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What I Learned at Flora Bowley’s Bloom True Workshop

May 2011 3851

A couple weekends ago I went to Berkeley to experience the very thing I recently wrote about many of you experiencing as you try to figure out how to actually implement the design principles as you learn them. You know that middle ground where you logically know a concept, like design principles, but the actual implementation part is still difficult?

It doesn’t matter that for the past five years I’ve helped students in school to identify how the greatest masters of art used design in their work. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been using design principles, myself, and teaching them to scrapbookers for almost as long. I felt like many of you when I was at Flora Bowley’s art workshop, but it was a beautiful and enriching experience that I’m so excited to share with you!

I’ve had very little experience with composition and design when it comes painting, where you create every aspect of the piece yourself. With photography, the subjects are already there and it’s just a matter of arranging them through your choice of angles. With scrapbooking, the main subjects are almost always the photos themselves, and even the other pieces usually come pre-designed.

It was good to put myself back into a situation of remembering the fears you must ignore when you understand a concept in your head, but don’t have experience with the actual implementation. The best opportunities for growth come by trying new things, and Flora Bowley and the girls at the Teahouse Studio made it such an awesome and wonderful experience!

Flora Bowley

Here are a few of Flora’s recent paintings…

florabowley_1

flora_bowley_2

flora bowley 3

I love Flora’s art. Her art itself is one of the main reasons I wanted to take a class from her. But in reading about her, and in taking her two-day workshop, I found that her painting process and her teaching methods are phenomenal, no matter what your tastes in art are.

Fine Art vs. Folk Art

By definition, folk art has a purpose, whereas fine art is for the sake of the art itself. Scrapbooking is folk art. It’s purpose is personal story-telling or memory-keeping. In scrapbooking I emphasize one thing: know your story before you start. That way your design and supply choices can help you tell your story visually. This makes sense for a scrapbooker.

Painting is fine art. The artist doesn’t have to have a story or direction at the beginning, or even at the end. So in that way, Flora’s process is opposite of how I scrapbook. With Flora’s process, the point at the beginning is to get all kinds of color, texture, line-quality, shapes, lots of variation, on the canvas. In this stage there is no unity, no focal point, no visual path, no regard for where you will go with the painting. You don’t worry about what your painting is going to look like in the end, or whether you have a point or purpose with the piece. It’s very freeing!

In many ways, it’s like art journaling over and over again in multiple layers on a canvas — on the same canvas. You just keep playing and layering. As you do so, you discover techniques, textures, designs, and color combinations you like. You let those things be your inspiration for your painting as you continue to layer.

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In Flora’s words:

  • Let go of expectations.
  • Focus on the process, not the final piece.
  • Allow the painting to emerge naturally through your own process of discovery.
  • Trust yourself.

Even though I believe in identifying our stories at the beginning of scrapbooking, Flora’s philosophy resonates with my philosophy of focusing on building your foundation before thinking ahead to the detailing of the embellishments: trust your foundation — the placement of your photos and the creation of lines through the anchoring pieces, and then you will have natural homes for the embellishments to come later.

I’m so used to working with my focal point first, though, that I was constantly thinking ahead to how my first stage might effect the end result, and after floundering, I finally found that Flora was right when it came to the painting — with her process, thinking too far ahead is disabling. Once I let go of that desire to plan ahead, it all came together in the most magical way!

Here’s the crazy beginning stage I had on one of my canvases, along with my attempts to plan for the end result.

May 2011 3847

By the end of the two days, I was nowhere near finished and I didn’t have a clue where I was going with this painting. Flora gave us a few last seconds to do something big on the canvas so I grabbed a brush, put some blue color on it and swiped it back and forth about five times. And then I thought, “Uggh!”

In-progress painting 4105

But I did what Flora teaches: I put it away for the night and the next morning I pulled it out so I could find something — even if it was just one thing — that I liked.

Identify What You Like. Find the Image In the Clouds

And I did find something I liked. It was the top few inches of part the canvas!

May 2011 3861

When you identify something you like on the canvas, your task is to do more of that. So I knew that would be my direction as I continued to add and layer.

Flora also says to step back and look for accidental images — much like how we see images in the clouds. As I was looking at my painting, I found this…

May 2011 3863

Doesn’t that look like a dove? It did to me.

