It is no secret that doing what one loves can help during tough times. Creative projects can help you and those on your gift list feel comforted this Christmas or Hanukkah.
Although I have been blessed throughout my life, I know that during the rough and stressful times, breaking out the art or creative supplies has always yielded comfort.
My mother grew up during the depression. She spent hours painting, drawing with pen and ink, designing and sewing clothes, playing the piano -- uplifting her spirit. I taught at-risk teens for decades, and art class was like a balm for many.
Today, as I Googled the phrase “positive creativity helps us through tough times,” I found numerous articles. This Christmas, many of us are reeling from recent tragedies and seeking the comfort of the familiar and natural beauty.
I urge you to think of the creative on your gift list. Consider:
The gift of time
The gift of encouragement
The gift of space
and of course,
The gift of art supplies! or music lessons....
My go-to web sources are Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artarama, and Cheap Joes Art Stuff – and recently, Amazon. (And, believe me, I receive no benefits from listing these). Knowing what to buy may be trickier. Good paper, paint, brushes, pencils, are a personal choice, and you may have to do some snooping and careful investigating. Does she really like that brand of paint? Does he like the brushes he is using? Perhaps an artist friend or other family member can help. Does your giftee have a favorite source?
Can you prepare something for the artist? My dad and husband both cut wood for me, sheets of Masonite or wood planks for a painting surface. They have framed my work as well.
I have even discovered I love using belt sander and a small palm sander when preparing surfaces. AND I have discovered the electric screw driver.
Don’t forget your LITTLE artist!
When I was 3, my dad painted door sized Masonite with blackboard paint. I spent hours drawing with colored chalk AND learning my letters! Make sure it is hung horizontally so little hands can reach.
Other ideas include tempera paints, a small easel, a roll of butcher paper (or paper of any sort, the larger the better), inexpensive brushes, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils. For OLDER children – acrylics (remember they do NOT wash off), chalk, markers and art aprons make wonderful gifts. Pinterest is full of ideas.
Of all the articles I found today, this one struck most: “6 Simple Ways to Find Comfort in Tough Times” by Holly Lebowitz Rossi.
Here is a summary of her tips with my annotations:
Comforting Smells - Scents such as lavender signal your brain to relax. I find scents can even inspire art!
Childhood Objects - a blanket or stuffed animal that soothed you in your younger years may do it again! I often set up an inspiration table with beautiful objects that were my mother's or I have collected.
Nature remains steady through change. Feeling awed by nature can help you make positive decisions. A walk outdoors or bringing nature inside can inspire - flowers, fruit or even a bundle of dried pods and weeds.
Reliable Reads - Cozy up to books that you have read again and again. What authors comfort you? For me it is often Madeleine L'Engle or a a travel log and always, the Bible (try the poetry of the King James or a modern version like The Message). My mother read Pride and Prejudice 17 times!
Instrumental Music can soothe. Whether you listen or play, it can comfort. I recently bought a keyboard--and my elementary scales bring me comfort.
Soothing positive Self-Talk can remind you that you are loved, safe and strong enough to weather life’s storms.
We need help through both the cold winter and tough times. And if you want to give someone a HINT- you may want to print this blog and leave in an obvious place—for Santa’s helpers!
What an abundant month October has been!
On the first Saturday of October, I had the pleasure of teaching a painting class for the Desert Institute at Black Rock Campground in our beautiful Joshua Tree National Park. The weather was lovely, and my 6 students and I painted and lunched al fresco! My next class will be on March 2, 2019 https://www.joshuatree.org/desert-institute.html In fact, several participants visited Studio 27 during the art tours; the last photo shows one who brought his painting to show me after some touch ups at home!
In the Hi Desert, October marks Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours. This involves not only preparing artwork but creating the atmosphere you want guests to experience in your “studio.” Despite the wicked weather and crazy flooding that occurred throughout Joshua Tree on October 13th, I was very fortunate to escape the mud and welcome guests to Studio 27. Kudos to friends and family as well! My friend and fellow artist, Marjorie, offered to assist both days. Previously, she and I have shown together during the tour. Lots of credit is due to my husband for clearing the “unartistic” debris! Reflexologist, Miriam Turner, was available with lots of free hand massages and full foot and hand reflexology. https://www.miriamturnerproducts.com/Product-Reflexology.htm
This year has been one of rich opportunity. Short trips throughout California and a vacation in France have provided me with inspiration for new work. Despite many years of teaching art, each class drives me to explore new approaches to suit the experience.
