Sunday, February 25, 2018

Chinese New Year Haiku Card from Katherine Ng

Last year I posted here all the Chinese New Year cards sent to me by Katherine Ng. The Year of the Dog card arrived recently. After twelve years she began alliterative haikus about the animal. Katherine has remained constant and doggedly kept on printing the cards.

My first of the year event was sighting a White-tailed Kite with a friend at the Albany Bulb, a place worthy of its own post. This is a crop of a picture I took. She's pretty, isn't she?

We stood watching and witnessed the male alight on her back for a quickie! The second time, several minutes later, she rebuffed him. When he returned he brought something in his talons. I'm pretty sure we heard squeaking. The female flew up to greet him and in the air, he handed off the mouse present to her! Now, he's a proven provider. 

There is nothing better than staying in one place long enough. You just never know what you will receive.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Those Plain Black Journals

I was on the last few pages of my journal again. When this happens I tend to write smaller, and I cram a couple days onto one page. It's always hard to let it go. Maybe there's a gem in there I've overlooked? A memory or dream I'd like to keep grazing? 

It's inevitable, really. I face this every two years, give or take life. And every two-ish years I ask myself, Am I really going to buy a new plain black journal, again? 

There's a phrase you've probably heard if you were born after the 16th century, "like bringing coals to Newcastle." Like bringing a store-bought journal into my studio full of books. Yes, I could make one or use one I've already made. Meanwhile, the studio is filled with filled store-bought black journals; they are the only book that looks like that, and I know exactly what they are. So, I guess that's a good thing.

Blick art-supply store moved recently. Now it is even closer to my house. Since I hadn't seen the new store and I had a coupon, I went and bought the journal.

I've been customizing these to amuse myself and to make one stand out from another. I wrote a post about it in 2013. This is the journal that is ending, from late 2016- early 2018.

Something can happen when you are making a one-of-a-kind thing. (A 2017 post about that creative process is here.) Often, I go back and forth, liking and hating a piece. I try a technique and it doesn't look very good. So I work with it. It usually gets better. In this case, I stamped the cover, using a mallet with leather stamps, but it didn't stamp cleanly. I thought the silver pen would help it. But I used a different pen than usual, a Sanford Uni-ball Gel Impact that was juicier than the preferred Sakura Gelly-Roll pen. Instead of getting better, it got worse. Smeared. I was able to wipe it down with water, but it smeared again. Ugly, ugly, ugly. 

I woke up with a better idea. I would just strip off the ugliness: make a recess in the cover and glue something over it. You can see how to create a recess in this post for the tunnel book cover. It's also on page 217 in Making Handmade Books. Sharp knife. Check. Metal ruler. Check. Pencil. Check. Art for the recess. Ah, I could glue in the last scrap from the Ospreys* at night quilts. Tacky glue works for that. Just the edges. I like the raw cloth edge, but you could wrap a scrap around a piece of paper as a stiffener, iron fabric to some heat-n-bond or the like, or iron a hem in the edges first. You could also paint the exposed board before you attach the scrap or cut the recess just a hair larger, with no margin.

Next time, I'll walk to Blick. I wish all problems were this easy to fix. 

P.S. And thanks again for reading! I found the Gelly-roll pen as I was putting together this post. 

*If you want to join me in my obsession watching the Golden Gate Audubon Society Osprey webcam, Richmond (Richie), the male Osprey has been bringing sticks and defending the nest in anticipation of the return of a mate. He is often around in the early (Pacific Time) morning and late afternoons. If Rosie makes it back from South America, she should be arriving around the first week of March. Eggs usually laid beginning of April. Last year, the chicks hatched around Mother's Day in May. The Live Chatters are always happy to fill you in on the details!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Working in Multiples, Working in a Series

Most of my adult art life I have been working in multiples, a natural activity for a printmaker. A great deal of time is spent creating a drawing, then transferring it to a block or plate, and then choosing and mixing the colors. The printing is the easy part, so creating more than one is optimal. I still enjoy this process and have now shifted over to printing on cloth in order to create quilts. Multiples are still part of this process, but I've only just encountered a new process, known to many artists: working in a series.

When I cut up the cotton fabric (usually muslin) and prepare it for printing I have been guesstimating; I don't have a rule for how much I need, and for now, since I'm not working with silk, the material is inexpensive. I print whatever I prepare, and this usually means I have leftovers. I get a second chance, or maybe a third, to approach the same subject. I usually create a new element as well.

It started with the 2017 Osprey quilts for the theme of "Night: from Dusk to Dawn." Although they were finished in a different order, this was the order they were conceived and begun. (Larger images on my website.)

When Birds Sleep.

