Expressing what I’m thinking and feeling during my creative process has become a central part of my blog. Yet I’ve never discussed creating and maintaining my digital presence. Chances are, you’ve noticed some changes here. Let’s talk about what I’ve been doing behind the scenes!
I started my blog six years ago. It’s been a great experience. Aside from developing my writing style and artistic practice, I’ve learned a lot about technology. Behind the scenes, it’s a real one-woman show. I am responsible for every single thing here – good or bad. And not just the photos and text! Every time there is a server crash, a wayward hacker, or algorithm change, I’m the one that has to find a solution. It can be difficult. Things change so quickly it’s hard to keep up.
Tending to the infrastructure is important, but it takes me away from creating new content. After a nasty attack on my site, I was forced to think more long-term. I repaired the damage and installed a firewall. You can safely view all the content on my blog. Many thanks to the team at Sucuri. I highly recommend them for internet security and malware removal.
WordPress is great for posting, but not for presenting a portfolio. My portfolio is extremely interdisciplinary. I’m a painter, photographer, and writer. But I’m a trained fashion historian and worked in academia, too. My body of work contains contributions to academic textbooks, journals, and conferences – not just art. I struggled with a a way to present the diversity of my work easily and cohesively. No template or plugin helped. Nothing presented my work clearly. I eventually went with a different provider to build my portfolio site.
My blog is now separate from my main page. It took me a few months to build everything. This required learning a new system, designing each page thoughtfully, and photographing all of my artwork. It also required me moving my database, which broke all of my links. What does that mean? That recently, you may have had some difficulty finding me. I wasn’t being found on search engines and my old links no longer worked. A cleanup effort stopped me from posting regularly. It also gave me time to reflect. Looking at everything I’ve already done was inspiring. I’m now offering products and services for sale. I set new, longer-term goals and projects. . .
Like My Book:
My content was lost in layers of blogging and broken links. What a mess. Yet I looked with curiosity. How could I turn a mess into a masterpiece? I decided to present my favorite series, ineffable, in book format. This project is a multi-volume series, so be on the lookout more! Each volume explores my work with different media: photography, painting, etc. Although I was packaging previous content, it was a lot of work! I had to edit each of the photos, proofread the text, and design the layout. But it was well worth the effort.
To me, it is more than a book – it is an experience. Please take a moment to purchase a copy!
All this new activity showed me my weak spots: optimizing my site (again) and getting back into an editorial routine. My posts had become sporadic. I had completely abandoned fashion topics. It felt really overwhelmed trying to do this all on my own. Everyone needs help staying on track. So I joined the pro community at Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB). They have amazing resources for everything blog related. I recommend their membership site to anyone interested in developing a web presence. The classes and articles go beyond the scope of fashion.
IFB has really helped me strategize. I have resources for fixing all of my website infrastructure. I’ve stepped up my branding and marketing. And I’ve even written a four-part article series on photography featured on their site!
That’s not all that’s new. This month, I’ve started a new editorial calendar. I’ll be writing posts once a week. Each month you’ll get a more well-rounded sample of photography, art, fashion, and other updates. Please let me know your topics of interest. Let’s talk more often!
How do you define love? Every artist, every writer, and every musician tries to answer this question. To love someone is an experience beyond words. Each of us looks for it, but it is not ours to find or control. For a long time, I often wondered what love even was. Was it soft and affectionate? Or was it jealous and turbulent? I’d seen so many version of what others defined as love. Most of the definitions given to me seemed hollow or unhealthy. So I wondered if it was an experience worth having if I didn’t know what it was or how to find it.
There were many times I thought that I loved someone. And in a way, I did. But this love was constructed by outside definitions and examples. It was like making photocopies of photocopies – the quality was blurry and uncompelling. So I decided to forget all about it. I went about pouring my heart into my artwork and creating the life of my dreams.
This approach has made me the happiest I’ve ever been, because I don’t look to anyone else for answers, definitions, or approval. Instead, I look within.
Then, one day I felt it. I wasn’t fully aware of it at first. It grew quietly like ivy on an old building. I simply enjoyed talking to this person. He inspired me. He made me want to be the best version of myself, in a different way than I could be on my own. Being around him made my heart beat faster.
There was no agenda. There were no conditions. He just appeared in my life and made my whole world beautiful. I loved him for who he was and wanted him to be happy.
