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About Traditional Art / Professional Clara LieuFemale/United States Groups :iconr-i-s-d: R-I-S-D
 
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Clara Lieu
Artist | Professional | Traditional Art
United States
I am a professor, writer, and visual artist. I am a blogger for the Huffington Post, where I write an advice column for visual artists called "Ask the Art Professor". I currently teach in the Division of Foundation Studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. In the past I have taught in the Illustration and Printmaking departments at RISD, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, at Wellesley College, and at the Lesley University College of Art and Design. For four years I was the Director of the Jewett Art Gallery.

My studio practice explores isolation and mental illness through drawing, printmaking, and sculpture. Recent exhibitions have been at the International Print Center New York, Bromfield Gallery, the Danforth Museum of Art, the Currier Museum of Art, the RISD Museum of Art, and the Davis Museum and Cultural Center. I have received grants from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the Puffin Foundation.

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This summer I’m teaching 5 classes of  Drawing Foundations and Design Foundations in the RISD Pre-College program.  Every year, every class is distinct, and offers a different set of challenges for me. Despite how unique every student is, there is one universal problem that I see across the board in all of my pre-college classes:  when students stop working on their projects too early.  The majority of student artwork I’ve seen in the past few weeks is off to a good start, but is noticeably unresolved because students stepped away from the work prematurely.

This tendency to leave an artwork early is understandable; many art students fear that if they work on their projects for too long, they will ruin it. Their desire to protect the final results in order to ensure a certain degree of success shuts down their willingness to take creative risks.  Consequently, many art student miss out on opportunities that might have arisen if they had just given their project another hour.

Creating an artwork is a roller coaster ride where nothing is guaranteed. Many art students have an unrealistic expectation that an artwork should improve in a linear manner, and that if they hit a rough patch that the apocalypse has arrived and nothing in their project can be salvaged. On the contrary, I’ve witnessed students kill their projects and then resurrect the artwork later. I’ve seen students dig themselves out of seemingly hopeless situations and emerge with outstanding results. 

Learning how to bring an artwork to true completion is one of the most important skills to gain as an artist.   If you are running a marathon and drop out at mile 15, it doesn’t matter how far ahead you were at the beginning because you didn’t finish the race.  I tell my students that no matter how flawed or unpleasant their process was, to make sure that they cross the finish line.

I once had a student who struggled enormously with the craftsmanship of a collage project.  He was extremely frustrated and clearly had no experience with the materials:  there was glue everywhere, finger prints, the paper wasn’t cut cleanly, etc. However, his piece fundamentally demonstrated that he developed a strong grasp of composition through the piece, which was one of the primary objectives of the assignment. His composition was dynamic and spacious.  Although this student’s technical execution of the materials was a complete car crash, he still followed through and finished the piece. He was mortified at the critique by his poor technique, and was shocked when I commended him for his efforts. I have tremendous respect for the fact that he kept working on the piece, despite his awareness of how sloppy his technique was. It’s never fun to work on a project that you know isn’t going well, and I commended the fact that he pushed through and finished the race.

The difficulty is that there is no “correct” way to finish an artwork, so how do you know what is truly finished?  To figure this out, I encourage my students to intentionally overwork their pieces. This can be a painful, as you can easily lose good parts of your piece in the process, and the results are not always pretty. I had a RISD student who worked on a charcoal drawing to the point that the surface of the paper started to deteriorate. She was up all night working, and was extremely frustrated that nothing was progressing.  When she brought the drawing in for the group critique that morning, it looked like a a civil war had been waged on her drawing. This was the worst drawing she did all semester, but she told me later that the experience was tremendously valuable. She had pushed the drawing well beyond what she thought was reasonable.  Since she went too far with that drawing, she had a better understanding of where her limits were, and was able to pull herself back for the next assignment. I tell my students to let one of their assignments be a “sacrifice drawing,” where they give up any intention of creating a successful piece, to figure out where their limits are.

