Monday, April 28, 2008

Annike (by Nora Blansett)

Victoriana (by Nora Blansett)

Interview with Nora Blansett

I can hardly think of a way to open this interview. Words fail in my attempt to express the emotion, openness and depth Nora brings to this project and the profound impact it has on me. It is best I get right to the interview and let Nora (and her artwork) speak for herself.

"I've been working in the arts now," Nora tells me, "for about sixteen years." She's particularly focused on fantasy and Middle Eastern design. "I'm really not sure how the fantasy world overlapped into my art. I imagine it probably had to do with my mom reading me various bedtime stories from different countries and cultures while growing up in Saudi. I often dreamed of what it would be like to be Rapunzel, the White Cat or Sleeping Beauty...but my fantasies were often mingled heavily with my desert world."

Growing up in the Middle East made Nora pretty obsessive about color and design. "In most of the Islamic countries you won't find images representing people because Islam forbids it. The art is all extremely geometric and full of the most amazing colour! I discovered very quickly that I had a real knack for the local art style, but still found myself dreaming of the maiden in the castle tower."

"As years went on," Nora continues, "I started showing more and more signs of obsessive compulsive disorder and was eventually diagnosed with high functioning autism or asperger's. Again, the geometric shapes and the designs of the desert countries really called to me. My parents took me to Egypt which had an overwhelming impact on my life and art. Alongside the geometric obsession, I viewed original works from ancient Egyptians featuring profiles of the most amazing faces with the greatest expressions. What they accomplished in such simple forms sucked me right in. Of course, my own work ended up taking on a life of its own and hardly resembles the work that initially caught me up in it--yet, at the same time, you can still see the subtle hints of my beginning there."

Nora's favorite mediums are pen and ink, watercolors and watercolor pencils. "I love the control I have with the watercolour pencils as well as their versatility. With the pen and ink, the stippling shading takes hours of repetitive dots, but the end result to me is worth the effort. After I finish the piece in ink, I enjoy playing with colour. I have recently been working again a bit more in watercolours and if you keep an eye out, you may see one of my rarer pieces submitted for sale."

Nora's recently introduced a line of soft sculpture art faerie dolls, some of which may be found on her website, Borealis Art, and shop. "I've found that those who have seen them locally have had quite a bit of interest. I've really found a lot of inspiration for my dolls from such artists as Molly Harrison and Brian Froud. The dolls have recently been picked up by a shop located in Windsor, and I'm really excited about the possibilities."

Aside from her work in standard mediums and the art sculpture dolls, Nora also does some wood burning (pyrography). "It's a little more difficult to get a proper picture of, and I haven't yet offered any for sale -- however, there is a strong possibility that one of my mermaid pieces may find its way into the gallery. I work on standard wood boards, but I also decorate boxes and anything else that I can burn a design into."

Nora's work has been used to both adorn a wall, as well as the body canvas. "I've been designing tattoo flash now sixteen years or more, and in my early years, I worked as a tattoo artist." Nora hasn't worked in the tattoo business in years, but still sells flash to countless studios and will probably continue to do so as long as there is an interest in body decoration.

"I couldn't even begin to list the many things that inspire my work as a whole." Nora tells me, "I've been moved to create by everything from my daughter the faerie, my son the sweetest imp, to toadstool rings. We still leave sweets by our favourite trees for the faeries (they adore cake icing!), toss a shiny coin over the side of bridges to keep the trolls out of our hair (pennies are a favourite!), and I'm as superstitious as they come. I believe in magick, practise it frequently, and live life with as much joy as I can find. I still look for hidden castles in dark woods, and someday I'll be the village wise woman."

Nora knows about my advocacy for Rape Response Services and victims of sexual violence. I asked her why this issue was important to her.

"Sexual violence..." she offers, "is unfortunately something I am far too familiar with. Before moving to Canada, I was a victim of a brutal rape. My attacker (a former gardener for the apartment complex I lived in) plead down to sexual assault and received a light sentence of just a few years (of which he only served six months after sentencing because of time already served). After his release, he attempted to rape me again and managed to rape another woman. This time he was charged with rape and sexual assault and only received about ten years."

