Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bad Times, Good Times

What is it like to be an artist?

As you know, this fall I took a fibers class at the University. Years ago, this is the class that inspired me to start taking studio classes at all, but it had what felt like a hundred prerequisites, so I only just got to take it this semester... finally! In this class, I had about a million + one epiphanies, one of them being that being a professional artist is hard work. My last post was related to this topic as well, but today I have a little more to share about it. 

Antiquis Texere Novus

(Remember that you can click on the photos for a closer-up view.)

Hard work?

Yes, indeed. There is controversy about this concept. Forgive me for any generalizations here, but there are many people, people who are not artists or art appreciators, who think that art-making is "fluff." That art-making is easy. That it doesn't take any special skills, or that a person who calls themselves an artist is just avoiding getting a "real job." Some people think that being an artist isn't a profession of value when compared to a doctor, lawyer, teacher/professor, scientist, factory worker, safety inspector, janitor, pilot, IT specialist, engineer, realtor, museum curator, government representative, etc etc etc. To be an artist means to lounge around, "dabbling" with materials and supplies for fun. As such, it is a constant conversation (I want to avoid the conflict-related word "battle") between serious artists and the world at large, not to mention between the serious artist and herself, about the value of art-making and the outcomes of art-making, and what that value translates to when it comes to getting paid.

This class showed me just how hard it is to make something that is successful at expressing what I feel needs to be said, in a medium in which, despite what I think I know, I am actually a beginner. The benefit (or sometimes the curse) of taking a class is that one is given direction. What is there to be said, for example, in a 24" x 24" square of white cotton? How can it be altered to reflect your point of view? Oh, and please have it completed in ---(too short)--- amount of time.

Walking into the class in August, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I've been sewing for years. I interact with fabric in my work all the time. 

But. Some days I found dyeing to be my nemesis. Setting up a loom to weave for the first time was intimidating--like learning a whole new language. The commitment I had to make to an idea from the beginning didn't always result in the most polished of pieces in the end. Pushing on in the fibers studio--when my back hurt from bending over the loom, or from standing so long on concrete floors, hands wrinkled and sensitive from water exposure and covered in color, or when I was frustrated because I wasn't getting results I'd hoped for, or when it was too cold or too hot thanks to the intermittent HVAC system there and I was missing out on other things that matter to me, like time at home with my family and my couch and my not-so-bright lights--that was part of the hard work.

There was one moment when I doubted myself and ability so strongly, some part of my brain asked, "Who do you think you are?" (This is when I knew I had to call it a night. After a hot meal and a good night's sleep, I was lucky enough to get out of that space.)

BUT THEN!!!! The good times! The benefits! The positive outcomes!

For my final, I had a strong idea, the result of a sample I made serendipitously, without meaning to.

The project is called Reflect. Connect. I actually painted the yarn on the loom so I could have the colors I wanted.

8" x 8" pockets you could slide your hand into and interact with. Texture, light, weight, feel, movement, color. Oh, and what's this little thing? A tag, with a prompt: 

When is the last time someone did something nice for you? How can you help to restore someone's faith in humanity?

When is the last time you had fun? How often do you play?


Oh, here's a button, and on the other side a hole. Oh that person has one too. I wonder if they can connect? What's their prompt? What does that person have to say? Who are they?


The critique was slow at first (how can I invite people to touch them without putting a sign up that says "Please touch"?) but once the pouches came off their stand, the room lit up. Conversation, distraction, chatter, fun, interaction, reflection, connection.

After class, one of my classmates said, "This is a highly successful project. It is absolutely functional, even though it's not wearable." (Many fiber art pieces are wearable and displayed on mannequins.)

I was on high for three days. Similar to the feeling a surgeon might have upon signing someone's hospital discharge papers after a successful complex surgery, I felt like I did something that mattered. I created something that didn't exist before and it affected and touched people in a positive way. I expressed my idea, that community and humanity are important and that art can facilitate them.

Just like in any profession, there are hard parts and there are great parts. Lucky for me, the good happens often enough, helping to build my resilience so that I am able to push through the hard parts. And, I do have fun! Who says it's not ok to have fun in your work? Who says lawyers don't have fun doing the research for their cases? That computer engineers don't love their work, even when something doesn't work? This is part of finding your career fit, that balance of hard work and having fun, and feeling like what you do matters, to you and to someone else.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hours and Hours

What is it like to be an artist?

Making what you need (and want) to make takes time. I mean it. Hours and hours and hours. And I can't just calculate the time it takes to make one project, either, since after I practice a little, I can often crank something out super fast. It's not just the making of a piece. It's the hours and hours it takes to develop the project. It's the time it took to learn the techniques that allow me to even get to the project development. It's my education and experience and time and skills all combined to make a single piece that I can show or sell or hang. 