SB7

If you’re an art student, stay with your pieces. Something amazing might be just around the corner, but you’ll never find it if you get up and leave. Sometimes just 60 minutes is all the difference in the world.

Chipboard Personality Sculptures

I’m not teaching right now, but I’m doing preparatory work for three different programs simultaneously.  RISD Pre-College starts in a week, so I’m getting all of the logistics in place to teach 4 classes of Design Foundations this summer. I put together a large supply order for RISD Project Open Door, which dictated that I also plan the entire year’s curriculum.  Since I’ve taught at both programs before, I have a good system in place, but it still takes time.

The bulk of my preparatory work right now is writing new materials for a course I am teaching this fall called “Drawing I: Visualizing Space”, a drawing class in the RISD Illustration Department for incoming sophomores. The last time I taught this course was in 2009, and my teaching has evolved quite a bit since then. When I revisited my old course materials, I decided that only about 30% of the course is going to stay. With the exception of one homework assignment, all of the homework assignments will be new.

Brainstorming new assignments is tricky. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at this, but you never really know until the students actually come into class with the completed assignment.  I’ve certainly had my fair share of failed assignments, what was I thinking when I assigned a drawing project titled “Explosion/Implosion?” I always give an assignment to two different classes before I give up on it, sometimes assignments get very different results depending on the class.  If I still don’t get results after that, I pitch the assignment.

I aim to create homework assignments that strike a balance between specificity and freedom.  If an assignment is too open, I have found that students tend to get lost and the class loses focus. Too much specificity can suffocate creative possibilities and frequently the projects end up looking too similar.

To test new assignments, I ask myself how I would respond to the assignment. If I can’t come up with at least 3 ideas for the project within 5 minutes, I know that my students will have a tough time.  Last night I was brainstorming a new project titled “Remembered Space”, which asks students to create a drawing based on a space that they visited often during their childhood, but that they no longer visit.  Immediately, 3 spaces came to my mind:  1) my piano teacher’s living room, where my mother would sit while I had my lesson.  I remember the dim light in the room, the earth toned furniture, and all of the odd objects, like an oil and water toy that I found mesmerizing. 2) the tiny grocery store next to my elementary school, where my mother would buy deli meat.  The store was run by 3 or 4 elderly people who my mother always chatted with when she came in. 3) the art room at my elementary school. Starting in fourth grade, art class was my favorite hour of the week at school, and I remember being completely silent during class because I wanted to concentrate on my work.  The space was chaotic, bursting with art supplies, with the walls covered with art history pictures. This assignment idea passed my test, so I’ll be implementing it into my course this fall.

Once I have the basic idea in place, I start writing down requirements for the assignment, such as size and media. The way I write the assignment in the course handouts has changed significantly.  I used to write long, dense paragraphs about the assignment, but through experience I’ve learned that students respond better when the language is plain and straightforward. Now, I intentionally write only 1-3 sentences about the assignment and let the students run with that.

Foamcore Staircase Assignment

Having abandoned my “poisonous checklist“,  I sat down to write a new one.  My intent was for everything on this new checklist to be something that could happen right away, and that is in my control.  I am done waiting around and being disappointed.

When I sat down to write, I was surprised to discover that actually, there is no new checklist.  Instead, I am giving myself one simple purpose:

Enjoy myself.

This is truly the only objective that is entirely my responsibility, and that can happen right now.  If I’m having fun, career advancement and financial return don’t matter. Creating a wonderful experience for myself ensures that everything I do will be worth it.  Unlike most things in life, this is something I can guarantee for myself.

To fuel this goal, I am investing in two primary actions:

1) Make changes.
I’ve decided that if I don’t like the way things are, then I need to take action to change my situation. Over the past few months, I’ve been taking baby steps, and it’s been invigorating. (at this point all I can say is that things are percolating, hopefully I’ll be able to tell you why soon!) If things don’t work out, at least I can say that I tried.

