Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cynthia Farrell Johnson, Painter, Tells Her Story

I feel driven to create art -- it’s like breathing – I can’t live without it! There has never been a time in my life when I have not been drawing or painting ideas that popped into my head. That these images provide joy and comfort to others is a bonus.
Brooklyn Sunset, India Ink, 9 ½" x 7 ½”

My earliest “art” memories are of my mother keeping me quiet in church by drawing something on a pad she kept in her purse. Then she would give it to me, indicating that it was my turn to draw. By focusing on the drawing, I was transported to another realm; a wonderfully peaceful place. When my late father would ask me what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday, the answer was always the same, a paint-by-numbers set. But that became frustrating because I always seemed to run out of paint before filling in all the numbers. 

Isaiah 58:11, Mixed Media, Gouache,
India Ink, Collage, 
10 ¾" x 8 ¾”

Eventually, thanks to friends and relatives, I received lots of art supplies and drew and painted to my heart’s content. When it became clear that I was interested in a career in the arts, teachers helped me create a portfolio for my application to the High School of Art & Design in New York City. The school which is located in mid-town Manhattan’s advertising district, trained students for commercial and theatre art careers. That is where I was introduced to gouache paints, in my advertising and illustration classes. It has been my preferred medium ever since.

In the Zone, Gouache, 8" x 10” 

Over the years, because of my use of bright colors, I realized that art could also be healing. In the summer of 2001, I was busily working on a number of pieces for a solo show at the former Parish Gallery in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. The opening reception was scheduled for September 21, 2001. Then 9/11 happened. I asked the late Norm Parish if we should still go ahead with the opening. He felt that it was needed. And he was right! Some of my friends from New York attended and said that they were so glad I did the opening. The artwork was so vibrant and cheerful; it was a much-needed tonic for that difficult time.  From that day forward, creating work to lift the spirits of others became my mission.

Many Thousands Gone, (from the Spirituals Series),
15" x 20”

Our world is full of rich, beautiful colors. My goal as an artist is to record beauty. In the process, I hope my art will bring joy to the viewer’s life.

Nature’s Bounty II, Mixed Media,
Gouache & India Ink, 
11" x 14 ½”

Most of us are looking for ways to make life better for future generations. And while we all may be facing challenges, we live with the faith that tomorrow will be better. So, day in, day out, we seek ways to build bridges of understanding. We must also deal with those who are bent on destruction and discord. Daily, we are bombarded with reports of unspeakable horrors, caused by forces of nature or by human frailties. Yet even in the midst of this chaos, one can find beauty, peace and comfort. 

Ecclesiastes 9:4a, Gouache, 8 ¼" x 11 7/8”

My mission is to record as much of life’s beauty as possible, using the richest color combinations I can devise. My goal is to remember that every day there are more individuals acting out of love and kindness than hate. In telling their stories, I hope to inspire or comfort others. 

Gimme Your Hand, (from the Spirituals Series),
Mixed Media: Gouache & Collage, 
16 ¾" x 10 ¾”
This is Week 47 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Cynthia’s story today. To connect with her and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Patrice Kennedy, Poet, Writer, Illustrator & Expressive Artist, Tells Her Story

My earliest memories of creative practices were of writing poems and drawing for my Italian Great Aunt Christine. I would sit at the table on her sun porch. She kept paper and pencils in the drawer and this was all I needed to be happy. A creaky rocking chair next to a big window overlooking her backyard provided a place where I could observe the changing seasons and arrival of tiny birds. A red cardinal balanced on a snowy branch would inspire my poetry. After the winter, blooming forsythia and lilacs would beckon us to search the yard for signs of spring. I wrote about my feelings and the beauty of the living world around me. Aunt Christine would post my poems on a pastel flowered tablecloth tacked securely to the sunroom wall. She honored me with a gift of my own writing space. Her time was spent nurturing my artistic nature without judgment or criticism. She would tell me I was a poet and I believed her.

Good Intentions, Acrylic on Paper

I grew up in a family of artists, writers, and designers. My mother was an artist, interior designer, and space planner. My father was a man who loved books and music, especially Italian opera. It was the world I knew by heart. I was born both right and left-handed and my elementary years at Our Savior’s School changed my writing and art because my teachers would not allow me to use my left hand. This altered my creative response. It wasn’t until many years later that I would remember this by witnessing my left-hand writing, drawing and painting as naturally and easily as my right hand.

 Collaboration, Acrylic on Paper

It was the summer of 2003, during an art teachers’ institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York when I learned my story. I was awarded a grant-funded experience where 21 high school art educators were given a month of studio space, classes, gallery tours, lectures, a mentor professor and time for total immersion in our art studies. My proposal was to explore the creative mind by using both hands. Out of curiosity, I wanted to learn how our creativity could be turned on through the use of both our dominant and non-dominant hands. When I began my research on this subject I did not remember being born both handed.

