Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Just a little Wes-obsessed at the moment ...

I realize it's been ages since I posted anything here. Not that I haven't been creating, I've just haven't been talking about it. I've been creating plenty, including this page, which is one of my submissions for Owen Clements wonderful kickstarter project: Wes Anderzine!

I'm a relative newcomer to Wes Anderson movies, but I'm just a teeny bit obsessed with them at the moment. I think that might be normal if you like his movies. I never quite know how to describe them to people who haven't seen them. Quirky is apt, but it barely scratches the surface. They're like quirky to the nth degree. They satisfy on so many levels it's almost an overload on the senses. You can watch the first time for the story, then again for the characters, then again for the dialogue, then again for the colours, then again for the design details, and documents, and aerial views, and camera pans, and music, and well, you get the drift ... it's like trying to pick your favourite part of a kaleidoscope as it changes before your eyes.

The artwork above is inspired by Suzi in Moonrise Kingdom, my favourite Wes Anderson movie so far. Suzi and Sam are perhaps the sweetest, quasi-tragic pair of star-crossed not-quite-old-enough-to-be lovers I've seen on screen since Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (but with a happier ending). I could go on about the movie for awhile, but it's like trying to pin down mercury - so I won't. But any movie that features a library book obsessed, binocular wearing, scissor wielding, misunderstood preteen heroine is already leaps and bounds ahead of most Hollywood-generated blockbusters as far as I'm concerned.

Like Suzi, I'm a little book-obsessed myself, and one of my favourite non-parts of Moonrise Kingdom is this little gem of a video book review with The Narrator. Do you like to read?

As a kickstarter backer, as well as a contributor, I'm eagerly awaiting my very own copy of Wes Anderzine, Volume 2 to arrive from England. Congrats to Owen for hosting such an amazing project and for letting all us wesandergeeks contribute. I heart collaboratives, and the quirkier, the better. Looking forward to seeing more Wes Anderson movies so I can contribute to Volume 3.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Evolution of an Idea ...

Sometimes in the creative process your brain finds something interesting ~ an image, a process, a juxtaposition ~ and then one day you realize its been showing up in your work in different ways over a period of time without any apparent conscious decision on your part. I thought I might present a series of works I've done over the last year to illustrate this point ...

The first (known) occurrence of what I've decided to call "little tree" syndrome happened at a retreat I attended last October called Faith and the Arts, hosted by Jill Cardwell, organizer of the Creativitea meetup group. Some of you may be surprised to find me at a retreat called Faith and the Arts. So was I. One of the things I've said about my strict religious upbringing is that it acted more as an immunization against religion rather than an indoctrination. But setting that aside, I think the creative experience is also a spiritual one and when presented with an opportunity to "be present" with whatever drives my creativity, and to share that time with other people considering the same question, I attended with an open mind and an open heart.

At the retreat we were given a blank journal, and over the course of the 3 days I filled it with collages, writing and drawings. One day we began our creative exploration with a simple, elegant prayer, which I later collaged into the journal spread below. Something about the earthiness of the magazine imagery I found and the way I tore the top edge created a kind of hillside and made me think of the main part of the page as "subterranean", so I decided to reinforce that by drawing little trees along the hill's top edge ...

A few months later I went away to my regular art journalling retreat (I know, I know ~ how lucky am I to have all these retreats to go to?) and I was playing around in one of my ongoing projects La Musee d'une Vie Inventee (The Museum of an Invented Life), and I found myself again creating a page with that same subterranean dark hillside feel. And again, a tree just seemed like the thing that was needed. This time I added some roots, perhaps to show that the character exiting on the right was not only leaving the landscape behind, but also her roots ...


A few months later, I was working on my submission for The Sketchbook Project. I'd decided to illustrate a  short story I'd written in my journal a few years ago, and (since I can't draw) I thought it might be fun to do it using torn paper collage. At one point I realized I wanted tall trees, and realizing the limitation of fine detail with torn collage, I decided to draw them. The little trees in my previous work came to the rescue, although I'm not sure my attempt was completely successful, at least they *do* look like trees ...

A few months ago my art journalling group had an Art Journal Zine Exchange ~ something we do from time to time to share our work with each other, and I wanted to include some of the pages from the Faith and the Arts retreat, but the page size was a completely different shape and size. I photocopied the original pages to a smaller size and then shortened them as well. The prayer seemed out of context with the rest of the zine, so I replaced it with inspiring quotes, something my art journal group also shares with each other on a regular basis ...






