Saturday, September 27, 2008

Public art

I was supposed to go to the Ohio Gourd Show today - I used to go every year, but in 2006 they moved it from a county about 45 minutes drive from me to a county about 1.5 hours from me. Where I used to be able to just pop up there pretty much on a whim - like if I wanted to take a class on Friday, but also come back on Saturday to see the exhibits and shop, it wasn't a big deal - now the trip requires advance planning. Doubling the travel time pretty much means I would have to stay overnight - which in my mind requires more commitment to the gig than I felt. This year I decided to at least go up for the day. I took my camera, so I could do a blog post about it. See, Kat, I was thinking ahead!

Unfortunately, my car had other ideas - stopped to get gas and it wouldn't start again. We got it running, about 2 hours after we had planned to leave town, and I took that as a sign that I probably shouldn't be driving halfway across the state for an "elective" activity. Decided instead we could stop by a local art event in a nearby neighborhood that's trying to get established as a hip and upcoming area. It was fun - "Urban Scrawl" featured a bunch of young artists who, for an inexpensive entry fee, each got a big panel to work on and paint donated by Dick Blick Art Supplies and other vendors.

There were some funky creative people selling jewelry, bags, and small wall art, and the skate bowl was full of young men, largely without requisite safety gear, trying to defy gravity and not break bones in the process.

A lot of the artists jointly purchased multiple panels and worked together to make BIG paintings.
Posted by Picasa

I can't wait to see this one finished.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I don't hate you, honest

Things get complex sometimes. Let's just say I've been both making and talking about art, but I haven't been around *here* to tell you about it.

These two dolls are on display the High Road Gallery in Worthington, OH, which is hosting a "split show" of the doll-making group I belong to and a local quilt group. I'm not particularly happy about how they're displayed - first off, they're grouped together with other altered fashion dolls, whereas I would have preferred that they be distributed among dolls of other media; and second, they're displayed on a low, unlit shelf that was built over the bathtub in the upstairs bathroom of the old house the gallery located in (there's still a toilet and a sink in the bathroom, which were discreetly screened off during the reception on Sunday.) Every time I show my dolls to someone who's never seen them before and tell them that they started life as a fashion doll, they're always amazed, and I would like there to have been some chance for them to "compete" equally with the cloth dolls rather than being relegated off to the frigging SECOND FLOOR BACK BATHROOM. Ah, well - a part of me suspects there's some preferential positioning that has to do with how long you've been in the group, etc., but the bottom line is I'm a complete noob compared to most of these folks, and they absolutely deserve pride of place. So no big deal. I'm just excited to have them seen by a wider audience. Oh, and I sold one - neither of the two pictured above, it's the "Woodland Spirit" that I did over a year ago. It probably sold first because it was priced lower than the others - but honestly, I was just tired of looking at it and happy to have it find a new home.

I had a fourth doll to enter in the show, but I could never quite get my head around the concept I wanted to do and so I set it aside. I plan to go back to it in the next few days and work out the gnarly parts.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Art and angst

Lately I've been encountering, in so many different places and from so many different starting points, a consistent thread of quotes, discussions, and ideas on the topics of art, artists, and creativity. "What is an artist? How do you decide if you *are* an artist? How do you find your own style? How do you balance the time to make art and the time to make money (either through a "day job" or through selling your creative output)?" Seems like everyone's struggling with (basically) the same questions. Is it really in the forefront of a lot of people's minds, or is it just that I'm noticing it more because I'm thinking about the same things?

The National Polymer Clay Guild's "Synergy I: Moving Forward/Looking Back" conference, which took place in February, was different from most art-related conferences in that there were no "hands-on" workshops - instead, the sessions were more about the philosophy and practice of making "fine craft", focused on three interrelated tracks: Craftsmanship, Business, and Design, and included panel discussions on "Inspiration/Originality/Infringement" and "Hallmarks of Craftsmanship." Susan Lomuto, blogging about the conference, sparked an amazing conversation about those same questions here, including this beautiful, evocative sentiment from a commenter identified only as "Jessica": "We are all artists, living, searching, creating until we find the medium that is indigenous to our heart."

Hugh MacLeod's "How to Be Creative" challenges some of the more esoteric assumptions we may make about the nature of creativity and breaks things down into a list of very pragmatic suggestions/realities about exercising your own creative spark - things like #11, "Don't try to stand out from the crowd: avoid crowds altogether" and #7, "Keep your day job", AKA "THE SEX & CASH THEORY: The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended."