My Ocean, Acrylic on Paper

For thirty days I was completely free to spend as much time as I wanted in my studio space at Skidmore with my fellow art teachers from across the United States. It was quite a privilege to have earned a chance to do my writing and art without the daily distractions of the outside world. I eagerly began my journey with a smaller, well-centered studio space filled with natural light from above. I started each morning with a strong cup of coffee and journaling, free writing to stir my thoughts. I did not plan a schedule but rather allowed myself to move from one process to the next guided by my inner desire. I would write a page with left and right hand each day and gradually noticed that my left hand began to awaken. At first, I would consciously choose to put the pen or brush in my left hand and as time went on my hands would shift back and forth naturally without prompting.

 Life Map, Oil on Canvas

I had large sheets of white and brown Kraft papers pinned to my studio walls with charcoal, Conte sticks, and a box of oil pastels openly inviting me to draw when ready and willing. I became perfectly content in my little sanctuary and craved more and more time to write, draw and paint. My left hand wrote in uncensored, more intuitive terms, liberating my words without a constant critic. The drawings I did with my left hand were more abstract and seemed to arise from my unconscious mind. The work of my right hand was always very precise and intentional, with a persistent voice of commentary whispering supervision. One day as I was drawing large figures on paper I wrote outside of my drawing, “Today I find great joy being a left-handed artist.” I paused to notice what the words said and wondered in that moment if I was born left-handed and then had my natural hand changed to my right?

Birds of Feather Mountain, Watercolor & Ink on Paper

Upon returning home that summer I called my Aunt Pat in Sante Fe, New Mexico. My mother had been deceased for many years so being close to my aunt, my mom’s older sister, I thought she might remember If I had been a left-handed child. When I spoke with her she answered me with great certainty that I was truly ambidextrous and that my mother, who was also an artist, knew what a gift this was. She said my mom went to speak with the principal, requesting that I be allowed to use both hands. My teachers at Our Savior’s Grade School, however, did not agree and set out to discourage the use of my left hand. I had no memory of this. Somehow through Divine guidance perhaps, I was brought to Saratoga Spring that summer of my 50th year to rediscover the use of both hands. Ever since that summer, I have been writing, drawing and painting actively with both hands and often paint simultaneously to create my abstract expressive pieces.

Soul Mates, Oil on Paper

As a professional book illustrator, I was educated at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, where my mother also went to school. After graduation, my husband and I with our two young daughters moved back to my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, where I worked as a free-lance book and editorial illustrator and began teaching art. Ten years later we moved back to Sarasota, Florida where I became interested in the expressive arts. I found that I really wanted to study Art and Healing at Ringling College so I enrolled and completed studies in 2012. This was life-changing for me and helped me to fully reconnect with my authentic art spirit. My art began to evolve and emerge as I was able to let go of my self-imposed expectations and embrace this part of myself who had been silenced.

Love Jesus, Acrylic on Paper

The drawings and paintings shown in my story today are all done with both my right hand and left hand. Now I am able to find great joy knowing that my creative energy is free and true. I have a grateful heart because my life’s journey has led me to a place where I have dreamed of being . . . where my art informs me. Peace.     

 Lauren, Watercolor on Paper

This is Week 46 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Patrice's story today. To connect with Patrice and see more of her work, please visit the following links:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sheri Nadelman, Musician, Tells Her Story

I am a musician. It took me a very long time to feel worthy of saying that about myself. I sing, I play the guitar and I write songs. I’ve always written. I’ve always sung. I’ve always wanted to perform.  Like countless others with similar stories, I will tell you that it hasn’t been easy. Like countless others, I will tell you that it was a lifelong dream of mine to be an entertainer. But as I’m finding out more and more, it is not so common to pursue a lifelong dream a bit later in life. Which is why I am happy to share my story.

My journey began in NYC where I was born and raised in a typical Brooklyn family with a typical neurotic (forgive me) “smother” and father who were overbearing, yet loving and well-meaning.  They worried about everything and in turn, made me worry about everything. My family was in your face and in your business and in your daily life because that’s how we rolled back in the day. I kind of miss that part of my life. That said, I was a chubby kid with a pretty face but probably wouldn’t stand a chance of making it in show business or as a rock star. And so I was discouraged from pursuing that career.   (Picture the character Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever” longing to cross the Brooklyn Bridge to a fabulous life in Manhattan). My family taught me a lot of things, but how to be fearless wasn’t one of them. That was a lesson I had to learn on my own. 

One thing you should know about me is that I’ve always been told I have an outgoing personality.  This also means I have a big mouth which admittedly has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion -- especially with (fill in the grade here) teachers who would tell my parents how I needed to be less social during class. Well, we all know how that worked out.

At Ribfest - Opening for Heart
In fact, I was told to tone it down or be quiet for most of my childhood to the point where I thought my middle name was “shut up”. I can still hear my mom yelling “Sheri! Shut Up!” in that “whisper/shout” from the next room as I sang myself to sleep. Truth is, I would sing for anyone who would listen and that included a very dear family friend who happened to be one of the most revered vocal coaches on the planet -- Marty Lawrence.  That event also took some time to come to fruition -- years in fact. Throughout my childhood, each time I would see Marty, I would tell him how much I loved to sing. He would always respond with an invitation for my mom to take me to his Upper West Side studio and he’d be happy to hear me. For years I would ask my mom to take me to see him, to no avail. I think my folks were convinced he was being nice.

