Monday, April 21, 2008

Warming Up with The Brain Gym

I first learned about The Brain Gym at my son’s elementary school. A visiting counselor was demonstrating exercises from a book of the same name, that help coordinate the left and right brain hemispheres, created especially for helping children learn better. I started using some of these exercises in an adult figure drawing class I was teaching at that time. Over the course of several years I would alternate, introducing the exercises on some days, but not on others, and I noticed a huge difference. During the days when we did the exercises the students had sharper focus, better stamina, and were more satisfied with the quality of their work – 100% of the time. Here is a link to the website, and a book of the exercises is certainly available. But here are the exercises I like the best, and use in my classes. I may have changed the names by accident, as I remember them best with the names I listed below. I am sure the book describes them in even better detail, but here is my interpretation.

I like to do them in this order, starting with the person’s favored arm (right handed people start with the right arm, while lefties start with the left) and accomplished while standing. This should only take about 5-7 minutes total.

Lazy 8: Starting with your preferred arm, put your hand in a fist and extend the thumb out and upwards, and extend the arm fully straight out in front of you, so that the thumb is level with your nose. Draw a lazy 8, or otherwise known as the infinity sign, which is the number 8 on its side, as large as you can, as if your thumb were drawing it in front of you. Your whole arm is still straight and extended and moves from the shoulder. Begin the first loop of the lazy 8 going upward to the right, then down and around and back to center to form the right side of the loop. Repeat for the left in one continuous movement. OK, that was just practice. Now here is the important part. Before you start the next loop cycle, fix your eyes on your thumb and do not let your eyes go faster than your thumb so that your thumb is always in your direct vision. Do not move your head to favor one eye over the other. BOTH eyes need to track the thumb for the whole lazy 8 loop cycle. Repeat 2 more times, for a total of 3. Left handed people start with the left arm, but still start the loop moving upward and out on the right. This exercise helps sharpen perception and focus. Don’t forget to breathe during all these exercises.

Trombone: Using the same arm, keep the fist and thumb the same as before, extending the arm straight in front of your nose. Stare fixedly at your thumb. Pull your thumb towards your nose almost to touching, while still staring, so your eyes feel slightly crossed. Then extend it back out to original position. Breathe in when you pull your thumb towards your nose, and out when extending it back out, so it feels like you are playing the trombone. Do a total of 3 trombones. This is helpful for “near-far” perceptions. Good for figure drawing, or any type of art making from real life, like plein air painting or still life painting.

Repeat the first 2 (Lazy 8 and Trombone) for the other arm

Hot Dog: Extend your pointer finger on both hands and make the rest of the hand into a fist. Face palms towards your face and allow your 2 extended pointer fingers to touch each other at the finger tips. Place them about 7” from your face. Stare at the fingers where they meet. Continue staring until a small hotdog – or illusionary mini finger – is created in between them. Now look beyond the fingers about 10 feet or more in front of you so the small mini-finger disappears. Repeat looking close, then far 3 times total. This also has benefits for near/far perception.

Brain Points Accupressure: There are 2 points on either side of the top of the rib cage which, when pressed deeply will activate the brain. Press both points simultaneously with your thumb and third finger for a minute or more, while breathing, going deep without being painful. Then repeat switching hands.

Energy Release: wrap your right leg over your left at the ankle. Wrap your right hand over your left at the wrist. Fold fingers together like you are holding hands, and turn the hands inward and upward while still clasping the fingers. Stay in this position. Mouth is closed, tongue is touching the roof of your mouth. Breathe deeply and continuously for a minute or more. This balances your energies.

Drink a whole glass of water immediately.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Size Matters

There’s a tradition among some Native American ceramists that I know, which I have always admired. These artists consider the selection of materials as the actual starting point of their art making process. The location they choose to collect their clay is just as important, as the making of the clay pot, and is in fact a deciding factor in how the final piece turns out. Modern artists are fortunate to have most ingredients and materials pre-made and ready-made. Paint comes in tubes, canvases are pre-stretched and even primed. But we still have choices, and the choices we make right in the beginning are an essential part of the process of making our art. Sometimes we just take it for granted, but what we choose pre-determines the end result. Before the first brushstroke is even considered, an emotional “content” is already inherent in the choices we had made.

Take, for instance, selecting a painting surface. Large, medium or small sizes each carry a different emotional weight. Anything painted on a small surface will appear to the viewer as a “gem” or a precious object. Something medium sized ( any side measuring about half a person’s height) will be more directly personal. The viewer is imagining looking in a mirror if it is vertical, and looking out of a window if horizontal. Any size that is our height or larger will evoke a “cosmic” or grandeur of the universe appearance.

Some artists use this emotional content regarding size to their advantage. Here is a painting by New York artist Chuck Close, who paints close-up intimate portraits on super large scale formats. The jolt between what you expect and what you see adds a dynamic quality to his work.
Once we establish size and orientation, where we place forms within that painting space also carries different emotional expectations. For instance, something placed near or on the bottom of a painting needs to be large and “weighty” (either physically or emotionally) because this is the pedestal which holds up the rest of the imagery. Our continual relationship with gravity still holds sway when we look at a painting. And how about this new craze with square formats? A former teacher of mine, David True, would call a square canvas the “boxing ring” because of the energy battle contained in the square shape.
At times, I have found small surfaces to be more difficult to paint on than larger ones. This is because, for me, a large canvas is like writing a novel. I can paint a large variety of things in an aggressive way. While a small surface is like writing a haiku. I need to be more precise and execute it simply and directly. When I embark on a new series, I will often begin with several large works, then as I clarify my thinking I more easily move into the smaller pieces. Below I included a small and large image from my latest “ocean” series. The large one feels more like a grand ocean, whereas the small one focuses on one wave.

Here is my latest small painting, measuring a mere 8” x 8”.

While in comparison, here is a larger painting, measuring 46” x 36”.