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Feast or Famine

Some days there is really nothing worth blogging about.

Lately, a lot of my days have been like that. Things are happening, work is getting done, but none of it has been of particular noteworthiness.

Now, suddenly, I find that have plenty on which to write; work in progress that is finally at the point of sharing, plans made regarding product lines (and how those plans were made), the effects of sleep deprivation on creativity and all sorts of wonderful things. Stay tuned! I should get a real honest-to-goodness post out today!

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Networking

Found this neat little site that plots a graph to depict the interconnected nature of your website or blog. Watching it unfold is particularly nifty. There’s also a Flickr tag for posting and viewing the results.

The graph for this blog is the image below. Makes you realise how quickly use of your site can spread and how easily information can be transmitted (which in turn should remind you to take care with your site!)

seastrands-web.jpg

Here’s what the dots mean (taken directly from the maker’s site) :

What do the colors mean?
blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags

Thanks to Egater for the link! Her website web can be seen here.

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So is my German, for that matter.

(As an aside, I actually do read and speak some German, the former more than the latter. French, too, quite fluently, when in practice. I’ve studied varying amounts of Latin, Hebrew, Russian as well as a smidgen of Greek, so I can generally pick out most Romance languages reasonably well and can do essential things like buy a loaf of bread, ask your name, tell you I love you and inquire as to the train schedule in a goodly number of European countries. I’ve never visited any of them, but if I were there, I could identify a red car, buy the last piece of cake and a beer, tell the police that I was a Canadian and find the bathroom. I could even admire the view and find out what a hotel room would cost. What more could you want, really?)

I’m digressing again, though.

I was looking at my web stats, as I’m prone to doing overly-regularly, and noticed a few visitors from Germany (hi Ulla! Ich habe seinen blog gelesen! Wie sagt mann “Blog” im Deutsch?), Brazil (Cecilia, I’m not even going to attempt to write in Portuguese) and Egater, from Estonia. As I was perusing Egater’s blog, I came across a picture that interested me of a Craft and Artisan fair in her area (look under “Muud asjad” on the left side of the page). Following the photo link took my to her Picasa album of the St Martin’s Day Fair (St. Martin’s Day is November 11th) and I spent far too much time marvelling at the talents and creations of this amazing group of people. Their use of colours and graduations therein are so very different from ours here in on the east coast of North America, but at the same time there is a huge overlap in materials and certain patterns. Undoubtedly the similarities in climates and transatlantic trade through the ages has affected both what we use and how we use it. Lots of woolen and wooden items abound in the St. Martin’s Fair, the vast majority of which are made with great skill and by hand. I was seriously impressed.

As I said before, my Estonian is pretty much nil, so I was floundering around trying to find out where in Estonia Egater lived when I bumped into a link to her Technorati profile. Turns out she lives in Hiiumaa. Looking up Hiiumaa, I found a bitsy island in the Baltic sea. It’s just under 1000 square kilometers and looks like a very neat place. I followed the link to the official site and poked around there for a bit. In fact, I had a rollicking good time revisiting the concept of things being distorted in translation. In this case, the old phrase “lost in translation” doesn’t apply, as I think the very idiosyncratic writing of the pages tell us more than a proper translation would. Take the following paragraph, for instance, from the “How to Come?” page

Saaremaa Shipping Company takes passengers onto Rohuküla- Heltermaa, Rohuküla- Sviby and Triigi- Sõru by comfortable ferries Scania and Ofelia with shops, bars and restaurants and other places on board that 1,5 hour trip to go smoothly and quickly. You can choose between the shop, bistro and bar. For little passengers we have nice playing- corners and adults may play with fruit machines.

It took me a second to realise that the “fruit machines” were “slot machines” and not some sort of vending machine packed with apples. Are they written literally as “fruit machines” in Estonian? Very cool.

Then there was the culturally enlightening section on “ice roads”. There are ice roads in Canada, up north, so the concept of driving across a lake is not entirely foreign to me (terrifying, but not foreign) and Newfoundlanders have crossed ice for centuries, both on oceans and ponds, but the vivid way in which going across a portion of ocean was described (for tourists, even!) made truly me want to visit Hiiumaa:

During winter time one experience an unforgettable driving by ice road the existence of which depends on how severe the cold is outside and not of the good will.

