Friday, May 8, 2020

The Tortured Artist Paradigm

So, whoever invented the popular "tortured artist" paradigm (I'm pretty sure it was Plato with his "All of the good poets are not in their right mind when they make their beautiful songs") was, indeed, well, full of nonsense. 

Dear Francis Bacon, while I love your paintings, your indifference to happiness - "The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment, because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility"is also completely nonsensical.

Not to say that if suffering is your jam and its what gets your paintbrush moving that you should dump it for a smile and some sunshine! (Though I highly recommend it.)

I write this because I've been procrastinating for several weeks now working on this commission (see below) and I couldn't figure out why. But the answer is simple. I've been stressed and lonely, and I just really didn't want to make work. My heart wasn't in it.

And this made me think about the concept of the tortured artist which is so popular in today's culture - the mad artistic genius! Behold!

There are so many stereotypes that surround artists - we are solitary creatures; 
we are full of boundless creativity; anguish is a font of inspiration; we shall trudge on and work through the pain and suffering! Now more than ever I realize how I, and I'm sure many of my artistic cohorts, do NOT resonate with these concepts in the least.

I am gregarious by nature, an extrovert that thrives on physical activity and time spent with my friends. At first during quarantine, I was thrilled! Ecstatic! Time! At long last! But eventually, the loneliness, compiled by the stress of making new lesson plans and teaching art from a distance, the lack of tactile contact, have most certainly caught up.

Honestly, making art has been the LAST thing on my mind. And I say this to myself out loud in blog form in order to give myself permission to breathe, recenter, and take a break. Yes! I am an artist...and YES I am giving myself permission (and you too!) to binge on Netflix like every other person on the planet instead of feeling like you must wield your brush like a weapon and stave off the loneliness with dramatic bouts of creative genius!

What eventually pulled me out of my funk wasn't just "getting to it." It wasn't embracing my pain or my sadness...It was giving myself permission to not work, and to allow some joy to enter my day - specifically the joy of meeting with other artists for some "Virtual Shared Solo Practice." Knowing that I would be meeting with this group for a 2 hour session, I allowed myself to bing on some Netflix, take a nap, and snuggle with my cat for the entire day leading up to it. I finally caved and gave myself the go-ahead to do absolutely nothing of "value" or "worth." And it felt so good! I was then able - after a week of procrastination, wild stress and anxiety - to finally begin this commission that I had been putting off. It was that pass to play hooky, and the connection to others that helped catapult me into a positive mindset. 

So my final thoughts are this - even though we are artists, we are still human, and we do NOT all thrive on misery, anxiety and depression. And if that is where you are, that's okay. It's okay to not create. Sometimes we just need to allow a mental space for mindless activity until we can start breathing normally again. Your art will always be there waiting for you! 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Memory Project: Creating Portraits of Kindness

I love that I love my job! This week has been especially meaningful; I love knowing that I’ve helped contribute to something greater than myself or even my students - Let me explain! (how many times can I say 'love' in one paragraph...Can you sense my enthusiasm?!)

Earlier in the semester, one of my design classes set a charity art project in motion. We were discussing the upcoming Fine Arts Festival (which, by the way, was a big hit!) and a student mentioned how at his sister’s school, they did a fundraiser at their art show to raise money for supplies, and inquired if we could do something similar.  I pointed out that as a private school, we already have a budget for supplies. I loved his response, “But, Ms. Palmer, couldn't we raise money for a charity instead? Like…an art charity?”

Yes, yes we can. I mean, how could you not love these kids?! After some research, I stumbled upon an organization called The Memory Project. You can watch this video to see the project in action!

In a nutshell, “The Memory Project invites art teachers and their students to create and donate portraits to youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence, and extreme poverty.

These portraits help the children feel valued and important, to know that many people care about their well being, and to act as meaningful pieces of personal history in the future.  For the art students, this is an opportunity to creatively practice kindness and global awareness.”

27 of my students volunteered to participate in this project, and they spent several weeks working diligently to create vector portraits of 27 high school students in Bolivia. I've included just a few in this post.


Here are some of the challenges that these children in Bolivia face: “It is first important to know that Bolivia is the financially poorest country in South America. Such poverty leads to regrettable trends for many women and children, such as inadequate nutrition, limited healthcare, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Bolivia’s weak economy also creates a vacuum for narcotics, as many people can make far more money through the drug trade than they can through traditional employment.

