- Busy, very busy. Leave for Ridgway this coming Wednesday; running around making sure I have everything I need to travel. There’s a Lowe’s in the next town over and there will be a few saw vendors on the field but mostly, take it, borrow it, or do without. Randy is equipped–portable generator–so I’ll be able to sand after burning. Have a general idea of what I want to carve but can’t / don’t want to draw it up in complete detail until I see my log.
- Discovered Aidan Meehan’s books on Celtic Design and bought 8; forcing myself to wait till they arrive before buying Sheila Sturrock’s book, which looks differently accessible. Very strange feeling in my head to observe the switch between trying to draw a pattern by copying it and then learning how to construct it so that it almost draws itself. Just need the avenue in, which is true for most of the art I’ve done so far. Wish I could find it for painting.
- Major transitions on my day job, not fully my choice but clearly doors closing, giving me an opportunity to stand it the dark hall and wait to see what comes next. Net, once I work the bruises out of my ego, is fewer conference calls, fewer distractions during the day, and a smaller circle of influence. Not sure yet if I am truly being called to make some kind of art that won’t take form yet that shows up the pain in corporations or if that’s a form of lingering resentment and I need to simply let it go and move on. Time will tell; if the feeling persists, I’ll paint or sculpt or do something with whatever comes up. Fascinating to observe people telling me “you should change your personality; you should be more tactful and less outspoken,” when I get no credit at all for NOT saying, “You should lose weight.” It’s the same thing.
- Well. Got THAT out of my system, and feel a little scared just for putting out this much in public (enormous readership here, right?). Artists have to take those risks, right? (7/27/04 update: Ha! The people who displaced me into a new position have themselves been displaced by a recent reorganization. What goes around…)
- (I also said, “No one told Jesus that he should have toned it down when he was clearing the Temple.” My manager acknowledged I had a point but it only goes so far; this is not the Temple and in any case, the money changers own the joint and write the checks.)
- Book continues to make progress; have support from the major contributors. Will have several draft copies for pre-sale at the Rendezvous; hope to be in print by April. VERY hard work coming down to the first-draft finish line and working to a deadline. Microsoft is throwing up its own formatting obstacles. PITT.
- My Architect opened in town last night; took an artistically-inclined girlfriend and we both loved it. The life of Louis Kahn, architect, as uncovered by his son. If it stays around I may go see it again and will certainly buy the DVD as soon as it is available. Wonderful to listen to a movie full of professionally creative people talking about their own and Louis’ approach to being creative and what it’s like to live with creative people. Tried to take notes in the dark and didn’t catch half of what I wanted to.
- Recent seductions: reviewing books about book binding because I can’t find a bound journal that works for the current outpouring. Gone to 11×17 loose paper and that will work for at least the ream I bought, but at current rate I’ll be done inside 60 days (single sided now). Thinking on 18×24 folded signature stitched or am I just being nuts? maybe the writing binge will pass in a while and I’ll be back to 3 or 4 8×11 pages? My handwriting got a little bigger and the inter-line spacing improved, as did left margin, with the move to the bigger format. I do kinda big art. Accept it. Keep meandering through the sketchbook and loose paper sections of art and office supply stores and haven’t found the right solution yet.
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball arrived the same day I was told about my new assignment on my day job. Ironic. Wasn’t sure it’d be worth the money to be because it’s about being creative in a corporate environment, at least on the briefest of first passes, but it certainly was consolation and I think it will be as inspiring as anything else on the shelf above my desk, which is full of Tufte, Art & Fear, Editing by Design, Laurel Burch, James Christiansen, a thesaurus and dictionary, et al. Might be time to shift some of them around, too.
- Part One
- Playing around with the question, “How can I grow my ideas?” yesterday led me to the etymology of Eidos via Ideas (although Eidos is actually “form”) and from there to wanting to read the bit in the Bible, “in the beginning was the Word…” Hint: It’s not Genesis, at least not in that phrasing (same idea). A friend with better Sunday School attendance than me said, “NT” and then I knew enough to know it had to be John and indeed, John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
- OK, but Word = Logos, I know that. Read on.
- John 1:3, All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (King James says it the most elegantly.)
- Wow. I was shaking by the time I was finished reading and I can still recreate the feeling a few days later. Suspect strongly that at the root of “things made” is Eidos, form, sculpture. Creation. Asked the Baptist Preacher who took one year of NT Greek 20 years ago and couldn’t answer from his own information. Expect he will shop the problem because he would like to see me back in church and will encourage any Biblical interest I show. An excuse for a call, too.
