A New Blackbird Landed by Stephanie Miller

Raven Turning, oil on canvas 36" x 36".

Raven Turning, oil on canvas 36" x 36".

I've just added this painting Raven Turning to my shop. This is a good opportunity to share about my process.  In order to create all my paintings I start out with a question. 'What happens if I ..?"  In this case I wanted to see what would happen if I varnished the raven to separate him from the background.

Whenever I paint crows or ravens I use some photo reference. I try to use my own photography, but, on some occasions, I use internet photos for reference, as I did in this case. I block out the shape on the canvas and then paint in the basic shape of the bird. I love the effect of the solid black shape against the background. Later I fill in the background using a blend of white, yellow ochre and cadmium yellow.

I almost always work wet into wet (meaning that I apply the paint all in one sitting (also known as alla prima) or over the course of a few days. Once the painting was complete I let it dry for about six month before applying a few coats of Gamvar which was developed by Gamblin for the National Gallery to help protect masterworks without yellowing. Find reproductions of this painting for sale in my shop. The original is also for sale contact me for details.

"A Room of One's Own" by Stephanie Miller

‘A Room of One’s Own’

One of the most empowering things I have ever done is rent my own art studio. Believing in my own art enough to dedicate space and resources to it has been surprisingly powerful.  When I moved in I immediately understood the importance of maintaining my studio, not just keeping it clean and orderly, but actually treating it as a sacred space. I try not to bring things to the studio that will distract me from creating art. I also avoid doing business like paying bills or making business related calls.

There is something more that I have experienced, it is the idea of having a place that is solely mine. It is the power of having a room all my own.  I knew (vaguely) that Virginia Woolf said every woman should have ‘a room of one’s own’ but I didn’t understand the history or the context in which she said it.  Virginia Woolf wrote a series of essays in the early 20th century titled ‘A Room of One’s Own’ when women had little independence or power. At that time women’s lives were almost entirely dependent on a man, whether it was husband, brother or father. Woolf postulated that women would be able to write great fiction if only they had the space and the financial resources to do it.  (Today, almost 100 years later literature remains a man’s world.)

Unknowingly, I had created the environment for my art (and my poetry and writing) that Woolf pointed at so many years ago. I have tried to structure my life so that I have the time and the resources to be able to create without being hampered by the worries and the sheer daily-ness of ordinary life.  Since moving in I have encouraged my female friends to find a space where they can be creative and that is all their own and inviolate. I think it is really helpful to have that space outside of the home, but if that isn’t possible the act of declaring somewhere (anywhere) your creative space can be transformative. I have only brought things into the space that I want or that have personal meaning. I have resisted suggestions from others on how I should arrange my studio or what kind of work I should do there. Until I had a studio I didn’t understand how rare it is that I feel completely free and empowered in a space. 

I have my vision board above my desk along with a pictures of two of my most respected spiritual teachers. I also have a ribbon I won at the Maker Fare in an ad hoc competition of personal theories. There is an assortment of tools I use daily like pens, scissors and brushes. I also have a personal joke from my life an advertising, it is a litho stone with an engraved correction to change the logo, it is probably 100 years old and clients were saying the same thing then that still say now "Make the logo bigger."  

I have my vision board above my desk along with a pictures of two of my most respected spiritual teachers. I also have a ribbon I won at the Maker Fare in an ad hoc competition of personal theories. There is an assortment of tools I use daily like pens, scissors and brushes. I also have a personal joke from my life an advertising, it is a litho stone with an engraved correction to change the logo, it is probably 100 years old and clients were saying the same thing then that still say now "Make the logo bigger."

 

The Art of Play by Stephanie Miller

One of the most important skills for an artist is being able to play. Getting to know each different art media is an important part of mastering it. When I approach a new media I begin by just using it and testing it's bounds. I try it on different papers or combined with other materials. If it is a clay or sculptural media I stretch it, blend it and try making different shapes to help know what it can or can't do. Much of this process is asking questions. I wonder if this clay can make tall, skinny shapes. I wonder what this looks like on dark colored paper. I wonder what would happen if I mix this with water.

