Summer art shows

DSCN3275My award-winning mixed-media artwork is on display this summer in several juried shows throughout Michigan.

To see what I’ve been up to — and where to view my pieces — please visit Cindy La Ferle’s Mixed Media

In August I’ll be part of a self-portrait exhibit on Michigan’s west coast; details to be announced. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll have a chance to enjoy at least one of our beautiful state’s outdoor art fairs and juried exhibits. Here’s to a happy and creative summer!

Fly your own bird

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde

DSCN0126One of my favorite episodes on the hilarious Portlandia series is the one that popularized the phrase: “Put a bird on it.” Now listed in urban dictionaries, the expression refers to any creative trend that’s become so common that it’s a cliche. If you haven’t seen the episode, think of the times you’ve visited a boutique or gallery and noticed how many items are embellished with a bird. You get the idea.

On the topic of originality, freelance writer Pam Houghton recently posted several excellent tips on building a satisfying career. For me, the tip that resonated most was the one emphasizing the importance of listening to your own voice — instead of following trends.

“Some people make success look easy,” Pam wrote. “The times I tried to imitate them never worked even after repeated attempts….I had no choice then but to step back and ask, what is it that I do well?”

Pam’s post got me thinking about my early years as a journalist in the 1980s. I was a huge fan of New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen, whose “Life in the Thirties” pieces were so fresh that I wished I’d written them. I wanted to draw “aha!” moments from my readers, like Quindlen did every week. I wanted to be a family columnist, but how could I hold a candle to Anna Quindlen?

Then there was Anne Lamott, who wrote the exquisite memoir, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, and lots of juicy essays for Salon. Add to the fact that I also admired essayist Annie Dillard, and you’ll get why I considered adopting my middle name, Anne, as a pen name. The Annes and Annas were rocking the writing world.

On one hand, I learned something about my own taste — and writing goals — when I examined the nuts and bolts of their work. Quindlen spun the personal into the political; Dillard brought both depth and poetry to her nonfiction; Lamott broke rules and made me laugh out loud.

Luckily, I stopped short of stealing their pet adjectives or mimicking their styles. But it took a while to feel confident in my own voice.

It’s tempting to reach for something quick and easy — a bird? someone else’s idea? — when we’re timid or lazy. (As a mixed-media artist, I’ve been guilty of pasting too many birds on my collages.) Of course, it’s natural to follow trends when we’re starting out, whether we’re designing furniture or writing poetry. And while it’s true that we learn by observation, the trick is to avoid getting stuck in copycat mode. (Plagiarism is illegal, period.)

Being an original is twice as hard in the digital age. Everyone is chirping for attention, building a platform, following trends. The biggest challenge is to keep stretching your wingspan, then landing on something that’s truly your own.

— Artwork by Cindy La Ferle; copyright 2012 —  

Creative obsession

"Becoming" by Cindy La Ferle

“Becoming” by Cindy La Ferle

No, I haven’t gone missing — it’s just that I’ve been lured “off-campus” by my other blog. This year, I finally gathered a portfolio of my artwork and started building a separate site for it. I’ve created the new art blog by myself — no help from the family geeks — and I’m having a blast learning how to build and customize the pages. I just added a separate page of quotes on creativity and links to my favorite artists. Too much fun!

Once traffic builds there, I’ll post regular updates. And, if there’s enough interest, I’ll include a few tutorials on mixed-media art projects you can make at home. Meanwhile, here’s the new link: Cindy La Ferle’s Mixed-Media. I hope you’ll visit the site and subscribe for updates. (It might be the only place to find me until spring break.)

P.S.: My art is featured this week in The Oakland Press and The Macomb Daily(4/14). Click here to see it.

My art in a magazine

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.” — Seth Godin 

DSCN4958I’ve been publishing my essays and articles since I was in college, yet I still get that little thrill each time I see my byline in a glossy magazine or a newspaper. Until this year, though, I didn’t have the nerve to submit my artwork to publishers — so I was honored when two of my pieces were chosen to illustrate the Rust Belt Rising Almanac this spring.

DSCN4954

Another exciting “first” for me: getting my work published in Cloth, Paper, Scissors, a full-color national magazine for mixed-media and collage artists.

The January/February 2014 issue of CPS includes my essay on struggling to call myself an “artist” — a theme that speaks to writers and artists alike. My essay is illustrated with a full-page color photo of “The Importance of Ancestors,” a mixed-media piece of mine that’s been displayed in juried art competitions in Michigan. You’ll find the magazine at Michaels craft stores or Barnes & Noble, in the art magazine section.

TO SEE MORE OF MY MIXED-MEDIA ARTWORK, PLEASE VISIT MY new ONLINE GALLERY 

Telling stories with art

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one” — Stella Adler

DSCN3582Not long ago, a friend asked: Which came first — making art or writing stories? Her question got me thinking about the new direction my creative life is taking.

Looking back on my childhood, I recall watching my mother as she mixed her oil paints on a glass palette. In those days Mom worked at home as a color artist, tinting portraits of brides and high school students for local photography studios.

Like most kids, I was fascinated with art supplies, and seized every opportunity to make a mess. There’s an old family story about the time I grabbed one of Mom’s paint brushes, then somehow ended up in the emergency room with the brush stuck in my nose. I was barely a year old — but the accident never discouraged my urge to dabble in art.

Over the years, however, my interest in books and writing grew stronger. And while I always managed to take art classes, even in college, I was discouraged from trying a career in art. How many artists make a living selling their work?

My college professors urged me to pursue writing. I could argue my way through any topic, and was even advised to consider law school. (I know … I can hear you laughing.) After college, the field of journalism wasn’t exactly wide open, but I managed to find interesting work at publishing companies, magazines, and newspapers.

But I shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that making art gave me the creative freedom I’d been missing from the calculated process of writing and editing.”

After I married and became a mother, freelance writing provided the flexible schedule I needed. The writing life was near-perfect for two decades, in fact, and I loved it.
Circus

By the time my son left for college, however, freelance budgets began evaporating. Publications folded up and disappeared like traveling circuses. And while I didn’t suffer a full-blown midlife crisis in my empty nest, I desperately needed to be excited about something again.

Why not art? Heading to the local craft supply store, I felt my heart lift for the first time in ages. I started making cards and notepads for friends, then tried bigger projects — altered books, shrines, and mixed-media assemblages. I made mistakes; I learned new skills.

All along, it occurred to me that I was still telling stories — just using different materials. But I shouldn’t have been so surprised to learn that making art gave me the pure creative freedom that I’d been missing from the calculated process of writing and editing.

Not that I’m giving up the writing life entirely — but I’ve decided to make 2013 my official “Art Year.”  I’ve promised myself to create at least one new art project a week, whether it’s a birthday box for a friend or an entry for an art competition.

Though I’ve had several of my altered books and collages accepted in Michigan art competitions, one of my long-range goals is to have enough quality work for a solo art show. And I’d like to start selling a few of my pieces. Maybe I won’t make a living as an artist, but my soul is telling me to follow my heart — before any more time gets away from me.

So far, I’m off to a great start. Two of my pieces were selected for the Anton Art Center’s 40 Michigan Annual (through February 23), and I recently learned that several photographs of my pieces were accepted for publication in a new anthology showcasing writing and artwork from the Midwest.

If you’d like to have a look at what I’ve been up to in my studio, please click here to visit my project gallery on Facebook. For regular updates on all of my projects, please “like” Cindy La Ferle’s Home Office and Studio on Facebook.— Cindy La Ferle

— Original artwork by Cindy La Ferle. For a larger view of both art pieces shown in this post, please click on each photo. —