Sweet Osprey Dreams.

Nightlights on the Bay.

Since I can submit up to three works to be considered for a show with the same fee, I decided this was a good idea. In the past, I've had so many ideas that once I've made one into a tangible object I've been ready to move on right away: going broad. Now I found I get to go deeper and explore the subject from different angles. I guess I started this with Housework but hadn't realized it. That's also when I first included a quilt with my bookwork. Each house looks at the idea of home from a different point of view: lichen, deep sea, a house torn down becoming a garden, homelessness, roommates, and more.

The next two quilts are for the 2018 theme, "Metamorphosis."


What Are We Becoming.

I had a third partially worked out, but it needs to simmer. The deadline is the end of February, but I've learned (finally!) not to rush a project.

So far, it seems that the first of each of these two series is the complicated one, sometimes the one with several ideas going at once. The second is the one I probably wanted to make from the beginning, and the third is like the last song on the album (remember those?)—the "experimental" one. I push boundaries and learn quite a bit from this last quilt. From all, really. Knowing in advance that I will make more than one will likely influence the work overall. We shall see!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Scrappy Valentine's Day

Here's some love for you. Small sachet hearts made from my Seraph: the Holy Quilt scraps. The quilt just has black and white and silver, but I had printed some with pink. They are filled with cotton batting trimmings and lavender.

Stitched up with pink embroidery thread, kinda like a football.
Little punky, wabi-sabi hearts.

If you would like one and you are one of the first three people to comment and are willing to send me your paper mail address (U.S. delivery only) by email, I'll send you one!
Thanks for reading.

Scrappy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 12, 2018

New Art Quilt: What Are We Becoming

New quilt-of-the-month is the second in a series for the "metamorphosis" theme. It was an offshoot of   the quilt, Becoming (process posted here). 

This one blows up the concept of gears and ears and the merging of the biological with the mechanical or the organic with technology. The letterpress printed text from wood type is: Becoming / What Are We Becoming / You Look Becoming / Becoming. I also carved one large linoleum block and printed it in various colors, then cut it up and rearranged it and pinned it into place.

I cut up the text to disrupt the reading.

After piecing one full panel of the print, I started reworking the design.

And layering the print pieces again. The rust red was just too bright.

It finally calmed down and settled into place.

I pieced it, then ironed hems in the print pieces and sewed them down as patches.

My socks seemed to match that day.

I embroidered details in the top panel and spirals, eyes, squiggles, tiny screws, and springs to quilt and unify it. The eyes were inspired by the Klimt exhibit; I noticed he used spiral and eyes. My spirals are both a reference to the inner ear and to a watch part.

It turned out to be the perfect size to fit on a door. I feel a metaphor coming on.

I enjoy the process of traditional binding.

I've been working on my corners.


We have amazing new technology that helps someone function, that can augment their body in some way (hearing aids, cochlear implants, artificial limbs, eyeglasses that can enable the blind to "see" ). But at the same time our technology is changing our social fabric: how we relate to each other and to our environment  It's going to take a conscious effort to retain empathy, anticipation, compassion, tolerance, intimacy, and patience. What Are We Becoming? And what do we want to become?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Proficiency and Identity

I was recently talking with a colleague who had worked with Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. and the colleague reiterated how Amos says he's "not an artist." The colleague also mentioned they like to write but when people ask if they are a writer they say not really. I asked my question of why people feel compelled to say they are or are not something. My colleague immediately said, "I think it is about proficiency and identity." We both stopped and thought for a minute, surprised at how clear that seemed.

Let's look at that idea, because I think that is the answer to my previous post, "Talking about Art."

Proficiency is defined as "a high degree of competence or skill; expertise." Asking someone if they are proficient at something gets complicated when you look at all the underlying questions: Are you competent or skilled at this thing? How does it show? Do you believe you are? Do others believe you are? Do others have to believe you are good at it in order for you to actually be deemed proficient? Which others have to believe this? Why is their opinion valid or more valid than another person's?

All those underlying questions can be positively off-putting! Here's an example: I used to practice calligraphy (high school and a little in college). I would get paid to make place-cards, address envelopes, make signs. Those who did not do calligraphy themselves would say I was very good, proficient. But when I compared my work to professional calligraphers, masters in the field, I knew that I was not. I could see that my strokes weren't parallel, this o wasn't the same as that o. Did I call myself a calligrapher? At the time, yes, and did until I realized I was not going to become a master of it. It's possible I could have, if I had solely done calligraphy, but I did not. Those outside the field would say I was proficient (and they would ask me to continue even after I quit). Those inside the field probably would have said not so much. Outside, inside. Judgments. Curious to think about.

