Why I paint

Summer is captured in the sweet taste and glow of a strawberry. (Strawberry. Oil on canvas. 6×6”. 2017.)

 

Painting has become a compulsion of sorts, in the very best sense of the word.

I spend hours each week thinking about my paintings–mentally working out compositions, values, colours; considering how I will mix my colours to get the hues and shades I want; even thinking about the gorgeous texture of the oil paint and how I’ll create the brush marks. By the time I get to in front of the easel on the weekend, I have spent hours painting in my head.

The process of physically painting then is a sort of meditative affair. I immerse myself in the experience–in the colours, the smell, the textures, the sounds, the feel. Yes, I really do love the smell of oil paints!

 

I have always been driven to create, for as long as I can remember. Painting, drawing, sewing, baking, photography, and even writing or music at times. I don’t know why or where the urge to create comes from, but I am sure it is somewhere deep inside.

Three paintings in my rabbit series, developed from some work I did in high school and first year uni. (Acrylic on canvas, 10×8”).

 

For a long time, I saw my inability to settle on one form or medium as a negative thing. That I was less serious a maker because I couldn’t dedicate myself to just one way of expression. Now, I realize that my diversity of expression is not a drawback, but a benefit. The various forms of expression enrich and complement each other.

When I design sewing projects, I am thinking about colour and texture and how to take an idea in my head to a 2D pattern to a 3D creation. I spend ages in the fabric store choosing fabric that contrasts or matches in colour, texture, and hand.

When I photograph things, I delight in details, in finding what I think is the essence of a place, an object, an experience. I am thinking about colour and texture and shadow and light. I am thinking about how I can (hopefully) make the viewer contemplate the small details of nature that are too easily overlooked. I am thinking about how I can capture the feel of a place in a single photo of a seemingly insignificant detail.

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It’s all about the little things.

All of these modes seem to come together in my painting. I am taking 3D compositions and presenting them on a 2D surface. I am thinking about form, colour, shadow, light, texture. As much as possible, I am using my own photographs and, hopefully, presenting everyday or insignificant items in a new way, in a way that forces the viewer to recognize their beauty.

My reference photo for my garlic painting. The beautiful hues of purple and the papery texture attracted me. I like the drama of drop-out black.

As a youngster I created a ‘studio’ space in my parent’s unfinished basement. It was my space to create, and gifts of art and craft supplies found their way there. Art class projects I couldn’t bear to part with wound up there–a plaster lion mask, an elephant head made from strips of cardboard, and my OAC final project on détruis and debris.

But painting really started for me, I think, in my last year of university in Toronto. In blissful ignorance of what I didn’t know, I took myself off to a Loomis & Tooles and stocked up on pots of Golden acrylic paint. I propped my canvas up against a bookshelf and painted away.

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One of my very first ‘proper’ paintings, done from a photograph I took during my exchange year at Swansea. I even got it framed! (Acrylic on canvas, 11×9, 2002).

As life got busy, I drifted away from painting. But painting now has a hold of me again, and perhaps even stronger now.

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My first painting class after about a decade of not painting. I see the imperfections, but oh, how I enjoyed painting that fluff! Painted from my own photo. Full fluffy heads of dandelion seed are kinda boring—decay is much more interesting! (Acrylic on canvas board, 2016).

In November 2016 I sat down in my first painting class (and my first art class since the late 90s). I went home from that first class with my arms just aching to continue painting. My teacher became my mentor, and convinced me to give oil painting a try. So, in the summer of 2017, I had my first lessons with oil–and loved it.

My first oil painting. I couldn’t get over how luscious oil painting is and how it glows on the canvas. After Citron de Nice by Julian Marrow-Smith. (Lemon. Oil on canvas board. 11×14” 2017)

That’s when the fruit started. The glow and texture of oil painting just cries out for painting fruit and vegetables! After my first oil painting–a lemon– I started a series of fruit portraits. I use that term deliberately: As with my macro photographs, I want to present the fruit in a way that will encourage the viewer to see its beauty. The luscious fruits and dramatic shadows of Dutch masters paintings inspire me to show the glowing summer sunshine captured in delicious fruits.

Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life
Adriaen van Utrecht (1599-1652) Fruit Still Life.

Keep up to date with my artistic adventures by joining my on Facebook, Instagram, Vero, and, occasionally, Flickr.

A Note About Note Taking

Finally got around to replacing my Apple iPencil and what better way to try it out than creating a sketch note– about note taking? This is my attempt to show how visual note taking can be combined with the Cornell Note system.

To learn more about sketch notes, try Sketchnote Army by Mark Rohde, Mauro Toselli, Steve Silbert, and Bineabi Akah. They even do a podcast about sketchnotes!

Links to download the PDF version of this note and to a PDF version of the unlined template are below. As always, CC-BY, so enjoy, share, use, remix, pass it along!

And if you find it particularly useful, let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @InnesAlison– I would love to hear from you!