2) Savor little victories.
A few weeks ago, a student wrote to me: “You really respected me to make my own choices and to create my own drawing style. I felt valued and respected being an artist in your class.” Teaching can be tough at times, but gems always manage to emerge that I have to remind myself to hold onto.

Chipboard Personality Sculptures

A few posts back, I talked about my “poisonous checklist.” While thinking about writing my new checklist, it became clear that in order to do that, I need to eliminate some toxic habits.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to do what you know is good for you, and why destructive behaviors are so incredibly seductive.  For example, I hate thinking about exercising, and every time I know I should go to the gym, I dread going. Yet I have repeated proof that I am guaranteed to feel great after a workout. For me, exercise is the most effective anti-depressant that exists. I am well aware that I shouldn’t wander the Internet aimlessly. I waste time which I feel guilty about later, I lose sleep, and I feel worse about myself. Inevitably, I end up reading about people who look happier, smarter, richer, and more successful than me.

Below are 3 habits I’m trying to erase. This list is very specific to my current situation, so this is not applicable to everyone.

1) Stop reading about successful artists. 
(I know that there are many, many different definitions of “success.”  In this specific context, I am defining “successful artists” as artists who have achieved the items on my old checklist.)
I believe strongly that it’s critical to look at the works of other artists, this process has been a huge part of my artistic development. In the best case scenario, looking at other artists is inspirational and you can learn from their work. However, I do think that you can overdose on this, (which I have) and the worst case scenario is that you can become bitter and jealous. Having so much content at your fingertips can be great, but sometimes that colossal quantity of information can consume you. I’m at a point where I need to step away from the noise.

2) Stop checking my phone constantly.
I used to check my phone any time I had an idle moment, or when I was waiting, even if I knew my wait would only be a few minutes. I think for many people, the impulse to check your phone is there because people think they will be bored. On the contrary, since I’ve been letting myself just stand there, I enjoy the little things I notice: the shape of the shadows on the ground, and the mixture of random sounds I hear. After changing my behavior, I noticed that checking my phone stresses me out, and it’s rare that I’ll see something on my phone that can’t wait for later.

3) Stop telling myself that there are no other options.
I once went to a meeting where one person spent the entire meeting shooting down every idea. When suggestions were made, they talked about how that would be very difficult, or that it wasn’t possible. They didn’t make a single statement that discussed what we could do, which made for a very unproductive meeting. For the last few years, I was that person, saying these things to myself.  My old checklist dictated that there was only one way to do things, so when those things didn’t work out, I told myself that there was nothing else I could do. I felt helpless and paralyzed, and my progress would come to a grinding halt. A friend of mine told me that their way of coping with their anxiety was to find an action they could take right away, no matter how small. Now that I’ve shifted my outlook, alternative actions are becoming visible.

Nice to know that as a former student, I can inspire terror in one of my former professors by digging up historical documents. Check out this article written by my former RISD Professor, Fred Lynch:

pictureitfredlynch.wordpress.c…

This summer I’m teaching 5 classes of  Drawing Foundations and Design Foundations in the RISD Pre-College program.  Every year, every class is distinct, and offers a different set of challenges for me. Despite how unique every student is, there is one universal problem that I see across the board in all of my pre-college classes:  when students stop working on their projects too early.  The majority of student artwork I’ve seen in the past few weeks is off to a good start, but is noticeably unresolved because students stepped away from the work prematurely.

This tendency to leave an artwork early is understandable; many art students fear that if they work on their projects for too long, they will ruin it. Their desire to protect the final results in order to ensure a certain degree of success shuts down their willingness to take creative risks.  Consequently, many art student miss out on opportunities that might have arisen if they had just given their project another hour.

Creating an artwork is a roller coaster ride where nothing is guaranteed. Many art students have an unrealistic expectation that an artwork should improve in a linear manner, and that if they hit a rough patch that the apocalypse has arrived and nothing in their project can be salvaged. On the contrary, I’ve witnessed students kill their projects and then resurrect the artwork later. I’ve seen students dig themselves out of seemingly hopeless situations and emerge with outstanding results. 