And then I'm asked to put a price on it that is in line with the current market, where things made abroad in assembly-line factories or by machines outprice me every time. Forgive me for voicing my discouragement (frustration? indignation?) on this matter. One realistic aspect of what it is to be an artist is to question: What is the value of my education, my trial and error, my acquired knowledge, my skills, and my time?

This semester, I'm taking a fibers class at the university. For one of our assignments (a "cover cloth") I made this:

The piece is far from perfect, but it is the first one, the prototype, were I to make more and try to market them. These skills were used:

  • Hand sewing
  • Machine sewing
  • Dyeing
  • Screen printing
  • Color selection and matching
  • Drawing
  • Transferring a drawing to the screen printing process
  • Quilting knowledge
  • Computing
  • Spacial sensibility
  • Fabric selection based on type and texture
  • Decisiveness
  • Time management

While I was working hard late one night to finish it, I was on the phone with my mom saying that no one would ever notice this detail that I was putting into it. I was questioning whether it mattered that I include the detail at all. She responded that I had to do the detail for me, so that I could call the piece mine and be satisfied with the final outcome for myself. I considered this and carried on, even later into the night. (I did include the detail!)

It is the details that make the story of the piece. Have a look at this, my second-ever weaving done on a loom:

Here's a detail:

What are your thoughts, at first glance? What do you notice? What, if anything speaks to you?

Here is the story:

The assignment was to create a progression, one with a beginning and an end. Last month, I celebrated living in the house we live in for six years. It is a special thing for me. I've never lived in one abode for five years, let alone six. 

My progression was to document of all the places I've lived. There are as many inches in the weaving as there are years of my life. Every section represents the places I've lived. Blue is Colorado, gray is Oregon, purple is Germany, etc. If you count up the colors and the different weaving designs within the colors, you'll see 18 different things, which relate to the 18 places I've lived. I had to leave out some places, the ones that lasted less than a year, to keep the momentum of the piece.

Here's the detail of the end, to show my 6 years of living in one house:

What are your thoughts, now that you've heard a little of the story? Has knowing the story and understanding the details made the value go up in your mind? Are you curious to know how long it took, not just to weave this, but to learn how to thread a loom, to learn the new vocabulary (and use it!) and design something for a loom that would come out the way I hoped it would?

A couple years ago I learned about the James Whistler case of 1877. An art purchaser thought Whistler's painting, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1874), was overpriced for what it was, and said so publicly. Whistler took the man to court for libel. The court ruled in favor of Whistler. Here is an excerpt from the courtroom (Holker was the defendant's attorney; excerpt courtesy of Wikipedia):

Holker: "What is the subject of Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket?"
Whistler: "It is a night piece and represents the fireworks at Cremorne Gardens."
Holker: "Not a view of Cremorne?"
Whistler: "If it were A View of Cremorne it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic arrangement. That is why I call it a nocturne...."
Holker: "Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?"
Whistler: "Oh, I 'knock one off' possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it..." [the painting measures 24 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches]
Holker: "The labour of two days is that for which you ask 200 guineas?"
Whistler: "No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime."

Here's Whistler's piece. And here's to the time and hard work that goes into being a professional artist.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Business Day

What is it like to be an artist?

Every morning, the art studio calls. Every night, the studio calls. As much as possible, I answer the call.  Here is what the studio looks like right now--I've got about ten projects going on here. It looks like a complete mess to you, but believe me there is order in the chaos, and it is my sanctuary. As Tom Lundberg says: "Work is worship." I love this.

Yes, any day of the week, I'd rather be in the studio. However, an artist must promote herself. 

Today has been a business day.

  1. Interview potential client for starting a new business (more on that later)
  2. Buy some supplies, including a tapestry needle (what?)
  3. Update my artist bio to better reflect my current artist self (I've changed in the last year and a half)
  4. Photograph new products for selling on Etsy and to FoCo businesses
  5. Email FoCo sellers and attach edited photos
  6. Apply for Support Local Culture
  7. Update blog
  8. Create a new Etsy listing
  9. Post to Facebook
  10. Cook a dish for and attend the Hotdish, the monthly artist networking event, organized by the excellent Elizabeth Morisette, who writes Northern Colorado Art News (you should subscribe)

Business stuff sometimes feels productive, and sometimes it doesn't. It's the right thing to do. More often than you think, you have to do this if you're going to be a professional artist. I'm still getting used to this.

Here is my photography "studio", and the photo that resulted from it. Check out my Etsy to see more. 


Friday, September 25, 2015

Who Inspires Me?

Patience Brewster is an artist I've liked for years for her delicate and detailed drawings & paintings, and for her whimsy. She uses color and captures the character of her figures in ways that I find wonderfully inspiring. She is currently best known for her Christmas ornaments.

