Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mystery & Desire of the Creative Process

I participated in an event with a friend to discuss artist books. A woman in the audience spoke passionately about my friend's work. She wanted to cut it open, dissolve it, see what was inside. She had a desire to find out where it began. Like archeology, she said. That desire was precisely what drew her to the work, what caused her engagement with it.

When I mentioned this to another friend, he said he understood the desire. The piece looked like a geode. It was made from a book but its contents were locked forever. Cutting it open would show just how much book was in there. But why not say the piece contained two small artifacts and a tiny book of poetry in the center? (It did not.) No one would ever know. He thought he would like to see the art together with a copy of the book from which it was made. The viewer could then flip through the book to absorb the contents (and decide just how relevant or useful it was as a book), then look at the art. Back and forth. Here's a word. I see where it came from. The viewer would now know what my artist friend knew. I like the idea of a piece having a discussion with its origins. But I had another thought.

I wondered if the questions of how and where the work started were really what the viewer wanted to know. Would she be satisfied with a  set of time-lapse photographs detailing the making, step-by-step? I believe, instead, what she really wanted to do was to get at the mystery of the creative process, which is an unsolvable mystery. Artists don't really know where the first spark comes from or just how the work evolves. The creative process is mysterious, which is part of the thrill of creating and of viewing a thing created. I can think of two results of dissecting, halving, or dissolving the work: 1) the woman could lose interest in the art once she lost all desire to excavate it or 2) she could reconstitute it and create yet another form (discarded book to papier mache rock to ??) which might ultimately contribute to, as Dean Young writes in The Art of Recklessness, "an endless procession of quote marks" (31-32).

I don't think we can examine art too deeply without removing its charge. Over-analyzing something tends to kill its liveliness. "Desire vanishes at the point of capture…" (21) writes Young. Mystery laid bare is not mysterious anymore. What was curious is no longer a curiosity. It deflates. "Anything fully known offers us no site of entry, no site of escape, no site of desire" (85). It seems to me that my friend's piece was successful. Although it may not have been in the manner that she had intended, by embracing that mystery of creative process and making the work, she stirred a longing in the heart and mind of another human being.

Lisa Kokin: Mars and Venus In Touch, 2008

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dean Young: The Art of Poetry

Poetry with words that sparkle and play and images that surprise is the kind of poetry that snags my attention. Sadly for me, I find it rarely. But a short review in the New York Times about a new book of poetry called Fall Higher by Dean Young caught me. When I went to order it I found that in addition to nine other books of poetry, Young had also written a book of prose called The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction. The online reviews reinforced my feeling that I needed to read this book as well.

The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and ContradictionWith his prose, Young speeds up and slows down, depending on word size and sentence length, target and topic. He provides a walk in a garden with poetic images around a low wall here, a mirrored philosophical lake there. He presents statues from the art canon as well as from the literary one. He booms and rattles at perfect moments. Occasionally, I got detained by some of the jargon and a few times I got lost, but I revived, seduced by a game of word play. He cites some of my favorites: Duchamp, Gertrude Stein, Dada, Surrealism, the Oulipians. By this list, as you might imagine, he shows his love for chance collisions between words, "YOUR GENIUS IS YOUR ERROR" (48), the kind that happen when mis-hearing someone ("death" for "depth" is one example), or when you mis-copy someone else's words or you joyfully read a mistranslation. He would have liked the sign in Japan that began: "In the vent of an emergency…"

Poetry "is and needs to be a messy process, a devotion to unpredictability, the papers blowing around the room as the wind comes in" (5).  The book is not meant as a how-to since he does not believe in templates and guidelines and rules. "We are here to cultivate the marvelous, to woo the new from yourselves, to commune with otherness" (88). It functions as an exploration of creative process and of irreverence. He suggests the kinds of sparks we need to create living art and how we might create art that rouses us and others from deathly sleep/complacent sheep. What we need to be thinking about, what attitudes we need to consider to rev ourselves and our imaginations. What we need to push against. The book is not meant to pin it all down but to explode everything you think you know and inspire you to run after the pieces. "The heart isn't grown on a grid" (79, 87).

