Friday, November 10, 2017

Exploring Art and Artist :: Mandy Russell

Ellen Schimmel Pearson
by Ben John Lincod Albino

Welcome to the November installment of Exploring Art and Artist!

“Exploring Art & Artist” is a new feature here at OOAK Artisan Showcase. Written by Ellen Schimmel Pearson, it’s a non-artist’s exploration of the creative world. 

Exploring Art and Artist :: Mandy Russell
by Ellen Schimmel Pearson

A theme that I like to visit in these blogs is that of art connects us, to whom, or what, and how.  As I began to learn about our artist this month, who hails from Maine, I am reminded of an experience I had in Maine.  My (then) husband and I had driven to Maine to attend a wooden canoe convention.  We arrived at the campground and set up our tent, and being late at night, we went right to our sleeping bags.  Laying there, in the misty night, I listened to such a contrast of sounds.  To one side of me, the rumbling of traffic from the very close highway, and to the other side of me, a loon calling from the nearby lake.  I thought, "What a disconnect."  I  thought of it as the crazy fast paced world interrupting the sanctity of nature.  I have to say, after starting this blog and learning about our artists and how they connect us to our world, I now look at that experience with a different set of eyes.  For artists exist to infuse into  the web of our lives the threads of that which we cannot create for ourselves but that we need to keep us sane, grounded, peaceful.  Maybe it wasn't so much that crazy highway interrupting nature, rather the loon existing to infuse peace into my crazy world.  Maybe instead of a disconnect, it was a connect.  

And so, I am brought back to Maine, to the town of Brunswick, to a woman who, in the midst of the world that seems to be crashing down all around us, environmental tragedies and acts of violence, keeps her focus on her art - that which connects us on another level than what seems to be beating us down, and reaches out to us in peace, in love, in creativity, in whimsy and fun, in nurturing that side of us that yearns to be the threads that tie us together rather than tear us apart. This month I am happy to bring to you Mandy Russell, a very talented artist and teacher who is passionate about her art and how art influences her world. 

So, I welcome Mandy, and invite you along with me as together we learn about her world and her art -

Mandy, it's always good to start at the beginning of an artist's journey.  Can you tell us when you had your very first experiences in art, and when you developed your love for your art?  

 I have a very early memory that stems from kindergarten or first grade.  The whole class took a field trip to a classmate's house where we made a snowman on an aluminum-covered baking sheet.  I remember that the snowman's round sections, while depicted flat on the sheet, were somewhat sculpted, or raised, using a thick frosting-like material.  I took ownership of creating that snowman from the get-go.  I loved every minute of making it and was ever so proud of its perfection when complete. I even have a picture floating around here somewhere of my class standing around that snowman.  I was the closest to it and had the biggest grin on my face.

Ever since I can remember, I have always loved making things with my hands.  It gives me great joy in seeing my creative ideas come to life.  The unveiling, if you will, or the achieving of the end product is the motivating goal, but the process is simply intoxicating.

When did your love for your art turn to the focus of teaching?  You mention in your bio that teaching is a very important part of your art, and in particular, teaching children. What is your greatest challenge and your greatest joy in guiding children in the expression of art?

I'll be honest here, teaching art and craft techniques evolved from a need to make money!  What better way to earn an income than to share your passion with others, and lead them to finding their own creative bliss?  Teaching began for me, about 7 or 8 years ago. I began instructing various art/craft projects at my local adult ed center. Book making, quilting, jewelry making, watercolor sketchbooks, felted creatures.... It turned out, lucky for me, that I do love teaching!  Inspiration is truly contagious.  Teaching art or craft is as much take as it is give.  I'm inspired, the student is inspired, it's a win-win situation. I do love instilling confidence in people who doubt their abilities.  I am an encouragement machine and I like being that for people.

With children, I've learned quickly that I am not good at crowd control.  Large groups of little ones get me flustered and are hard to keep engaged.  But I simply love how children allow themselves to play with art supplies.  They delve in, totally confident!  They also forgive their mistakes readily and move on quickly.  I love how children know what they want to make, and it's not often what I want them to make.  They have their own aesthetic value, and it doesn't always follow a Pinterest-perfect path.  I love letting them have free range to make what they want, not what I want!

As I look at your gallery of art, you engage in many different mediums and projects.  What is your favorite medium to work with?  

