A look into the inspiration behind the work.

How 100 self-portraits became the secret ingredient to happiness

Artist Michelle Leivan surrounded by several of her 100 self-portraits for her #BeingMySelfie series.

A year in the making, artist Michelle Leivan has painted 100 self-portraits for her #BeingMySelfie series and is ready to unveil them all in a compelling new exhibit at Art Print Express in Fleming Place in Topeka.  The exhibit opens on Saturday March 7th from 1 – 4pm.


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What began last February as a simple study and a need to have a subject, eventually evolved into a collection of one hundred works in which Leivan learned that there was much more to painting yourself than you might think.


Michelle finds the selfie phenomenon fascinating as part of the social media culture and decided to create a twist on the predictable selfie. She was asking herself, what do selfies reveal about a person? What are the complex human emotions behind each selfie? How are they picked by the individual and then how is it seen by the world in which it is shared?


“I’ve learned a lot in the last year about myself, how I perceive myself and how others perceive me and my art. I guess you could say I have created one hundred shades of yellow in which I have experienced enlightenment through self-examination,” Michelle explains. “Because journeys of self-discovery open new worlds of learning, for me the key is in the brush in my hand and the door is the paint on the canvas. That world is filled with delight if you let it in.”


The series is filled with a surprising variety of emotion filled yellow faces accented with vivid color and can be seen online at MichelleLeivan.com and on Facebook. Most of the portraits were painted in a just a few hours, capturing a quick snapshot for the day. The gambit of facial expression is crucial to keeping the series relevant. Many followers of Facebook anticipated seeing the next work.  As noted by fellow artist Becky Drager when talking about the online experience, "Every time I seen a new one on Facebook, I can't believe she has come up with another surprising expression and it always makes me laugh." 


Michelle often receives similar comments on and offline about the work. “People were asking me if I was running out of faces and I worried that I the work would start to look redundant, but as I painted each piece, each showed its own personality.  Now I know I could continue painting and probably never run out of the mysteries found on a human face,” Leivan explains.


She found humor as refreshing a medium as the act of painting with each new piece, “I discovered what I really was doing was making fun of myself because I would finish one and then come up with a half a dozen or so crazy phrases to go with each of them. Then there were other days, as I continued to look at them in my studio depending on my mood that the expression would say something completely different.  It is like the secret sauce to happiness, there really is no better way to start your day then to joke about yourself.”


With social media playing an important role in the series development, Michelle decided to make the images available for public expression by creating a new site meme-a-leivan.com.  On the sister site you can choose one of her pieces and create a picture with your own witticism. “Opening up the images to be used freely has added an entire new level of engagement for the audience,” explains Michelle.  “The site brings the images off the easel to a life beyond the captivity of the wall where most paintings are expected be enjoyed.  I get excited when I see what other people create and share which adds to the fun and develops fresh facets to each painting and sharing them spreads enjoyment farther and wider.”


Michelle owns her own business, Art Print Express, teaches as an adjunct professor at Washburn University, is a wife and mother, even though her schedule is busy, she insists on setting aside an hour each morning to paint. You can experience the full spirit of her love of life and sense of humor as you see all the pieces together live on display in her business. 

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A Celebration of Women Who Rock!

Women Who Rock Topeka

The seveneightfive magazine's third annual Top City Ladies / Women Who Rock issue is filled with many amazing woman who are rockin' Topeka day-in and day-out and who know what many of us are looking for. Whether it’s helping our neighbors, providing great food, art and entertainment or carrying on traditions and community culture. And I am honored and humbled to be one of the featured ladies. To check out all of the amazing women who make our community better here is the PDF Link: seveneightfive magazine Feb-Mar 2015

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Selfie Insider Secrets Revealed!

I often get asked "How do you come up with so many expressions?" Well, it isn't all that difficult, just take a bunch of photos and mug it up for the camera.

All over the net right now with nearly 3 million views is a video of a girl in the back seat caught by her Dad creating a selfie or maybe many selfies and yes this is how it is really done. This video reveals all and probably better than if I filmed myself in a selfie creation session.

I want to point out that she is having a blast making fun of herself. I think this is much better than a sulking teenager in the back seat. Got to LOVE IT!

