- The Story of You. Explore the experiences, feelings, and ideas that stir your passion, and how to adapt and change motifs and other visual elements to make them your own.
- Inspiration: How to Find It, How to Use It. Examine how to stay open to inspiration, incorporate it into your art practice, and integrate it into your artwork.
- Comfort Zones & Productivity. Learn strategies for working through your fear and dedicating time to your artmaking.
- Dealing with Challenges & Deepening Your Voice. Find guidance for starting a mindfulness practice to help you deal with harsh feedback, and for allowing yourself the joy of continually evolving your story, your message, and your style.
- Kara Bullock
- Lucy Chen
- Andrea Gomoll
- Annie Hamman
- Mariëlle Stolp
- Effy Wild
- Micki Wilde
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Beauty & the Beast
- Goldilocks & the Three Bears
- Peter Pan
- Sleeping Beauty
- The Little Mermaid
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Story of You
For years, the concept of style development eluded me. When people said they could recognize a Tam painting, I'd think to myself: Really? Who? How? Why? That is, until I had an epiphany, now several years ago.
While my friend Gracie and I were listening to a song rich with harmonies and echoes, she remarked, "You really do like layering, don't you?", in my art as well as in music. This made me realize that when something was "layered," whether in my paintings (in which I physically layer paper, paint, and other materials) or in other creative realms — music, lyrics, poetry, or fiction — I enjoyed it the most. That my enjoyment of layering was relevant to the concept of my style was a "hallelujah" moment for me.
A few weeks later, as I began sketching the piece shown opposite, I noticed how creating "just a portrait" felt "too boring" to me. I wanted it to have depth and to evoke awe as well as questions and emotions, so people would think about the painting itself and about life, love, mystery, and beauty. The layering theme again!
I also enjoyed placing odd elements in strange places, such as having someone wear a bird's nest as a hat, which also evoked mystery or questioning. And I have a strong need to bring lightness and optimism to my work, so I include whimsical, childlike elements like elephants, bunnies, fawns, birds, clouds, stars, butterfly wings, and hearts. Finally, uplifting words and slogans express my hopefulness about life — that all is okay, in the end.
And once I've achieved all that in one painting, everything falls into place, and the painting feels "perfect," exactly how it should be. It lights me up inside; it's in tune with my soul, with the purest part of me! I now believe this way of creating is in fact "my style!" Hurrah!
Exploring the Personal Side of Style Development
The epiphany I share on the previous page happened many years ago. My style has since evolved, changed, and grown, but I wanted to share that "hallelujah" moment because it's still so important to me and put some real transformation in motion for me. It so fabulously relates the moment I realized that style development is all about finding and following the thing(s) that make me happy! It's not about asking: What do other people want to see me do? Or: How can I make art so people will like me? Or: How can I emulate another artist because she's successful? Instead, you need to ask yourself questions like:
What do I love so much I can't stop doing it?
What techniques make me light up inside?
What am I passionately, utterly, irrevocably in love with right now?
What do I keep wanting to create, over and over?
What feels good to my body, heart, soul, and mind?
It turns out that if you authentically, truly connect with your passion and bliss (plus do some hard work, which we get to in the following chapters), you'll develop a uniquely personal style. And, more often than not, other people are attracted to your work because of that personal spark, that alignment with your passion and bliss. It's like a magnet.
Your style is you — it's the summary of all your love expressed in shapes, messages, colors, supplies, layers, techniques, symbols, characters, storytelling — it's your "you-ness" represented in your paintings. It's everything that's ever happened to you and influenced you over the years.
You might wonder: But what if what I like so much is someone else's work? Won't it then just look like I'm copying someone else?
Don't despair if this question comes up for you — it often does when we're in the earlier stages of our creative journey. We're so incredibly impressed by other people's art that it's all we want to be able to make! But once you've "mastered" making art like other people, you'll likely get bored and simply long to be putting more of you into your paintings.
So give yourself time to be in love with other people's work. Let that work inspire you to practice your skills, to delve more deeply into the supplies and techniques the artists you admire are using, their color palettes, storytelling, compositions, and so on. Take your time to study others and, soon enough, you'll start to add and change, adjust and adapt, and suddenly your work will look much more like your own.
It's at that point — when you're able to let the work of other artists simply inspire you — that you'll be able to make elements and aspects of other artists' work your own.
In this chapter, before we make any art, I'd like you to do some self-exploration. Getting to know yourself and looking at subject matter, supplies, personal storytelling, artists (and others) who inspire you, color combinations, composition, surfaces, and so on are a very important part of style development. You need to be willing to step back, sink into yourself, and hang out with the inner you. Don't be afraid: You are, in fact, pretty awesome. The aim is to get to know your bliss and then — that's right — follow it all the way down the rabbit hole!