Self-confidence about what you are doing and commitment to the work are just as important as how others view what you are doing. Even if you aren't as skilled as you would like to be, believing you are at least somewhat skilled or have a little talent or aptitude for the task will keep you moving forward, learning, and becoming more proficient.

Identity is a popular word right now. It is defined as: "the fact of being who or what a thing is; the characteristics of determining this; a close similarity or affinity." I think identity gets tricky when we are talking about groups or characteristics of people. Because, what are we doing? We are creating stereotypes of that group. Sometimes those stereotypes are accurate; sometimes those stereotypes, or generalizations are true sometimes and for some people. Perhaps they are the median characteristics: many people are like this, but not all. 

I identify as a writer and as an artist. Within those broad terms, I identify as a writer of short stories and poems. I often say, "I am not a novelist." Within art I say I am a printmaker, printer, book artist. I have said, "I am not a painter," although I do paint on paper. When I think of painters I think of painting on canvas. Because I do not paint on canvas, I do not identify with the group I generalize as painters, who, in my mind, also have shows in galleries. My paintings stay in a drawer or become books. I don't identify with painters as a group. Calling myself a printmaker or printer, I identify with ink on one's hands, a mellow and friendly working style, a sharing culture, and a geeking out on certain kinds of marks.

It seems, then, that having both proficiency with the medium and identifying with the group of makers would allow a person to call oneself a writer, artist, calligrapher, painter, novelist, etc.. Being confident about who you are and what you do definitely helps you accept the title(s). (I wrote about this from a slightly different angle back in 2012: "Success = Self-Confidence + Humility.")

These days, I'm working on accepting a new term for myself: quilter. I still feel more comfortable as a printmaker working with fabric and as a bookmaker working in large-scale, open books. I suspect this allows me to skirt around my insecurities. But I am definitely making quilts, which is also what quilters do.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Neighborhood Project: the Urns and Public Art

The impulse behind public art is a good one, I think. I like the idea of bringing art out into the community, making it part of everyday life and free to experience. And I'm all for paying artists and craftspeople to create their works. But from what I've seen, the process becomes politicized fairly quickly. The call goes out; the artists apply. The committee judges, basing their decision on the object itself, the artist's experience, cost, the durability (sometimes) of the work, and the impact to the community (sometimes). It gets installed. Those who chose it, love it. Those who are surprised to find it have mixed reactions. And there are always disagreements and always a group full of criticism, right or wrong. If it's out in public, that's fair. Occasionally, a neighborhood group takes on a project, to mixed results.

I had a feeling this was coming: a new urn at the triangle park, which is on my daily walking route. At least two were already installed seven years ago. Not exactly public art, but in public and meant to be viewed and enjoyed. It is more like a call-back to history, renovation, and repair, symbolizing everything the original historical project represented.

August 31, 2011, I stumbled across the neighborhood project first being installed. One of several new urns, modeled after one legacy urn. A concrete pedestal had been cast. A crew must have hoisted this person-size urn into place. And a group dedicated it. There was a second one down the street on a traffic island.

The urns surprised me. I thought perhaps they were to honor the Ohlone people, who lived here hundreds of years ago and were displaced by the Spanish and the missionaries in the 1700s. It's easy to think this might be so because the oldest original urn is left standing at the foot of a path called "Indian Trail." I took this photo in 2011, but shortly thereafter, the elderly urn was repaired and given a new collar to match historical photos.

legacy urn, 2011

legacy urn, 2018

But it's not about the Indians at all. Not a tribute to those who were here first. According to the website and the plaque that was installed, this area in the Berkeley hills did not become a public park, which some desired, but was subdivided and developed in 1909 with winding roads and paths and natural elements. "About 20 monumental urns, in the style of Maxfield Parrish, were placed by developers along streets and walking paths," says the sign. So they are random, perhaps of their time. 

One Parrish painting with urns from 1908 is The Garden of Allah based on an "idealized interpretation of a scene from Islamic mythology." How confusing! I think the word "idealized" is probably the key. Idealized nature. Idealized homes. Idealized art. For those who could afford it. If we are to understand the context the urns become a symbol of idealized wealth and perhaps idealized lifestyle. What is so strange about the addition of the urns is that the area is already beautiful. It features abundant and twisty old Live Oaks, Camphor, Magnolia, and other trees, as well as monumental boulders pushed up out of the earth and transported to the area (I wrote about the rocks in this 2016 post). To see the natural beauty is one of the reasons I go walking up there.

One morning recently, I found the urn at Great Stoneface Park had been vandalized. (I think this was related to the legalization of marijuana more than any other statement.)

It has since been cleaned, with no trace of the graffiti left behind.