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ALS Challenge #BeingMySelfie

Sometimes there are things that are bigger than ourselves! One of my #BeingMySelfie paintings insisted on inviting fellow artists in the ALS Challenge.

In my hurry to meet the 24hr deadline, I have a typo... the national site is http://ALSA.org... for those who just want to donate.

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Face the Day #BeingMySelfie

Have you ever felt like you been constantly bombarded by negative things all day long it just seems like you can't escape? I think we all have those days. With recent news events happening here in our country and overseas some days I simply don't want to face the day.  In this piece I've covered my eyes and reacting instinctively by figuratively putting my head in the sand. I turned to my art to exercise my bad feelings.

Bad news sells that is why we hear about it all the time. It's really easy to get caught up and focus our lives on all the bad things that seem to be happening. Reality is there are lots of good things that we will ignore that happen daily.  It is just human nature to stay alert and give priority to any perceived danger around us.

I even have a crude little saying that goes hand in hand with being stuck on negativity,"Just keep stirring around in your own s***t and see where it gets you." I'm just as likely to do find myself stirring as the next person.  The good news is, we can choose to handle bad news a little differently.

When this happens I really need to pull out my resiliency tools and make my life a little happier.

There are ways you can reverse some of the effects that negatives have one you. With me as an artist it is my art but not everyone has that outlet. 

Another thing that my husband and I do to take some of the negativity out of our day is something that we call "hunt the good stuff." When we sit down to dinner and begin to talk about our day the first thing we try to do is to list 3 things that were good from the day.

It is amazing how this simple act of counting three things that make your life good for the day can completely shift your entire evening mindset to something way more positive than when you walked through the door coming home.

We are not ignoring the bad things that happen but just starting off with positive things that happened, suddenly the negative things don't seem quite as bad. The other advantage with a subtle shift to the positive you will notice that problem solving is little quicker than when you remain sitting in the muck.

If you find yourself alone with no one to share your good things with then another little helper is to listen to great music!

Simple right? Create something, seek out the good things and/or jam out for a few minutes! Exorcise the Demons uncover your eyes and Face the Day!

Just for fun...here is a song that was in my mind as I created this new #BeingMySelfie piece. So Jam On my friend!

Great White-Face the Day:

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Development #BeingMySelfie

Sometimes we can be defiant and not want to live up to the expectations we set for ourselves. I started this Selfie journey last February and had a plan to paint every day. As things often happens in about 2 months in I lost my steam because life started to get in the way. You know those little daily things that come up that can create roadblocks to getting everything you need to get done in a day. I wasn’t able to live up to my goal of daily paintings. I started feeling guilty about letting myself down and not meeting my goals. That the guilt kept me from painting and I was in this cycle of beating myself up which was getting in the way of doing what I love to do which was to paint. I was vicious to myself, denying myself the pleasure all because of an artificial goal that I set up, casually and I was letting it beat me.

I decided it was time to re-evaluate my goal and asked myself “Am I making goals that are unreasonable?” The answer to that question was obviously “YES!” So I readjusted my thinking and decided to simply make a yearend rather than a daily goal and see if I could make regular steps toward that goal instead. I set the goal to have 120 self-portraits done by the first of February 2015.

This was an “Ah Ha!” moment. Suddenly I no longer had a guilt cloud hanging over my head every day because I wasn’t sitting in front of the easel and I wasn’t feeling resentful about the things life was throwing at me that I was seeing as a roadblock. I started painting again.

So today I have finished my 80th selfie in the series. It is liberating! I am 2/3rds done with my goal in only 7 months. I still have 5 months to get the rest of my 120 paintings done. 40 paintings in 5 months, I think that is doable. Even with the additional things on my plate with the last quarter of the year looming, I know that I will have the time to make my painting goal.

I am unusually optimistic because traditionally the last quarter is especially a busy time with the holidays and activities that are coming. My mindset changed simply by not beating myself up day after day and focusing on an end state goal rather than a daily focus. The daily focus is still there, but the slate is clean each morning and I no longer focus on the past failures.

