Virtuoso in Residence

March 3rd, 2014

There is a nice writeup (and cover portrait) in the current Omaha Magazine about long time mentor and local fine artist Jeremy Caniglia. If you are looking to resurrect your faith in the power of art and the resilience of human expression in the face of resistance, just spend a couple minutes with this extraordinary artist.

Jeremy’s work is an effectual blend of technical skill, the surreal, and the old masters. He really does something magical with color and light in his oil paintings and I have yet to see anything else that comes close.

As a Kent Bellows Mentoring Program mentor, Jeremy’s passion for art is often infectious and his mentees soon realize their own power as artists and how their work can positively impact their lives. Read the article when you get a chance and maybe you too will pick up some of the wisdom Jeremy is throwing down.


Making it Work

February 27th, 2014

There is a calm, focused energy among the students hard at work today. Sewing machines whir away as fabric is cut pinned and placed.  On March 4th, Omaha Fashion Week will be hosting the first student focused evening in it’s seven year history. OFW is widely recognized as Midwest’s largest fashion event, which makes this opportunity all the more enticing. Eleven students will be showing garments, employing their creative vision, technical ability and attention to detail. Thanks to the guidance of Mentor Dan Richters, the students are learning innovate methods of design and execution.

With the event fast approaching, a small group of students participating are hard at work in the studio. I had the privilege of witnessing art in action. I was impressed with the attitudes of the students, not only towards their own individual work, but also towards each other: Joy assisted Brianne with measurements, Juan, Hannah and Brianne brainstormed design details for the pants Juan is creating, and Thom gave Brianne insight on the construction of her dress.  It is encouraging to know that these young artists have a clear understanding and appreciation for collaboration.

I hope that you can join us at 6:00pm at the Omar Banking Building, 4383 Nicolas Street on March 4th to enjoy the fashionable fruits of our students labor.


Artful conversations

February 11th, 2014

Over the last 2 weeks we’ve circled up in the studio for our Vision Labs. V.L. is part of our semester long creative and critical dialogue. This early conversation is a tool to steer our young artists towards strong conceptual decisions as they develop pieces for the exhibition. This semester we created a huge image bank with magazine cuttings and jumpstarted the conversation by asking everyone to select a single image that represents them as an artist and as an individual. We then go around the circle, discussing why we were drawn to this particular image. In conversation we are digging for the ideas and stories that we are drawn to and that live within us. At some point every artist has to grapple with the question, what is the story I need to tell.

I refer to these moments in the studio as circle moments and that circle is sacred to me. The soft skills we are all developing are active listening, generative comments, full presence and (the ever elusive) clearly communicating our ideas. It is not an easy task, even for a seasoned artist. The conversation shows that while we are all different, we share many concerns. The ideas are multitude and thoughtful and personal. During the vision lab, I jot down thoughts and fragments that really resonate with the group. The photo above is one such session. When I look back through my scribbling, I always find insightful and curious statements. The ideas form their own unique collage, much like our creative community. -Thom

10 simple things you can do to exercise your artistic temperament:

