So it's been almost a year since I've blogged. It's not that I stopped caring about being an artist or any such thing: I became pregnant. I found pregnancy to be really challenging and I lost a lot of focus. Then I had to move back up to Canada because I couldn't afford insurance in the States. So I stayed in Vancouver with my parents while my husband (and studio) were in Portland. Then the baby arrived almost 2 months early (hello there!) and I've been focused on that.
I absolutely love being a mama. My baby is amazing and I have so much fun with him. It's just incredible to watch him develop. And to be honest, I've wanted a baby for a long time and it's better than I expected. So I am very, very lucky.
I am, however, not finding myself to be cut out for long term stay-at-home momness. My entire existence just can't revolve around my son. So I find myself returning to art. This is more difficult than I expected, as my schedule is subject to the whims of a five-month-old. It's also a bit my fault, because I refuse to supplement with formula yet haven't been pumping, can't focus with my little guy around, and freak if another caretaker (including his father) takes him out of my sight for more than an hour.
Perfect opportunity to work on the business side of things a bit more. I can type or read with one hand while I have boy on the boob. My in-laws gave me a great book called Art Business Strategies. It's put out by my beloved Interweave Press and is aimed at art quilters. I don't quilt but I haven't come across anything that's not applicable to surface designers. It also seems to be the best book on the subject that I have found yet. I'm beyond pleased.
The chapter I am looking at now is about setting goals. It's important to choose goals that you have control over. "I'm going to get into that juried art show" is not an appropriate goal because you don't have control over how the jury picks submissions. "I'm going to submit an excellent quality submission to a juried art show" is more reasonable because you are totally in control and can focus on the quality of your work, good photography, making the submission deadline, compatibility between the show and your work, etc.
So my goals this year are:
1. Get an Etsy shop up, running, and maintained. I will be closing my iCraft shop because I haven't made a single sale, even when I did all the extra work that they say you should. It just doesn't get enough attention for a beginner seller.
2. Enter into galleries/shows. Maybe I can aim for one submission a month at this point. Be really anal about it.
3. Develop a professional website. This one is great for documenting my educational journey, but it's not professional.
I think these are good goals for now. I'd rather keep my goals modest at this point and adjust them when I need more of a challenge. The wee one keeps me pretty busy and insisting that I do this full time immediately won't work!
At this point in my self-study program, I am losing a lot of steam. I no longer have the money to buy supplies or run my business, so the amount that I have to do has decreased significantly. When I started this project I was working on it for 9 hours a day. Now I'm down to about half an hour, when I get around to it. As I run out of supplies I run out of things that I can do, and it's really frustrating, which makes me avoid it even more.
On the other hand, I've discovered a really cool opportunity that I hope I will be able to pursue in the future. PNCA has a Pattern Design and Printing Endorsement Program
. This is a continuing education program that helps with professional training, rather than taking classes for interest. It must be completed in a year and includes a self-directed project, sort of a thesis. Having deadlines will likely encourage me to keep working. I actually was fairly motivated in college and university, in spite of the fact that lecturing is a really inefficient way to teach and learn. So I think I would benefit from this kind of outside structure.
I have been doing some things lately. I listened to two art history podcasts in the last little while. The first was on The Embarkation of Cythera. That was a lousy podcast. The narrator swooned the whole time about how whimsical the painting was rather than discuss what was going on in the painting. The second one that I listened to was about the famous painting, Maids of Honor by Valezquez. This narration was considerably better. It described the moment in time caught in the painting. The royals had just been sitting for a portrait, with the king and queen looking on (they can be seen in the mirror). A court gentleman is opening the door for the party to exit and is awaiting further instructions. The princess is thirsty and is being given a little cup of water. There was a ceremony that was to be performed whenever the princess was given water: her maids were supposed to hand it to her and kneel while she drank. She had a dwarf and a little boy go everywhere with her to amuse her, and in this painting the boy is trying to wake up the dog to get a rise out of him. The painter can be seen finishing off his painting. The canvas takes up the entire height of the painting. The cross on his chest was painted after he died to make him seem suited to this royal scene.
I've progressed a bit on my embroidery and finished the last two circles. I need to fill in the grid now. These are the last two.
These are square filling stitch (on the left) and overcast stitch.
I managed to make a bit of progress on my spinning before running out of fiber. Instead of flicking the spindle and pulling on the fiber to thin it out as I went, I learned to take the spun part and pinch right at the top, spin the spindle as much as I could, pinch the top of the spun part with the other hand, pull on the fiber with my first hand, pinch the top of that, and let go of the bottom pinch and watch the twist work its way up my pulled fiber. It worked out really well. On the left is my yarn spun with my previous method, and on the spindle is the yarn spun with the new method. The new method produces thinner, more consistent yarn.
