The following post is contributed by Boisali Biswas, featured artist for the 2022 January Speaker Series.
I am Boisali Biswas, residing at West Bloomfield, MI. I am a mixed Media Fiber Artist, originally from India. Having come from a country with a rich history of art and culture, my work is deeply rooted in Indian heritage.
In January I was invited to talk to the members of Huron River Art Collective. I took the opportunity to talk about my entire journey as a Fiber Artist for almost 30 years, primarily after we moved to the US. By now I have spent more years of my life in this adopted country than my birth country, India.
As I age, I realize how impossible it is to move away from my roots. I was very fortunate that my parents chose a very unique university to send me for my BFA degree. If it was not for the Viswa Bharati (The communion of the world with India) University, situated in the rural settings of Santiniketan (The Abode of Peace), I would not be the person I am today.
That five-year experience at Santiniketan came to mean a particular way of life and left an indelible impact on me. It was not merely an art education. Nature and the arts were all entangled in our everyday lives. We were encouraged to grow as complete human beings in a community of students, teachers, workers, and occasional visitors from all over the world. It followed a complete secular philosophy, and we celebrated the seasons, and other occasions in very unique ways. You can read about Tagore’s philosophy HERE.
My soul partly dwells in India and adapting to my life here, my art has become a cauldron of multicultural assemblages. Subconsciously mundane images from my childhood or daily life there show up in my art seamlessly when I incorporate traditional techniques and motifs. I love to weave and also play with fabrics and manipulate them in various ways. As a result of that over the years, I have tried to combine both in my work.
Another of my passionate interest is in upcycling discarded materials. I collect materials which don’t recycle and are harmful to the earth and try to use them in my work. For many years now I have been weaving with the plastic fruit netting which bags our onions, lemons, etc. Not only do they add an interesting texture and color, they are used in some way. Same way if I find any interesting styrofoam forms, I save them to use in my work in some way or the other.
My journey continues as I explore my medium of textiles. I contemplate on how cultures, countries are bound together by the warp and weft of civilization, how we are wrapped in cloth ever since our inception!!
Boisali Biswas will be in several invitational and juried shows through the entire Spring thru Summer. Information will be available on her website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram @boisalibiswas.
I was surrounded by sequins, furiously stitching away to meet my class deadline in the 5th grade. Mrs. Codner assigned us a project to create a paper or fabric carp. Mom showed me how I could use sequins to make beautiful, sparkly fish scales. It excited me so much I jumped right in.
There was, however, a problem. There was NO way I could finish the assignment by the deadline. The technique was too time consuming. I’d never been late for a homework assignment, let alone for a project. I was terrified.
Today I can call myself a recovering perfectionist. As a child, perfectionism was already in full bloom. I attended school that day, despite my best attempts to convince Mom otherwise, eyes filled to the brim with tears. And when I told my teacher it would be late because the technique I was using was so time consuming, all I could see (and still acutely remember) was her disappointment.
I went home that day determined to bring my finished carp to school the next day. I knew it was something special.
And when Mrs. Codner saw my project, her eyes popped out of her head. I felt redeemed. It affirmed that the work I put in was worth it. And she hung my carp at the front of the class.
Today I embroider and find other ways to embellish my art.
Childhood is a powerful part of our lives. For better and for worse. Connecting to the child we once were, either through material or giving ourselves permission to play, can be a wonderful way to access and channel the creative voice we seek.
Tip Two: Stop Forcing Success
Picasso is often quoted as saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
We start to develop ideas in our head about what we should be doing with our art, what are the correct ways to make, share, sell, display art…
And internalized rules dealing with definitions of success can easily drive our artistic decisions.
And yet, for me, it was returning to a place where there was nothing to give and no more rules to care about that helped me receive the very accolade or recognition I’d sought.
I was teaching high school art when I got these headaches that wouldn’t quit. The CT scans and MRIs had some bad news, too: it was a mass on my pituitary gland. They didn’t know what it was, or if it was cancerous. We’d know more after they went in.
I was in my mid to early twenties and here I was signing a waiver that told me I could go blind, be on lifelong hormone replacement therapy, or die.
In the days that led up to my surgery all I wanted to do was paint. So paint I did (and perhaps for the first time without a plan or a goal). I painted because I wanted to and knew it could be the last time I painted.
It was the first time in my life, since early childhood, that I had painted purely because I could.
Thankfully the surgery was a success and my health returned quickly. Shortly thereafter I found a group call for young artists facing health issues and disability. The work I had painted before the surgery was a good fit for the exhibition so I entered the work.
Those two pieces purchased my first laptop and went on a two year tour of the US which included stops at the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Before that I’d been accepted to, backed out of, then completely rejected from probably half a dozen masters programs.
As soon as I let go, as soon as I stopped trying so hard, I won.
Tip Three: Reflect Regularly
Finding a way to let go and return to creative flow honors the voice already within us. And yet, there are also systems and behaviors we can use to build our skill and develop our unique artist voice.
“I’m bad at math.”
“Artists are disorganized.”
