By SARA ARTHURS
Some people plan to get fit or quit smoking in the new year. But maybe, instead, you want to make art.
Many in the community are outlining creative projects for 2019, and offered advice for others who want to do the same.
Janealla Killebrew is an artist and art teacher, offering private lessons and teaching classes at Gaslight Gallery in downtown Findlay. She is retired from teaching at St. Wendelin High School.
She has a studio at the Jones Building and works primarily in watercolor, though she teaches “a little bit of everything.” She recently got into felting, and taught students how to create small figures — such as a mouse, chipmunk and bunny — out of unspun wool.
Killebrew said she always likes to learn new things. “I mean, what’s the use of living if you aren’t still learning?” she said.
Killebrew has created a children’s picture book, in which she illustrated a poem written by someone else. She’s contemplating making it into a limited-edition handmade book in 2019.
As incoming president of the Findlay Art League, she hopes to get the organization interacting more with the broader community. And she’ll continue to teach private art lessons, as well as classes at Gaslight Gallery. She plans to teach a class on linoleum block prints again in 2019, as well as papermaking.
She’ll also be offering a basic drawing class, as you need to be able to draw in order to create other art like painting and sculpture. And learning drawing helps a person “see more accurately. … It’s absolutely about seeing.”
Killebrew said a lot of children quit drawing at age 9 or 10: “They decide it’s not their gift.” But she said if you have trouble reading in school, the teachers “give you all kinds of help” rather than letting you give up on it. So another of her missions is to encourage others. She said people may think “art classes are for kids” but in fact, “drawing, and making art, is so important.”
Making art, and appreciating others’ art, helps you “understand and see our universe better,” she said. And, she said, it’s relaxing and people wonder where the time has gone.
Killebrew encouraged others wanting to bring more creativity into their lives in 2019 to just get “your feet wet. … Just jump in. Do it.”
Artist Ben Hippensteel has for the past 20 years been creating the drag queen persona Candi, Wantsome? He creates costumes for her in a studio inside the Jones Building. He said the process requires being “thrifty,” as he’s creating big, crazy costumes on a dime.
(A costume at one show, for example, involved a huge headdress with feathers overhanging Candi’s face, angel wings and 10-inch platform boots. “You want people to scream and get excited,” Hippensteel said.)
Hippensteel said in late December, Christmas decorations go on clearance. Or he might go to a thrift store “and you see something that you can get 60 of,” or you find fabric on clearance for $1 a yard, “and you run with it.”
The personality of Candi, too, is a part of the art: “You’re meeting someone who’s giving you an experience.” A lot of people have told him he doesn’t act the same as Ben as he does while portraying Candi — even the voice becomes different.
Hippensteel said some drag queens do multiple personas, but he has always been Candi. Throughout breakups and other struggles in his 20s and 30s, she was in a sense “my self-confidence and my force field and my defender.”
Hippensteel recently launched soberdragqueen.com. There, he shares the story of his drag career and his experience entering recovery from alcoholism.
“I was the drag queen on stage getting you to drink, do shots, and toast just about anything so the bar would make money, that was my job,” he wrote. “But what happens when the queen of the club needs to get sober? Where does she find support? Who does she look up to?”
He’s now in recovery and trying to share with others that sobriety is possible. He said if he, “that former facilitator of getting you drunk,” can do this sober, anyone can. And “it’s not boring,” he said.
Hippensteel has been invited to speak and perform at recovery conferences, and wants to keep spreading this message in the new year to others in the LGBT community who may be struggling as they enter recovery. He wants to create a one-woman show around Candi — starting in his boyhood as Ben, then as Candi, then into recovery, weaving in music from throughout his life.
Candi, Hippensteel said, can look back at the time that his body was so addicted to alcohol that he was hallucinating — and tell that story in a lighter way, so others who have experienced it “know that they’re not alone.”
