Sometimes when I start to feel low, I like to take on an art challenge to kick up the creative dust. Whether it’s a big month-long challenge like Inktober or simply trying something out of the norm, this keeps me on my toes and fights off artistic fatigue. It’s also one way I practice artistic self-care.
Now, I have to admit I enjoy challenging others, too. I have an incredibly diverse group of creators around me which is growing all the time, especially since I started organizing art shows with The Hub in late 2016. On occasion, I use these shows to challenge people around me, and that’s what March’s First Friday was all about.
I’d seen a number of posts on social media about the Penny Challenge. Literally making art the size of a penny-- and I do love miniatures, so why not!
Taking on the Penny Challenge
The subject of my itty bitty art immediately came to mind. Last year, I started painting squished mosquitoes on 2” canvases, and I thought they were small! My Happy Little Things could get smaller yet!
I decided to paint directly onto pennies. Why not, right? (“why not” seems to be the real theme for this challenge)
I started by putting a couple layers on clear gesso on the pennies, to give the paint something to hold onto-- metal doesn’t always paint well, so some sort of primer was necessary. Using clear gesso allowed some of the shiny finish to show through, which was really delightful!
My first attempt was going smoothly, until I went to put a protective layer of varnish on at the end. I used too much and it wrinkled as it dried, muddying up some of the details. Scrap it, time to start over!
I was able to gently peel the first painting off of the penny, thus proving that I’m not actually defacing money. A new coat of gesso went on, and I tried again.
The next batch of pennies went well. I found that older pennies worked better for me, because some of their ridges were worn down and the paint went smoother. I also discovered that no brush is small enough for this kind of work!
This glorious bloody mess was spurred on by the sunlight coming in the window that reminded me that SUMMER is on it’s way, as well as an endless stream of British history documentaries-- talk about bloody! Queen Elizabeth the first is featured in an uncanny number of documentaries and specials, and Youtube does well by me. :)
With the second batch I used Modge Podge Dimensional Magic to do the finishing layer, which actually acted as a magnifying glass, making the tiny bugs pop. Boom! Love it! Now, how to showcase these for the show?
I’m a self-professed framing nerd. I love taking a piece of art and elevating it through presentation. I had a selection of mismatched frames, and to tie my presentation together, chose to mount each penny on the same background. A grey circle on a black background. I think it ended up looking rather tidy and smart!
Pennies pennies everywhere-- and such variety!
I’m still stunned by the variety that came from this challenge, even among my friends group. We had everything from pen and ink on paper to painted pennies and pressed flowers in glass windows. A bear sculpture made from a penny-sized piece of sculpy clay by Hannah Foss was a truly creative take on the challenge, and I like how the finish she used resembled an old coin.
Dick Bogan Jr. painted abstracts on pieces of caribou antler sourced from Kavik River hunting camp (heeey Sue!)
A number of us painted directly onto pennies. I made mine look larger than they really were by using the bubble effect on my mosquitoes. Jennie Payne took a step away from her norm, photography, and painted swirling colors. Devante Owens played with the design of the penny itself, launching President Lincoln into space with a matching wood stand. Joel Fantazzi drew five artists from history-- all capricorns.
Alyssa Quintyne drew some penny-sized faces in her whimsical style, presenting the trio in a romantic light frame with canvas backing.
Chickens and comic book characters pop in Shayla Sackinger’s marker drawing, a cluster of pennies.
Mickaela Osborn’s pieces shimmer with real gold leaf and set in elegant frames-- she expanded the images with delicate designs. I love a good sunset!
I’ve been swooning over the beautiful pressed flowers and watercolors by Mariah Lumley. They’re so innocent and fresh-- they just cry out to live in one of my shadow boxes! Squished flowers, squished bugs! They would make a perfect little display in a home curiosity cabinet!
I had the pleasure of also hanging work by an Anchorage artist, Paige Korynta. Her work celebrates self love. Her drawing “We Don’t Have To Shiver” reminds me of the times when I feel small, and is a reminder that we don’t have to be small and shivering in the face of a strong wind.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the penny-sized work by our patrons. The opening was intimate and sweet, with a good number of people coming in and enjoying using my antique magnifying glass to look at our work. A number of people made their own drawings, and we pinned them up in the show! It’s so rewarding seeing others moved to create, and this was one of the post gratifying parts of the show.
A word on the power of challenges
I believe that stagnation is the enemy of creativity-- If you let your art stay still, and never branch out to explore, your creativity can’t grow and breathe. I know a number of people growled about this challenge, and I found it hard too. But I learned that I can make a big impact in a small space.
We’re so used to art being big-- statement pieces that scream their message at you, and I love those as well. But in contrast, small art requires a close look, and invites you in to examine it.
I feel blessed to have been able to put this show together, and to see two of my paintings go on to their new home at the end of the show. The evening lead to reconnecting, conversation, and a heavy dose of inspiration.