Finding Your Subject: Just Keep Making Stuff

Butter Tart

Finding your style, your subject, as an artist is something artists are encouraged to do, but most are resistant to, though many hope to arrive at something naturally. Why is that? Branding mainly I suppose. It is easier to be known for something, and to build a market for something, if that something has a consistent look to it. As creative types who are trained to push boundaries and break norms, settling in to one style or subject is like choosing to encase yourself in a plastic suit that looks like you but can’t move, or grow, or express all the interesting weird parts of yourself. I was once told that based on the range of my work (I had brought three paintings to a critique), I came across as three completely distinct personalities! However I think eventually, as an artist follows his/her own interests and learns more about what truly motivates him/her, certain fascinations will emerge and make themselves clear without the need to plasticize.

Right now I believe I see this happening with my food paintings. Certainly the subject matter is not going to win any awards for its revolutionary content, however the fascination is authentic to me and my lived experience as a member of my society. So perhaps this is how finding your authentic voice as an artist happens:

It all started with an innocent request from my husband Uncle. Actually, I think it all started with a 90 pound weight loss. It’s known that when you are depriving your body of sufficient calories, your body has a tendency to suggest solutions to you. Suddenly you can’t get that craving out of your mind. It develops into a fixation on high quality home made versions of your old favourites. I love Christmas fruitcake, and decided if I was going to indulge in the seasonal treat I would make my own brandy drenched home made cake. One cake was all it took and I was hooked. So back to my husband’s Uncles request. My husband suggested I make one for his father and uncle, since as his mother had passed away her custom of making them was gone. The following year I made one for Harry, and offered to make one for Bob. However as the fruitcakes are a weighty cake that cost twice as much to ship as to make, Bob asked if I would please paint him a fruitcake and send that instead. And so I did, for four straight Christmases. Bob now has a set of four fruitcake paintings.

Then I was looking for a novel approach to participate in Calgary’s premier event of every summer since long before I was born, the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. The Stampede hosts the Western Showcase Artist’s Studios and Art Gallery each year, a themed juried commercial art show which has distinctly shaped the arts in Calgary. I was thinking about what my favourite part of Stampede was growing up in Calgary, and for me it had to be the citywide free pancake breakfasts. Whatever your economic status, political, cultural or social affiliation, you are always welcome to enjoy a free pancake breakfast at any one of the many events hosted across the city during the 10 days of Stampede. So I decided to do a series of paintings combining my love of art history with my love of pancake breakfasts.

And now I am happily working away on a series of still life paintings depicting Canadian heritage treats such as Butter tarts, Saskatoon Jam and Nanaimo Bars.

Here is where the innocent request meets my own natural interest. Significant weight loss is one of those events that permanently changes ones metabolism. There are as yet no numbers on when one returns to ‘normal,’ as though one had never had the extra weight in the first place. I may never lose this interest in good food, as my subconscious seeks to assist me to return to my former size. So as strange as it may seem these coincidentally arrived at paintings of food may be a long term authentic subject matter, one I didn’t realize I had been developing. In fact, the further back I look, the more I find I was engaging with food in my work without realizing it as part of my own personal visual language.

Security oil on canvas 20″ x 40″ Debbie.lee Miszaniec

My advice to you if you are struggling against the advice to narrow down your style, your subject and your interests, as I do, is to let it happen naturally. What gives you the most joy? It may not be what you think it should be, or what others think is a worthy subject matter, or a profitable one. However if you let it, your voice will emerge on its own anyhow, without your intention. Just keep making.

One Life Fine Art Studio Channel UP NOW:

My Youtube Channel is up and I have a favour to ask: I have polls on each of my first 3 video’s to ask what you would like to see in future videos? Please go to the channel, watch a video and answer the poll when it pops up. If you don’t have a youtube account that’s Ok, you can leave your comments here for me instead. Thanks a bunch for helping! Here is a “time lapse” from the Sunflower Project:

Sunflower Project: Community Collaborations

So last week I told you about the new painted utility box I contributed to the Marlborough community. I also mentioned the references to the sunflower project that I included in the design. Here would now be a good place to include some images of a couple of the other boxes from the project. These artists agreed to let me contribute a sunflower seed to the designs of their boxes, symbolically taking part in the project and growing it further to take root in the Marlborough community. Thanks Sharon Fortowsky and Ashley Oshiro for hosting the Sunflower Project in your projects. Hopefully we can collaborate again soon!

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Ashley Oshiro
(Detail with Sunflower seed by Debbie.lee Miszaniec)

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Ashley Oshiro

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Sharon Fortowsky
(Detail with Sunflower seed by Debbie.lee Miszaniec)

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Sharon Fortowsky

Did I Mention? New Painted City Utility Box.