Silence, 2010

The Art of Recklessness is part of "The Art of" series published by Graywolf Press. The other titles are:
I believe I have some more reading to do…

Photo by Sibila Savage

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sorting Through Text & Textile

We like to sort. We get satisfaction from grouping things. As children it helps us understand the world. We learn to sort objects into groups by using different classification systems, and if we are taught well, we learn that we can divide up the world many different ways and none is necessary right or wrong. Say we have a red candle, a green lamp, a green flashlight, a red pillow, a green tent. We could sort by color, function, by material or by number of syllables. Even as adults we can sort differently; the act of resorting gives us a new way to see the world and our art. Some sorting methods separate people, some can bring us together. Part of our duty as artists is to find those unifying links.

In Touch, 2011 (in progress)
I've written 40-ish interrelated stories, and I'm overwhelmed trying to figure out their order. One professor suggests I sort them into different categories: chronological; by character; age of characters; theme; emotional tone; or by format. The context will change as I resort them. Different threads will be emphasized depending upon the order. While the order cannot be right or wrong, the material might be better communicated one way rather than another.

What happens to the context when we look at paper made from cotton and call it a textile? Does it change how we approach our work? Material. Threads. Context. Text. Textile. I got an email from one of my bookmaking students telling me she had been talking to a writing workshop group about how paper was made. She said, "we also thought of our task as writers to be 'fiber artists' in a way, both metaphorically, in terms of our weaving of stories together, and literally in terms of our connection to paper."

I think what is exciting about the discovery in the text/textile discussion is that if you look closely enough, all art is linked. When I teach writing to art students I start from the premise that all art is about seeing. When we say "Oh, I see!" we are saying we understand. I always hope to get to that "aha" moment: literally, metaphorically, or both. In order to see you have to focus on one thing at a time. Turn it over, explore its edges, feel its weight, discover its weakness. These are things you have to do with your materials, whether they are fibers or words.

Some people claim you can't teach people to write. I believe my writing teachers are teaching me how to see by turning, exploring, feeling, discovering: in summary, learning different ways to sort.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The World of the Box: A Collection of Thoughts

A shoebox can hold shoes, cradle substitute memories, or be discarded once we handle what it holds. Boxes hide, protect, preserve, keep secret, or darken our past chapters. They can contain us, frame us. We both are and aren't our old photographs, papers, and saved objects.

Our perception of the box takes a turn when we focus on it, the box, as just as important the contents. Sir Hans Sloane collected and identified plants and insects in the 1680s, committing his finds to boxes which were sealed inside with one glass wall, not hidden, only partly protected. He did not want any of the contents forgotten or the collection broken, and after he died in 1753 the boxes became the core of the British Museum at Bloomsbury and later the Natural History Museum. If you looked at the boxes and did not know that Sloane was a scientist you might think he was an artist: the edges of the boxes are covered in marbled paper, his lovely pen and ink handwritten notations and labels covering much of the backs or backgrounds. Here is a beetle, here is a dried leaf. You can also see a sort of specimen cabinet with pigeonholes for objects as well as the boxes. Photos of the boxes themselves are in issue #41 of Cabinet magazine accompanying the article by James Delbourgo "What's in the Box: the time machines of Sir Hans Sloane." I'm also interested in the fact that Sloane brought a recipe for chocolate back with him from his travels to Jamaica, that eventually the Cadburys used Sloane's recipe, and that chocolates are sold as specimens, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, in a compartmented box.

What about the box as art? Looking at Joseph Cornell's boxes, you find a similarity with Sloane's in the glass wall. A viewing box as well, not meant to hide, but to frame and keep order, to "contain compositions," three-dimensional still lifes. Cornell, who was also interested in scientific discovery, did not collect objects to identify, classify, and label, but to juxtapose them inside the box to tell his own story and to create something new rather than to preserve something old. Cornell began to make his boxes around the time of the Depression in the late 1920s - early 30s, approximately two hundred years after Sloane. The time period called for frugality and re-use so it seems natural that he would collect and save objects for the future. In the lavish and wonderful catalogue Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination he is quoted, "…everything can be used in a lifetime" (56).