I really wanted to celebrate my 80th piece and I wanted some input to what I was doing with my Facebook friends. So I picked 6 selfie photos and asked people to vote for their favorites with the promise that I would paint the most popular one and I would make this piece bigger than any previous painting. They picked this ornery face of determination… PERFECT for number 80!

Because painting a piece 9 times larger than my usual pieces I decided to show my progress each day. This was great fun and I enjoyed insight from friends’ comments as the piece was developed. This is one of the great things about social media. You don’t even have to leave the studio to get feedback from your friends! And it surely beats dragging a 3 foot painting to a friend’s house to start a discussion about the piece.

Here are my posts as I developed the piece.

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The Naming of "Seriously! #BeingMySelfie"

Sometimes when I pick a picture to paint I am not completely sure what it attracting me to paint it but more often than not while painting it a title and thought comes to me. This one was stubborn the thoughts I was having were too complex. So I put it out on Facebook to find a title. There were many awesome suggestions that resonated with me but the most popular one was "Seriously!" This is not too far off from the sentiment that I found with the piece. The thought that was going through my head was "Tell me a story I can believe in!" and the tune of "Something to Believe" by Poison. But obviously that title was entirely too long.

Thank you to all of my faithful friends to help me name this new #selfie.

Here is a YouTube video from Poison, a flashback from my youth, Enjoy! :)

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Blog Hop - Share the Love!

Last week I was invited to join in an interesting blog hop by the artist Belinda Fireman  in answering a few brief questions about my creative life and to share three other artists whom I admire... I think this is a great way to share the love!

1) What am I working on/writing?
Currently I am working on several projects. All of them art related. I have been working on a painting series called “Being My #Selfie” which explores the selfie social media phenomena with images and prose that will culminate in a show and a book next year. I am also developing a Visual Art Business Basics course which I will be teaching at Washburn University during the fall semester. Finally, I am working to grow my home based business Art Print Express which keeps me hopping.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
Speaking exclusively about my painting and writing, I paint people and write about them as I see them. I don’t mean that I literally see people with yellow skin, what happens is I tune into is their energy, personality and mood. Whether I am painting a subject sitting in front of me live or working from a photo that I have taken, I look beyond the obvious and reach for the secret message which can be found just under the surface.

I think that it is wrong that people think that the only good art is art that mimics reality as if we don’t already have the ability to do that through photography. There are so much more to each of us than what is skin deep that can be revealed, appreciated and understood in an expressive portrait. In addition, we rarely know what the artist was pondering while creating it. It is like coming in on the last half of a movie, missing the motivation of the characters. Throughout history, we have been missing these stories! 

3) Why do I do what I do?
My mission is to explore the depths of the human race, see beyond the superficial and emerge with insight with images and words that will delight and captivate people willing to pause and accompany me on the adventure. 

This mission permeates everything that I do in life whether it is painting, writing, teaching or helping other artists develop their product line with prints. It all involves seeing beyond the obvious and bringing meaning to our lives.

4) How does my writing/working process work?

I draw my insights not only from personal experience but from the chosen subject. What I discover is an emotional state, an attitude or a flickering thought that reveals the humanity within the person being painted. Filtered through my brush, developed with symbolic color and then described in stories each personality and secret becomes a complex narrative that stretches past what can be captured by a click of the photographers shutter or our own vivid memory.

Here are just a few artists I LOVE. I recommend checking their artwork - You will see a theme of COLOR with these ladies!



"I am an artist who can’t choose a favorite colour, a recovering perfectionist, professional procrastinator, and a mom of twin girls and a boy. Although I’ve been an artist my (almost) whole life, I started painting again in 2009 to help heal myself physically and emotionally. I hope my art brings beauty, colour and happiness into your life." - Belinda Fireman 

"I am an artist the artist who brings you visual experiences that expand your imagination..." -  Carol McIntyre
Becky Drager - Biography
"Using super-saturated colors and a modern graphic look, I make the native limestone, brick, metal or animals pop with energizing life by injecting the painting with inspirational color that enhances the beauty of the object whether it is natural or man-made." - Becky Drager
"Art really has nothing to do with talent. You can have all the talent in the world, but if not used what good is it. The drive to create has more to do with an obsessive, compulsive nature, than talent. It's something you HAVE to do. It helps if you love it." - Shelly Bedsaul


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Visual Arts Business Basics - A New Calling?

