captainshitacular - here are some of the albums from two of my favorite projects of hers, “Falling” and “Wading”.

Falling: Sketches, Monotypes, Drawings (the figure drawings are where it’s at)

This project is a visualization of personal experience with depression and anxiety. The condition brought on frequent episodes where I felt emotionally and physically out of control. Unable to “release” myself from these episodes, I waited for the physical limitations of my body to end them. Recounting the affected years, I realize how accustomed I became to depression’s influence; many emotions and feelings belonged to it and not my own personality. After an extended, untreated struggle, a diagnosis brought relief, and the process of unearthing myself from the disease began.

Wading: Ink Drawings, Monotypes, Crayon Drawings on Paper, Crayon Drawings on Dura-lar

This project presents the most severe form of isolation as loneliness that is experienced when physically surrounded by other people. This is a specific form of loneliness that is involuntary and imposed upon by others, creating a state of discontent characterized by bitterness and a sense of punishment. The presence of others is what can heighten and intensify the experience of loneliness for an individual. These works depict figure groups wading in an infinite and undefined body of water. I visually portray loneliness as the experience of feeling unseen and unknown within a group.

Ask the Art Professor: How can an artist create an artistic group outside of school?

Welcome to “Ask the Art Professor“! Essentially an advice column for visual artists, this is your chance to ask me your questions about being an artist, the creative process, career advice, a technical question about a material, etc.  Anything from the smallest technical question to the large and philosophical is welcome. I’ll do my best to provide a thorough, comprehensive answer to your question. Submit your question by emailing me at clara(at), or by posting here on this blog. All questions will be posted anonymously.

Here’s today’s question:

“How can an artist create an artistic group outside of school?”

Fostering connections with other creative people is crucial to surviving as an artist.  The actual making of art is usually a solitary activity, so these social connections are very important. Your artist friends will understand and commiserate when things get tough in your creative process, and will offer the guidance and support that you need to keep going. I’ve had more than my share of rough patches when I really just needed to talk to another artist.  I feel less like a crazy person afterwards, and I always emerge from our conversations with a renewed sense of direction and clarity.

When making artist friends, you have to make a concerted effort to connect with people.  Developing friendships with other artists won’t happen on it’s own, and you can’t wait for someone to come to you.  Everyone is so busy and involved with their own lives that you have to be the one to take the initiative.  For example, you should never be intimidated to get in touch with your former teachers.  I was initially very afraid to contact my teachers after school.  Looking back on it now, I don’t know what the big deal was, but    I’m glad I got over it because I now have three former teachers who I consider to be good friends.  If you had a teacher with whom you feel you had a good connection with, get back in touch with them. That one simple gesture could potentially lead to a life long connection.

I strongly believe that it’s important to find local artist friends who you can meet with regularly in person.  While it’s also important to stay in touch with artist friends who live far away, nothing substitutes a face to face conversation. The connection is much deeper, and the exchange you have will be richer and more involved.

The quickest, easiest way to find an artistic community is to 1) have a job where many people in the company are creative or 2) work at an art school or at a school with an art department. Both of these environments plugs you in immediately to an incredible network of other artists.  Even that 5 minute conversation that I have with another faculty member right before I head off to class makes me feel more connected, and I make sure I have lunch with my colleagues whenever possible.

But what if those are not viable options for you? Here are some concrete actions you can take to create an artistic social group:

1) Have a potluck. Ask everyone to bring another artist friend.

2) Attend local art events. Go to open studios events where you can meet and talk with other artists in person. Attend openings at the local galleries, artist lectures, other events.  You’ll notice after a while that it will be the same crowd, and it’s a chance to remind everyone that you’re around.

3) Get a studio in an artists building. There are many buildings in most cities that are devoted entirely to artists. If you get a studio in one of these buildings it’s a great way to meet a lot of artists who you will see regularly.

4) Take a class or workshop. Learning shouldn’t end after school.  If you have the time, take a class in something new, or if you can’t find the time for that kind of commitment, do a one day workshop.  After I graduated from RISD, I ran a life drawing group at a local arts center which was a chance for my friends and I to get together weekly and draw.

5) Join an artist’s association. When I finished graduate school I was offered membership with theBoston Printmakers. I was new in Boston, and it was a terrific way to meet a lot of other printmakers in town.  They have an annual lunch every year when everyone informally shows their prints in person.

How have you fostered connections with other artists?  How have you kept in touch? 

Ask the Art Professor: How Do You Begin to Think Conceptually as a Visual Artist?

“Ask the Art Professor” is an advice column for visual artists, now featured in the Huffington Post.  This is your chance to ask a professional artist/educator your questions about being an artist, the creative process, career advice, etc. Submit your question by emailing me at clara(at), or by commenting here on this blog. All questions will be posted anonymously, and you’ll receive notification when your question is online.  Read an archive of past articles here.

“As a visual artist, I have never been able to work serially. I feel stuck in a rut that seems impossible to break out of. I thought working serially might help me break out of it but here is the problem: I have never worked conceptually before. I don’t put any specific emotion, concept, feeling or anything into a painting or drawing. How do you begin to think conceptually as a visual artist?”

Unfortunately, many art students are taught to learn technique and content separately. They are instructed to first focus exclusively on mastering technique because they are told that they are “not ready” to address the subject matter of their artwork. The consequence is that students develop technical proficiency, but in terms of content, their artwork is vapid and meaningless. This is a common problem that many beginning artists face.

