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:

Art-O-Mat Love

When I was teaching this week at the conference center in St Cloud, MN, I was delighted to run across an Art-O-Mat. I had read about them and my friend Cedar had sent me photos of one she saw on her travels. You may remember my love for tiny museums from previous posts.

What is an Art-O-Mat? A repurposed cigarette vending machine that now vends ART! How cool is that?

Each slot is now filled with boxes that each contain an original piece of art from an artist. This one had all kinds of media including paintings, photos, ceramics, zentangle, and wax seals. You get a little hint at what is inside the box by a 2 inch label by each pull knob.

I decided that I needed to get two Art-O-Mat boxes, so I picked a collage artist and one that was labeled porcelain buttons.

I opened the porcelain buttons first from Art by Rhonda. I am sad to say that it looks like Art by Rhonda no longer has an active website. But I love the porcelain piece that was in the box. A fish!

From Kathryn Coneway, I got a paper collage of trees. There is a tiny bit of information about this artist at the link, but I can’t figure out where she is located. (The website is lacking in some basic information.)

A couple of mysteries, for sure. I love that my two pieces of art color coordinate so beautifully: black, yellow and turquoise. A great color combination!

I love the concept and I ordered a prototype kit so I can think about applying to be an art-o-mat artist. How fun would that be?

 

Making Paper Mosaics: A video demo

At my last fabric design class, I chatted with my students about how I make paper mosaic designs. I like to design fabrics using original art like paper collage or drawings or paintings. They were very curious to see the originals that my fabrics had started out as, so I thought it would be fun to make a video demo to show the process from paper to fabric.

 

Here are a few other mosaic designs I have done. All are made from recycled magazines or other patterned papers.

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