- I am allowing this verse to explain the emotional hit I get when I see some forms of creation, most specifically the major window in Mt. Olive Baptist’s new church, which they didn’t need to buy but makes the church, at night, the major architectural feature in this little town. And I am encouraged in my own stumbling way towards art, if I allow that it really does come from God. Reading ArtNews inclines me to think not all artists would explain their calling the same way.
- Part Two
- Em Yates, my neighbor to the south, died today. She was 95+ and had been in bad health since I moved in. The neighborhood shifts. Expect the house will be sold; a friend suggests I buy it. Think not; it’s a money pit and a long way from code if I were to rent it out. I’m writing this entry after the funeral and viewing. I made an effort to be neighborly when I first moved in but pulled away the last two years, unable to handle her constant self-centered whining about her life. A life reviewed and closed in 20 minutes, 10 of which were about Jesus, and a pink-and-white coffin that was nicer than any of the furniture in her house. I hope to leave a different legacy, if nothing other than tangible work that shows I was here.
- What a month! Knitting like a demon, finding the Knitting Goddess and Handpaint Country encouraging me to use even more color in my work. Writing a book about chainsaw carving that needs to be ready by the end of the month. Coming back to life after two month’s artistic hibernation and gestation. Fixing up my house to support even more creativity. Ice storm and isolation. First possibly serious chainsaw injury, stopped by my chaps. $75 initial cost, 3 years, $howmanythousand for the avoided ER visit and follow up.
- Duck show sold my space so I have my booth rental back. Whew. Very glad I’m not out of town this weekend and I can focus on other art.
- All of that is a bit of a run-on. Maybe I should take it one at a time.
- The knitting continues at a furious pace. Finishing the red sweater I started between Christmas and New Year’s and setting up a mostly-blue one next. Hanging out in the yarn stores again. Expensive habit. Buying knitting books as eye-candy; loading the database for the next project after this one. Maybe try a new form of knitting for me? Patchwork catches my eye, with other people’s fancy hand-dyed colors instead of my own intarsia blends. Not sure yet; haven’t cast on the blue so there’s plenty of time and I am able to stick to my resolution about not buying ahead of myself.
- Found The Knitting Goddess courtesy of an amazon.com search on knitting books. Deborah Bergman majored in comparative religion; it shows. Links the ancient goddesses who had fiber anywhere in their story to our lives today; completely engrossed me. Off to my Bullfinch to find out more about these stories.
- I frequently haul glossy magazines home to use as raw material for my color notebook and sculpture idea book. I’ve learned which ones are the richest source material (Architectural Digest, Veranda) and which to leave alone (Organic Style, most travel magazines, Gourmet). Found a new-to-me magazine: Dwell in the glossy recycle yesterday. Brought it home. Nothing of interest for my own art. Noticed a paragraph of editorial content about My Architect, a film about the life of Louis Kahn. Left three families when he died; the movie is his son’s search for understanding about Louis’ life. This is the story featured in the Law and Order episode over which I blew up a TV. Website for the movie links to an interview with Nathaniel Kahn who talks about creativity in architecture and film; rich material. Hope the movie comes to Raleigh or they release the story on DVD. This may be one I have to own and watch a few times. Hungry for more information, any information, about how other artists have experienced their own drive to create.
- It is also not lost on my that my formal training in creativity is in the field of landscape design and as such I have an affinity for architects that not all artists share. Worked in architects’ and landscape architects’ offices for two years when I first came to NC.
- February “drop one add two”:
- Dropped several magazine subscriptions, not so much that I didn’t enjoy them (National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, Sunshine Artist, Saturday News and Observer) as much as I have too much to read anyway and I don’t need a regular dose of something from the outside distracting me from what might be coming up from my own resources.
- Added a workable office space–new desk chair, better lighting, typing table that’s at the right height and lets me hand-write and work at a keyboard without having to move my PC out of the way.
- Added colored pencil to my journal entries. (This appears trivial even to me but I suspect it’s going to turn out to have a profound impact on my ability to create 2D art. Inability to make 2D art is a major source of frustration to me today.) (Also, the colored pencil appeared on its own, rather than being something I “thought up.” Practicing the art of listening to what shows up on its own.)
- Took a break from the saw over most of Dec and Jan and got back to it yesterday because I have orders for two bears that don’t need to wait for additional Ridgway inspiration. My 16″ bar is still out of commission and now I really need to get it into the shop. My Stihl 260 is great for blocking out but not for carving, as I discovered after two hours’ work. Leaned around the bear to check the back of his ear and felt a “pop” on my left leg. Shouldn’t be anything hitting me. Looked. Wow. That’s why we wear chaps. 1″ nick in Kevlar would have been an ambulance ride and a lot of stitches in denim and flesh, not to mention not carving for a MUCH longer time than it will take me to get new chaps. Glad I had my camera in my hip pocket and not in my chaps pocket! Three years, first moving chain-on-a-saw injury.
