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Make Art

Every day. Even just a little sketch

Know what’s going on in your heart

Expressed emotion makes stronger art. But usually it’s better if it isn’t too literal, rather subtle and readable in different ways, to fascinate and make people imagine...

Know what’s going on in the world

If you’re not paying attention, you won’t have much to contribute. Listen to NPR or BBC news or watch documentaries on public television. Everything is connected and it’s the artist’s job to help people see that. Be outraged, be stunned, be sorrowful, be engaged, be delighted.

Study the work of other artists.

Those you like, and those you don’t. Get art books about famous artists from the library. Take it beyond like and dislike to: how did they do that? Why did they use those colors, that texture, that composition? What do they want me to notice, to feel? How did they succeed?

Do life drawing

If you can’t get a model, draw people where they are: in a cafe, at the pool, dancing, watching tv. Quick sketches and detailed drawings. Pay particular attention to where the bones are, how the flesh rests and pulls on the skeleton, including on the face.

Do still life drawing

Practice looking. Drawing is 90% looking. Don’t assume you know what a cup or a shoe or an apple looks like. Be surprised. Don’t bother drawing anything from a photo - the point is to translate from the world to your page or canvas, via YOUR eye and YOUR mind and YOUR hand.

Talk to everyone

Ask them about themselves and tell them you’re an artist. Speak loudly and clearly, don’t rush your words. Speak in public. Cultivate a network. Be visible. Ask for help getting what/where you need and ask for things - even ask for a discount on entering for a show.

Hold your head up

Take yourself seriously. You have as much right to your footprint on our planet as anyone else at all.

Pencil sketch of baseball players in the field by Sophie Grillet
Live sketch of baseball players

Make Art

Every day. Even just a little sketch.

I leapt at the invitation to lead a sculpture workshop with high school students attending a summer Math Camp at Michigan. One of my enthusiasms is SciArt (a unification of art and science) and art with a mathematical connection. Artists, scientists and mathematicians are fundamentally curious people, who are building metaphors to describe the natural world and our responses to it.

Here are the instructions, if you’d like to make a sculpture too:

Wire sculpture wrapped in yarn with LED lights by Sophie Grillet
“Heisenberg: The Teenage Years”

Non-springy wire that stays in place. Cut a piece about seven foot long.

Electricians tape in your preferred color. Or silver Duck tape.

Wire cutters

A paperclip

String of battery-operated mini LED lights

  1. Gently begin curving the wire. Keep it smooth - kinks are difficult to smooth out!

  2. You are aiming to make a shape that will fit approximately within a 9” (23cm) sided box.

  3. Make curves of different sizes, none parallel with each other.

  4. You can lead the wire through one or two loops. Are you making a loose knot?

  5. Gradually adjust the curves, making sure they don’t touch - otherwise you’ll be making multiple tangential loops, instead of a unique, complicated line through space.

  6. Keep adjusting throughout, until the ends point together in a straight line - or smooth curve.

  7. Try your sculpture out different ways up. can you make it balance three, or at least two different ways up?

  8. When it’s not too big, and will balance different ways up, with the ends meeting exactly, you are ready to join the ends.

  9. Place three short, straight sections of paperclip parallel on a piece of tape. Wrap it tightly around the join to make a splint.

  10. Check they work, then wrap a string of LED lights in a spiral around the wire. Tape it at intervals with colored tape.


That’s it! Now you can name your sculpture!

This one (wrapped in yarn instead of taped at intervals) is named “Heisenberg: The Teenage Years”. A brilliant physicist, but that’s a small light in the darkness: I admit to some uncertainty as to whether he really deserves a sculpture in my mathematicians series. You can see one made by one of my students here.

My neighbor announced, “I didn’t listen to the radio today.” Of course, I knew exactly what she meant.

Some of us find the barrage of official cruelty and man-made disaster hard to stomach. We are a divided nation, a divided world. What is it that divides us? Religion? Politics? What does this have to do with art? Something intangible, essential.

Artists, that is, creators, dreamers, people who depend upon the inspiration of the muses - these are the people with strong imagination. Not simply the imagination of an architect who can picture a yet-to-be built building, or of a musician who can hear how a chord or phrase will sound before it’s played. Artists, including the architect and the musician, the painter and the choreographer, the novelist and more; these are the people who can imagine what it is like to be someone else.

I recently led a tour of business students in the art museum. The intention was to use art to develop empathy within them. A few were quite hard-hearted. Afterward, I kicked myself. I should have asked them to explore the difference between sympathy, and empathy. Sympathy says, “Oh, that poor person!” Sympathy notices that something went wrong for them. It’s a pity.

Empathy is different. Empathy experiences, at least to a degree, the distress, anxiety and injustice felt by the fellow human being - or creature. Empathy must struggle to alleviate the distress, and can't help but suffer, at least to a degree, if they fail to act.

Art that is to have any value at all, must contain some expression of the unity of the web of life. Aside from technical skill, to the extent that it stirs the heartless to become sympathisers, and sympathisers to become empathisers, the art is good.

Acrylic and pastel art by Sophie Grillet
Hidden Woman

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