February 7th, 2014
  1. Draw Something. Really, just draw something in your environment from observation. Try a vase, glass of water, plant, pet, or if you want to dive into your self concept, try a self portrait with a mirror.
  2. Speed Writing. Think up a prompt yourself or open any book or magazine and blindly put your finger down on some text. Then give yourself 15 seconds of speedy, non stop writing about the prompt. Try to translate into writing the exact words entering your mind on the paper. Complete sentences are not necessary. If you cannot think of what to write, literally write “I don’t know what to write”. Try the exercise with 10, 20, or 30 second intervals to find your speed writing sweet spot. You’re a poet and you don’t even know it.
  3. Human Instrument. You are a living instrument whether you accept it or not. Try laying down a beat on your tummy with your hands, humming a tune, or trying out a little beat boxing. Bonus points for doing this with a partner (try not to spit on each other).
  4. Gesture. Try taking one physical gesture normally associated with place A and do it in place B. For example, physically gesture like you are searching through the aisle of a grocery store with a shopping cart on a outdoor running track. If someone asks you what you are doing, confidently say that you are doing an experiment in juxtaposition.
  5. Block Walk. Some of the most interesting creativity comes from limitation. Take a walk outside if possible and make a design only with natural elements. Move leaves into patterns or words on the sidewalk, create a stick sculpture with random twigs in the dirt, stack small rocks, etc. Bonus points if you bring a trash bag with you and clean up any trash along the way.
  6. Listening. Being creative is about input as much as it is about output. Find a seat somewhere with an array of sounds like a park bench, the lounge area of a large hotel, or the top floor of an outdoor parking garage in town. Close your eyes or just focus you attention on the sounds you can hear. Try to hear the sounds on all levels like deep muted rumbling, distant high pitches, and the cluttered, full mid range. Try to isolate different sounds in the mix as you move your focus around.
  7. Imagine. Lets work on our imagination muscles. Imagine a 3D cube in your mind and try to rotate it all around while keeping clear view of it. Then transform it into a bird in flight, followed by a set of nice delicate china ware, and then finally to a motorcycle. If you can pause your transformations mid way and rotate those around then you have reached Jedi mastery.
  8. Non Dominant Hand. Lets spark up some weak neuron connections. Try writing, drawing, using the remote, eating, playing catch or just about anything with your non dominant hand as long as it is not dangerous. Warning: this can be very humbling.
  9. Staring. Find a willing partner and sit just across from one another. We you are both ready, stare into each others eyes for a minimum of 1 minute and maximum of 3 minutes without looking away. This is both totally scary and absolutely awesome. It is a great exercise in observation and introspection. You may be surprised on how you experience seeing your partner.
  10. Community Campus! Your local resources are the Joslyn Art Museum, Union for Contemporary Art, Kaneko, Modern Arts Midtown, RNG Gallery, Pet Shop, Bemis Center, New BLK, Bill Hoover Studios, etc. There is a whole community arts campus that awaits you. Curate your experiences, you are responsible for their cumulative effects.


Week 1

January 17th, 2014

Week 1 of our Spring 2014 semester is off to a nice start. New relationships are forming, creative energy is in the air, and our studio is flooding with talent. There is something about the smell of fresh clay and gesso mixed with the sounds of cheerful chatter that brings the spirit up. Welcome to the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program.


Mentor Ship

January 13th, 2014

We are heading into our spring 2014 semester of the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program and we have quite a crew to tackle the challenges ahead. Jeremy Caniglia, Barb Simcoe, Pam Hinson, Phil Hawkins, Dan Richters, Amy Nelson, Daniel Dorner, Matt Jones, Aaron Price, Angie Seykora, Ben McQuillan, and Rachel Mindrup backed by the support of Thom Sibbitt and myself will guide 50 students through artistic development over the next 16 weeks.

Our initial mentor meeting focused on creating elements of structure to augment the mentoring format. We created simple rubrics and lesson plans that reflected our individual expertise and passions, and discussed various strategies for mentee guidance. I was very impressed with the discourse and energy at the table. Each mentor brings something unique and fantastic to this program and I so wish I could beam back to my teenage years to experience it.

Dear Artist Mentors, you are the ambassadors of all that is magical and real about the arts. You help teens find themselves in the chaos and connect them within creative community. You share your wisdom, your heart, and your talent. We are honored to have you in our world!


Rust never sleeps

December 20th, 2013

The exhibition is up. Our young artists are home for the holidays. We have less than a month before the Spring 2014 semester begins. Next semester will mark the beginning of our new chapter with Joslyn Museum as the stewards of our teen mentorship program. We have a couple of new mentors and we’ve enrolled a handful of new mentees. The Spring will bring new mural opportunities, art installations, fashions shows, teen poetry slams and 16 weeks of studio time for our young artists.

Every semester, in our ‘down time’, Weston and I tear the studio apart and put it back together, in hopes of maximizing our space. This semester, I am focusing on organizing art materials and creating negative space. We need to attend to keeping the studio’s energy active. Kinda like unblocking the studio’s chi flow.

