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Archive for the ‘web wanderings’ Category

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I was just puttering through my preparations for the local juried Fine Craft and Design Fair and decided to peruse the ‘net and see what new has been written. About.com has come out with a marvelous set of articles about starting and maintaining a craft business. They cover such things as:

That’s only a short list; there are many more such pages. They won’t tell you everything you need to know, but they’re a great starting point and a wonderful refresher for those of us who need one.

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I believe that, technically, one isn’t supposed to respond to things labelled “rhetorical”, at least, not in polite company. Ryan has, however, asked some interesting questions and I feel, if not honour-bound to answer, then at least sufficiently interested to examine, them.
Let’s break it down.

Why do you do it? Why do you do what you do? I don’t mean things like going to work, washing laundry, or eating. I mean the things you do that aren’t necessities. Why do you create? Why do you paint, draw, photograph, write, or journal? Is it a hobby? Is it a passion? Or is it just a job? Or because it makes you seem more interesting to others? Or because everyone else is doing it?

It’s because I can’t stop doing it. Interesting to others? Not my chief motivation. In fact, I have found the label “artist” can often be seen to be synonymous with “social parasite” in many circles. People act interested while thinking, “yeah, she does that to keep her busy while her husband earns all the real money.” It’s a vocation. I could have been a lot of things, but I chose (and keep choosing, despite hardship and frustration) this. I must feel that I have something to give to it….

 

While I’m asking, why do you choose the tools you use? Do you only use that brand of paint because of someone’s review or because you love the colour range? Do you use that camera because it’s what “all” the other photographers use or because you are happy with it’s ability to capture what you see? Did you buy that journal or sketchbook because of the brand or because the paper welcomes your medium of choice? Do you use the word-processing software with all the bells and whistles, or one that does just what you need?

I work in textiles because I like making art that not only appears three-dimensional, but is sculpted in relief. I also like the tactile nature of my media and its ease of manipulation. Plus the environmental hazards and mess aren’t as bad as for, say stone carving.

 

Bells and whistles? My paints are good paints, but not because they’re trendy, just because they work. I have a workhorse of a sewing machine (Bernina Activa 130) that will do what I tell it to all day without complaint. It won’t do anything fancy or create My camera was researched to suit my particular needs and what I photograph does actually reflect what my inner eye sees, more or less. I’ve learned to use it to do so (underexpose many things by one shutter notch does the trick for me).

 

And since I’ve already asked way too many questions, is your use of those tools unique to you in any way? Do you craft your characters like every other novelist? Do you draw the same things that others are drawing? Do you stand next to other photographers to take a picture from the same angle?

 

I try for uniqueness. It’s one of the reasons that I tend to create solitarily and not clutter my mind up with what everyone else is doing. I suspect that many basic techniques are used by everyone, whatever the craft, but I rejoice in finding new ways to achieve effects, combine techniques and render imagery. The only time I take the same picture as someone else is when I want a copy of what they see. Most times, I’m off in another direction.

 

I’m all for people creating, whether they have “talent” or not, but shouldn’t motivation be a factor? And shouldn’t the choice of tools play a role? Do you use what everyone else uses, or what works for you? Do you create what you see and imagine, or only what others produce? Is there any of you in what you do? And does it give something back to you?

 

Do most people lie awake at night and imagine linear tension and visualise colours layering? I suspect not. Normal people aren’t kept awake by problems of achieving dimensionality through the use of layered sheer fabrics (that was last night’s mental tangle). Folks who are artists can’t stop looking at the world differently and attempting to see it in their medium.

 

Did someone push one of our buttons today, Ryan?

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While leaping from blog to blog this morning on my coffee break, I happened upon a fascinating article about creativity, fatigue and setting a frenetic working pace that really got me thinking. While it’s nothing new to most people who work creatively that you need head-space to be able to create, it seems that the business world is only now recognising that ingenuity requires an ability to supersede the mundane and the mental space to allow one to do so.

I’ve often found (as I’m sure many folks have) that I’m more creative and have fabulous ideas when I’m least focused on work or have just gotten into the relaxed swing of a good vacation. Some people get ideas in the middle of the night, when their minds can finally shut down involuntarily. Often artists will talk about working in their “Zone”, when they set their minds and hands free to follow the nuances and suggestions of their art to creative culmination. Thinking on my own creative habits, I actually vacillate between frenetic activity on a piece and “letting it stew” in my mental crock pot.

While thinking this way, time has no meaning, which is why it’s probably difficult for most people with the “Time Equals Money” mentality. Lawyers, for instance, are acutely conscious of the fact that the passing of 15 minutes needs to be attributed to some sort of income. Some lawyers allow for creative connections to be made in their work by working late at night or going to the office when others aren’t around and free-form thinking won’t be interrupted or questioned.

It only makes sense that new ideas have to come when the mind allows itself time to make cognitive leaps. I particularly liked the quote used from Peter Drucker, who stated that, “All one can think and do in a short time is to think what one already knows and to do as one has always done.”

Innovation takes a certain amount of brilliance, it’s true, but it also takes having the inclination and time to be receptive to flashes of creativity. Something to think on as you work through lunch….

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After reading this, I'm rather glad I work in textiles.