These children all live in a particularly challenged area on the outskirts of a city, where many families live in one room homes with dirt floors and walls of sheet metal.”


It was inspiring to see how much my students cared about this project.  Sometimes when students become frustrated, they fall into an attitude of “I just want to be done” or “this project is too difficult.” But these kids were amazingly dedicated. Despite the fact that this was the first time for all of them using Adobe Illustrator, or even digital art of any kind, they were motivated to keep at it until they had created portraits that the Bolivian students would love and cherish. They even wrote letters in Spanish (with the help of our Spanish teachers!) introducing themselves and explaining their artistic choices to make it even more personal. One student said, "The Memory Project helped me to fully appreciate just how powerful art can be. It's so crazy and inspiring to think that someone thousands of miles away has benefitted from my art project!"


This week, we received a video showing the delivery of the portraits. Overall, portraits were created for over 800 children in Bolivia, with the help of about 160 schools in the U.S., including Archmere Academy. In addition to the portraits, the participating schools as a group managed to raise over $4,000, which will help provide much needed services to these schools in Bolivia. I feel so proud that my students were part of this effort. Please watch this heartwarming video – it may be a tad long, but it’s worth the watch! I’ve seen it over five times now (with each of my classes), but every time I am still brought close to tears. Check it out here: Archmere Memory Project.

I can’t imagine a better example of how we can use art to change lives and create powerful, social change. It’s a good day to be an art teacher!!


Monday, April 24, 2017

In a Framing Frenzy!

I haven’t written in about a year – and that’s because things have been busy! I am now officially a full-time art educator at Archmere Academy, and life couldn’t get any better!

In addition to working full-time, I have also been preparing for my first solo exhibition in the area, featuring a combination of my dictionary drawings (see below!), portraits, and landscapes. I am so grateful to my amazing co-worker, Terry Newitt, who suggested that I contact Darlington Arts Center. The center is wonderful, and currently has a beautiful high school art exhibit on display. Definitely worth a look!

It has certainly been a learning experience for me as I prepare for the opening on June 15. I realize it’s still quite a ways off, but I decided to do the bulk of the framing myself, which has been an uphill battle. I have almost finished framing 16 of my dictionary drawings! They were a particular challenge for several reasons. I didn’t want to use a standard matting option because I love the edges of the pages – I want everyone to be able to see them, as they add so much visual interest to the pieces. This means I needed to float them, but I didn’t want to damage the pages because of their fragility. With the help of Jerry’s Artarama and Wendy at The Talleyville FrameShoppe and Gallery, I finally came up with a solution.

I ended up using a self-adhesive hinging tissue on the back four corners, mounted to black mat board, and a cream frame around the drawing. I was concerned about my dubious ability to center the artwork correctly, so I added strips of foam core in between the two mats, and then added the artwork after the mat was assembled. Because the frames now have a shadowbox effect, the distance between the edges is constantly shifting anyway, so small discrepancies are less noticeable. That said, I'm sure I centered them all perfectly! It was arduous cutting the 32 mats, but I think the end result is worth it. Even worse than cutting the mat was the deceptively simple task of cleaning the glass. Every time I thought I was finished with a frame, I’d notice a new speck of dust, a smudge or a stray cat hair trying to sneak its way behind the glass. It seems I spent the bulk of my spring break windexing my way through the process!

Over the past few years, I have participated in several group exhibitions, and it definitely helped me come to understand the importance of framing. I won’t lie – I tend to skimp on the framing process and go for as cheap as possible. But it definitely costs the artwork in terms of overall power and presence. I’d previously been using a clip frame for my dictionary drawings, and while functional, they certainly didn’t add anything to the pieces. My new strategy is a decided improvement! The black provides a nice contrast and also ties in with the pen and ink work.

Now that they are just about complete, I can’t wait to see them all up and on display! Next up in the process, reframing my miniature landscapes…go go go!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How to Create an Animated Color Wheel: High School Art Lesson Plan

This year, I decided to try something a little new (and very challenging!) in my freshman Intro to Design class. Since our art department doesn't currently offer a motion graphics class, I added a basic animation project  - an Animated Color Wheel - to my curriculum. The combination of new concepts such as timing and key frames, plus two new programs (Illustrator and Photoshop) was overwhelming for students at times, but it was heartening to see that many who struggled with drawing and painting really succeeded at working digitally! 