Garage door and butcher paper make a great white board for planning big!

There is a short break in my Selfies because I am seizing an opportunity to give back and learn something new every day! My husband Chuck Leivan, a master trainer for the KS Army Nat'l Guard taught me a new planning technique to develop my class Visual Arts Business Basics (AR 399) at Washburn University Art Department.

This is a simple, put butcher paper up on the garage door and layout your plan. This method really helped me see the details and how they fit into the big picture.

My objective for this class is to give the students a clear understanding of the mindset, skills and actions that are involved in building a visual arts career beyond creating their art.

This has been something sitting in the back of my mind for years. The memory that keeps coming back to me was Frank Nichols, one of my art instructors at Fort Hays State University told me "What I see for you in the future is you telling people like me what to do."  At the time I thought it was a weird comment and I wasn't sure what he was talking about. Of course who understands the sage when we are 25 years old? Was he being prophetic?

When I was in college we had a similar class. Back then it was all about getting into galleries and how to take good slides. To tell you the truth, we were discouraged from thinking of art as a product. Art for arts sake was the motto of the day. I always asked myself why I was paying all of this money for a degree that wasn't intended to pay for the courses I was taking... however I saw beyond that and saw through that lie. I think the winds on that myth are shifting.

The opportunities for artists have exploded in the last few years and I have done my best to keep up with it all while building my own art  career.  As I see it, this mindset is the crux of the problem and it is a solvable problem. Building an independent art career is a viable career decision for artists today if they are willing to step beyond their comfort zone and learn simple business skills.

I'm so excited! The first session starts a month from today on Thursday August 21st! Time will tell if this is a new calling!

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Self-Mutilation #BeingMySelfie

Accidents happen, unlike Van Gogh, my attempt at self-mutilation was completely unintentional.   I was shaping a box for a shipment and simply thinking through the problem of adjusting the box to fit. As I was scoring the cardboard, my thoughts are interrupted by a tug at my left index finger and a surprise flash of red pouring out of my hand. Knowing that I have a tendency to pass out when I cut my hands, I grabbed my finger, looked away and rushed over to the paper towel holder and wrapped the wound.

I was home alone, my husband out of town for work and my son occupied across town.  Then I began to panic – what if I pass out! Quickly I made phone calls to both, wanting someone to know my plight. First to my husband, as the phone rang I realized how stupid this call was because there would be nothing he could do… I hung up and called my son.  After leaving a desperate voice mail and disconnecting, I looked down at the blood blooming paper towel clinched in my left hand and realized I was on my own and needed to get to Med Assist immediately.

Hurrying to our vehicle, I decided to drive myself to the minor medical center. I concentrated on the task at hand, shaking and sweating I made the trip even cursing the red light that held up my progress.  With a clear trail to the facility I looked again at the now gore soaked makeshift bandage and just knew I was going to lose the end of my finger.

Walking into the center clutching my left hand, a bright eyed receptionist pleasantly asked how she could help. “I cut myself real bad,” I desperately explained. They took me back immediately to assess my finger.

As it turned out my worst fears where over blown. I was not going to lose the end of my finger and the staff at Med Assist did a fantastic job patching up my stupid self-maiming.  They spent over an hour dressing my wound and were patient and kind in my hour of desperation.  

They honored my request not to look at the wound, which is always a guaranteed moment of unconsciousness.  I still don’t have personally witnessed view of my wound; I am trying to muster up the courage to see it for myself. They told me I had cut across my nail and wouldn’t lose the entire end of my finger.  So the view in my head is much better now than the idea of what it was to begin with.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the people in the medical field. They do things with grace and ease that would have me blithering in the nearest corner.

In the big picture the take away for me is you may find yourself alone and in frantic pain in the twinkling of an eye.  However if you can muster up the courage to keep a cool head enough to seek the help you need you will find people who are kind and understanding that can help patch your wounds and get you on the track of recovery. -- Oh, yeah and be careful when using sharp tools especially when you are home alone.

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