Monthly Archives: September 2015

Artist-inspired Projects: Jackson Pollock

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Pollock-tribute cookies are a fun way to introduce kids to art and cooking projects.

The Artist: Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock was a an American abstract expressionist artist best known for his drip painting, a form of abstract art created by paint dripped or poured onto a canvas or other surface.

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Even books about Pollock feature his drip painting method on their covers.

Pollock was born in 1912 in Wyoming. He always possessed an independent and aggressive nature, and was expelled from two high schools as a teenager. He later moved to New York to study at Art Students League, and later found work during the Great Depression for the WPA Federal Art Project. Soon after, he received a commission to create a mural on the townhouse of renowned art collector Peggy Guggenheim, and people begin taking notice of his talent.

It was in 1936, when he first discovered the use of liquid paint for drip painting method. He not only preferred this style, he used whatever he could to create his images, from resin-based paints to household paints. He became so well known for this style, a 1956 Time Magazine article dubbed him “Jack the Dripper.”

Although some critics regarded his style as nothing more than random, “meaningless images,” he went on to become one of the Twentieth Century’s most respected artists.

One thing about his style, is it very satisfying and energetic to try out, and there are even online sites that allow people to try out his method. The site jacksonpollock.org (not to be mistaken with the actual biography site), will take art lovers right to a page where they can create their own drip painting.

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My little image made on jacksonpollock.org.

Pollock died in a car accident in 1956 at age 44, and was given a memorial retrospective exhibit of his work at New York City’s Museum of Modern art a few months later.

Pollock didn’t always care what these critics thought, as he knew what he wanted to say and how to say it. That was what mattered.

“Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you,” he said in a 1950 interview in New Yorker. “There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. It was a fine compliment. Only he didn’t know it.”

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Pollock liked to use unconventional means for his drip painting style. Why not decorative icing?

The Project: Pollock Cookies!

Pollock used a number of less conventional tools in his works, such as sticks and basting syringes, so this project will utilize a medium that is both unconventional and tasty… decorative icing!

Since this is an art project more than an actual cooking project, use commercial pre-made, plain sugar cookie dough, like the type that is almost too tempting not to eat raw.

Use regular commercial cake decorating icing or gel icing, or use a basic powdered sugar glaze recipe found in pretty much every baking cookbook there is. Different colored glazes can be made with just one drop of food coloring in each batch, and a small medicine dropper, syringe, or teaspoon can be used to create the drip pattern.

Like the Be the Artist project for Josef Albers, this project is primarily about identifying at theme through color. Find a favorite group of characters… Justice League, the characters of Inside Out or cast of Orphan Black, X-Men, the band Gwar…whatever you want to represent, and convey it, via drizzling color schemes on plain, cooked, sugar cookies in icing.

For example, the family really enjoyed Cookie Monster’s “Shower Thoughts” at with musings from New York City museums (including cookie-related comments like “cookie dough is sushi for desserts!”). We thought a nice cookie homage to him and other Monster muppets would be in order.

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Cookie Monster and Elmo cookies…Pollock style!

Use two, three, or four colors that represent that character. Drizzle them on the already baked and cooled cookies in icing, but not just all over the place. Think about how much of each color this character would best be represented by, as well as the placement. Let them dry and arrange them, not stacked, onto a serving dish.

Once finished, you can serve this little tasty gallery as part of an art-themed party, or just as a way to make dessert or snack time a little more colorful. To make it more interactive, have everyone guess which theme or characters the cookies represent, before eating them.

These may not be works in traditional paint on canvas, but the according to the book, Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics by Clifford Ross, Pollock expressed what he felt the important source of modern art is…and it wasn’t merely in the medium, or even in the subject:

“Most modern painters work from a different source, they work from within,” he said.

Originally ran in GeekMom July 30, 2015.

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Fozzy Bear and Kermit cookies, by two 12 and younger artists!

Artist-inspired Projects: Keith Haring

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Keith Haring’s work proved you don’t have to be superhero to do great deeds. Try create some everyday heroic acts — like honoring our veterans — with known superheroes. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Keith Haring

Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1958, and was known as both an artist and social activist in the late 20th century, dealing with everything from life and death to war and peace to sexuality and love.