Okay .. we're almost up to the present ... a few weeks ago I bought a LARGE jar of black gesso. Like a lifetime supply. I started painting some more background pages in La Musee d'une Vie Inventee, and had a bit left over (you know how it is) ... I grabbed some blank ATCs so that nothing would go to waste. And the first swipe across my card was (you guessed it) ... that hillside shape again. So I painted a bunch of them. Like 30. I had to get more black gesso, but when a good idea strikes I feel it would be just rude to ignore it. After the ATCs dried,  I started drawing (you guessed it) ... little trees. Which were shortly joined by fences (as in the page above with the person leaving the landscape). As I was drawing I was thinking about human-scaled objects that might be seen in silhouette on hilltops, and I thought of parks, park benches and bicycles, so I threw a couple of those in as well. And when I'd drawn all the little pictures, I remembered the quotes I'd added to the zine pages, and started looking through some random text pages that I keep on my desktop for cleaning my brayer when I'm using the gelli plate, and little stories started to appear ...

 


I'm calling them "momentaries", as in commentaries on little moments, maybe? Well, anyway ... yesterday while working on the last of the momentaries to prepare for my ATC group trading session this upcoming Sunday, one story surfaced that seemed to be particularly meaningful and made me stop and think of all sorts of other moments. I'm not sure what it might mean for anyone else, but it felt like it wanted to be shared and it felt like the right thing to follow that instinct ...



Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Recent adventures in art : giving books the eyeball ...

Left: "Temptation". Right "Dragon Watch"
One evening last week my friend Tammy dropped by with some new fun art material to play with. She'd recently taken a class creating "eyeball" books and thought I might enjoy making one for myself. She was oh so right.

In my opinion, you can always tell a good art material by how much it bends to the artist's vision. And in this case, I didn't so much have a vision as a hunch. Well, actually not so much a hunch as a willingness to see what popped up when I started playing. The base books are quite small and very very cheap. Like dollar store cheap. The sculpting material is apoxie clay ~ the jar A + jar B = hardens in air over the course of a couple of hours kind of clay. Not cheap, but definitely worth it.

"Dragon Watch" on the right measures 3.75" x 5.4" and was the first book I made. Wish I'd had the forethought to take pictures before I started, but I'm a *little* impatient when I get an idea. The original cover was matte black with big bright glossy flowers. You'd never know that now, of course.

After mixing A+B, I spread a thin layer completely over the front of the book, paying particular attention to those glossy flowers. I wasn't sure the apoxie would stick to them, but it held on marvelously. The focal point (no pun intended) is the eye. I dug through my random art supplies and found this beautiful clear sea green marble, and started layering bits of apoxie around it to form the eyelids and brow ridge. Almost immediately the marble seemed to turn black (no light shining through anymore - d'uh!). Ah well, live and learn, I figured. Once I had the eyeball in place, I began rolling small balls of apoxie clay and layering them around the eye in what seemed like a "natural" way. I resisted the urge to google lizards to see what I should be doing. I'm stubborn that way. As time passed, the apoxie was getting stiffer and stiffer, so it's a good thing my "hunch" wasn't too ambitious. The interesting thing for me was how lifelike it all turned out. Even before it was painted the eye just sort of looks at you. It's a little creepy, but in a good way, I guess.

The next day I (again!) didn't take a picture before painting. Just too impatient to get started. I decided to gesso the whole thing (front and back cover) to cover up the rest of the bright glossy flowers on the back, then I gave the whole thing an undercoat of purple. I know. Dragons aren't purple. But I wanted to get some layers in there and, following another hunch, purple seemed like the right colour. When that was dry I overpainted with Chromium Green, then rubbed off some of it to let some purple show through, and then lightly brushed the high areas with iridescent turquoise. The last step (which I have yet to do) is to find a nice bit of red ribbon to replace the current bookmark, so Dragon Watch will have a tongue! And the thing about the green-marble-now-turned-black is that in certain lights, you get a reflection from deep in the eye that makes you *really* feel like the book is looking back. Cool.

I had a bit of leftover apoxie mixed up (once you've mixed A+B together, there's no going back and apparently creating a dragon takes less clay than you think) so I decided to use it up on a second book.

The second book, "Temptation" (on the left) is a mere 3" x 4.25". I loved the little fabric circle on the front so much that I didn't want to cover it, and as I was rolling out the remaining apoxie into a "snake" of clay it occurred to me that I could indeed make a snake and have it curl around the circle. I'll confess right now that at this point I should have googled snakes to see what they look like (I'm pretty sure their heads look *nothing* like what I made), but the apoxie was getting stiffer by the minute and I just went for it. I had just the teeniest bit of leftover after I made the snake, so I thought I'd add one more little detail ... which turned out to be an apple. I wish I could say I'm clever enough to think of these things ahead of time ... oh yeah, I *totally* planned for a snake and an apple, but no ... I just wung it. (Wung it, as in past tense of "to wing it").

