Face Yourself: How I Defeated Self-Censorship

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by Lauryn Welch

This year I’ve been thinking about the extent of my studio practice.  I realized my studio practice will only go as far as I’m willing to let it go. My artwork is bounded simply by my own censorship. When I thought about it, this idea that I was the only thing standing in my way was laughable. I am generally a goofy and amicable person with noodly arms and an easy smile. That image of getting in the way of myself made a powerful impact on me.

When I was in art school, I was getting thorough, and sometimes very intense critique from all sorts of amazing art professionals that sent me in all different directions. Even when there were no assignments and the work was left up to me, I knew that my paintings would be evaluated based on a set of criteria that was unique to each individual giving the critique. These critiques were incredible, valuable learning experiences, but I often internalized feedback as a set of rules, and these rules would be contradictory from person to person. One of my professors pushed hard on narrative and digital approaches, while another favored an organic and physical exploration with paint.

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By the time I graduated college, I had a choir full of internal voices clamouring “don’t do this!” “don’t do that!”, and I was struggling trying to paint something to satisfy all of these rules.After I graduated college, I found myself all alone in my studio with no peers or professors, no expectations or directions. I was alone with myself, and all of these rules were only voices in my head.

I realized I could paint whatever I wanted.

I want to say that again because it sounds so deliciously sweet.

I. Could. Paint. Whatever. I. Wanted.

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So I painted a pair of socks. I really liked this pair of mismatched socks, and I admired the rug underneath them, and the combination of the rug and the socks made me giddy with happiness. I had no complicated, academic motives. It was great!

Later, I drew a bunch of birds with markers, just because I am thrilled to be around these bright little flying life forms all the time. I live in rural New Hampshire, and I hadn’t realized how sorely I missed the wilderness while living in New York, or how much I had taken it for granted prior to moving. It was liberating making these pieces. This was subject matter I had refused to paint about for a long time because I thought it was boring, trite, and inconsequential.  

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However, by ignoring these experiences that brought me great joy in my life, I was only erasing a part of myself and trying too hard to fill it with things that didn’t fit. Perhaps not so coincidentally, these two projects were the first pieces of artwork that drew enthusiasm from a much broader range of people, instead of just artists.  When you can paint openly from yourself, people can sense and appreciate this residual joy and honesty in the painting. This special connection gives the artwork depth and value. How tremendous!

I like (perhaps too much) going heavy into eye crossing art theory, and I always appreciate a second set of eyes to help me pick out things in my work I hadn’t thought about. However, it seems that I missed one of the first rules in art and in life: it’s better to just be yourself!


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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Art Hack #3: Black Paint

A terrific tip about black paint from Art Prof Intern Julia Orenstein!  See more Art Hacks from our staff in this playlist on our Youtube channel.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages to learn visual arts in a vibrant art community. Imagine all of the resources here on our blog, except exponentially bigger, in greater quantity, and in more detail. Our Kickstarter campaign hit its $30k goal on July 19!  Get info on our future launch by subscribing to our email list.

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Crit Quad #3: Eloise Shelton-Mayo

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Eloise Shelton-Mayo
“Bends & Bridges III”, oil and cold wax painting, 12″ x 12″

“I’ve been interested in how we define spaces in our lives, some chosen and some not. There’s a dialogue between the shapes that reads like a kind of topographic map with a history, a story.  The Bends & Bridges Series of which this piece, No. III is a part of, began out of an exploration of shape and color using the medium oil and cold wax.   Creating contained shapes and those that blend into other ones started out intuitively but became more deliberate as certain ones were covered and others isolated.  My fascination with what separates and connects is evident here and the boundaries of those spaces, like the connections appear changeable.”


Sara Bloem, Teaching Assistant
Sara Bloem, Multimedia Artist
“The textures are really working for you. I love the oil and cold wax technique, it makes me crave to see the person in real life, up close.”
Mentioned: Richard Diebenkorn, Cityscape #1


Lauryn Welch, Teaching Assistant
Lauryn Welch, Painter & Performance Artist
“I just want run my hands over your piece, I love seeing the little scratch marks in the surface.”


Yves-Olivier Mandereau, Teaching Assistant
Yves-Olivier Mandereau, Designer & Ceramic Artist
“I really appreciate the vibrancy of the color, and the liveliness of the painting.”


Clara Lieu, Visual Artist & Adjunct Professor at RISD
Clara Lieu, Fine Artist & Adjunct Professor at RISD
“Be more assertive about what you’re going after in terms of the color scheme.”


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Digging back into the past

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Considering that I primarily work in drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, many people are surprised that my undergraduate training was focused on oil painting.  I haven’t picked up a brush since 2006, but my latest initiative (more to be revealed in the future!) has gotten me to dig way back into my past with oil painting and it’s surprising how deeply ingrained those lessons are.

I started oil painting early as a junior in high school, and it’s appalling how awful my technique was for so long. Despite the fact that I took numerous oil painting classes, it wasn’t until I had been oil painting for 3 years that I finally started to make progress.   My sophomore year at RISD, I was required to take a Painting I course in the Illustration department.  My oil painting background was a fractured mess of failure at that point, and I felt totally lost even though I had taken so many oil painting classes.

My professor Nick Palermo provided clear, concrete instructions that finally made sense to me.  He required us to use very specific supplies and tools, and gave explicit reasons for why he wanted us to use them.   I realized after taking Nick’s painting class that there were SO many technical aspects that I had been doing blatantly wrong for such a long time. For example, I couldn’t believe that no one had introduced me to a silicoil brush cleaning tank before then. Evidently, I was never taught to clean my brushes properly, so consequently my color mixtures were always dirty, which lead to muddy paintings. The second I started to clean my brushes in a competent manner, my paintings become noticeably more vibrant. The brushes sitting in my closet are the same brushes I used in Nick’s class 20 years ago.

Senior year at RISD, I had Tony Janello for a portrait painting class and he revolutionized my painting technique.  Tony forced us to paint with literally 1 white, 1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 blue.  This approach seemed extreme, but I learned more about color mixing than I had in all of the previous years combined. With only 3 colors, I had to work really hard to be innovative with my color mixing.

It’s been inspiring to think back to every teacher’s unique approach to painting. It’s interesting to think about what methods I’ve kept, what I’ve rejected, and my reasoning for those decisions.  This process has been tremendously helpful in getting me to boil down my techniques.

Patrick Earl Hammie’s studio

I’m slowly starting to brainstorm different ideas for potential covers for my book. I’m pretty nervous about selecting the right layout and image for the cover.  Let’s face it, we ALL judge books by their covers.

One thought I had was to have a photograph of an artist’s palette. Since my book is very much about creative realities and practicalities, it made sense to me to visually depict the messy side of being an artist. I thought of a palette because it’s the quintessential image that many people associate with visual art. Since I don’t paint anymore, I asked several of my colleagues who are oil painters to send me photographs from their studios. I don’t know what will come of it, but it’s possible that I might find something that works.

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The first artist to get back to me was Patrick Earl Hammie, a wonderful artist who I met back in 2009.  I was the gallery director of the Jewett Gallery at Wellesley College at the time, and I helped to organize Patrick’s solo exhibition, “Equivalent Exchange” at the gallery when he was the Alice C. Cole Fellowship recipient. You can also read this interview I did with Patrick for my “Thursday Spotlight” interview series.

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Patrick generously sent me numerous photographs of his studio space, and these ones that you see in this post are the ones that fit what I’m looking for in a book cover.  Out of these three photographs, my favorite is this one above.  The point of view on the palette is really great, and I like that there are paint tubes and a brush as well.

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Below is Patrick working in his studio with one of his paintings in the background.  You can read more about him on his website, or on his Facebook page.

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Thursday Spotlight: Rebecca Doughty

Tell us about your background.

I first studied art in the 70’s, when there were lots of interesting, contradictory forces, from academic drawing to minimalism. I tried a bit of everything including welding and guerilla art. I spent some time in London studying drawing and printmaking. I never studied painting formally, but that’s where I landed. Drawing has remained the most important piece.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

Surely all the images I’ve absorbed in my lifetime– from cave paintings to cartoons. I grew up with comics, Warner Brothers, and Mad Magazine, and with the darkly funny illustrations of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey– brilliant. I’ve always been drawn to mark and line– all that can be expressed in simple and direct ways of drawing. Folk art and “outsider” artists like James Castle are also on my list. But so is Cy Twombly.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

From the comedies and tragedies of everyday life.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

Usually I use traditional drawing and painting materials– pencils and paint (acrylic or oil) on paper or wood. I work in a very direct way adding and subtracting, using a knife to layer up paint and a razor blade to scrape it away. I etch into the paint with a blade or sharp pencil, then scrape paint into the etched lines, kind of like inking an etching plate. Then I go back in and add line with a tiny brush. I also like to paint and animate everyday objects– in the folk art tradition– sticks, rocks, acorns, or draw on old postcards or discarded paper. But right now I seem to be using ink on vellum, just to revisit something I haven’t done in a long time.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?

