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Archive for April, 2006

Nearing completion

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I'm getting close to done on this book. I did put it aside for a while and worked on a few other things, mainly because my brain needed a rest from the mental juggling that is involved in planning and preparing a book of this sort.

The first book wasn't so tricky. I did up pages and, after they were done, decided which were to be attached back-to-back and in what direction they would fold. The order was intuitive (that's an artsy word for haphazard), but seems to have worked.

Yes, it's upside down. It backs onto the picture following it!

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This book is slightly different. there are ten pages and it'll be a coptic binding again. This time I made the covers stiffer and the pages larger. The major difference, though, is that there are windows through the pages throughout the book. Sounds cool, right?

What it actually means is that each page that has a window must be backed with a page that also has a corresponding window, reversed. Everything has to line up. The edges of the windows have to be finished in some fashion. Even more importantly, the views throught the windows have to justify the apertures and the openings have to be incorporated into the page layout, overall design and construction process. It's been…. fun. Definitely educational, but I had to take a break for a while because I was going stark raving mad trying to keep track of it all. I had gotten to the point at which each step taken entailed changing something which caused a ripple-effect throughout. What stopped me was not knowing what to do next that wouldn't cause adverse effects.

So it sat on the design boards for a while. I am now back at it and think I can finish it this week. The pieces have settled in my mind and I can now see my way again. The pictures are rotten, but you can sort of see where this is headed.

I really need to work on easier projects for a bit….

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Presque touchant

Tomorrow is the annual Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Seconds Sale. There will be all sorts of things, from materials used in making art and/or craft, to books and magazines, to tools and utensils used for craft and art, to actual finished products that, for whatever reason, weren't quite up to snuff or expectations.

There is usually a pile of fabric and wool and all sorts of other cool things (it's a very dangerous place). It starts at 9am and will be held at Devon House on Duckworth Street in St. John's. All fund raised go to scholarships and awards for artists and craftspeople…. Stuff is fairly cheap and almost invariably of good quality!

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Making the cut

shelley fabricAn inability to cut into certain pieces of material seems to be a common affliction for those working with fabric. Actually, an inability to make a first, decisive move on a piece of any sort is a common artistic and literary conundrum. I've been puzzling over this one because, like many people, I have a small library of uncut fabric, unpenned blank books and untouched art supplies (paper, paints, etc.). I actually think that I may have figured out why it can be so difficult to start.

It has to do with a whole bunch of things, the primary of which are a fear of committing an act that can't be undone and a recognition of the simple beauty intrinsic to the object on which you are about to commit that irretractable action.

Let's face it, starting can be difficult. Making the leap from an idea to a physical manifestation is huge. In between somewhere is a vision or ideal that accompanies the anticipation of the emotion that comes when things click in your mind. You know how it will feel when the idea and process fuse into a vision and you try study after study (or outline and synopsis, if you're writing) in the hopes of working through to that point. When finally you have something worthy of finalising, you're faced with the daunting task of brutalising a perfectly nice piece of fabric, a clean sheet of watercolour paper, or a canvas of whatever sort. "Is it worth it?" you ask yourself. "Can I improve upon what's in front of me?"

I think that, at least insofar as blank books and fabrics go, it has to do with recognising the intrinsic beauty of the item you're about to transform. A piece of painted or dyed fabric is a finished product of beauty in and of itself. To change it requires an affirmation that the importance of the vision of the artist supersedes the beauty of the fabric itself. This, in turn, requires self-confidence and assuredness in both one's mental image and the ability to faithfully execute it.

ferns fabricSo to a certain extent, a really good piece of fabric acts as a measure of the worth of your project. If you can bring yourself to cut the fabric, you have a project that is at least more spectacular than the raw materials involved and you have self-confidence in your ability to begin the piece and work through whatever obstacles might come your way. If you can't cut the fabric, your subconscious may be telling you something.

Blank pages in a blank book or a new, touched set of watercolours do the same thing for me as a piece of fabric. Pens aren't difficult, as you don't change them visibly by using them, but other materials always cause me to pause and think about the worthiness of what I'm about to do to them.

For those of us who paint our own fabrics, there is also a recognition that, for a special piece of material, the  fabric itself is a work of your own hand. Because you know that it's unique and you have a good idea of how it ranks among your own painted works, you value it all the more. By transforming it into a greater work, you are effectively destroying one vision and replacing it with another. I think that's why I have such difficuly in cutting some fabrics. They seem almost complete to me, for whatever reason.

sunrise fabric

As I've gotten better at what I do, my collection of fabrics that can't be cut has actually lessened. I still have difficulty with come pieces, though. The green-blue ferns piece above is one of my earlier works and I like it so much by itself that I can't bring myself to cut it. I've had umpteen ideas for it, but none have been strong enough to bring on the scissors. The sunrise at right has only recently acquired a project, but, as you can see, it's still whole. The piece at the top of this entry was a gift from a good friend to whom I taught fabric painting and who has since started to produce fabrics professionally. If it wasn't bad enough to have a piece of gorgeous, unique fabric… now it has to be imbued with meaning too. Sigh. It does, however, have a tentative plant that I'm working through.

