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18 January, 2023

Stepping out of your comfort zone as an artist.

2023-01-20T08:54:42-06:00An Artist's Life|1 Comment

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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.)

12 January, 2023

Construction Week 11: Floors & Windows

2023-01-12T13:21:33-06:00Construction, 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!

2 January, 2023

Construction Week 10: Drywall

2023-01-02T18:08:47-06:00Construction, 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.

14 December, 2022

Construction Week 7 Tour

2022-12-24T12:04:03-06:00Construction|2 Comments

Here’s an update after 7 weeks of construction. When we last talked, the upstairs was still open to the outside. They’ve spent a couple of weeks making things more finished and closed in. The electrician has been here and replaced our electrical panel with a larger one to accommodate the new circuits upstairs. The plumber was here to connect everything up from the basement so we have water, vents, sewer and everything all connected up. The power and water were off again for a day so they could make all of those connections. On one memorable day, we had 5 different people simultaneously working in 4 levels of our house (that includes 2 guys up on the roof!)

They also did a lot of finishing to the new roof section and getting everything weather tight. We really enjoyed talking everything through with the electrician to help figure out where to place lights in the new spaces and how we are going to use the spaces. He is going to put some extra light in that end room because we mentioned that we like to play board games and he thought we’d like the extra light there. You can see some of the wire spaghetti down in the basement in the photo below.

Although we aren’t really doing any of the work, it is surprising how tiring it is just having all of that activity going on around us. There’s just a lot of coming and going. Mostly they’ve been able to use the outside staircase that they put up early in the project, so not everyone has been through the house. But the plumber and electrician both needed to work on every level to get everything all tied together. They like to start early in the day and I am not really a morning person.

We’ve been trying really hard to keep Stanley out of the way so he’s not getting in the way of people trying to work, eating chunks of plaster off of the floor, or barking at the new people. So we’ve started a ritual with him that after all of the workmen have gone home for the day we announce “You are free to move about the cabin” and then we open all of the doors and gates downstairs. He always grabs a toy and runs around wagging and gurgling at us. (We call his happy noise a gurgle; he sounds like a Wookie.)

27 November, 2022

This week they cut a hole in the roof.

2022-12-07T09:55:19-06:00Construction|1 Comment

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What a couple of weeks it’s been! Once they got all of the asbestos, old insulation, walls and all of the rest out of the way, it was time to start creating the new space. This wasn’t without a few hiccups. First they needed to cut open the floor to install some new joists in the floor to hold up the new dormer. Our house was built in 1927 so nothing was what you would do if you were constructing it new today. Things have different sizes and spacing. And for some of the spaces, we weren’t sure where the supporting or load bearing walls were exactly or how they were constructed because all of that is hidden. So there was at least a day of investigating and measuring.

Once they had done some preliminary work to make sure the roof and walls could support it, it was time to cut open the roof. And then it snowed. Sigh. We knew that the snow was going to be a problem at some point during this project. So they delayed a day, but meanwhile the crane showed up to deliver two steel beams that are now helping to hold up the new roof.

They lifted the beams with a crane up and through the window in the front of the upstairs to get them up into the space. Steel is very heavy so it wasn’t practical to try and carry it up a flight of stairs. We didn’t know it at the time, but when they delivered the steel, they basically dumped the beams off a flatbed truck into our front yard and the brackets to secure them got bent. We’ll discover that a few days later.

Once the steel was in place, it was time to cut open the roof for the new dormer. Yikes! In order to have enough room to put a bathroom, we needed to take the sloped part of the roof and make it taller, so they cut out a huge piece of the roof and built a new section and new outside walls. Here’s me standing in the opening. If I took a big step forward, I would be just about in the doorway to the new bathroom. Up over my right shoulder you can see a reddish beam in the rafters on the other side; that’s one piece of the steel. If it looks like it’s a little wonky that’s because it is. And yes we are looking at the outdoors. You can see the roof of my garage and the big tree in the backyard.

