I wanna be in the room where it happens.

We saw it. It took signing up for a waiting list, winning a spot in a lottery, clicking through at just the right time and a whole lot of luck, but we scored tickets and saw Hamilton on Tuesday night.

I’ve been trying to stay away from knowing too much about the show because I wanted to experience it for the first time right there. I must be one of the only people on the planet who does not have the music memorized. I don’t even own the cast album. And I was a theater major and president of my high school Drama Club, so this was hard for me. But I know how amazing it is to see something live, with a room full of people who are excited to be there. I wanted that experience.

Hamilton is breathtaking. And I mean that in many ways. The first act literally never takes a breath. There are no scene changes to wait for, no transitions, no scenes full of dialog where you can sit back and relax. There is music and choreography and visual tableaus to take in from the very second the show starts until you feel like you can exhale at intermission. I have never seen a show that grabs you like this and doesn’t let you go. I will argue that Wicked has the very greatest act one closer ever, but Hamilton leaves you with a similar kind of rush.

Thinking about it, I am a little surprised that Hamilton is as popular as it is, honestly. It is an odd show. Maybe that’s what does it. It is more like an opera than a musical. There are about five minutes of the whole show that are spoken dialogue. Everything else is in song. And fast, complex, unhummable songs with complicated language. The chorus is very much like the tradition of a Greek chorus. They become the set. They are the special effects of bullet shots and explosions. They transform into characters and abstract images of the events going on behind the words. The original choreographer deserves as much credit as Lin-Manuel for making this crazy show work. (I just looked it up. The choreographer was Andy Blankenbuehler and he won a Tony for the choreography. As he should have.) The chorus must be flat out exhausted after a performance. They are moving non-stop through the entire show. The costuming was also adding to the chorus-like feel, with most of the cast in a pale cream “parchment” color that is a cross between a suit and a leotard; simultaneously a period costume and something more modern. A friend commented that he thought it was weird that they looked like they were in their underwear but then he saw the show and it all made sense. I totally agree. The costume geek in me also appreciated that the ladies costumes transitioned to a Regency silhouette by the end of the show, a tiny element that showed the passage of time.

I am thrilled that I got to see it live and without many spoilers. I look forward to listening to it again. I am a very visual person and I know that there are whole things I missed because I was caught up watching the lights and the visual story. It was a lot to take in all at once.

A special bit for me is that when I won the spot in the lottery to be able to buy tickets, they let me get four, which meant we got to take a couple of friends with us. We invited our friend E, a highschool theater geek, and her dad, a musician. My husband and I (also highschool theater geeks) agreed that we would have DIED to have the opportunity to see the hot popular musical of the day when we were in highschool (for us that was Phantom of the Opera or Les Mis). So I am delighted that we got to go with her. (And don’t bother to treat your inner 16 year old self to seeing Phantom of the Opera; it’s terrible.)

 

 

Video Tutorial: Combining photos to print at Spoonflower

I’ve had several students ask me this week: “How can I combine a bunch of different things together and print them all on a yard of fabric at Spoonflower? Do I use Fill-A-Yard?”

I wanted to help by walking you through how to combine photos or art from a group of friends into one fat quarter or yard of fabric, so you can print many things all at once. This is a very fast and informal overview about how you do it in Photoshop (starring some barking dogs in the background). I am a big fan of “Done is Better than Perfect” and I wanted to get this posted and not worry about it being polished. So think of it like a live video chat where I am just talking you through the process. (It’s about 25 minutes long, so you know that going in. You can pause and come back if you need to.) Click the arrows icon (next to the Vimeo logo) to see it bigger so you can read the menus on my screen.

You will see:

  • creating a canvas that is exactly the size of a fat quarter or yard
  • adding photos or art to the canvas using “place embedded”
  • using save as and uploading to Spoonflower
  • uploading a revision
  • when you need to rotate your canvas so it prints correctly and the easy way to do that
  • how to resize a photo you have placed and what to do if it looks blurry or pixellated

Here’s a link to the tea towel I used as an example if you would like to see it up close.

This weekend at the Bell Museum: Me!

I will be at the brand new Bell Museum this weekend as an artist-in-residence in their #SolutionStudio Lab. The exhibit in this space talks about how sometimes the things you need to do your work aren’t things found in stores and how artists and scientists have to sometimes make the tools that they need. I am going to talk about how I use recycled paper all the time when I make my work and then we will be making containers from recycled papers: pieces of origami art that you can use to hold things like art materials or your rock collection. I will even show you how to make a paper cup that holds water. My sister and I used to make these all the time and thought it was super fun to drink out of them. Saturday & Sunday August 4&5, 1-4 pm.

Hope to see you there!

You’re not doing art wrong.

