Blog2022-06-21T15:02:08-05:00
18January, 2023

Stepping out of your comfort zone as an artist.

January 18th, 2023|An Artist's Life|1 Comment

Want to listen instead of reading?

In 2022, I applied for a Minnesota State Arts board grant. I wrote a little bit about applying for it here, just after I was awarded the stipend.

For this grant I decided to focus on reaching new audiences. Because of the work I do, which is primarily textiles and clothing related, the people who come to my community workshops and online classes are predominantly women. My social media audience is primarily women interested in crafts or sewing. I really wanted a project that would help me reach a more diverse audience. So I decided to do something a little outside of my normal work. This is a book about music and musicians, which is not my normal subject matter. I’ve been incorporating more and more paper into my work because paper is very accessible. You can always find some recycled paper to make something from. So this felt like a way to help engage with a different audience as well, in choosing a media that might feel a little more approachable. You don’t have to know how to sew to understand what I do with this project.

What I didn’t appreciate about reaching new audiences is that it also might mean reaching out of your comfort zone artistically. And boy did this project make me do that! When I wrote about the project at the beginning of the grant I talked about two challenges: instruments and people.

It turns out, I enjoyed making the instruments. They were tiny. The piccolo was only about 1 1/4 inches long and the triangle would fit on top of a nickel. That’s hard to do in bitsy pieces of cut paper. My fingers got very sticky with glue stick. I couldn’t have done the project without a pair of beautiful, pointy, handmade tweezers that my friend Jeff made.

I realized quickly that there is only so much tiny detail you can make without it looking clunky, so I decided a few things had to be created in Photoshop like violin strings and tuning pegs.

The part of the project which was maybe even harder than I thought it would be was to make people. In fact not just people, but people I know.

I knew what I was getting in to with this story. We had been talking about it for years before I ever thought about doing illustrations. There was a group of artistic friends that brainstormed how we could make the story come to life visually; whether it should be animated or paper puppets or stop motion or live drawings. Eventually a book seemed the most versatile and accessible idea. But I also had many chats with my friend Cy, an artist with decades of experience cartooning and painting, about the way to create simple portraits of people. Because I had no idea where to start.

As artists, we all have the styles and subjects we love to make. I love rich textures, bright colors, and quirky animals and objects. I do not like to draw people. And in cut paper, the shapes have to be inherently simple. I had to make tiny rectangles for noses because I couldn’t cut anything more detailed than that. So I started first thinking about what were the minimal shapes I could use to make a face: Ovals for eyes, a rectangle for a nose, a triangle or two for a mouth. You can see how tiny they are there next to the point of my scissors.

I didn’t start out thinking I would do a book in the style of Eric Carle, who was an illustrator famous for hand cut painted paper, but several people have said my work reminds them of him. A lovely compliment. I looked at a lot of Eric Carle illustrations to see how he made people. I think maybe he liked animals better too, because many of his faces are painted on instead of cut paper. I also thought a lot about Ed Emberley, who wrote a series of drawing books for kids that were all about constructing animals from simple geometric shapes. So that’s how I started to think about bodies; what rectangles and ovals and curves could I make and connect together. I left the images of the audience and the orchestra until the very last because they were intimidating. That’s 49 different people on those two pages alone and the pages each took more than a week to finish.

I’ve used painted paper in a lot of fabric designs before I started this book because I love the texture the paint gives to the paper. I think it really adds some life and dimension to otherwise flat colors. I like the imperfection. Painting the paper turned out to be really necessary for these illustrations because I was super frustrated with the colors available to work from, especially skin tones. So some of the first days I worked on the book were just about making materials: skin tones, colors of wood for all of the instruments, hair colors. I assigned each “main” character a color that follows them through the book. Ada always wears turquoise. Her mom, Carrie the oboist, wears a red-violet shade. I painted some paper in every color you see in the book. In a few places I used hand-marbled paper that I made in a class. I don’t have the setup to marble paper in my studio but I have a stash that I created in classes at the MN Center for Book Arts and I love to add in little bits. In a few places in the audience you can also see the transparent deli paper layered with security envelopes, which are my favorite recycled paper. Security envelopes are the ones that things like your bank statement come in and the insides are printed with tiny black and white patterns.

Some of the people in the book are people I know, which made it easier in some ways to think about how Rolf always wears green, so naturally he has to have a green Hawaiian shirt on page 6. But it was also simultaneously intimidating because what if they don’t like the way I made their paper alter ego look? What if I emphasize something that they don’t like about themselves? What if I made them feel self conscious or disappointed?

Although I probably should have started with it, one of the very last images I made was the self portrait of myself that’s on the “About the Illustrator” section. The one you see was actually my second try, designed for a different page on the book. Although I liked the first one ok, the second one ended up somehow looking more like me, so I decided to swap them out.

By the time I did the last couple of pages, I had a little more confidence. I put many people I know into the audience page. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was doing it until I got done with a person and said to myself, “Oh that looks like Fred.” Am I confident enough to do another project illustrating people? Absolutely not. But I surprised myself at how proud I was when I got it done. It was a big artistic hurdle to push myself through.