I am especially excited about an opportunity to teach a new workshop at the historic and charming Campbell House Bed & Breakfast and gardens in 29 Palms January 22-24, 2019. (Tuesday 3 p.m. – Thursday noon) Believe it or not, January is generally a lovely and sunny time of year.
My Gateway Getaway: “Desert Landscape Painting in Water Based Paints,” workshop offers a unique opportunity to enjoy the Mojave Desert near world famous Joshua Tree National Park and to explore your creative side. Campbell House has recently built a modern studio workshop and new cottages, all in the style of the original historic New England style home. http://www.campbellhouse29palms.com/
This workshop will be limited by the small number of rooms available-so register early. The deposit deadline is December 1, 2018. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested or have questions. $399 + tax will include:
· painting instruction by Janis Commentz, local artist and 40 year resident of the area
· 2 overnight accommodations (single occupancy) and breakfast at the Campbell House and Cottages
· Box lunch on Wednesday
· Use of the modern workshop/classroom
· Access to the Campbell House gardens/facilities
Note: Dinner Tuesday and Wednesday are on your own.
Participants provide art materials.
Taxes not included.
The Campbell House was recently featured in the Washington Post! I sincerely hope this year has provided experiences that have sparked your creativity and fed your soul. Most often, a harvest depends on planting. Sow seeds of intention!
In our community, “art season” is in full swing! I know a lot of artists (including you know who) are working hard to frame that last print, paint those last brushstrokes, get those hidden corners of their studios ready, taking vitamins to ward off fatigue and colds...in preparation for Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours.
Be patient with your artist friends!
Artists, take a moment just for YOU. Appreciate your God-given talents. The world will love your art (at least those who count!)
This morning I spent time reading and reflecting. “Be still and know that I am God,” is a favorite scripture that reminds me - that it is not all about what I am doing that counts. I need to stop, relax, and be open to the gifts that flow through me.
The song “Let It Go” from the film Frozen tells part of it. Many philosophies echo these sentiments…because they hold truth.
When you let go, you create space for something better.
When you let go something magical happen, you give God room to work.
Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than the act of hanging on. ~Eckhart Tolle
You only lose what you cling to. ~Buddha
Let go and let God.
If you are stressing out over your creative pursuits, it may be time to step back. I often forget that my creativity is a gift, a time to enjoy the dance and to let things happen on the canvas or paper.
Spontaneity is when the most magical things happen in art. You will remember the “rules” you learned about color harmony or perspective, but allow yourself freedom to break creative rules or play with them as you like.
Most inventors tell you it is when they were in a relaxed state-the invention came to them.
An excellent film about the powerful and delightful spontaneity of creativity is the 1968 (yes it’s a bit blurry on You-tube, but worth the viewing) Why Man Creates. I remember seeing this film in school in elementary school. In fact, Saul Bass’ Why Man Creates won the Academy Award for Documentary Film Short Subject.
Turn off your phone, find an area where you can get messy,
play your favorite music or enjoy silence
and do not worry about what the critics say.
“Playing around” is crucial to creativity.
oftenAs I enter the BUSY fall season, I am reminded that it is crucial to slow down, to make wise decisions and, as they say, to smell the roses. I need to ponder, meditate and create.
Each year, I vow I will make my life a bit easier and more peaceful. I know we have commitments to a family or work responsibilities (and a combination of these). Let me encourage you to review your calendar and carve out some creative time for you. I truly believe this time spent enriching this right side of the brain and imaginative part of you will benefit other areas of your life.
Although I love solo painting, I find I often create best during scheduled activities. My theory is if you plan creative time, it is certainly much more likely to happen! You do not have to dream up a massive project.