A couple of years ago I joined an art organization and went to a monthly meeting with about 20 people. I was excited to be part of a group and to talk about art related things. On the agenda for the meeting was to have a discussion and show-and-tell about our sketchbooks. It sounded like it could be interesting hearing about other people’s process (and it was) but I don’t keep a sketchbook. That’s not a part of my process; I’m not a sketcher. So we went around the room and people talked about how they organize ideas for pieces or make lists of tasks to do. Some made more journal type books with beautiful complex works of art on each page. Some used theirs as a mood board or inspiration source where they created a collage for pieces they were thinking about. All cool ideas and interesting to hear them talk about each version. But when my turn came around the circle, I didn’t have anything to show and it was at that point where, unfortunately, I stopped enjoying the meeting.

I do sketch things. Like that little dog up above. I printed out the circle on a piece of card stock and made a sketch and then I scanned it and used it as a guide to draw the version on the right in Illustrator. I am a lot looser when I draw things on paper, so I often do a little rough sketch of characters especially and use that to help me with proportions and placement when I get into the computer. It’s a process that works well for me. But this little sketch is probably going right into the recycle bin. I don’t usually hang on to them after I have scanned them. I don’t need to. It was a sketch that did a job for me and once that’s done it’s no longer useful. It’s like basting in sewing. Super helpful when you need it, but once you are past that step it’s pulled right out.

I also have a notebook where I do math. Because I make garments and I often draft or adapt my own patterns, there is a lot of math involved. I am figuring out how much yardage I need or how big a repeat I need to make when I design my fabrics. I need to write those things down because I know I will not remember why or how I got to the numbers by the time I have ordered the fabric and it gets to me. So I make a lot of notes and diagrams so I remember how I intended to lay something out or make it fit on the fabric. I keep these in a notebook because I lose scraps of paper; it’s much harder to lose a notebook. It’s very practical.

Neither of those things make for compelling show-and-tell.

I rarely make sketches of what I think finished pieces will look like because that’s just not the way I work. I always know what a piece is going to look like, but it’s all in my head. I don’t need to see it on paper. I don’t get any value from that. I’d rather be working on the piece than thinking about the piece, if that makes sense.

So when I explained this to the group with the sketchbook show-and-tell, I got a lot of pushback and questions. People mostly thought I was just being too self conscious to share my sketchbook. They asked maybe if my inspiration mood boards were just in a different format and I was being too literal about the idea of sketchbook. There was some skepticism that I really could work the way I said I did. There was a little teasing: we showed off our things and you aren’t playing along.

Guess how many more meetings I went to? (spoiler alert: not a single one) A friend, sitting next to me at that meeting, was also a non-sketchbook kind of artist and she made me feel better with a little snark about being the rebels in the group.

I thought about this story recently as I was reading up on a grant opportunity. It’s a program for artists to help advance their careers in some way and in addition to a cash award, there are a number of other “benefits” associated with the grant: a series of studio visits, critiques with unspecified experts in the field, a catalog produced of your work. Which is all great. But I don’t want any of that.

We talked about no sketchbook; I also don’t have a studio. I don’t need one. But, wow, I get asked about this so often.

Much of my work is done on a computer. I draft patterns, I design fabrics, I have a whole business of making and selling work and teaching online classes. It’s pretty computer intensive. I have a nice Mac with a really big monitor. I can look at an entire fat quarter fabric design at actual size. That’s really handy for what I do. I also have a laptop and sometimes I work from the kitchen table or even the back yard if it’s a nice day. Sometimes I write from a coffee shop. I have a sewing machine and a serger. None of these things require anything special. Just a desk and some good wifi. Once in a while it’s really handy to have a large table to work on. I don’t have one, but I have a space I can borrow on the weekends with big tables and great light. I don’t need a special space to motivate me to work.

My work isn’t about the space it’s being made in.

I’m not sure what value a studio visit is supposed to get me, but I really don’t think that benefit had my kitchen table, with some dogs under foot, in mind. I like that I can work anywhere basically. I like being at home with my dogs and my tea and not having to have a special place that is required to make art in. Or feeling the pressure that if I am in the studio, I should be producing. The lack of a studio is not holding me back in any way. But I have had to pretend that I have one to match the “this makes you an artist” definition.

I love this shot of me, but it’s a fake studio made from apple boxes and foam core in my basement. I had a great opportunity for something but one of the photos that they needed was a photo of me working in my studio. So I made one up.

And what about those critiques from the grant opportunity?

I belong to a group of artists that meet on a semi-regular basis. Nominally we are a critique group, but really we are an artistic problem solving group. We often bring projects when we are stuck and need some creative help to get past a particular block. We brainstorm, we ask questions, we look at things upside down and backwards and we throw out crazy ideas. We work in different media, so sometimes the great idea to move forward on something is inspired by an art form different than our own. It’s a great group. But we don’t actually critique each other’s work if you look at that definition. Why not? Because I think we get more value out of the collaborating than we do from analyzing.

