Randy Brodnax and What I Learned When I Didn’t Want To Learn

It was a Monday morning. I didn’t want to go to class.

It was a class day, and it was class time, but I wouldn’t actually get to work on my projects for class. Instead, I was told, I needed to show up and then listen to some artist talk and do demonstrations.

It was a Monday morning. And I really, really didn’t want to go listen to some guy talk.

It might not have been as bad if it had been something I knew about or was doing, but the artist they had coming in was a ceramics artist. I haven’t taken any ceramics classes. I’ve only finished two classes: drawing and design. I’m enrolled in two new classes: design II (3-d design) and metal art/jewelry making. Nothing to do with ceramics.

It was a Monday morning. And I didn’t even care to hear about a topic I wasn’t actively engaged in.

But…but I’m so stuck in my head, always trying to get an A, and I knew that missing class would count against me. So I got coffee and went in, thinking that I could just hide in the back, write a bit on something else unrelated to the topic at hand, and maybe even sneak out a little early. Because I knew I wasn’t going to learn anyway.

Then it happened.

I learned something when I didn’t want to learn.

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

Randy Brodnax demonstration

The artist in question was Randy Brodnax.  And he seemed like a cool guy – he had made breakfast (biscuits with sour cream and molasses; you were supposed to dip the biscuits into the sour cream and molasses…he was from Louisiana, and apparently that’s a local thing). He had a pot of gumbo going for lunch time. And his work for sale was set out on a table. The work was pretty cool. Big expensive pieces, medium-sized, almost affordable pieces, and small just about affordable pieces.

So I settled in with my phone, ready to play some games, with a notebook handy for when I got bored.

Except I didn’t get bored. I learned something. I learned how to be an artist.

Sort of.

Okay, so it wasn’t the most earth-shattering learning. But two things that he said stuck with me.

First, he said not to be afraid to try something. That’s the key to being an artist. And he’s right, of course. I quit teaching and began taking art classes and submitting my writing. I have no idea how to ‘art,’ and sending out writing is not for the faint of heart. Trying it is the key, though. Being willing to toss yourself at it, knowing that it may or may not stick, but that you put it out there…that makes all the difference.

The second thing he said was to be consistently inconsistent. Again, not new, not earth-shattering, but oh so important to hear. It applies to art, and it applies to writing. Doing the expected, doing same thing over and over. It’s boring. Not just boring – it’s stagnation. And that is true whether you’re designing a piece of jewelry, whether you’re making an awesome 3-legged toad, or if you’re writing a story. You want whatever you’re doing to be different. You want it to stand out. So you want to be inconsistent in what you do and how you do it, and you want to do that consistently. Which sounds like a contradiction, I realize, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true, and that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

What was my point again?

Oh, yes – you can learn, even when you don’t expect to, and even when you don’t want to. Now go buy some of Randy Brodnax’s stuff. (My Randy toad has been staring at me while I write this, and I think he might be controlling me.)

Three-legged ceramic toad by Randy Brodnax

Three-Legged Ceramic Toad by Randy Brodnax

 

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but hammers give me a blood blister…

I am happy to say that this is not my fault!

I am happy to say that this is not my fault!

This semester, I’m taking two similar yet different art class: Design II (which is really 3D design) and Jewelry & Metal Arts. They’re similar because they’re super hands-on. I’m constantly doing and making things. I’m carrying a tool box with all my gear because I need it – I only have a single sketch pad, and while I’m using it, it’s just for sketches before I get to the actual making part.

In the design class, it’s been strange, too, because it’s not the only class the teacher is in charge of. He actually has three classes going at once: my design class (I’m the only student in it), Sculpture I (with three students in it), and Sculpture II (with three different students in it). So he has seven students spread over the three classes. It means there’s a lot of running back and forth on his part, and he starts and supervises, but, by and large, I get a lot of straight out work time where I can get things done.

