About claralieu

I am a professor, writer, and visual artist. I write an advice column for visual artists called "Ask the Art Professor" which is featured in the Huffington Post. I currently teach in the Illustration Department at the Rhode Island School of Design. My studio practice explores isolation and mental illness through drawing, printmaking, and sculpture.

Painting


I’ve always had a complicated relationship with oil painting. Learning how to oil paint was really rocky; I started by taking a painting class at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in the summer when I was 16.  Problem was, the class had absolutely no technical instruction, so I was left on my own to figure things out, which as you can probably guess didn’t work out so well.

I went to RISD Pre-College the summer of my junior year in art school, where I finally got some technical instruction and started to feel much more comfortable with the medium. The problem there was that I had tons of really bad drawing habits which inevitably translated into bad painting habits.  I had a really uptight method for painting that now that I look back on it, really wasn’t painting.

However, I did develop tremendous interest in oil painting and so I ended up in the Painting department my first semester sophomore year at RISD. The technical instruction was barely there, and I found myself much more interested in a stained glass elective that I was taking at the time. Painting just wasn’t fun anymore, which caused me to have a creative identity crisis.

I ended up switching into the Illustration department and that’s where I finally gained a stable foundation of technical skills.  The painting teacher I had was really specific about what supplies to buy and broke everything down into really accessible steps that finally made sense for the first time. I learned about all kinds of new tools like the silicoil brush cleaning tank that solved lots of technical problems I had been struggling with for years. I started painting with professional oil paints, instead of the student grade ones and finally the oil paint felt good in my brush.

Senior year at RISD I felt confident in my painting abilities (although looking back on it, the paintings I was doing at the time make me cringe!) and I was able to produce a series of large paintings that felt ambitious and technically accomplished.

I spent 4 years after art school painting in my living room in my apartment in Boston.  I hired models to pose, and was able to develop a significant enough body of work to apply to graduate programs in Painting.  But nothing went as planned for graduate school; I got wait listed at several programs and the only program I got accepted to was a program in Sculpture.  I pursued the MFA in Sculpture, hoping that it would be a way to develop a new skill set, and to make my paintings better.

As it turned out though, I got so enthusiastic about Sculpture that painting go completely left behind.  Any attempts I made to paint during my MFA felt weak, and I had so much work for my Sculpture classes that I had to abandon painting altogether.

After finishing my MFA, I decided that I missed painting, so my first body of work featured a series of 5′ x 6′ oil paintings related to my Waiting series. Afterwards, I felt exhausted and disengaged with painting again. I’m not so sure if it was because the paintings were too big and I felt overwhelmed, or if painting just wasn’t for me.

So I gave up painting, and didn’t pick up a brush to paint for over a decade. Actually, it was the best creative decision I made.  I realized that I was painting out of obligation, because I thought I should, as opposed to because painting really was the media that would best suit my work.

Things have come full circle now, because we worked on an ambitious set of videos on both acrylic and oil painting with my colleague Alex Rowe. Most of our courses involve one video to cover everything, but the acrylic course alone required 5 videos to explain multiple techniques. The majority of the videos on Art Prof take an excruciating amount of time to produce, simply because I have so many other responsibilities. So the acrylic painting course was that times 5, and took 6 months to produce. At this point I haven’t even finished shooting the oil painting tutorial! Hopefully by the end of this year…

It was satisfying to shoot videos on preparing painting surfaces, preparing a glass palette, etc. I was surprised at how much technical information I retained. Hopefully these painting videos will prevent many artists who want to paint all of the grief and misunderstandings I went through trying to learn to paint!

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Guinea Pigs & Air Mattresses


2 Guinea pigs.  “Slumber parties” (aka video shoots) at Prof Lieu’s house. Air mattresses that don’t always work.  Outdoor mud fights with Prof Lieu’s daughters. (Casey defends himself with hot sauce) Art supplies that smell like rotten eggs.

That’s what it takes to produce Artprof.org.