There are A LOT of definitions and cultural assumptions about what it means to be a creative person. We are labeled with chronic mental health problems, as unreliable or inconsistent professionally, bad with money, and I’m sure we could add to this list.
How could these notions NOT impact us?
We internalize beliefs like these and take them on as personal definitions of artistic value and success without even knowing it. Which is why it’s so important to take time periodically to check in with ourselves to ask:
How do I define “artist?”
What does being a successful creative mean to me?
And, how do I get there?
Being strategic with how we use our time, and ensuring it’s aligned with our values and personal definitions will help us get there (wherever there is) faster.
Taking the time to address our limiting beliefs (H/T to Gay Hendricks The Big Leap) can ensure the artistic choices we make come from a place of curiosity and play. And when we make from a place of true flow, honoring the path before us rather than forcing it, we can confidently develop and refine our unique artist voice.
Carrie Brummer is an artist and professional educator who taught for years around the world before creating Artist Strong, an online artists’ community and school. Her personal artist practice is about elevating women, highlighting and addressing gender norms, and perfectionism. Her work has been exhibited across the United States, in Canada, United Arab Emirates, and Oman. You can learn how she supports self-taught artists at www.ArtistStrong.com and view her original art at www.CarrieBrummer.com.
The following post is contributed by Collective member, artist, Jill Stefani Wagner, PSA-MP IAPS/MC
I have a confession to make.
For a good part of my life I was often terrified of new challenges and the possibility of failure. Whether in my advertising career or my new art life, I constantly struggled with the urge to turn down opportunities that were out of my comfort zone.
The process in my brain would automatically go something like this:
“Absolutely not.” “No way.” “Not gonna happen.”
“It’s beyond my skill set.” “That would be difficult.” “Maybe in the future…”
“Well, others have done it.” “What’s the worst that could happen?” “Maybe I could handle it…”
“No reason not to try.” “I think I’ll go for it.”
“Ok, I got this.”
I went through every one of those steps when I was asked to be a creative director and then vice president of an advertising agency. When it was time to for me to leave that company, I thought there was no way I could start my own successful firm. Wrong. And 25 years later, when I pined to sell my ad agency and become a full-time artist, I tortured myself for months and months before I got the nerve to follow through.
As a newbie artist there was a long list of “I can’t do thats:”
Taking a workshop with a superstar instructor Approaching galleries to represent my art Demonstrating a painting in front of a crowd of people Applying to national competitions Painting at plein air festivals Mounting a solo exhibit Teaching my own workshops Moving from pastel into oil painting Becoming Faculty at the Plein Air Convention Appearing on “Eric Rhoads Live And so on…
Somehow I handled all of those new challenges…without failing! Over time I have realized that doing what scares me most is the best, and probably ONLY way for me to improve. And I learned to accept the convoluted process I need to go through to finally say “YES!” to new opportunities. Almost every time I took a chance at doing something that seemed outside of my capabilities, good things happened. (Well, there was that one time that I held my very first workshop, painting outside, with a full case of shingles encroaching on my eye. But I digress… ) Mostly doing those scary things has been exciting and invigorating!
But… that’s not to imply that pushing my limits is easy. I still get nervous with each new adventure. Case in point: When Streamline Publications asked me to come to Texas to film some art instruction videos, I almost declined. Although I had directed shoots for corporate clients over the years, it was quite a different thing to consider being the one on camera. But I knew I had helpful information to share with pastel students, and making a video was the next logical step in my art career.
I went for it —and the whole experience was amazing. A supportive pre-production team, fantastic directors and cameramen, and superstar marketers helped create an environment that encouraged success. And after some of the fear dissipated, I actually enjoyed it!
New challenges aren’t quite as frightening as you might envision. But you’ll never know until you try. So go ahead, step out of your comfort zone and take a chance. Get out there and do what scares you most!
Jill Stefani Wagner’s artwork has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout the country and is included in many corporate and private collections.
Her paintings have been juried into the prestigious International Association of Pastel Societies Exhibits and she was recently honored with multiple awards by the Pastel Society of America and the Great Lakes Pastel Society. The Pastel Society of North Florida honored Jill with First Place and Exceptional Merit Awards. Pastel Journal Magazine has given her six Honorable Mentions in their Annual Pastel 100 Competitions.
One of Jill’s paintings graces the cover of the November 2016 Plein Air Magazine and her work is often featured in their pages. Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine has highlighted her work as has Pastel Journal and the best-selling French magazine, Practique des Arts. In 2016, 2017 and 2019, and 2021, Wagner was invited as Pastel Faculty at the Plein Air Convention, and also enjoys teaching workshops and mentoring other artists.
She has been designated a Master Pastelist by the Pastel Society of America and Master Circle in the International Association of Pastel Societies, and also belongs to American Impressionist Society, Oil Painters of America, the Great Lakes Pastel Society and the Degas Pastel Society. Her work is represented by five fine art galleries in the Midwest.
Jill Stefani Wagner was born in Port Huron, Michigan, and received a B.F.A. from The University of Michigan School of Art.She owned an award-winning advertising firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before “seeing the light” and becoming a full-time artist.Visit her website https://www.jillwagnerart.com