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An Interview with Dory Kanter

Author of Art Escapes

What does the title Art Escapes mean?
This book is about the joy of creating art every day, about making art a daily retreat, instead of an occasional getaway. It’s about escaping to a breathing space, a place to record and explore ideas, questions, and dreams. The need to be perfect and impress others often stops us from trying to create, so the book is also about escaping the critic in us and enjoying personal expressions where results are not important and creativity and innovation are.

Why did you write this book?
Students from my workshops asked for more ways to carry on the creative explorations we did in class and that’s how the idea for the book was born. From teaching, I discovered that so many people would like to express themselves through painting but don’t know where or how to start. This book gives them a place to jump off. I think of it as an on-ramp to art. I want to give people easy, step-by-step activities that teach them enough techniques to get them going and, hopefully, inspire them to continue.

How is this book different from other watercolor books?
Art can be so complicated. This book is simple and clear. Anybody can be successful with it, regardless of age and prior artistic experience. All you need is a desire to try.

I think what readers appreciate most about the book is the mix of art theory and fun projects that can be completed quickly, making it easy and exciting to do art every day. Plus, the exercises and techniques in the book can be used anywhere – on a boat in Greece, in a meeting at work, or in your own back yard. No matter how little time or talent you think you have, this book can help you start building creative skills and confidence today.

Since 1995 you've led tours and workshops around the world. Sounds like a dream job. What are these trips like?
Amazing. I've take small groups on art vacations to places like Mexico,  Provence and Corsica. These tours are attended by all kinds of people: educators, doctors, business people, college students, retired folks. Many of them have never done any art, but they all share a desire to see the world in a new way. We laugh a lot and have a great time learning and sharing. We carry our art kits with us and do exercises like one-minute drawings of donkeys and piazzas or we create collages using menus, wine labels, and train tickets. I have taught lessons on ferryboats and benches by the sea, in museums, even on misty mountaintops in China. We meet in cafes, sit in the sun drinking cappuccinos and lemonades, and share what we have learned. Everybody has fun together and there is no performance anxiety because it’s about process rather than product. At the end of the trip, the group has created these rich documents of their experience that will give them much more pleasure than snapshots alone.

For the last several years I've put together a workshop each spring in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. If people are interested they should check my webpage about the workshop. 

You have also offered workshops here in the U.S. for various organizations and groups. What activities do you teach in these?
Yes, I've offered Art Escapes workshops all over the United States for universities, museums, art centers, and private groups.

Art Escapes workshops focus on watercolor, painting, drawing, collage and journaling. I offer instruction in each media and give tips for integrating these into finished art. The workshops are often tailored to the interests of the students. For example, a group could focus on travel journals with mixed media or watercolor painting. My workshops include a balance of theory and instruction and every participant leaves with a new bag of tricks and the confidence and inspiration to continue on their own.

Your book talks about keeping an artistic journal. Why journals?
They are portable, private and quick. Journals offer a safe place to explore creativity. What you sketch in your journal doesn’t have to be perfect. The art critic is on vacation and you are free to play. Anything goes. With a journal you learn to relax, slow down and pay attention.

Another great thing about journals is that you are never alone. You always have a companion, somewhere to express yourself. If you are traveling solo, you can pull out your journal in a café and start writing or drawing – suddenly you are centered and engaged. Sketching a scene from the day or making notes helps you see and know the extraordinary moments of ordinary life and forever remember them.

Best of all, journals become a rich bank of ideas. You can flip through your journal to get a taste of your dreams and observations and see if you want to develop any of them further. This eliminates the question “What should I paint?” because with journals you always have a treasure trove of ideas that you can draw on.

The 100-plus activities you list in the book are unique, such as the idea of painting beyond the borders of a photograph. Where did you get your ideas?
These activities come from my own experience as an artist, from overcoming obstacles in my own work. For example, when I first began painting with watercolors, I would end up with these awful muddy colors. So I had a personal need to find a way to fix that problem. That’s how I came up with foolproof techniques like the paint triad. You can’t get a bad color combination if you make the template from my book. Anybody can do it. In addition to my own experience, I have gathered ideas from over 25 years of teaching. From working with students I discovered many ways to help people increase their creativity so the activities in my book are well-tested recipes for success.

How have these art escape journals enriched your life and the lives of your students?

These artistic journals have made profound differences in my life and the lives of others. In creating them, people learn how to take artistic liberties and how to have fun exploring. The simple act of looking and drawing improves your eye and, oddly enough, your ear too. Some people find that their writing improves along with their artwork. Once art becomes a habit, you have an exciting way of expressing and celebrating your life.

Many of my students and readers have started Art Escape groups, going through the book project by project and taking turns leading the activities. The nice thing about working together is that you encourage the art habit in each other at the same time you are learning. I am available for email consultations and people often write to me describing their groups and adding ideas to the work I have done. It’s exciting. I've included in my Gallery a collection of artwork by readers and workshop participants. The breadth and quality of their art is an inspiration.

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