What Kind of Artist Are You?

What Kind of Artist Are You?

ABOVE: This is a photo taken inside my studio. As you can see, I am a very tidy artist, even with work in progress.

Under my breath, I mutter that I am not a botanical or floral artist to no one in particular. When looking at my work, I’m certainly not a botanical artist. When looking at historical and present-day botanical paintings and drawings, I don’t think people would think of me as a botanical artist if they knew the precise definition. 

These are lovely people and dear friends who think of me as a botanical artist. I don’t correct them. It’s human, we label. We like to place people into tidy categories, like filing cabinets and recipe books.

The truth is that the subject matter that interests me has to do with ecology, the environment, biodiversity, and climate change. These are what I try to depict through my art, accompanied by stories. It’s a work in progress, and I hope it leads me to become a better artist and storyteller. 

I am thinking of the definition of an artist, too. I believe all people can be artists and are artists without knowing it. There was a time I fed into the idea that being an artist was an elite status — a gift bestrode to you by the gods. I don’t subscribe to this notion anymore.

Let me give you a definition of who I consider an artist. An artist is someone creative in their approach and open to ideas. They like to collaborate and value community. Making things, discovering things, or making something work better makes them feel alive. That pretty much accounts for most people. 

I have been thinking a lot about identity, too. It’s a topic written and spoken about widely over the past two years (or more). I’ve been thinking about how important it is to acknowledge one’s identity for oneself. I think of it as a form of self-care. (I know, dear reader, self-care is a term dashed about and overused to the point that I cringe when I hear it mentioned.) In this case, the self-care I am talking about is taking care of one’s self-confidence, self-worth, and purpose.

Think about it. While it’s not your business to know what other people think of you, artist or otherwise, it’s essential that you know who you are and have the words for it.

I am not going to go into gender identity. I don’t have any authority or experience to offer other than I believe in the importance and significance of pronouns and people should be able to love who they love. Where I think acknowledging one’s identity for oneself is essential, women especially, artists, or otherwise, need to claim this. 

I’ll give you how I identify myself as an example:

I am a post-modern ecological artist (thanks, Dad, for that. I’ll take it.)
I am a woman artist, apprentice poet, writer, designer, and beauty hunter.

At one time, I was not brave enough to say any of these things for fear of the classic “who do you think you are?” response or having people look at me like I was nuts, puzzled, not knowing what to do with that information. Now at 61, I am claiming who I am. It’s time to shed that Scandinavian reservedness of “toe the line,” “don’t make yourself stand out,” or what? What will happen? The earth has not stopped routing on its axis and people are still talking to me. There is both bravery and vulnerability in being an artist and this is just part of the package.

I will continue to let people refer to me as a botanical artist until I find a gentle way to break it to them that I’m really not. It’s what they understand. It’s an entry point, a way for them to get to know my art. I figure, over time, they’ll refer to me as a post-modern ecological artist and the rest of it, too.

Another way to approach one’s identity I learned is rooted in poetry and storytelling,* George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.” It’s a rich expression of telling who you are to others that invite exchange, connection, and understanding. We are a blend of many things and many experiences that shape who we are.

Now Your Turn.

I would love to hear how you identify yourself either as a human, as an artist, or as both. You can do this as I did in my example or as in George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From.” Totally up to you. I know we will all be enriched and inspired by the words you found to say “this is who I am.” Write your answers in the comments. I try and reply to all.


POSTSCRIPT:
I first heard about “Where I’m From” through Springboard for the Arts. The second time I experienced “Where I’m From” in practice was through a recent live workshop I attended at the Minneapolis Center of Book Arts (MCBA) called Water Wayfinding and Cut-Paper with artist Cynthia Weiss and story facilitator Angie Tillges. Yes! MCBA is now officially back open as I write this!

Angie Tillges is currently working on the Great River Passage Initiative and Conservancy project. Cynthia Weiss’s exhibition, Mismatch/Memory/Refuge, is on display in the Outlook Gallery at Minnesota Center for Book Arts from March 25–July 3, 2022, viewable from the sidewalk along Washington Avenue and inside The Shop at MCBA. A must-see!

Collaborate with a Poet?

Collaborate with a Poet?

At the urging of a long-time friend and colleague, I submitted my application to the Red Wing Arts 20th Annual Poet Artist Collaboration. I have created under similar parameters before where I would create the art after being selected based on my previous works. I love combining images with stories and so this felt like a natural.

I didn’t expect to be thrown out of my comfort zone (always a good thing, right?), nor did I expect to do a watercolor that is far removed from my usual approach and technique. More than anything, I wanted to do right by the poem I chose and to the woman who wrote it.

