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Thursday afternoon at Krannert Art Museum with Kelly Hieronymus

Seeing the local stores fill up their shelves with school supplies always gets me in the mood for learning. So when I discovered that Kelly Hieronymus was offering a free creativity workshop at Krannert Art Museum, I knew it was time to sharpen my drawing pencils and go.

But rather than making this a day-off/private experience, I decided to share it with you. I have often encouraged you to take advantage of local workshops and unleash your inner artists. Now it was time for me to take my own advice and bring you all along on the journey.

My preparation was basic. Review Facebook event description. Confirm time. Secure change for meter. Locate sketchbook with enough blank pages for a 90 minute workshop. Grab my pencil case and go.

Visiting KAM during the middle of summer is a bit unnerving. There’s plenty of parking. The benches in the garden are empty. Much of the space is curtained off as the fall 2019 installation process is underway. 

As I reached the Contemporary Gallery, I was excited to see a group of about twelve seated around Hieronymus. Artists of a variety of ages and experience were here to learn from the artist, from the wide range of artwork surrounding us, and from each other. Some were armed with tablets, some with pencils, graphite and color, others with pastels. 

Hieronymus began by sharing her own story. While I have long been a fan of her work, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had not previously known how her unique style came to be. Married to a licensed pilot and small plane enthusiast, Hieronymus has had unique access to aerial views of Champaign-Urbana.

The first work she shared was inspired by an aerial view of the South Farms. The grid scheme she created was drawn to scale. Yet, here, and throughout her body of work, Hieronymus takes creative license with patterns and colors; often imagining a patch of colorful vegetables that suit her chosen palette and mood.

She went on to describe her process in detail. How the grids become “coloring books” that are then filled with color, pattern, and texture. She also shared that her “crafty side” has translated her paintings, and their unique palettes, into necklaces of handmade polymer beads.

Preferring conversation to lecture format, Hieronymus opened the floor to questions, which ranged from gouache recommendations (Holbein Acrylic, and she shops local) to whether or not her palette changes with the seasons (it doesn’t).

Then it was on to our assignment. 

Using Art to Inspire Everyday Life.  

Preparation of Pattern

Step 1: Choose an image from the gallery as your base inspiration for your pattern.

Step 2: Choose a shape(s) from the image that can be used in repetition. Think about what everyday object you might want to decorate with your pattern.

Step 3: Practice your pattern on a scrap piece of paper. Experiment with size, numbers, shape, and color. 

Pattern Placement

Step 4: Draw out an everyday object such as a rug, lamp, chair, plate.

Step 5: Use your pattern to ‘decorate’ your object. 

As I began the research process, locating my chosen work of inspiration, I fell victim to a flawed strategy, a weakness that haunted me through many a fine art and graphic design class. Indecision. Which one of these many inspiring works of art would make the best choice, yield the best pattern? I stood before many options, photographed them, and considered their pros and cons. Jasperware offered an overabundance of patterns. How to choose? How to abstract from it? 

Soon after, I was transfixed by the geometrical pattern of the Louis H. Sullivan elevator cage grille. This was my go-to aesthetic. In much of my artwork, I had incorporated patterns from Art Deco doors and gates into more abstract compositions. I decided that I needed to challenge myself, to step outside of my comfort zone, so I moved on. Passing through a tempting assortment of patterns in the Giertz Education Center (where you can touch the art), I found myself in the Egyptian collection. I’d been here dozens of times, but never for this reason.  So I decided to set up shop and get to work.

[gallery creativity_workshop_with_kelly_hieronymus]

After taking several reference photos, I sketched out my favorite elements. As soon as I put my pencil down, I was tag-teamed by indecision, and her evil sister, insecurity,  Khepri’s headpiece and neckpiece yielded powerful patterns, especially when combined, but were they too representational? The bird figure was lovely, but perhaps too complex. The column, circle, and half circle were simple, but could be compelling when repeated together, like punctuation. Okay, now I was getting somewhere. Or was I? 

After creating a sample, it was time to apply my pattern to an everyday object. I scanned my brain for everyday objects I could draw well enough to share here without too much embarrassment. A tote bag. A lamp. A bowl. Okay. Realizing I had failed to bring an eraser, I did the best I could and finished with just enough time to join the group for “share and tell” at 4:10.  

A few brave and talented artists shared their abstractly patterened cups, t-shirts, and bowls; discussing how they distilled one element from their source material. Emphasis on the word “one.” My stomach knotted up in that way it did in junior high when we’d review tests and I knew I’d gone with the wrong answer. I had overcomplicated my work. As the sharing continued, I discovered I wasn’t alone, but that was cold comfort. Hieronymus reminded us of the famous Coco Chanel quote about looking in the mirror and removing one piece of jewelry, or accessory, before leaving. This had been a key principle in my design education. Less is more. How could have I forgotten? Others had shared that they had had to fight their own impulses to add or embellish—a strategy that worked well in figurative drawing. 

With a few hours of distance I can say that while the drawings produced were useful, the real value was in the process, and, perhaps to a larger extent, in the dialogue. Artists who are not currently in art school rarely get this opportunity to not only learn from local artists, but from each other. To feel less alone in their struggles. 

Kudos to Krannert Art Museum for hosting this two-part series (the first was a drawing in nature workshop earlier this summer) and to Kelly Hieronymus for being such an honest, insightful, and encouraging instructor. This is what happens when town and gown work together. This is community arts education at its best. Celebrating and showcasing local artists, encouraging community members to more deeply engage with the KAM collection, and to learn from one another.  Perhaps we came to brush up on technique or to learn new strategies for finding inspiration.  But we left having learned to see things differently.  To see how powerful one detail can be. And how there is room for a dialogue between fine art and beautifully designed everyday objects. 

As for me, I’m still that “need to get an A” student at heart. So I stayed awhile after the others had gone and gave myself a chance at redemption. Or, in other words, a chance to stop the chatter in my brain, trust my instincts, learn from those I’d shared this experience with, and, most of all, have fun.  Here’s what happened. 

Inspired to keep learning, I took another reference photo for the road. I slowly began to realize how the layer of snow softens and abstracts the human figures.  This would make a perfect extra credit homework assignment. 

Wall Street, New York (Winter, New York), 1930, Guy Carlton Wiggins

Creativity Workshop: Patterns and Forms
Krannert Art Museum
500 E Peabody Ave, Champaign
July 25th, 3 to 4:30 p.m.

Learn more about Kelly Hieronymus.

Top photo from Facebook event page.  All additional photos from Debra Domal. 

Arts Editor

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