After I got my painting home I worked with those two things: the top three inches and the dove, and started working with them to bring them out around my painting. I was timid at first, afraid to touch the dove. In fact, I toyed with letting it become a tropical fish, because I was afraid to give her a beak or change her coloring to bring more of her out! You can probably see how thinking of her as a fish influenced the other things on my painting. Do you see any octopi that grew out of my subconscious…?

In-progress painting 4104

But ultimately I knew I wanted a dove and not a fish. So I stepped up and added darker blue + white to bring her out. I’m so glad I did!
My painting is starting to come together

I also thought back to some crazy awesome flowers I found walking around town in Berkley. I took a picture on my iPhone for future inspiration, but didn’t actually refer back to the picture when making my own. I didn’t need them to be exact replicas.

I’m not quite done with the painting, though it’s getting closer. I will be “spiraling in,” as Flora teaches, to work with abandon to achieve more of that accidental goodness that results, and I’ll be “spiraling out” to work more thoughtfully to bring balance and more unity to the painting so the eye moves around it in a more purposeful way until it feels finished.

May 2011 3856

Experiment To Find the Painting

So basically, Flora’s process is to experiment (and she teaches lots of techniques to try as you experiment) on your canvas, all the while identifying what you like and finding the images that show up by accident (or adding your own in if you don’t come across any accidental ones). As you continue to add layers, you can leave windows into the earlier layers.

The awesome thing about this workshop is that it works for any level of painter. I think there were more beginners in our class than there were experienced ones. I’m a beginner and I loved this free-form process! I plan to take her workshop again, and if you have any interest in art and paint I recommend you try it! She is such a great teacher and her paint process is accessible and so much fun! She travels around, so here is her schedule.

Teahouse Studio

I can’t leave out the experience of taking a workshop at the Teahuse Studio, itself. Steph, Mati, and Tiffany of the studio were awesome hosts. They made us all feel comfortable and welcome, like friends. They accommodated my vegan diet and provided us with amazing catered lunches that were fresh and delicious! They made it easy to find a hotel within walking distance. There is a Dick Blick brick-and-mortar just down the street!

Teahouse Studio hosts regular artful workshops on writing, crafting, photography, and other topics. So if you can see yourself venturing into Berkeley (it’s a fun place to visit) you should check out the schedule! There are some fun workshops coming up!

Have you ventured out of your comfort zone recently? I can’t think of a better way to enhance your creativity and enliven your soul than to try something new!

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  • http://www.chalicat.com/blog/ Noelle

    I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone by job hunting.  After 14 yrs working a job I still enjoyed for a company I had grown to hate (we were bought), they pushed me out of the “nest” and I’ve had to jump back into interviewing.  That’s HUGE for me.

    But I am stepping outside of my comfort zone artistically.  I bought a bunch of stamps.  I have hated stamping in the past.  It’s messy.  The stamps get messy.  Ink is messy.  But…I’m going to try it.  I started with buying cat stamps, since the CAT is the animal that inspires me, that I live for.  What better way to start something new, than using my favorite inspiration? 

    But I have to keep in mind, I am the girl who, as a toddler, eating in my high chair, my mom had to put a wet cloth on the highchair tray so I could pick up a piece of food and wipe my hands off after each piece.  I was BORN this way.   

  • http://www.chalicat.com/blog/ Noelle

    I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone by job hunting.  After 14 yrs working a job I still enjoyed for a company I had grown to hate (we were bought), they pushed me out of the “nest” and I’ve had to jump back into interviewing.  That’s HUGE for me.

    But I am stepping outside of my comfort zone artistically.  I bought a bunch of stamps.  I have hated stamping in the past.  It’s messy.  The stamps get messy.  Ink is messy.  But…I’m going to try it.  I started with buying cat stamps, since the CAT is the animal that inspires me, that I live for.  What better way to start something new, than using my favorite inspiration? 

    But I have to keep in mind, I am the girl who, as a toddler, eating in my high chair, my mom had to put a wet cloth on the highchair tray so I could pick up a piece of food and wipe my hands off after each piece.  I was BORN this way.   

  • http://www.BackToPaper.com Linda Tieu

     lovely to read about your experiment and i think we always have to experiment to learn. it’s amazing how people expect themselves to know how a painting is going to turn out in the end…when they haven’t painted a lot… you wouldn’t think that for any other skill you had learn after all!

