Stillness amidst the whirlwind

Sometimes in my artwork feel like I have multiple personality disorder. I have a different style for every medium, different styles for different genres, a designer hat, a children's illustrator hat, and a fine arts hat. One glance at my site makes it obvious that I haven't been able to commit to one thing and say, this is it, this is what I'm going to throw myself into and hone it to my own unique perfection. The honest-to-goodness truth is that I enjoy them all.  They make me all feel differently. Does anyone else struggle with this? 

I think for a long time I neglected my own work in the midst of teaching obligations and client projects. By my own work I mean that personal work that comes from a deep well within, that can only be developed with quiet reflection and, let's be real, struggle and tears. 

I  had a beautiful opportunity to do this over the past several months. It truly was the most fulfilling experience I've had in creating a body of work. I'm late in writing about it because...well, that's the way things go around here. Also, the inspiration for it is so close to home that I don't know how to write about it briefly.

The project was a collaboration between the poet Joy Sullivan and ceramic artist Carolyn Baginski, an installation we titled "Cabinet of Curiosities", as part of the Game Show exhibit which just ran at the EASE gallery in Columbus, Ohio. 

Our cabinet of curiosities in its entirety.

We filled it with imaginary unsent letters, matchboxes and angry flames, fishhooks and sutures, icicles and frozen ripples. Our work was a way of collecting and interpreting memories; a set of fragments and relics about experiences both precious and painful.  The art pieces can't be separated from the poems that Joy wrote; some of her work is paired with mine on the website the Storialist, here.

Here is an excerpt from what a draft I wrote about the project:

For this project we asked ourselves, 'if our longings and prayers  were made manifest, what would they look like?' We were inspired by the holy relics and sacred objects of various spiritual traditions, especially those that relate to the body: remains of saints kept in reliquaries; the tefillin of Judaism; and the rosary beads.  

Our shared endeavor has been to explore the roots of our own personal relics and our search for the sacred. So many of these, we discovered, are the traces of struggle. The struggle to heal from pain, to make meaning, to hear the voice of God, to weave a story. Thus, these objects, images, and words may be as sacred to us as a holy relic, or their power for us may simply be that they represent a memory.  Some are fragmentary, scarred, wrinkled, full of questions. 

I stitched and wove all my wishes and scars and heartaches into those pieces, as well as my happy memories. Just like I had to crawl in close to my deepest-down self to make these, they're best seen within inches, at angles, and touched.

Remnants and records, 2016. Monoprinted muslin, thread, fossils.

Remnants and records, 2016. Monoprinted muslin, thread, fossils.

Lacy Moon, 2016. Various papers and thread.

Lacy Moon, 2016. Various papers and thread.

When I made the pieces, I felt as I did when I was a little child, that the things I made felt so imbued with meaning that they might be magical.

Relics of memory, 2016. Felted wool, thread, found objects.

Relics of memory, 2016. Felted wool, thread, found objects.

My favorite parts were the places where our pieces connected or joined, revealing common experiences and kindred understanding.

Cabinet of curiosities (detail), 2016. Ceramic works by Carolyn Baginski; embroidery by Kristin Calhoun.

Cabinet of curiosities (detail), 2016. Ceramic works by Carolyn Baginski; embroidery by Kristin Calhoun.

Making some of them felt like prayers, murmured questions asked as my hand went around and around with the needle, like fingers work over beads on a rosary.

Eclipse, 2016. Monoprint on fabric, thread.

Eclipse, 2016. Monoprint on fabric, thread.

I think it was in those small movements, the repetition of sewing that I love so much, that I found the unexpected stillness and contemplation that eludes me too often. I found memories I didn't know were there, and new layers to ones that had grown ragged from repeated wear. Sometimes I do art to imagine a world, like those of the storybooks I loved as a child. For this project, though, I had to enter more fully into the world I already remember and inhabit. But it's more beautiful to me now that I've done so.

More of these pieces can be found on the thread drawings page of my site.

Storybook-style portraits & invitation

Last Christmas, I made my first storybook-style portrait, of myself and my hubby Andrew. That got me started on a whole set of these projects through the year. The fun and the challenge of it is capturing people's personality and looks without being too realistic.  Here is a save-the-date for an upcoming wedding for the wonderful Tomika Anderson and Ben Wheeler.