Note_Taking_Tips

(And yes, note taking should be written as two words– that’s an error just to see who’s paying attention 😉 )

Download Tips for Effective Note Taking PDF (Jan. 2018)

Download Cornell Notes template (unlined) PDF

 

More About Cornell Notes

I’ve been doing some updates and expansions of my note-taking notes and am sharing my Cornell notes here for anyone who would like to use them. All are CC-BY. Download links for PDF versions are listed at the bottom of this post.

Cornell Notes

Download Quick Guide to Cornell Notes PDF Jan. 2018

Download Cornell Notes: A Quick and Dirty Guide (original) Oct. 2017

Cornell Notes template (lined) PDF

Cornell Notes template (unlined) PDF

Cornell Notes: A quick and dirty guide

Wow, who would have thought a tweet about Cornell Notes would prove so popular?

But since it is now my most popular tweet ever, I’m making my guide available for download and use with a CC attribution license.
Cornell Notes Quick & Dirty Guide

A quick Google for “Cornell Notes templates” reveals hundreds of online templates. I mashed up the best (in my opinion!) into my version.
Cornell Notes Blank Template 

Additional Tips:

  • Keep a 3″ x 11″ strip of cardstock or heavy paper in your notebook or binder to draw your margins quickly on the go.
  • Need more space for reviewing? Do your note taking on only side of the page. Then, use the back of the previous page for mind maps, sketch notes, questions, etc.
  • Are you a lefty? You may find reversing the columns more your liking (HT to @DarrinSunstrum for that!)

Further Resources:

I would love to hear how you use these and your experiences with using and teaching Cornell Notes!

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Teaching students how to student

There’s an expression about how the shoemaker’s children have no shoes. Well, the social media consultant is terrible at her own social media!

I’ve clearly fallen behind in my New Year’s resolution of a blog post a month. I thought I might catch up when I had a month off work this summer, but somehow social media was the last thing I wanted to work on.

But I’m back at work now and busier than ever. In fact, this fall will be the most paid work I’ve had at once since I quit a full time job to go back to school a decade ago.

I’m have resumed my social media work with the Faculty of Humanities at the university and what a difference a year in the job makes! I feel really comfortable in the position, now that I’ve figured out what I need to be doing, and I’m seeing the benefits of the connections and network I’ve been building. I’m really looking forward to the year ahead!

I’ve also been fortunate to pick up several other small contracts to flesh out my hours and paycheque. I’ve just started working with our Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) where I’m helping out with a number of very interesting projects, including TA training, support for those teaching large classes, and research into the perceptions of the value of teaching. I have a lot of experience as a teaching assistant (TA) in the classroom and even helping professors develop pedagogical resources, so it’s exciting to be thinking and learning about pedagogy from a different perspective.

Finally, if enrolment numbers permit, I may get to spend a little time in the classroom again this year as a TA.

Which relates to the Twitter thread I want to share with you. @atrubek shared this really great thread tonight and it so important! I think when we’re teaching it’s so easy to get caught up in the transmission of content and forget about the transmission of skills. I don’t mean discipline-specific skills, but the “how to be a student” skills.

It’s easy, when we’ve been academics for 5, 10, 15 years or longer to forget that we, too, started someplace. We didn’t enter university knowing everything. Sure, we like to think we were more self-sufficient and self-starting than “today’s students” but hindsight can have a gloss superiority to it.

Our students come to us from a wide variety of backgrounds and face a diversity of pressures that we may not have faced.

In my case, for example, my mother had attended university and I had two older sisters in university as well, so I had lots of support at home in navigating the system and knowing what I needed to do.

But not every student has that privilege. Some will be the first in their families to attend university. Some will be far from home and perhaps struggling to make friends and navigate a strange system with strange titles like “registrar” and “dean” and “chair,” never mind the myriad of acronyms we use without thinking!

High school today is different from high school “back in our day.” Again, students will have had a diversity of experiences and come with–or without– skills we deem necessary.

So @atrubek’s thread is such a timely reminder. We need to not assume that our students know how to navigate the system socially or how to access resources. We need to teach them how to take effective notes, how to use the library, how to identify a scholarly resource, what a database is.

Because after the final exam, the student may very well never think about our course content again. But they will be taking other courses, and we can equip them with the skills they need to succeed there, too–whether it’s something we teach directly, or we direct them to campus resources.

We don’t just teach content, we teach students how to be students.

Reblogged: “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Ancient World in Color”

Too often today, we fail to acknowledge and confront the incredible amount of racism that has shaped the ideas of scholars we cite in the field of ancient history.

How can we address the problem of the lily white antiquity that persists in the public imagination? What can classicists learn from the debate over whiteness and ancient sculpture?

Do we make it easy for people of color who want to study the ancient world? Do they see themselves in the ancient landscape that we present to them? The dearth of people of color in modern media depicting the ancient world is a pivotal issue here. Movies and video games, in particular, perpetuate the notion that the classical world was white.

