Instruction and Artist Musings
Copyright © 2021 Sherry Barrett
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved.
I remember when my high school art teacher, Mrs. O'Neil, put this really complicated drawing in front of me. She placed it upside down and told me to copy it. I immediately, tried to turn it right side up and she said, "No. Don't turn it around. Draw it upside down." I told her, "I can't tell what it is." She said, "You don't need to know what it is. Just draw it. One line at a time." I huffed and puffed, felt frustrated, thought she was crazy, looked around the room, and then my art brain picked up my pencil and got to work. I don't remember deciding to do what she said, but my artself just took over and did it.
You might notice that my last blog was over a year ago. That's when my world turned upside down. In October 2019 I learned I would once again be asked to draw upside down because we would be putting our house on the market in February 2020 to move across the country for my husband to start a new business. Time to purge 9 years of accumulated stuff, paint the house, trim the shrubs and take care of business. Business included driving my son across the country in January to start a new job and find an apartment. Selling my house. Moving my daughter into an apartment closer to her job that she would never return to because in March 2020 everyone joined my personal chaos in the form of a pandemic stay at home order. I, however, couldn't stay at home because I sold it. I needed to buy a house, ship a car, drive a car, ship our stuff. Life goes on pandemic or no, we get to keep drawing even when we don't know how the picture will turn out, one line at a time.
So, how am I surviving drawing upside down in the middle of a pandemic? I am trying to keep the main things the main things any way I can.
Soul - I pray often. I don't pray well, but I pray. I try to listen, but often hear silence. I play the Daily Audio Bible in the morning when I don’t feel like getting out of bed; so, yeah, daily. I go to a church where everyone wears a mask and social distances properly because I need a life rhythm that involves me leaving the house. Please tend your soul during this time, if you don’t you will whither from the inside out.
Mind -It’s been a good time for me to be introspective and think about what I really want and what I can and can't do. I've thought about what I really "need" to be a healthy person. I've accepted the fact that I am an extrovert and no matter how many introverts online yell at me to stay home, my reality is, "Friends are fuel." So, I see any friend who will see me so I don't end up a car out of gas on the side of the road being towed to a mental institution. Please practice mental hygiene and air out your dirty and/or sad thoughts. Don’t hurt anyone with them, just air them. Then, fold them away to make room for cleaner and/or happier thoughts. If you don’t know how, therapy is worth every penny.
Body - I’ve joined a gym because my body is seizing up staying inside this winter. I made an appointment with an orthopedist when I discovered I couldn’t do a chest press with 2 pounds. Turns out that chronic shoulder pain was an inflamed rotator cuff and bicep muscle. No surgery needed, just anti-inflammatories and PT. I made an appointment with an eye doctor because I was using two pairs of glasses like a microscope to draw fine detail! LOL! Thank you for the recommendation artist friend Monica Agri-Bowes - it got the job done. Good news, new glasses are on their way. Blue! I'll try to post a pic. Have you let a health issue go too far? If you can get an appointment, get the help you need. You are worthy.
Art - I hired an artist mentor because I feared I would completely abandon my art in the midst of the crushing demands of "real life”. My mentor has helped me keep art inside the frame of “real life” and moving in a positive direction. I've continued to illustrate a weekly blog even when I don't feel I have the emotional or physical energy because I want that to be a part of my real life too. I’ve also applied to art school because I’m half way through my life and not halfway to where I want to be as an artist. I have pulled 3 other ladies to me and we do studio time together online once a week. I love looking up from my drawing to see these ladies who live in Georgia, Ontario, Canada, and Massachusetts working away. We encourage and challenge each other to keep making art and provide useful feedback and critique. Do you have support in your work environment? Find support.
This past year I haven't been writing on the blog because I haven't been in a position to do so. I've been drawing one line at a time. I decided to pop in here to share what some of my lines have turned into for my soul, mind, body, and art even though I still can’t see the completed picture.
In high school, the completed picture turned out to be 3 jackets. My copy was spot on. I’m not sure I could have done it right side up because the amount of detail was overwhelming. My teacher, in her wisdom, turned the image upside down so I could reach the goal by focusing on one line at a time.
If you are feeling particularly lonely this year, please hold on. You are not alone, you just can't see the completed picture. You are loved. You matter. Trust me.
Happy Valentine’s Day from SherryBarrettArt!
A student from my alma mater was writing an article for The Chimes about Calvin Alumni who entered ArtPrize this year and saw my name listed on Calvin’s website. She asked me to answer the following three questions; and, although I didn’t get back to her in time for her publication deadline I thought I’d share my answers with you.
-How did Calvin College impact your journey as an artist?
My Calvin education taught me to care for our culture and contribute to the redeeming work Christ is doing in my sphere of influence. I take that charge seriously and hope it informs my work. On a practical level, photography and graphic design classes I took really inform my process as an artist.
-What inspired this installation and what is your hope for how the public interacts with it?
I was deeply touched by the #MeToo movement and the number of people it has affected. A few years ago I drew the image of a woman on a pier tied to a barge of trash for a friend. She was sexually abused as a child and this was an image that came to her in her healing process. The meaning, she discovered, was that she should forgive her grandfather and let go of those memories so she could move forward in freedom and not have those past events define her. It didn't matter who put the rope around her neck, she could take it off. She suggested the image could be improved if I painted my own trash and what freedom would look like for me. I was not eager to undertake this project and was avoiding it until I saw a Facebook video on forgiveness that gave me the title for my painting. I realized art could begin a journey for others who need to find healing for their past through forgiveness. They may not find justice, but they can find freedom. On my website I have links to many tools for working out forgiveness that I've come across since undertaking this project. My hope is that this painting will provide a way forward for those who are still held hostage to painful memories tied to them by un-forgiveness.