- I am finding the idea of being an author of a real book infinitely more seductive than the actual work involved in getting from point A: the idea to point B: the finished product. Pricing printing–Ouch!! This is real up-front money! Endless spell and grammar checking. Even more reorganization; the more I write the more I can see how it can all fit together more effectively. Except that I’d really rather be: installing a new light assembling my new chair shopping for shelving for the bathroom walking the dog keeping up with email anything else on the planet and I have a month-end deadline and people will be more likely to buy if they have a finished product to look at. Wouldn’t be surprised if some of the reason for the chainsaw cut was to send me back to my PC. Page count is dropping to something reasonable (perhaps 250 or so) as I print and read and realize there is a lot of duplication. Stay tuned. Another ice storm or two would be useful.
- I have three days to make art, free of major obligations, and the time flies. Wonder how it could be different… should I buy another powerball ticket, even though they pollute my imagination so badly? I’m starting to think that maybe I’ll buy myself a German wheel and a week at wheel camp for my 50th birthday. (Early enough in the daydreaming process that all I know is wheels cost about $1000 and we can assume the camp is at least that much. Need to know how many pull-ups they’d expect a body to be able to do to get any benefit from camp, or even if they accept people my age with my amount of circus training, = 0.) I think it’s better to imagine what might come of a week at wheel camp than what I would do with powerball winnings.
Anyway, I have this time, and I have an idea, and now I’m noticing just how hard it is to bring a new idea to life. I’ve been wanting to play with polymer clay for a while, and I hover, and buy the books and read the magazines and get my stuff out every now and then and muck about, and never really get anywhere. It all seems too overwhelming, and I don’t have a vision of what I really want to make anyway, which makes it harder. But then I got a new idea.
I visited my sister in her new house at Thanksgiving, and I noticed that her house came with the exact same chandelier as every other new subdivision house I’d seen, based on the number of these lamps that have been donated to the Raleigh and Pittsboro Habitat Home Stores. Because her house is on the generous side, her chandelier was a bit bigger (15 arms), but it’s the same design. We counted eight of them the last time we went to Habitat in Pittsboro.
Joel Haas will readily point out that it’s important to select readily available raw material when you’re in the art trade. No point in making something that turns out to be popular, and then discovering you can’t get any more of what it takes to make the piece. He uses freon cans in some of his work. I’ve found the same to be true about the rugs–never ending source of old clothes in this county. These lamps appear to be the same. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. And they’re a fine enough design; it’s just that people have their own taste and want “something different,” so they change them out just as soon as they have the cash to do so.
More to the point of the polymer clay problem, they are big enough to warrant some real effort and attention, and they provide a substantial “canvas” to work on. One of my problems with polymer clay is that most of the stuff I see in the books is small. I do not work small. I’m not into miniatures. I want to be able to SEE what I’ve done.
Those lights became an opportunity. We bought one the other week, the first Saturday after the Tour when I had some time to wander, and John and I disassembled it. We thought perhaps we could bake the clay and NOT hurt the insulation and wiring, but I thought it would be safer to bake only the brass, and then rewire when it was done. Step One out of the way.
Then, there was nothing between me and a PC chandelier but me. Ideas all over the place, but ideas are squat when it comes to art production. The only thing that matters is art, finished product. Not ideas and what coulda woulda mighta been I thought about doing that I coulda done that my kid could do that. We hear it all on our side of the craft show booth. Sure, lady. So there I was, with my “I want to make a PC chandelier,” and all my clay, and a bit of time, and a raw chandelier. Go.
First, I had to design the thing, and then, I had to make a space to work, and both were bigger-than-a-breadbox problems, with different approaches.
A few weeks back, I had the house energy-audited. The house scored a 25 on a scale that runs from 0 = totally airtight to 50 = you are outside. 25 = compares favorably with a tent. I spent Thanksgiving week addressing the leaks the auditor found in the closets, and since then, I’ve been sealing up ductwork. The last duct vent was behind an 8′ bookcase that was all but built in, and the bookcase needed to be moved. Which meant the books had to come out, onto the table I wanted to use for the clay, and I had to get the whole thing done before I could start on the clay. One I was behind the bookcase, I observed that the shower-plumbing access panel was essentially a square-foot hole straight to the basement, leaking cold air back into the house. Sigh. Eventually, that all got sealed up and insulated as best as possible, and the bookcase moved back, and reloaded, and the books I decided to let go of piled up to donate to the library sale.