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Haring’s images are some of the most recognizable art associated with the 1980s. Images from top clockwise by Dr. Colosssus; © A&M Records; and by Alberto-g-rovi from Wikicommons.

His father was an amateur cartoonist, and even at an early age, Haring loved spending time with him creating drawings. He was influenced by artists of all styles and media, such as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney, and later, Jackson Pollock, Pierre Alechinsky, the modern sculptor, Christo, and even poet William Burroughs.

He studied commercial art at Pittsburgh’s Center for the Arts, and later moved to New York to study painting in the late 1970s. His simple and energetic outlined style line art sent cultural and political messages to the public about the epidemic of AIDS, the importance of love and acceptance, and the triumph of the human heart.

Haring is one of the most recognizable artists associated with the 1980s, but for many, his most iconic image will be the cover design for the compilation album series, “A Very Special Christmas,” which raises money for Special Olympics.

Though some of his work dealt with adult situations, his style also appealed to kids. The site Haring Kids includes color books, cards, and other activities suitable of art lovers of all ages.

Haring died from complications with AIDS in 1990, but his legacy continues today. The philanthropic Keith Haring Foundation not only preserves his work, but provides grants to children in need and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

He has been honored with such memorials as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon in 2007, and a Google Doodle in 2012, on what would have been his 54th birthday.

There is also a 17’ x 6’, 32,256-piece jigsaw puzzle, “Keith Haring: Double Retrospect,” created in his honor, that holds the Guinness Book record for the largest jigsaw puzzle in the world. Haring fans can purchase this puzzle for $318 in the U.S., or £283 in the U.K.

As one of the icons of the 1980s in this year’s Get Pop-Cultured celebration at Barnes & Noble Booksellers nationwide, the store hosted an online post card coloring contest for all ages.

No matter what Haring focused on, he always knew the importance of the maintaining the soul and heart of a child:

“Children know something that most people have forgotten,” he said in his book, Keith Haring Journals.

The Project: Make-Believe Heroes Doing Real Heroic Things

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“The Doctor Recycles” in the style of Keith Haring by Lisa Kay Tate.

Haring kept his work very simple, but packed quite a bit of meaning and emotion into what appears at first glance to be just faceless outlines.

In honor of Haring’s knack for elevating the heroic struggles and triumphs of the anonymous everyman, here is a very simple project for artists of all ages.

First, find a favorite superhero. Easy enough. Next, in the style of Haring, make simple line drawing of them doing a simple feat that makes a big difference (giving blood, helping at a soup kitchen, reading to children, bringing groceries to a shut-in). These are the everyday heroics of the faceless everyman not often seen in newspapers, on television or in social media.

Use only a couple of small symbols (cape, cowl, etc.), as the sole means of identifying that particular hero. Otherwise, they should humble themselves a little, and be part of the masses.

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Sketch out your idea in pencil before using more permanent media, as show with “Wonder Woman adopts a new friend,” by Lisa Kay Tate.

Once your drawing is done, go back over it with a more permanent, bolder medium. Haring was bold and bright in his images, so use strong lines and bright colors. I used felt tip marker for the final designs. Haring limited the amount of colors he used in most of his drawings, to about two to four different colors. It’s okay to go over that limit a little, but keep it as basic as you can. Haring’s work was colorful at times, but not so much it detracted from the energy and message of the piece.

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Before street artists like Banky hit the scene, Haring helped bring street art to a new level. Give his style a go with chalk drawings.

Like Banksy, Haring drew attention to street art with his creations, and his history as a street artist lends itself to creating sidewalk chalk art. This may be a temporary tactic, but a good way to spread a little message with a big heart to passers by.

Heroes don’t have to thwart alien attacks or overturn criminal masterminds with superpowers to be heroic. Haring believed in the ability for everyone to be hero and his art showed it. He also believed his and all artists’ works should reach people of all backgrounds, and he expressed this simple….and profound…thought in his journals.

“Art is for everybody,” he said.

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What if ….Wolverine helped an underprivileged neighborhood grow food for themselves? Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

Artist-Inspired Projects: Mary Blair

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What if century concept artists like Disney Legend Mary Blair had worked on some of today’s popular shows and movies? Image: “There were Dragons” by Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Mary Blair

Mary Blair is one of the Walt Disney Studio’s most beloved artists, and is credited for bringing the modernist art style to the Disney family with her concept art for both film and theme park attractions.