It's helpful to have a special notebook that you can dedicate to your style development explorations, questions, notes, ideas, sketches, and doodles. This exercise is also supported by an optional "Grounding Into You" meditation that you can access on my website: www.willowing.org (see Resources, page 138).
The questions on the right are designed to make you more aware of experiences, feelings, needs, ideas, joys, and loves in your present and past life that you can possibly bring into your artwork and style. If a question doesn't make sense, try to respond to it intuitively. Some questions are deliberately vague. There are no right or wrong answers — just you, connecting with you. Write down what wants to come forth.
Take some time to really sit with the questions and the answers. Let this exploration marinate. Continue to make notes as you go about your life. You may suddenly notice something new about a habit you have, or a sadness you have, a color that always comes to you, or an animal that you started loving more lately. Bring a mindfulness and a noticing to your life, behavior, heart, and soul. Make mental or physical notes as you go along and then let it all inform your creative process if it calls you.
Why art? Why do you create?
What are you trying to communicate with your art, if anything?
What sits aching inside of you that wants to come out?
Which artists, musicians, authors, people have influenced you?
What sadness or pain is still unresolved in your life?
What significant thing (or things) happened to you that shaped you and keeps showing up in your life?
What childhood or more recent memories do you delight in?
What did you struggle with as a child?
What shapes, creatures, beings, elements in the world wow you?
What, if anything, do you want the viewer of your art to experience or feel?
Which animals are meaningful to you?
What kinds of landscapes and natural scenes draw you in?
What kinds of music and books excite you?
Which colors pull you in? What about textures and shapes?
Draw doodles, shapes, symbols, subjects, and characters that often occur in your art. Write about why they show up and what you like about them.
Which art techniques make your heart sing? Why?
Which art supplies make your fingers itch to make art? Why?
What kinds of stories do you like to tell through your art?
What do you want from your art?
What does your art want from you?
Now, looking at the answers to the questions above, answer these:
How or where do we find you in your art?
What heart and soul part shows up?
What feelings and needs are expressed through your art?
What kind of story telling lives in and through you?
Having worked through the questions, are some parts of you missing in your art?
Which parts do you want to have more representation?
What else did you learn?
What else do you want to take away from this?
Little Red Riding Hood
"Little Red Riding Hood" is a European folk tale. While the most widely known version, by French folklorist Charles Perrault (1628–1703), dates from the seventeenth century, its origins can be traced to the tenth century. Those earlier versions differ significantly.
In the classic story, Little Red, a young girl wearing a hooded red cloak, walks through a forest to her grandmother's house, carrying food in a basket. Before she sets out on her journey, her mother tells her to stay on the paths and not stray into the woods. A Wolf lurks in the forest, stalking her with the intention of eating her. He approaches Little Red and convinces her to tell him where she's going. She reveals the reason for her trip and tells him the way to her grandmother's house. The Wolf rushes there, swallows the grandmother whole, and then disguises himself as the grandmother. When Little Red arrives, the Wolf swallows her whole, too.
"Little Red Riding Hood" has a few alternate endings. In one version a huntsman or woodsman arrives, cuts open the Wolf's stomach, and saves Grandma and Little Red; in another, the Wolf is killed by a huntsman before he can eat Little Red and Grandma.
My Thought Process
While reading about and researching "Little Red Riding Hood," I was struck by the contrast between the concept of "innocence" and "the dark." The "preying" element made me feel uneasy. I thought about the messages people were trying to convey through the story and imagined that times must have been hard then, as it speaks of strong warnings and messages to "obey authority" and "keep safe."
What I Wanted to Bring to the Story
As with all my work (and as is very much a part of my style), I wanted to bring light and love to "Little Red Riding Hood." This is related to having endured a challenging childhood. Also, as an adult, I became a practitioner of Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, which looks at how we can communicate with more compassion, with the hope of fostering more peace, harmony, and love in the world. NVC plays a very big role in my life and so also shows up in my artwork a lot, in a variety of ways.
Although "Little Red Riding Hood" has many dark elements, my heart longed to transform it into a more compassionate, innocent representation. So I ended up portraying Little Red embracing the Wolf, while including a dark night sky and background to embrace and point toward the darkness in the original story.
The following pages show my process of drawing and painting this artwork. I invite you to follow along before continuing with your own unique interpretation and modifications.
Make It Your Own
Once you've completed your first assignment, I invite you to look back on the questions you answered in the first part of this chapter (page 17). While connecting with your answers, complete the following new assignment:
Choose several elements from the lesson that you loved and then "take them with you" by adapting and changing them to become more "you," more unique and different from what was presented in the lesson. (See "Ways for Making It Your Own," below, where I share some techniques and examples.)