"I have lost a great deal of faith in the justice system's handling of these situations," Nora continues, "their refusal to recognize our pain and distress at testifying, our fear of future attacks, and our concern that everything we've ever done would come back to haunt us. I was told that as a fantasy artist doing "erotic nudes", I would get brutalized in court by the defendant's attorney. He did...I was made to look like a sicko for painting imaginary, nude women. What justice is there when we are made to look dirty because we paint naked women with wings?!"

With so many obstacles and challenges thrown her way, I asked Nora how she maintains such a dynamic and healthy view of life.

"I don't want to be misunderstood - but I find myself inspired by my own sense of humour, the challenge itself, and my family. Currently I am going through a very tough time medically and yet, I find myself managing to laugh about what is a very serious situation. Why laugh? Because if I didn't, I'd go insane."

"Sometimes even my art and creating isn't even enough to inspire me to move forward in a tough situation, but I find that if I make light of it, I can bring myself back to a place where I can create and fight my way through whatever battle lies ahead."

Nora's two favorite series of books are: The Ghatti's Tale by Gayle Greeno and the Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. "Each trilogy is about women fighting battles of very different natures...both of them suffering tremendous loss and still rising above it all."

As to what shoes Nora wears? "I have to say that I love my sandals. Release the toes! Anything that I can slip on and off at a moment's notice. Right now I have these great, cheap plastic shoes, but clogs or slippers are just as wonderful. It's not so much the material as the ease of escape! I can walk down a sidewalk and kick them off when I see a patch of inviting grass. I know they say to stop and smell the roses...but I think sometimes it's kinda nice to stop and play footsie with Mother Earth."

I invited Nora to provide a picture of what shoes she wears.

"Unfortunately," she says, "thanks to illness I haven't taken pictures of any part of me for a while -- unless my fingers were captured by accident in the photographing of a piece of jewelry. However, if you can imagine slippers on a pair of size nine and a half tootsies, you've got me figured out." **Grins!**

You may find out more about Nora and her artwork on her website, deviant art site, and her shop.

Nora belongs to the following groups:

World Wide Women Artists
The Fairy Society
Enchanted Folk Network
The Fantasy Art Gathering

Nora has won the following awards for her artwork:

Froudian Artist Award, August 2006
Van Gogh Award for Artistic Excellence
Silver Kara Art Award
Bel Art Excellence Award

Reflection (By Nora Blansett)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lavender Fields in Fall (By Jean Hood)

Galaxy 2 (By Jean Hood)

Interview with Jean Hood

Like many artists I've interviewed lately, Jean is a member of the VAST group that brings so much inspiration and joy to me. Jean is an active, vibrant member of the group and I've had many opportunities to connect with her through the magic of cyberspace. It's with great pleasure I bring you this interview.

"I love to paint!" Jean tells me, "I simply love to paint! My main focus when I'm creating is always Color, Design, and Composition. I love good strong color, and work to bring as much as I can into any medium I'm working with. I paint mostly watercolor and oils, but enjoy mixed media from time to time. I also enjoy making hand made greeting cards."

Jean's a prolific artist, as seen on her website and in her shop on Etsy.

"I paint with bold, clean strokes," Jean continues, "thick with rich, sometimes surprising, colors that express what I see and feel when painting. My hope is that in the end I have engaged the emotions of those who look at my work."

Long before Jean picks up her brushes, she uses design and composition principles to outline her work. "Then I paint with abandon and joy. The resulting work shows my personal application of impressionism with a minimalist quality."

Inspiration often comes from what Jean sees on walks around her ranch located on the historically rich, brushy edge of Texas Hill Country. "Daily, I encounter constant contrasts and variety in texture and color - the dichotomy of harmony and discord; lushness and barrenness; serenity and energy. My challenge is to show the complexity of creation by painting intimate, personal portraits of nature. Whether choosing a landscape or still life, close observation reveals the ordinary as extraordinary."

Jean's faith also inspires her. "It keeps beauty in the forefront of my mind, and I try to portray beauty and peace in everything I create. If I can send beauty and peace to a purchaser of my work, I've done my job." That's been her focus since 1997 when she started painting. "There will always be difficulties and hardships in life. If not mine at the present, in the life of someone I know and love. This is not a perfect world. So, what keeps me above the swirl of life's challenges and beauty is peace. Those two words are not easy to create, but I strive to do so every day in my life, and in my art."