When the snake was down I was seriously impressed with how firmly the whole thing was stuck to the book. Even before it was dry I simply could not budge it. I made a diamond back pattern with my book-making awl (don't tell my book binding kit!), and then poked a series of holes that I thought I would glue beads into after painting, and a hole in the top of the apple for a stem of twisted wire, and a leaf of painted text paper sandwiched around some strong baling wire. The next morning I painted the snake with iridescent green and turquoise, and the apple in quinacridone red. Getting the beads in the holes was easy. Keeping them there was a whole other deal. You try sticking sticky beads in sticky holes with sticky fingers and get back to me. I eventually wound up using a pair of toothpicks as chopsticks, and then overpainted the whole thing with a layer of glue just to be safe. I was worried the glue would dull the iridescent paints, but it looks fine, and the beads are well and truly stuck. Phew!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Recent adventures in art : Flower Pounding with Magpie's Nest

 
It's been a month since I posted anything here, but that doesn't mean my hands have been idle. Today, for instance, I made my way over to Britannia Community Centre for a Flower Pounding free pop-up art workshop hosted by the Magpie's Nest Community Art Space.

I've never done flower pounding before, but the concept is almost as simple as it sounds ... put a layer of flower blossoms, leaves, etc., between a sheet of watercolour paper and a piece of fabric, and then whack at it with a small hammer in a determined sort of way. My favourite method was using the rounded head of a ball peen hammer, and work my way pointilistically over the surface of the bloom or leaf.

I decided to create a sort of "impossible botanical sampler" ~ a plant with a variety of blooms and leaves. I wanted to see what kind of result I'd get from each blossom. I began with whole flowers and leaves at the top, but by the time I reached the bottom I'd learned that placing each petal individually gave me more satisfactory results. On the left-hand side is the muslin "print" of the flowers, with the paper "print" on the right. The magpies had brought a massive amount of flowers and leaves to choose from, as well as a big stack of prepared fabrics and paper, but I thought I better keep my project small and manageable.

I'm not sure how permanent the colours will be, but they're very lovely and soft at the moment. I found it interesting how the colours changed even while I worked on it. The three-petaled brown-yellow flower on center outside edge was actually three petals from a large orange lily. The yellow inner edges very not much different in colour from the petals initially, but retain their yellowness even now. But while pounding the outer edge of the petals, each strike of the hammer would result in a vivid orange dot on the fabric, but it quickly (within seconds) changed to purple/brown you see above. Oddly beautiful transition that only the person pounding would ever see.

This was Day 2 of the flower pounding workshop, and (judging by the noise level) well attended! Some people who'd been in on Saturday for Day 1 came back with friends, so it was a bit deafening at some points ~ probably one of their noisier workshops. But as someone across the table said to me today: "Funny how the noise doesn't bother you when it's you doing the hammering!". Perhaps this act of creativity would be a good form of stress relief as well ...

Big thanks to all the lovely Magpies at Magpie's Nest Community Art Space. Their events are always well organized and welcoming, and fully stocked for whatever diverse art activity they have planned. If you live in Vancouver (or nearby), I highly encourage you to sign up for one of their meetups. Their events are creative, free and kid-friendly. As a person who's usually on the organizing end of this sort of thing, it's a real treat for me to just drop in and enjoy the atmosphere when these talented and dedicated people bring their unique events to the community. Well done!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

More gelli fun - zine covers + envelopes ...

Finally had some time this afternoon to sit down with my Gelli Arts plate again. My goal today was to make some bases for zine covers and goodie envelopes for an upcoming zine swap. Although it might look like it, I didn't actually approach my colour choices in any kind of organized way. I just arranged them this way for the photograph afterwards.

I usually use a variety of paints, but these ones were mostly made with higher quality paints so I could get good "pick up" when pulling up residue paint off the plate. On the higher end, some colours were Golden, as well as Kroma (a local paint company in Vancouver). Kroma tends to be very buttery and lovely to work with. I love their pigment quality and how they blend. Slightly down the economic scale, there is some Pebeo and Amsterdam acrylics. Still good pigment, but not as good on the pick up. My new favourite colour is still Titanium White - the zine cover on the right-hand end must have about eight layers of uglier and uglier paint experiments - all saved by cross-texturing wavy lines in white. Fabulous.