Finally, I've been doing a few more drawings. I like this book because the drawing assignments usually take only about 20-30 minutes. When I work on something longer than that I start to hate drawing. Even the 30 minutes is a bit of a stretch for me. I used to loooooove drawing, so I don't know what's up with me. The first assignment I did was a 3/4 view of my eyes, which weren't that hard to draw but gave me eyestrain. The second one is a glass bottle. I was to capture the shapes that I saw in the bottle. I started out that way but with the finishing I don't know if you can see that that's how I did it.
I did a number of tasks to educate myself today. The first was that I listened to an art history podcast about the painting "The Gleaners".
It was just a short synopsis of the painting. The podcast first described what gleaning is (when a landowner doesn't completely clear the field after the harvest, but leaves a bit of the field untilled, or at least not picked up, so that the poor can gather some food). Then it described the painting itself. It noted that the lines of the women mirrored that of the hay mounds in the background, and that the women represented maiden, mother and crone. It talked about how the woman on the left (the maiden) was the most fashionable for a peasant, and held her wheat so that she didn't have to stand up and bend down again; the woman in the middle (mother) had a practical method of holding her wheat in her apron, although it meant that she would have to stand up and bend down again to get the wheat and put it in her apron; and the woman on the right (crone) was having difficulty bending down. There is also the repetition of square shapes around the figures' heads (their kerchiefs) and in the stance of the middle woman.
After that I drew. I had to return the drawing from imagination book to the library, so I focused on the drawing from observation book. The assignment was to draw a green pepper, first from memory, and then from observation. I didn't have a green pepper so I used an apple. It was hard not to look at the author's drawing of an apple (probably why he assigned a green pepper) when I was drawing from memory. As you can imagine, my drawing from memory was not terribly impressive, but my drawing from observation was significantly better.
It was a pretty lumpy apple.
Next I studied the spinning book. The next chapter will actually involve spinning, but this one weighed the pros and cons of spinning with a spindle vs. a spinning wheel. Some types of spinning wheels allow you to draft the fibers in different ways, so that you can make a wide variety of yarns. Some are faster than spinning on a spindle. Spindles are better for very fine yarn, are easier on the hands, and are more portable, so you can spin just about anywhere. I think my spindle's great (although I'm planning on buying a smaller one for finer yarns) but I don't have any plans to buy a spinning wheel right now. They're not bad, they just aren't what's going to work for me right now.
Finally, I worked on my embroidery. I'm almost finished my sampler, and I worked on a particularly tricky stitch today: shaded satin stitch. I didn't get the shading quite right so it still looks like I did the darker color in a straight line (it was actually jagged). But I'm just learning so I'm not going to sweat it. Here is a photo, and you can see some of the other circles with other stitches that I've done.
The shaded satin stitch is the one in the middle of the hoop.
I've been falling off the business/school bandwagon lately, mostly because I've discovered that I'm pregnant and that's a job in itself. Also, there will be some disruptions because I am going to have to return to Canada for most of my pregnancy. After that I should have all my immigration stuff sorted out (it's easier to apply from outside of the country) and will be able to stay in the US for as long as I want and even get a job. Of course, there will be a babything taking up my time as well! If I do get a job, I will only work part-time so that I can focus on my art and the baby. We are very happy about this; we've been talking about having children as soon as we started dating and got serious about it quite a while ago so we are ecstatic!
Anyway, I decided to have one last volunteering hurrah before I wasn't able to do that sort of thing anymore. I helped out at the PNCA Art Auction. PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) is the leading art school here in Portland and the auction was to raise funds for scholarships. I had never been to an auction before and didn't know how it was going to go. I wasn't super excited about hanging out with rich people and I was worried that the limitations of my pregnancy (having to eat, drink, and pee frequently) would be a problem. My first assignment was to stand next to some of the art to make sure that people didn't accidently knock it over or damage it (alcohol was served at this event). It started out very quiet and not many people came to see me at first. One of the waiters saw that I was all alone and offered to get me a glass of wine (I'm just starting to show so he didn't know I was pregnant. Anyway he got me water instead.) When people came to see my pieces, most of them were very nice (or too shy to be rude). Some even chatted with me when they saw I was alone, and a few asked about the exhibitions at the museum. During this time guests were free to mill about, looking at the art, schmoozing, and eating. I think people were more passionate about the food than the art! It is hard to focus on art when you are hungry, I know. This went on for a few hours. Then it was time for the auction. During this time I was an art handler, carrying the art to be seen by the audience. (There were a number of us handling.) This involved wearing white cotton gloves, walking down, walking across the front in front of the stage (so that the auctioneer could see the audience) and then walking up the aisle so that people could have a closer look. Oh yeah, and there was a spotlight on me as I did this. Some of the time it was just me, and sometimes I shared the carrying with another person if the work was large and heavy or with a few people if it involved more than one piece. I had a lot of trouble with one large and heavy piece and had to walk like a crab to try to show it to people. My partner and I also had trouble keeping it upright and high enough for people to see it. So if you are ever in an auction and the handler isn't holding the art high enough, it's probably because it's heavy! Anyway, the auction was fun and the auctioneer was a great entertainer, joking around with the audience and trying to persuade them to increase their bids. The highest bid of the night was for food (see my earlier theory) in which the offer was for 12 people to go have dinner at a famous artist's house. Two bidders joined forces, increased it to 25 people, and bid $10,000!