This idea of play is the genesis of our studio Play Dates. My friend Jacqueline Myers-Cho and I offer monthly events at our studio where we invite people to come and play with art materials. We intentionally didn't call them workshops, though we do offer help and suggestions when participants ask, we don't teach. We want people, whether they consider themselves artistic or not, to have the experience of playing with art materials. So far we have offered Play Dates that included coloring, print-making, clay and paper pulp sculptures, and we even made party hats.  For more information on our Play Dates you can visit the events section on this website or visit my Facebook page where I  post upcoming Play Dates.

The Power of Collaboration by Stephanie Miller

I’m a big advocate of collaboration. Human society, in fact human survival, is a story of collaborating.  The essential act of collaboration is saying “AND” instead of “OR.” The things we seem to do best we do together. If you take a look around you’ll see many examples of successful collaboration in music, science, technology and filmmaking. You can also find many examples of competition failing as is so abundantly apparent with the current two party competitions in American politics or the winner-take-all failures of Wall Street.

In most studios artists understand the intrinsic value of collaborating as opposed to competition.  Artists often take inspiration from other artists. For centuries artists have studied the works of previous masters and adopted their techniques. Working in a studio environment I find myself inspired and intrigued by the work of other artists. Recently I took a class from Cara Long of Sweet Mud Clay Works to learn the ceramic coil pot technique. This is a picture of the cocoon I made after taking that class,

The clay cocoon I created using the coil pot technique that I learned from Cara Long

The clay cocoon I created using the coil pot technique that I learned from Cara Long

One of the most interesting artistic collaborative projects I know of is Mesoamerica Resiste by the Beehive Design Collective in Maine. A group of artists banded together to create an educational illustration that explains the complex environmental, economic and political impact of globalization. The artists spent nine years working on this project and none of the artists receive individual credit for their work.

Another form of collaboration are the drawings that Jacqueline Myers-Cho and I have created together. I think of it like a visual dialogue. Jacqueline begins a simple line drawing and leaves it for me on clipboard, I respond by finishing her drawing and starting another one. The idea for this came from one of our Play Dates where we first drew and colored a collaborative drawing. Now we are working on creating books from our collaborative drawings.  I’ve posted that first drawing.

Girl_Dog

Part of every year I work in a corporate office and this morning this little gem was posted on the kitchen wall.  I’ll be coloring in this guerilla artist’s kitty and I’ll post the result later. 

KittyDrawing

Try this simple exercise today. Replace the words “BUT” and “OR” with “AND.”  Let me know the results.

Contemplative Photography by Stephanie Miller

Contemplative photography is based on the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche an Tibetan Buddhist teacher who came to the United States following the invasion of his homeland by China. The practice is also called Miksang which means 'good eye' in Tibetan. It emphasizes capturing the moment as your eye sees and experiences it without adding to it. My own experience with Miksang is that the images often evoke a question like 'what am I looking at?' In this moment it is possible to see the ways in which our minds attach a storyline to everything. It is possible to catch your observing mind in the act of observing. The challenge is to let go and simply experience the light, texture, color or pattern in the image without naming it. 

Usually my Miksang photos are something that catches my eye. I often carry my camera with me in case something arises that I want to capture. Thanks to the quality of cameras in iPhones I can capture these pictures almost any time or anywhere.  I've included some of my work below or you can look at my gallery on this website, you can also follow the Miksang link or visit my friend Darryl Burnham's site to see the work of other contemplative photographers. 

The Two Minute Sketch by Stephanie Miller

One of the primary skills that every artist uses is sketching. Most art classes begin by teaching beginners how to sketch. One of my first life drawing teachers emphasized the importance of sketching every day without any goal and without critiquing our work. One of the things I do to refine and enhance my sketching skill is what I call 'the two minute sketch'.

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Welcome to My Studio by Stephanie Miller

From the time I could hold a pencil I began drawing. I drew chalk turtles and butterflies on the sidewalk. I adorned the margins of school papers with flowers, horses and elaborate patterns. There has never been a moment when I wasn't an artist.  Many times in my life, for years at a time, I've forgotten that essential fact.  After years of forgetting, which is easy to do when working in Corporate America, I'm remembering what it means to make art and be an artist.

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