Here are a few samples of their work:

The great thing about this project is that the you don’t need a lot of skill with the pen tool to create a shape that will look interesting once it is rotated and copied to form the color wheel. This provides a really nice opportunity for success without a whole lot of knowledge. The kids were always like, “WOW, THAT’S SO COOL!” after the wheel was complete. I can't claim authorship of the basic color wheel project, however. When I was a long-term sub, the teacher I was covering on maternity leave shared the project with me. It was a really wonderful idea, and I'm so thankful for her creativity and generosity!

Overall, I think the animation process was a success. Although it was not the most creative project, the primary goal was for students to understand the concept of keyframes and how basic animation worked. Many of the students simply followed the step-by-step instructions, as I did not grade this project based on creativity (see rubric below). All I was really looking for was the basic requirements of opacity change, scale, rotation, and text. That said, many of the students were quite creative and went above and beyond the requirements to create some pretty interesting works of art!

To introduce the unit, I had my students draw color wheels in their sketchbook and we reviewed some basic color theory. I also spent some time with them going over the fundamentals of using the pen tool in Illustrator. Here is a great tutorial if you need to brush up on some basics.

Step-by-step instructions:

I would definitely practice this a few times on your own so that you can figure out where the students are most likely to make mistakes – because you will have made them too! If the written instructions are too confusing, here is the video tutorial:

Grading rubric:

Common mistakes: incorrect aspect ratio, which made it difficult to compile all their final videos; forgetting to convert a layer to a smart object; confusing seconds and frames; extra time at the end of the video. Lastly, make SURE they watch their video before they submit so that they can catch any errors that they made! 

Let me know if you have any questions!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Enchanted Woods at Winterthur: Painting with Nostalgia

The Enchanted Woods, oil, 5"x7"
I often find myself more interested in the story behind a painting than the painting itself. When asked about a piece, I tend to launch into an account of the people and places in the image, rather than the specific techniques involved. I love to capture beauty in paint, but I also love to capture the spirit or feeling of that particular moment! So, let me tell you about the story behind this painting of the Enchanted Woods at Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware.

I’ve only been to Winterthur twice but both visits occurred during pivotal points in my life. Once as I was preparing to leave Delaware for good (or so I thought) and once right after moving back to Delaware (for good – or so I think!). While the entire estate is gorgeous, no one will be surprised that, of course, my favorite hidden gem was the Enchanted Woods. Obviously I like the area designed for children (and the young at heart!) the best.

The first time I went there was the summer after graduating from college, right before moving to Hawaii (I know – Delaware to Hawaii is quite a change, right?!). My college boyfriend and I had already broken up right after graduation, but somehow he ended up in Delaware for a week in July. Ahh, prolonging the agony of a breakup. We all do it, or at least, those of us who don’t have an iron will. But I digress. I was frantically trying to come up with things to do that would entertain my now ex-boyfriend from San Diego and coming up rather short of exotic exciting things to do in, erm, Delaware. My step-mom suggested Winterthur, which I’d never even heard of before, but decided it was worth a shot. Paul and I somehow managed to find it (my sense of direction is, at best, terrible) and wandered around until we stumbled upon the Enchanted Woods. Enchanting it was indeed! I remember skipping hand in hand over a cute little bridge, walking in circles over the faerie ring, and spying a cute little thatched building. That afternoon perfectly captured the bittersweet emotions of drifting away from your first love and leaving home for the unknown future.

Me on the bridge
Faerie Ring
11 years passed in a flurry of world travel, adventure, and lastly, a deep depression caused by chronic migraine. At the behest of my parents, I found myself moving back to Delaware. Never in a million years would I have thought that I’d come back to my hometown, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my adult life. I was leaving St. Louis behind after 4 long years, and I wasn’t sure of my decision. My brain was riddled with migraine pain, I was moving in with my parents, and I had no job. Things weren’t looking super bright at the time. Happily, my dearest and closest friend in St. Louis, Lizzie, volunteered to make the 17 hour drive with me and to stay for a few days. It may seem silly, but having my favorite part of St. Louis with me for the transition made it so much more bearable! Of course, upon our arrival, I was determined to show my latest guest the unknown delights of Delaware! And still, I floundered until my step-mom reminded me of Winterthur for the second time. And so I returned to the Enchanted Woods, faced yet again with saying goodbye to one of the people closest to my heart while saying hello to upcoming untold adventures.

