Wednesday, October 24, 2012

it's like riding a bike

Most people have heard of and probably used that simile before: learning x is like riding a bike, once you do you'll never forget how to do it.

Recently I spent an afternoon trying to teach my friend how to ride a bicycle. After a few mishaps and lots of advice from passing power-walkers ( sorry my bike seat does not go down lower, no matter how many times you ask me) I watched things finally click for him, and off he pedaled down the path and around a curve. Is there anything like the thrill of finally understanding how to do something, that light-bulb moment, the "ahh here I go!"

Making art is very much like that for me. A discovery or often a rediscovery, something I learned that remains as a muscle memory, ready for me to use whenever the moment presents itself. Skills do get rusty though, and like stiff joints they can add hurdles to reclaiming that bike like thrill. A few days after my bike teaching adventure I spent an afternoon making things because I wanted to, because I wanted to feel the heady feeling of stretching those art muscles and just going.

I sprayed a board with spray adhesive and drew lines with twine. 
(notice the drawing underneath that just wasn't going anywhere)

Then I sprayed a mixture of cheap black ink and sepia ink onto the board. I've been really into spray bottles recently.
I pulled prints from my twine drawing on nice blank paper

 The top 2 were dry prints, the bottom one I wet the paper first

 I did 2 prints on color photocopies of some of my distemper paintings

Then painted into my prints and original board
 gold sky!
More color and an abandoned space pack

The photos above are a bit blurry but show the gold in a way that the scanner just didn't pick up, which means I should probably go back and do a second coat!
simple and bleak
I can imagine going in with color pencil and getting some detail in to contrast the blurriness.

I took off some of the twine to see what kind of effect it would have, and while there are parts I like, I do want to work more into it- something needs to change with the white crater holes.

I'll be cruising around town and letting these and other ideas percolate for the next crafternoon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Creating the Siren of Michigani

Collaborating on a art piece isn't easy.
It takes a lot of honest sharing and compromise and letting go of ideas that you may think are wonderful to get the piece to where it really should go.

Emily and I wanted to create a piece that was more than just a dress- we wanted to create something that utilized our strengths; Emily's fashion construction knowledge and ingenuity with materials, my painting and color style, and our shared obsession with detail. We wanted to add an extra challenge as well- a sound element, something kinetic. It was also important for us to honor our Midwest roots, so it became quite clear during our concept brain storming sessions that using Lake Michigan as a source of inspiration could be a fantastic way to put everything together.

Once we had decided on a Lake Michigan theme we worked hard to think of related concepts and ideas. Here's one of our lists:
  • storms
  • fishing
  • folk lore around the Great Lakes
  • sailors
  • interpretation of weather 
 But one of the most important parts of long term art project is deciding what is absolutely key to the piece- what is the body and soul of the work? For Emily and I these were the qualities we wanted:
  • multifaceted
  • interactive
  • technically superior concepts
and the question we continually asked: How important is quality to innovation and what can we work on that will lead to both?

Emily and I don't draw up a lot of preliminary sketches prior to making our work, but this is our earliest sketch of what our piece may have looked like.

This was my first time painting fabric that would be worn; I started applying the colors rather timidly, because it's always easier to add than to take away.  It was extra difficult because the fabric for the dress is a stretchy mesh, so anything I painted soaked right through. We chose the netting for the majority of the fabric because we wanted to play with opacity and light, and to have different dimensions and stage lighting possibilities.

Astronaut print hanging out with drying segments of the dress

Stage one of the dress: All fabric segments painted and sewn together. Emily and I had been working separately on different aspects of the dress up to this point, so this was the first time we could see how Emily's swirling pattern and my storm/ sunset on clouds fit together- we also realized that we had unintentionally/unknowingly matched the silks to the darker hues in the painting, which was a lovely surprise!
Stage two of the dress: the bead work and sequins have been added to the dress but not finalized. The dress has reached the point where we felt comfortable photographing it in order to make submission deadlines, but we knew that we would continue to add more detail work.
Our piece evolved from involving a group of 3 figures to just one. Resin raindrop beads morphed into metal clattering beads we made from soda cans. We decided that rain-stick cuffs was too easy of a noise solution so we moved on to the idea of creating a rumbling thunder sound. At first we thought of a large piece of sheet metal that could be rumbled behind the main figure. The metal could be painted, so it would act like a movable background, which adds a lot of control of how viewers experience the piece on stage, but would require 2 additional actors and costumes. Ultimately we decided against this more elaborate stage presence because of the added cost, the additional time needed to make more costumes and the difficulty in shipping everything.

So now that our wearable sound piece was restricted to 1 figure, we wanted to make it as powerful as possible, and make sure that every element had a function.