I had the chance to do individual childrens' portraits as well. I love to show their imaginative sides:

Here, my literary friends the Downeys:

New challenges, new joys

My other job is teaching art. In fact, during the school year it's my main job. I've been teaching elementary art for the past four years, and this fall I added middle school art for the first time. I must admit I felt a little nervous on the first day. Middle school is notorious for being challenging. But I've been wonderfully surprised at how awesome my students are. Every day I get excited when they walk in to the art studio early in the morning, full of curiosity and funny jokes and fresh perspectives. I wanted to share some of the beautiful work my seventh graders have done for our first project in the impressionism unit. We're making 'sky drawings' with chalk pastel to focus on light and color, training ourselves to really notice subtleties of hue, tint, tone, and value. They threw themselves into this with excitement and attentiveness. 

Sunset over water

Sunset over water

Desert sunset

Desert sunset

Winter sunrise

Winter sunrise

Storm clouds at sunset

Storm clouds at sunset

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Of acorns and forests

I recently had the joyful experience of working with a local author to illustrate a children's book on trees- specifically bur oaks. The author, Rita McKenzie, a retired urban forestry specialist at Purdue University, wrote the book Bur Oak Chronicles to give children an understanding of how trees grow and how to care for them. It's a beautiful combination of science writing and storytelling: the trees in the story are animate, the elder trees teaching the younger trees about the life and growth habits of their species. 

Cover design and illustration of Bur Oak Chronicles

Part of the fun of this project was that it provided the opportunity for me to work on a subject that I am passionate about. And, I loved concentrating on the particular nature of one beautiful species of tree, which I have loved since I was a little girl and climbed trees for a living (or wished I could do it for a living). I remember marveling at the muscular branches of the bur oak and collecting its strange acorns.

The bur oak acorn.

The miracle of life!

The miracle of life!

McKenzie's book also explains that cycle of life in a forest, and the necessity of decay. These were my favorite sections to illustrate.

Decaying leaves on the forest floor.

A fallen tree decomposing, enriching the forest ecosystem.

You can purchase Bur Oak Chronicles on Amazon, where it is available as a paperback and also an e-book on Kindle.

 

Star fishing

When we went home to Kansas City for Christmas, my family hosted a 'poetry night' for family and friends. Among all the beautiful poems and songs, a friend of mine read Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. Here is an excerpt:

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
 Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
 Into a sea of dew.
.....
All night long their nets they threw
 To the stars in the twinkling foam,—
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
 Bringing the fishermen home:

-Eugene Field

Listening to that poem, I stumbled into a long-forgotten and yet very near place in my mind. I hadn't heard it in decades, but it has influenced this commissioned illustration I completed as recently as last month! I guess that Nod is probably the little owl here. He was an afterthought on my part, but I knew something was missing until I added him.

Isn't it strange how we can be so shaped by the songs and stories of our early childhood? I think that the more I teach children, the more I unearth those early loves, and recall the strangeness and magic of the world those new eyes see so effortlessly.

Star Fishing, 2014. Watercolor, ink, gouache.

Star Fishing, 2014. Watercolor, ink, gouache.

Integration

At times it has been a bit of a juggling act to balance the different kinds of work I do, particularly since my livelihood is divided between teaching art to children and doing freelance design and illustration. 

But the longer I work with children, the more I see that these two big areas really inform each other. The children always show me how to see the world in fresh ways, and being an illustrator keeps me creative in my teaching. 

I've gotten the urge to experiment in illustration more lately, and get out of my comfort zone, thanks to some new projects I've been doing with my students. Pastel is not my normal medium, but I'd been having conversations about dreams and the imagination with some of my students, and it just seemed like the right fit for this picture. Here is the work in progress:

Nimbus Skyboat

Nimbus Skyboat

It's messy and not perfect. But, neither is my life. I've come to the realization that I'd rather show what I've been up to, more often, than only more rarely put up finished and polished work.

Have a dreamy weekend!

Pies, glorious pies!

When my friend Stella told me that she was starting a homemade pie company and needed a logo, I was thrilled at the news. First, because Stella has a magical touch in the kitchen. When we lived together in Oxford, England, she was always baking delicious things, and introducing me to new flavors and ways of cooking. She has sent me her own hand-written recipes in the mail before. Once we hand-whipped cream for a cheesecake she made, just for the experience of it, and because we share the conviction that enjoyment of the final product is always greater when work is put into every step. 