Born Mary Robinson in Oklahoma in 1911, Blair attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship, due to her gift for painting. When she graduated, however, it was in the middle of the United States’ Depression era, so instead of trying to make it as a fine artist, she took on her first job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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Left: Artist Michael Netzer’s portrait of Mary Blair capturing her modernist style. Right: A section of Blair’s 90-foot mosaic at Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort. Images: Wikicommons.

Soon after, Blair and her husband, fellow animator Lee Everett Blair, went to work for the studio of animator (and close friend of Walt Disney’s), Ub Iwerks. By 1940, she had joined the Walt Disney Company as a concept artist.

In addition to serving as art supervisor for the classics Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, she contributed her animation and concept art talents to some of the studio’s most famous animated films in the 1950s including Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice In Wonderland. She was also the driving force behind the look of the Disney Parks’ most famous attractions, It’s A Small World.

One of her most famous pieces, a 90-foot-high mosaic mural created in 1971 for Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort, still greets visitors today.

In addition to her work with Disney, Blair illustrated several Little Golden Books, designed sets for Radio City Music Hall, and did freelance work for everyone from Hallmark to Nabisco.

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Blair style adds to theme park rides like It’s A Small World and picture books. Images: Rick Tate (left) and Lisa Kay Tate.

Her work was respected and loved by fellow Disney legends like animators Frank Thomas and Marc Davis. Davis even listed her work on the same level of Henri Matisse, and described her as bringing “modern art to Walt in a way that no one else did.”

Even after she died in 1978, her legacy continued, as she received several posthumous awards. This included the honor of being inducted into the Disney Legends group in 1991, now held every other year during the D23 Expo. She share the honors that year with other legends like actress Julie Andrews, and Uncle Scrooge creator Carl Barks.

The Project: “What if Mary Blair did Concept Art for……”

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Emphasizing a certain color may add to the personality of the piece. Image: “Oliver!!!” by Lisa Kay Tate.

Remember the Marvel Comics series “What if…,” which gave alternative stories to familiar characters, with ideas like “What if Wolverine was a Vampire”?

Well, this project asks the question “What if Mary Blair did Concept Art for…….?”

Blair’s wonderfully imaginative style could make any type of show look a little better. She was a master of watercolors, especially the opaque watercolor medium gouache, which made up many of her vivid paintings.

One of her defining factors was her innovative use of color. She would combine images and color in a way the would make even the simplest drawings would come to life. What if she was recruited to help brighten up the tone of today’s popular shows and movies?

This “Be the Artist” will be a little different, as it isn’t as much about mimicking an artist’s style, but her spirit. Use colors, simple and bold figures, lots of lively background, and a sometimes childlike, playful attitude.

Find a scene you think would be fun to see in the mid-century style, and paint it. Use simple, but bold expressions in any faces you use, and don’t forget the background. Use watercolors, acrylic, craft paint, or other bright medium. I used a mix of watercolor and colored pencil, which can be easier if still mastering more detailed areas with brushes.

I’ve chosen some more “grown-up” shows I enjoy that seem unlikely candidates for retro Mary Blair style storyboard—Dexter (the early season before it became too unwatchably depressing), Top Gear, since I’ve been binging this show lately, and Game of Thrones, because, well, I love drawing dragons.

However, young artists shouldn’t choose an inappropriate show for their age. One of today’s animated favorites could be given a fresh mid-century style makeover, ala Blair.

Add a little descriptive explanation under the image, as they did in many mid-century children’s books, to make it even more playful.

Today’s television and movies seem to be so dark, cynical, and somber, compared to the days of Blair’s most significant works. Perhaps with a little Blair-style mid-century modernist treatment, everything can seem a little brighter.

Don’t think you can do this? You never know unless you get to work and try. Blair felt actually doing something was where the real learning began.

Blair historian and author of The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, John Canemaker featured this inspiring quote from Blair about on that very subject:

“You get an education in school and in college,” Blair said. “And then you start to work, and that’s when you learn!”

Originally published for Geekmom on July 20, 2015.

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Remember, it doesn’t take much too much detail to tell a good story. Image: “That Rascal Moon” by Lisa Kay Tate.