Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fearless ArtMaking Classes begin Sept. 20th Are You In?


Fearless ArtMaking is a program designed by Stephanie Smith to help you build your creative confidence. Stephanie leads this small group through a five week series of creative activities intended to encourage a fearless attitude towards personal artistic expression. Adults of any skill level need only be willing to try new ways of thinking and can in return, expect a safe and noncompetitive environment in which to create.

This is an experimental class with an emphasis on the mindfulness of the activities rather than on the quality of a finished product. Fearless ArtMaking activities will be varied and may include paint, collage, mark making, and found object assemblages.

This series will be held on Thursdays from 6:30-8:30pm 9/20-10/18 in studio #250 at the Banana Factory, 25 W. Third St. Bethlehem, PA 18015

Class is limited to 5 students. Adults 18+ Cost is $149. Materials provided. No art experience necessary. Registrations can be made via cash/check/credit card and must be made prior to the beginning of the first class. Please call Stephanie at 484-893-0336 to register.

Why Fearless?

It was my friend Jaqui MacMillan that first called me a fearless artist. When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that through her experience of art world (she was an art major in college) that many artists play it safe with regards to trying new things. This was one of the greatest compliments that I’ve ever received because she took notice. My mantra with art is “What’s the worst that could happen?” if the project doesn’t work I walk away with, “Well, I know not to do that again.” Either way, I’m always happy to share my experiences so others can feel confident when wanting to try new things.


What exactly will you be teaching?

A traditional art class may focus on teaching you a technique or developing a specific skill. Fearless ArtMaking uses mindful activities such as "Playing With Color" "Found Poetry" or "Mandala Making" to emphasize the joy of being creative without regard for quality.

What can I expect to gain from this experience?

In the past 4 years that I have been teaching my workshop "Mandala: An Artful Meditation" I can't tell you how many times I've heard the following comments: "I'm not an artist" "I want to create art but I'm no good at it" "When I was young, my art teacher told me I couldn't color the trees red and so I stopped making art." More than anything, it's comments like these that inspire me to help people take their creative power back!

EVERYONE can be an artist because to be an artist, one simply has to make art. (Art as a profession is a different topic of conversation and one for another day.) Right now, I only want to speak to the benefits of allowing yourself to be creative without anyone (including you!) being critical of the quality of your efforts. Just think about it, our lives are FILLED with responsibilities that require us to perform them to a certain degree of quality. From raising children, to performing a job, to managing a household, you get the picture. Allowing yourself the freedom to express your creativity in an unedited way- whether through art, playing music, dancing, singing, or writing, these are the kinds of activities that nourishes your soul.

Fearless ArtMaking is a journey that we will be taking together.

Participant testimonials from my past mandala workshops can be found here.

The video below shows one way that I play with color. The image above shows another.

Questions? Or want to talk to me about private lessons or a mandala workshop at your location? Call 484-893-0336 or e-mail

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Formation of Belief: Completion Through Release


It is probably no big secret that I struggle greatly with various aspects of my being - especially with the notion that I, as a human being on this planet, have value simply because I exist. Throughout my entire life I’ve found myself relentlessly questioning my worth- which ultimately keeps me from moving forward and growing as a person. 

Sometimes I am surprised that I am able to accomplish anything at all. Yes, really. 

We are who we are because of our life experiences. Early childhood development plays the most crucial role and for many years I would place blame on my parents and early caregivers for all of my adult inadequacies. And then there were my (very outdated) religious beliefs constantly reminding me to forgive and forget. 


Bullshit because my version of forgiveness doesn’t mean the unhelpful beliefs are automatically replaced with healthy ones. When as an adult you discover that you have the ability to actually change what you’ve been taught, it doesn’t happen overnight which makes that whole forgiveness thing an extremely bitter pill to swallow. 

Sometimes the best we can do is simply knowing that there is another way to be - and that’s a great place to begin. I made the decision about 8 years ago to take real control of my life and since that time have been busting my ass to move past many of the unhelpful messages I’ve received over the years. 

One of the most helpful things I’ve found was to begin reading and working through the exercises in a book called “Healing your Emotional Self.” It’s always been easy for me to see which aspects were in need of revision, but without the right kind of role models, I never really knew what I wanted - only what I didn’t want. And as like attracts like, when focusing on what you don’t want, you’ll only get more of it. This book finally brought to light an understanding of new healthy behaviors- ones that made sense to me and that I could work with to make my own. 


I’ve been working on this painting and my first inclination was to fill the background with helpful messages, things I believe in. Then it hits me that I needed to go deeper- that there was more “work” to do. I decide to fill the left side with all of the unhelpful messages and beliefs I’d collected throughout my life, and the right side would be filled with the helpful messages I’ve been working so hard to call my own. 