  • Karen Bierdeman

    Interesting to read about your experiences with Flora Bowley, and to read about your process. I’m counting myself lucky that Berkeley is 30 miles away from me–I will definitely have to check her out! As for vegan food in Berkeley—well, if you’d had more time, you would have been in vegan HEAVEN! That place rocks for amazing food (Cafe Gratitude is a fave).

    Glad you shared-
    Karen 

  • http://www.paperclipping.com Noell

    WOW! I’ve never heard of a toddler who needed to clean herself after each
    bite, let alone the entire meal! Love your stories. Thanks for sharing. And
    good luck on the job hunt! It’s too bad when a good job goes wrong b/c of
    new leadership. :(

    Much luck to you!

  • http://www.paperclipping.com Noell

    I did get to try a handful of different restaurants and it was a blast. I
    was shocked when I sat down at the very first place and they asked us, “Are
    you vegetarian or vegan?”

    I’ve never been asked that before. When I said I was vegan but that the
    person with me ate everything, the server said she would only tell us what
    was on the vegan menu so as not to offend me by naming animal foods. LOL —
    oh baby, believe me, I’m used to hearing and seeing the animal foods.

    :)

  • http://www.paperclipping.com Noell

    Oh, Karen, I meant to tell you — Flora lives in Portland right now but she
    travels around. The Teahouse Studio is in Berkeley and you should see what
    they’ve got scheduled! They’re a great studio and so friendly.

    Flora will most likely be coming back to Berkeley to the same studio in the
    future, though — we all talked about doing it there again.

  • Karen Bierdeman

    LOL That’s Berkeley! Did you know that you were right around the corner from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, of Compassionate Cooks? She lives in Oakland, right next to Berkeley.  

  • http://www.paperclipping.com Noell

    I did know that, and then I forgot! I had planned to look for her favorite
    places around town and then completely forgot about it until your comment.

    Oh, also meant to tell you that I had heard about Cafe Gratitude and was
    going to go on my last evening. But now I can’t remember why I didn’t. I do
    want to go back again. It was a fun town to visit for sure!

  • Karen Bierdeman

    Oh, she lives in Portland? Very cool. I went to college in Portland, my 25th reunion for Reed College is coming up soon. Maybe I’ll take a peek and see what’s up when I am there for the reunion. Now Portland—that is another vibrant, artsy city. LOVED going to college there, even though my school had quite a wild reputation (think UC Berkeley on a small scale).

  • http://www.paperclipping.com Noell

    That’s mine and Izzy’s top #1 place we want to visit. We’ve talked about it
    our entire 15 years of marriage — how sad is that, that we haven’t gone
    yet? We’re planning to go out in Aug or Sept. I bet you had a blast there!

  • Karen Bierdeman

    You’ll love it, esp. in August/September. Besides visiting Ali, you MUST go to Powell’s books–it has your name written all over it.. :) 

  • http://www.paperclipping.com Noell

    Thanks! Just put Powell’s Books into my Evernote. I’m looking for suggested
    destinations, so that’s perfect!

  • http://www.paperclipping.com Noell

    Thanks! Just put Powell’s Books into my Evernote. I’m looking for suggested
    destinations, so that’s perfect!

  • Kae

    What a great experience you had – I’m sure the lessons learned will overflow into many areas of your creative life.  When you decide the painting is finished it will look great on  one of your newly painted walls!

  • http://www.juliekintaiwan.wordpress.com Julie K in Taiwan

    I’m very jealous of your experience ;)  I can’t wait to see where you continue with your painting, it’s so vibrant and intriguing already.  I started a few canvases but now I’m caught in the middle part of “where should I go with this?”  I’ll have to bring them out again and look to see what catches my eye or just add another layer.  Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=715560629 Kim Vail Brown

    I told my husband that I want to go there for our 10 year anniversarywhich is july of this year.) I have never been, but I want to go so freakin’ bad.

  • http://profiles.google.com/zoranaland Zorana Stanojkovic

    I loved reading this post – it brought me right back to the workshop. I also enjoyed seeing how your painting evolved. It really was a lovely weekend!

  • http://angelaambroise.blogspot.com Angela talks

    I love your paintings! They are beautiful. They look like mermaids to me!