HOW DOES A POET ARTIST COLLABORATION WORK?
It goes something like this. After being notified to participate, artists are provided poet-submitted poems that have been jury selected. Artists pick their top seven poems, ranking the order of preference from one being the top poem pick and so on down the line, choosing the poems that move and inspire them to create a work of art that will accumulate into a group exhibition. The poem lists are emailed in and through part lottery, part diplomatic process, and timing of poem pick submissions (kind of a first-come-first-served situation), artists are then emailed the “their” poem and then create a work of art based on their impressions of that poem.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Besides being moved out of my comfort zone, there was considerable thought that went in to create a piece behind my poem choice. For the 20th Annual Poet-Artist Collaboration exhibition, here is my final watercolor painting inspired by my poem choice, Planted by Deborah A. Goschy, and my artist’s statement.

i-rode-the-breeze-as-children-will-and-took-root-somewhere-else-watercolor-painting
I Rode The Breeze, As Children Will, and Took Root Somewhere Else.
(Inspired by the poem Planted, by Deborah A. Goschy)
Watercolor on 300lb Fabriano Hotpress watercolor paper. 2021 © Kristin Maija Peterson


THE POEM

Planted
by Deborah A. Goschy

At the plant nursery

grass seed lived in barrels,

silent and sleeping,

a cool soft touch 

when I plunged my bare hand

into its silky abundance,

but we bought it by the bag,

this promise of lawns, lush and green,

and it spiraled in fanciful trails

from the seed broadcaster

onto the stubborn soil behind the house.

One warm summer day I carried it in a metal can.

My fingers savored the feel of the steel,

my eyes, the stripes: orange, brown, and tan,

behind the words “Butternut Coffee”

as I let the seeds drop from between my fingers,

and observed their curling descent on an eddy of wind.

“The wind’s coming from the southeast,” I said.

Dad said that meant rain, one of those facts

he had gleaned in his youth among farmers.

That night after the ballgame, the predicted storm came,

a startling shower of cold drops that pelted us

as we ran to our cars across pavement

washed as black and glossy as polished jet,

rain that came down miles away,

wetting rows of scattered promises…

the roots grew down and

the leaves rose up and it was home,       

but my life carried me like a current.

I rode the breeze, as children will,

and took root somewhere else.



ARTIST STATEMENT
I have a confession. The initial painting I created for this poem was wrong, a failure. The work was too literal that it made it creepy — it didn’t feel true to me, nor did it feel true to the poem. On top of it all, the painting lacked movement.

Poetry, after all, is about movement. It’s how words move through the body and move through those listening. It’s how a poet moves when performing their work. Many poets talk about their process of writing involves walking. Poets like Mary Oliver, Maya Angelo, and others walk or pace, letting the poem’s words wash over them. After a month struggling with the first piece, I recalled what the artist Harriet Bart wisely said, “you don’t have to show the work if you don’t like it.” With that, I remember I have agency. And a deadline.

I got busy with a new and different approach. This one relied more on feeling and instincts than needing actual references to guide me. I went through all the lines involving movement again and again “spiraled in fanciful trails,” “their curling descent,” the wind, we ran, “the roots grew down, and the leaves rose up.”

Because I am curious, I tend to research as part of any project I am working on, and in doing so, I found connections to grasses that play a role in Planted. I vaguely remember the brand Butter-Nut Coffee, not so much brewing in our kitchen, more just an old can storing the odd assortment of nuts and bolts in my Dad’s basement workshop. In looking into Butter-Nut Coffee’s origins and its disappearance from store shelves, I discovered it began in 1887, in Omaha, Nebraska, a state I think of having prairie grassland as far as the eye can see. In one interview I read about Butter-Nut Coffee, there was a comment that before being gas-roasted (as opposed to coal-roasted), the beans smelled very much like “freshly cut grass.” But like so many things we take for granted, coffee not only starts our day, it alters the places where it is grown.

I also found diagrams labeling the many parts that make up a grass plant. The offshoots from the parent plant are called daughter plants, apropos to the poem’s author.

Planted is also a poem about memory, and because of that, I wanted colors that felt nostalgic. Six layers of watercolor paint created this piece, perhaps to mark each decade I have lived and suspect the poet has too. In the end, it feels more like a tapestry than a painting. If you tilt the work just so, you can see the “fanciful trails” swirling across the surface.


EXHIBITION DETAILS

The opening reception and poetry reading will be held online on Friday, April 30, 2021, at 7:00 pm. All are welcome. Poems and artwork have been published into an exhibition clap book available through Red Wing Arts.