It took me several tries, but I finally managed to fill the page of a large sketchbook with all the various messages. It was, unfortunately all too easy to come up with the unhelpful ones  - which made me very sad. Each day I’d look at this list hanging in my studio and try to figure out how to incorporate it into the background of this piece but nothing was coming to me. 

I then I went away on a 5 day retreat and something in me shifted. I came back and realized that while the process of my writing out the helpful/unhelpful messages was necessary at this time, putting it on public display was not. My original intentions for putting it on display had been to give a voice to anyone who has felt frustration by what society had taught them to believe about themselves, but then I realized that I was going about this all wrong. My feelings of inadequacy were as real in my head as the earth is round, but the key was in finally discovering that it wasn’t helpful to continue allowing these experiences to DEFINE ME. 

I can honestly say that I’ve restricted a tremendous amount of growth by allowing my past to define me. Even now I often struggle with being “the artist without the formal background” instead being proud for being “the artist who figured things out on her own.” I guess to a degree I fear not being who people expect or want me to be- that my real story isn’t good enough and so I have to be apologetic for it. And as you can probably guess, this kind of thinking loops back around to the kinds of messages we’ve received and internalized to become our own worst inner critic. 

Our stories are obviously important to our growth and can be very helpful in helping to empower others, but if we allow them to constantly define who we are in the present day, we are kept forever in the past. 

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

Once I abandoned the idea of the helpful vs. unhelpful, I used an iPad app called Procreate to doodle over the most recent image to help choose a new direction for the piece.  Black over white or white over black....

Having created thousands of mandalas as a way to raise my consciousness, it only seemed fitting to once again have them surrounding me. (By now you must have realized that these women are idealized self-portraits, right?)

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

White over black paint has always somewhat felt like healing old scars. Coming home from the retreat, I didn't feel like looking at all that black space any more. Adding the white feels in some strange way, healing.

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

It is feeling very good at this point.

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

I start filling the background with mandalas -

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

And then more.

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

It feels to be a little much so I start working white over the background mandalas so they aren't as prominent. I finish the details on her body and clean up some of the black area in the center of the mandala.

It is now time to cut 5 inches from the sides so the piece is adhering to the 48" maximum width requirement. I carefully measure 2 inches in from the left, 3 inches from the right, ask one of the other artists to double check my measuring and then snip!

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

Background has been toned down and I've also finished the white outline around both her and the mandala. She has now been cut down to 48"which wasn't as painful as I'd expected - though it feels incomplete. (I saved the two long strips I cut off from each side - which may be used in a future project)

Formation of Belief: Finished piece

I add a black border and it feels perfect. She is finished!
Do you see the hidden message?

43" wide by 63" tall. Acrylic on canvas. Available for purchase - Price available upon request.

She is currently on display in the Crayola Galley at The Banana Factory in Bethlehem, PA as part of: "Perspectives: The Banana Factory Resident Artist Annual Exhibition" The show officially opens Friday September 7th and there will be a 2nd reception on Friday October 5th. It will remain on display until October 14th.

My official artist statement for the piece is as follows:

per·spec·tive: the state of one's ideas, the facts known to one.

Our core beliefs are the things we know to be true about ourselves and of the world around us. We learn these things through our parents, teachers, employers, religion, culture, family, friends and peers. In childhood or any time we lack a strong sense of self, it can be all too easy to assimilate beliefs that are damaging, unhelpful, or in some way restrictive to our personal growth.

As adults, we can choose to identify the origins of each belief and make conscious decisions to keep those which serve our highest good, to abandon the ones which exist out of guilt or fear, and to search for new beliefs which resonate with the person we wish to be.

Do your beliefs lovingly support each and every aspect of your existence?

Read Part 1: Formation of Belief: The Beginning
Read Part 2: Formation of Belief: Visualization and Acceptance
Read Part 3: Formation of Belief: Completion Through Release

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Formation of Belief: Visualization and Acceptance

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress (Image in Catalog)
This is the image that I submit for the exhibition catalog. We have to submit it well in advance of the actual exhibit and many of the artist works are shown in progress.
Last year's Artist Annual catalog and this year's.
I had submitted my "package" (artist resume, bio, letter of intent, and CD of images) to become a resident artist at The Banana Factory in October of 2011. Prior to my interview, I'd visited the BF on the First Friday in November 2011 and picked up a copy of that year's Artist Annual. (The blue catalog in the photo.) 

I remember coming home and looking over that catalog (again and again) and in my head saying to myself, "As soon as I become a resident artist, my work will be in next year's catalog."
Formation of Belief (in progress) in the Perspectives catalog
This is my work in this year's catalog.