Two exhibits at the Oakland Museum of California this year reminded me of boxes. Mark Dion in his exhibit The Marvelous Museum: Orphans, Curiosities & Treasures, made a whole section of the museum into a cabinet of curiosities just by pulling forgotten odd objects and taxidermied animals from the museum's archives. His work makes the box enormous, and he is propelled by uncontainable curiosity. What happens when the world is the box? What kind of dialogue can two objects have?  What happens when we see unfamiliar objects? Can you bring the past back to life? How do seemingly obsolete things affect us? He says:

…I think slippage is an important idea.…There should be a moment of uncertainty…It's very much an experience of moving from one familiar thing to another, and then occasionally there's an object—a painting, an artifact—that leads to a point of irritability. There's something you don't know here, something unfamiliar. (21)
The excitement, the awakening of the viewer comes from that unfamiliar moment, and may lead to a rethinking of what s/he has experienced up until that point as well. The quote is from the exhibition catalogue, which is nicely packaged as a faux wooden packing box containing translucent envelopes bound into a book along with traditional pages. Inside the envelopes you will find full color cards of various objects with detailed labels on the backs. A book in a clamshell box: familiar, yet not entirely.

Michael C. McMillen created a series of lifesize boxes, stories, other worlds for his exhibit Train of Thought. His glass wall is rather the fourth wall of the stage. Sometimes that wall is a peephole, sometimes there is no glass and you physically enter and become part of the work and world. The museum website describes the works as "multisensory installations." He has transformed his early experience making stage sets into a lifetime of working as an artist creating worlds from his own imagination. He takes and makes common objects, builds, and sets up scenes. He, too, has a catalogue. The exhibit is at OMCA until Aug. 14th and contains films he has assembled as well as the large installations.

These makers similarly use the box to reveal rather than to hide. Preserve and label: catalogue for information. Juxtapose and imagine: present a vision. Focus on the connecting links: set up a discussion. Collect and stage: create a world. Four ways of working with the box. In the above examples you can't handle any of the contents, only the outsides of some of the smaller boxes. The staging is fixed the way the sequence is often, but not always, fixed in a book format. But what if you could rearrange the contents? In some instances the meaning will change. In other cases the sequential order does not matter, it is the cumulative effect that is important. Your knowledge builds with each object, but the full intent is only revealed when you have handled all of the pieces.

There isn't really any reason why you couldn't read a book out of order this way; we certainly read online like this. Sometimes to become fully engaged with something, however, we want to get lost in it, not get lost because of it. I know I tend to like a story with a continuous narrative or at least with thick enough threads to hold onto. But you might consider, and not discard, using the box in your work for a multi-faceted and tactile reading experience.

Word Waves & Wordless Tides, 2009

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pivoting Panels: How to Design the Panels

We had a lively couple of classes surrounding the pivoting panels structure. This post is about creating the panels, which you can make at the mountain folds on most kinds of accordion books. Mine is based on the circle accordion (pages 119-120 in Making Handmade Books) and taped at the back with self-adhesive linen hinging tape (because all other tape is evil). Hedi Kyle's original structure utilizes what I would call an inverted house shape. To help generate ideas for other kinds of imagery, I handed out a variety of postage stamps and from them each person chose a shape such as a bird, butterfly, rocket ship, circle, and other simple abstract shapes.

After drawing the shape centered onto frosted Mylar, we cut it out completely and stenciled it onto strips of Stonehenge printmaking paper. The Mylar was the height of the paper strip and half of the width. We had room for two images per paper strip. After using gesso to stencil onto the strips we painted over the stenciled images with acrylic inks.

When cutting out the paper image for the pivoting panel, however, we needed to leave uncut about 1/4" - 1/2" or 6 mm - 1.3 cm verticals top and bottom (along the fold). The panels are on the mountain folds, which are the first folds in the book. Fold the paper strip in half and the valley fold is between them.

