Sunday, January 12, 2014

Be Kind.

I have artists all around me. Sometimes they're the children I work with. Sometimes they're friends and family. Equally often, they're the ghosts of professors or imagined ancient artists that live within me.

I am always kind to these artists, because I want them to grow. When an artist grows, we all benefit. And I've got some amazing artists swirling through my space.

I am less kind to myself and my own work. I am easily discouraged, because I find I cannot advocate for my work the way I can advocate for a friend, or a child. I somehow view my "stakes' as being higher than the stakes of those around me, and thus I'm hedging my bets against myself by not lending me my full support. This isn't fair to myself or to other artists, yet I do it anyway.

The truth is, I need to not freak out about everything in my artistic life. It's not going to happen all at once. I can only try and work and think and not think too much and hope to gain footholds here and there that will, someday, lead to successes. Or at least fewer freakouts.

Friday, August 9, 2013


I found a website,, that has satisfied my search for a "visual artists' Pandora". You choose a few artists you like, find recommendations for similar artists, or browse by categories like "figurative painting" or  "Conceptualism". It makes it easy to eat a lot of art. I can't stop looking. So much art and so much of it is fascinating. Of course the first thing I did was look for artists whose work looked like mine, or looked the way I wanted mine to look. I think that's a natural reaction, sort of the way we look for our own faces in a group photo. But it's equally interesting to see some art that's in a completely different universe than mine. The only danger is that I seem to be flipping through the site so fast I'm not sure I'm digesting anything.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Just Paint.

Yesterday I wrote that long dissertation on the rights and responsibilities of being a modern person examining and using the past.

Then I painted. I put paint on a brush and moved it around. And I wasn't really thinking about those things. I was thinking about paint, and brushes, and medium, and color. It wasn't an intellectual exercise. It was painting, in the physical world, using tools and moving around and changing things.

Neither way is wrong. Both ways are important.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Historical Privilege

No matter how much you admire something from the past, there are a distinct set of privileges that arise from living in the contemporary world. I move in circles that are concerned with recreating the past, but what draws me into the practice is the impossibility of a perfect recreation--as well as the privilege with which a modern person may approach the past. I find that I deal with these concepts both as a painter and as a faire enthusiast.

I used to think of my art life, academic life, work life and faire life as separate entities, but lately I've taken a more holistic view. I make things. Different things, depending on the situation, but ultimately all are important contributions to my life and point of view as an artist. Remember that artists, like scientists, are researchers. Whenever we make something, we stand on the shoulders of giants to do it. In this age of hyper-accessible research, that couldn't be more true. You don't have to leave your seat to discover one million other ways someone has done precisely what you intend to do. But it is a poor researcher who replicates exactly the experiment of another. The innovation comes in analyzing what has been done before, and deciding how you will do it differently.

When I sew a historically-inspired garment, I learn all of the rules about that garment so I can decide how to break them. Skirts weren't traditionally mounted to waistbands? Mine will be. It makes for easier wearing, for me at least. Whalebone was used to stiffen corsets? I'll use cable ties, more efficient. I am approaching this garment with an idea of how I need it to perform, what I intend to do with it and in it. Painting offers a similar experience. When I approach a painting, I have some idea of what I want to accomplish with it. I research other artists who have explored similar themes, techniques or subjects. Then I decide what changes I will make. Just as the Tudors didn't have cable ties to stiffen their corsets, Rembrandt did not have cameras or computers to create his paintings. These new materials, tools and techniques are available to us to make our work more efficient, more creative, more experimental, more of what it needs to be.
The sole purpose of rule-breaking is not to make things easier. It is to improve on things. The contemporary world offers alternatives to the historical world that we'd be foolish to ignore. Because the truth is, I do not want to visit the Renaissance any more than I want to paint the Arnolfini Portrait.  We have learned so much since then that as a people, we have nothing to gain by reliving it. What's important is to re-interpret, examine what aspects are still relevant and why, and present it to a new audience so they can see why the community values it. The rote reenaction of the past is a cultural experiment, and valuable in its own right. Looking to the past with an eye towards innovation and rule-breaking is an opportunity to create art. By approaching the past with the knowledge we carry as moderns, we can do more than reenact the past. We can re-create it. Keep what we like, and change the rest. These changes and rule-breaks shouldn't be considered cheats, but innovations to be shared with the community, that we might continue to innovate and enrich the experience for participants, observers, and "makers" of many kinds.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I haven't been blogging, but I have been busy. Busy working, busy looking for more work. Busy moving-- which, for me, included vacating my studio space and setting it up in a corner of the apartment. Sometimes when you're busy, inspiration is hard to come by. That's been the case for me, lately. I submitted a piece for a themed contest, which gave me a starting point for a piece, but once that was done (and accepted for the exhibition!) I didn't feel my usual "push" to make the next painting.

I don't believe in not making work merely because you lack inspiration. My dad doesn't take a day off of work because he's not "inspired" to provide IT solutions. I'd rather make crap work than no work, so I decided the cure was a marathon.

My goal for this art marathon is ten pieces a day, but in the back of my mind I know that's just an arbitrary number, and what I'm really seeking is some kind or eye-opening insight into my work. When I'm marathoning, I try to keep an open mind about what a piece can be, or mean, or how something relates to "my work".

