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News / Life / Clark County Life

When it’s good to be bad: Camas library’s Bad Art Night unleashes adults’ creativity

Organizer Stacy Yakouba, 26, said she’s “blown away by what people create.”

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 4, 2024, 6:13am
10 Photos
Angie Vis, right, strings together her project while Josh Plunkett, left, uses the hot glue gun at the Camas Public Library&rsquo;s Feb. 17 Bad Art Night.
Angie Vis, right, strings together her project while Josh Plunkett, left, uses the hot glue gun at the Camas Public Library’s Feb. 17 Bad Art Night. (Photos by Mick Hangland-Skill for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Jagged, empty eye sockets stared blankly from the hideous mask. Each cheek sprouted a mass of cotton balls, pompoms, tissue paper, buttons, coffee filters, plastic stars and deconstructed silk flowers. One ear — or where the ear should have been — was pierced with a silver Christmas tree brooch. “Death waits for us all” was scribbled on the forehead while the chin said, rather cryptically, “Don’t expect flowers.”

The mask wasn’t something out of a contemporary art gallery. It was my contribution to Bad Art Night at the Camas Public Library, which meets four times a year. The next meeting is May 18. The mask was the worst piece of art I was capable of making. And yet, it still didn’t win the trophy. How had I fallen short?

“Just because it’s hideous doesn’t mean it’s bad art. It’s just difficult to look at,” said Barbara Sheehan, art instructor and owner of Vancouver Art Space, which offers art classes for adults in Vancouver Mall. “There’s a lot of art that’s challenging but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.”

Sheehan acknowledged that taste in art is wildly subjective. One person’s velvet Elvis is art; to another, it’s kitsch. Good art has more to do with the artist’s mastery of the medium, Sheehan said. In that case, I suppose the objective of Bad Art Night was to be as amateurish as possible. For kids, that’s easy. For adults, it’s harder than it sounds.

IF YOU GO

What: Bad Art Night for adults age 18 and older

When: 5:30-7 p.m. May 18

Where: The upstairs community rooms at the Camas Public Library, 625 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas

Registration: camaspl.librarycalendar.com/event/bad-art-night-2007

Library associate and event organizer Stacy Yakouba, 26, said she’s “blown away by what people create.” She was inspired to create the event after reading about a similar event for teens on a library resources website, but Yakouba retooled it for adults. She thought Bad Art Night could give adults permission to “be a kid again and play with whatever materials they wanted.” But some adults just can’t stop being proficient.

“I’ve been so amazed,” Yakouba said. “A lot of the art, in my opinion, borders on good.”

On Feb. 17, my husband and I joined 22 other aspiring bad artists in the Camas Library’s upstairs meeting rooms, where desks had been covered in protective kraft paper and arranged in a giant U. After finding a seat, we browsed through the mind-boggling smorgasbord of craft supplies: colored pencils, markers, scissors, tissue paper, fabric, cardboard, canvas, paper, acrylic paint, moss, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, pompoms of assorted colors and sizes, sponge brushes, glass beads and buttons. The woman in line ahead of me — Dara Jones, 44, of Vancouver — grabbed a large scrap of pink fabric printed with white birds.

“I had no idea what I was going to make. It was just a moment-by-moment process,” Jones said later. “Whatever came to my mind is what I did. If I came up with ideas that I thought would look crazy, I just went with them.”

I followed a similar process. I didn’t stop to consider what the final product should be. I just started gluing things to a piece of round cardboard. As I worked, pleasantly absorbed in the mayhem in front of me, I kept an ear tuned to the low buzz of conversation. Some came with friends or significant others and some came solo. The majority were women, and most looked to be in their 40s or 50s.

I struck up a conversation with Julie Peck, 51, of Vancouver, seated to my right. Art-making offered an effortless segue into conversation. Peck was making a piece she called “Pop Art” because all its elements were popping out into three dimensions. I said I liked how she used popcorn-print tape to double down on the pun.

“I didn’t even pay attention to what I was doing, frankly. I thought, ‘You know what? This is bad art,’ ” Peck said. “It was a masterpiece, I’ll tell you that. It’s now recycled art because one of my cats likes the pipe cleaners and one likes the fuzzballs.”

I got up to use a hot glue gun and met Josh Plunkett, 37, of Vancouver. He’d come at the invitation of his friend, Kim Luttrell, 55, from Washougal. Plunkett was adhering glass rocks to a blue-green background. His as-yet-untitled piece was evolving as he added whatever took his fancy. He really went to town with moss and hot glue, he said later, which inspired him to call the finished piece “Forest through a Fish’s Eye.” He was so impressed by everyone’s creativity that he said he’ll be back for the next Bad Art Night and next time, he’ll bring his boyfriend.

“I used to do paintings, so it was fun to get back into that creative process,” Plunkett said. “It actually might have reignited that creative flame.”

Meanwhile, Luttrell was cutting images out of a magazine depicting things she wouldn’t necessarily do but that looked like fun, she said, like extreme bicycle riding or bungee jumping. She’d seen Bad Art Night on Facebook and invited several friends. The event appealed to her because she’d been exploring the benefits of somatic art therapy, which helps people process physical or psychological pain through art-making. She especially enjoyed the last half-hour of the evening, she said, when everyone walked around the room to see each other’s finished pieces and vote for their favorite. It really got people talking, she said, even total strangers.

“I found it fascinating because you could really see into other people’s heads,” Luttrell said.

I’m not sure what my scary mask revealed about me, but maybe it was a bit too grim. I voted for Jones’ piece, “Bird Poop,” in which brown and black buttons were hot-glued onto the fabric she’d grabbed earlier. I was also impressed by the sculptural “Weeping Herons,” a three-dimensional bouquet of birds intricately connected with garlands of thread. Plunkett liked it, too, and said he thought it “could be sitting in a museum as a modern art piece.”

“It seemed very difficult to make unattractive art because there were so many people who had great pieces that were actually beautiful,” Jones said.

In the end, attendees decided that “George and Mildred” was the best (or worst?) bad art of the evening. The winner was my husband, Simon Spykerman. He made a face (“George”) out of red, yellow and orange pompoms hot glued onto a small canvas. At first glance, George’s wild, pipe-cleaner hair distracted from the odd little face (“Mildred”) emerging from George’s lower right cheek. Honestly, I thought my mask was far uglier, but there’s no accounting for taste.

“I actually thought mine was so bad,” Peck said. “I showed my husband my art and he said, ‘Oh, that’s cute.’ I thought, ‘What is wrong with you?’ ”

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