With other shapes, we found it helpful to think of earthquakes: tectonic plates shifting about 1/2" or 1.3 cm. That shift not only holds the shape to the paper, but it is also a fold and the pivot. So you could use a half of a heart shape on one side, slide it down, and use the reflected shape on the other side.

Chehie's. Mylar stencil: upper right
 Fold the paper away from the image along the "pivots", keeping the image flat with no crease down the center. The image becomes a movable part that is manipulated by the reader.

Attach the long folded strips at the back with linen tape. Add a tri-fold soft cover or wrap boards and add endpapers to finish. We made extra stenciled images and glued one to the front cover to indicate the beginning of the book. The photos are samples of what we did in class. You can see my example at the end of this post, "Invited to Adapt."


Monday, June 13, 2011

Cubist Stories Around the House

Gertrude Stein is in the news and her writing is on my mind again. Miss Stein was one of my college muses; the other two were Laurie Anderson and Patti Smith. Thinking about the link between them now, I realize that all have an ear for the music of words. Language is about sound. In addition to cadence, Stein's approach was also based on Cubism. Her repetitions of words and phrases give a faceted view of the same scene from different angles. By the end you see all sides simultaneously.

In the latest issue of Cabinet magazine (#41), I was transfixed by a story called "Legend / Pale Khakis with Dark Socks" by Wayne Koestenbaum. He presents a version of Cubist writing, although I am not sure he would call it that. In eleven very short sections, Koestenbaum writes and rewrites a similar piece, changing and revealing different aspects of the same story. At the end he gives a clue to his possible process: "Write the novel in tiny paragraphs." His story is based on a photograph he was given to write about (that either helpful or cringe-producing "writing prompt"). You could use a photo you already have or ask someone to send you one for inspiration, if you like. I liked Koestenbaum's story but I was even more excited by the suggestion in the final section: "Scribble each paragraph in a separate notebook."

I am tempted to try this and I hope you will join me. Get a pack of five little notebooks, you know, the value-pack kind in office-supply stores. Put each one in a different place around your room, apartment, or house with a pen or pencil near each. Maybe one by a window, near the stove, in a closet, under a hat, and by your bed. Write a sentence or a paragraph in one notebook. When you go to another location, start the story again. Keep restarting, trying to remember the feeling or mood of the story rather than the words. Even if you only write one page in each and don't use them up, you may still get pleasure from buying new notebooks.

You could, of course, make the notebooks yourself. Sew five single-signature booklets (see previous post) and use paper you can write on easily. Vary the kind and color to avoid the stare of the blank white page.

Other possibilities for Cubist writing: try using the words as sounds in one book, stream of consciousness in another, formal description in a third, etc., changing a few details or adding new ones each time. Maybe even keep this up until all the notebooks are filled. Then arrange a meeting of the notebooks and see how they connect. Pull out your favorite parts from the different angles and type them up together as one.

Photo by Sibila Savage. Crossed-Structure Binding, p. 150,  Making Handmade Books.

Gertrude Stein Stein Gertrude Stein in the rain. There she is there. Where? San Francisco. The buzz is on these days, what with the convergence of the The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde show at SFMOMA, and the Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Lives exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, both until September 6. Each exhibit takes a different perspective. Simultaneously. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Maker's Continuum

If the maker's life were a radio, rather than a series of buttons to punch it might have a knob that could slowly turn between hobby and art or between art and craft. The problems in life don't seem to occur between consecutive stations, only at opposite ends.

When I was first writing, making, and collecting material for Creating Handmade Books in 1997, I asked an artist I knew if she would like to send me some photographs of her work. Her response was that she didn't want to be in a craft book. I was surprised. I didn't consider this a craft book. And I'm not fond of labels or of being told what I am or am not. She decided I was at the craft end.

Sometime later, some women came to an open studio I was having and told me that I ought to teach at this crafts camp in the summer so I could "cross over and get known among the crafters." Again, I was surprised by the contentious divide. They decided I was at the art end.

My responsibility is not to choose a side, but to teach. Each person is going to have a different need for what I have to offer. It's not up to me to judge it, but I do want my students to think carefully, take risks, practice technique, hone their new skills, work conceptually and from the heart, and try to work with original content that they create themselves. It is plenty of work, but it can be done.