To think conceptually, find a compelling reason to create your own original content. As an art student, it took me many years to figure out exactly why the content of my artwork mattered. I devoted all of my energy towards learning how to paint realistically, and didn’t spend any time thinking about my subject matter. I had always been fairly confident in my painting skills, but my senior year, there was a student in my painting class who created breathtaking paintings which were incredibly vibrant. I felt extremely discouraged because no matter how hard I worked, my paintings just couldn’t compare to hers in terms of technique.

When I started working professionally, this experience just became even more pronounced. Eventually, I had to accept the fact that there were always going to be people who had stronger painting skills. The only way I was ever going to distinguish myself was through my ideas. This realization provided the motivation I needed to start generating my own content.

Learning how to think conceptually is tough for many artists. The process is unpredictable, and there are no answers at the back of the textbook. Some concepts will flow easily while others will have you banging your head against a wall for days on end. In the beginning, I can guarantee that you will fail much more than you will succeed. Keep in mind what works for one person may not work for another. Be prepared to go through a lot of trial and error before you find a system that works for you. Here are some concrete actions you can take:

1. Develop both technique and content in every artwork.
Creating a piece that strikes an effective balance is exceptionally difficult, so this approach will be rocky and frustrating at first. Inevitably, you’ll create pieces that are strong technically but weak conceptually, and vice versa. Even if you’re unhappy with how things are going in a piece, push through and keep developing both aspects. Resist the temptation to revert back to creating pieces that only focus on technique.

2. Put everything on paper.
For many people, brainstorming means sitting down and running thoughts through your head. This is never productive. With no physical record of your thoughts, it’s impossible to get any perspective on what you’re doing. Instead, keep yourself active by sketching and writing as you think. Reserve judgment on your ideas and just let everything spill out on paper. Often times I will think an idea is stupid in my head, but when I sketch it out on paper, the sketch demonstrates a lot of potential. On the flip side, there are ideas that sound great in my mind, but are terrible on paper. You won’t know until you’ve seen it on paper.

3. Aim for specificity.
The more specific your idea is, the more engaging it will be to your audience. Subjects that are too broad come across as generic and vague. I once had a student who said she wanted to concentrate on “20th century themes” in her project. Her topic was so immense that I had no clue what her project was about. By contrast, one of the most intriguing topics I’ve seen in class was a student project that was about Korean face massages. According to the student, the Korean face massages she received were extremely painful and the specifics of her vivid descriptions captivated the class. The fact that her topic focused on one area of the body within the context of a specific culture provided a strong direction for her project.

4. Push your ideas to evolve.
Many artists terminate their brainstorming process prematurely. My students tell me all the time after sketching just one or two ideas, that they have found the best idea. Good ideas don’t happen immediately, your concepts need to go through multiple stages of development to fully mature. Give your concepts time to be transformed, manipulated and adjusted.

5. Recognize and avoid clichés.
If I had a dollar for every art student who drew a clock to represent time, I could send my kids to college for free. Clichés happen because an artist didn’t take the time to think beyond the most obvious response. If you do an image search on Google of your subject, the same image that appears over and over again is the cliché. When I start brainstorming, I intentionally sketch out the most clichéd image I can think of. Once I identify what the clichés are, I can eliminate them and move onto something that is more unusual.

Actively think about your subject throughout the entire duration of creating an artwork. With enough practice, thinking conceptually will eventually become a permanent part of your artistic process.

Related articles:
“How do you keep pushing yourself to get to that next level?”
“Would you improve more if you took art classes than just studying on your own?”
“How do you break out of your comfort zone?”
“How do you get out of thinking you can’t get any better?”
“How do you develop patience for learning curves?”
“When do you let go of an idea?”
“How do I help my daughter reach her potential in art?”
“How can I study to become a professional artist on my own?”

salacia replied to your photo “(via Descent XI by ~claralieu on deviantART)”

These are great. Right in the feels. D:>

Right? That set killed me. Weirdly one of the few sets of posts I really loved that got very little attention after posting. I’m glad you commented on it, too; this and your last post looking for advice made me think to share something the artist is doing. I’ll just quote it and link. If you want to write her and your phone’s a pain to write from, let me know if I can help.

~claralieu 1 hour ago  Professional Traditional Artist I’m an art teacher, and I’m inviting all of you to pick my brain!  Want advice about portfolio preparation?  Need help promoting your artwork?  Struggling with being an artist?  Looking for technical advice about drawing?  You’ve come to the right place!   I also write a blog where I post my responses, so just know that if you submit a question here that it will also be anonymously posted on my blog:

She’s an artist as well as an adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. The links in the quote go to her deviantart blog post where you can also ask questions.

(via Falling Sketch by ~claralieu on deviantART)

This project is a visualization of personal experience with depression and anxiety. The condition brought on frequent episodes where I felt emotionally and physically out of control. Unable to “release” myself from these episodes, I waited for the physical limitations of my body to end them. Recounting the affected years, I realize how accustomed I became to depression’s influence; many emotions and feelings belonged to it and not my own personality. After an extended, untreated struggle, a diagnosis brought relief, and the process of unearthing myself from the disease began.

This sketch is drawn with lithographic rubbing ink on charcoal paper, measures 8” x 10”, and was created in 2010.