Art Is Your Playground

I attended the second day of a workshop today, given by some students doing their Masters in Fine Art from the Burren College of Art. The first day took place in the hills of the Burren, and the second in the Courthouse, the beautiful premises of KAVA, which stands for Kinvara Area Visual Artists. The students and our group had come together to do a workshop with the theme Traces, Places and Memory, and we were chatting about what we’d done with paint, leaves, printing and so on over the last day. The workshop had involved making large monoprints, getting mucky with acrylic, collage and photo transfer. Each participant would show their work and chat about what they were doing and why.

I noticed that one sentence came up again and again.
“I was just having fun,” was said in an almost apologetic way by artist after artist. It was time to say something.
“Art is supposed to be fun,” I said. “As humans we’re creative by our very nature. When you’re having fun is when it’s going well.”
One of the girls from the art college made an observation.
“Sometimes it feels like having fun isn’t encouraged in art school,” she said.
I knew what she meant. We all know what she meant. And she’s right.

Anything we are compelled to do to survive is fun, one of the wonderful aspects about being alive. Eating, drinking, being creative = fun. We’ve all heard the best writers, designers and artists say that first and foremost they please themselves. We recognise it on a deep level when we see the results. We sense the joy.

It can be easy to forget how to have fun as artists. Maybe we have “made it” based on a particular look or brand. Maybe we’re under pressure from a client to produce something within a very tight definition. Maybe we’re in a college situation where everything has to be terribly serious, deep and meaningful. That’s all very well, but how can you be truly creative if restrictions have been imposed? That will lead to a whole heap of nothing new or inventive.

Luckily, there are ways to get around this. I’m going to share with you one of my favourites.

Do You Draw And Cook?

Some ten years or so ago, I was trying to get noticed in the world of art, and getting nowhere fast. I was bursting with creativity and an almost feverish need to produce art of all kinds, but I didn’t have much in the way of an outlet. One day, I stumbled across an amazing website. It’s called They Draw And Cook. Anyone can submit a recipe using any materials they like, presented in any way you like, illustrating any recipe you like. By that I mean any. Two of my favourites were one for water (yes!) with just three atoms and a big glass of water, beautifully painted. The other was called Beetroot Yogurty Thingumajig (or something like that) and had a girl with a maroon blob of beetroot, a blob of white for yogurt and then a pink blob as they were mixed together, drawn in an adorable naive style.

Aunty Ro’s Fig and Almond Tart

I can’t remember if I submitted the one I’ve included here – it was drawn a long time ago, and I can’t even remember if I ever baked it – but looking at it now I think it still looks pretty cool, unlike lots of other stuff I produced around the same time. Sure, the lettering could have been clearer, to say nothing of the instructions, but the plump lady (my alter ego, I guess) was painted in gouache, cut out and stuck on, which is just how I like to mess around.

I’ll even go so far as to say that if I never made the tart, then it isn’t Aunty Ro’s (ie. me) but some other lovely lady. My bad.

Some of the stuff you can use to illustrate your recipes:
Gouache
Pen and ink
Watercolour
Collage
Print (chips drawn using potato cuts anyone?)
Bits of pasta (watch that scanner!)
Photo transfer
Pencils
Oils
Acrylics
Hand prints
Letter stamps
Beetroot juice…ok I’ll stop now

The only rule is the size of your piece: it must be 5000px X 1875px. I draw mine at any size, whilst keeping the proportions correct. I then edit in the computer but it’s up to you, as long as you follow the sizing guide. It will end up in a long strip like this:

…and don’t forget that if you’d like to be considered for one of their book collections, then be mindful of the gutter and leave it free (the bit in the middle where the page folds).

The thing about They Draw And Cook is that you can do what you like. You’re not getting paid, and no one will judge you. It’s just for fun. The website is more or less the same now as it was when i discovered it, with two differences: there is now an emphasis on using it as a place to be noticed by art directors, and there are prompts to help you come up with ideas. I would say great to the latter, but try not to think too much about the former. If you do, you’ll find yourself second-guessing what they might be looking for, and that would defeat the purpose. It’s a playground! So play!

This attitude of playfulness has stood me in excellent stead when it comes to urban sketching. It takes away any pressure I might feel about producing something a certain way. Take this sketch as an example. It’s a gorgeous café in Kinvara, a lovely fishing village a few miles from my house. I really had fun doing it (and more importantly, I was in my tiny car so I stayed dry). I played with colours in the roof and followed my devil-may-care approach overall.

If you are unsure about anything, ask me in the comments, but it’s mostly straightforward when you go onto the site. Nate and Salli, the brother and sister team who run it, are really lovely people and were very happy to engage with me when I was submitting work at the time – such a nice way to be.

Till next time – have FUN!

Kilcolgan last evening…much nicer seen from indoors!

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