Every blank canvas is an challenge. By the start of the Spring semester, I hope to have a stack of blank canvases ready and tools at hand to delve into the struggle, the sometimes disappointment, the agony and the ecstasy of the creative process. Tools in hand, support, encouragement… resolutions restated for for 2014. Lets get to work. -Thom

Living as form, shape, line, gesture

November 15th, 2013

I believe there are stories that pervade our lives that cannot be told through words and that demand new modes of communication to be apprehended. Life is like an additive art form in that it builds upon itself, growing exponentially complex every second. Artists cultivate this complexity into experiences that connect, entangle, focus, and augment our lives. They yell “This is happening!” and create beautiful opportunities for our feelings, thoughts, and actions. I can’t imagine a more relevant or challenging endeavor.

The direction contemporary art practice is headed is inspiring, even though it can be completely confusing. I am in awe of the breadth and depth of work that some artists achieve and how they connect aesthetics with issues, and craft beauty from complex variables. I recently purchased an art book entitled Living as Form by Nato Thompson that dives into contemporary artists and their work in cultural production. The Amazon book description is as follows:

“Over the past twenty years, an abundance of art forms have emerged that use aesthetics to affect social dynamics. These works are often produced by collectives or come out of a community context; they emphasize participation, dialogue, and action, and appear in situations ranging from theater to activism to urban planning to visual art to health care. Engaged with the texture of living, these art works often blur the line between art and life.”

The Kent Bellows Mentoring Program in many ways also attempts to blur the line between art and life for teens. Developing studio practice as a tool for personal transformation, introspection, and general life study in combination with creative community and inclusive small group mentoring is certainly a ripe context. Living as Form is a great resource for inspiring out of the box ideas where social change can be gestural, civic actions can become sequenced into quantized values, and the negative spaces of cities become spatial content. Have any books to donate to the studio? ‘Tis the season.


Caught in the Act

November 6th, 2013

Sometimes pictures paint a thousand words. This pair of pictures tells a story that I experience almost every day. I crouch around the studio everyday trying to catch our young artists in the moment of dialogue, breakthrough, discovery, or creative contentment. Occasionally I catch a perfect moment. Invariably, the very act of my intrusion breaks the spell and I am served a crusty look or a bemoaning wail. I am going to be honest. I have hundreds of photos of young artists at work, and have earned quite a few dirty looks as recompense.

Looking through our Facebook page this week, I scrolled and scrolled and found pictures of all our fantastic community events, exhibitions, murals etc… There were not an overwhelming number of student photos. Weston and I also observed, and were somewhat dismayed by the fact, that the majority of our Facebook followers are between the age of 25-35. Why dont teenagers check out our page? Hmmm. My answer is to dive into the fray and serve up more documentation of teenagers at work in the studio. Over the next couple of months, as we gear up for our 2013 Fall exhibition, expect at least weekly pics of our young artists at work.

Of course, as illustrated below, I do this at great personal risk to myself. I can only hope, in years to come, these young artists will forgive me my intrusion and reflect merrily on their time here. -Thom

Exquisite Scarring

October 31st, 2013

Tattoos are pretty popular these days. Of course, they have been a part of countless human cultures for thousands of years, but I think it is safe to say business is booming in the ink industry here in America.

Last week one of our young artists reported that her artwork had inspired one of her older friends to get a tattoo. This week, she sent me a picture of the finished tattoo work and it is much the same as the beautiful original drawing.

I’m thinking, ‘wow. what a compliment.’ It’s one thing to purchase a piece of artwork. It is another thing entirely to love something so much that you invest in tattooing it to your body and carrying it with you for the rest of your life. Tattoos are expensive, painful, and not lightly donned. When I got my first tattoo, the artist said to me, ‘if it is visible, there will be judgement’.

Judgement. That is a pretty severe warning. It is also not a warning about regret or buyer’s remorse. The warning is about how you will be perceived. Tattoos are an expression of identity and engage the wearer in a semiotic dance brimming with meaning, history, and sometimes judgment.

Several of our students have expressed an interest in a career as a tattoo artist. Several have explored the various styles of illustration associated with tattoos. We’ve seen lots of tattoo inspired artwork on canvas and even a wishbone tattoo on an ankle, but this is the first piece of original student artwork I have seen turned into a tattoo. Pretty awesome.

Of course we here at The Kent Bellows Studio neither condone nor discourage our young artists to get tattoos!;) We encourage them to push themselves to become great artists and good people. It’s cool to see their artwork out in the world  however, in whatever medium. This one has earned a high-five from me. -Thom