Trying to Find the Words
by Patience Brewster

Serendipitously, her team recently contacted me to collaborate in an online Artist Appreciation Month event, where they have asked several folks to talk a little more about what's behind their work.

In an effort to go deeper with you, my devoted blog readers, I want to share my answers to her questions. I'd love to hear your own stories and thoughts in the comments below if you're inspired. :)

1. As a child, do you recall a significant moment when you felt truly affected or inspired by any particular artwork or artist?

This may sound funny, but my early inspirations were mostly in music. My mother is a strong musician and brought me and my sister up in an environment where singing and listening to music and watching musicals and attending classical concerts (as well as ballet and opera) were the norm. The day I found myself as one of four trumpet players in the prestigious Portland Youth Philharmonic during our first concert on the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall stage, I almost burst into tears, I was so inspired! It was in this moment, during the swells of a Brahms symphony, that I realized how art moves people, and how everyone has skills and a contribution to make in this world, no matter how young one may be.
Trumpet section of the PYP with
conductor Jacob Avshalomov (1919-2013)
and me just to the right of him,
1995, Portland, Oregon
 2. As an artist, what do you hope to convey with your work?

Up till quite recently, my aim has been to express whimsy, love, relationship, meaning, and hope in my art. I like it when people are enchanted or intrigued when they see a piece I've made. I like it when I can come up with a twist that makes people see something in a new way. In moving forward from here, I want to add to that: how can I express some of the things that I think about outside the art studio (culture, race, class and gender, identity, privilege) in my work, and in a way that isn't dark? How can I find the courage to say something in my art that may challenge the beliefs of my viewers without alienating them? I am so community-oriented as a person, I want my art to start a conversation, not shut someone down.

3. What memorable responses have you had to your work?

The first thing that comes to mind is when I actually sold something at an art show. Talk about feeling legitimate!  One of my very favorite artists is Barbara Gilhooly, who also happens to live in Fort Collins (and you should visit her website). She bought my piece and has since encouraged me to keep on keepin' on.  More recently, my dad has been talking about me to his friends and our family members as the one who seemed to be born with the talent and skills and the ability to persevere to make something of it, like a career. That has really meant a lot to me.

Me with Barbara Gilhooly and the piece
she bought (to the lower-left of us)
4. What is your dream project?

Since taking a feminist art history course in the spring of 2015, I have tons of new ideas. I'm still working on working out how to actualize these ideas, but my dream for now is to make a body of work that could be exhibited in a gallery show that is not in my own town. I mean, it could be here too, but I always appreciate any opportunity to travel.  :)

5. What artists do you admire?

There are just so many, and for so many reasons! To start, you can click on any of the links to the right and you will see a fair sampling of the artists I admire, especially in Fort Collins. But allow me to expand!

Sofonisba Anguissola was a prolific 16th century painter whose work I just love--it is vibrant, thoughtful, and addresses the occupations and confines of women in her day in subtle and intelligent ways. 

The Chess Game, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1555
Maria Sibylla Merian brought science alive in her botanical illustrations, making science accessible to everyone. 

Plate LX from Metamorphosis insectorum
, by Maria Sibylla Merian, 1705.
Rosa Bonheur was a 19th century French artist who poo-pooed the notion that women could only wear dresses. She got a doctor's note allowing her to wear pants, which made it easier for her to go to the slaughterhouses to study the anatomy of the cattle and other animals she so skillfully painted. 

Rosa Bonheur

Harriet Hosmer was a sculptor who was brave enough to articulate her thoughts on being a woman and an artist. She never married, and said this: 

"Everybody is being married but myself. I am the only faithful worshipper of Celibacy [sic], and her service becomes more fascinating the longer I remain in it. Even if so inclined, an artist has no business to marry. For a man, it may be well enough, but for a woman, on whom matrimonial duties and cares weigh more heavily, it is a moral wrong, I think, for she must either neglect her profession or her family, becoming neither a good wife and mother nor a good artist."

Hosmer’s own thoughts about women’s rights, written in a letter of March 1861, were that “every woman should have the opportunity of cultivating her talents to the fullest extent, for they were not given her for nothing….” Not only do I admire that she said these things around the time of the American Civil War, but her words encourage me to this day. I so very heartily agree.*

Harriet Hosmer working on her commissioned
statue of Thomas Hart Benton
I also admire the women of the 1970s feminist movement, who paved a path for women artists who came after them.

I could go on and on, but in an effort to edit, here is a list of some artists who have lived in the last hundred years--indeed, some are alive and working today--whose work or approach I greatly admire and who are not already linked-to on this blog (click on their names to be directed to their websites or info pages about them):

Wayne Thibaud
Kara Walker
Miriam Schaer
Ajean Ryan
Willem de Koonig
Cindy Sherman
Alexander Calder
Hung Liu
Ingrid Siliakus
Charles M Russell
Su Blackwell
Wes Hempel
Wolf Kahn

Thanks again to Patience Brewster and her team for including me on this thoughtful and fun blog project.