But even when there is love, sometimes you must part ways.
There is no way to alter the past or make sense of a separation. There is no reset button, no magic answer to sooth the sadness. I still feel the absence of this person in my life. Maybe part of defining love is know what it’s like to be without that person. But I find that I am a better person from the experience, and hope he is too.
Since the summer, I felt the pull towards something new yet familiar. I noticed, slowly, quietly, my painting style started to change. In some way, the change was familiar. I draw quite a bit. Lingering in a garden, as a passenger in a car – I record the impressions my surroundings make on me. These little drawings are very innocent and tender. While they record a likeness of the environment, my sketches always include a sensation.
Sometimes, it’s the luscious sound of the wind through the plants and grasses.
Or the melodic bending of a leaf reaching toward the sky or ground.
These sensations are always accessible to me when I look back at my work. As I page through my old sketchbooks or look at my finished paintings and photos, it’s more than just a visual record. My abstract paintings – for me – are particularly expressive. The amorphous compositions either captured a time of day, a feeling, or invoked a mood of peacefulness in some ineffable way.
But other people struggled to see it.
How do you teach someone to see or experience what you are feeling? This question followed me around like a lost puppy. I wanted to ignore it, a happy servant to the style and routine I created for myself. But that pesky question was unrelenting. It seemed like an impossible question – how can I invite someone into my experience through my work?
I soon realized that I had to change.
Truthfully, the change happened on its own – but I was more aware of it because I could see my style evolving right before my eyes. I started to use a much larger scale. I stretched my own canvases instead of working on board. I also approached the canvas with a very clear idea of the composition.
Some of the same challenges occurred. While I had specific ideas, the compositions would take on a life of their own. The paint would move or change in a way that departed from my vision, but often times in a much more interesting way that I had originally planned. Each step forward seemed totally uncertain. I didn’t know what I was doing, and wondered if I was really capable of something new, something better.
My generally good mood dipped and swayed from feeling so unsure. What scared me the most about change? That so much of my identity was wrapped up in a static idea of myself. Changing required giving up the charade that my past dictates my present.
I had to give up the belief that who I am now is merely an echo of who I was from my past experiences. Part of my identity will always be changing. As I started to let go, I noticed how other people responded. People seemed delighted to look at my new paintings. They smiled when they looked at them. My experiment with a new style seemed to stir something in the viewer. They might not hear the sound of the breeze, or feel the gentle afternoon sunlight warming their face – but they felt a small moment of happiness. One that I felt, too.
So I walk along, becoming more comfortable with the uncertainty. Change requires trusting the process. But if you look at even the most beautiful garden, it started from tiny seeds.
You can see more images of my artistic process here.
Clyfford Still (1904-1980) is one of my favorite abstract artists. His massive scale, jagged forms, and raw use of color are so expressive to me. An extended stay in Denver allowed me to visit the eponymous museum. I was eager to see his paintings in person, since I’ve seen such a correlation to Still’s paintings and minimalist fashion. Both Abstract Expressionism and Minimalist Fashion simplifies the creative act to the most fundamental question – how does each of us relate to the energy and emotion of color and form?
(New to my site? You would like my previous post, Minimalist Fashion: Issey Miyake & Clyfford Still).
Still was an early figure in the Abstract Expressionists movement directly following WWII. He painted in New York City during much of the 1950s, but soon grew cynical of the art world there. He preferred to instead remove himself from the commercialism and stopped working with galleries. In 1961, he left New York for Maryland where he painted until his death in 1980. Still enjoyed his work from the periphery, and his estate included a 94% inventory of his paintings and drawings. This unusually robust collection was rooted in Still’s belief that every artist is best understood by viewing the entire body of their work on its own, not accompanied by the paintings and drawings of other artists.
This idea echoed through my mind as I walked through the galleries. As I passed from room to room, I felt that Still was a very sensitive person. Some rooms were a totally emotional experience for me. The amorphous shapes and rich color combinations were evocative of experiences outside of words and letters, like . . .
solemnity . . .
curiosity . . .
While these experiences have names, the words are merely empty shells until you have felt the experience yourself. Other rooms, instead, appealed to my memory. The canvases somehow told a story I knew, like:
a flock of birds taking flight at dusk . . .
water endlessly flowing through a waterfall . . .
the sun setting over a reed-covered lake . . .
or flames crackling and consuming the wood of a bonfire.