Photographer Shirin Neshat seems to have had the same inspiration as MacLeod: "My only advice is to spend less time on thinking about success and put all the energy in making art itself. Otherwise your relationship to your art changes. It becomes less genuine and honest. Art should not be born from a pressure of becoming successful but something deeper. This is always a danger and the cause for mediocrity in art..."

Christine Kane says, among other things, that you have to stop trying to catch your creativity and let it catch you.

So how about you? Are you struggling with these questions? Is it an inevitable part of the artistic process to wrangle with those issues? Have you found your own answers?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I almost forgot

Saturday I went to the Guilded Lilies monthly get-together-activity and made a "spirit doll", starting with one of those articulated artist's manikins. Here it is (I don't think it's either a she or a he. I think it's just an it spirit.) It's called "It's Safe to Dance."

Theamorph - the rest of the story

When last we met our intrepid goddess-in-training, she looked something like this:

The next step after that is "completely covered in at least one, and in most places multiple layers of unryu" (sorry, Kat - the face had to go.)

After a base coat of metallic taupe acrylic paint mixed with some kind of coffee brown (I did have Van Dyke brown, but didn't find it until later. It would have helped), the upper part is "antiqued" with a mixture of the base coat, more water, some black paint, and some water-based varnish.

Then the fun part - starting at the top and working my way down, clothing the entire lower section in silk maple leaves, at first using Mod Podge to get them to cling closely to the body, but in the lower sections using a fast-setting glue to stick them in place more quickly (esp. since I wanted the lower parts to stick out in places. I'm happy with the outcome.)

The thing on her head is a clump of dyed-green Spanish moss, which I in turn dyed grey-brown again with some of the leftover antiquing solution, quick-dried by placing it on a weighted-down Handiwipe over the bathroom floor furnace vent (more crazy art-making at my house), and then glued onto her head to simulate a bird's nest. The hair is then rooted down *thru* the moss, which also gives it some loft.

The hair is a very soft yarn with lovely slubs in it (what KatDoc insists on calling "nubbies") that I have had on hand for quite a while waiting for the perfect recipient for dreadlocks.

And finally, the complete Demeter:

I attached a piece of parchment-y paper on the bottom with post-it glue, that said:

"Autumn time, red leaves fall
while the weeping sky looks over all
Demeter sadly walks the land,
the dying grasses in her hand*

The Goddess Demeter, grief-stricken at the abduction of her daughter Persephone, wandered in despair and neglected the earth. Leaves turned brown and fell from the trees, and the land became barren and cold." Underneath the paper it says "Demeter" and is signed and dated. She was put in the silent auction last night and I don't know yet how much she sold for. *fingers crossed*

*lyric from a round by the women's choral group Libana

Monday, February 18, 2008

I amuse myself

Art-making, as I said in a recent post, can often involve as much engineering as painting. Art-making can also take you down some extremely odd paths. To wit:

This past week I had a book out from the library called 500 Handmade Dolls: Exploration of the Human Form (somewhat mis-titled, as quite a few of the included pieces can hardly be called "human") and got inspired to make some paper wings for a doll. I had a bunch of pieces of kraft paper (which in my last art-making experiment had been soaked in a bucket for varying lengths of time to discover the optimum soaking time for getting rid of sizing before the paper started to disintegrate) and they were nice and crinkly, but I wanted them to be softer, more translucent, more leathery-skin-looking. Like grease-soaked paper. I mentally reviewed my available list of oily substances: cooking oil? would get nasty and rancid. Jojoba oil would not turn, but no way was I going to waste expensive jojoba on an experiment. What I had on hand that I thought would grease up paper nicely was petroleum jelly-based skin cream.

So I took a section of paper and a wide flat brush and the tube of goo and started painting. Unfortunately, it didn't want to sink in, and I realized that it is usually helped along by the warmth of the skin, so... into the microwave, at 40%, for about 20 seconds. Then it was *too* greasy, so I folded it into another piece of brown paper and burnished the whole package with my hands. What I was left with was two pieces of flexible, slightly translucent, slightly oily brown paper. In retrospect, maybe I should have colored the paper before I greased it up. I think it may still take textile paint pretty well, which is translucent itself. Will post pics of the results later. In any case, my sister suspects I am a loon for this kind of pursuit.

