Friday, August 30, 2013

Using Resistance

A colleague and I were talking about the Ideation Cards (explanation in this post), since we both have used them to create work recently. She mentioned that she had tried to use some of the guidelines, but found that she rejected some of the cards in order to make a better book. I've heard similar sentiments from people who have been working with the cards, and I've sensed some guilt as they've admitted this. What is the transgression here, if there is one?

Perhaps this guilt or fear taps into our earliest formed notions of doing the assignment and doing it right. If you were taught that there is always a right answer and you just have to find out what the teacher wants, then perhaps you feel guilty when you veer in a different direction. You'll likely learn better by heading toward what you are interested in, rather than what someone wants you to do or learn. Perhaps the fear is residual worry about the power a teacher used to have over you, particularly when you were dealing with grades and were seeking approval. You have to be honest with yourself about what your goals are now and whose approval you are seeking. (I'm talking about a very specific situation where you are working willingly; yes, there are times you still have to go with the program.)

What isn't acknowledged is that by resisting something, you are still engaging with it. It gives you a starting point, something to push against. And sometimes your reaction will give you the emotional jolt you need to work. Perhaps you've experienced something similar to this: a girl asks her father what color something should be and he says red, and she says, no she doesn't like red she'll use blue. Just by weighing and considering the first suggestion, she's arrived at her answer.

It may be easier, when sorting through options, to put aside what doesn't grab you first—what you resist—rather than trying to choose what you want. Narrowing down the possibilities will make it easier, and you may get an idea from your resistance, or you may use your dislike of something to create a piece around it. The Ideation Cards, like other kinds of creative assignments, are meant to spark creation, not hinder it. And what you do or do not do with your art is nothing to feel guilty about.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Being Creative on Demand

Craft nights. Art parties. Workshops. I've always been envious of the people who can attend them and find their groove making art—normally a solitary activity, at least for me—in the middle of a crowd. During the first day of an undergrad writing class that I took years ago we were supposed to write a paragraph, a writing sample; it might have been a first memory. While everyone around me scribbled away, I froze. I was grateful that the professor let me write at home and bring my paragraph the following week. Was it the time pressure that paralyzed me? Or something else?
Three or four years ago I got a gift certificate to Brushstrokes in Berkeley: a paint-it-yourself pottery studio. It took me until I needed a serving bowl to finally go there.  And it took me awhile to calm down and figure out what to paint. I scanned the room for examples and the variety of techniques overwhelmed me. I would just paint. I wouldn't try to do decals or carbon transfers or bubbles or sgraffito or draw with the ceramic pencil, although all excited me. This was new territory: painting on a three-dimensional surface, not knowing the properties of the paint, having no idea what the finished product would be like. I probably should have made a small plate to begin with…

The bowl was big. It took several hours and even though they have color chips hanging on the wall, it was impossible for me to tell what the colors would look like after they were fired. The young women who work there were all extremely helpful, enthusiastic, and encouraging. They assured each visitor that her/his work was pretty. What a relief.

A week later, I got to pick up my bowl. I use it constantly. After this first attempt, I knew I wanted to try some of the other techniques.

I still had money on my gift certificate, but it took me three years to go back. Needing a pasta/salad bowl, I brought sunflowers with me as inspiration for another piece. I drew with regular pencil on the bowl and painted it in. The graphite from the pencil burned away.

So heartened, I went back last Friday to make a present using the sgraffito technique: three coats Black Lab, three coats Golden Retriever. Scratched into it with a needle tool and brushed away the flakes with a foam brush as I scratched. An art camp was going on while I worked and little 4 1/2- year-old-girls kept oozing over to watch me. "That's pretty," said one. You're hired! 

I won't see the new bowl for four more days. I rather like the slowness of it and the anticipation.