In between moving books and bookcases, I took study breaks in my design notebook. I traced out the parts of the lamp and started thinking about what I wanted to do with their PC veneer. I knew I wanted black and white stripes on the arms, but that’s not a whole lot of design decisioning. I knew one thing from my prior experience with PC, and that is that you can’t design with the clay in your hands. I can’t, at least, and I’ve seen hints in the books that the people whose work I like don’t design on the clay, either. Sarah Shriver spends up to a month considering and building a cane. (I don’t know if PC is a full-time or part-time gig for her.) Judith Belcher, ditto, I suspect.
The design work was almost as exhausting as moving all those books. I don’t have a vocabulary of poly clay canes and structures in my head, not the way I know how to put together a rug in any one of 10 or so patterns, so that when it comes time to do a new rug, I only have to pick colors and go. (Actually, I had much more trouble in the first 10 rugs than I do now, and the parallel is not lost on me.)
So I’d sketch something. And be happy. And realize I’d addressed the first of three rings on the cups under the light bulbs, and I still two more rings and the entire center structure to go. Rest. Back to the polymer clay-idea books. What are they doing to make THAT item? How are they making their canes? Sketch another ring. Will it fit? How will I fill in the background? Through it all, I’m also thinking a bit about some of the poly clay work I’ve seen and what it is that makes me not like it. Mostly, there’s not enough light and dark, and the whole work winds up looking incredibly detailed but still boring. So I’m thinking about managing my values, and colors, and what colors might actually sell, and knowing all the while that I have to try my best on this but it’s still not going to be great as a finished product. Should I start smaller? maybe cover a cigarette lighter, instead of a chandelier? but who smokes that buys art? (Not to mention, the shape of a cigarette lighter is infinitely easy to manage, compared to the shapes of a chandelier’s parts.)
All the while I’m designing, I’m thinking of “more,” other lamps I could build / cover, highly influenced by 15 minutes in the Cirque du Soleil store at Downtown Disney in Orlando. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to go anywhere near Cirque; they’re the biggest factor in the my current German Wheel problem. And while I’m designing and dreaming, I’m also meditating on the difference between the vague and glorious image I have in my mind of something amazing and wonderful and glittery and all covered in crystals and color, like most of Cirque, and the actual tangible reality of making decisions by the square inch, or less, about how to make that happen in the real world.
(Yes, I have read Art and Fear by David Bayles. Probably need to read it again. Might want to make notes for a book called I Can Do That, which is what we all hear in booths across the craft world. “Bet you won’t,” is what we all answer, at least silently, because of this very problem. The gulf, sometimes infinite, between the perfect work of art in our mind, and the thousands of decisions that need to be made, and acted on, to make the idea tangible.)
Yesterday, it came time to get out the clay and start, only the cupboard where I keep my clay supplies was a wreck. Clean, or clay? (The poly clay community uses “to clay” as a verb.) Clean. Lots of stuff in that cupboard that didn’t need to stay in my life, including a dead phone, old message books, astrology readings I won’t listen to again, and more dust and dirt than I wanted to acknowledge. Sigh. Clear. Toss. Vacuum. Decide that the spare floor tiles from my rental property can best be stored in the rental property, and not under my bookshelf, just as soon as the tenant who’s leaving tomorrow gives me the keys.
Finally, I was out of excuses / alternatives, and I had to clay or quit. Sit down. Set up the table and supplies and tools. Start.
There is a huge gap between my ideas, and what I know how to and am able to make with skill. I do not know how to draw canes that I can make. That is, I do not know how to translate sketches into actual clay, with correct value shifts and light and dark and shaping. I do not know how much clay to condition to yield a cane of sufficient size to do what I had in mind. These equivalent decisions in chainsaw carving or knitting come to me automatically, after several years of practice; they are all new and difficult in a medium I have yet to master. And they will come, and I will get better, and I will look at the books and their instructions with different eyes, and I will watch the DVDs again and get more out of them this time.
Meanwhile, I’m out of dogfood heading into a long weekend, and I have to take care of that. Hungry dogs can’t eat clay. Not sure how I’m going to document the process of putting the lamp together. I am happy that it’s set up now. I probably will need to move the operation to a different table, and I need a better attachment and ergonomics for the pasta machine because I can see already it’s going to mess with my back if I keep it the way it is. All of these are additional art decisions. Easy once they’ve been made and are taken care of, but most painful and exhausting in the making, especially if you don’t even know that they are part of the process.
It is so tempting to take that house off the rental market and turn it into studio space… Huge shift in my finances, though, and not one I’m willing to make at this time. Off to town. Later.
Originally written December 28, 2007