The 2018 urn at the triangle park should be getting its collar soon.

(Photo addendum: February 11, 2018)

And I just found another, at the top of Thousand Oaks Blvd.

On an aesthetic level, I don't mind the urns. They're pleasant and noncontroversial as objects. But it seems like we are going backward. To me, the concept and meaning behind them don't feel appropriate to life today. What, exactly, do we want to restore when we reach back to history? What are we saying? I think the deeper questions of the art we choose and why we choose it continue to be relevant. It is particularly important now as we are faced with and explore the other question of whether an artist has to be both a good artist and a good person for us to enjoy the works.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Two More Friendly Writing Workshops at SFCB!

I taught my first "Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker" workshop of the year at the San Francisco Center for the Book in January. The first two hours I gave basic bookbinding instruction and we made the Zen or Grunge Notebook. After a few exercises, we took a lunch break, then came back to more writing explorations. I hope everyone was happy. Having been in many writing classes I know that what I write surrounded by people is not going to be my best if I know I will have to make it public immediately. From the beginning I made it clear that the workshop was for them, and I would not and did not ask anyone to read what they had written. Our conversations were about ideas and creative  process.

The Center has put me on the schedule for two more Sundays, one in May, the other in August. Each will have a different binding and different focus and friendly writing explorations. Beginners warmly welcome! $130.00 (materials included). Registration is open now and available through SFCB. Please note that these are the final two workshops I will be teaching for 2018.

Sunday, May 20, 2018, 10am to 4pm. Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker: Words as Colors.

Sunday, August 26, 2018, 10am to 4pm. Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker: Words as Objects.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Looking for Mrs. Webb

Winter light is melancholy, even in California. But the fifty-four degree weather still invites me out for a morning walk, and I accept. I walk down our street, which dead-ends at the cemetery. (I remember how to spell cemetery because it has only Es for earth. I won't comment about the dead-ending.) My friend Mrs. Webb is buried there. She was my neighbor down the street, and my daughter and I used to visit her every week when she was alive, less so after she was buried in 1996. A few years ago I thought I would go look for her grave again, which I did, but I didn't find it. I remember she said she had her husband buried under a tree, so I kept looking for that tree.

Today (it's Monday when I write this), I think I will go look again. It's garbage day in El Cerrito. Something extra is out by the curb. I used to have one of these as a child.

Someone has created a cautionary sculpture out of a tripping hazard.

It seems odd to have a cemetery so close to cities and freeways; you would think it would be small, but it isn't. It's quite a large park, if you look at it as a park. This one is on a hill with eucalyptus and other trees that are home to a wild variety of birds, including the usual crows and ravens, finches, and sparrows. I once saw flocks of robins here. From the top of the hill you can see the bay. And you can see Brooks Island, the Craneway Pavilion, and even the whirley crane where the Ospreys nest (in between the trees, but too far to see in the picture).

The air is chilly and breezy. It is not entirely quiet. Gardeners in protective suits are out waving leaf blowers and weed wackers.

I wonder why we bury people in lines, since in life we have to stand in them so often.

After walking around a bit and not finding Mrs. Webb, I go back down to the main entrance. There's a fountain gushing in front of a circular driveway. I open the big glass doors and enter a vaguely cavernous room with a single desk. A woman is seated there, a man talking with her, both employees. It could have been a movie set, but I realize this is where the mourners gather. I say I'm looking for a grave. The man says to come with him, and he leads me around the corner and to the back where the offices are, where most of the people work. The woman there looks up Mrs. Webb and comes back with a map, the name of the lawn, the row and number. Like theater tickets. She shows me where to take my car. I thank her and say I'm walking.

I walk around the Heian Garden and loop back. That's right! There was this extra loop. Follow the turkeys. They know the way. No, really. I mean it.

There are no trees on this lawn. I find row 18, that's Chai, life in Hebrew. I put a little stone on her marker. You wonder why films always show people talking to the dead, but I do it, too. And I get a little teary. She's still there, next to her husband. She once told me that they had twin beds, "but the rug was wore out between them."

See you later, Mrs. Webb. I'll remember now, and I'll be back. In the section above hers I note the offerings on the gravestones: water, lemon-lime soda, snacks, three oranges. I wished I believed in the afterlife. I guess the belief also inspires your descendants to visit you and bring you things.

On my way back out I see a slow hearse and two cars following it. Only two cars! Somehow this is sad. I walk by the man I'd seen inside, and I say, "Hi." I hear his reply, colored by the day, "Mourning."

A few blocks from my house, the trash cans are empty, lids hinged open. Thump-thump-thump: the wind blows a beat to the living winter day.