I may only quilt the ferns piece, so as not to change it too much. The sunrise is going to form the view through a church window, hopefully having a stained glass effect. The piece above from a friend…. I'm still working on. The window idea was one thought, but it seems to me to be more of a fire… possibly a bonfire of some sort. I have it pinned up in the studio for inspiration. The real question is, how on earth do you sell something with which you've wrestled this much? 

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On March 6th, my sister-in-law Heather sent me an email about a book called "Living the Artist's Life" by Paul Dorrell. Specifically, she sent me an email telling me that they were giving away FREE copies to bloggers and had just extended the offer to locations outside of the continental United States.

A sentence containing the words "free", "book" and "artist" was impossible for me to pass on and I dashed off an email to them, never suspecting that I might actually be among the first seventy people or so to do so. I simply assume that everyone is like me and, upon hearing the words "free book" will start salivating, twitching and frenetically typing an email request. Apparently not everyone has the same reaction. Weird.

So the publisher sent me a copy which I received on my birthday (excellent timing, folks!). I spent a couple of evenings perusing and digesting and have to say that it was a fascinating read. While it left me with few major revelations and told me very little that I didn't already know or suspect, it performed the all-important function of affirming for me that my take on my life and that of others in this profession is close to the mark.

We do what we do because we simply cannot stop doing it without losing a piece of our beings. In persisting as artists, we struggle with money, relationships, self-esteem, other commitments, money, family & friends, public perception, self-esteem, money and feelings of futility. Did I mention self-esteem and money? Dorrell resolves the great paradox that artists face each day; we persist in a life of frustration because we can't bloody stop. (Sometimes it feels like you're whacking yourself on the head so that, eventually, you'll get it right and be able to hit that perfect spot that won't hurt. In the meanwhile.. ouch.) Our work can obsess us, infuriate us, elate us and deflate us. Sometimes the bad feeling outweigh the good. We run this gamut, sometimes monthly, sometimes daily, and constantly question why the hell we do what we do. Then we go back and do it again. And trust me, it's not for the money.

Dorrell writes frankly and candidly, without pulling punches or hiding the unsightly. It was a profound relief to read this, in the way that having any major suspicion about your life confirmed is a relief. Kind of like being told that you weren't imagining things, that you really do have a disease of some sort. At least you know what it is, that you are (within the realm of your abilities and personality) "normal" and, to some degree, what you can do to keep going. Nothing helps misery like knowing that it will end. Trust me. Women who have given birth know these sorts of things. Dorrell's own life, experiences and trials are presented with a candor that allows the reader to evaluate his or her own life and recognise similarities and merciful differences. Don't disparage the, "I'm so glad that's not me," Syndrome; sometimes you'll take whatever gets you through the night.

The business info in the book was written mostly from an anecdotal perspective; Dorrell presents the system that he and his artists use that has evolved from years of trial and error. It's presented as a take-it-or-leave-it pool of experience, in which he gives examples of what has worked for him and tells why. There's info about how to do up a curriculum vitae, portfolio, artist's statement, biography and other forms of material presentation. He covers how to deal with the press and it was interesting to see how much what he said jived with Craig Welsh's excellent four-part series on How to Pitch to an Entertainment Writer.

Dorrell's reflections on art fairs, juried shows and soliciting a relationship with a gallery are good and solid. What is refreshing is how he is able to alternate between his role as a gallery owner and art consultant and his own personal forays into the world of the creative spirit as a writer. When he discusses portfolios, he is able to pinpoint what will draw the eye and interest of a gallery owner. His role as an art consultant allows him to recognise that not all artists are starting from the same point of departure and some will have more content for such a portfolio than will others.

He touches on just about all aspects of life as an artist, from the miseries to the commissions, promotions and dealing with clients. His own personal examples and the examples of the lives of other artists with whom he works serve to illustrate at once the diversity of experience of artists and the sameness of certain facets of life through which all artists seem to pass.

All told, it was a good book and one that I will read and reread periodically for a refresher on the basics and an affirmation that I'm on the right track. Worth a read, especially if you periodically suffer from misdirection, a fundamental questioning of the path your work is taking (or even its basic validity) or a desire to crack a window into the life of artists everywhere.

As an addendum, Dorrell himself is a writer, and recognises that much of what he says about the psychological aspects of the life of an artist extend into artistry with words.

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