Pandemonium (part 1)

posted in: Art New Wave | 20

Usually my mind is filled with endless creative thoughts and new ideas for projects that unexpectedly pop into my mind at random moments – while out for a walk, sitting in traffic, sometimes in the middle of the night. Other times there’s some sort of sensory que that makes the light bulb go off in my head, like passing something that catches my eye or even listening to music. As a creative, I’ve tried to tune into this when it happens because it usually leads to something great.

Before I continue further with this post, I want to say that this post is different from what I generally share with all of you. I’ve learned over the years that sharing and exposing my vulnerabilities produces some of the most beautiful experiences in life that have shaped and transformed me in profound ways. For years I often kept my feelings, thoughts and ideas to myself for whatever strange reasons. I’ve found that when I allow myself to speak how I truly feel and release things to the universe, I quickly discover that I’m not alone on this journey – that there are others who have either gone through these same emotions or are currently experiencing this. 

Sometimes even the most creative people fall into a ‘creative funk’ – similar to writer’s block I suppose you could say, but with the added problem of having a lack of motivation. After the craziness of the Holidays, I was focused on getting ready for teaching classes at AFCI and all of my attention and focus was pretty much centered around that. I have to admit, it was a strange trip for me this year to the annual show because this was the first year that I can remember that I actually spent time walking the show floor and experience the excitement that accompanies the releases of new products and seeing friends. After a blur of teaching classes for two solid days, I found myself on the show floor and for the first time in almost 20 years of being in the craft industry and feeling completely out of place and almost as if I didn’t belong. 

This feeling of being a stranger in a familiar land has been building for awhile, and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I was at the show. Although I did make some new connections and saw a few brilliant new products at the show, I began to question if this journey I’d begun a couple of years ago of being a full time instructor and artist was worth all the sacrifices that I’d made. I’d bought into the entire notion that many of us fall into, working (sometimes tirelessly) for companies or brands with this false hope that it would lead to something greater, maybe even our own product line only to realize that our talent, drive and great ideas were either ‘lifted’ by someone else who took credit for our work, or the sad realization that our working relationships are often times a one way street. I’m often reminded at home that at the end of the day, my creativity needs to be justifiably compensated for because I have bills to pay as well LOL

Instead of leaving the show energized and ready to get into my studio, I sat on my flight home seriously questioning my continued role in the craft industry, teaching, and to some extent if I should just give up all of my hard work to return to a ‘normal’ day job… After the hustle and bustle of prepping and teaching at AFCI, I sat in my studio with absolutely no motivation to create, which is something that has never happened to me before. Over the last couple of years, I have found myself moving more and more away from ‘crafting’ and more into the realm of ‘art’ where I could express and create what I wanted to make and on my own schedule. Over the next couple of weeks, I began to realize that THIS was the root of my funk!

Since going out on my own, I was so focused on continually making samples for manufacturers/design teams or making samples for classes and workshops that I’d forgotten to create what I wanted to make. My creativity had been (for a lack of a better term) stifled by others dictating what, and to some degree, when I should be creating. I had fallen into this path of developing classes and workshops to fit a particular audience, or being told that I could only use certain supplies on projects, or spending endless amounts of energy developing projects for a theme that I honestly many times had no particular interest in because they were neither in my working style or genre that expresses my inner artist voice fully. It was at this moment that I realized that what had slowly happened over the course of many months was that my artist voice and creative flame had slowly become extinguished.



For a few years now, I have had this ‘concept’ in my head of incorporating songs and their lyrics into mixed media works of art, and have slowly worked through my head a few song selections and objects that I’d incorporate into the work. Some of you may remember the project that I created last fall REBEL is My Song that was inspired by the song Rebel (Madonna). To be honest, this was not my first intention/idea for creating this project. Instead I had this grand scheme in my mind of creating a completely different, much larger, and more experimental piece of artwork that was going to be based on the song Pandemonium (Pet Shop Boys). I remember pulling out the letters to spell the work “Pandemonium” to start working on the project, but then began to realize that because of time and other constraints that I would not be able to create what I had originally intended to.



I’m not sure why I have this love affair with the word Pandemonium – maybe it’s because I live my life this way in some regards, or perhaps it’s my ‘battle cry’ that goes back to my rebellious younger years of disregard to authority and doing what I want, on my terms. There’s a sense of liberation in creating a little chaos in your life, and I definitely felt as if I needed a little shaking up of things to get my creativity back! When creating my Believe project at last year’s end as my mantra for 2018, I had actually contemplated for a few days as to using Pandemonium instead LOL

Fast forward to my art funk last week, and while sitting at my studio table waiting for the inspiration to start I found my Pandemonium letters and decided that it was now or never to start my first experimentation into working on what I hope becomes a series of mixed media works. Sure, there’s a few other deadlines that I really should’ve been working on, but when there’s no longer any interest in creating something for someone else I knew that I would only be producing a half ass piece of work which is completely not my style.



