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Posts tagged ‘mixed media’

Carmen Torbus: The Artist Unique

Long-time readers of this blog — as well as those who are hooked up to the creative blogosphere at large — are likely acquainted with artist and mother Carmen Torbus. Last year, Carmen’s book, The Artist Unique, was published. It’s apparent — just a few pages in — that Carmen’s book is different from other hands-on guides in the “use creativity to express yourself” category. (If you don’t have a copy already, I highly recommend that you add this book to your creative toolkit.) I asked Carmen to join us for a belated stop on her book tour. Enjoy!

Q: What inspired your book? How did you develop your clear message?

The Artist Unique was inspired by the realization that something was missing in my artwork… me.

I was spending a ton of time creating. I was in awe of many of the mixed-media artists I was seeing in books and magazines and I was giddy about the art projects I was completing. I was so excited when my work came out looking as good as theirs, but they never really felt like they were mine. They were replicas. Knock-offs.

When I realized something was missing, I started exploring. I wanted to take inventory of all the little things that make me unique and then incorporate them into my work. I like to describe signature style as, “You, on canvas.” Soon after I felt my style was emerging, I developed an online workshop called Spill It. The class description was as follows:


All the little things that makes you unique
will make your creative endeavors unique.
And in this workshop,
you will put all of those little things
that make you, you
on your palette
and Spill It onto canvas.
We will explore Mixed Media technique combinations to help you
discover and project personal creative style.

While teaching that workshop, I realized that there was more to this idea than a small online workshop and so the idea for a book was born. I wanted to stick to inspiration and techniques and encourage exploration. I did not want to write a book with step-by-step projects because I wanted to empower creative play and allow room for improvising, brainstorming, and light-bulb moments.

Q: What was the process of writing a book — expanding your workshop framework into a full-on manuscript — like for you?

It was interesting because I didn’t just pull from my own experiences. I really wanted the book to focus on the reader and empowering them to play and try new things so their signature style can emerge. To do that, I asked 15 artists who I feel have a distinct style to share one of their favorite techniques. I shared their artwork and the steps for using the technique. Then I used the technique in my artwork to illustrate the different outcomes that came come from using the same technique.

I also wanted to inspire the reader and give them hope that regardless of their skill level or where they are in their artistic journey, they are becoming a unique artist — just like the contributing artists. The stories of each contributor were a joy to share.

The process of writing and pulling all of the information together was a bit of a challenge for me. Truth be told, I don’t do well with deadlines. They paralyze me. Especially when they are months away. Once you have a contract to write a book, there are several deadlines set. There have to be. It feels like you have all the time in the world when a deadline is months or even a year out.

I’m a bit of a procrastinator. (Who am I kidding, I’m a complete procrastinator!) I do my best work when time is crunched. I prefer shorter deadlines if I have to have them at all. I did most of the writing literally a week or two before each deadline.

My publisher and editor were wonderful to work with. I highly recommend Northlight for any creative folks that dream of writing a creative book.

Q: What do you most want your readers to take away from your book?

Inspiration and the belief that they can develop their own style as a creative person or artist. My hope is that readers will take inspiration from the contributors and explore their creative desires.

Q: What’s on deck?

I’m not sure what’s in my future. I’m exploring a few options right now. And to be completely honest, the unsureness (is that even a word?) is leaving me feeling a little vulnerable and uneasy, but sort of free at the same time.

My dream is to encourage, inspire, and empower big dreamers to actively pursue their wildest dreams. I’m not 100% sure what the best avenue is for me to support my tribe, but I’m bound and determined to keep trying until I figure it out. I’m about to begin formal life coach training and I’m currently working with a limited number of coaching clients.

I’ve spent the last three months focusing inward, specifically on my health and happiness. Which has taken the form of regular exercise and a better diet, resulting in weight loss, feeling better, more self-confidence and an overall healthier, happier me. The best ripple effect of this happier healthier me is improvement in my most important relationships. I love it and it’s inspiring me to expand my vision and dream a little bigger — even to the point of incorporating health and wellness into my coaching practice along with a healthy dose of creativity.


Please join me in wishing Carmen the very best in her future adventures. You can stay in the loop at

3/18 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

Musical intro for this week’s contest post: “Get out the map, get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down. We’ll leave the figuring to those we pass on the way out of town.” (Lyrics from one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs.)

Several lovely entries for this week’s creativity contest. The winner is Brittany Vandeputte, who is clearly entering the freakishly creative phase. Brittany, we all want to know where your creative mojo is coming from!