To make the design class even stranger, the teacher was one of my students almost 10 years ago when I was teaching English. He’s from another country, and he had to take some developmental English classes when he first came here. I taught him English, and while I didn’t remember him, he remembered me. The swap to being his student isn’t as odd as I thought it would be, probably because we are both adults and, at least on my part, I always feel like there is something to learn from another person. Maybe English isn’t his greatest skill. 3D design is not my greatest skill, either. I’m open to having someone teach me their skills, regardless of whether or not I taught them.

My first project - a simple pendant with a butt joint, a sweat joint, and a t-joint.

My first project – a simple pendant with a butt joint, a sweat joint, and a t-joint.

My other class, the jewelry and metal arts one, is not at all what I expected. I had images of working with wire, twisting jump rings, maybe some basic soldering. Nope. It all started with cutting metal into a necklace and then learning three solder joints (with a torch! a big, fire-tipped torch!!). We got to sand blast it. We got to put a patina on it. It was crazy fun, and I have no idea what our next project is, but it looks like we’ll be starting it soon…

Okay, now to get to the part I know you were waiting for. The blood blister.

Well, my design class, while it’s fun, it’s also apparently hazardous for people like me who are always able to find a way to accidentally hurt themselves. I should be famous for the number of paper cuts I have managed to give myself, especially with corrugated cardboard. (For those who have never had the pleasure of a corrugated cardboard paper cut, let me assure you – you don’t want to!)

I was working on my wire sculpture of a horse’s head (named, appropriately, Fish No. 1), and some of the wire was not quite straight. The instructor, not knowing that I am that amazingly clumsy, went ahead and gave me a huge hard-rubber mallet so that I could straighten it out.

The eye of the horse in the wire sculpture.  I'm sure it's obvious what it is, right?

The eye of the horse in the wire sculpture. I’m sure it’s obvious what it is, right?

I put the sculpture on the floor, saw where it needed straightening, and then brought the mallet down on the tip of my thumb bruisingly hard. Like it immediately started turning colors and swelling…and a big ‘ole blood blister formed. I swear, I’m not bad with pain – anyone who gets as many paper cuts as me knows to just curse and move along. But this was so bad and so painful that I literally almost fainted. I felt myself go light-headed. It hurt that much. Ouch. So much ouch. All in one little finger.

I put ice on it, but I couldn’t really do much else for the rest of the class, and as I was eating lunch, it was getting worse instead of better, so my husband was kind enough to drive me to an urgent care clinic that decided so go ahead and do x-rays. It wasn’t fractured, but they told me to keep icing it and take a bunch of Advil, and they warned me that the blood blister might wind up under the fingernail, and if it got too big, I should go ahead and go see a doctor so they could STICK A POINTY THING IN IT AND MAKE IT BLEED. Suffice it to say, I didn’t like that idea, and I’m happy to say that didn’t happen. My finger is mostly better, other than the blood blister still hanging around, but I’m hoping it will start going away soon.

It’s over! And it’s about to begin again…

"Blind" contour drawing of my hand from day one...

“Blind” contour drawing of my hand from day one…

Drawing of my hand on the final day of class...improvement?

Drawing of my hand on the final day of class…improvement?

Finished with my first semester, and got my grades. But then life got busy, and I haven’t had a chance to update.

First, off, I got As in both my classes. Go me! Of course, I can’t help but think that one of the classes was simply graded by “feelings” as opposed to any sort of rubric. The teacher seemed to think that we had bonded (she told me all sorts of private things about her life and then tried to hug me), and I know someone else who is a magnificent artist who only got a B in her class.

My first semester of art classes are done. Sort of. So if I got an A, it was definitely for effort. In the other class, I do think I earned it, especially since I was one of the only students who actually fulfilled the requirement for all the assignments. That’s an A I think I deserved, even if my work wasn’t the best in the class. Of course, that was also the class that actually had a rubric and critiques and feedback. Mostly.

Now, Christmas break is almost over. The college re-opens on the 5th. Classes begin on the 20th.