Learning how to bring an artwork to true completion is one of the most important skills to gain as an artist.   If you are running a marathon and drop out at mile 15, it doesn’t matter how far ahead you were at the beginning because you didn’t finish the race.  I tell my students that no matter how flawed or unpleasant their process was, to make sure that they cross the finish line.

I once had a student who struggled enormously with the craftsmanship of a collage project.  He was extremely frustrated and clearly had no experience with the materials:  there was glue everywhere, finger prints, the paper wasn’t cut cleanly, etc. However, his piece fundamentally demonstrated that he developed a strong grasp of composition through the piece, which was one of the primary objectives of the assignment. His composition was dynamic and spacious.  Although this student’s technical execution of the materials was a complete car crash, he still followed through and finished the piece. He was mortified at the critique by his poor technique, and was shocked when I commended him for his efforts. I have tremendous respect for the fact that he kept working on the piece, despite his awareness of how sloppy his technique was. It’s never fun to work on a project that you know isn’t going well, and I commended the fact that he pushed through and finished the race.

The difficulty is that there is no “correct” way to finish an artwork, so how do you know what is truly finished?  To figure this out, I encourage my students to intentionally overwork their pieces. This can be a painful, as you can easily lose good parts of your piece in the process, and the results are not always pretty. I had a RISD student who worked on a charcoal drawing to the point that the surface of the paper started to deteriorate. She was up all night working, and was extremely frustrated that nothing was progressing.  When she brought the drawing in for the group critique that morning, it looked like a a civil war had been waged on her drawing. This was the worst drawing she did all semester, but she told me later that the experience was tremendously valuable. She had pushed the drawing well beyond what she thought was reasonable.  Since she went too far with that drawing, she had a better understanding of where her limits were, and was able to pull herself back for the next assignment. I tell my students to let one of their assignments be a “sacrifice drawing,” where they give up any intention of creating a successful piece, to figure out where their limits are.

SB7

If you’re an art student, stay with your pieces. Something amazing might be just around the corner, but you’ll never find it if you get up and leave. Sometimes just 60 minutes is all the difference in the world.

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Comments


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:iconartofjefferyhebert:
ArtofJefferyHebert Featured By Owner 5 days ago  Professional Digital Artist
Good Morning Prof. Lieu. I wanted to take a moment and tell you, your journals are a great insight and I enjoy reading them. I look forward to your posts.
Reply
:iconclaralieu:
claralieu Featured By Owner 3 days ago  Professional Traditional Artist
Thanks for reading!
Reply
:iconclalepa:
clalepa Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2015  Professional Photographer
Thanks for fav 

I have extended my gallery on FB and I would be very glad if you visit me. Here you have!

www.facebook.com/clalepa

Thanks and regards from Spain,

C
Reply
:iconlisawb:
LisaWB Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2015  New Deviant
I am so drawn to your work, particularly the falling series. When I read your profile, I understand just why it draws me. It is so powerful and evocative and it tells the story of inner demons that I can FEEL with my very depth. These are such profound works. 
Reply
:iconclaralieu:
claralieu Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
Thanks!
Reply
:iconjghgrh:
jghgrh Featured By Owner Jun 7, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
Wow,stunning work,keep at It.
Reply
:iconsandrapelly:
SandraPelly Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
Your work touched me greatly.   It left me   speechless and stunned and at same time I felt as if someone finally understands. I  hope you have defeated your demons because I am still figuring mine.  Seeing your work gave me extra push to  sort myself out  and express myself more.   Thank you. 
Reply
:icongoatqueen:
GoatQueen Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2014
Did you ever do something on how to ship art once it's sold?
Reply
:iconclaralieu:
claralieu Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
I haven't, but mostly because there are already tons of articles out there on how to ship your work when you sell it online.  It also depends on what online site you're using. If you want to know, Etsy has a lot of information on how to do it. 
Reply
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