Category Archives: Commentary

Artistic Endeavors – Vincent Van Gogh

If you love the work of Vincent Van Gogh prepare to feast your eyes on almost 1,000 photos of his paintings and other work. The Van Gogh Museum has digitized all of its Van Gogh holdings, and it has the world’s largest collection.

You can filter your search by location, time period in which work was completed, type of work (painting, sketch, study etc.), and genre; as well as by title of work. When you click on an individual photo you’ll get the work itself, its particulars, and a short description. You can also download a pdf of it, buy a print of it, share it on social media, enlarge or shrink it.

I’ll use one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings as an example,”Wheatfields under Thunderclouds,” completed shortly before Van Gogh’s death in 1890.

Here’s the website’s short description of this painting:

In the last weeks of his life, Van Gogh completed a number of impressive paintings of the wheatfields around Auvers. This outspread field under a dark sky is one of them.

In these landscapes he tried to express ‘sadness, extreme loneliness’. But the overwhelming emotions that Van Gogh experienced in nature were also positive. He wrote to his brother Theo, ‘I’d almost believe that these canvases will tell you what I can’t say in words, what I consider healthy and fortifying about the countryside.’

The elongated format of Wheatfields under Thunderclouds is unusual. It emphasizes the grandeur of the landscape, as does the simple composition: two horizontal planes.

Through the website I can order a print in three different types of finish in five sizes, and share it through five social media. I don’t know if I like the painting enough to pay over 100 Euros for it, but it’s certainly easy to share.

I glanced through Van Gogh’s work by year, beginning with the museum’s earliest holdings. I assure you that worldwide artistic renown would never have been predicted for Van Gogh based on his work up to about 1885. Finally, I could begin to see his mature style in “Houses Seen from the Back,” painted in late 1885-early 1886.

For more background about Van Gogh and his artistic development the museum provides several what it calls stories on its website. These cover his friends, loves, artistic influences, and his mental state. I especially enjoyed the Inspiration from Japan story, which explains the elements of Japanese prints used by Van Gogh.


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My Latest Obsession

When I began my map quilt of the Ohio and Erie Canal I had no idea how deep I would get into the subject. Last Sunday I dragged my husband to a lock operation demo at the NPS Canal Exploration Center, and then surveyed the exhibits inside the center. First, here’s a photo of an actual quilt being worked on by one of the volunteers. (She was taking a break at the time.) You can tie just about any subject to quilting, somehow.

Opening and closing a canal lock isn’t exactly high tech. You get a few people to push or pull the horizontal beams attached to the gates. Those suckers weigh a few tons. When the lower gate is closed the lock fills up with water and raises the boat to a higher level for the next stretch of canal. If the boat is going the other way, the process is reversed.

I learned that each lock is 15 feet wide and 90 feet long. Canal boats were 14 feet wide and 80 feet long, which made for tight clearance. After the mules or horses were unhitched, the crew poled the boats into the locks and used the poles to keep the boats away from the lock sides.

Before 1850 some canal boats took paying passengers from Cleveland to Portsmouth, Ohio. A trip took about 80 hours, and to call the quarters cramped is an understatement. After 1850 railroads were the preferable transportation choice.

Many canal boats were family operations and the boats also served as the family’s home.

During the disastrous flood of 1913 the locks in Akron were dynamited to release the water backed up by the locks. There were 15 locks in a one mile stretch in Akron.

I think it’s time for me to step away from the lock, and concentrate more on the art part of my quilt. I did hear, though, that Canal Fulton operates horse pulled canal boat rides in season. . . .



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Artistic Endeavors – Cities and Memory

Sound Photography asks “What is the relationship between photography and sound?” It’s an international creative interaction between more than 160 photographers and sound artists from 32 countries. Apparently volunteers send in photographs, for which sound artists create a composition based on their reactions to the photo.

The website says it better than I can:

Photographs in the project cover everywhere from Djibouti and Botswana to India, Vietnam and Australia, and include:

– Iconic locations such as Tiananmen Square, the Empire State Building and Copacabana Beach;
– Political protests, social commentary and photojournalistic stories;
– Environmental studies and nature photography;
– Some of the world’s most beautiful cities, including Paris, Venice, Kyoto and Chefchaouen (Morocco’s “blue city”).

The sounds created in response demonstrate an extraordinary breadth of creative approaches including:

– Recordings of melting ice, floating driftwood, electromagnetic fields or words translated into 20 languages;
– Using the raw data from a photograph to construct brand new sounds;
– Using elements of the image as musical notation from which to build new melodies;
– Collections of historical sound recordings from the location of the photograph to bring its past to life;
– Sonic fairytales assembled from legendary fictional tales through the ages.

The Verge interview with composer Stuart Fowkes about this project gives more details about the thinking behind it and the process used.

“Every location on the Cities and Memory sound map features two sounds: the original field recording of that place, and a reimagined sound that presents that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new.

The listener can explore places through their actual sounds, to explore reimagined versions of what those places could be…”

Here’s the ambient sounds version of sewing machines in Mani Sithu (Myanmar) market, followed by the music created based on those sounds.

You can search the project by episodes or playlists.


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Artistic Endeavors – Art Prof

Remember those matchbooks with the ads for the Famous Artists Course? Fast forward to 2017 and the creation of Art Prof, a website that offers free, accessible to anyone with an internet connection, online art instruction. Videos form the core of the program, with critiques and links to art supplies offered as well. How is it made possible? Initial funding came from a Kickstarter campaign, with continuing funding through Patreon donations.