For this gelli plate session I used some of my favourite "pattern makers" : 12x12 stencils from The Crafters Workshop, two pieces of wavy corrugated paper (not sure of the name or the source ... still trying to track down more of this stuff!) as well just plain old dragging a triangle graining tool through the wet paint.

I only foresee one problem with these zine covers ... I have to give them away in the swap. I wish I didn't fall in love with all the stuff that comes off the Gelli ... it would make life easier when it comes time to hand things over, even when I'm getting a bona fide art journal zine from some pretty amazing artists in exchange. Sigh.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Inspiration vs. Imitation ...

Card I made for an inspiration deck exchange. Hand image: from Teesha Moore's zettiology rubber stamp collection.
There was a time when I didn't make art. Oh, I made *stuff* - cards and gifts for people, things that were useful for myself. For a period of ten years I wrote, edited and mailed a monthly newsletter to about a hundred people. The newsletter was full of whatever I was interested in at the time. Looking back now I don't know where I found the time. Or that many things to write about, actually.

Then I found art. One day I realized that I didn't just want to be looking at interesting stuff ~ I wanted to be making it. There was just one little problem: I didn't think of myself as an artist. I couldn't draw or paint (still can't, really) and didn't even know where to begin. I thought it would be smart to look art that inspired me and see if I could identify what made those pieces "beautiful" to me. Once I'd cracked that, I could start making my own "art". Easy peasy. Or not.

I could feel the creativity flowing through my heart and brain, but when it reached my hands it kind of ... sputtered and failed ... leaving me sad and frustrated, unable to translate whatever it was inside me into some kind of visual form I could share.

One day while carefully examining the work of a famous artist, I began to see all its parts ... the composition, the rich colours, the layers of deep meaning. How all the bits of it spoke to all the other bits of it and communicated something of their relationship to me. I wanted so badly to make Art like this, with a capital A, but I worried that anything I created would only be a feeble imitation of this artist's work, not an original work of my own.

Then I had a revelation.

If the artist of the piece I admired came to me and gave me a kit of his own materials, and even if he stood there telling me what to and I tried my best to imitate him, I still couldn't help but create something original. Through the subtle decisions involved in the creative process, the finished piece would be a reflection of *my* vision, not *his* vision at all. And just as my vision was different from his, it was also different from any other person in the world. Something I'd always known deep inside, but hadn't trusted.

So ... I had "vision" ...all I lacked was skill. I've been learning skills all my life ... walking, talking, reading, cooking ... all I had to do was learn new skills and trust the vision to be there. And it was, and is.

Another thing happened ... I stopped being afraid of imitating art that inspired me. I realized there are some things you can only learn by doing. I'm sure there's some magic brain chemistry going on when we explore new creative territory. It's one thing to passively enjoy a work you admire ... with your eye to follow the curve of a face in one of Leonardo's paintings, it's quite another to put a piece of chalk in your hand to try to recreate it. You have to make a million little decisions as you go along ... angle of wrist, location of mark on  paper, pressure of chalk as you move it, how curved is the curve? And you learn, learn, learn every step as you go.

Recently I was playing around with some fun new backgrounds (remember the "paper pillows" from my last post?), and I wanted to try drawing something on top. Something colourful and playful and ... oh yeah ... maybe sorta like Dan Casado's work, which I admire so much. So using his piece The Boat as a jumping off point, I played a little bit with shapes and colours I wouldn't normally use. I've learned not to bite off more than you can chew, so I selected just the two people in the boat. I ditched the moon. And the dog. I wanted to see if I could understand the posture of the person rowing and maybe capture something of their facial expressions. I wanted to get the angle of the boat in relationship to the water.

Left: Dan Casado's The Boat (reproduced with the artist's permission). Right: My own little boat.


Along the way some things worked and some things didn't. One of my people (for reasons I don't understand) needed glasses. And the other one wanted arms. And a pocket.  The water became more fluid. But the oar is good, as is the hand holding it. And I adore those freaky blue noses. Only later did I realize that my colourful squares in the background kind of mirror the colourful squares in the standing boatman's body in the original.

When I was more or less happy with what I'd done, I then did something rather cheeky. I emailed Mr. Casado (who, trust me, I do not know from Adam). He lives in the Canary Islands. Never met him. I emailed him my artwork and asked if it would be okay if I posted his excellent artwork next to my own and then write about the process of learning by doing. Inspiration, and not imitation. Not only did he answer amazingly quickly *and* say yes (I wouldn't have posted his artwork otherwise), but he also had kind things to say about my work as well. Which makes me like him, and his work, all the more. If you haven't seen his work, go there now ... I highly recommend it to get you into your paintbox, or at the very least to make you see things in new and colourful ways. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The return of Hyperbole and a Half ...