Students can gradually move up and down the artwaves. It's not an either/or situation. While I discourage "I love my boyfriend/girlfriend" books in a classroom situation, I encourage students to make personal gifts for those they love outside of class. Even so, whatever it is, if the work is done in a fresh way I'm still open to it. (For more thoughts about art, see the post "When Is It Art?")

I grew up with this art/craft continuum during the macramé era. I made candles. I made loop potholders. I had a beading loom and made bracelets. I designed needlepoint patterns to stitch. I also learned calligraphy and letterpress printing, sewing, and knitting. I tried and failed at leaded glass and pottery. I was given art lessons beginning at age four. I learned welding and watercolor painting. I went to a liberal arts college, finished at an art college (which later dropped "Crafts" from its name and uses "Arts" to encompass both). As an adult I've taken tangents with embroidery, latch hook rugs, quilting, and papier maché as well as painting with acrylics on canvas, monotypes, calligraphy, and drawing with pen and ink. Currently, I'm still printing, printmaking, painting, making boxes, and making books out of handmade felt. While I do distinguish between what I make for personal learning and what I make to go out into the world in a public setting, I don't like—or particularly see the point of—separating my activities into art or craft.

Maker. What a great word. No end in sight.

Tony Labat's Big Peace IV,  Oakland Museum of CA

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tailoring Your Artist Statement

Last month I wrote about writing an artist statement. As I think more about it, I realize that every time I submit work, whether it is to an exhibit, a publication, or as part of a resumé, I have to rewrite it to fit the context. Each of these statements is different and has a different goal.

General Statement
Goal: general, all purpose, a place to start and a reference point for other statements. 
Keep it short. You might include: your formal education (if relevant), the type of work you do (i.e. printmaking), the subdivision (screenprint), the themes (dreams), where you exhibit or  the gallery or agent that represents you, other activities that support work in your field (teaching, curating, grants or awards). Only include the information if it strengthens your statement or adds an interesting detail. Basically, this is who you are and what you do, your face to a stranger. Practice writing up a short form of about five reasonably sized sentences and a long form of one page or less, double-spaced.

Job or Grad School
Goal: to market yourself as ready to learn, but also to show yourself as an dedicated artmaker with a specific kind of knowledge and/or technique already. Convince gently but enthusiastically. 
The statement should include what makes you competent as well as special, what you can give as well as what you hope to get. Your life experience counts here, too, particularly life experiences that show self-motivation and independence, as well as openness to collaborative thinking. Write about what gets you excited and motivated to work, what concepts you want to investigate, what you hope to learn and what you hope to share. Be specific and focused when writing about your work and your creative process: this will show what makes you different. You can write about the projects you've instigated, what community you like to work with, what you've attempted to change out in the world. Write about your artistic influences only if the work motivates you to make something or is an example of your own artistic aesthetic. It's okay to get personal if something in your life impacted you like birth, death, travel, military service, or an individual like a friend or family member, but say why and how it impacted you; these things, in general, affect everyone. Stay away from words like "matrix" or "gestalt."  Jargon doesn't make you appear smart, it makes you unintelligible. Write it all first, then edit and distill, keeping only the strongest points and making sure you use active language. One page is best. Remember that your work may be reviewed by several people, and they will be looking at dozens of statements and/or portfolios. Keep to the point, be specific, and be succinct.

Goal: to show that your work has a solid base, that you have solid experience, that you have a distinct direction, and demonstrate that your work can be sold. 
In other words, you have to build trust. In many cases, the gallery is looking at your brand. When certain kinds of art buyers find a look they like, they want to be able to count on finding it again. This is not true of all galleries, so make sure you know the style of the gallery you are submitting to. As an acquaintance once said, "There's no substitute for knowing what's going on." If the gallery accepts you and you sell well, they will want to trust that you can keep producing. In your statement you will want to include any art school degrees, where your work is collected, your creative process, themes, publications in which your work is included, awards, grants, and interests. Focus on the art itself and how you make it. You can, but need not list your support work (i.e. teaching) unless it is in an unusual area and adds color or possibly prestige. The shorter, the better. Confidence is good; too much self-promotion looks like you are covering up an inadequacy. (Note, never bring work in cold to a gallery. Visit first. Ask if they are accepting new artists. If yes, then see if you can make an appointment.)