I can say with 110% certainty that all this has happened because of creative visualization. (Though a whole lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears didn't hurt.) From the day I received an ArtsQuest e-mail advertisement listing an open call for resident artists, I knew this was where I was going - I knew this is who I would become.

I am by no means saying that it's easy to become a resident artist at the Banana Factory because it isn't - there are few to none open residencies at any given time. You are interviewed in front of no less than 6 people - which in my case included the Director of the BF, the curator, the visual arts and education manager, three senior resident artists and several prominent community members who sit on the Visual Arts board.

But throughout the entire application and interview process, (which included me having to construct my entire package over a 72 hour period to meet the applicant deadline) I never once thought that I wouldn't get in. I always held the thought in my mind of, "It's mine. I just need to know when I can move in." I took the time to imagine myself already there. How I would set up my studio, walking to get pizza for lunch, walking to mail packages at the post office, cleaning snow off of my car in the winter. (All things I've actually done since moving in) I did everything I could to act "as if" I was already living this life because I believe this is how you attract what you most desire.

If you concentrate on what you don't have, (lack) or what you are wanting - the law of attraction being that like attracts like, will keep you lacking or wanting.

Formation of Belief: Work in Progress

Soon after submitting this photo and continuing to work on this piece, I discover something awful. I somehow had neglected to pay attention to the size limitations for our submitted works to this show. I remembered the 72" height restriction, but hadn't at all remembered the 48" width restriction. Remember yesterday's post? She's at 53" and her arms are almost touching the sides of the canvas.

I am sick to my stomach when I discover this. I check with the show curator - they cannot make an exception. I momentarily contemplate starting over from scratch. I want to cry. I can't immediately see a way to change this piece so I can cut 5" off the sides and still be true to my concept.

I have to do something so I cut her arms off.

Over lunch with Arturo, (a new resident artist - he's 18 and unbelievably talented...) he gives me the idea of a way to change the arms that would be acceptable to what I was envisioning.
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
And now we are here and I am happy. But I still have to work out the background.

Tomorrow we go much deeper... Stay tuned.

Read Part 1: Formation of Belief: The Beginning
Read Part 2: Formation of Belief: Visualization and Acceptance
Read Part 3: Formation of Belief: Completion Through Release

Formation of Belief: The Beginning

Original concept sketch for Formation of Belief
As an artist in residence at The Banana Factory, (a community arts and education center in Bethlehem, PA) we are invited to participate in a yearly exhibition for current resident artists only. This year's show came with a theme of "Perspectives" which to an artist, could mean just about anything.

I first played around with the idea of submitting a large photograph of a mandala found in nature, then of an altered photograph. I ultimately decided to paint a large mandala and pulled out my roll of canvas (63" in height) and decided to cut it 63x63". So I laid it out, precisely measured it THREE times and cut it at 53".

I seriously couldn't understand why it wasn't square...
Deciding not to fret over my faux pas, (because I believe that everything happens for a reason) I gesso the canvas black and staple it to the wall of my (old) studio.

With this new rectangle to work with, I start to wonder if I can somehow combine one of my women figures with a mandala.
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
It's probably a good time to tell you that I almost never conceptualize a piece prior to working on it. My style is to start, see where it goes and then figure out the story.

I remember grabbing a small brush, blue paint, and an 8x10" mat board that I had previously covered with black gesso. I quickly sketched out a simple design and then once dry, made several black and white photocopies so I could play around with the idea. (See top photo) Since the blue paint showed as white on the copy, I used blue paint over the copy which ultimately gave me the inspiration to work with black, white and blue in the final piece.
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
I begin by sketching the design with a white charcoal pencil onto the canvas.

Contemplating the Perspectives theme at this time, my thoughts are metaphorical in nature: perspective = core beliefs and I initially consider filling the background of this piece with my own positive beliefs about the world. (More on this later.)
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
I paint in the white and immediately feel as though I've applied the white heavier than I'd wanted.
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
Blue over top of the white does not give the same feel as the original concept sketch and her body proportions feel very off.
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
I move her into my new studio and work to modify her body.
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
I end up completely painting out the body and drawing it in again. (It is not a comfortable feeling for me to have to "re-do" something in a painting. My process is typically to move forward with whatever happens but when you introduce a concern for quality, you learn to make adjustments.)
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
Body comes back in white.
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
Then blue. (I'm liking her much better now)
Formation of Belief: Work in Progress
I continue to re-shape her.

The story continues tomorrow...... stay tuned!

Read Part 1: Formation of Belief: The Beginning
Read Part 2: Formation of Belief: Visualization and Acceptance
Read Part 3: Formation of Belief: Completion Through Release

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