Brittany writes: “I had fun with this one Miranda! This week’s entry is a paper doll. My best friend (who’s Australian) and her family are coming to the US next month. I haven’t seen her since 1994 and have never met her three-year-old daughter, Mackenzie. They are planning a coast-to-coast, two-month whirlwind tour of the country and the prompt made me think of them immediately. I wondered if there would be any way to help Mackenzie orient herself, and teach her a little bit about what she was seeing in the process. I was struck with this idea to commemorate each of the stops on their trip.”

Here is Brittany’s description of the images she sent in:

  • The doll’s body is made from an Apian Compass Rose (with the face of a porcelain doll I found online).
  • Her first dress is made from a map of North America. With it, as well as the others, I let natural boundaries shape the design.
  • The second dress is a topographical map of Mt. Ranier.
  • The third is a geologic map of SC.
  • The fourth is the park map of Disney World.
  • The fifth is a satellite map of California.
  • And the sixth commemorates the ports we’ll visit on the cruise we’ll meet on — and is a world atlas map of the Caribbean Sea.”



From Jen Johnson: “I have to say, as I pondered this week’s prompt, I kept coming back to Elizabeth Bishop’s take on ‘The Map,’ which I’ve always admired immensely.  With that in the forefront of my mind, I found myself quite unable to come up with something new.  I especially admire her gentle query: ‘Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?’ (Here’s a copy of the poem, if you’re not familiar with it.) So I’d all but given up on having a submission, but then I remembered a VERY old poem, written in a light-yet-serious mood in the early years of my marriage. So I’m sending it in, just for fun. Looking forward to what others have this week!”

Poem, as I Try to Put Pieces Together

“She likes to stretch from England to Brazil,”
you say, while fingering a cardboard piece
of ocean, land, or sky. I hold it still
between our fingers, as I match the crease
that curves from blue to green along the edge
with several jagged gaps here in the map.

Because the cat refused to move, I wedge
the piece we hold into an empty gap
beneath her grey and furry tail. “It’s land.
It fits. Now Britain is complete,” I say.
Of course I realize the notion’s grand,
misleading, silly. For there is no way
this puzzle will complete a single thing.

Much less the world. In fact, I feel like Greek
Penelope–by day the pieces cling
together, but by night I let them seek
destruction of the pattern. Them? The cats.

I swear they’re planning feline schemes to tear
the world apart–two fuzzy democrats
demanding equal rights, each her own chair,
our full attention. Yes, when we are through
with playing god, with this our paper world,
I’m sure our world will have a hole or two;
these cats will sit with tails all tucked and curled
into a satisfied I told you so,
and they will never tell where pieces hide.

So we will forget missing Morocco,
holes in Antarctica, each gap we tried
to remember to fill. Perhaps someday
we will find dusty pieces in corners.
For now we will tear up the bluish-grey
oceans to pieces of paper waters,
break England apart, put bits of Brazil
in a cracked, cardboard box in a closet,
and we will map out each other, until
we find room for cats, chaos, and secret
blank holes in the puzzle. Oh, yes. We will.


From Cathy Coley: “i think it’s done. thanks for the inspiration. honestly, this could be a whole memoir full of adventures!”

I grew up on what seems like one long road trip. Summers spent boiling in the back of a station wagon throughout the Seventies and beyond in both directions in time, back into the Sixties and up into the Eighties. Mom’s Parliaments’ and later those long brown Mores’ smoke blown into the back seat by the cracked window, rather than out it, as her theory dissolved in practice. She never listened to us when we said we couldn’t breathe or were getting carsick from the lack of viable oxygen. She would pop the still burning butt out the window before vacuum sealing the tiny wing window which made our ears constrict and burst from the pressure, especially when we took a mountain route. Hands over my ears, I watched the fiery butt fly by, sending off sparks at seventy-five miles per hour or more, and imagined the kids in the back of the pickup behind us, or the couple in the convertible, or the cut-away hood of a suped-up hot-rod, or the dry roadside grasses and trash bursting into flames, ignited by my mother’s careless discard. But it was the Seventies, and even with the crying native public service announcements and ‘give a hoot, don’t pollute’ campaigns on television, the roadways were littered from car windows far more than my mother’s butts, and I believe everyone’s mother smoked. There’s a certain smell I still smell in certain roadside stops in Virginia, of old cigarettes, linoleum and sealed in broken down air-conditioning, barbeque, hot dog, melting chocolate, Cheetos, Coppertone, pork rinds, potato chips, Coca-cola, Mr. Pibb, birch beer, bologna, egg salad, and old sweat that brings me right back to my childhood. It’s not a great aroma, but it is the perfume of my youth, travelling southward, circa 1976.