Still abandoned titling his work later in his career. He believed that the viewer should bring their own meaning and interpretation to his work. All of the paintings and drawings are tracked by an alphanumeric system based on the inventory photos of the collection.
Without names, the viewer can spontaneously see what they’d like to see, whenever they are ready to see it. What do you see?
Today’s post is courtesy of a reader named Kari. She recently purchased the scarf below. It’s called “Manhattan Medley”, and was printed by Wesley Simpson and designed by an artist named Cobelle. Intrigued by the label, she decided to investigate the origins and came across my blog.
(New to my site? You should check out my previous posts on Wesley Simpson)
Wesley Simpson (1903-1975) was an American textile manufacturer who was responsible for bringing many artist-designed textiles to the market after World War II. During the Great Depression, Simpson established his own business as a textile converter. This means that designs were produced in-house or via freelance artists, and then the actual printing was contracted to outside factories. Simpson was the chief stylist of his company, which came to be known as Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics, Inc. The company operated from 1932 to 1950.
In the year’s directly following the war, the art market boomed as communication and trade between the U.S and Europe was restored. The economy improved, and the rationing of basic commodities ceased. Consumers wanted new, colorful additions to their wardrobes. Simpson offered moderately priced fabrics and scarves designed by many European artists of fill the demands for European flair and artistry in the fashion market.
Kari’s scarf features small sketches of neighborhoods and iconic scenes typical of Manhattan: the Statue of Liberty, strangers locking eyes in the street, buses, parades, the architecture of the city itself. In the lower right corner, the scarf is signed “Cobelle”.
This is the signature of the French artist Charles Cobelle (1902-1994). Cobelle was a painter and lithographer, who studied with Marc Chagall and apprenticed in the studio of Raul Dufy. He lived and worked in Paris until the 1920s, and made his way to America before World War II. He is best known for his depictions of cityscapes.
What I find so sweet Cobelle’s work are how the loose lines, the punctuating dots and dashes, and small scribbles unfold into a recognizable scene. The use of color is also brightly hued and runs outside of the lines, giving the viewer an impression how the scene changes over time.
After the war, Cobelle realized significant commercial success with his Parisian-infused style. He also illustrated for fashion magazines, created pottery patterns for kitchenware, and was commissioned for murals throughout the U.S.
Kari’s scarf is a great example of Cobelle’s work and Wesley Simpson’s knack for collaboration. Many thanks to Kari for sharing her beautiful images of her scarf for today’s post.
For more information, please read this exhibition review on Charles Cobelle.
Drawing and painting are very different expressions for me. Each offers me a different way to “say” what I am experiencing, very much like speaking a different language. There are many words and phrases in some languages that don’t exist in others. For example, cafuné is a Portuguese word that means the act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair. What I express in a drawing versus a painting is exactly like this. I capture something in a drawing that is untranslatable in another medium. Over the years, I’ve noticed this in my own work. This summer, I decided to explore this idea after a day drawing in a park.
I sat silently, completely absorbed in drawing little snippets of the vegetation in front of us. I like making little cartoonish studies of what I see with black pen and some crayons. For me, drawing helps me catch form. I like focusing on shapes, how they relate to one another, and how they inhabit empty space when I draw. Drawing tends to be form over substance, for me. While I can capture an overview of the environment, it lacks an accurate account of the feeling of the place.
How often do we sit with another person and describe what we see? As I walked through the whistling grasses with my dog, I admired how the delicate blades turned from green to sliver as the wind flickered through them. The small wildflowers swayed in the cool breeze, and I saw their jigsaw-shaped petals and leaves fit together perfectly. The little park exuded peace and serenity. Perhaps you’ve never seen a park the way I’ve described it. But I’ll bet that you have felt the calming benefits of a walk outside.
A cloud passed through the sun, the wind subsided, and I wondered how I could paint that feeling. That’s a difficult task, isn’t it? Emotions are abstract. They are beyond language, because they are intangible . . . ineffable. Linguistically, the term abstract nouns are used refer to objects you can experience with your five senses. They can identify concepts, experiences, ideas, qualities, and feeling that can really only be hinted at. The word makes sense if you have felt that experience.