After that, I headed into the boardroom to help wrap the art to prepare it for transport. I was a little nervous about this but it wasn't hard. It basically involved bubble wrap, cardboard corners for the paintings, paper so that the wrap wouldn't damage the paintings, and lots of tape. At the beginning of this process I cut my finger, which ended up being a good thing because I got to eat while it stopped bleeding. It wasn't a bad cut at all but I obviously couldn't risk getting any blood on the art. So we volunteers got to eat and we were offered wine or cocktails as well. I stayed until 9:30, at which point most of the art was wrapped. It was a good experience and I enjoyed getting to know some people from the college. I should also mentioned the waitstaff from the hotel, who were amazing. They helped us when we were struggling with the art and fed and watered us and made sure we were taken care of. So altogether it was a really good experience!
I was racing to complete my panel for the blanket project this week, and I knit so much that I gave myself a repetitive strain injury. This has been annoying for two reasons: one, it hurts; and two, it means that I can't work on my art right now (it's in my dominant hand.) I have a craft fair coming up in a couple of weeks and I'd like to crank out some stuff. Or knit. Or work on my drawings. All things I need my dominant hand for.
I did manage to finish this set of napkins before the injury.
I also managed to help an artist with her work. She is doing a project in which she has people write about a major illness on vellum tags and she will attach them to glass bottles in an installation. Here was my contribution.
While I recover, I'm going to be working on my web presence and maybe watch some podcasts and stuff. I already listened to an Art Biz Blog podcast, about the importance of a blog, and how Facebook doesn't replace a blog. I think that's true, although Facebook certainly helps me a lot with my marketing. My blog can help others in different ways though, like inspiring them to teach themselves or run their own business.
Well, I'm off to go continue to market my works!
My studies are coming together. More slowly than I would like, but they are happening. My husband says I need to give myself some grace. I just read an article about how artists produce better work if they take their time and do other things that they enjoy, so I need to remember that.
Yesterday we watched an Art:21. The theme was humor. All four artists used an element of humor in their work. They weren't necessarily laugh-out-loud funny (although sometimes they were) but humor was a starting point. My favorite artist in the episode did beautiful paintings of Audobon-style scenes of wildlife, but with something disastrous going on. One painting featured a branch full of passenger pigeons, stealing each other's eggs and mating and stuff. But the branch had fallen off the tree and was about to crash into the ground. That sort of thing. My favorite quote from him was "I just want to paint a sexy monkey."
I listened to an Art Biz Blog podcast the other day, and it was about taking out things from your workday that weren't working anymore so that you could add something else in. I was dismissive of the idea when I first heard it but now I think it's something to pay attention to. We really only have so much time, and sometimes things take a lot longer than we think they will. So we need to allow ourselves the time to do the most important work in.
I watched another podcast today. It was a lecture by an artist who works in very small, detailed embroidery. His "patches" were usually about 3 inches squared. His work was very high quality. It must take a lot of time and practice to learn how to embroider that well. He said that in a very productive year he could produce 10 of them, but it was usually less than that. He did scenes from his life, such as things that inspired him about his backyard (I don't know many people who love their backyards as much as this man did!), or a reflection on his grandmother, things like that. It's kind of nice to see artists celebrating the mundane, the everyday, as a blessing.
I got a book on spinning out from the library. I spin a little but I'm not very good, probably because I haven't done very much. Also, I have a spindle rather than a wheel, and most spinning books are about using a wheel. I don't have the money or space for a wheel at this point in my life, so I'd rather use a spindle. Anyway, this book, Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont, is about just that. I have been reading about the author's spinning journey and about different types of spindles. I learned why I have trouble getting thin yarn: my spindle is too heavy and the yarn will break if I make it too thin. So I might want to pick up a lighter spindle eventually.