My extended family lived in Georgia and Florida, and a few in North Carolina on my father’s side. My parents were traitors who had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line to raise their family. We were the first generation in at least three hundred years, on both sides, and cousins of Robert E. Lee. My younger brother, born in Connecticut was ‘that damn Yankee’ as dubbed by my maternal grandfather and uncles. So we travelled every summer to visit the rest of us Down South. We did so for some Christmases, too. Preparations for the trip included long consultations with Rand-McNally on our kitchen counter, flipping the pages from state to state to determine the best route this time. Would we take a more coastal route and stop over in Virginia Beach or other resort beach zone? Or is the mountain route through the Blue Ridge on Skyline drive our preference this time? Maybe an altered western route across the Smokeys instead, so we can stop over at my father’s old Georgia Tech fraternity brother’s place in North Carolina, rather than with Great Aunt Alma and Uncle Jack, who had a 1922 Model A Ford with an A-Ooga! horn to squeeze and a houseful of antiques.

First we rode in our old Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with the windows on top, I would lay down in the ‘way back’ or in the back seat and stare up at the passing clouds and stars and wave to the truckers high up in their perches at the front of their megatons of steel and whatever they hauled inside, so they’d blow their horns as they passed. We had these windows in the car ceiling way before the concept of a sunroof came into fashion. After that car’s engine blew, with my mother, younger brother and me in the car, downtown, hometown, Connecticut with real estate agents chasing after us yelling “Fire!” the day before one of our journeys, the dealership lent us a green station wagon that stopped running smack-dab in the middle of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. My father coasted in neutral from hovering over a river past New Jersey, and drifted us onto the roadside with minimal embankment in Delaware. I remember lunching on boiled eggs and hot Peter Pan peanut butter and Welch’s Grape Jelly sandwiches, chased by Coca-cola, and Wise potato chips, for what seemed like hours, as I already needed to go to the bathroom before the bridge, as we waited for the Triple A guy to tow us somewhere for repair. The whir-whizz constant of traffic so much louder and the wind from each vehicle’s pass nearly knocked me over. I was always a puny kid. My mother often said she was sure I would blow away in a strong wind one of these days.

After that trip, my parent’s purchased a Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon with a 455 V-8 and plenty of walnut-grained vinyl veneer. This station wagon lasted us through many more trips, and my high school driving years, when I’d pile all my friends and then some into it to party-hop all over town at whoever’s parents were out of town for the weekend, and have everyone back before my curfew, drunk as skunks, but home safe at a decent hour. Their mothers all loved me. I, however, was straight and in by midnight, mom waiting up, cigarette burning next to her, while she dozed by the light of the television, waiting for me to check in, check my breath, with a ‘goodnight, mom’ kiss on her cheek before heading upstairs.

But that Pontiac Grand Safari with the 455 V-8 lead us to Georgia and Florida and back, mountain routes, coastal routes, down to Orlando where my paternal grandmother lived, Ft Lauderdale and Daytona Beach for fun in the sun, and even gulf-side to Panama City Beach. It carried us on trips to Maine and Vermont for skiing and all the way down the East Coast, hot as blazes, crayons melting in the floorboard with the chocolate. I remember stopping in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Myrtle Beach, you name it, if it was in Eastern Standard Time, we saw it as kids. My father was never too keen on stopping anywhere for too long, and if we wanted a side trip, one of us navigated from the atlas in our lap, flipping pages from state to state, squeezed in the middle of that front bench seat between Mom and Dad. The other two, listening to The Eagles in the way back, on the Panasonic handheld pushbutton tape recorder, with nothing to do but pretend to be Bonnie and Clyde on the lam from the coppers, read, doodle or watch the trees, cows, hills, cars and sky go by for hours and days on end at a steady 75 miles per hour.


From me (Miranda): I recently listened to this old podcast interview with Keri Smith, which got me thinking about the creative inheritance of childhood. Lately I’ve been thinking about work that links to my past. The piece I created for the map prompt is about documenting my creative birthright; my origins (the map is of a town in England that was one of my early homes) and what I was given by my mother, who is what I could call reflexively creative. The past can been seen as a map from which we navigate the future. The sunflower is a personal icon of sorts, and in this instance echoes the compass icon used on many maps. This piece isn’t quite what I set out to do, but it is what it is. (Kind of like me.)



This week’s prompt: “Spring Equinox”
Use the prompt however you like — literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 10:00 p.m. eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, March 24, 2009. The winning entry receives a $10 gift certificate to Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly contest, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 24 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

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