I pulled out one of my larger 16 x 20 inch canvases, heavy white gesso, and began down the road of experimentation… Besides using the letters to spell out the title of this piece and knowing that I wanted to incorporate the lyrics into the background, I had no real roadmap of where I wanted this project to go besides the color palette. It has been years since I’ve sat down at my studio and allowed myself to create with no restrictions, to experiment and play for creating a truly organic piece of artwork. I wanted to return to my college days of creating with freedom, to allow mistakes to happen, to let the artwork speak and let it determine how things would evolve.

After a couple of layers of gesso, I began experimenting and building texture with a few different mediums. Unlike when I’m working on most of my projects, there was no intention of creating the ‘perfect’ texture to highlight a specific product. Instead I focused on developing new techniques for myself, seeing what new possibilities I could create. I used this same process for adding layers of color, using different washes and mixing of colors to slowly develop on the canvas like when slow cooking pasta sauce.



Although I love building encaustic into my work, I didn’t want to bother with melting the wax and honestly wanted to try a different technique instead. Over my background I laid a printed piece of tissue and decoupaged this onto the background. Once this had set, I laid a stencil on top and applied a thick coat of matte 3D gel over the background and then allowed it to dry over night which revealed a great alternative to the encaustic process with rich texture! As heart breaking as it was, I ended up covering most of the previous layer’s color with another layer of texture – but randomly allowed some of the background to show through.



I used this same basic technique for adding the lyrics to Pandemonium through the harlequin print stencil. Once the 3D matte gel had set over the text, I continued developing the color and texture of the piece as a whole while beginning to add some of the found objects to the piece that would be used as backgrounds from some of the other pieces that I’d slowly started to gather for assembling the piece. At any point of this process I could have stopped working and been completely content with the project, but I wanted to continue down this path of experimentation and in some regards self discovery and see what the end results of my labor would be.



Here is the inspiration for the color palette I’m using for this piece. This is actually the gas cap from an old yard blower from the 1970’s that was left by the previous owners when we bought our house a few years ago. Being the mixed media artist that I am, I dismantled some cool hardware off of the blower before discarding it knowing that someday I could use the pieces for something. I’ve always been attracted to this blue/teal/green/brown color palette for some reason. In fact, the small studio room I had at our old house was painted in these colors.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed following along the beginning of this creative journey with me – and I apologize for the length of this post. I know that these days everyone is so used to soundbites and quick reading, but I wanted to share with all of you that ALL artists struggle from time to time and hopefully provide some inspiration to you when you hit that creative wall and what is helping me through it.


Continue to Pandemonium Part 2 Here




20 Responses

  1. Dear John, thank you for the courage you showed in sharing your experiences and struggles with finding your way through the crafting industry. It is hard sometimes to stop the relentless pursuit of a career in an industry that you obviously love, but good for you for stopping and examining your own feelings and needs. Best of luck to you in the future, whatever way you want to go.

    • Thank you for the kind words and encouragement Jane! I truly feel that my artist adventures are far from over – but there may be different path to travel!

  2. John, During the 20+ years that I’ve known you. I have always thought of you as an “Artist” and have always been impressed with your creativity, whatever form it took! So many of us have found different paths to travel and am so glad that you have found your new path! I can relate to some of your issues…the lack of creativity and sitting there staring at the work table with nothing happening, but this is about you and not me. I had wondered how long the teaching path would last but so happy that you had a chance to share your knowledge and creativity with so many people and travel to so many places. The number one creed is to stay creative and stay happy! I wish you the best as always! Kathi

    • Kathi – I’ve always looked up to you as a mentor, the highly creative AND such a successful business person so your words mean so much coming from you! I’m enjoying this creative discovery I’m on currently and I’m sure that it will only bring new adventures 🙂

  3. JOHN!!! I think this is the BEST work I’ve ever seen from you! WOW! I love looking at all of the elements and textures and layers. I love the colors too! It’s not blue! LOL! I’m excited to see where you’re going with your art. Your authenticity has always been what I like best about you. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability…and for sharing this beautiful piece of art with us!

    • Ah…. thank you so much Cathy – and you pretty much hit the nail right on the head! I’ve had a few other people reach out to me saying exactly what you said, and I’ve told them that yes, I can actually create something that isn’t BLUE or completely rusted haha This ‘style’ is where my creativity truly shines, but it takes much longer for the process to evolve because I’m just letting it naturally take shape. It will be a piece filled with much emotion when it’s finally finished =)

  4. I have a cup of hot tea on my hand to start reading this. I wasnt prepared for the emotions and a deep resonance throughout this post especially you have been sharing the processes with me all these days. I feel so sorry that I didnt notice your struggles and your frustrations during this period. Honestly I have tears in my eyes reading through because I can literally feel how difficult it was and how depressing it made us.
    I am glad that you have started this project that is gonna be such a milestone of your journey.. I am glad to be able to witness one of your biggest projects.
    “Pandemonium” has been the words I have been searching for days ! (though it has other meanings in Japanese lol) Looking forward to see the next post

    • No reason for tears Phoebe – this wasn’t meant to be a ‘sad’ post by any means. I think now you understand more fully where my mind and heart has been the past few weeks after our conversation the other evening. Yes, the past few weeks have been frustrating but more on a creative level than anything else, but your words of encouragement are always heart warming. By no means am I giving up on my art, I just miss the ability to be truly creative without rules and restrictions and if anything the process of creating this new canvas has reminded me that I need to incorporate this into EVERYTHING I make to stay true and authentic to myself.