*Citations available on request.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Art Blogging: How To Be Better

I subscribe to the blog and newsletter of Alyson B. Stanfield, an art business coach in Colorado. Her book, "I'd Rather Be In The Studio" is great and her advice, delivered to my email inbox every week, is always relevant to things I’m constantly thinking about. 

Alyson’s most recent blog post is about art blogging. Some of my favorite lines:

“If you are a working artist seeking a larger audience, your blog should be about your art and your life as an artist.”

“The primary purposes of art are to delight, question, confound, and document. Some would argue that art is for decoration. I’m not one of these people.”

“Please delight, question, and confound us! Document your world, and the world we live in.

Most people cannot imagine what it’s like to live the artist’s life. Tell them. Show them.”

Then, she linked to a great post written in 2010(!) by a person named Hugh McLeod, who wrote about why art blogs fail or succeed. It's short and worth a read. What resonates with me most about what he says is that "the real job of the artist [is] to be a leader."

To be a leader!

I love to lead. I love to inspire. I love to be a part of people’s journeys to be better, to innovate and create, to help them attain a sense of accomplishment in ways that mean something to them.

I am a leader and an artist. How can I represent both in my blog? How can I lead through art? How can I better inspire you to do the things you want to do and be who you want to be?  These are questions I’m considering today. Meanwhile, I want to show you more than just my work; I want to tell you all about what it’s like to be a working artist (at least in my own experience). I promise to keep showing you what I’m making, but I want what I do to be meaningful to your experience too. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Volvelles Galore

If you saw my contribution to this year's card swap, or if you attended the 2015 Fort Collins Studio Tour, or if you've been in my life at all really, you will know that volvelles are another one of my latest obsessions.  It started with this, the first one I made for a friend's birthday in late February. I also borrowed the idea for the bird and flower from one of my fave local cafe's servers' uniform, Cafe Blue Bird.

Then I drew the five birds for the card swap cards, scanned them, cut them out, and added silly bird jokes. 

Well, that led to my development of a joke wheel, which is what visitors at the Studio Tour got to make-n-take as a souvenir from their time at Parsley Art Studio.

Finally, a friend of mine from the uni was leaving us, so I gathered photos and words from all our colleagues to make a huge, personalized memory wheel as a goodbye gift. I loved this because it was art and community in one, my two favorite things ever.

Felt Board (with Instructions)

I have a friend who turned 4 this summer! As a gift, I made her a felt board, which she loved. This was a meaningful, easy and inexpensive gift. Along with the shapes I cut for her, I gave her the leftover felt and encouraged her to make her own shapes (with the cutting help of her parents, of course). I also gave her these pictures so she'd have an inventory of the shapes I made for her.

How to make your own felt board:

  • Some kind of wooden board, any size. I used a 18x24 inch bulletin board I got at a garage sale for $2, which offered a nice frame, but it can be any board. If you're gifting this to small people, consider the weight of the board. (I don't recommend foam core--it warps with heat or moisture.)
  • Felt - if you want bigger pieces than felt squares (available in a ton of colors at the fabric store), you can find a more limited selection of colors on the bolt. Think of the scenes you'll want to create. I bought dark green, brown, and light blue off the bolt and all other colors in squares.
  • Scissors
  • Elmer's glue
  • Cheap 2" paintbrush
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • Shoebox with lid or large ziploc bag

  1. Measure your board and cut a piece of felt (best if it's a neutral color, so it can fit most scenes) to that size. 
  2. Cover your board in glue, then use the paintbrush to brush it over the entire surface evenly
  3. Lay the large cut rectangle of felt over the glue and press gently to work out bubbles/wrinkles. (It's helpful to have another pair of hands for this step.)
  4. While that dries, cut out every shape, small to large, that you can imagine!
  5. Put the dried board and shapes within easy reach of whoever will use it.
  6. Store all your shapes in the box or bag when not in use.


Since my visit to Ingrid Siliakus' studio, I have been obsessed with pop-ups. Here are some examples:

This was a graduation card for my cousin, my first original design! Pop up naturally lends itself to steps and pillars, which seems appropriate for graduation. My aunt loved it so much that she commissioned a card for a friend of theirs who was also graduating and going to Duke University on a baseball scholarship. It only took something ridiculous like three months to get 'er done, but finally, this resulted. Here is my original design sketch and the final product:

The magic of pop-ups is all on the inside, but if you make a card, you gotta have something on the outside that entices you to open it. So I put this on the front.

My favorite part of this card is actually the baseball player silhouette, which I made myself, starting from this drawing and using a little Photoshop magic:

This last one is simple, but was equally fun to make. I left lots of room on the base for everyone in the office to sign this card to our departing boss.