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Quilled brain by Sarah Yakawonis
With some activities, I get a voice telling me it’s a waste of time. Usually this voice comes up loudly in the first 5 minutes of making art. Somehow, it doesn’t come up much when I watch tv. Unlike watching tv, I feel better when I do it anyway, and after 5 minutes the voice is usually silent. After 5 minutes I’m groovin’ on dopamine.
“…The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can be enjoyable… The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen.” – Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience
Quilled anatomy by Lisa Nilsson
When you draw, dopamine is produced in the brainstem and released in your brain’s cortex region, the part that we use to create ideas, make decisions, and plan our actions.
“…we feel rewarded when we create new objects or actions. And since creativity is based on the decisions made by the creator, the reward system kicks in when we are in control and inventing things that we have thought of ourselves. Freedom and ownership are part and parcel of the neurochemistry of the arts.” – James E. Zull, professor of biology and author of The Art of Changing the Brain
From the Business Insider
In one recent study in the journal Art Therapy, researchers found that after just 45 minutes of art-making, levels of the hormone cortisol — which is associated with stress — were reduced in participants’ saliva, regardless of their prior art skills.
Another small studyfound that spending 30 minutes creating art, especially free-form painting, was associated with reduced anxiety levels in first-year college students preparing for their final exams. Art classes also reduced stress and anxiety in people caring for ailing family members.
While the calming effect of art-making is not universal and larger studies are needed, for many stressed out people, it may be just the ticket. “After about five minutes, I felt less anxious,” said one participant in the Art Therapy study. “Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective.”
Art’s benefits have been observed at a neural level, too.
One 2014 study published in the the journal PLOS ONE found that making visual art can improve connections throughout the brain known as the default mode network.
This system is associated with the brain’s state during wakeful rest, like daydreaming, but it’s also active when we’re focusing on internal thoughts or future plans.
Scientists have previously observed that when people say they are especially “moved” by a piece of art, those feelings are linked to activity in the default mode network. While this research is in the earliest stages, it might suggest that the art people connect with deeply — likely including the art that they create — might be the result of “a certain ‘harmony’ between the external world and our internal representation of the self,” the researchers explain.
And the PLOS ONE study concluded that making art was much more powerful than simply looking at it.
Distracting yourself from sadness by making art can work even better than venting about the problems.
In one study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, participants were shown the (heartbreaking) documentary “The Laramie Project” to elicit laboratory sadness.
Once appropriately sad, one group was tasked with creating art relevant to the film, another making unrelated art, and a third was asked to just sit quietly.
The researchers found that distracting yourself by making unrelated art was far more effective than either venting your feelings through art or just sitting in your sadness. (Other forms of distraction might have this effect too.)
Cognitive benefits don’t come only from purposeful, serious art.
Oddly enough, doodling can help us pay better attention when we’re listening to something boring — and remember it later. It helps us focus and keeps our minds from wandering, reports The Atlantic.
One study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that, when aided by doodling, participants were able to recall 29% more information on a surprise memory test than those armed only with their determination.
It might not hold true for all tasks though — a study from the journal Cognitive Research Report found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, doodling can impair visual memory.
So stick to the margin doodles and napkin notes in lectures without too many diagrams.
This isn’t for just visual art — thinking and writing about our problems as a creative narrative (as in diary entries) can help put them into perspective.
A study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology suggested that framing our issues as a story can help make them more manageable. Participants were asked to spend 15 minutes each day for a four day period confidentially writing about something. The control group wrote about something nonemotional (often the details of the lab), while the experiment group was asked to write about the most traumatic experience of their life.
Understandly, the experimental group became much more emotional during the sessions, but reported that the experience was valuable — 98% of the group said they’d return if given the chance.
Organizing our issues as a narrative seems to bring some order to the chaos that is our problems. As the study puts it, “this gives individuals a sense of predictability and control over their lives.”