Themed Exhibit or Publication
Goal: how your work is connected to the theme, show clearly why it should be included without telling literally why. Describe the work and perhaps the road that brought you there, if it is a good story or seems relevant.
Write about the specific work(s) and what ties it to the theme as well as how that theme impacts you personally or what it inspires in your creative process. One paragraph for each piece. That's it.

Humorous Statement
Goal: to be entertaining.
In certain cases you may want to write a funny statement. Use playful language, add curious details, concrete imagery, make the sentences conjure up amusing pictures. A humorous statement I've seen more than once is the one where the artist writes "she likes to refer to herself in the third person." Avoid it. Look at the style of what's already been done for that particular magazine, gallery, online archive, etc. and keep it in mind as you write.

Poetic Statement
Goal: to provide imagery and information, set a mood or give a feeling through words. The poem or lyrical language should match and/or echo your artwork.
This is a hard one. If you are a really, really good poet, you might be able to pull off a poetic statement. It's got to give a good idea of you and your work; stay on topic. 

In conclusion: remember your goal.

So these are my thoughts, only my thoughts, I represent only myself with these thoughts.
I wish us all the best.

Read Me: unique stories typed on cards, 2010

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Do You Know the Way to Cabinetlandia?

    I see a curious photo of a filing cabinet built into a little hill. I see it in a New York Times article by Randy Kennedy about bringing students out of the classroom in order to teach them about Land Art. I scour the article for more info and find, "…a desolate patch of New Mexico desert land called Cabinetlandia, owned by the art magazine Cabinet, wedged between an active rail line and screaming traffic on Interstate 10, where there is little more in the way of amenities than a mailbox and a filing-cabinet community 'library' embedded in a concrete-and-soil wall." What is this, exactly? And how do I get there?

    The Cabinetlandia website says the library "holds a copy of each Cabinet issue published to date…It also contains a guestbook, a snackbar, and a pair of boots (men's size 10)…" Boots? Protection against scorpions and rattlesnakes. But how did it get there? I'm still baffled and curious.

    I keep looking. Matthew Passmore, who instigated the project, is part of the group Rebar. Rebar also started PARK(ing) day, which began in 2005 in San Francisco. They found an empty parking space, fed the meter, rolled out sod, brought in a bench and made a temporary public park in the street. According to the rebargroup website Cabinetlandia was born just after Cabinet magazine "for its Spring 2003 issue on 'Property'…purchased a 1/2 acre of property sight/site unseen for $300 on eBay." You can watch a slideshow of the making of Cabinetlandia, which starts with the rough sketches and concepts. Rolling out nature into culture or building culture in nature makes perfect sense to me.

    This treasure hunt has ultimately led me to Cabinet magazine, "A Quarterly of Art and Culture." I went to the magazine's shop but found the latest issue sold out, so I chose a back issue. I read various tables of contents and decided on Issue 47 "Bubbles" Spring 2010. I'm still working my way through it, but thought I'd give you an idea of what it's all about. (Asides: I also recently discovered that Shelley Jackson's "Skin" project, which was just highlighted at the Berkeley Art Museum, was first announced as a facsimile of a fax in Cabinet Issue 11 "Flight" Summer 2003. I worked in a book store with Shelley, once. How did this world get so circular? P.S. Anne Carson contributed to #12, which is listed as still available.)