 We decided on a bell because it fit our theme and the shape would hid a thunder stick- an Indonesian toy that consists of a tube with a spring. The tube amplifies the vibrations that the spring makes on a membrane that covers the end of the tube. When shaken a thunder stick produces a loud rumbling sound, very much like thunder. The tube I fashioned makes a more distant rumbling sound, but I'm very happy it works since it's made with an oatmeal tube and things from our local hardware store.

The Siren's Bell, first attempt. Exaggerated paint job to make it more visible on stage.
Finalized Siren's Bell
After submitting the piece to ArtPrize and learning that it would be seen up close we decided to make the bell more viewer friendly- sanded paper-mache to make it look more realistic, more nuanced weathered painting, and a dusting of sand to make it feel like it had really rested at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The metal beads were made from soda cans. First we punctured the empty cans and cut them into the largest usable piece of metal.We then cut circles, folded in the edges then crimped the circles into these folded triangle shapes that make a gentle tinkling sound. We (mostly Emily) sewed these to places on the dress where the most movement would occur- enhancing the natural rustling sound.

Detail of Emily's beautiful beading and sequin work. Fun fact: for every sequin I can sew on, Emily can do 5. 

Last but certainly not least is the leather mask. Emily first shaped clay into a mold of what she wanted the mask to look like. Once the mold was ready she made a pattern to cut out the rough shape of leather. Then Emily wet the leather and stretched it over the mold, which really involved a lot of pulling, tugging and a hand numbing amount of time rubbing the leather so it would form to the mold. After letting the leather dry for about a day it was hand painted. Now it was a mask, but a little too plain. To do the bead work on the mask Emily had to pre-poke the holes and then do the beading by hand.

Emily and I spent months working on this piece, and we are so pleased to have the public interacting with it at ArtPrize!

Friday, September 21, 2012


Siren of Michigani an art piece that Emily Hagen and I have created has been accepted and is currently being shown in this year's ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids Michigan.

Our piece is in the parlor room of The First United Methodist Church; the space is better than we imagined and we are so thankful to have such a great setting for our installation.

If you are able to travel to Grand Rapids September 19th - October 7th I would highly recommend it- there is an incredible variety and amount of art, and the viewing public has a real say in which pieces deserve a cash prize. It's a really amazing way to bring art to non-traditional venues, it is free and open to the public and any person can display their work. Votes for art pieces can only be made by people who have registered and have actually been in the ArtPrize area, which makes this whole process really democratic.

Come back soon to read a post see that details how Emily Hagen and I conceptualized and built "Siren of Michigani"!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

pretending to be grown

The past year has been a lot of different things. Last June I accepted an offer to work full-time on a limited contract as an administrative assistant. It was an education. I learned how to graciously answer angry phone calls, that office politics is all about patience, negotiation and the ability to sit on a snide email and answer it helpfully a few minutes, hours or a day later. Every office has big movers and shakers, but I learned that the glue that hears and sometimes fixes everything are the quiet ones, the second in commands and the admins. I admired their ability to keep things together, to initiate the steps that make the biggest plans happen smoothly. I've always loved behind the scenes work, and this world sucked me in. I wanted to learn everything I could, I wanted to be a great admin.

I could figured out most office tasks with minor instruction, was efficient with my tasks and wrote professionally enough that there was always a double-take when someone who knew me over the phone or email met me in person: I was not the established professional, I was a young short-haired upstart. I earned a lot of praise but not a permanent job, and my contract, though extended, ran it's course. 

I've spent a lot of time in the past year being the average 20 something: working a part-time job, applying for full-time ones but not catching a break. Feeling helpless in this economy, resentful of the articles written by Baby-boomers who like to blame the state of our society on the narcissistic streak of my peers. I ignored that none of this was ever what I really wanted when I left Wisconsin and my sheltered adolescence behind.

It can be hard to admit that you don't have the foggiest idea of what you're doing or even who you want to be. I just want to wake up into the life where my bank statement doesn't induce a panic attack and where I split my day between keeping house and spending time with people I love, and painting it all out in a space I don't have to share; where I feel safe and am warm and can experiment to my hearts content. It's a big dream. It is so big that it's easier to let it stay a castle in the sky than to try to cut it down to fit here in reality.

 Baby steps, patience and just putting it out there is the advice I give everyone. I hope to finally start following it.

I am trying to come back to myself. I will start posting about art and projects. I will show the things I have worked on in the past year. I will make more work, and make time in life for my art. The 12 months that span from July 2012 to July 2013 will be an artistic year; a year where I work on growing my inner core, the part of me that is beyond a resume. This year I will put in the work and learn and row and be able to introduce myself as an artist without any hesitation or apology.
When I pull this off I can stop pretending and finally be grown.