Instruction. Practice. Thinking. A friend articulated a process that I had not consciously labeled: you need a balance of those three things in order to learn, and perhaps to make it easier to work in a group as well. I'm making it four things and adding "example." You need to see examples of techniques and finished work so you know what the possibilities are, otherwise you will likely be overwhelmed. From there you can choose, focus on one technique and seek instruction. Practice gives you experience with the materials; you find out what the materials will and will not do. You can take risks and try new approaches based on what you've learned through instruction and practice. Thinking is needed to process the instruction and the practice and to develop your ideas. For best results: simmer gently.

I went into Brushstrokes knowing something about paint but nothing about ceramics and glazes. After help from the studio workers and two practice attempts, I felt more comfortable with the process and ready to try new techniques. I feel I'm internalizing the examples, the instruction,  and my practice, and am starting to imagine and think about projects ahead of time, which propels me back to the Brushstrokes studio.

I've learned bit-by-bit to dive down inside myself when I'm in a group, to ignore the stimulus, the energy created by many individuals in a room together (even adorable 4-year-olds in art camp!), and find that magical place from which I can make something. And ultimately, I've found that I have to go to the studio with an idea in mind in order to work in a crowd. I bring sketches, notes, photos, props, whatever I need so I can be creative on my own demand.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Watercolor Postcards

Between projects I've been painting on watercolor postcards. It is a nice feeling to complete a little picture in an hour or two.

felt bird pondering flight (bird mail)

palette people  (seen in an image of dried paint)

cactus on the radio

stolen art

birthday sunflower

With a travel set of Windsor-Newton paints I use a better-quality travel brush with a pointier tip rather than the one in the set. The pointy tip, like a sharp blade, gives you more control and a better result. Clean water helps, too.

I sketch out the subject first, then paint it in, usually light to dark. Because the cards are sized, the paint only goes where the water is. Let an area dry before painting immediately adjacent to it unless you want the colors to blend. The faux stamps are punched from random papers and pasted down with PVA. Yes, they warp a little. But that's okay. They're also going through the mail.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Literati Café in Los Angeles

Veggie melt on wheat. Mint lemonade. And book-related art decor. Heaven in Los Angeles? You, too, can go to the Literati Café on Wilshire Blvd.

>haiku, evolve, peace, noir, knowing, poetry<
wooden Scrabble Tiles embedded in the grout

books embedded in concrete, spines out

and a huge reminder to write.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Working for Free

Our culture seems to be on the verge of an overhaul. A high school diploma doesn't get a terrific job, and even a college degree isn't a guarantee you'll get hired. Internships are unpaid and all the kids want them. The few who get the internships may get jobs later, after they have worked for free for three months? six months? one year?

This model isn't totally new to artists and writers. In the 1980s I read an article in a dance publication that has stayed with me. It was written by a professional dancer who was alarmed by how many performing artists would dance, play, or otherwise perform for free or little compensation. The argument was that it cheapens the work and promotes a suspicious attitude toward those who ask higher prices. Artists have never gotten paid much to begin with. Performing artists have had a raw deal for decades; people think they are doing them a favor by asking them to perform at street fairs, block parties and such for free, "for exposure." And sometimes it does lead to future gigs, and although that's not my area of expertise, I'm betting it doesn't.

Then we've got the culture of borrowing. Content flows freely online. People know that some of their posts will get reblogged somewhere else, so they accept ads in the hopes of eventually getting paid for their time. A few people are able to subsist this way, although I don't know anyone who does. Ultimately, will most of our work be automated? Even our creative work? This article seems to lean that way.

There are many examples of hidden creative work. If we go to the apps store we look for the free apps first. No one is thinking about the developers's time. The developer is a maker who wants his/her work seen and would like to make a living making, too.