Painting is where substance over form can manifest for me. There is just something accurate about portraying a mood in paint. Maybe it’s because the colors can be mixed together to create the perfect hue. Maybe it’s they way the surface can be layered over and over again with different colors. Maybe it’s the perfect combination: an abstract medium to represent an abstract experience.
Truthfully, it’s all of those things. But it’s also something else that I haven’t quite identified. I know when I’m finished with a painting because of the way it makes me feel. At this stage of the painting (below), I really felt that I was finished. I captured all of the lush, verdant blades of grass, how they turned silver and bent in the wind, and even suggested at the small wildflowers that bowed their heads gently into the landscape.
It all made sense to me. I stepped away for a few weeks. Yet a nagging thought kept popping into my head – what about all those people who can’t see what I see? How could I allow them to see what I see? This would require me trying something new. To show everyone the flowers and blades of grass that I see, I decided to highlight them. I covered my favorite spots of the painting, the ones that really felt like a landscape with tape and paper. And then I painted the background black.
The result? I think you can experience it for yourself, but the wild garden came to life.
“The momentousness of the migration as an event does not alter the fact that the migrants were ordinary people. Like colonial settlers or western pioneers of an earlier day, they were not looking to change the world, only their own status. A mixture of farmers, domestic servants, day laborers, and industrial workers, they came from all parts of the South, hoping for a chance to improve their own station or at least that of their children.“
Julia: I think I learned about synesthesia in college. Honestly, I wonder if I really have much of it at all. I always associated numbers and letters with colors, but just in my head. Until I learned about synesthesia, I thought everyone did that. I don’t see colors when I look at text on a page, it’s more like in my mind the letter D has to be green, 8 is a cool, dark color, etc. That said, becoming aware of it and learning how our senses can be connected has certainly changed how I see the world. I like what you said in your article “The ability to successfully link apparently unrelated ideas and concepts is the very definition of creativity.” I think I’ve subconsciously explored that in both my collage and floral work— grouping unexpected things together based on color and using repetitive “rhythmic lines and shapes.” The collages I’ve been making started off more as a design exercise before turning into their own obsession…
Monica: Do you have any images of your work for collages and floral arrangements that you think best illustrate the ideas of repetitive rhythmic lines and shapes,and also your exploration of linking unrelated ideas and concepts? For me, my paintings are illustrations of both of these concepts. I find that picking out the paints and materials is one big meditation. I stand in front of cans and tubes of paint silently. Then, a particular color will grab my attention and a sort of creative, ecstatic energy guides me. I’m very absorbed by the process of picking out colors; they each seem to have this emotional language that captures my attention. It’s an experience that is really outside of words and letters, so it can be difficult to explain . . . but I feel a variety of emotions and states of being when I look at different hues and colors. This is one of the types of synesthesia, and Joan Mitchell talked a lot about the emotional states of her paintings this when describing her creative process.
- I no longer have to focus on the misfortunes of the past or on judging myself.
- Each moment, I can direct my focus towards the pursuit of happiness instead of tearing myself down.
- It takes courage to be the person what I want to be, but I believe in myself.
- In finding the courage to believe, anything is possible.
As the photo shoot progressed, I felt like I was living a major moment in art history. All of those books I read about my favorite movements, like Impressionism and Pre-Raphaelite art, were swirling around me. I was living art. Finally, I was proud of who I was. Everyone around me was living art, too. It was so liberating to see each person as who they really were – a beautiful soul in the artwork of their own body. There was no shame or judgement. There was only appreciation and joy. And that is the only way I choose to live.
“Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends.” ― Aberjhani
It is with much delight and gratitude that I write today’s post. Synesthesia has been a topic that has fascinated me for many years. (New to my site? You should view my previous posts: Synesthesia in Art & Fashion and Joan Mitchell) It’s a topic I’ve researched extensively. I was recently invited to share my research with Exchanges: The Warwick Research Journal, published by The University of Warwick.
My article, Teaching Synaesthesia as a Gateway to Creativity, is now live and available for free download.