My schedule included teaching classes, attending workshops and art retreats and vacations. Each of these provided opportunities to sketch, photograph, paint, dream and paint upon return.
I have learned to carry a small travel art kit. When traveling, I pack my necessary supplies into a 9” x 12” nylon mesh zipped bag. Inside: a small watercolor set with 12 colors, 2 brushes, 6 Inktense watercolor pencils, 2 sharpies, 2 mechanical pencils with erasers, and a spiral 7” x 10” 140 lb. watercolor pad. The mesh bag allows supplies to dry out. This can easily fit in a carry-on suit case. Add a bottle of water and clean paper towels as you travel. Be brave! Take that art kit with you and sit down and paint or sketch your surroundings or a creative idea that pops into you head.
When my car is available, of course, I tend to pack more.
Another trick: put art supplies in a special place or container. It can be a small zippered bag (which I found in the travel section of Marshalls!) as I used to travel, a small table or basket. Many people creatively journal their scrapbooks.
My wish for you is to re-evaluate the amount of time and energy you have—in combination with a busy family or demanding job. Before the holiday season begins, grab a bit of time and space for creativity. Reward your art spirit!
Images below: 1) painting of red ice plant near freeway, 2) sketching by the beach at Pauline Agnew's (center) workshop, 3) me sketching in the Rodan Sculpture Garden, Paris, 4) watercolor sketch of Rodin sculpture, 5) sketching from cafe table, Beynac, France, 6) California Art Club retreat, Highland Springs, 7) plein air painting from Highland Springs lavender field , 8) red barn in Livermore
I am happy to be teaching a new class for the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park this fall on Saturday, October 6th for beginning to intermediate painters. If you have never painted and would like to learn more, this may be for you. If you want to sketch and paint in the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park, this is a great opportunity. There are a few more spots open! Capturing Joshua Tree Landscapes with Acrylics Fall 2018
by Desert Institute at Joshua Tree National Park
$60 – $70
Few destinations offer a landscape as unique as Joshua Tree National Park. Spend a day painting in beautiful Joshua Tree National Park. In this one-day class, you will focus on observation, setting an intention for the day, landscape details and painting brushstrokes full of color! Learn to create thumbnail sketches to develop a successful composition. Janis Commentz is known for her color-intense palette and loose brush strokes. You will learn to condense vistas into simple elements to paint and to record in shadow and light. Learn to mix believable landscape colors. Develop tools to sketch and paint on canvas. The morning will be spent outdoors observing, sketching, learning what to look for in a potential landscape and blocking out a sketch on canvas. The afternoon will be spent developing your painting, using acrylic paints. For Beginning through Intermediate skill levels.
I am grateful for a wonderful, adventurous year, and the most exciting event has been my recent trip to France: Paris and the Dordogne River region.
As many, I know much about individual French artists, but really have never studied French culture and history. I was determined to seek out some lesser known destinations and was rewarded! What a symphony of color and harmony! A mix of contemporary, traditional and ancient art.
First thing: the French simply do not do ugly. Every water faucet, stairwell, door, lunch menu is created with beauty in mind. The more I learn about the French, the more I realize their way of life embraces taking more time to enjoy beauty. Almost French, by Sarah Turnbull, sensitively and humorously describes her experiences with her Parisian husband. She has experiences and grown to appreciate the philosophical differences between the French and her native Australians. One anecdote explains much: her husband was shocked that she slipped out to the patisserie in her “pantalones de jogging.” It was not respectful to the baker!
On my third morning in Paris, I took an early morning walk. Having an (unnatural) difficulty with directions (north, south, east, west) in the deep canyonlike streets, I headed east toward the Pink Parisian sunrise. Map and phone in hand, I set out toward Raspail Boulevard. Le Bon Marché, elegant historic department store, was not open, but through the large windows, I saw employees scurrying to prepare artful counters. Donned in bright green neon vests, the green cleaners were sweeping after water had spurted from ducts in the curbs to clean the gutters. Here’s a link to an informative article about this phenomenon: https://parisianfields.com/2012/03/11/a-most-unusual-water-system/
So many delights: shop windows, markets, a Fabriano paper/calligraphy shop above), all before 7 am!