For decades, researchers have foundthat musical training and making music seems to be something of a brain booster. It’s associated with better language ability, better academic performance, and improved memory, especially in children who practice regularly.
And playing an instrument or singing a song is good for adults too.
“Active music making in a social context has the potential to enhance quality of life, well-being and physical and mental health in older people,” researchers concluded in one study, which found these benefits were particular to music-making, and not just the result of a fun group activity.
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defined “flow” as being “in the zone,” totally absorbed by and enjoying the task at hand. “A good life,” he has argued, is one in which this state is not so elusive.
While flow can come from all kinds of activities, art is one of the classic flow experiences, where the art-maker is not motivated by some end goal, but is fully engaged in the process itself. Csikszentmihalyi’s interest in what we now call “flow” in fact began when he was trying to understand the single-minded focus of a painter. He consistently observed, as the cognitive scientist John Sherry wrote later, that “the doing of the art was inherently pleasurable.”
And it’s not just the professionals. One study on flow in teenage students found that — of all the subjects in high school — they were most engaged in and motivated by their art classes, which also had the strongest positive effect on their moods.
Occasionally I can’t find my own darned painting on my own darned computer, so I’ll ask Google if it’s online somewhere. Today I was working on portrait palettes, and was looking for some of the quick portrait studies I’ve done. I remembered one and couldn’t find it on my computer, so I searched for it on Google. Pictured above is the painting I was looking for, “The Look.” Below are two images that came up along with it, side by side. The first is by Nicolai Fechin, the second is Snow White by Disney. While they don’t resemble my little study, they do strongly resemble each other. Placement of hands, placement of figure, angle of face, birds vs scissors. How strange.
Monotypes are one of a kind prints made from an unetched plate. Ink is applied to the plate, and then additive or subtractive processes with ink form an image. For my monotypes, I used a rag, a soft brush, a stencil, a makeup sponge, and a pencil shaped dowel to add or remove ink. I also experimented with odorless mineral spirits, and rubbing alcohol. Once the image is formed, damp paper is set on the plate, and it is run through the press.
A trace monotype is made by laying damp paper down on an inked piece of plexiglass, then drawing a design on the back of the paper. The drawing tool presses the paper against the ink, making a dark line on the front of the paper. There’s often a smudgy look made by fingerprints, and a shadowy look around the line as the pressure, and therefore the amount of ink, fades away from the line.
Below: trace monotypes on the left, and then the printed monotypes (showing the ink that was left on the plate after tracing) on the right.
I was up until 2am making monotypes the other day. I knew I should go to bed, but I couldn’t stop. Every time I pulled the paper from the press I’d get a little rush of surprise and discovery at the effects of my experiments. Then I’d look back at the plate, the soft tones of grey left over from the press, the subtleties now open for new definitions, and I’d get another idea. I thought “what if I tried brush strokes this way” or “what if I tried softer shading” or “what if I went darker here.”
Other forms of printmaking come with an expectation for perfection, so I have a more difficult time just playing. Monotypes have an informal “sketch” quality, so each little print really did feel like an open experiment, just as the little successes, the little misses and imperfections were invitations to try again. The process kept me at the most active level of learning.
For me, a blank sheet of paper inspires nothing, but looking at the suggestions from the ghost ink was a very effective creativity opener. Every time I thought I was done I looked back at the plate and thought “I’d like to try this next thing, I’ll just make one more.” Each little monotype took under 30 minutes, and this went on for hours. I was so inspired by the “and now…” quality of the process, that even after cleaning the inking station, I went to clean the plate and saw the ghost image of my last pressing, and I dug the ink out of the garbage to do one more. I like monotypes.
Although these two terms are used interchangeably, there is a big difference between one and the other.
A monotype is a single printed image which does not have any form of matrix. A monoprint has some form of basic matrix. When making monotypes, the artist works on a clean and unetched plate. For monoprints there is always a pattern or part of an image which is repeated in each print. Artists often use etched plates or some kind of pattern such as lace, leaves, or fabric to add texture. (Source: http://www.monoprints.com/monoprints.php)
What is a matrix? In printmaking, the matrix is the plate or block used to hold the image (woodblock, linoleum, plexiglass, zinc or copper plate, etc).