-Have you entered anything in ArtPrize before?
This is my first year participating in ArtPrize. I chose to enter ArtPrize so that this painting might contribute to the conversation around #MeToo in our country. These problems won't be solved in the courts or legislature; but, by individuals taking courageous steps to heal their fractured identity.
I haven’t written a blog for a while because I am in, what my family refers to as, ”mad scientist mode". Mad Scientist Mode means I don’t do my hair or makeup, I wear paint covered clothing every day, I paint, I sleep, occasionally eating when reminded, and leave the studio only when necessary. I send the briefest texts and emails to friends and shorten the phone calls with family. I’m not available for lunch dates or play dates. I am not sad or mad at you, I hope I am not rude or hurtful, I am just a mad scientist on the verge of an artistic break through in my lab and I cannot be bothered until there is success or an explosion. (The above image is the bottom right hand corner of the all-consuming 4'x6' painting I'm working on.)
In March I got the idea for a painting that I thought might land a spot in Art Prize. I started work immediately because I have to convince someone that this painting is awesome before June 28th so I can be part of the show in September. So, every day I plug away at the painting and each day it looks more awesome. I can easily pass a day lost in the joy of the minutia of the painting. Don’t get me wrong there are other times when I have to walk away because something isn’t working and I'm frustrated, but that’s what happens when you’re creating something that doesn’t yet exist. It takes time to figure out this world and its conventions. It amazes me how my brain seems always to be working the painting in the back of my mind as I do other things. Suddenly in the middle of making dinner I’ll get an idea for how to fix something and then I can’t wait to get a paint brush in my hand and see if I’ve actually solved my problem.
This painting is definitely testing me. It's exhausted working as a slave with or without inspiration. I like the instant gratification of drawing and really haven’t painted anything this big and detailed and personal…well…ever. I find myself hearing in my mind the advice I often give my students….keep adding information, add shadows and highlights, add the next level of detail. Don’t give up, the more information you add the more the painting will make sense and come alive. Sure enough, while a sand beach will do, I’ve learned that a pebble beach is magnificent. While a vague impressionist style contains all the necessary information, realism can be a more powerful communicator. It's okay that no part of the painting is finished until the entire painting is finished. Tweaks are necessary to keep large paintings cohesive. It’s exhausting infusing a painting with yourself and your experiences, but the painting takes on a new level of believability, intimacy, and power when we’re brave.
So, I’m afraid my blog and instructional You Tube videos will necessarily be interrupted by Mad Scientist moments. As an artist, I am a slave to inspiration when it comes and calls my name. I must answer. If I don’t, inspiration will leave me and find someone else to bring it to life. So, I beg your patience as I pour my heart and soul on a canvas and try to capture for you to see what inspiration has whispered in my ear. Once the painting is finished, I will return to blogging and YouTubing, hair and makeup, cooking and cleaning and lunches with friends. Until then, I'm in a different kind of good place. I hope you too will listen for, and surrender to, inspiration in your life and see where it leads.
Yesterday was a bad day. The kind you hope never comes, but will come because we are humans in relationship with each other. I was trying to go about business as usual, to keep my sanity and not overthink things, when I came across the most amazing photo on my home banking website. It was the image you see above. This image brought to mind the smell of fishy water, the sound of clinking sailboats, and many wonderful childhood memories. The long shadow cast by the crab reminded me of waking very early during summer vacation with my brother and sister to walk down to the beach to go crabbing. I can feel this splintery dock under my feet as I walk along to find the perfect spot. I remember the indents in my knees from the rough wood as I knelt down to tie my line to a plank. The thrill of slowly pulling up the string, straining for a glimpse of a crab on the bait through the murky waters of the Chesapeake, while sibling one or two stands by with the net, ready to scoop the crab before it can get away. Once we get the crab on deck, we examine the brilliant colors, the size of the claws, is it a fighter or is it chill, is it a keeper?! I think this one is too small to keep and will be allowed to scuttle sideways back into the Severn River. Most days we would return home from crabbing empty handed but happy for having "caught" half a dozen, too small crabs. Mom would make us a tuna sandwich for lunch and Dad would remove the splinters we acquired from the pier as we recounted the glories of our morning adventure.
I knew I needed to draw this photograph from my bank's web page, because there was healing to be had in this image for me. There was a place for me to visit in my mind to serve as a break from a broken relationship I needed to address later that evening, the sudden death of a friend, and the waves of tears that kept overtaking me unexpectedly throughout the day.
Tough as I may think I am, emotions sweep over me like waves of the ocean sometimes. They drag me down, rake me across the bottom and spit me out again with a mouth full of sand. I've learned from the ocean to grab a breath of air before the next wave hits, because it will be coming shortly after. Art is one way I catch my breath.
Art, for me, is a place of rest. A time to slow down and look and really see. I allow myself to be absorbed into the scene and feel something else for a while. It saddens me that the arts are vanishing from our education system. How will people find rest for their minds? The STEM subjects may cure illnesses of the body eventually, but the arts are soothing to the everyday bumps and bruises of the mind today. The arts provide the brain an alternate route, another way to find solutions to the problems we encounter, a time outside of time, a place outside of here and now.
Today, art taught me that the loss of my friend is like coming home empty handed. I am sad for myself because her company was delicious, but happy for her because she is safe and happy where she belongs. I learned that friendship is worth the splinters left in my life that will be painful every time I step on them and take time to heal but serve as lovely reminders of the memories built together. Today, art helped me catch a breath between the waves of repairing a broken friendship and mourning the loss of a dear one to death. I dedicate this drawing to the memory of my dear Elena who is now with her Jesus. Your life mattered my friend and you will be greatly missed. Thanks for all the splinters.
Sherry Barrett is an active artist who takes inspiration from great works of literature, historical figures, and wise people.