Please click this link: The Warwick Research Journal Murgia Article
This article encapsulates my experience of teaching creativity within a higher education curriculum. Creativity often eludes common understanding because it involves using different conceptual streams of thought, often times developing unconsciously and manifesting in the prized “eureka” moment. In 2009, I began explaining the neurological condition of synaesthesia and later introduced this phenomenology in a course designed to cultivate creativity to first year fashion design students. There are many challenges in teaching creativity. Through teaching this course, I discovered that the first challenge is making the students conscious of their own qualitative beliefs on creativity and art. The second is creating exercises to challenge and alter these beliefs, thus forming a new way of thinking and experiencing the world. The most resistance from my students arose when experimenting with non-representational art. They did not have a conscious framework for making and evaluating abstract art. Introducing synaesthesia, a neurologically-based condition that “merges” two or more sensory pathways in the brain, gave my students a framework for discovery. Understanding sensory modalities and ways in which these modalities can blended together in synaesthesia proved to be a gateway to creativity in many of my students. The scope of this article chronicles how I developed my teaching methodology, the results it created in my classroom, as well as its effects on my own artistic practice. (To read the full article, please visit: Teaching Synaesthesia as a Gateway to Creativity)
Many thanks to Dr. Karen Simecek, Catherine Snyder, Neira Kapo, David Lautz, Terry Hall, Dawn Marie Forsyth, and to all of my former students. This article would not have been possible without your assistance, encouragement, inspiration, and dedication to the pursuit of creativity.
The class met twice a week for a 3 hour time period. A short, bald, mischievous man greeted us with a big smile and a stack of papers. He explained that he would teach us how to see properly, and also how to improve our writing. We went through the syllabus, course materials, and expectations. I’d later understand how my calculated choice of class would changed my life.
Shedding these perceptions was really challenging. It was unlearning a subtle, habitual way of seeing the world. I’d continually make the same mistakes over and over again. He’d laugh at me while holding his suspenders and say “No! The face is the wrong size! How big do you think your face is?” I drew my perception of the size of my own face. He laughed again, handed me a marker. He instructed me to do the following: “Go into the bathroom and trace the outline of your face in the mirror. Then really look at it.” I did what he told me, and was surprised to see how small the outline was. At that moment, I understood the difference between seeing and perceiving.
That is when my work became really authentic. I would notice the interplay of shapes and void spaces. My mind began to develop a non-verbal language when I started to draw people. Instead of thinking in labels like “hair, nose, mouth”, I started to think in shapes, color, and the amount of negative spaces in between.
Neil also always played eclectic music from around the world. We started swapping music, and I have many CDs we exchanged from those classes. I noticed the effect that music had on my art. It became really clear that my best work would unfold as I listed to unrecognizable music – either a foreign language or something completely instrumental. I still like to create with instrumental or electronic music – anything that helps me enter the realm of non-verbal thinking.
I stopped making portraits – and all visual art – during a really difficult time of my life. During my senior year of college, my parents divorce. The events were really catastrophic, particularly because it involved illness and addiction. In what seemed the blink of an eye, I lost my home, my parents, and any shred of security. I pulled away from creating. I isolated from friends. I had to focus all of my energy on survival.
It took a long time for me to get back to making art. Writing became more of an outlet for me as my life began to sort itself out. As things improved and I felt more secure, I started to create again. First, I explored landscapes. Then abstract work. After my last series of paintings, I decided to enroll in a class at The Art Students League. (New to my site? You should read Ineffable: Fantasy & Reality, which describes my last series of paintings.)
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just showed up with a large sketchbook and a box of pastels. Soon enough, I was able to access that non-verbal way of thinking. All those lessons from Neil were still fresh in my mind. Yet there was something additive to the works I am making now. The portraits I’ve been making in class now have more spontaneity. I feel free to scribble and suggest things like hair and shadows. I’m not so timid to use bold colors and wild gestures.
While I drawing, I’m very much in another realm of existence. It’s difficult to explain – maybe ineffable – but I become so enthralled in the act of creating that the work seems to flow out of me. It feels like I’m not drawing it, but that it is an expression of my reaction to the colors and shapes in the environment, and an almost involuntary movement of my hands. I’ll make 6 or 7 portraits a class. When I go home and review them alone, I’m fascinated by the results. It seems like I’m drawing moods, emotions, souls, and historical scenes rather than a model in Manhattan.
Fantasy and reality . . . are they really so different? Both are products of our own thinking, fears, and desire. The subtle difference boils down to audience. Reality is the act we play before our family, friends, and other people. Fantasy is the private movie that replays in the minds, shrouded in secrecy.