look at. A lot of them were more about playing with the texture. I made about 20, laid them on top of book shelves and tables, cleaned up and walked out of the studio. What did I accomplish? In the moment, not much! After they dried, I piled them up and didn't look at them for another month.  

When I rediscovered the pile, I laid them out and started to see different images; stairs, doors, floors, and trees. I saw a story unfolding. I laid out the prints in order and labeled each one with a potential page number and title. I spent a lot of time swapping out prints to get the story right. I moved them around and scribbled new labels. I ended up making another batch of prints because I didn't have enough for a complete story.  

At the same time this was happening, I was taking a Skillshare class from Brad Woodward, the mastermind behind Brave the Woods. He was teaching how to turn handmade textures into Photoshop brushes, which was so fun! I love Woodward's vintage-style illustrations and LOVED this class. Because of the class, I had some cool Photoshop brushes that I had made from stamp and monotype textures. I scanned in each monotype print and finished the images with my new brushes in Photoshop.

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Here's a "before" and "after" shot of a print and it's photoshopped partner. Here's a few more cuz I had a lot fun making them...

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I tried my best to keep as much of the original texture and composition in the image, so the book would have the feel of printed ink. My love for the look of relief ink is one reason the images ended up simple and stark. But, I think this adds to the quiet and reflective nature of the story.   

What did making this book teach me? That play is really important. And to use materials whose appearance you love for a reason you can't verbalize. Find your medium, whatever it is and claim it as your own. 

Creativity and God

I recently gave a talk at my church Circle of Hope about my relationship with God and how it's impacted my creative life. It took me almost a month to write the talk and I think it really helped me pinpoint the message I so desperately needed to hear when I started my art life. That the secret to making good art is doing it really badly at first. That's how anyone gets started. No one has magical hands that makes finished work appear. You have to start bad to get to good. And it's really, really hard to face these bad first sketches. Alas, it's the big secret. And it's one that needs to be said over and over again. Here's the first paragraph of the talk.

A few years ago, I was a part-time teacher and one of the classes I taught was a kids class and as I sat down to write this talk, a memory from teaching came to me. One time, before class, I overhead a parent say to her daughter in the most encouraging and motherly way, “Paint me something pretty for the kitchen and I’ll frame it.” For some reason, this memory makes me cringe. It’s perfectly fine to frame art and put it on the wall when it’s done. That is ultimately where finished art will go. In the end, it’ll be out in the open, it’s meant for others to see. But, it’s really hard to START making art if that’s your goal from the beginning…  Making art requires terrible first drafts, thumbnail sketches that don’t look like much, messes and mistakes and hours of seemingly wasted time - and it’s hard to confront this chaotic process in our performance minded society. I think this is a reason why our society is somewhat unfamiliar with the real creative process. It’s hard to sit at your desk and make terrible work (which is what you need to do to get to good work) when your inner dialogue is asking, ‘Is it worth framing and hanging in the kitchen?’

There's a recording of the talk here. Below are the slides from the talk. If you're interested, give it a listen! 

The talk was very much influenced by Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I quote the book in the talk and I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested in the real creative process.