What started as a blog post in 2014 became a Kickstarter in 2016. Now here we are 2 years later: featured on NPRArtsy, and Hyperallergic. 331 pages on Artprof.org. 343 videos on YouTube.

We are committed to keeping Artprof.org free.  Which really, isn’t the best idea when it comes to having a sufficient budget. However, we believe that art education should be for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for it.

If Artprof.org has impacted you, please donate monthly on Patreon, or on a one time basis on Paypal. (NEW Art Prof T-shirt for a $10 monthly or $20 one time donation!)

Thank you for being part of our artistic community!

Clara, Lauryn, Casey, Jordan, Deepti, Alex, Eloise, and Tom

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Aging

Clara-Alex2I will admit that an embarrassing amount of time has passed since I worked on my own studio practice. I love working on Artprof.org, but it definitely has a way of consuming all of my time and head space in a way that leaves very little room for anything else.

I spoke to a friend this week who is a photographer, and we found that both of us have been in the same place: overwhelmed with work and other professional obligations, our own personal projects being neglected as a consequence. However, after having coffee together and talking through our artistic goals and considerations, I felt inspired to get up and finally do something.

The fall of 2016 was really the last time that I felt a significant drive to make artwork, which is when I worked on these Scars that Speak drawings on “sculpted” tissue paper. I always imagined that I would return to this project, but so much time has passed since then, that it doesn’t make sense for me at this point to pick up from where I left off.

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Instead, I’m doing small sketches for a fleeting idea I had a ways back which I actually think has tremendous potential.  I did a drawing which depicted the parts of my body that I’ve watched age over the past two years or so. My initial thought with Scars that Speak was that I would work with women of the older generation, interview them, draw their figures, and more. But that felt too far removed, and I’ve realized that I’m not a very good observer, and that I tend to do better with ideas that emerge from myself.  I feel slightly guilty that so much of my work seems to always make it’s way back to self-portraits, but these new sketches are a different version of that theme.

Although the sketches will be of my own body and experience, I do think that aging is a universal theme that is inevitable for everyone.  I have found myself dwelling upon this idea ever since I turned 40.  I noticed new wrinkles and creases when they appear in a way that was never the case before.  I have an awareness of these physical changes every day, so it’s a theme that is constantly on my mind.

I’m not remotely ready to create anything finished, so for now, it’s going to be small pencil sketches with cross hatching. I have noted that small moments of inspiration seem to be popping up here or there, which is a good sign that this topic is rich enough to be explored.

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The other night I woke up with night sweats, and immediately I thought of a drawing of my bed sheets. This morning I sat down with a 2H pencil and quickly rendered this version of my bed sheets.  Who knows if this image is going anyway, but I was excited that this seems to expand beyond my physical body in terms of this theme.

I was grocery shopping and an intense thought went through my head:  what if this is a project that takes the rest of my life to complete?  What if I continually made these drawings, knowing that with every passing year, the images will slowly change as physical changes continue to occur in my body. I doubt that I’ll have the patience to sustain a project for several decades, but who knows? I’m ready for a new artistic challenge.

Shoot Marathon

Art Prof has recently been a crazy whirlwind of video shoots, we shot 5 tutorials in less than a month!  We’ve settled into a very efficient, streamlined shoot process which has been huge in terms of really maximizing our limited time. Before we had a system in place, it would frequently take at least 2 days to shoot 1 tutorial.  Now that we have a solid process in place, we have been able to pump out 1 tutorial in 1 day which is a gigantic different in terms of our productivity.

One critical advantage that I didn’t anticipate is that my experience editing all of the Art Prof videos has made me much better on camera and also directing on set. It’s incredible all of the habits I had in terms of my speech and movement that I never even realized I did; until I had to watch hours of footage of myself doing those habits.  I’m extremely conscious of those “filler” words that people insert into their speech habitually without even knowing it.  I’ve eliminated “kind of” and “sort of” from my speech entirely, to the point that I now barely have to edit my speech.

Previously, I saw editing as a necessary task that I had to learn to do from scratch, simply because there was no one else around who could do it.  I dreamed that at some point we would have enough funding to hire professional editors.  However, now that I’ve gained a ton of experience with the overall process of video production, I’m really glad that I have these skills under my belt.  My editing skills have certainly had a tremendous influence on how we shoot the videos, to the point that even if we did hire professional editors in the future, I can’t imagine that I would step away from the editing process entirely.

Being able to see a tutorial through from conception to a finished video has been really important; the fact that I have been involved every step of the way has given me a holistic view of the process that I think has really helped us a lot. I know that in film production people generally specialize in one specific skill that they do incredibly well, and certainly if we got enough funding I would definitely not complain.  However, it’s been great to look back on learning this process from knowing nothing to where we are today.

Menial Tasks, Important Tasks

In a project like Artprof.org, which still feels like it’s in it’s infancy (despite that we started in 2014!) I still find it hilarious the incredible range of tasks that I am doing on a daily basis. While parts of Art Prof are creatively exhilarating and exciting, there is also a side to Art Prof which is so mundane and at times tedious and super boring.

One part of the day I’m brainstorming the creative possibilities of the future, and mapping out upcoming tutorials and looking at the scope of the project.  Sometimes I’m speaking to representatives from art suppliers, or having an important conversation with my partner Tom Lerra.

The next minute, I’m sweeping the floor in our studio (AKA the former playroom and current guinea pig room in my house) or I’m sitting at my computer renaming files for an hour.  I feel strongly enough about Art Prof that most of the time I don’t mind doing the menial tasks, and most of the time, I laugh at the range of tasks I’ve had to do.

I admit fantasizing about the day I won’t have to do these types of tasks, but until then, my attitude is “if I don’t do it, no one else will.” Some day, maybe I won’t have to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the floor.

Artist Sketchbooks

I’ll admit that I have serious sketchbook envy.  Lately, it seems like the only time I can make drawing in my sketchbook is when I’m traveling.  When I was traveling to Taiwan, China, and Seattle in recent months I was traveling on my own most of the time without my family so it was easy to prioritize drawing on a regular basis. Now that I’m back home (for a while) drawing on a regular basis has been really hard to do.

There’s something incredibly intimate about seeing an artist’s sketchbook, you’re basically looking at a visual diary, taking a peek into an artist’s mind. When I look at an artist’s sketchbook I feel like I’m seeing their guts, their completely uninhibited creative self, totally naked and exposed. Sometimes, I like the sketchbooks better than the finished work because there’s an honesty to sketchbooks that sometimes gets hidden in finished pieces.

Which is why producing a batch of sketchbook videos has been so much fun.  Not only did I get to see a score of diverse approaches to sketchbooks, but listening to an artist explain what their sketchbooks mean to them, and a sketchbook’s role in their creative projects was fascinating.

Eventually, I want to produce a course on sketchbooks for Artprof.org; it’s on our ridiculously long to-do list!

Art Prof in Artsy!

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Art Prof was featured in Artsy at the end of March! Nothing prepared us for how widely this article went; the article was shared over 488 times on Facebook and people were tweeting the article left and right.

It’s one thing to know that you firmly believe in your project, it’s yet another to convince a staff of people to on board with you.  Receiving positive press like this is one of the best forms of validation out there, it’s concrete evidence that other people are engaged with what you’re doing.

Press can be nerve wracking though, in that you never quite know exactly they’re going to write until you actually see the article published, but we couldn’t have been more pleased with the article. Alexxa Gotthardt, who wrote the article really captured the fundamental spirit of Art Prof, balanced out by charming details about out staff. (like Casey’s impersonation of Matthew McConaughey)

Apparently, when it rains, it pours, and we have more press for you on the way! Until then, enjoy this “argument” between me and Alex Rowe.  Stay tuned!