(A note: Books aren’t available yet; there are a couple of tweaks that need to happen, but they will be soon.)

12January, 2023

Construction Week 11: Floors & Windows

January 12th, 2023|Construction, Everything Else|0 Comments

This past week has been all about floors and windows! The bathroom floor tile is almost complete and when I talked to our tile guy yesterday, he was nearly as excited about the window as I was. It makes the room so much brighter. You can see that this isn’t finished yet. Everything takes lots of steps. But three of the new windows are in and they make such a huge difference. You can see we matched the style of the windows downstairs with the three dividers in the top pane. These will be painted to match the woodwork everywhere else upstairs which is dark stained red oak, copying the style from downstairs.

We only have some of the windows still. Two of them are still on order. Since May. And sadly, these aren’t exactly right. Some of these windows are supposed to have tempered glass in them to meet code requirements and they didn’t do that. (Not sure whether it was a mistake in the order or the manufacturing). Fortunately there’s a solution: a film you can add to the glass to which is acceptable instead of tempering. So that still has to happen. And they also forgot to make this window with frosted glass. Since it’s basically floor to ceiling, you would get a very good view of anyone stepping out of the shower. So that’s really not going to work. Fortunately they make the film in a frosted version too. So our contractor is working on tracking that down. It’s always something!

Another new thing I learned is that there is an inspection for everything. Yesterday’s was the shower pan/drain inspection. A guy in a safety yellow vest showed up and went right upstairs, ran some water down the drain to make sure that all worked correctly, signed off on something official and got back in his car and drove away. We’ve had two plumbing inspections, electrical, framing, structural. Honestly, probably a few more I don’t even know about. They are very efficient.

Right now you can’t see the beautiful floors in the rest of the room because as soon as they got them down, they quickly covered them up with heavy paper so they don’t get damaged while everything else is still happening. But I got a photo before that happened. We picked LVT or luxury vinyl tile that looks like wood. I picked one that was the closest match I could get to the original hardwood floors downstairs. Because I love the look of wood, but we really decided that real hardwood was probably not in our budget. We don’t have any carpet anywhere in our house. I just don’t like it and it’s impossible to keep clean when you also have a love for large labradors. I’ve started thinking about rugs, now that I have a better idea of what this new space looks like. If anyone has a place you love to get rugs, send me a link!

2January, 2023

Construction Week 10: Drywall

January 2nd, 2023|Construction, Everything Else|0 Comments

Week 10 means we have walls! This couple of weeks has been the messiest so far. It is amazing how much dust drywall generates! The space looks so so different at this point. Since I last posted, they finished all of the rough in for the plumbing and electrical. The roofers were finally able to get here and put a permanent roof on the dormer and do all of that roof finishing. The weather had been holding us up a little bit. We had a temporary roof of plywood with a giant tarp on top of it. We had a big snowstorm come through with crazy winds and the tarp blowing sounded just like thunder for 2 days. So I am really glad that’s finished. We also have insulation. Which is incredibly important in winter in Minnesota. The whole house feels a lot warmer. There’s still a draft because the windows are all covered in plywood, but it’s an improvement.

We had a tiny bit of drama with the drywall delivery. A huge crane truck pulled up in front of the house but the operator decided that our neighbor’s mulberry tree was in the way, so he told our contractor that he was just going to “trash it”. Our contractor looked at him like he was nuts and explained that trashing the neighbor’s property just really wasn’t an option. So they drove off in a huff with all of our drywall still on the truck. They simmered down a little while later, figured out a different option and our crew carried all of those drywall sheets up the outside stairs. I am again glad that was not my job.

My favorite part of this few weeks was getting to see the real shape of the space. I told my dad (who was our architect) that I think it almost looks faceted. Because it’s an attic, there are angles everywhere. There are really only a couple of walls that go floor to ceiling uninterrupted. Most of the others are divided up by a sloped ceiling or an angle. I was considering painting some bold colors upstairs but I am now thinking that with all of those angles it might just need to be one color. I can’t wait to see how the light plays across everything once the windows are in. We finally have some of our windows about 8 months after we ordered them. Two more are still in limbo; we aren’t sure when they will be ready.

Today they’ve started to lay down the floor in the main room and the tile guy is here working on the bathroom floor to get it prepped for the tile. I’m excited to see how much lighter the space is with the maple colored floor and light creamy tile.

Hi, I’m Becka.

Talking about fabric design, Spoonflower, teaching, and the life and business of being an artist.

Teaching online and in person classes in embroidery, handcrafts, technology, fabric design and artist business skills.

Making wearable art and fiber art geekery.

Social

Subscribe to my Newsletter

Upcoming events

Embroidered Ledger Book

Wednesday, February 22 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm CST

DCL: Creative Mending

Tuesday, February 28 @ 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm CST

See more events

Shop my art

Go to Top