I really did love to sing and I always wished I could play piano, an extravagance I thought was only for the rich kids. Times were different back then, at least for me.  Dad surprised me with a guitar that someone had given him. I realized I could accompany myself pretty easily after learning a few basic chords from a neighbor.

The revelation that I could actually be a singer came when I went on a weekend trip with friends to Vermont, guitar in tow. I sang a few songs on the bus ride and just about everyone asked where I was performing because they wanted to come see me. What? Really? Wow! Ok, maybe I do have talent.

I made the decision right then to take Marty up on his offer to audition for him. I was 19.

“I think you definitely have something and I’d like to work with you”.

Hearing that from Marty was life-changing for me.  I imagine it’s probably a lot like what a TV reality show contestant feels when they’re put through to the next round. I can remember the scene like it was yesterday. I was wet from the rain and my tears as I called my folks from the phone booth on the Upper West side of Manhattan. By the time I got home, my kid brother had stuck a gold star on my bedroom door. This was indeed a defining moment. Hey, Tony Manero! I crossed that bridge all by myself!

Singing My Heart Out!
I started voice lessons, which would lead to a few auditions. None were as important as meeting two accomplished show business heavyweights who were collaborating on a project. They were searching for an unknown singer to record a single. I sang my heart out for them and evidently, they liked what they heard because they wanted to go ahead with an entire album. I will never forget my beloved now-totally-on-board mother accompanying me to those business meetings and to the studio as I recorded my demo tape. It was a whirlwind! I was working with a producer who worked with all the greats. We were picking out tunes. He had spoken to Clive Davis about me. Someone pinch me! It was happening and it was happening fast -- until it didn’t. The funding was in the hands of my brand new manager who failed to let me know that all of the money for the project was tied up in a messy divorce with his fourth wife and unfortunately there was nothing he could do about it. My producer said he’d gladly work with me if I could raise the funds by myself, which was never going to happen.  Back to Brooklyn I went. Now keep in mind that this was before we had cell phones and the Internet and reality shows. It was hopeless and I was devastated.  

Months passed and then I met a boy. We got engaged and he broke my heart and then I married his best friend (that is a story for another day). Then we moved away and tragically, I lost my beloved mother. I was expecting a child and so we moved back to the New York area for a little while.  Eventually, we moved to Florida. I lost my Dad and shortly after, I lost my brother. And then my marriage fell apart.

Fate Steps In CD
But I never lost the music.

Throughout my life, I was always playing music. I still played and sang for anyone who would listen.  I was in a very sad place in my life when a dear friend urged me to go do an open mic night. After my performance, we both knew without question I had found my way home.

I started playing solo shows, which lead to duos, which lead to an acoustic band.  Before long I was a familiar name in the local music scene.

Then I met and married a man who believed in me and encouraged me to put a rock band together.  He invested in sound equipment for “Sheri and The Vision” which lasted through several versions and several years. After the eventual demise of the band, I took some time off to regroup. Another friend suggested I audition for a local theater production that he thought I’d be perfect for. And just like that, I was cast as The Acid Queen in the rock opera Tommy.  I met so many talented people and I had the most amazing time on that stage belting out a show-stopping number. That’s a feeling that is hard to describe!

I knew I needed to be performing again.

At Woody's River Roo
I was invited to sit in with one of the musicians from the show who had a band that was going through some changes. We meshed quite nicely and I was asked to join on as the lead singer. I’m proud to say that since then our band, soulRcoaster, has grown in popularity and we are considered one of the area’s best sophisticated rock and roll bands! 

I continued writing and had my first CD produced at Spirit Ranch Studios in Sarasota where I was lucky enough to work with some of Southern Rock’s royalty including the late, great Danny Toler of The Allman Brothers fame. It was a thrill to say the least to perform my songs on the main stage at Ribfest in St. Pete as the opening act for Heart.

Music for me is a comfort. It is cathartic and it is healing. It allows me to express that something inside that needs to be unleashed. In fact, I write for other artists as well. Make no mistake about it -- I can still rock a stage getting the crowd on their feet dancing to cover tunes all night long. But at my very core, I am a storyteller. I love performing with my band, but there’s something special about being able to do a stripped down raw solo performance with just my guitar. When all is said and done, there is nothing quite like connecting with an audience and being told you touched someone’s soul with lyrics that came from the heart.

It has taken me a lifetime to fulfill the dream, albeit a bit altered, of that chubby kid from Brooklyn who wanted to sing. As I write this I am working on another CD, performing solo shows and with my cover band and I have four songs that I’ve collaborated on as a songwriter that are under consideration for Grammy awards! I guess I won’t shut up anytime soon.

This is Week 45 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Sheri's story today. To connect with Sheri and hear her music, please visit the following links:

Sheri on Studio 10 Tampa