Hippensteel works as program coordinator at Focus, a nonprofit recovery center for people dealing with mental health, addiction and trauma issues. There, part of the job entails teaching crafts to others. When teaching others creativity, it’s their own creation and for him, it involves “letting go.”
As an artist and a person in recovery, “The creative side of me is my self-care,” Hippensteel said.
The holidays, for example, can be stressful. So he would go to the studio, turn on music and shut his brain off. “And my hands can just make a gown.”
Phil Sugden is an artist with a studio at the Jones Building, and an art professor at Bluffton University. He and his wife, Carole Elchert, have for the past three years been working on a documentary film about dissident artists in Cuba.
Sugden is now seeking out grant funding to cover the expenses of post-production and sending the piece to film festivals. The couple intend to be finished by spring, and hold screenings in Findlay and Bluffton.
Sugden has been creating political art for the past several years years. After Donald Trump became president, for example, Sugden created a series around Trump’s tendency toward bad language and called it “Potty Mouth.” His goal for 2019 is to get away from making political statements with his art.
“I think if I can stay off of Facebook …” he’s optimistic that he’ll succeed. Sugden doesn’t know what this will look like, but he expects it will be “way more relaxing, less stressful.”
He has also been thinking more about the importance of seeing ourselves connected to nature, and how that affects our ethics, morals and values, and wants to explore more of this in his work. He said if you understand this interrelationship, you realize that everything you do, you are also doing “to nature, to the environment around you.”
And he wants to create more work that people engage with, such as one piece he created with a QR code in the middle, taking the viewer to a video. Another piece that made people engage more consciously was “Pages from the Manual on Dismantling God,” in which 21 pieces are arranged in a half-circle that the viewer could walk into. The text in these works is in a variety of languages — including Japanese, Hebrew, binary code and Vulcan. For example, he’s listing all the names of God in binary code.
Sugden said half of the books in his studio are about the earliest art, such as that which is found in prehistoric caves. If he finds himself questioning his work, “I go back to the caves.” Early humans created art to explore transformation, such as creating a good hunt, or initiation into man- or womanhood, he said.
“To me, art is a language,” he said. “And it’s a language about transformation.”
Sugden said every time he opens his studio door he thinks, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this.”
He encourages those seeking creativity in 2019 to search out another artist who might be willing to offer private teaching, and to get involved in organizations like the Findlay Art League.
“Even if it’s only one hour a day — do it,” he said.
Michele Jewitt of Findlay, who writes young adult fantasy under the pen name Josephine Miller, intends in 2019 to self-publish a second book.
Jewitt, whose background is as a registered dietitian, self-published her first book in November 2017. She is now a stay-at-home mother with a 2-and-a-half-year-old and a 4-month-old baby, so a challenge is finding time when they are not demanding her attention.
She is working on a sequel to the book that is out, and another that is part of a different series.
Along with the writing itself, Jewitt intends to expand her connections with other writers on Twitter. She said the website gets a bad rap sometimes, but “the writing community on it is very, very nice and supportive.”
Her advice to others?
“Figure out what inspires you, number one,” she said. And, you don’t get good at anything until you practice.
Jodee Paxton, who turns 75 in February, started writing seriously in her 50s “for my own entertainment,” although she has always been an avid reader.
She’s made an effort to tell the stories of now-deceased family members she knew, so her own grandchildren will know them — such as her grandmother, born in 1891, who traveled in a covered wagon when she was a year old.
“I just don’t want history to be lost,” she said.
She also writes fiction, and has self-published five books in the Christian romance genre. (Both Jewitt and Paxton participated in a recent local author fair at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, where one of Paxton’s books is available and Jewitt’s will be soon.)
Paxton always includes horses and dogs in her stories, as she loves these animals. She’s working on a new project for 2019 but says now, “I have to wait for the characters to kind of tell me what’s going on.”
She encouraged others to just get started. And don’t decide that because you haven’t published anything your work doesn’t matter: “If you write, you’re a writer.”
She said getting involved in a writer’s group helps.
“And read a lot,” she said. “Read, read, read.”
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs