Monthly Archives: July 2013

Inspiration Friday: Observation

starlings images

In biology, there is the practice of systematic observation. You draw a square on the ground, and learn about everything that happens inside this one meter/one foot/one inch square of earth and sky. It is the practice of knowing the names of every creature the walks through the soil, flies over it, or craws through it. It is the practice of knowing the names of the plants and fungi that grow there, of knowing the migration patterns of creatures and plants through it.

One spring, I spent a series of very early Friday mornings walking through the damp grass of one corner of one park, and taking stock of all the birds I could hear and see within. Two robins that way, one pine siskin in the tree, six crows, about a million starlings under the tree. Each time you look, you see the same thing in a new light, and new things that you didn’t notice at all before.

Pay attention to how your vision changes over time. Suddenly, the difference between one snail and the next is completely obvious. The shadow under the juniper is dark purple, not brown. That one crow seems to be in charge of the other crows. To observe, whether for art or science, is to hone one’s mind, to see with new eyes, and to be simply be amazed.

Photo via the RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch.

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Report From the Trenches: On Craft

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I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize to my university 2 Dimensional Art professor. He was a young grad student, teaching a pre – requisite to a class of excitable undergraduates. We had to make a color wheel. I went to the school bookstore, bought a pack of origami paper, and got to work. The result was okay, in retrospect. Circles of paper on plain white mat board cut out with a pair of scissors. I’d been doing collage for a while by then, I was hot shit. Totally developmentally appropriate for any 20 year old art student.

He said I needed to work on my craft. I was deeply offended (although I didn’t say anything, thank goodness).

Twelve years later, I get it. I’m working on my craft these days, all the time. I want my lines to be as smooth as the famous comic inkers of the 1960’s, I want my edges to be perfect, I want my mats to be cut perfectly square. It’s not as though I need all art to be perfect everywhere – for there is beauty in the imperfect – it’s that I realize that I can do better. I can get closer to the idea I’d had that drove me to make the piece in the first place, I can make the picture in my head more real in the work I do. It’s a process of learning to keep pushing to be better, even when it’s frustrating. I didn’t get it then – that even though you can be a good artist without paying attention to your craft, it’s so much more fun to be better than you thought you could.

So for this, I apologize, Professor. My cuts are a lot cleaner now, you know.

Inking by Adriano Benedetto – check out his work here, beautiful stuff.

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Meditation via Process

pasta images

At the end of a busy week, it’s easy to just keep up the pace and sweep past the details. Just trying to keep your head above the water seems like enough, all the little stuff can wait for another day. Eventually, I have to stop, pause, and catch my breath. It’s a bit much to expect someone to keep with the flow all the time, even if it’s yourself.

I’m finding that getting back into the kitchen gets me to slow down, pay attention, and re – calibrate the rate of everything. Making pasta is a good one for this. You can’t be in a hurry with making a batch of homemade pasta. If you rush, everything gets stiff and dense. If you don’t let it rest, it won’t have the right texture. But if you can take your time, do each step in the right order, at the right pace, you can have long, silky strands of fettuccine resting in nests in the refrigerator. It might take a few batches to hit the right groove. Thankfully, the ingredients are cheap, so if you flub a batch, you’re out about $2.50. Then you can start over, try again, and see if you can get any closer. You find your pace, slower than you thought, quicker than you’d feared, and everything becomes clear. All the little problems that you’d been stuck on in the week work themselves out. The rough spots of the day seem smoother. And the pasta? Delicious.

Photo via Joy The Baker.

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Inspiration Friday: Crowdsourced Creativity

quilting-bee2

There’s something to be said for art emerging from the masses, from a group of people making something beautiful together. So sayeth the solo artist, anyhow. I’ve been intrigued by this for a while, and wanted to share a few big projects that came off really well.

Virtual Choir – Most people like to sing, even if it’s in the shower. but most of us don’t have a chance to sing in public – we don’t have time to join a choir, or we’re embarrassed that we can’t stay in tune. Virtual Choir brings together individual people to sing, by patching together clips of hundreds of people singing into their webcam.

Birdsong remix – The other option is to release the same source material to a big group of artists and see what grows out of it. Studio 360  had a show introducing a database of bird songs collected and archived by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology  and released to the public. Everyone was invited to download the clips and remix them to create new music. Check them out – and maybe you can make your own remix.

Book by tattoo – On the other end of the spectrum, there is the idea of including lots of people into a project who won’t ever see the finished product. Author Shelley Jackson wrote a book, “Ineradicable Stain,” and published it by tattoo.  People signed up for the project, and were given one word of the book to be tattooed onto their skin. Members of the project never saw the final book, unless they could find each other and assemble them in the right order.

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Report From the Trenches: Focus

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The next vendor over at my first farmer’s market sold cupcakes. Actually, she sold four things: two flavors of cupcake, 1 kind of cake, and 1 flavor of ice cream sauce. No elaborate product lines, no six colors of frosting. Just four things. Watching her sell, I learned a lot about the paradox of choice. People would come to her stall, see the four items, taste one, and buy it. People would come to a stall with twelve types of things, look blankly at them, and then move onto the next vendor.