I have been working on drawing from imagination for the past few days. It's an exercise from Burt Dodson's Keys to Drawing with Imagination. I got this book and his original Keys to Drawing from the library. The exercise I'm working on is called doodling and noodling. First you doodle a shape, quickly and spontaneously. Then you fill in the shape with some kind of decoration which is some kind of meticulous pattern. I spent a few hours on this. I thought it would be a fifteen minute exercise, but I listened to three albums' worth of music while doing it.
From left to right: patches, shading, and dots.
From left to right: cactus, pinwheels, and concentric.
A rare photo of me working.
I think my next drawing assignment will be from the observation book. It will take a half hour of sitting still so I need to block out some time to do that.
I haven't done any work on surface design in the past few days because I'm running out of supplies and don't have the chance to replenish them quite yet. I have a bit more to do before I'm totally out though, so I'm hoping to get back to that tomorrow.
Also, I'm helping another artist who is doing a project on illness. I'm going to write my illness (bipolar disorder) on some vellum tags with my thumbprint on them. Then I'm going to tell a story about overcoming my illness. She's going to collect these tags from many people and put them in glass bottles, I believe. In any case I'm glad that I'm helping another artist.
I'm also continuing work on the panel for a blanket that I'm knitting that will end up being sewn with other panels and distributed to the homeless. It'll be a scramble trying to finish it on time but I'm working as hard as I can on it.
I did a little learning in spite of myself this week. I heard an interview on NPR with Chuck Close, who is a pretty famous artist. Chuck has a condition called face blindness. He can't recognize faces. He forgets names too. So if you go meet him and you met him before he won't know who you are, even if you're his mother. In fact, he can't even recognize his own face. This has influenced his art. He paints faces. What he does is he takes a photo of a face. Then he draws a grid over it. Then he chooses a giant canvas and draws a grid on that. Next he carefully copies the details in each grid of the photo onto the canvas, while increasing it in size dramatically. Finally, when the whole face is finished, he can actually see the face. He does faces of people who are important to them so he can see their faces. Now, if that same person came into the studio right then, he still wouldn't be able to recognize them, but at least he can see, from the drawing, what they look like.
My drawing books have finally come in! I've taken a look at them and they seem pretty good. I'm almost out of dyes and can't buy more at the moment, so i suspect that I'm going to have a lot of time to work on my drawing.
So, although I've officially been back at school this week, I haven't really done any schoolwork. For one thing, I'm waiting for my drawing books to come in. For another, I don't yet have the supplies for my weaving. I only have myself to blame for not having watched podcasts though. I don't usually watch them while I work because most of the things I do when I work require attention.
I have finished one big commission, a tablecloth. The clients seem pretty happy with it and hopefully I will ship it this week.
Tablecloths take a long damn time! I am also working on a tablecloth and six placemat set. It's taking a while too but it doens't have a strict deadline so I can work on other stuff as well. I have three sets of four napkins that I'm working on now. I will also do some placemat-napkin sets of two for Valentine's Day.
At my last shift at the Museum, I got a million resources. The one I looked into yesterday was RACC, The Regional Arts and Culture Council. They have listings for jobs, grants, and all sorts of things. I haven't finished looking through their calls to artists yet. It's an amazing resource and I'll probably have to spend a few days wading though.
One of the things I found in the calls to artists was a call to knitters to knit panels for blankets that will be given to local homeless people. I've been working on that to try to get it in on time. It's probably going to snow this weekend and not everyone can get into shelters, so I hope I can help someone out. There seems to be a very active knitting-for-the-community scene here in Portland and there are many opportunities to participate.
I'm going to drop off some work at the Crafty Underdog consignment store today. Wish me luck!
I am back to school this week.
School is never really over when you're self-taught, so I have been watching some Art:21 broadcasts, which are wonderful. There have been a number of them that I've watched and so I can't give all the details, but it's amazing to see artists at work, with assistance and big shows at museums. It reminds me to keep at it and that it is possible to make your living at art. I like the energy of a lot of the artists, who just get an idea and then explore it until they are satisfied.
I was in my first Portland craft fair this weekend. I didn't sell much but I got some other things out of it. For one, I was invited to submit work to their consignment shop. I met someone who I might do a show with when my series is ready. I got a lot of positive feedback on my work. Also, a good portion of my Portland friends were able to make it out and support me. I won't be able to do the next one mid January, but I was told that things pick up for February because of Valentine's day. So I am going to try to make sets for two to sell there and at my online store.