Lizzie in the Enchanted Woods
While I don’t think this one small painting can capture the magic of those two days, or the profound sense of nostalgia that it inspires in me, I hope that it conjures up in my viewer their own memories of this place if they have any, or hints at the magic that lays in wait in what surely is an enchanted wood. 

An Enchanted Pathway

Monday, April 11, 2016

An Artist’s Observations on How to Prepare for a TV Interview

For the first time ever, I made a TV appearance this past Friday, April 6 from 4-5pm! Linwood Jackson, of The Urban Compass on Comcast Channel 28, interviewed me about my recent coloring book, A Portrait of Delaware: A Coloring Book Meet and Greet. About the show: it is a great local program that features a host of interesting characters! Musicians and performers, local politicians, artists, varying local businesses – you name ‘em, Linwood has interviewed them! For this week’s show, he had 2 musicians, although I unfortunately only caught the name of one, Skip Boardley Jr. Both were amazing! He also interviewed Kathy McGuiness, Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Stacy Shamburger with Lily Elite AffairsLLC. Here is a pic of us looking quite dapper before the show!

Kathy McGuiness, Linwood Jackson, Maia Palmer, Stacy Shamburger
What’s it like to be interviewed for TV, you ask? Let me tell you. NERVE-RACKING! I was so stressed about it, that the day afterwards, I actually got a migraine from the whole experience. (I still have said migraine, in fact.) Was it REALLY worth it, you ask? YES! I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I probably should have read a bit more on how to prepare for such an interview, but I did at least read 2 articles about the most important factor – what to wear, of course! Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that you should wear a ton of makeup (which causes migraines) and solid blue. Black? Bad. White? Also bad. Red? Nope. Stripes, patterns, checks? Obviously not. Seriously. That removed pretty much my entire wardrobe. One of the silliest lines I read was, “Dress in a simple, boring manner, unless you are a fashion designer.” Right-o. Wear blue, be boring. Got it. Instead, I wore black, red, and stripes. Oops. I also had hideously short, bitten, raggedy nail-bits, rather than the suggested beautiful manicure…

That said, I did straighten my hair AND iron my shirt, so for me, who likes to roll out of bed approximately half an hour before I leave the house, I was looking pretty good! Per my friend Susan’s instructions, I also made sure to hit up the “Power Pose” several times that morning and right before the interview. It’s legit, people! If Wonder Woman does it, that’s enough to convince me. Not only was I prepared to nail this interview, I could have taken on an evil villain at the same time!

In addition to considering my wardrobe and powering up, I prepped by making notes and considering my verbal strategy. While on the phone with Jackson the night before, he asked me a few questions, such as “How long have you been making coloring books” and “What inspired you to do this project?” so at least I had a general idea of what I’d be talking about. I even whipped out some of my notes from grad school, which was the last time I really had to do any public speaking. (They were mostly useless). I practiced a few times in front of the mirror, and then tortured my step-mom the following morning by practicing a few more times with her. Even so, it was hard not to be caught up in the moment during the interview! My natural tendency to wax enthusiastic took over for most of my answers, which means I gestured a lot and was far from concise. One thing I’m certain of, however, is that the viewers will understand my passion for this project and how much I love meeting and talking with people for the sake of art!

In terms of what the experience was like, it was a blast! I got to sit in the “green room” for a bit – note: it was NOT actually green. I also got to sit on the sidelines while Linwood interviewed some of his other guests. It was interesting watching the interplay between the cameraman and Linwood; a lot of communication was necessary even for just a short segment. Of course, when it was my turn for the interview, I was so wound up that I was mostly oblivious to what was happening around me. There were 3 different cameras – all of which I ignored and tried to copy the guest in front of me and focus on Linwood. Was this the correct strategy? Frankly, I have no idea. At the end of the interview, I was directed to look straight at the camera – which I eventually did, but to be honest, it took me a bit (and a lot of gesturing on the poor cameraman’s part!) for me to finally catch on and fix my attention to the correct camera. Note to self: be more spatially aware!

All in all, it was an exciting experience! Thanks so much to Linwood for thinking of me, and also my friend Julie for showing him my coloring book! Strangely, the whole thing came about from salsa dancing at Delaware Park, which is how I know both Julie and Linwood. And of course, thanks to everyone who participated in the coloring book and I hope you enjoy the show!