I barely scratched the surface of Paris and Dordogne region art, and yet, I took in so much!
Paris highlights included:
Post-Impressionists at the Musée d'Orsay
Mary Cassatt at the Jacquemart-Andre
Musée Picasso-of course, not French.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent, designer
Contemporary galleries at
The Orangerie Jardin du Luxembourg
Galleries on Rue de Seine
Galleries at the Place des Vosges
Various art galleries near Sarlat-la-Canéda and Domme
And OLD art –talking caves….and the oldest known paintings.
Below: Art Nouveau door on closed shop, chamber concert at Saint-Chapelle, "After the Bath" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, paintings by Hans Bouman at the Orangerie at the Jardin du Luxembourg, Musee Rodin, Seine from the Île de la Cité, (3 from Sarlat) painter sculptor Véronique Guinard, painter Yan Samson, and painter Anna Doumler.
What is my take away?
In my youth, I almost overdosed on the Impressionism. Since then, I purposely studied many other art forms. However, I am incredibly drawn to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. I saw more paintings at the Musée d'Orsay than I have ever seen in one spot by of two of my favorites, Pierre Bonnard and Toulouse Lautrec, and much more.
Blue is a powerful color—and the blue skies, teal rivers, dark cool gray stone buildings, and white limestone canyons definitely suggest a color scheme.
More appreciation for certain artists artists
We know there is always more to learn. My background knowledge of sculptor, August Rodin, is scant and I was mesmerized by the extensive collection at his home-now Musée Rodin. I have had a yearning to take a sculpture class (took only one semester in college) or experiment with 3d projects.
I knew more about American born Mary Cassatt, but the extensive exhibit at the elegant Musée Jacquemart-André awakened new desires to paint people and skin tones.
New contemporary artists
Painters in various regions have different approaches and outlooks. The cross-pollination of ideas is healthy! I enjoyed talking to both urban and rural artists about their work and inspirations. (see photos above)
I traveled for over 3 weeks alone to a land where I do not speak the language. A bit crazy, and most wonderful. I made every attempt to greet people in French and to say thank you and goodbye. I was aided by many, many willing, friendly, gracious English speakers, thank goodness! Texting, social media and email offer a lifeline to family and friends, but I most of the time, I rarely heard spoken English. Museums provided taped tours in English, thankfully! There were a few lonely moments, but, frankly, I know God is with me wherever I go, and I was granted many travel blessings.
As a people person at heart, today I relish my time alone. Artists need time to view art, allow it to seep into you, to imagine the directions for your own art-making and just to be still. Travel alone provides opportunity for this important personal tranquility in the midst of the busiest surroundings.
And don’t get me started about food! Fresh, delicious, artfully created, unique and basically not terribly expensive. Yet, I cooked about half of the time with fresh ingredients.
Time to slow down. The average wait time for a server at a café in France (so says one report) is 17 minutes. Just relax, get out your sketchpad or diary! Oh yes, I was sketching endlessly. Enjoy.
As I posted recently: Travel Note:
I am very grateful I was able to travel this summer, and in sharing, I hope to encourage others. Sometimes – it’s not how grand the trip is, but in pursuing a dream or short vision. The planning and studying are almost - almost - as fun. I learned so much: confirmation that people are people everywhere and most I met were wonderful!
I know my art will be affected. Just watch.
Sometimes painting is more about looking and enjoying. I love to visit art museums, galleries and sights that inspire me. Our busy schedules hinder rather than foster creativity. I remind myself that life is not a race. I want to slow down, enjoy and take time to be grateful.
A happily unexpected situation is sending me to France. Yes, an artist’s dream. After a great deal of time research and study, I wish to dive into my holiday, like diving into a cool French blue swimming pool. To be delighted by beauty, refreshed by color – and even cooled off by a more reserved nature.
With an old fashioned Roget’s Thesaurus in hand, I note words and ideas about leisure time and vacation. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived in a different world, instructs,
“Never lose your present mind and never get hurried.”
With this in mind, I wish to respect people, culture, language, quieter speaking voices, a slower pace. I want to wander, absorb, listen, sketch, write….