      I am curious to know the definition of “pandemonium” in Japanese LOL In English, it’s defined as “wild uproar or unrestrained disorder; tumult or chaos” which isn’t always a bad thing ; )

  5. The evolution of this piece has been fascinating and I’ve really enjoyed the visual journey. We all need to continue to learn and sometimes we discover we need to change speeds, switch paths, or just concentrate on positive vibes. Remain true to yourself. I can’t wait to see the pandemonium continue!

    • I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed watching my “Pandemonium” evolve Yvonne – and the reason why I wanted to share this journey with everyone was to let them know that they’re not alone on this creative (and life) journey, and that it’s okay to take a chance and explore your emotions through your art work. I think everyone needs a reminder now and then of returning to your true self, to let your voice and authenticity be loud and proud!

  6. I crave depth from another soul in art and in people. The shallow is like static background noise so thank you for sharing your rhythmic soul art dance with its dips and weaves. Look forward to seeing and hearing of your journey.

    • Denise thank you for taking the time to join me on this journey – I’m excited to see where it leads me and to share more with you!

  7. I could have written it. I feel it. I’ve been feeling it for a while. And I’m thankful for you for expressing it, because identifying it is the first step towards making changes.

    • Sally – I know (more than likely) that you’re like many others in the industry that kind of reach this point where we need to make some “Pandemonium” just to shake things up a bit! I’m always so inspired by people like you when I’m at shows or seeing what you’re working on when you share your work and creations, and I just kind of realized “I want to have FUN like they are” without any limitations being imposed by other people. It’s so refreshing to just let things go and let things just HAPPEN for once!

  8. Your experience is what my partner has struggled with for nearly his whole working life. So often his hobbies have become his work, and always in the end, he has left it, finding that turning his love into work often kills the enjoyment. I guess as an artist in the craft community it adds another layer, with having to do what they want, rather than following your own heart. Maybe it comes down to using the experience to build your profile, but then knowing when to walk away. There’s nothing worse than have “art block”. Your Pandemonium piece is absolutely stunning.

    • I’ve been learning through the comments, emails and messages from people that like your partner, I’m not the only one out there who goes through this in their creative careers, to whatever capacity it might be. I’m just happy that I have the opportunity to be able to make the change and be able to explore what has been swirling around in my head and to let it all out through a creative channel. I’m always up for a new adventure, and everything has led me to this point – who knows where the next chapter will take me… Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned through this process is that moving forward, I’m not going to silence my creative voice in my work.

  9. John, I am so glad I happened across your article today. My creative spirit is low on energy, I’m way behind on blogging about upcoming pieces and I had a lackluster weekend in the studio. Your words are therapy for me and your talented artistry is my inspiration.

    • Leslie I’m so happy that I’ve been able to lend an encouraging voice to reassure you that yes, you have talent and to remind you that sometimes you need to take that time for yourself to be creative! It sounds like we were in the same spot – behind on deadlines and work, having to get things done and it was draining my creativity. Just remember that you’re NOT alone in those feelings, we’re all there at some point (or multiple times LOL) and that we as artists need to remember to support each other along the way!

  10. Hi! I only found your blog today after doing a catch up of 2017 Wanderlust online course. I want to say what a wonderful project you presented there – and reading some of the feedback showed I am not along in thinking this. I was very interested in what you had to say in this post and can resonate. I have heard from other design team members how competitive and hard this can be sometimes. It’s good you have found the source of your funk and can do something about it. It is important to be true to ourselves and our creativity will grow from this. Sometimes we have to have faith and I know some good artists who work completely independently who do not use or promote products. Good luck – your work is wonderful and so is your writing and courage. You have my respect.

    • Sandie – I’m so glad that you enjoyed my Wanderlust course, that was actually a free spirited project that I had done months before it went live and was along the lines of this project (although not quite so personal like this one). I started with a general idea of the project, but wasn’t really sure where it was going to end up which is half of the fun of being creative LOL And yes, the ‘craft’ industry can be quite competitive and over the years I’ve found myself distancing myself more and more from that environment partially because of the ‘politics’ but mainly because my work has evolved more and more over the years to align myself more with my ‘fine arts’ background. Starting in that industry was great for building an audience and learning so much about the business and manufacturing side of things and I wouldn’t have changed those experiences, but maybe more importantly it taught me the importance of having my own voice to create what makes me happy.

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