Along with her work as an artist, Jean has participated in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Louisiana's West Baton Rouge Parish for years. She's participated in events in Kinney County and Uvalde County in Texas, as well. "Last year in my home county of Kinney, I donated three paintings for drawings to raise money. This year, I donated two. In addition, I've donated several paintings to the local CHEER, a cancer awareness organization, to help them raise money. They have provided many free mammograms in our small community. This cause is near and dear to my heart, as I lost my precious sister, Lisa, last year to breast cancer. It gives me so much pleasure to support these organizations with my paintings."

For fun, Jean listens to everything from Joe Cocker to Mozart! "I play music when I'm in my studio, and I play it very loud. Often I don't even know it's on, but it's the first button I push when I walk in the door." She subscribes to various art magazines and is an avid reader. "I have a wonderful collection of art books, which are a constant source of inspiration for those dry times!"

As to what shoes Jean wears, the answer is simple: sturdy. "I would fall off anything else."

You may find more about Jean and her artwork on her website, blog, and shop.

Jean is a member of VAST, BBEST, and an art salon with a wonderful group of artists from the US, Canada, France and Australia.

What Shoes Jean Wears

Monday, April 21, 2008

Puddles of Thought (By Shelby Crutchley)

Interview with Shelby Crutchley

As much as I love giving time and attention to my friends for this blog, I am equally excited to make new friends along the way. Shelby is one of my newest acquaintances from the VAST group and it is my honor to present to you this interview with her.

Shelby is the creative inspiration behind Shelby's Paintings and also has a website that is well worth the click. She studied under Salli Babbitt and Ruben Coy both of the Houston Art League and has participated in several shows. "I am a bright, colorful person" she tells me, "and my work very much reflects that. I work in both oils and encaustic (with a little acrylic sprinkled in) because of the beautiful things that I can do in those mediums with color and texture. I'm always looking on the bright side of life, but you would probably think I'm a quiet person when you met me. My art allows me to show the world the bold, bright and beautiful things I see all around me every day."

"The quintessence of my passion came a couple years ago," Shelby continues, "when two of my best friends gave me a fan deck of paint colors for my birthday." Her friends knew nothing inspires more passion and happiness in Shelby's life than vivid colors in harmonious relationships. "I am at my most calm, my most peaceful when I am creating a painting. The bodily acts involved in the process of creation are consuming. The world becomes still, and my awareness is of nothing but the process and my progress. The other facets of life fade away and I am caught in the moment of peace, of creation. Every piece that I create is a full-bodied interaction and reflection of my identity and journey."

The art Shelby creates comes from a deeply personal space where she balances experimentation with color and texture and maintaining a sense of spontaneity. "I'm often inspired by elements I see around me in nature and the experiences of my life. I interact with the colors, textures and forms within each piece, sometimes blurring the line between pure abstraction and representation. Even as I bring another piece of art into the world, I do not hope to possess or protect it. Rather, I hope that by allowing others to experience my paintings, I can enrich others' lives by giving each person a moment of beauty and peace."

When life throws some downs in with the ups, Shelby looks for something to ground her. "Whether it is a beautiful flower, a sunny day with great weather, or even something as simple as a smile someone else gave me, I try to remember that there will always be good in life."

Shelby's favorite music to paint to is Virginia Coalition or O.A.R. if she can listen to their live shows. "Those two groups just have such a fun zest for life, and it comes out through their music."

As one of her New Year's Resolutions, Shelby began completing a painting a day (well, almost!). She works mostly with oils on panels for her larger pieces but has fun with encaustic for the smaller paintings. Her progress may be viewed on her daily painting blog.

As to what shoes Shelby wears? "Flip-flops. I love to feel the sand between my toes and experience life. Plus, flip-flops can be everything from super casual to dressy or fun and funky."

"You can only be young once," states a quote on Shelby's website, but you can be adventurous forever." Author unknown.

For more information about Shelby and her artwork, please visit her shop, blog or website.