I took a class on feather earring making this Friday. It wasn't difficult at all, and it was lots of fun! If I didn't already know that I wanted to do surface design for a living I might make feather earrings, although a lot of people are making them right now. Anyways, it was nice to make a couple of pairs for myself and I got supplies to make one more pair. I need to remember to make stuff that doesn't have anything to do with my work sometimes. It makes me feel a lot better.
I am still working on my three large commissions. They sure take a long time! In the future I will charge more for them, as they are a little trickier than if they were small pieces. But I am happy that I have these ones.
I've written up my new lesson plan under that section of my blog. Check it out! Also, I'm going to go reserve the drawing book from the library.
I have completed my first semester of my UnBFA, and it totally didn't go how I expected. But that might be a good thing.
I set out an educational plan at the beginning of the semester. First, I wanted to teach myself surface design. I am proud to announce that I have achieved my goals in that regard. My work is very much improved, and people seem genuinely impressed when I show it to them. I get a lot of joy out of what I make. Through practice, I have grown so much as an artist. It's really weird for me to be tooting my own horn like this, but damn, I'm getting better! I can't wait to see what the next few months will hold as I continue to grow.
I finished my design book. There weren't as many practice opportunities as I would have liked, but I am starting to see the principles being applied to my work. My skills have improved enough that I can actually explore different ideas, particularly in form and color. So that didn't quite go how I thought, but it certainly has changed my work, and I think it's for the best.
I didn't get to work on drawing as much as I would have liked. However, my drawing did improve. This is partly due to the study of value in my design book, and partly due to having the tool of a blending stump. I did not learn to draw from imagination (something I am currently weak at) but I will continue to work on my drawing from observation, at least for a little while.
I didn't get to Art History at all! Fortunately I studied it a bit in high school, so I'm not completely clueless.
I didn't finish those business books that I intended to read. I had to actually run a business, though. I watched several Art of Photography podcasts, which did improve my photography a little. I listened to Art Biz Blog podcasts and read some of the website. This site is tremendously helpful and I hope to continue to study it. I learn something every podcast or blog post. Also, I am happy to announce my latest development in my business: I'm going to be in the Crafty Underdog craft fair! It will be January 8th. It's not a lot of time to prepare and I'm going to be scrambling trying to come up with displays and business cards and stuff, but it's a start. I'm also working on three large commissions that are consuming my time and energy. They are sort of like term-end projects. Very exciting. Furthermore, I am working on my first series that is intended to be more on the art side of the continuum and less on the craft side. I am hoping to get into a show, somewhere, sometime. So this business thing is going somewhere.
I did not get to go out to galleries and see as much art as I would have liked. Practicalities of life made this difficult. I did make it to one excellent lecture and one mediocre one (albeit with great art) and am keeping my eyes peeled for more. I have gotten to volunteer at the Museum of Contemporary Craft a few times now, and I'm making great connections there and learning some of what it takes to run a museum (it takes a whole lot!). One of the advantages of volunteering is that I also get to see the exhibits.
I am also taking it upon myself to improve my hand embroidery and am looking for a way to learn tatting. I'm not yet sure how I will incorporate these things into my work, but I am sure that they are important!
I am starting to form plans for next semester. I will have to continue to study surface design and am going to try my hand at some small shibori projects. These will involve stitching a design, pulling the thread tight to bunch the fabric, dyeing it, and then undoing the thread to reveal a pattern. I will have to do this on small pieces at first because it will take me a year if I try to do it on a tablecloth or something. Additionally, I'd like to work on my weaving a bit. I've only woven one project on my loom (due to lack of funds for suitable yarn) and would like to continue to practice. I need to learn to dress the loom by myself, which is a little daunting but I've done it twice now with supervision. So I will try to hunt down some yarn that will work.
In drawing, I need to actually get that drawing book out of the library and practice more. I might continue to work on drawing from observation for the time being and learn to draw from imagination in a future semester. Hopefully I will also be able to study art history this semester, but my focus will probably be on other things and I might have to let this slide a little longer.
Business study will continue unabated as I learn to run my business. I think it will be much the same, bopping around finding what I need and then implementing that.
I will also be taking my first "continuing education" class this semester. Really, it's just an hour or so class that cost me five dollars, and it's not even fiber-related, but there you go. It's something and it's getting me out meeting people. I will continue to listen to various podcasts (I probably have hundreds of hours of podcasts now) to learn more about the art world. My husband has also tracked down episodes of Art:21 online, which is a great series and very educational in contemporary art.
So, that's my end of semester report!