The Georgia O’Keeffe Studio Box from ArtsClub sent me on a nostalgic, reflective afternoon journey with one of American Art’s greatest treasures.
I have this fantasy of myself where I am as peaceful, composed, elegant and monastic as Georgia O’Keeffe.
The reality couldn’t be any more different. I battle with internal chaos which bursts through my seams, manifesting as piles and piles of …things I’ve collected which serve as reminders that I both have a mild hoarding problem and that I overly associate sentimentality with objects. Rocks from different places, gourds that are past their prime, books I’ve never read (and, let’s face it, will probably never read). Sentimentality, though charming, can be a bit of a burden for the bearer.
When I contemplate O’Keeffe and her perceived ethos of provincial simplicity, I’m often reminded of the days spent in my middle school art room messily blending pastels in an attempt to capture the ethereal blossoms of the master’s Abiquiu abode. Now, of course, I’m much too distracted by refreshing my Instagram feed to spend any meaningful amount of time playing with paint. But I do often wonder… wouldn’t it be better if I did?
The appeal of O’Keeffe’s work and life reside in her legacy of minimalism. Even with a lifestyle that in reality was far more notably extravagant and bohemian, I find myself drawn over and over again to the mythologizing of her time in the Southwest. O’Keeffe was and will always be my American Cowboy.
With an arsenal of a few simple tools, I got my chance to momentarily live out my O’Keeffe-ian fantasy. An entire set of acrylic paints, brushes, two canvases, paint palettes and even two adorable faux flowers amongst other supplies arrived in my mailbox, all packed neatly into ArtsClub’s Georgia O’Keeffe Studio Box Set.*
If you’re an adult who hasn’t indulged in a crafting or activity box yet during this pandemic (what have you been doing?), allow me to implore you to give this one a shot. For art lovers and admirers, the Studio Box Set really is a perfect way to unwind and spend a few hours sans-phone creating, and wow, does it feel good.
You’ll start off your creative afternoon with a short art history lesson via video, which served as a delightfully refreshing survey of O’Keeffe’s work. As much as I learn about her, I find I can never get enough. Her story is akin to revisiting a favorite fairy tale. Another equally as engaging video follows, where the artist-for-a-day receives a walkthrough of how to create their own abstract flower painting a la O’Keeffe.
I found it particularly charming that ArtsClub included prop flowers in the box to get you in the mood for the activity – though I chose to find a reference photo online of some gorgeous tulips, the props provided an opportunity for a deep gazing opportunity.
Though I frequently purchase flowers for myself and spent a good deal of time in the mountains surrounded by natural beauty this summer, I realized in the moment just how much action looking requires. The passive consumption I had grown accustomed to just wouldn’t cut it for this exercise – and for that I was glad.
ArtsClub provides step-by-step instructions on how to create the O’Keeffe inspired work, but leaves just enough up to interpretation where I felt I could run with the direction however I chose. I pulled up my reference photo and compared it to the examples of O’Keeffe’s work in the presentation, contemplating how I could capture my tulip in her style.
O’Keeffe had the unique talent of taking something that appears so simple, like the mountainside or pelvic bone of an animal, and making it seem so profoundly complex. We have the influence of Alfred Stieglitz and photography to thank for that, but what O’Keeffe did with it was utterly profound.
Two years ago I toured Ghost Ranch on my honeymoon, where one of the focal points of our tour was just how many times O’Keeffe returned to the same vantage point to sketch and paint the same feature. Her studies of lighting, shade, scale, all of it was an incredibly involved endeavor. Could I bring that level of diligence to my painting as well?
I sketched out my flowers, observing the depth of shadow and brightness in the photograph. When the sketch was mapped out I applied an underpainting of yellow wash, and proceeded to blend reds into pinks, pinks into burgundies, finding browns and unexpected hues in the petals I was rendering.
After a while, I was utterly engrossed. It felt as if I too were under the spell of the Southwestern badlands, though I was sheltered in my cramped Brooklyn apartment. For a fleeting moment, the captivity ceased to bother me.
Hours later, I had completed my painting. I’m sure if I would have asked my partner to indulge with me and paint the second canvas simultaneously, we would have finished a bit earlier, but I enjoyed replicating the solitude O’Keeffe worked in for much of her time in the Southwest. Perhaps my finished canvas will be a gift, or, as I’m tempted to do, it will hang permanently in my home – another talisman of memory and experience.
It feels good to make something you’re proud of.
*I received the Georgia O’Keeffe Studio Box Set as a gift from the organization.
ArtsClub NYC Studio Box Sets are available on their website for purchase and come with options, for 2 or 4 people to participate. Sets start at $75. Get yours now!