Since creativity is a natural part of being human, the challenge is to steer clear of the parts of modern life that threaten my humanity– traffic, banks, shopping malls, art openings. I go to nature whenever possible. The best part of being creative is forgetting what time it is.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

Find a separate way to make money. Find a few like minded friends to talk with about your life and your work, and take good care of them. Think of your work as lifelong, and be kind along the way. Don’t worry about it, just make things.

Rebecca’s website

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Thursday Spotlight: Lauryn Welch

Tell us about your background.

I am a mail artist and painter from Peterborough, New Hampshire. I studied painting at Rhode Island School Design as a sophomore up until this February. Currently I am taking a semester off from school to work as a freelancing artist and pursue my own projects in greater depth. I am fascinated by the flexible and informative characteristics of color, and much of my recent work experiments with these qualities, especially among the range of bright, saturated hues. After a year hiatus, I’ve returned to mail art as well, producing and distributing some of my first sets of artiststamps, and helping my father document an archive of some 30,000 items of mail art collected over 20 years.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

The two most influential artists throughout my life have been my father, Crackerjack Kid and mail artist Ray Johnson. My emphasis on concept and layering especially in mail art can be attributed to Ray who stacked layer upon layer figuratively and literally in his moticos and correspondence. My interest in color began with observing my father’s work, which always incorporated bright, mocking colors accompanied by his signature fast-paced sense of humor. Recently I’ve departed from the use of saturated colors for color’s sake to scrutinize what actually makes colors react to each other and resonate in people the way they do. Many of the artists I admire went through monochromatic phases; Yves Klein had his IKB blue, Mark Rothko did a black-on-black series, and John McCracken created those glossy, monochrome planks. I think there must be something valuable there in really understanding a color. So at this point I want to strip down my work (and my life) to a single range of red hues for a year’s time and see where that takes me both aesthetically and psychologically.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

A fellow RISD painting student, Marisa Marofske and I brainstorm together with a really favorable success rate. Although we come from different backgrounds in art, we process ideas in similar ways, so we always end up on the same page. She can be specific where I’m general, and vice versa, which is really helpful when figuring out the logistics of a project. We’re like an expensive pair of bifocal glasses. More importantly, we also share an appreciation for the weird and unappreciated, and so a lot of times just in everyday banter we’ll stumble upon something absolutely ridiculous and our combined enthusiasm and shamelessness is enough motivation to see the idea through. Neither of us is ever at a shortage of ideas, but the mortality rate of those ideas drops tremendously when we combine our resources. Now the quality of the idea is another matter entirely, but I think the important thing is getting as much stuff as possible out there right now.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

I do a lot of mixed media work as is inherent in mail art, which includes everything from spraypaint to parts of old clocks, to my own body. Recently I’ve honed in on achieving some sort of mastery in oil painting, since I am a painter and I’ve sorely lacked any sort of focus as far as media goes. The process varies between projects, but I always start by writing about what I want to do in my sketchbook. My sketchbook is more composed of writing than visual images. Sometimes I like to begin with a pattern or tessellation, which I may or may not layer over. Those are also usually drafted beforehand in my sketchbook.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?
The best part of being creative for me is the activity. I get a sort of masochistic high from working long, concentrated hours on a single project. I love seeing things assemble themselves before my eyes. Like all other artists, I get a kick out of playing God. Conversely, the worst part of creativity is paralysis. Often there are so many projects I want to go work on that I become mentally constipated and do absolutely nothing. This tendency toward extremes in my artistic practice is something that I am trying to balance, because I don’t think it is very healthy, but it is a deeply ingrained habit and difficult to break.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

Be inquisitive and study things earnestly. Don’t let anyone spoon-feed you information in class or critique. Even advice that you get from a point of authority is up for questioning, so wherever possible, question it, and reason things out for yourself. This is where creativity comes from. People often times give in to the idea that creativity is innate and can’t be learned, or that it is lost with childhood, but I think this is just a bitter excuse for being passive. Creativity comes with independence which is a learnable skill, but like any sort of positive mental conditioning, it takes much more motivation and effort than technical skill to master.

Lauryn’s website
Lauryn’s Facebook Page

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