Edited 9-13-08 because I finally remembered to put this pic up. I cut two pieces of copper wire the same length and folded them simultaneously into wing-ish-shapes (rather than shape one and then try to match it - never had much success that way), then covered them with the oiled paper, trimmed to shape, folded the edges over and glued them in place. Still haven't tried painting them, but one of these days one of my creations will cry out for oiled brown paper wings and I'll be ready!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The new one - the first stages

The process with every project I do is different - sometimes I get an idea how I want it to look as a finished product (not that the finished product usually mirrors my original vision when I get done monkeying with it), sometimes I just get a snippet that inspires me to start (a glimpse of another artwork, some visual on TV or in a magazine, or occasionally pure inspiration.) More often it's work. Sometimes it's a blend of both. At my sister's insistence, I'm trying to more precisely document the process on this doll, which I need to finish by February 22nd. No pressure.

The doll I started with (forgot to take a "before" pic, when she had hair) did not have the typical Barbie heart-shaped face - she is a little more exotic looking; almond eyes, heavier lips. At the thrift stores I deliberately seek out dolls that look different from the usual - even if their faces will be covered with tissue and painted over, the underlying structure makes a difference.

Getting them bald is very therapeutic - I cut the hair as short as possible with scissors, then use needlenose pliers to yank the little tufts out one at a time. It's much, much easier to pull the little tufts out from the *inside* of the head, but the way the doll heads are put on these days, it's far too easy to accidentally break off the ball that holds everything in place, and it's no fun trying to get the head to stay on again without that ball, so I do it the harder-but-less-complicated way.

On occasion, working with mixed media is as much an engineering project as it is art. In this case, I wanted the skirt to be conical, so I had to figure out how to create a cone sturdy enough to hold up the figure but flexible enough not to bend and leave ugly creases in the surface that I'd have to then smooth out with paperclay. (Note: Not so successful on this part. More later.)

Step 1: The cone. I knew the shape had to start as a circle in order for me to end up with a wedge of the correct size, a straight-edged curved piece (probably some word for it, I don't know), wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, with an echoing curve along the top edge for the opening that would encase her body. Fine. How to get that? Oh, and it would need to meet precisely at the edges and be flat on the bottom so she'll stand firm. I figured this out while getting ready for work one morning, so at 7:45 a.m. I was standing in my dining room with a piece of poster board, with a flat thumbtack pushed up through the middle, and a pencil on a 14" long string with a loop at the loose end that could go around the point of the tack, so I could scribe a circle. (Posterboard is not 28" wide, by the way, which could be important in some situations but was not a deal-breaker here.) Later that night I cut out the circle, cut out a circle from the center (my roll of masking tape was the right size), slit it up tbrough one edge, and proceeded to overlap it and squinch it down until it was the right size to hold a doll. It was at this moment I realized I could have just cut out a quarter of the circle and saved myself some time and effort, but hey, I learn by doing. And the other point of this is that the posterboard was just supposed to be a template for the real material that I wanted to use for the skirt.

Step 2: The real material. The previous figure was framed in a kind of cardboard, about the weight of the back of a legal pad, which I salvaged from the office and which cut cleanly and held up very well. Terrific, I thought, I'll just cut the "skirt" out of that. Nice try. It doesn't flex enough. (Even when put into the microwave for about 30 seconds. Hey, did you know cardboard will scorch in the microwave?) Bottom line is, it's too stiff to form into a cone, so we're back to the poster board, which turns out to be not quite right either, but at this point I can either tear off the whole thing and start fresh, or put up with the poster board's limitations (like I can't put a lot of paperclay over it, because it absorbs the water and the posterboard collapses a little, leaving me with bit divots to try to fill in. Fortunately, the unryu [mulberry tissue] I cover it with will disguise a multitude of ills.)

Step 3: The bottom is just a circle of the heavier cardboard, taped into place with masking tape. All of this will be covered with multiple layers of unryu and glue and then painted. The unryu and glue also make the whole thing stronger than the posterboard by itself. Oh, and I stuff the space around her legs with polyfill so she doesn't move around. Also helps with the structural integrity.

I'll post more later about how she got to this point. Enough pics already.