    In Issue 47, here are just a few of the findings.
    • A concise and interesting article called "Buried Alive" by Christopher Turner on the hoarding Collyer brothers, researched from 1930s-1940s articles in the New York Public Library.
    • Photographs taken by Michael Schmelling as he followed Ron Alford and his team, a crisis-management company that works to help hoarders sort through and dispose of their stuff. The photos appear in a book called The Plan. While this may sound romantic to those who like garage sales and flea markets, the photos are stark and rather sad.
    • An illustrated article on folding that begins with the Baroque era and looks at "folding culture," including poems about folds by Mallarmé that were meant to be written on ladies' fans. It also asserts that the terms "valley" and "mountain" folds were first listed in an Italian book in 1639 called Li Tre Trattati by Mattia Giegher. A somewhat related article on the history of origami that also contains mention of the book is here.
    • An article, with photos of the pages, about the ranking of various authors, the numbers awarded by members of the Dada movement.
    • An "Artist Project / Prison Landscapes" by Alyse Emdur. She wrote to men in prison asking them to send her pictures of themselves and/or their family and friends in front of "murals painted by talented inmates of tropical beaches, flowing waterfalls, and mountain vistas [that] are common features in prison visiting rooms across the country." These are fascinating and ironic photos.
    • "Harpo's Bubbles" by Wayne Koestenbaum, an article about Harpo Marx and the when, why, what kind and how he blows bubbles in various Marx Brothers films. In "Bubble #2: The Cocoanuts" Koestenbaum writes, "A bubble is the extent of Harpo's accomplishment, and it is, I believe, monumental" (90). Even though he doesn't speak, Harpo shows us all what he can do.

    While each issue has a themed section, other sections are more loosely defined, as listed on their submissions page. The editors write "We are interested in almost any subject matter, as long as your take on it is original and demonstrates how the apparently familiar world around us is in fact artificial, fascinating, and strange." They don't take fiction or poetry. Truth is certainly stranger than (or equal to, in my humble opinion) fiction, as evidenced in this issue. A Cabinet of curiosities, indeed.

    never mind my cabinet

    After spending more time with the magazine, I decided to subscribe. Jackpot. If you are a subscriber you can have online access to all sold-out issues.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Product Testing: Letraset Aqua Markers

    The Letraset Aqua Markers that I had been waiting for arrived two weekends ago in a box substantial enough to be exciting. Inside, I found the double-end markers all lined up in their clear plastic packaging which can actually function as a carrying case, although I doubt that the groovy customer service representative at Daniel Smith, Inc. carries them into a bar that way. A guy was drawing in a bar…

    Test: Two Dolls on Wet Media paper
    And found a few adjectives. Juicy. Damp. Those are the first two. I guess they go with drinks. I found that the bleed-through is high so I highly recommend watercolor paper or Strathmore Wet Media paper for these guys. They blend together on smooth paper without any added water, but use a brush with water to make gradations and small washes. Try a Niji waterbrush with them: I think it is a good pairing. (I bought one years ago and have always liked using it with watercolor pencils.) I suspect that the markers will also perform well on Aquaboard or Clayboard. When working on top of the watercolor ground, keep the waterbrush ready and alternate the marker and water; it is much harder to loosen up and blend the marker strokes once dry.

    Test: Gertrude & Alice on watercolor ground, wood
    The blender. Hmm. Wasn't convinced about the blender pen. The recommended use is to take the tip of the blender pen and touch it to a color, then draw for a more muted effect. Maybe. I found myself thinking about the eyedropper tool in Photoshop, probably because picking up color from one area and putting it down in another sounds familiar, or maybe because I am spending too much time at the computer. The blender can be used to fill in little specks here and there, but it doesn't work the way the waterbrush does, which was what I was hoping for. What it can do, however, is make it possible to put down a lighter version: hot pink becomes baby pink, for example, without leaving a trace of the darker color.

    In comparison to other marking pens, I prefer the brush markers and fine points of the Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens. They are pigmented and lightfast, come in more colors, I can layer the colors, and I can draw with them on regular paper

    I also tried the Aqua Markers with eraser carvings. Carve a white plastic eraser with a design. Work quickly and apply multiple colors of marker, a little here, a little there, until you've covered your image. Stamp onto smooth paper for a small, multicolor print. Adequate, but Tombow brush pens work a little better. As with all art supplies, it takes practice to get used to them as well as to achieve the effects you want. Ultimately, the acid-free and lightfast Aqua Markers are fun markers and are an interesting alternative to watercolor paints, a good choice for painters who like to travel.