I suppose there’s something to be said for focus in business. Making your customer’s decision simple makes a lot of sense. After all, they’ve already chosen to shop with you instead of some big box store with four thousand choices, maybe this is what they’re looking for anyhow. Better to choose four things, and do them really well, instead of spreading your time across a hundred. And yet, there’s something to be said for offering what your customer actually wants, not what you want for them.

It’s a balance, really, between the desire to maintain a focused product line, and the artists’ need to make. That’s why we do the work, after all. To create new things, to try a different approach, to constantly explore the new places in our imagination – this is why we make art. This summer, I started out with about 15 designs of four different products. I’ve been adding a few so far, and I think that’s good for now. Just as long as I don’t outgrow my booth, I guess.

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Poetry Sunday: Jennifer Boyden

They Have a Point
by Jennifer Boyden (via Orion Magazine)

When the gods gave us all the holes
leading into our darkness, they planned
on our needing a mystery. It amuses them
that what is inside the body
is more body. The same body, but different.
They first said the bodies should be mostly moss
inside. But they kept coming back to the mystery.
Moss, they said, can be seen outside,
and what is outside can be accountable.
Though they liked that moss would have kept
everyone soft and green, they decided it was best
to fill each thing with itself, which would then be hidden
within the other. Look at stones, they said.
Look at water, which is like the throat of water.

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Inspiration Friday: Strawberry Season

wild-strawberry

At the market this week, I was sitting next to the berry farmer’s booth. I ended up buying a box of their local, organic strawberries and eating them for the better part of the morning. The berries were small, deep red, almost purple. Most had deep folds and puckers, definitely more homely looking than the bigger California berries at the grocery store.

As it turned out, this was the last week of strawberries – blueberries and blackberries were just getting started, but the strawberries were almost done in the fields. The strawberries are at their best, right now, and would never be as good until next summer. You could eat them today, and feel the red juice drip all over your fingers, and not taste another that is as delicious for months and months.

I think this is my lesson for this week. I’m learning how to follow the rhythms of what is most present, right now, and to enjoy it deeply, instead of pushing for what I’d planned. To pause. To enjoy what I am doing, right now. To taste the sweetness of this bite, this moment, and love it for what it is, not for what I wanted it to be.

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Studio Update: Custom Orders

This summer, I’ve been working on a few custom orders. Someone hears about the work I do, and out of the ether, I get the skeleton of a new project. We might not admit it, but for crafters and artists, this is the best thing ever. See, the hard work is getting the inspiration to get something new started. We spend days and days scribbling, erasing, procrastinating, and at the end, something might or might not work out. When it’s good, it’s super fun, but when you get stuck, it’s the worst.

So when this new idea comes out of the ether – either a teal and black themed thank you card set, or a patriotic congratulations card, or a floral design in hot pink and orange – it’s a huge gift. All of a sudden, I have some limits on what I’m trying to create – a deadline, a size, a color palette – and all the little decisions seem a lot quicker and easier.

The best part is when the order is filled and it’s time to come back to the studio and get to work on my other projects. Something about having the cycle of finding an idea, doing the design, and getting it done and out the door always seems to smooth out the bumps between me and a new idea. Maybe it’s the bit about doing the work that does it – something about just getting the knife moving through the paper gets everything else moving too. The best thing ever.

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On Freedom

flag

Now that the 4th of July is over, and all the fireworks have finished over downtown, and all the pop – its have been swept up out here in the suburbs, we can catch our breath for a moment before we head into the real Northwest summer.

In the pause before the rest of the week, I am struck by how precious our freedoms are. This week, millions of Americans won a battle in the struggle towards marriage equality with the Supreme Court decision about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is only within the past century that my parents won the right to be married, that my friends won the right to be free from racial discrimination, that women won the right to vote.

The grip on our freedoms seems tenuous sometimes, with people and corporations around every corner trying to take them away. It seems like we have so far to go sometimes, that there is injustice, inequity, and hate everywhere. Yet, in the midst of the darkness, our freedom is so sweet.

Maybe this is how it’s supposed to work. Maybe the sweetness of what we have is what gives us the bravery to face the dark corners, ready to shed light on what we find, even if it isn’t easy. Maybe we’re supposed to remember the sweetness of what we seek, even if we’re surrounded by the bitterness of dreams unfilled. May we find gratitude for what we have won, may we keep hopeful for what is to come, and may we remember our resolve to fight for what we know is right and good.

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Inspiration Friday: Crazy Quilts

Antique floral CQ-lrg

Have you seen a crazy quilt before? This classic American art form blends embroidery and quilting with traditional frugal values.  Quilters take out their scrap bag, and piece the materials together into a haphazard design.  No square corners here – it’s all crooked squares and triangles and odd shapes, like fitting a puzzle together when you don’t know what the final picture should be.  These works are a perfect place for those tiny scraps of fancy velvets and satins that would look out of place anywhere else.  Different styles of embroidery tie the whole work together, creating beauty out of the bottom of the scrap bin.

Image via www.crazyquilts.ca

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