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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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What's on my desk on Oct 6, 2005Every day I get a few hits from people who are trying to track down other craftspeople and artists in Newfoundland. For instance, since my post on my odd habit of keeping pebbles in pottery bowls,I've had a consistent stream of hits from people searching for Christina Dove of Dove Pottery. (Christina doesn't yet have a website, but you can contact her using this information!)

In light of the fact that people seem to be using me as a leaping point for finding other artists and artisans in this fine province, I've created a page of links that will hopefully provide the searcher with a plethora of avenues through which to find what they seek.

The discerning among you will notice that the above link to Christina Dove is to a page in the Craft Council Studio Guide. Our Craft Council has put a great deal of effort and money into developing a guide to the studios of artists and artisans across Newfoundland and Labrador. It's a great web resource and an even better paper publication, well worth picking up. It's also free…..

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With a heapin' pile o' thanks to Ryan Wolf at Variance Art for the belly laugh when most I needed one, I pass along to you this link from the National Association of Independent Artists.

As an aside, I highly recommend having a long hard look at Variance's work. He does some fabulous stuff and has, to my eye, an incredible precision and artistry the likes of which I have seen no where else. His style of work is quite evocative of da Vinci's pen and ink drawings and Ryan's fascination with and use of the body as metaphor is breathtaking.

When you are an artist, you lay a certain amount of your persona bare and publicise a great deal of what you hold dear to you. Inevitably, you either quit, develop a thick skin, or learn to laugh hard and long at the world around you. If you're lucky, you do both of the last two.

My personal favourites from the afore-mentioned site are (n.b. these are cut and pasted from the NAIA site. All credit for accumulating them should be attributed to the NAIA):

When I was a student we had a show that included demonstrations of the different classes taught at the school, one of which was raku. We had been watching a blown glass demo and someone announced that they would soon be unloading the kiln for a demo of raku firing techniques. Close by were two sweet older ladies sitting on a bench and immediately one asked the other, "But what about the RACCOONS?! They don't hurt them do they? Would they use a REAL raccoon?" I HAD to set them straight even though I was about to fall over laughing and to this day whenever I see or do raku pottery, I think of the raccoons. Your collection of things overheard at fairs is a riot!
Thanks, Lisanne Garvin

One of my first shows was an outdoor show that my 12 year old daughter was helping me with. An elderly gentleman walked into my booth and asked my daughter if this was her work, with which she replied: "No, it's my Dad's work". I was standing nearby talking to another person, but over heard her conversation. After a minute or so of looking at my work (and still not aware that I was there) the old man said "this is pretty good stuff, but it's kind of expensive…..is your father dead? Quickly she answered with a straight face "No, but he's working on it."

My ex-wife does black and white landscape photography of Scotland, which is her homeland. At one show I overheard a young man tell his date: "WOW! I didn't know everything in Scotland was black and white!"

A man walked into booth, looked at my drawings and asked, "Is this prison art?" I replied, "No, what do you mean by prison art?" "Well I used to be a chaplain at the local prison and many of the prisoners do work just like this but better. Are you sure the artist isn't in prison?" Partly offended and partly amused, I looked him square in the eyes and said, "Not yet."

Frustrated Judge to artist who has demanded to know why he did not receive an award. “Your work is good and original, unfortunately your good work is not original and your original work is not very good.”

I'm a photographer and have been asked if I have any pictures of unicorns. I have also been asked (more than once, I might add) if I was there when I took those pictures. Some of us work hard at making a nice display. A jeweler friend of mine won an award at a show and hung his ribbon on his backdrop panels which were nice wood folding screens with fabric panel inserts. A man come up to his booth and told him that the award was well deserved for such beautiful looking screens!

This is slightly related to the thread below, which I agree is wonderful. Like many artists at the shows, I spend so much time explaining what I do that I'm constantly reminded of a comment by Picasso on that subject: "Everyone wants to understand painting. Why doesn't one try to understand the song of a bird? Why does one like the night, a flower, all that surrounds us without trying to understand them. Whereas they want to understand painting."

A friend of mine was having a very bad show and her attitude was slowly going in that direction as well. As she was sitting in her booth she recognized a past customer entering her booth and her hopes were rekindled. After looking around a little bit the woman approached my friend and expressed a deep appreciation for my friend's work. She told my friend that she wanted to support all her efforts over the past years by thanking her for being an artist. The customer than went back to looking at the work. My friend thanked her and went to the back of her booth for something. When she came back out, the woman had left. My friend was thinking that if the woman really wanted to support her she should have bought a piece. As my friend went to sit down there was an envelope on her chair. My friend sat down and opened it. Inside was a $100 bill and a note that said, "Thank You".

Two beautifully dressed women stopped in front of a booth in Atlanta and one said to her friend "Aren't these beautiful?""Yes" she replied, "ALL this is so beautiful. I wonder how they find time to make it?" "Well", explained the first, "none of them work."

Heard at the AASAF: "George, look at all these artists! Where did they all come from?" George: "Oh well, you know Alice, the auto plants have been laying off a lot of people lately.

Heard in Detroit: An elderly lady and her daughter come around the corner from a side street onto the art fair. Says the elderly lady to her daughter, "Oh my, look at all this mess"

As a woodturner, I take a lot of pride in converting an ordinary piece of
wood into a beautifully shaped and finished hollow vessel. A visitor to my
exhibit once asked 'what kind of trees are these that grow into these
shapes?

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