An ice road is a different one for you can pass the ferries and you have to drive at quite a high speed with your safety belts open. The speed is reduced only while approuching the cracks that one have to cross over the boards fixed on the cracks. It takes approximately 20 minutes to cover the distance in case of favourable conditions.

At least the Hiiumaa inhabitants hope that such kind of traffik will not be remain only in the memories of our fathers-mothers and grandfathers-grandmothers.

When the ice was thin the rope was tide to the tail and running noose around the neck of a horse. The horse that sank through the ice waited patiently to be helped. Usually the running noose was tightened around the neck and while gasping for breath the animal took a deep breath and was said to become lighter in the water. With mutual efforts the horse was often pulled out of water. In case of favourable conditions the trip from Heltermaa to Rohuküla took around two hours.

John and I have always toalked about visiting Scandinavia and were enthusiastic about the possibility of seeing Iceland, but I think Hiiumaa is now near the top of the list. It looks like a very cool place (both climatically and culturally) and I would love to visit that St. Martin’s Day Fair (really, the photos are worth a look. Use the slideshow feature so that they’re big enough to see properly). I think I’ll take the ferry, though. A body can only take so much excitement.

As an aside, the horse incident was incredibly reminiscent of similar Newfoundland stories immortalised in the song Tickle Cove Pond. Funny how cultures in similar latitudes coincide….

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I’m more or less signing off on work and work-related blogging for the next two weeks.

I have a few Christmas gifts to finish up by Sunday night, one of the most elaborate of which is the quilt below. Katherine asked for a new quilt for her bed made with my own dyed fabrics and has been asking me for almost three months straight on a semi-daily basis. I figure that dedication like her should be rewarded and am contriving this log cabin quilt for her enjoyment. Hopefully it’ll be suitable right through her teens, as my tendancy to make traditional quilts has declined substantially. (Making this quilt, though, has been an excellent way to get to know the temperament of my new machine. Good excuse, right?)

Katherine's Christmas present

It’s been a while since I did one of these….

Incidentally, the machine? Fabulous. Beyond fabulous. I didn’t realise how nice that dual-feed system would be for even ordinary piecing, but it makes a substantial difference.

Now, off to work!

a quickr pickr post

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I’ve been working more or less flat-out for the past several weeks and have discovered how intensely exhausting and gratifying that can be. I’ve also figured out that the key to overcoming the mental anguish involved in creating artwork for public consumption is indeed found in the following quote from Charles Kettering;

“Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.”

There’s more to it than that, though. You have to simply develop the mental fortitude to shut out of your mind the potential for failure, to the point of changing your entire definition of failure and its purpose. Failure cannot just mean not selling something, it has to mean not making something worth of being purchased and not placing it in such a position as to be viewed by potential purchasers.

If, as Henry Ford tells us, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently,” then failure is not to be feared, but used as a way of honing one’s actions to finer purpose. Intriguingly, both of these quotations focus on action and looking forward. They address the concept of a way of doing something and an assumption that, if you hit upon the right combination of actions and labour, success will result.

Lately I’ve been reading a blog directed at freelance writers who also happen to be work-at-home parents. Diapers to Deadlines is perhaps proving to be useful beyond what its designers intended, as I’m finding that much of what is written there applies to artists who work at home as well. In particular, I really appreciated the post “Taking a Novel Approach”. This post talks about taking a process-driven approach to writing and setting goals that are reasonable and directly within your control. Instead of a “make $XXX this month” goal, they suggest taking a “submit this many proposals and finish this much work” goal. In my case, this would mean a combination of completing gallery pieces, shop pieces and proposals for grants and exhibitions. I can’t control how many are accepted, but I can control the quality of the proposals that I research and put together and I am directly responsible for the work that I turn out of the studio.

So from here on in I’m going to set goals in that fashion, trusting that a certain percentage of what I submit will be acceptable and that laying good foundations will result in solid structures as time passes. Interestingly enough, when I mentioned this approach to John, he found it helpful in the legal world, too. Submitting the statements of claim and doing up claims presentations are his equivalent.

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Moved over

So I've separated my everyday life from my work blog-wise. I can't actually do so practically speaking in reality, but perhaps distinguishing between the blogs will help me to actively write more art and fibre art-related entries. I'm going to attempt to do at least one a week. Like all things creative, there are floods and droughts, so expect a flurry of activity during some periods and a dearth during others.

Must get some actual work done now. The first step to a blog entry is actually having something to blog about…..

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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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