Spring Rain (By Shelby Crutchley)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Togetherness (by Rukshana Hooda)

Peacock Feather (by Rukshana Hooda)

Interview with Rukshana Hooda

I'm not sure why it is, exactly, but ever since I met Rukshana in an Etsy chat room, I've felt a connection to her and her art. It's more than just liking the things she creates. A spark actually went through I've known this person before. Bombay (Mumbai), India is over 7000 miles (11000 kilometers) from my home in Bangor, Maine and, as I think you'll see, Rukshana's openness and willingness to share her insights bridges that gap beautifully. So, it is with great pleasure and enthusiasm I bring this interview to you.

Rukshana is a visual artist: a simple, down-to-earth, sensitive human being in love with nature. "I love to paint with acrylics, charcoals, on canvas, thick cartridge, teak, fabric and create texture through various interesting mediums. I can always admire everything in nature." she tells me, "The simple things always fascinated me more, like birds chirping, the sunrise, the sunset, the skies with those wonderful hues, the trees, the horizon...and this is so true: We all live under the same sky, but our horizons differ."

Rukshana graduated with a Fine Arts degree (as a Textile Designer) from Sir J.J. School of Art and Sophia College. I simply love and adore the people here," she says of Mumbai, "their simplicity, their daily chores, the village life, all this has played an important role in my thinking, my paintings, my lifestyle. I would love to work and help them. When traveling, how I love to listen to these common people, their life, their thoughts, their vision (again which is so simple!)."

"My genre is very varied from abstracts, landscapes, charcoals, Moghul Art, human forms, Warli, history and always is inspired by Nature around me. Its beauty, its serenity and solitude is sometimes Heavenly to me. Nature in its own self has always stayed absorbed in my expression. Beauty has no form. Still, I try to capture and create on my canvas."

Rukshana has been painting and drawing for as long as she can remember, but employment in a totally unrelated field caused her to give up doing any form of artwork for many years. "I was a front office receptionist in a five star hotel, then worked as an honorary teacher in an orphanage, conducted classes for art, craft and calligraphy for 14 years, so did a bit of social service." In recent times, Rukshana rekindled her interest in art and, inspired by friends and family, decided to showcase some of her works online. "Painting is something I must do and it is a major part of my life. I love flowers and abstract art. Hopefully, my artwork speaks for itself. Creativity is...seeing something that doesn't already exist."

"We are learning every day," Rukshana says, "and hopefully till the last breath! Life is like a river. Life itself is a challenge. Life is knowledge. Life is a teacher. Love is life." Rukshana loves the challenges life brings. "Sometimes, I wonder how boring it would be if everything always went right. We'd have nothing to look forward to, to work for. Nothing to do. Nothing to aim for. Nothing to wish for. I love LIFE. It is beautiful. The toughness of it makes you. Though maybe some feel it breaks you, actually, I feel, LIFE shows us different roads, one more brightly than the other: new, mysterious, adventurous." However narrow or steep the road, Rukshana believes there is something to learn from moving through life; something that changes you along the way. "Change is compulsory...a necessity...inevitable." These thoughts, this vision is something Rukshana tries to capture on canvas.

Rukshana believes art is to be cherished. "It's creative," she says, "like writing a book. Like how an orator talks, a writer uses the pen...the artist paints. Each one speaks volumes about their field. Love for beauty is Taste. Creation of beauty is ART."

Rukshana also believes people should invest in art and buy original works from known, famous or new artisans. Of her own art, she says, "I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to express myself through painting. I love that people say my artwork enhances their lives and that it inspires them. I am blessed to have an encouraging family, great friends, wonderful well wishers, clients and colleagues...God bless them all!"

Reading and music, to Rukshana, is food for the soul. "Knowledge is a must and without music, the soul is dead. I can't paint if I am not listening to music. I feel something amiss, so both reading and music play a very vital role in my life." Some of Rukshana's favorite books are Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, and these books by Brian L. Weiss, MD: Many Lives, Many Masters, Through Time into Healing, Same Soul, Many Bodies, and Only Love is Real.

For Rukshana, the most simple footwear works best...never too tight, very light and neat. She loves walking, so her shoes must be comfortable enough to walk in or stand for hours. Not elaborate or artificial. Not ornate or luxurious. Not complicated. Not flashy. But, Yes, sophisticated, elegant and not complex! "No heels for me," Rukshana says, "I've had a slipped disc--twice--and it teaches me to be down-to-earth!"