I’m not suggesting that we go, with a bucket in hand, and attempt to repaint every white marble statue across the country. However, I believe that tactics such as better museum signage, the presentation of 3D reconstructions alongside originals, and the use of computerized light projections can help produce a contextual framework for understanding classical sculpture as it truly was. It may have taken just one classical statue to influence the false construction of race, but it will take many of us to tear it down. We have the power to return color to the ancient world, but it has to start with us.

Sarah E. Bond “Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color” Hyperallergic. June 6, 2017.

 

Reblogged: “Ethical Engagement and the Study of Antiquity” (Classics and Social Justice)

Some really fantastic classicists got together recently to discuss ethical engagement and classics. Several of the talks were posted on Classics and Social Justice by Jess Wright, Matt Chaldekas, and Hannah Čulík-Baird.

It’s a long a read, but a very good one. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but I’ve copied below a few snippets that particularly jumped out at me.

Classicists are in a particular bind: we must argue for the salience of antiquity to a modern world preoccupied with the effects of European imperialism, and we must do so without resorting to the imperialist argument that the Classics are the foundation of humanistic endeavour….

How does our study of antiquity inform us as ethical subjects? How does our pedagogical approach to antiquity shape our students? Through what strategies and initiatives might we render “Classics” a term that evokes social and ethical engagement, rather than elitist isolation and the ivory tower?

Ethical Engagement and the Study of Antiquity https://classicssocialjustice.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/write-up-ethical-engagement-and-the-study-of-antiquity-april-20th-21st-2017/

 

The common idea about the canon is that it is inherently valuable because it articulates the best that has been thought and written or some such. This notion of values is both a stumbling block and a powerful entryway. For instance, is “the unexamined life not worth living” irrevocably damaged as an ideal because of its elite original context? Or should we aspire to democratize the concept through education?

Nancy Rabinowitz, Ethical Engagement and the Study of Antiquity https://classicssocialjustice.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/write-up-ethical-engagement-and-the-study-of-antiquity-april-20th-21st-2017/

Edelstein cannot have known that his work on the Oath would directly affect the lives of literally millions of people. But here’s the thing: you can’t study any aspect of what many consider to be the foundation of modern Western society and ignore that your work is potentially relevant in modern discourse, even if you are limited in your ability to understand how. Classicists are ethically and socially engaged, whether we acknowledge it or not, and because we’re all engaged in this way, we have at least two tasks… 

The first task is to attempt to dissuade modern consumers of our work from using the ancient world as direct precedent for modern legislation, for good or for ill…

Our second task is to recognize that people are going to use our work however they want to regardless of what we say and therefore to be responsible in our research.

Deborah Sneed, Ethical Engagement and the Study of Antiquity https://classicssocialjustice.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/write-up-ethical-engagement-and-the-study-of-antiquity-april-20th-21st-2017/

Finding Your Voice through Podcasting

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While podcasting takes time and preparation and may have a steep learning curve, it is very rewarding. Research interests come alive in a new way when you create and share your ideas via podcasting. Listener responses will help you develop your ideas in new directions. Podcasting also breaks down academia’s walls, creating a wider audience and inviting the public to see what scholars do and why it matters.

Alison Innes “Finding  Your Voice through PodcastingSociety for Classical Studies Blog. 15 May 2017.

My post on podcasting for the Society for Classical Studies went live today! You can read it in full here.

Choosing a different path

Friday evening a Twitter friend announced she was officially leaving her MA program.

It is a courageous and difficult decision to leave academia, and particularly to leave mid-program. So much time, money, and effort has been invested in the pursuit of a degree, yet so much more investment is still required. Is it worth it? The answer isn’t easy.

To those who choose to leave for a different path, I want to say: Academia, like banking or plumbing, is not for everyone, and it’s ok if it’s not for you. You are not a quitter if you leave. There is no shame in finding a different path that is more rewarding and better suited to you.

Your well-being, health and happiness are more important than any degree. If your degree is not giving you that, then look for a different path. Without health and happiness, what is your degree worth?

Leaving doesn’t mean you don’t care about your field or discipline. It doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to still contribute if you wish.

It’s such a shame.

But she was so close to finishing!

He just couldn’t hack it.

Why on earth would she quit now?

I heard he quit after just one semester!

To those who stay, I want to say: Please think before saying things that suggest shame or failure when someone leaves your programs. Others are listening and internalizing what you say. From faculty, fellow student, friend, or onlooker, comments that suggest it is the leaver’s “fault” they “couldn’t make it” contribute to an unhealthy culture.

Framing it is a the leaver’s fault also obscures the role that academia as an institution may play in that decision. The system is far from perfect, and many good scholars with excellent ideas get forced out or flee from toxic departments before they can realize their goals.

So yes, I applaud those who take the brave and scary step to leave their programs because they know it’s best for them.