I was also excited at the chance to make a logo for her, because there's something special about creating a design for something that is already beautiful in and of itself. I love the crimped edges of pies and the golden hue of a baked crust. Because of this, I especially enjoyed the brainstorming and sketching portion of the project, where we just traded ideas and I made several images to narrow our focus. Here are a couple of the ideas that helped us move toward the final design:

Stella wanted something simple and clean and yet also containing a hand-drawn element. And, I wanted to create a design that would reflect the artistry and care that she puts into her baking. In the end we decided upon hand-lettering as well as a graphic illustration of raspberries. Here is the final logo:

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It was a joy from start to finish. Best of all, Stella sent me a complimentary Browned Butter Apple Pecan Pie from her menu. It was pure heaven, and the essence of everything I love about fall. Here is a peek: 

It is just as buttery and flaky as it looks. YUM.

It is just as buttery and flaky as it looks. YUM.

Logos: embodying ethos

One of my favorite types of design work is the logo. It's small and compact, but it should also be concentrated with meaning, like a visual poem. Everything about it must convey the values and essence of the brand, and it gives people an immediate, even emotional impression of the product. 

I recently had the great fortune to create a logo and website illustration for Courtney Young, a counselor beginning her own independent practice in Kansas City, Missouri. It was one of those dream projects that every designer gets excited about, because Courtney is an incredibly creative person, and also has a very clear ethos in her work. She primarily works to help women who "crave healing from the past, who are standing at a fork in the road, who are suffering, changing, in transition, stuck or paralyzed, hoping to rekindle creativity, intimacy, intuition."  In our initial consultations she also explained that she is drawn to fluid and circular imagery and bright, saturated colors. From the examples she showed me I could also see that she loves painterly images. 

I wanted to convey the hopeful and joyous nature of Courtney's practice in the designs, in such a way that it would also reflect her unique personality. It ended up being a chance to get out my watercolors and brushes and play with color! What could be more fun? In the end she decided to use two complementary illustrations that I painted, for her website and business cards. Here they are: 

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In this first image I was inspired by the newly opening lotus bloom, because of its spiritual and symbolic nature of resilience and healing; yet I kept it abstracted and stylized so it could also evoke the energy of a flame.

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This second images is all about movement and energy! In it I tried to create a dancing quality, to embody Courtney's whimsical spirit and contagious joyfulness. True to Courtney's work, I actually felt creatively renewed after completing this project for her practice. 

To see some of the inspiring things that she writes, check out her blog on her website here. Have a happy weekend!

Stitching & sewing

What is it about thread and needle that is so beguiling? The longer I work with it, the more I feel enchanted by this ancient art medium. The silken line weaving over and under fabric, creating a raised surface- it can be a mesmerizing and meditative experience.

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The detail of this figure above was done on linen with my sewing machine, using the free motion embroidery foot. It's gestural drawing experience, as the free motion function of the machine doesn't allow for perfect precision. I like this about it.

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This weekend I'll be teaching another type of embroidery, hand embroidery, which is much more controlled and precise, and which I also love. I've been learning new techniques in preparation, and having lots of fun with it. These raised designs have an especially tactile quality. If you live in the Columbus area and are interested in participating in a workshop such as this, leave a comment or email me, or check out our Columbus Craft Collective page. Here is more information about what we do from one of my previous blog posts.

Below are some of my other hand embroidered designs, which show some of the versatility of the medium.

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Etsy & blog rebirth

I'm excited to announce that I'm reopening my etsy site, but with a new focus: illustration, specializing in illustration for children. Making art for the young and the young at heart brings together my greatest loves. Over here to the right you can see one of my newer block prints that is now available on the etsy store. 

I'm starting small but plan to add more over the next months. I'll post new work on this blog. So, check it out! Here's the link: www.etsy.com/shop/kscalhoun

Also, please subscribe to my blog via email or your favorite blog reader! All etsy updates and other goodies will come through this blog. And, it makes me happy. 

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Welcome!

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I'm so happy to announce this new website! This blog will be the place for me to announce new projects or any workshops that I'm teaching. I plan to do some 'process' posts where I walk through my processes for certain projects, especially ones that require photoshop and illustrator techniques. I'll also occasionally feature the work of other designers, artists, and illustrators who I find inspiring. 

Cheers,

Kristin