My new schedule is only two days a week this time, but they are full day. I’ll be in class from 9:30 to 12:20 and then from 1 to 3:50. My mornings will be full of Design II (3-D Design), and my afternoons will be metal-working and jewelry. Should be fun. Should be challenging. Should let me learn a lot of great new things to work on.

Neither of the courses actually count towards my degree, other than giving me credit hours. But I think that they will help me have a more well-rounded art degree. Especially because I do have to take sculpture and ceramics as part of the degree, so it makes sense (to me) to take a 3D design class if I’ll be making 3D designs. And the jewelry and metal-working? Who wouldn’t take that?

What week is it again?

Caged Bird Singing Necklace - available for purchase in my Etsy Shop! https://www.etsy.com/listing/197542948/caged-singing-bird-necklace?ref=shop_home_active_12

Caged Bird Singing Necklace – available for purchase in my Etsy Shop! https://www.etsy.com/listing/197542948/caged-singing-bird-necklace?ref=shop_home_active_12

Seriously, I’ve lost all track of what week it is for school.

At this point, I know that we’ve hit the mid-point. And I’m still frustrated with what I consider a lack of progress.

But I know it’s not really a lack of progress.

I know that I’ve actually progressed quite a bit. My drawings look like what they’re supposed to look like. Not perfect, not wonderful, but at least the resemblance is there. I can look at it and identify my original purpose. That’s pretty good, compared to where I was when I started back in August.

Yesterday, I realized something about that progress – or lack of progress – too.

I was at the Dallas Art Museum (which rocks, by the way), and I just happened to wander past their Horchow Auditorium at five minutes to three. Which only matters because they were offering a free concert (part of the ‘Bancroft Family Concerts’) at three, and they were herding people into the auditorium for it.

So I went.

They performed ‘Maria’s Waltz,’ ‘Hymn’ (both by Bruce Patti), and then ‘Piano Quintet in F minor’ by Brahms.

It was awesome.

And it was while I was sitting in there, listening to the musicians, watching them and how passionately they played, how they literally rocked in their seats, totally immersed in what they were doing, feeling the music, that I realized something.

They probably didn’t play that well when they got started.

Simple realization, right? But so important.

I remember, way back when, I played violin for a year or two in elementary school. We didn’t play anything fancy. In fact, I remember playing lots and lots and lots of whole notes. They seemed to go on forever – just stroking the bow across the string, holding it. Ugh. But it was part of learning, and without it, I never could have moved on to anything else.

That’s what I’m doing right now in art class. I’m learning how to play those whole notes. I need to learn where to put my fingers, how to hold things properly, how to set them up, how to tune them. And maybe I’m not learning it that quickly, maybe I want to go more quickly, but I need to keep playing those goddamn whole notes until I get them right.

The Art Degree, Part II – Disillusionment

It’s begun.

I’ve been disillusioned with my art degree.

Why?

Because I totally suck at it.

Okay, maybe that’s not a fair assessment. I didn’t originally think I sucked at it. I didn’t go into the program convinced that I sucked at it.

Then I thought that I was learning.

And, to be fair, I am still learning.

I’m still drawing every day.

I’m still seeing improvements.

But the second projects are harder than the first ones, and I feel like I’m not keeping up.

My portraits are…uhhh…well, they sort of look like people. Mostly.

And my design class…we had to draw in it, followed by making a 3-d design from an abstraction we made from the drawing. My final piece, the drawing of the 3-d design, reminds me a lot of a truly abstract Tank Girl. (That part is cool, I admit.)

So I’ve gone ahead and included some of my current work, and we’ll see how it goes.

I haven’t given up, and I don’t plan on giving up. But it’s definitely getting to be more of a challenge than I had originally planned on.

Charcoal "Portrait"

Charcoal “Portrait”

Abstract Design Drawing

Abstract Design Drawing

Second Abstract Drawing from Design Class

Second Abstract Drawing from Design Class

3d Design (Cardboard and Tape) Made from Second Abstract Drawing

3d Design (Cardboard and Tape) Made from Second Abstract Drawing

Weeks 4 and 5: Wow, time is going fast!

