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From Rules to Serendipity — the Art of Barbara Cronin


  by Joderber, October 17, 2018

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin


Barbara Cronin went to Endicott College for women to study art, but after one year she was not allowed to go back after she fell into a fish pond by accident but still went to breakfast wet and stinky, or maybe there were other reasons.  Finally she got to study art and photography at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Philadelphia College of Art, drafting at College of Du Page, and watercolor at Ohlone College.

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin

Then she worked as a technical illustrator for court cases illustrating such scenes as a car exploding after a traffic accident.  While in most cases such illustrations were done in black and white, she would add “pretty colors” on “good” parts and red on bad parts!  It is also there that she met Mike who became her husband!

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin
I used to know her as a watercolorist though every Thursday she enjoys knitting and playing with fabrics with fellow artists.  Her watercolors have neat, clean lines and transparent colors that can’t be achieved without a well-planned and disciplined approach.  It seems improvisation or capricious detours are forbidden. You can expect that’s how she looks—a well-educated, unassuming lady always in the same neat hair style with the same modest length.

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin


A few months ago I was totally shocked to see an utterly non-representational new style.  Black marker lines form curling and twisting “paths” like roller coaster rides across surfaces as varied as color mixing squares, smudges, patterns….  Weird comma shapes ending in enlarged round balls are recurring here and there.

I wondered what happened and I said to her, “You are having too much fun!”  

“Yes!”  She looked firmly straight into my eyes slowly emphasizing every single word, “I want to do art JUST FOR FUN!”

It is one of her ongoing series called SERENDIPITY.   These series are inspired by Deb Weirs’s journals which seem to be a union of drawing, writing and design, and by Islamic calligraphy that seems to PAINT WITH WORDS and thereby using words in different ways.  It is also an “extension” from her love of drawing “tangles” and mandalas that are meditative while designing and filling in details. She loves details and nice corners. With tangles she starts with marking a space and putting random lines inside each shapes with different patterns.  Indeed every tangle is different, “I try not to repeat!”

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin

One work pinned on the wall shows that omnipresent path motif in black against a colorful background meeting on the way suspended half hidden cross, crescent moon, eyeballs or planets, sawtooth shapes or distant cities…if what I made out is what she meant…   “This is what I think of as organized religions. They wrap around one another but still remain separate.” For her all religions grow out of one another; reflecting influence from Karen Armstrong’s “History of God”.


Recalling her parents’ move to Arkansas into a gated community where every 800 feet there is a church because of disagreement amongst various groups.  She thought that was funny, “What an oxymoron!…As long as it is organized—with rules and all that— it is no longer personal!”


Rules—“I don’t like people telling me what to think!”  When she was told in art critiques, “I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to do.”  That drives her crazy “because that’s exactly what I was trying to do. I just did not do it well!”


Serendipity— now she embraces accidents and works in layers.  With this art for fun art is done not for an audience, not for mounted in frame and put on the wall.  It is from a need inside her to make art. It is for the PROCESS, not for the product!


Of course it does not mean her attitude toward art became wild and careless.  Art is still art. Color charts hang on the wall. Notes are tagged to remind her of unity, harmony, conflict, repetition, direction, texture…etc.

Thanks to the support of her “art experiments” from her husband Mike, her “studio” was transformed from a boy’s room with scratches all over the wooden floor “so there is no more worry of scratching further.”  Books, knitting supplies, yarns are organized along one wall, and the rest are devoted to watercolors, handmade “sketch books” and newer something… Nowadays it is easy to get into FB groups and learn of new materials and ideas.   She MUST go buy and try them.

She still creates “products” to give for a wedding or as birthday present, but it seems once she’s enjoyed the “process” of serendipity there is no turning back!  There are too many toys and not enough time! It is her new kingdom of fun! Isn’t that how art is supposed to be?

Courtesy: Barbara Cronin