Today I made a bunch of pieces, and the theme that emerged was one of occupying space. I like to be my own figure model, and model for myself in the mirror, but I don't have the giant mirrors I once used in my rented studio. So I was faced with the challenge of drawing my body from life in a mirror about 4"x12". That means some interesting cropped, cramped poses. Other pieces were nonfigurative and featured architectural elements like water towers and cement processing plants, but even these seemed concerned with the occupation of space. Small narratives began to emerge of people reclaiming these industrial spaces with temporary, outmoded shelters encamped around the steel structures. Sort of a dreamlike space that reflects some of my thoughts lately about community a form of rebellion.

Now I am so tired. I did a lot of drawing and thinking and errands today. I think I even found a job. But now I gotta go find some food.

Monday, April 30, 2012

What Is: Drawing, Painting, Photography

Recently I've been grappling with ideas about the boundary between drawing and photography.

I use photographs as preliminary or collage materials in my work, but never without a sense of conflict. I'm not a photographer, I have little understanding of the mechanics of a camera, and everything I've learned about photography has been simply from playing around with cameras. On the one hand, I feel like photography is my natural right, simply by virtue of my having been born into the age of digital cameras. I've scarcely known a world where cameras haven't been so prevalent as to exist in places where I don't even want or need them. On the other hand, I feel a responsibility to be educated about the camera and photography if I'm going to use them in my work, especially since I abhor the underresearched art student.

I found a happy medium in this struggle in the form of my printer/copier. Photocopying is a photographic process. However, the minimal history and codified "rules" of copier art relative to traditional photography make me much more comfortable using it in my practice. Photocopied drawings still resemble drawings, and other photocopied material can be reduced to resemble drawings or paintings as well. In addition, Xeroxes lend themselves to transfers, meaning the material can be taken even further from the source to become more and more drawinglike.

Lately, however, my thoughts have turned to the origin of the word "photography" and some of the earliest photographic processes. Broken down, "photography" translates to "drawing with light"--hence, early light-based tracing techniques, like the camera obscura or camera lucida, can be considered photographic. My concern is, where does this distinction end? Is a "photo-drawing", such as a camera lucida tracing, a "photograph"?  Is a lithograph made from a tracing of a camera lucida tracing a "photo-drawing", and if so, are the resultant prints  "photographs"?

This preoccupation recently collided with issues life size self-portraiture that I'd also been working on, and yielded a studio experiment that provided even more food for thought. I sat down in front of a large mirror, approximately 4' tall, and using a washable marker, traced my image in the mirror. As a left-hander, I was unable to draw my left hand in the act of drawing my left hand, so the end of the figure's right arm dissolved into specific but abstract marks. Once I'd finished tracing myself, I laid a sheet of bond paper over the mirror, traced my tracing, and cleaned the mirror for the next piece. I made about eight of these tracings without stopping much to think, then stepped back to survey what I'd done.

The first question, of course, was whether what I'd made was a drawing or photograph. If camera lucida tracings are photographs then surely what I'd made was a series of photographs. If, however, a "photo-drawing" is more drawing than photo, I'd made a body of drawings.

Another concern was the right arm--my left arm. The marks describing this arm look gestural, but they're a series of tracings-- as accurate as I could manage-- of a moving arm. Is this a gesture, or the most tedious kind of contour drawing? This question depends on the definition of gesture. If a gesture is a series of marks that create an illusion of motion, my work is a gesture. If a gesture is a mark made with an intuitive sense of body to describe the motion of a body, then my pieces were almost the exact opposite.

Another surprise was scale. When I looked in the mirror--a mirror that's taller than me when I sit down--I felt as though  I was seeing a life size image of myself. My drawings, however, all fit comfortably into an 18"x24" sheet of paper. Given that these images were direct tracings, the dissonance was strange.

Finally, on reviewing the tracings, I found that I'd inadvertently used two different techniques that yielded two different results. During the first few tracings, I'd kept one eye closed, flattening the mirror image and allowing a highly accurate likeness. In other drawings, I'd kept both eyes open and struggled with the shifting that occurred as my eyes moved and refocused. The binocular drawings were more interesting to me--they contained dead-end lines that reminded me of pentimenti and gesture. Because the image was more ambiguous when viewed through both eyes, tracing it required some measure of interpretation, which qualified these pieces--in my mind--as drawings.

I hope to discover other experiments I can do to help me get to the bottom of this struggle. I'm not looking for an authoritative answer, just the answer that's true to me-- and I hope it will give me some clue of how to proceed in my work.

Monday, April 23, 2012


When I'm stressed, I have dreams. They're not bad and they're not good but they're usually confusing and often tiring.

Last night I dreamt that I was trying to get to class, but better and more meaningful experiences kept presenting themselves. I fought it for a while, but eventually gave up on class and found myself listening to my minstrels play at a bookstore. That's got to be more important than the class I'm supposed to be attending this morning, which I dread.

In another dream, one of my professors told me that it was really important that I go to Iceland. That it would do good things for my work.

I'm jealous of dream-me. She gets all the good opportunities.