I just searched and read a bunch of how-to articles and opinions about “why you should have someone critique your art work” and I feel like this comment kind of sums up what I found:

The only way to know if it’s good is to have someone else rate it based on some arbitrary criteria (ie line, balance, did the artist convey their meaning)? And I should make changes based on that person’s opinion?

I don’t think so.

For me, great art is the kind that makes you have a reaction. Love, hate, joy, sadness or even makes you want to gag. But you looked at it, listened to it, or read it and it caused a reaction. It made you smile or remember something or think of a friend or want to buy-it-right-now-so-you-can-have-that-experience-as-part-of-your-life-every-day. You made a connection. The piece that I make a connection to, isn’t going to be the same one that you make a connection to and it won’t be in the same way. Because connections take two people: the artist and the viewer. And as much meaning and message as I bring to a piece, you’re going to bring your own meanings too.

I don’t really care if an “expert in the field” tells me that I am doing something wrong or not accomplishing a certain criteria because that person is just one person. With one connection. As a wise man once said “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” One person’s interpretation is certainly fascinating, but I am not sure it’s enough to make me want to change my work to match their opinion.

So when I look back at that grant application, I don’t really want to apply. As much as I’d like the money to help fund some new pieces or get me some space to exhibit them in (who wouldn’t?), the other parts of the grant are not valuable to me. In fact, when I read those benefits, they made me feel like I am art-ing wrong. I’m not doing it right and I shouldn’t apply for that opportunity because I don’t fit the spec. I was discouraged.

And do you know what? That’s total garbage.

There’s not a wrong way to make art or enjoy art.

(I give you that story as a screenshot and not a link because the full article is behind a subscription wall.) I saw this when LMM tweeted it. I might have actually reacted to it out loud as I was reading it.

I wanted to write this post as a pep talk because sometimes you just need to hear someone else say it. You aren’t doing it wrong. Neither am I. You don’t need to have a sketchbook. You don’t have to sketchbook a certain way. You don’t need a studio. Or maybe that is something that is really valuable to you and you do need it. That’s up to you. You don’t need someone to tell you that you are making great art for it to be great. It’s going to connect in amazing ways with some people and fizzle with others. That’s what great art does.

Video Tutorial: Fill-A-Yard Projects with Spoonflower

A quick video tutorial of how to use Spoonflower’s Fill-A-Yard feature. Thanks to a student from my online class for the question.

If you need a little more help working with collections, be sure to check out my online classes. I go through collections in the Spoonflower Step One class.

An unexpected delight: Origami in the Garden at MN Landscape Arboretum

A few weeks ago I spent an evening at the Bakken Museum as a guest artist. The theme was “art in the garden” and it was held on their rooftop patio. For a project, I suggested that I teach people to fold origami butterflies to go with the garden theme. By happy chance, Minneapolis St Paul Magazine was a sponsor of the event and sent along a case of magazines for us to recycle and make art with. It was a perfect match for my project.

I brought some of my fabrics along that feature origami and recycled paper so I could talk about how I use origami in my art.

At least three different people at the event asked me if I had seen the “giant origami” at the MN Landscape Arboretum. I hadn’t heard anything about giant origami, nobody could really tell me anything more about it, and after that night I sort of forgot about it. The Arboretum is about 45 minutes from my house and mostly off my radar. By chance, yesterday afternoon the concert band that my husband plays with had scheduled to play a concert at the Landscape Arboretum. I almost always go along to listen to his concerts and I remembered the “giant origami” conversations. I thought it might be a little something to look at while the band was warming up.

All I can say is WOW. I am so glad I got there and got to see this exhibition. It was stunning. It is called Origami in the Garden and is a collaboration between Jennifer and Kevin Box, a husband and wife artist team, and several other master origami artists. The pieces are actual folded models cast in aluminum, bronze and steel. There are more than 40 pieces throughout the gardens. It was so fun to walk around and see the glimpse of white “paper” peeking out through the leaves. Lots of things were blooming, the day was lovely, and the pieces were installed in ways that made them look like the garden was designed just to showcase each piece.

Accompanying the outdoor sculptures was an indoor display of some of the models folded and unfolded, miniature versions of some of the large sculptures, paper models and more. Which was also fascinating.

Robert Lang, one of the master artists from the show (who folded this amazing crane; see dorky selfie below) is teaching a class in a few weeks and I signed up. It seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. I am a very beginner folder, but I learn quickly and I know the basics, so I am hoping I can keep up. I am excited! I never get the chance to take classes.

If I didn’t convince you already that you need to go and see this exhibition, maybe dorky selfie number two will help you decide:

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