Spider!

Spider!

So before I knew it, two weeks had passed, and my poor little blog had been ignored.

I knew that couldn’t last.

The important thing is that I tricked my husband.

Let me explain. No, wait, that would take too long. Let me sum up.

I want to be an artist. I’m not very art-y, but I’m trying hard, and I think that I’ve been getting progressively better. I practice every day, and I’ve seen it in my jewelry, my book art, my drawing, and even in my ideas. Plus, I have an idea of shading! And I know to plan my work before I do it! It’s really been great. But you know what was even better?

I was looking for examples of my work from my classes in my phone (because I take pictures of it), and my husband looked over and asked, “Why do you have a picture of a spider in your phone?!?”

Because, for those who know me are aware, I’m terrified of spiders. My having a picture of a spider in my phone would just never, never, never, ever happen.

The thing is – that picture wasn’t of a spider. It was of a spider that I drew and then cut out of black construction paper for my first design project!

Okay, so it isn’t perfect. And you may look at it and not think that it’s brilliant. But it’s an amazing sign to me. It shows me that I can learn this, that I can do that – that I can art!

That all said – now I need your help to keep arting…

Indigogo is almost over!

It ends on October 6! You have just about two days to give me money! What’s taking you so long?
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-me-get-an-art-degree/x/8598716

If you prefer to get more for your money and don’t just want to be a sweet, wonderful, caring individual, you can also go ahead and check out my awesome Etsy shop!

Buy something!
https://www.etsy.com/shop/thegoddessofgeekdom

Week Two Done and Moving On!

drawing of black on white design piece

drawing of black on white design piece

Hard to believe I’m done with week two of my classes and firmly into week three already. Time flies and all that jazz, I suppose.

Right now, I have to say that my design class is my favorite class. I think that’s probably because I can see the most relevance from it right now. I have been doing the reading and then applying it to what I do in the class (and what I look at). It seems logical – it follows a path like the ones I learned when studying English. You read the rules, you look at work that follows the rules (or breaks the rules), and then you practice it. Once you know the rules and can follow them, then you can break them, too. The similarity to writing is kind of stunning, and perhaps that’s why it makes so much sense to me, and why I enjoy it. I also find it being immediately practical: I even learned what I used while talking to a friend about her own project. Knowing the rules of composition – another similarity, the language! – means that I can look at object and consider how to put them together. Hopefully that’s something that will be evident in my jewelry and book-making ventures.

My drawing class, on the other hand, was definitely becoming a drag. But not. We spent the first two weeks doing contour drawing. Lots of them. My hands. Various objects, including a shoe and a hat. And let me tell you something – I’m not very good at them. I know that they’re important, but I really wish that the instructor explained *why* they were important. That’s not to say that I’m not working on them with intensity. I have begun a small sketchbook, and I create a sketch in it every day. Most of them are contour drawings. And here’s the thing – they get better. Seriously. I can see by looking at them. The lines are making sense now. Sure, they still aren’t good, but they are better.

Here’s the thing about my current classes: they are meant for beginners. Which is okay. I am a beginner. A total beginner. I know that, and I accept that I need to start from that point if I have any hope of learning. But it’s still frustrating to have to do the same thing over and over again.

I was lamenting this fact – the repetition and monotony of it – to my husband, and he reminded me that this was no different than learning anything else. He remembered how, oh so many years ago, when he was learning to play guitar, he had to practice scales and stupid “musical” pieces. I say “musical” because they weren’t really much in terms of music. They were just meant to get you used to moving your fingers in certain progressions. He talked about how boring it was to do that, how much he hated it, and how much he had to do it. And then, one day, it clicked, and suddenly he could move without even thinking about it. And I remembered when I learned violin, back in the second grade. We did the same thing in our class – learning to play whole notes was potentially the most boring thing I’d ever done. But I did it, and learning to do it was an important part of learning the skill.

So, hopefully, I’m going to come out of this “boring” time with the skills I need to get to the fun stuff. And hopefully it’ll be soon, too.