Money is a touchy subject. We've all heard pledge drives and wished they were over so we could get on with the music, concert, play, show, whatever. Do we have to make giving attractive and desirable by tarting it up with free gifts? Perhaps we are wired to look for bargains for self-preservation; after all, we have to live, too. But I believe we can transcend our animal nature and be consciously aware of our actions. Those who understand what the work entails often tend to be more willing to pay for it. Perhaps we need to educate those outside of our fields, add a description of the process or a personal note to our pieces to call attention to what it is that we do. It takes a conscious and gracious decision to support creative work. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Edition I Made on My Summer Vacation

Most of the summer I've spent working on the book for the show that Julie Chen is organizing at Abecedarian Gallery in Denver, Colorado this Winter based on the Ideation Cards that she devised with Barb Tetenbaum. I wrote about the deck in the post "A Recipe for an Artist's Book."

I started with sketches, then built a model. As I was thinking about the content, I felt the urge to draw the model. Drawing was a nice way to slow down and focus on the project.

At this point, I've printed and bound twenty books and constructed twenty holders. I'm now working on the lids, which are a bear, to put it in animal terms. Working on an edition is challenging, mostly because of the time involved creating more than one, but if you start with a good plan it can move along steadily. It becomes more efficient to do the same step twenty times than to create one entire book and box before moving on to the next. I create my own templates for measuring, for making windows, and for placement. For templates, you just have to measure once and cut, and then use that piece as a guide for all the others. Completing an edition is satisfying; you've got a whole stack of books you've made yourself.

Woods in the City is inspired by my draw from the Ideation Deck and Lebbeus Woods (see this post). Content is about a house around the corner that was demolished and turned into a garden.

Was I able to follow my draw? Pretty close.

Text: self-generated (true)
Image: none (no pictures, true)
Structure: innovative structure (tunnel book, magic wallet, carousel book, flag book, etc.) (variation on a check book/winged book, true—page 69 in Making Handmade Books, page 110 in Expressive Handmade Books)
Paper: handmade (a few pieces: inside holder; top title; true)
Technique: high-tech (letterpress, offset, printmaking, etc.) (printmaking & letterpress, true)
Color: monochromatic (browns, greens, but on different sides, true as interpreted)
Layout: random or unplanned (the model was random, then I planned the edition to be like the model, true)
Adjectives: textured; layered; impressionistic; transparent; ordinary or mundane (all included)

And so, here is my little city of books in their holders.

One book

One book, open to the front

Open to the back, side view of lid, inside of holder

And four books in their holders with their box lids

One of these books will be in the Ideation show at Abecedarian from November 1 - December 14 in Denver, Colorado. More info as we get closer to the show.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Revising with Fonts and Cats

Last post I was thinking about revisions and rewrites, the book The Work of Revision by Hannah Sullivan, a review of her book, and the book How to Write by Gertrude Stein. One more thought on this: typefaces. The review mentions W.H. Auden finding the look of typewritten script "impersonal and hideous." I wondered if, as an exercise, we could take a written piece and just change the typeface several times to find one that feels even more impersonal. The goal, as was mentioned before, is to get distance from the work in order to see the flaws and be able to revise.

If you write on the computer rather than by hand, have you seen what happens when you change the typeface? What part of the writing pops out? Can you see your work differently? Of course, when you've got the final draft and are designing a book, you'll want to pick a typeface that blends with the content, doesn't overshadow it, possibly enhances it, and points in a direction that gives the reader a feel for it.

(1) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet. 

(2) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(3) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(4) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(5) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(6) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

I can't even see the first line, since that is the font I'm currently using. Strangely, (2) Courier's monospacing and lightness draws out the foggy feeling and seems to make each letter equal. (3) Love or hate Helvetica, there it is. Same for Times (4). And (5) and (6) are Trebuchet and Verdana.

The typeface affects how you feel about the content. I read here ("The Secret Lives of Fonts") about a student who got better average grades when his essays were set in Georgia. Times New Roman was fine, but not extraordinary, and the average of those set in Trebuchet was worse. Because we may each have our own favorites, we may also carry our own biases. We may judge the writing by its typeface. Do we also judge people by the typefaces they use?

Putting one's writing into a less-beloved face might just give us the distance we need for revision. Just remember to change it back before you send it to other eyes.