Create a new painting based on the same fairy tale, incorporating the elements you loved in an adapted, newer style that feels more like you. Use your imagination, change it up, and bring you into it as much as you can. Do you want to focus on a less prominent character in the story? Do you want to bring in different supplies? Do you want to change some of the story? Do you want to "give" something to a character in the story? The options are endless!
Consider what you want your painting to "say" and how you put you into this painting to make it meaningful and personal. Refer to your earlier answers if you need reminders.
The Importance of Repetition
Once you find an element you've really made into your own, repeat it in your work as much as possible (if it makes sense to you and "feels good"). The more you use a specific symbol, painting style, or technique that you've made uniquely yours, it will become a recognizable part of your work. Repeating these approaches to artmaking is a huge part of style development. You'll also naturally want to repeat certain elements because you love creating them so much. This repetition then helps to develop skill and eventually to grow and transform all the elements that make up your style. So keep doing what you're doing! Repeat!
Bambi: A Life in the Woods
Guest Teacher Micki Wilde
Bambi: A Life in the Woods is a story based on the life of a deer from birth through to adulthood. It focuses on the life lessons he must learn to survive, including the dangers humans pose to woodland animals.
There are tales of friendship, love, and loss all within this classic story. Originally published in Austria in 1923 and written by Felix Salten (1869–1945), the book has been translated and published in many languages around the world.
Young Bambi at first is kept by his mother's side, being protected by her until he is old enough to go to the Meadow, where all the other deer gather and meet. He meets many other animal characters before being allowed to go to the Meadow, where he eventually meets his cousins Gobo and Faline, along with his Aunt Ena and many other deer. The young cousins share stories about the woods and other creatures they have met and discuss dangers and scary stories they have heard from other deer.
The story takes you through how harsh winter in the woods can be for the wildlife and even includes a conversation between two leaves on an old oak tree about how winter affects them, too.
Later on in the story tragedy occurs, when Bambi's mother is killed by a hunter; Bambi's emotions, from the first shock to the loneliness of grief and loss, are recounted. Eventually, Bambi is taken in and looked after by Nettla, an old doe who no longer has children of her own.
When spring finally reappears, Bambi soon finds a mate in his cousin Faline. They spend many happy times together and share lots of stories until it's time for Bambi to have time on his own and learn how to be an older deer in the woods.
My Thought Process
Reading this story again after many years brought back to my mind the harshness of life in the woods for animals, especially over the winter months. The constant threat by humans to the peaceful woodland animals made me feel an unease and a sense of guilt as a human.
As the story goes on, though, I got a sense of "it's all part of the life cycle" — animals and humans alike just trying to survive — and to do what they think is right in order to do just that.
As I finished the story, I pondered many different thoughts and what-ifs. After reading this story again, I know my own precious time spent walking in the woods will be done with a new appreciation for the hustle and bustle of the animal life that we humans don't always see.
What I Wanted to Bring to the Story
My personal artworks are done in a light-hearted, whimsical manner, and I like to embrace a feeling of mystery and enchantment within my work as well.
I painted a young Bambi to try and capture that part of the story where everything is intriguing and filled with wonder. My favorite place to be is the woods, and I love the way the light is captured and seems to dance through the trees. I chose my background colors to depict the ever-changing colors that stream through, making the whole place feel magical and mysterious. I also included my own personal flower symbols that I use in all my paintings to represent my presence within this story and my own respect and love for nature.
I hope to draw you into my magical, whimsical world, and I invite you to follow along with the steps below using your own interpretations, modifications, and wild imaginings.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a novel written in 1865 by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832–1898) under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world inhabited by strange anthropomorphic characters. Peculiar and unusual experiences happen to her while in this magical place. The story has been highly influential in both literature and popular culture.
My Thought Process
The biggest thing that struck me when looking at this story was how overwhelming and unsettling the series of peculiar events would likely be if they were to happen to someone in "real life." Alice goes from one chaotic, strange experience to another. Though I don't think the story was written as a symbolism for the "chaos of life," I couldn't help but think that each experience could represent or symbolize the many overwhelming stages and chaotic experiences we all go through. In my personal spiritual practices, I've been working with surrendering to what is and allowing life to be, instead of resisting what is. To me, this story spoke to the concept of having to let go of control, which is something I've personally struggled with. As I was reading the story, I was both anxious and impressed by Alice's resilience as she went through the odd experiences that simply kept happening to her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ever After"
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Table of Contents
1 The Story of You, 15,
2 Inspiration: How to Find It, How to Use It, 47,
3 Comfort Zones & Productivity, 79,
4 Dealing with Challenges & Deepening Your Voice, 111,
Guest Teachers, 138,
About the Author, 143,