Images: Monotypes by Tom Bennett
I prefer a perfect sheet of Rives BFK, baptized in a bath of holy water and dabbed by angels wings, printed with hesitant optimism and an aneurysm when an imperfection emerges, but William Kentridge, he throws it down. That man can work the paper. Torn pieces, inked, and carefully arranged. Look how thoughtful he is with his whimsy. Have you ever heard an artwork mutter? Listen.
Above: William Kentridge, The Full Stop Swallows The Sentence (2012) Hand-printed lithograph (listed also as linocut). Image courtesy Greg Kucera Gallery – http://www.gregkucera.com/past.htm
Below: William Kentridge, Undo, Unsay and Universal Archive
More of Kentridge’s Linocuts from 2012 (photo courtesy David Krut)
William Kentridge, Nine Trees, 2012 (Linocut printed on pages from Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)
Yesterday I talked about trace monotypes:
“Trace monotypes are made by laying paper down on an inked piece of plexiglass, then drawing a design on the back of the paper. The drawing tool presses the paper against the ink, making a dark line on the front of the paper.”
– Ruthie V, circa yesterday
Today I found an artist who used both the trace, and the print from the press to make a positive/negative figure study.
Madeline Roseske, monoprint (positive & negative)
A positive from the figure drawing teacher: The contour lines are a beautiful balance with the textured tones. Take another look at that shading. To make it, the artist ran their finger (or another soft tool?) across the surface of paper, not seeing the result until the page was lifted. Soft pressure makes these marks, but the artist couldn’t see what they were doing until it was done. Drawing blind! Just one move made the spine, and it worked. Elegant.
A negative from the figure drawing teacher: Just because you can draw the whole detailed foot, doesn’t mean you should. I realize the bravery involved in drawing hands and feet, typically people skip them out of fear, but in this case the wiggly little beans distract from the graceful simplified form, and this print would have been quite lovely without it.
Those ghosted square shaped marks – Nikki Barber, do you think these are brayer marks from uneven inking? Or something else?
A trace monotype is made by laying paper down on an inked piece of plexiglass, then drawing a design on the back of the paper. The drawing tool presses the paper against the ink, making a dark line on the front of the paper. There’s often a smudgy look made by fingerprints, and a shadowy look around the line as the pressure, and therefore the amount of ink, fades away from the line.
Trace monotypes can easily be combined with other forms of painting, drawing, and printmaking for a variety of marks and expressions.
American, 1910 – 2011
Untitled (Radar), from the series Machines, ca. 1949
Trace monotype on paper
Sheet: 45.7 x 30.4 cm (18 x 11 15/16 inches)
Not all sections of a surface are equal. Movement, space, and placement can be used to suggest time. Within the composition we can infer a sequence, a past, and a future. In part, this is due to how we read. Generally, we read top to bottom, and left to right. Within a scene in a painting we often interpret things happening at the top or left side as beginning, and as they move towards the lower and the right side, they are perceived as ending. Things happening in the lower right side tend to be perceived as happening later in time. Spacing and placement can also can suggest how much future or past there is outside of the immediate scene of the painting. This isn’t true for all paintings, but it does happen in some, and you can use it in yours.
For example, the painting Christina’s World by Wyeth suggests a moment of time in the subject’s future. We connect the figure (left) to the house (right), and the tension is in the suggested attempted movement from the figure through the blank space, as the figure pulls towards the house.
In the painting below by Harry Franklin Waltman, the action has mostly already happened (represented by the figure on the left), and the figure on the right is at his end. Both Christina and the fencer are in peril, but Christina, the figure on the left side, will extend into prolonged suffering, while the fencer, the figure on the right edge of the canvas, suggests the story is at its end.