Long days ago most of us watched the same TV channels and had some sort of communal experience. If you heard about something, the odds were very good that most of the people in your immediate vicinity heard about it too. And even if you never talked about it you could go through your life feeling like there was a kind of general fabric of life that most of the people around you operated in.

And then came the internet.

The internet is a weird place. I guess we all know that. You can be attached to people you don't even know. You can pretend people you do know don't exist by un-friending them. You can be amazed, amused and instructed by things created by people all over the world who don't know (or care) you exist. You can chip in a few bucks and fund an landfill orchestra in Paraguay (I did). You can be horrified as well. That's how it works.

That general fabric of life that you thought everyone operated in kinda stopped existing at some point. But time passed and you started getting the hang of that as well. You just accepted that your next door neighbour, your family and even your best friend was surfing radically different sites than you and looking up stuff on wikipedia that you'd never even heard of. That's okay ... you hardly spoke to your neighbour anyway, and your family was miles away and your new best friend might be on the other side of the planet because of your deep mutual fascination with some microcosmic detail of a book you both read when you were 10. That, my friends, is progress. Right?

But, at the heart of everything, we're still human (the last time I checked anyway), and the impulse to attach to other people is pretty strong. The need to feel something in common with someone, to be understood, to be appreciated, and to understand and appreciate in return. The good part of being human.

You probably wonder where all this is going. Well ... there's this blog I read. The person who posts on it is entirely unknown to me in the real world. Don't know if it's a he or a she or how old, or where they live. Let's call this person Allie (which I believe is this person's real name). I think Allie may be a she, but possibly because I'm a she, or possibly because so much of what Allie writes about hits the mark for me. But (having said that) the things that most hit the mark for me are things about being human, not about being a she.

Allie never posted very frequently. The posts were always accompanied by roughly drawn and bitingly adorable characters made in a primitive paint program, possibly even THE paint program that was birthed way back at the beginning of our computer age. I would eagerly await Allie's posts. There was so much truth and pain and funny packed in the posts they would often make me laugh and cry at the same time. One post I particularly remember was about accompanying someone to the hospital and this person being handed a visual pain indicator chart with a series of faces on it. The faces ranged from a smiley face "0" (feeling good, I presume) to a crying non-smiley face "10" (indicating a level of pain). Allie felt this was totally inadequate to the situation and drew a new version which would better represent the experience. Allie also wrote a wickedly creepy story about a teenage boy beset by a birthday party's worth of little girls that raised the hair on the back on my neck.

The last time I read something new was almost two years ago. The last I read, Allie was on the verge of having the posts ~ the stories and the crazy primitive paint drawings ~ published in book form. I told Allie (via the comment section, along with a lot of other readers) that I was *so* looking forward to owning her book. And then it looked like a whole lot of nothing happened.

The internet is a weird place. If someone you're used to reading drops off the net, you can never be sure why. Was their computer stolen? Were they hit by a bus? Did they marry someone fabulously rich who whisked them away to a remote island with no electricity? I missed Allie's truth-speaking, exaggerated whirlwind stories. I missed how Allie got to the nub of life in just a few words. I missed the simply drawn but I-*so*-know-what-you-mean little people faces. I wondered what happened ...

This morning I noticed a new post from Allie. It's about depression.

I think everyone at some time or other in their life comes face to face with it. Some of us are able to bring ourselves back from the brink before it all starts spiraling out of control, some not so much. I read through the post. It's pretty amazing. It made me think of times in my life when things looked pretty bad and how I made it back. It made me worry that some day Allie won't make it back. My first instinct was to leave a comment telling Allie how amazing the post was and that I was glad s/he was better now. Then I noticed that 5000 other people were already there (yes, really - 5000!) saying very much that same thing. I read some of the comments and pretty much anything I'd be brave enough to say was already said in the first 200 comments.

I decided to do the next best thing I could think of - write my own post and send a few people Allie's way. Even if you've never been depressed I'd lay strong odds that you know someone who has. I highly recommend reading Allie's post. It may be the most true, useful, uncensored (and yet still awkwardly funny) account of the illogical experience of depression I've read. If thinking about reading about depression is too depressing, start somewhere randomly in the Allie's post archives. Get a feel for how Allie writes, enjoy the biting wit and the quirky drawings and then read the most recent post later.

And then go out and have some kind of grateful amazing day.