Fine Arts and Crafts?


Mixed Media Fine Art > “I was a staunch classicist who suddenly turned in her crisp suit for a muumuu, and bought an amorphic midcentury cabin in the woods.”

Mixed media fine art figurative
Kerry Brooks, “Self Portrait with Decoration,” 2014
12 x 8 inches, Mixed media on paper

Arts and Crafts


If you want to win an art contest, use glitter. Well, if you are eight years old anyway. How is it that as an adult, I find myself standing in the craft aisle at my local art store stocking up on glitter? And glass beads. And puffy paint.

When I was little I loved to rummage around in my mom’s “craft drawer.” It was a treasure trove of all things random and conceivably useful—feathers, furry pipe cleaners, and of course, glitter. Sparkle was the magic ingredient to lock down coloring contests. Color neatly in the lines, cake on some shine, and the prize of a Walkman from Ace Hardware was yours (mine).

I commandeered just about anything I could get my glue-sticky hands on. Googly eyes turned rocks into little round people, bits of fabric over cardboard served as covers for self-published poetry books, scraps of vinyl flooring went into the dollhouse. I was a clothing designer (for Barbie), a graphic designer of posters and family Christmas cards, an interior designer of dollhouses and Smurf caves, a soap sculptor, makeup artist, hairstylist, photographer, and of course, a “regular little artist.”

fine art mixed media figure
Kerry Brooks, “Pink Sugar,” 6 x 9 inches, Mixed media on paper

I am now, as I was then, compelled to embellish and make stuff, and I’m not at all sure of what I’m doing or why and yet can’t seem to help myself. If I was shipped to the moon and had nothing to work with but dust and rocks, I would still make, decorate, and repurpose stuff.

Mixed Media Fine Art – to Realism

I’m not sure when exactly I turned my focus to “real art” but I do remember poring over the Dick Blick catalog and feeling very excited about picking out a selection of acrylic paints in individual tubes. This felt very grown-up. No more paint sets with watery colors designed for messy children—this was big time!

Somewhere along the way, I left the glue sticks and feathers behind and refocused all my energies on realism. My understanding was that it was important to know the technical ins and outs of representational drawing and painting before I could break all the rules and finally get to do “crazy stuff.”

Contemporary realism figurative art
Kerry Brooks, “Self Portrait,” 2006, 30 x 40 inches, Oil on canvas

I’m still confident there is something to that approach and I don’t begrudge my traditional training, but I think it is sad that somewhere along the line I started to believe it was best to only create displays of technical virtuosity. I built up my skills, obsessed over perfection and control, and then . . . I went out and bought glitter.

I was a staunch classicist who suddenly turned in her crisp suit for a muumuu, and bought an amorphic midcentury cabin in the woods. I’m not saying I achieved a spotless perfection, completed my grand salon-style painting, wiped the paint off my hands and said, “That’s that. I’ve achieved. Now I can get back to cutting out those Barbie jodhpurs.”

mixed media art
Kerry Brooks, “Glitter Frog,” mixed media

Of course, one of the great things about technical skills is that opportunities to improve upon them are infinite. I could spend twenty lifetimes trying to paint just a wee bit as well as Bellini. It’s not that I reached a point of success, rather I ran smack into a wall of boredom and disenchantment. I’m still in the process of recovering from the headache that came with the collision and trying to find my feet again. I’ve cleared the wall (I think!) only to discover that the rest of the way goes on forever and splits into a million different directions.

And so lies the next hurdle, and the introduction of crafting supplies—what to do?

I’m not sure I’m exactly stuck in the past, but I do feel like I’m going forward with blinders on, my sights trained on those things I used to love and get excited about. I’ve collected and tried colored pencils, gouache, oil pastels, watercolors, ink, metallic paints, embroidery thread, crystals, ribbon, flocking powder, fake gemstones and pearls, crystalized pigments, and Crayola crayons among other things.

I’ve tried dark paintings, bright happy paintings, loose drawings, obsessive drawings, clay miniatures, doll gowns. I even made an articulated puppet of my mother. I put together my own “craft drawer,” only it was more like a craft closet and was stuffed from top to bottom. I ran around to garage sales and thrift stores and collected every suitable Barbie doll I could find and then erased their faces and modeled new ones for them.

I did traditional work with the various mediums—ever vigilant that I needed to make a living, along with fun, out-of-control stuff that I shared more cautiously. The projects and activities I would have loved to try as a kid I took on with my adult budget and deft adult hands, berating myself and the work as silly and uninteresting, and a waste of time and money.

Representational art is easy to disassemble as far as accuracy and likeness go. A certain percentage of the population will be impressed by realism every time; and in a career that for me is teeming with monsters of self-doubt, the accolades that come from making a drawing or painting that people find remarkable in its simple “realness” is enticing.

Contemporary realism figurative art
Kerry Brooks, “Self Portrait,” 2011, 11.5 x 13 inches, Colored pencil on board

I’m not suggesting that my search for something new or different means I’m courageous or charting any territory that hasn’t already been covered before ad infinitum; it’s just that when I’m bored, I can’t help but want to change the channel. I suspect it’s a place in which many people have found themselves.

Two things loom large in this blind effort to keep moving forward: fear and honesty. I ask myself, what do I really like? And then, is it ok to do what I really like? For some, the answer may be a resounding “Yes.” I aspire to that level of confidence. Maybe the challenge is not so much to shut up the critics in my head, but to figure out which ones to listen to and when.

Until I sort that out, I’ve got my sights set on some exciting new glazing mediums.

Learn more about Kerry Brooks and her mixed media fine art at:

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