Saturday, January 19, 2019

Two Books

I'm an avid reader.  But, while lots of art educators like to read books about pedagogy, and all sorts of stuff related to teaching and education and such, I admit that I do not.  I read for pleasure and escapism; I like a good story.  It can be a novel - pure fiction, maybe a post-apocalyptic or dystopian story, or a well-written piece of magic realism, or perhaps a historical novel based on a real person or situation, or just about anything else, as long as I enjoy the writing.  I also appreciate a well-written memoir.   But today's post is about two books that I've read recently, both related to art. 
I first learned about the early 17th century Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi in a graduate art class on female artists, in the late 70's, while I was a young teacher.  I was compelled by her story and her work, and never forgot her.  (And I must admit, I love the rhythmic sound of her name!) A year or so ago, I was at a library book sale, and came across the book The Passion of Artemisia, by Susan Vreeland, pictured above.  I added it to the pile of books on my dresser and have finally read it. 

If you don't know anything about Artemisia, reading this book is a good way to learn her story.  While it is a novel, and therefore fiction, much of it is based on the known facts of life, including her rape by a painting teacher, and the trial of her rapist.  It is well-written and a compelling story, and I highly recommend it.  But if you read it, please remember, it is a novel, which means characters are invented to enhance the story, and portions of her life are edited and simplified.  Still, if it brings to life an artist you might otherwise know nothing about, and makes you want to read more about her, it is worth the time.  And after reading it, you might agree with me that Artemisia Gentileschi was a badass!! 

My book club recently selected The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro as our month's reading.  It is a novel, based loosely on the true story of the unsolved theft of artwork worth more than $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  The story of the theft is especially intriguing to me because I recently learned that there was a possible connection between this theft and an attempted 1981 heist at the Hyde Collection, here in Glens Falls NY where I live.  (The thieves hijacked a Federal Express truck and then got stuck in traffic, causing them to arrive at the museum after closing time, and ruining their plan.  The beautiful Rembrandt portrait of Christ and other valuable artwork at the museum remained safe, and security was subsequently much improved.)

Anyhow, the book is the story of a young woman who is a struggling artist, and works for a company that makes reproductions of famous works of art.  She is approached to copy a Degas painting that had been stolen in the Gardner Museum theft.  (Remember, this book is a novel; this particular Degas painting is a fictional invention.)  From the book, I learned a bit about art forgery, and about Isabella Stewart Gardner and her museum, so I guess it was a worthwhile read.  But if you read it, don't expect a great piece of literature!  It's an easy read, so its a good book to toss in your bag to read on the beach or in an airplane, but it is not likely to make your top ten list!  I honestly admit I disliked the main character, and found the story very improbable, but I suppose, since I now want to visit the Gardner, it was a worthwhile read.

Have you read either of these two books?   Any other art-related books that are good stories? 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Creating crazy colorful papers for collage

Here's the beginnings of new project with some fun preparatory steps!  Last week, my DragonWing Arts students painted large sheets of paper with black ink, and then painted over it as desired with a glittery paint.  These are going to become the backgrounds for colorful outer space collages.  We will also be splattering them with some white and silver paint, to create galaxies of stars. 
 So this week's task was to create some colorfully textured papers that can be cut into planets, or any other celestial object desired!  We did these several ways, using liquid watercolors and watercolor paper.  The technique used for the papers pictured in the photo at the top of this post was bubble-wrap printing.  The students wet their papers with a big brush, and then painted them with saturated colors.  Then, a piece of bubble wrap was placed on the wet paint, and some cardboard was placed on top to keep it in place as it dried.  Above are the results when dry. Yes, somehow I have purple bubble wrap!  The color has absolutely no function.  It's just pretty!
A similar process was used for the papers below, but instead of bubble wrap, students used crunched up pieces of wax paper and plastic wrap.  I love the color choices they made - there's paper created for an ice planet, and another for a fiery planet, and so on.
Students then saturated another piece of paper with wet watercolors and sprinkled them with salt. We used a mix of table salt and kosher salt.  The results, pictured below, are really lovely. 
 This one looks like it could be the earth!
Here's a couple more gorgeous closeups!
Finally, the students tried out shaving cream printing.  If you've never done this before, it is easy and messy, but its the kind of mess that cleans up easily.  Each student spread out some shaving cream on a tray.  They dripped liquid watercolors into the shaving cream, and swirled the colors with a fork or a pointy wooden stick. 
Then a piece of paper was pressed into the shaving cream, and the paper was squeegeed off afterward to remove excess shaving cream.  We used pop sticks today, but a rectangle of cardboard is also a great squeegee for this method.
 It's going to be fun to use all these papers to make our planets. If we have time, we will try some other techniques for even more planet paper!  Stay tuned...  we are working on a couple of other projects as well, so you won't be seeing the results for a few more weeks.