My favorite medium is always changing.  I simply can't nail it down no matter how hard I try!  Right now, today, I'd say I love messy, painty, textural, collage-full, art journaling. Even more if it's in a handmade book full of high-end watercolor paper!  Oh how important "good" paper is!!!!

I notice that a lot of your art has a bit of a whimsical thread in it, either with bright color accents or the use of buttons or beads or flowers or the use of phrases through your artwork.  What inspires you as you create your art and does this whimsical touch have a message or meaning you are sending out?

My whimsical, playful, bright and sometimes messy style, with silly phrases here and there, does in fact have meaning!  When I create like that, I'm basically saying "don't take yourself too seriously."  No one's better than anyone else, no one's getting out of here alive, etc. etc.  It's somewhat of a cosmic perspective, if you will.  The Earth is but a minute speck in the vast universe. We are but stardust, and to dust we all return.  So lighten up!

You are very excited to be sponsoring an upcoming workshop with Kathyrn Costa on drawing Mandalas.  As you say in your class description, Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle” or “center.” In making the design of your life with mandala circles, with you at the center of your design, how are the other circles interacting (connecting) with you?  Are you in a role of reaching out and touching others with your art and your teaching of art?  Or are you a sponge that is soaking up the creativity of others?  In thinking about the mandala circle of your life, what is your purpose?

What a great question!!!  I'd say my mandala-circle-of-life is an ever-changing, fluid give and take existence.  I glean great inspiration, or soak up creativity from others, like a sponge for sure.  I often have to "reel" myself in and ask myself, "do you really have time in your life for yet another new creative endeavor?"  I just love the contemporary art journalers out there, especially Teesha Moore. I fall in love with all the North Light books as well as Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.  And of course, I drool over all the Stampington publications.  The. Entire. Line. 

I also pass on, or share my inspiration freely.  Like a give-back-to-the-community effort! I share my process and materials readily and am not very proprietary about my art or art techniques.  I have yet to ever use a watermark... Ever!  There will always be more supplies and more ideas.  Tomorrow I'll be into something totally different anyway!  Plus, I love to help build someone's confidence when it comes to creating.  To see someone get giddy over their creation because of my teaching, is a great feeling.  It's like a ripple effect really.  I start the seed growing, they take it over and expand their creativity, and in doing so, pass it on to others.  So that we all become a bunch of connected mandalas!!!

You have spent a lot of time teaching others.  If art is your teacher, what do you learn from your art?  

Art has taught me a lot about micro-goals and mistakes.  To set a small creative goal and achieve that goal is confidence-building for sure. It feels great to take a vision or a design and see it through to completion.  However, mistakes happen readily that impede, or halt, the process.  I've learned that mistakes can be easily covered with gesso.  I've learned that mistakes aren't always mistakes.  I've also learned that mistakes can be recycled, thrown out, or donated to Goodwill.  And yes, making mistakes is a fabulous teacher in itself!  I think most importantly art has taught me that the micro-goal often shifts or morphs into something different than the original plan anyway!  

Where would you like your art to take you in the future?  

The beauty of this great journey is that I truly have no idea where it's taking me.  If I had to make a wild wish of sorts, I'd love to eventually teach mixed-media sketchbooks in Giverny, or something like that! But ask me tomorrow and it may have changed!

Connections.  In the unstable world we are living in especially recently, I think Americans find themselves searching for a thread to grab onto  that will help us find peace, love, joy, a short reprise from our heavy hearts.  When we look at the beautiful gifts that come from our artists, we grow to appreciate the sharing of these wonderful talents and the lessons they teach us.  I thank Mandy for sharing a small part of her world with us this November, the month for giving thanks.  As a woman who is not creatively talented, I give thanks to the many artists in America and beyond, who make me smile, who lift my soul, who bring me peace with their works.  They connect me to that simpler path, even when I fear I have veered off so far that I may never get back.  They say, "follow me, be nourished, feel loved, take your mind to a simpler place if only but a moment, and know where to come to experience it again."  I hope that we continue to be inspired by these creative artists month after month, and find our connections to that simpler path that we desire. 

A note from Shelley – 
I am happy to announce that Mandy has joined the OOAK Artisan Showcase Design Team, watch this blog for her first project share next Tuesday, Nov. 14th!

Until then, keep creating!

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