IF YOU GO: In-person viewing of the Poet Artist Collaboration exhibition is possible during gallery hours, NOON-4:00 pm, Thursdays-Sunday at the Red Wing Arts, 418 Levee Street, Red Wing, MN 55066. The Red Wing Arts gallery and shop are located in a historical train depot situated behind the St. James Hotel. In-person poetry readings are being planned for each Saturday afternoon starting on May 1st through June 19th. Check out the RWA’s Facebook page for details. The Poet Artist Collaboration runs from April 30 through June 21, 2021.


ABOUT THE POET

Deborah Goschy is a member of Southern Minnesota Poets and the League of Minnesota Poets.  She has won awards for her poetry at the state and national level and has had her work published in Encore: Prize Poems 2020, The Martin Lake Journal, and in The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride Project, which exhibits poems on signs along Mankato bike trails.  Deborah is also a freelance graphic designer, a painter, and a digital photographer.  You can find excerpts of her poetry and images of her visual art on her Instagram and her graphic design portfolio on her website.  

Mississippi River Stories

Mississippi River Stories

Shortly after Christmas and before the New Year, I received an announcement congratulating me that I am selected to participate in the upcoming Mississippi River Stories Exhibition to show at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) in NE Minneapolis.

It will be a unique exhibition blending audio-recorded stories with art. Artists will be presented with a Mississippi River story as told by members of the Twin Cities community collected by the St. Thomas students through a research partnership with the St. Thomas Sustainable Communities Partnership, The Natural Heritage Project, and Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO).

Elm Tree Story Booth
Elm Tree Booth © Jessica Turtle / Natural Heritage Project

The stories were collected and recorded in the Elm Tree Booth, a marvelous design created by The Natural Heritage Project. I can tell you first hand the craftsmanship that went into building the Elm Tree Booth is stunning.

Each of the stories varies in length, complexity, detail, and perspective. It is up to each of us artists to create original artwork illustrating the diverse interrelationships of people and the river. Exhibit requirements are that the work must be two-dimensional and sized at 18 x 24 inches unframed. Other than that, artists are free to visually translate the story they receive as best they can in the medium of choice.

In anticipation for my story to arrive, I have been working with watercolors and diversifying my color palette. I am not one to paint landscapes, rather landscapes within a landscape. The story could instantly bring images to mind or leave me utterly struggling with the challenge.

Along with samples of my current artwork, I needed to respond to two questions. Why would I like to participate in this exhibition; what is my connection to the Mississippi River? The answers I hope are as inspiring as the story I will be receiving.

Mississippi River Bluffs
Mississippi River Bluffs Near Weaver Bottoms / Paul Vincent

WHY WOULD YOU LIKE TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS EXHIBITION?

Stories are the stuff that unites us where we have a chance to share knowledge and experiences and create connection and empathy. I weave stories alongside my artwork to give it meaning and to make it more relatable to others. What I find intriguing about this exhibition is the challenge. Can I, with care and respect, translate the words of another’s story into a visual representation that is clear and true? Translations often miss the nuances of meaning in the spoken word. As an artist, I believe there is a language between stories and art that everyone can feel.

WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER?

Throughout my life, I viewed the Mississippi River as a character found in books, poems, songs, and film. I have learned of its power, its perilous polluted conditions, and how organizations and individuals strive to preserve and restore a healthy river ecosystem. For a long time, it’s been an acknowledgment, yet a detached relationship with the river.

Not until my stepson and his young wife introduced me firsthand to the Mississippi River did I fall in love. They took me on long hikes along the area known as Crosby Farms and Fort Snelling. We all expressed how we love to hear the water lap at the shoreline, watching the water flow between its banks. The experience brings a sense of peace and groundedness. It’s like being ”away-away” without having gone anywhere.

The meandering Mississippi River illustrated in a historic topographical map.

Someone recently told me about a “Mississippi Meander,” something of an art crawl between studios dotted along the Mississippi River. I tried to find a write-up about such an event online. I didn’t find a thing about an art crawl. What I discovered were these most beautiful full-color maps illustrating how the Mississippi River meanders. I had never seen a topographic like it.

The song may call the river “Old Man River,” but I see her as a woman – with all the complexities and power to shape a nation. She has done that well. It’s our turn to treat her right.

Like all events in this COVID era, the showing dates for the Mississippi River Stories Exhibition remain flexible. It’s expected to run in the fall of 2021 or if fate has it, in early spring 2022. Watch this space for updates!

watercolor-layered-forest-foliage-pattern-one

Subscribe to the Studio Email

Get previews on new artwork, inspiring studio stories, art exhibit news, artist resources, and what’s inspiring my art and process.

Welcome! You have successfully subscribed to Terra Kind Studio News. So glad you could join in!