Rukshana is a member of the following groups: - a business networking site - a group dedicated to green living, health, human rights and more - a web portal that helps people navigate the Web in a way that reflects their beliefs and values, join causes and share information about how to make a difference

Learn more about Rukshana and her work at the following sites:

Rukus Gallery
Rukshana Hooda
VAST Gallery

What Shoes Rukshana Wears

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Let Down Your Hair (by Mrs. Dragon)

Become A Well (By Mrs. Dragon)

Interview with Amanda (Mrs Dragon)

I'm happy and honored to have this opportunity to interview Amanda. She is, perhaps, the most active person with a variety of Etsy groups I've interviewed so far. I met her through the Visual Arts Street Team (VAST). She's also a member of The Fantasy Art of Etsy Street Team (FAE) and Etsy Greetings. Amanda's enthusiasm, energy and talent are evident in her work.

Amanda's the creative inspiration behind Mrs. Dragon and Ink & Vine where you'll find cards with paper flowers and dragonlings. "Although my shops focus on two seemingly dissimilar things," Amanda tells me, "I can still see a clear aesthetic running through all of my items. I love colors set against very plain backgrounds. My love of text is evident in the stampings on my cards. I frequently use my own handwriting on both my quoteable ACEOs and my dragonling items. In both cases," Amanda says of her cards and dragonlings, "I work very small. I have yet to take my dragonlings larger than an ACEO--it just seems like TOO much room!"

Amanda has been creating in one form or another for as long as she can remember. "I remember my childhood in terms of what my current artistic obsession was at the moment (drawing, sewing, perler beads, rubber stamping, card making, jewelry...)." Now, Amanda continues to craft as a form of release and relaxation from her more analytical pursuits. "I am delighted to share the results with you and hope that you will enjoy my products as much as I enjoy designing and crafting them."

Amanda's husband often inspires her work. "Every romantic or lovey piece I do is created with him in mind. He often gives me ideas of things for my dragonlings to hold or do. His enthusiastic support often spurs me to keep creating." Amanda's friends and family have a strong influence on her pieces as well, providing ideas for her dragonlings' likes and dislikes...and sometimes even names.

Amanda's also inspired by participating in group contests or challenges. These challenges focus on very specific themes or artistic parameters. "They often make me work outside my 'box' and they always give me a seed to start from, which I love. My problem is usually too many ideas, so it's nice sometimes to have something concrete to work on!"

One issue Amanda thinks about and is personally involved with is social attitudes toward women. As a female in engineering (and with many female friends in engineering), Amanda finds herself very sensitive to the social messages which suggest women are stupid or incapable of excelling in math or science. "Once I began to notice those, my radar was on. I also began to notice the prevalent attitude in advertising and everywhere of women as controlling, manipulative, needy, overly emotional, and illogical. It just makes me so angry to see such a bigoted attitude pushed as the truth. And, in fairness, I get equally upset over the stereotyping of men as crass, slow, clueless, sports obsessed jerks."

When life tosses challenges her way, Amanda uses art as an escape. "If things are going awfully, it's hard to get motivated to start working on things. But if I can put on some good music and get lost in my art, the world will seem brighter when I reemerge hours later. Sometimes, I find I just have to force myself to do things (even things I know I will like!) and I am almost always glad I did in the end."

"I simply cannot create anything without music." When Amanda gets distracted and fidgeting, music helps her find a meditative place in her soul. "I love slow, rhythmic, soothing songs with beautiful melodies and meaningful lyrics." Some of Amanda's favorite picks are detailed on her blog.

Amanda grew up in running shoes and wore those all through college. "Now that I have graduated in the 'real world,'" she says, "I am in love with heeled boots. Symbolically, I think the change of shoes represents that life transition quite well--as I've moved into more adult ways of interacting with the world and more 'girly' things in general."

You can learn more about Amanda and see her work in her both her Etsy shops (Mrs. Dragon and Ink & Vine), on her blog, and at her photo gallery.

What Shoes Amanda Wears