Lovely, peaceful French blue comes to mind. The French Riviera is known as the Côte d'Azur, the Azure Coast. Since the 12th century, Bleu de France has been used in the heraldry of the French monarchy. Blue is France's national racing color.
I imagine the blue of Matisse’s cutouts and the stained glass windows he designed for the Chappelle du Rosaire. Many of Monet’s waterlilies reflect blue. Degas’ dancers…Cezanne's Sainte-Victoire....
Looking through blue colored glasses, I see the Paris skyline. Blue has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember. (Photo credit below: Brooke Commentz)
You may not be traveling to Paris, but I encourage you to take some spare time for an “artist’s date” to visit places that inspire your art. Visit a gallery, museum or even local library. Sometimes a walk around the block helps.
You, most likely, have a color that speaks to you as blue does to me. A quick random look at my paintings (see image below - from Google Images) reveals that blue predominates. In fact, a great exercise for me is to paint without blue.
As I blogged about green, I promise to discuss blue in the future.
In my present mood, I encourage you to simplify your travel or carry in the car art supplies. I will travel light—carry on only.
So, what’s in my bag? All dry supplies – to meet TSA requirements
A small set of Winsor Newton Watercolors about 6” x 3”
Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils – 6 in primary and secondary colors
2 small paintbrushes
2 fine point sharpies
A small watercolor paper tablet – 7” x 10” 140 lb. weight
And my new iPod. I’ve been practicing with Procreate….
This summer, enjoy the coolness of blue!
Explore your favorite color!
Simplify your painting routine!
Bonne peinture! Happy painting!
The digital age has certainly changed the way we do almost everything. In the 90’s, I was a bit saddened to learn that a designer friend rarely used her real paintbrush, revealing my old fashioned preferences.
Typewriters and carbon paper reigned when I was in college, and I spent a good deal of my teaching career transitioning to the digital world.
Recently, a friend planned a travel workshop to include architectural drawing using an iPad. I saw the advantages of a small tablet but was skeptical. However, a recent Apple store class, my eyes were opened!
Yes, I jumped in with the purchase of an iPad and stylus. I have wanted one for a long time, and a travel opportunity, where I will retrace my friend’s itinerary, is providing motivation. I dutifully down loaded a program called Procreate, (a bargain at $9.99 after purchasing the iPad!). I am somewhat familiar with Paint Shop Pro, but this is adding an entirely new drawing dimension.
The young Apple class instructor reminded me of my innovative and enthusiastic high school students. She knows her material, and by luck, the free class had only two participants, both retired teachers. We walked to a nearby quiet outdoor garden area, where she explained as much as she could about the basics of the program in 90 minutes. She also shared some of the mistakes she has made during the past year using Procreate-and how to solve them! I spent the rest of my errand-filled day sketching with the iPad—at the car dealership as I waited for service and at a restaurant. I knew I had to practice individually or I would forget my new lessons. I will return for more classes - a 45 mile trip for me.
So – my initial opinions. I still think drawing, not tracing, is important. I have a hard time calling a photograph which has been digitally manipulated to appear liked a brush-stroked work a painting. The Procreate program (and many others) gives you a variety of “sketching/painting“ tools in a variety of sizes. I found it was easy to download a photo of one of my own paintings and create a color palette from it-voila! My own palette.
My iPad is small. It will never be the same as drawing on large paper or canvas- the flow is not the same. However, for catching color, light, what you see…it’s great and my short experience is only a beginning. For travel, it should prove useful. I will still pack some pencils, a sketch pad, and watercolors.
I first entered the digital art world last year experimenting with photographs of my own paintings. These have proven popular. Color schemes, values, and backgrounds can be modified with almost a click!
For centuries, artists have used innovative tools, and this is another. Drawing and painting are unique experiences to be savored. However, painting digitally certainly gives one’s brain a workout, and the results are impressive. Have fun – and don’t worry about having to wash out those brushes!
Thank you to the many who have visited my website! This year, I am adding a blog about my art, insights and techniques. It will give you a chance to get to know me a bit and I welcome comments and questions.
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