Clara Lieu, an adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and her staff of teaching assistants (many of whom are her former students from RISD) began by producing foundational videos on drawing, collage, mixed media, and painting. These videos are geared towards beginners, both in terms of skill, which is entry-level, and cost of materials.

The course lists cover both classes with videos and project ideas. The latter are prompts to create a project in a specific type of art. For example, in 30 minutes, use continuous lines to draw every figure that enters a public space.

I’m taken with the three printmaking course options – monochromatic monotypes, rubber stamps, and linoleum printmaking. Each course includes a video, a prompt, core ideas, and a supply list (with links to suppliers.) Oh, you also have the option of linking to Prof. Lieu’s Spotify playlist.

For me, critiques are the most intriguing part of this program. “For now, many of Art Prof’s critiques are presented as video, with several different options, including group critiques of a single work and portfolio critiques. Lieu said that while the video critiques are by invitation, anyone can submit an artwork for a one-minute audio crit online via Instagram. Either way, the works are discussed based on photos, and Lieu and her staff only see the works in person when they invite artists into Lieu’s home studio for what she calls Crit Chats.” (Hyperallergic, May 31, 2018)

I’m unclear how critiques of individual works are arranged, though you schedule and pay for portfolio critiques.  At any rate, you can learn a lot just by watching the critiques posted.

I decided to try out some of the courses. The monotype and rubber stamp videos are listed as upcoming, so I couldn’t test drive them. Instead, I looked at a short (about 15 minutes) video called Sensory Playground and a longer video on Drawing with Crayons. The Sensory Playground video gave me a lot of practical information about acrylic paints and painting brushes, and shared hints such as using coffee grounds to thicken paint. If I buy acrylics the video will keep me from choosing the wrong products (as always, you get what you pay for.) Drawing with Crayons uses the high priced art crayons, not Crayola, but the first part of the video has a wealth of information about composition and color that’s worth watching.

Art Prof is very much a work in progress, but I think it contains helpful art school 101 information about all the stuff that needs to happen before you worry about brush strokes, the stuff most Youtube videos don’t cover.


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Artistic Endeavors – Shona Skinner

The words Shetland and Scotland caught my eye as I skimmed an article in because I have a crush on Jimmy Perez, the detective in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland mysteries. After I looked at the photos of machine embroidery by Shona Skinner, who lives on Yell in the Shetlands, I investigated her work further.

The interview with Skinner centers on the creation of a small (15 cm by 11 cm or 6 by 4.33 inches) free motion machine embroidered seascape called “Low Winter Sky,” inspired by the aftermath of a big storm. I was impressed at the amount of preparation that went into the piece. She doesn’t just stitch over a photograph. Skinner says, ” I did several drawings and samples of layering fabrics before I started the piece plus I had photos to remind me of the day.”

Shona Skinner, Low Winter Sun, West Sandwick, 2017

Her creation process begins with a base of organdies fused to calico. The fusible stiffens the work enough no hoop is needed.

Work in progress

Machine work

The photo above really shows the scale of Skinner’s work. Note she works without a foot.

Here are other works by Skinner that caught my eye.

I’m drawn to the texture in the sunrise and can see enjoying it in my private space. It’s small enough you could pack it in your suitcase for a long trip.


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Artistic Endeavors – Name Recognition

A recent article about the power of a known name to guarantee acceptance in an art exhibition confirmed my dark suspicions. It seems that Banksy, the elusive British graffiti artist and prankster, submitted a work to the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition under the name Bryan S. Gaakman — an anagram of “Banksy anagram.”  It was one of over 20,000 works submitted, and was not one of the 827 selected.

OK, that can happen to anyone, but then the story became bizarre. When Banksy was contacted by the selection committee to submit a piece, he sent along a revised version of the rejected work. That work hangs in the exhibition. The revised version changed “Vote to Leave” to “Vote To Love.”

I don’t think this particular work is nearly as trenchant as many of Banksy’s other works, and probably deserved to be rejected. But, come on, folks, crap art is crap art, and a known bankable name doesn’t change that.

Here are some of my favorite Banksy works, which are often ephemeral and comments on society.

Yes, Banksy painted an elephant to carry out this installation, and was castigated for cruelty to animals.



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Artistic Endeavors – Contained Living

I’ll own up to a fascination with one-off home design shows, including ones that feature tiny homes. So, small abodes made from used shipping containers intrigued me. If I had made it to Tortona Design Week in Milan I could have checked out Containerwerk’s sophisticated reuse of containers.

The firm’s staff make several good points about their approach – reuse of the containers, adaptability, and affordability. You can tour some prototypes in this video from Design Week.

I went down a rabbit hole when I searched for shipping container homes. I knew they were popular when I found HGTV had a show about them. Even Akron, Ohio, is trying out containers for artist studios with Akron Soul Train.

While a single container doesn’t have a lot of space, you can get a comfortably sized home when containers are combined. Not all the homes pictured on Design Milk scream shipping container. Clever stacking and exterior cladding do much to soften the shoe box effect.

Obviously such homes have limitations. No one is going to transform them into a two story colonial, and they have a modern, industrial vibe. However, I’d love to remake one into a studio with a view. Now all I need is the land overlooking the ocean.


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