Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Art and Death: How One Artist Responds

"Laura's Dad", Pastel, 20x24, ©Toni Ruppert
What is it like to do a portrait of a dying man?  Do you see him as dying?  I’d like to respond to a comment left on a recent blog post.  I recently painted my friend Laura’s Dad not knowing he was THAT close.  It’s the not knowing that I want to discuss with you. 

Didn’t I see his frailty?   Not exactly.

I looked for beauty
I went in with high expectations and because I had no frame of reference--I expected beauty.  He was surrounded by decor that included African masks, a giraffe statue and a painting or two that he had collected over the years.  Greenery was everywhere and his home included a garden and water out back.   

There was light everywhere coming from the big windows and door to the back porch.  The light was hitting the fluffs of his white hair in such a way--they begged to be painted.  His hunter green polo sweat shirt somewhat matched the greenery I saw all around.  Finally, there was an eclectic mix of tunes coming from his CD player.

All of this put me in the painting mood.

I focused on my craft

When I set up my pastels on the table, I anticipated a good painting session.  I grabbed several colors -- some greens, burnt sienna, orange and lavender were among them.  He was very patient with me and even picked up a book to “read” at my request.

And I started to create what I saw.

I looked for the light and tried to express that in his skin tone.  I was in love with the pigments and seeing how I could use them to say what was before me.  I let the pastel sticks do the talking.

I modified my marks

Hence, I was never conscious of anything.  I modified my marks, not because I knew anything but because I was creating and did not know how much to show.  Do I show that crevice with a darker blue or a softer pale orange.  Do I render the thin cheek bones quite that thin?  His slight nose.  I went over certain parts over and over.   The pastels were lovely for this. 

It felt so good capturing his essence.  That he would pass away almost a month later was a shock to me.  My friend(Laura) talks extensively about this experience in her blog--No Safe Distance.

In hindsight, I saw the wrinkles --his large hands.  I noticed that he was quiet.  But in this beautiful moment, I noticed what my eyes told me.  And responded with artistry.  I did not realize that Laura’s Dad was fading.  That may just be a good thing.

Other creative folk can help in responses to death too.
For those of you who might want to create a tribute to your loved one; check out my friend Melanie Jongsma who is a writer who has utilized her craft in this way. 

Beth Lamie is another personal historian who helps people preserve their legacies in story.  Her projects vary from one-page vignettes, short stories and full life memoirs.

Have a loved one you wish to pay homage to? Email me to see if I can help you with a portrait.  I’ll take pictures or take a look at your pictures, and recommend something beautiful. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

7 Ideas to Stay Balanced

"Late Night Sketch" ©Toni Ruppert
 My creative life is so (I’m going to use the B word) -  busy, but I’ve gathered 7 ideas that might help keep me balanced.  The trick is to use them.  I know you’re active too, so maybe we can talk about this.  I just finished my first podcast for my blog, so feel free to listen to the 4-minute audio version here.

I really appreciate all the great feedback I’ve already gotten from folks about the topic of balancing.  Hence, I’m doubly determined to balance my art career and motherhood.

Prime example. This week, I took a trip to the art supply store with my little one, Imani--who is also creative.  Wanting to help me, she decided to place every colorful thing in our cart.  EVERY colorful thing.

I spent the next 30 minutes grabbing paint, paint mediums, oil paint sticks and other stuff she wanted to put in the cart.  The only thing that stopped it all was my consent to purchase a wooden ready-to-paint car. 

I eventually ended our shopping trip with new canvas, brushes, that wooden car and my child in hand.  I was able to do a quick figure study in watercolor(pictured) after she fell asleep.  I spent time with my husband talking about the election while painting him(I've included that sketch in this post).

Since this scene may be typical for some other readers, here are my 7 ideas:

  1. Pray.  I believe that one needs divine inspiration to manage it all.
  2. Allow children to join you on the journey--show them what you’re doing. They’ll love it.
  3. Grab a buddy--a good girlfriend, spouse, etc, will help keep you sane and accountable.  My art buddy Pamela Casey helps keep me sane during our weekly talks.
  4. Get use to some loss of sleep--my day begins before they awake and I also stay up after they are sleep.
  5. Commit to your creativity--it helps to say, “I am (an artist, writer, sculptor, etc. )” to all you meet.”  In his book The Power of Positive Thinking, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Throw your heart over the wall, and your body will follow.”  Once you say it, that’s throwing your head over that wall.
  6. Get use to the edge--your creative breakthrough lies on the other side of your comfort zone.
  7. Say No--get use to saying it A LOT.
I’m creatively busy doing a balancing act.  How do you find ways to make it all work?  Do you have any ideas to share?  Please share in the comments below.