Hi,

It appears I am so behind on keeping the blog up to date!

SO last spring I was given the opportunity to participate in a program bringing a suite of new painted utility boxes to the Marlborough Community in Calgary. I jumped at the chance, having spent nearly a decade of my formative years in the neighbourhood. Each artist created a design concept responding to the overall theme of home,  and to information gathered during an extensive phase of community engagement.

Here was my contribution to the Curb appeal in the Marlborough Community:

Home
Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Home
Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Home
Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Home
Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

You may notice the retro colour scheme and styling. Marlborough is a 1970’s community and in talking to residents it impressed me how many people had bought when Marlborough was new and still lived there. It was also impressive to me how many people said it was their community and their neighbours that meant the most to them when they thought about their experience of living in Marlborough.  So I decided to create a design that was an ode to the 70’s roots of the area, and that focused on the points in our homes where we interact with our neighbours.  The theme of community was also a natural fit for the sunflower project, and you will see that I included copious references to it in the design.

Art In Transit: Installed! (plus bonus Inglewood art)

You may recall I posted last spring that the City of Calgary was interested in reproducing my little painting,  Pancake Breakfast, in the large, on glass for the 17th Avenue BRT project. Well here is the finished project!

Pancake Breakfast, Reproduction of glass, Installed

I really like where it was situated, close to the Blackfoot Diner in Inglewood. When the former owner, Edna, was alive, she was known to give free meals to the homeless on occasion, so the placement of this symbol of Calgary hospitality seems appropriate. What do you think?

Speaking of Inglewood and the Blackfoot Diner, (two, or rather one in another, places which meant a lot to me growing up in Calgary,) here are a couple paintings I did a few years ago expressing my love of Inglewood:

Blackfoot Diner
10″ x 11″
Acrylic on canvas and repurposed candy box.
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Inglewood Food Mart
10″ x 11″
Acrylic on canvas and repurposed candy box
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Both of these paintings were shown at the Edge Gallery YYC in the I Love Inglewood show.

Talking About: Buffalo Bill

Example of a header from an early Buffalo Bill Dime Novel

This is a quick announcement: I will be giving a talk emerging from my new series of paintings exploring Buffalo Bill in the context of the fictionalization of history. The talk will take place at Heritage Park Historical Village & Museum. It is scheduled  for Thursday November 22nd 2018 at 2pm. Stay tuned for further updates as the time draws near!

This Weekend! March 10 -11 2018, Canada West Artist Drop In:

Canada West Artist Drop-in

Heritage Park Historical Village, Gasoline Alley Museum.
Journey of A Lifetime Exhibition (January – April 2018):

Saturday, March 10, Sunday, March 11
11:00 AM-2:00 PM

FREE with paid admission to Gasoline Alley Museum

A Level Playing Field
16 x 20 O/C

The Canada West series are a group of oil on canvas paintings created by artist Debbie.lee Miszaniec. The works revisit early 20th century Canadian advertising posters that were intended to encourage immigration to the Canadian West. Each painting interprets the source image through juxtaposition, modification, or both. Debbie.lee is a life-long painter, a student of art history, culture and society. Visit the Journey of a Lifetime exhibit and join the artist for a session of informal dialogue and gain insight into this colourful and insightful series of paintings.

Event Announcement: Mini Artist Talk/Tours

The New Homeland
16 x 20 O/C

This is a quick announcement to let you know that March 10th and 11th 2018 between 11 am and 2 pm I will be at Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley giving mini artist talk/tours about my Canada West paintings and how they relate to their exhibition, Journey of a Lifetime. The talks are not posted to the website yet, but will be free with admission to the exhibition. Find out more about the exhibition here.

Dime Novel 1907: Revisited

Belle of the Brawl
(formerly Dime Novel 1907)
12 x 16 O/C
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Last week I talked about my reasons for revisiting a painting, so I won’t go into that much here. What I will talk about, are the changes I made to this one, and why.

Amoung the many funny things I could be entertained by in this antique image of the west, one of the things that kept happening as I looked at it, was my increasing identification with the contested object of the narrative. The bull is trussed up and appears to be at risk of being re-branded by cattle rustlers. Our hero and heroine have happened upon this scene and have rushed in to defend the bull from the cattle rustlers. But they are not defending the bull, they are defending property.

It appears that when the image was made the bull clearly resided in the realm of objects which are owned, and can be stolen. Stella (who in marriage would have been classified as chattel herself) stands on the bull like a piece of furniture. Today, the bull is both an object to be owned and a being which needs to be humanely cared for. Though the bull is the centre of attention, no one bothers to ask whom he prefers to go home with. So I decided to give him a voice.