Next they started putting in the new roof and walls. You can see the beginning of that here. Unfortunately things went a little sideways here. Our contractor, who is completely awesome, had to be out of town for a couple of days and the crew that was working on this part of the project were a little underqualified for the job. Things progressed really slowly for a couple of days and things like the bent brackets on the steel and some other major details got missed. I won’t go in to the details of that, but let’s just say that it was all completely fixable and because our contractor is awesome, it’s fixed now.

Meanwhile, the plumber was also here getting the plumbing set up to add that bathroom upstairs. He had to join in to the plumbing stack in the basement and snake it all the way up through the first floor to get it up here. They had to move some wiring so our first floor bathroom lightswitch is in the hallway for the next little while. Here’s a photo of the wall they cut open, but before they got the new plumbing in place. The new electrical will run through this same space. This was one of the major unknowns: figuring out if there was enough space to get everything up through this wall without having to tear out part of the downstairs bathroom too. So far so good! He’s got everything now connected from the basement all the way to the upstairs floor and you can see where the shower and toilet will be.

Next comes Thanksgiving, so we get a couple of days off from construction chaos. Hah! We had Thanksgiving brunch because my husband had to work in the afternoon and there’s a giant hole in our house so we weren’t going to go anywhere. For those of you that don’t know, Mr. Becka has a little side job working as a replay tech for the NFL for Vikings home games. So there was a Thanksgiving day game and he was off on the football field for most of the day. I was just settling in to watch a movie and work on some holiday gifts when the dishwasher started making an unhealthy sounding racket. Stanley was barking at the noise and suddenly there was water pouring out the front of it. I turned it off, I threw its circuit breaker. Still water flooding the kitchen floor and running through the floor into the basement. And not just into the basement but pouring down a pipe directly into the electrical breaker box. The shutoff valve for the water to the dishwasher was completely corroded and stuck. After a frantic couple of minutes, I managed to get the main water shut off and throw the main electrical breaker to the house. And then when the water was *still* pouring down the wall, realized it was siphoning the hot water out of the water heater. I called my dad to help me figure out where the shutoff valve was for that.

I was drenched. Every towel in the house was wet. And I spend the rest of Thanksgiving day in the house with no power, no water and no heat (since the power was off, the furnace couldn’t run.) I called 2 emergency plumbers and 8 electricians trying to get help on whether it was ok to turn the power back on. No one could help me until the next day. So Stanley and I curled up on the couch with a book on my iPad and a down comforter. That whole saga had absolutely nothing to do with the construction at all. We figured out the next morning, when there was enough light to see, that the water pump for the dishwasher had broken. So we Black Friday shopped for a new dishwasher and we are hoping that the plumber (who will be back this week) can install it while he is here. Except for the dishwasher everything else was fine and we were able to get it dried out and turned back on. Please think us calm and unchaotic thoughts for next week! It’s supposed to snow on Tuesday again and we are scheduled to get the new roof done, so I am hoping the weather gods cooperate with us!

11 November, 2022

What it’s like to have asbestos abatement

2022-11-30T09:23:07-06:00Construction|1 Comment

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I imagine that most of you have never had an asbestos abatement sign posted in your dining room. This was the first full week of the construction at my house. As I am typing this, one of our crew is upstairs with a shop-vac getting rid of the rest of the 80 year old insulation in the attic. I don’t think he was looking forward to today; it was messy.

We started the week with the asbestos crew setting up. It took an entire day for them to seal the upstairs with plastic and wide yellow tape on every surface. Then they had to construct a 3-part decontamination area at the bottom of the stairs. That’s what you can see in the photo up at the top of the post. They explained to me that they had to have three separate chambers, including a shower, right there in my dining room. On top of the middle section you can see a portable water heater and we turned on our outside faucet for them so they could run a garden hose in through the window. We had all of that set up over night, so we ate dinner at my desk. Stanley was very suspicious of this new construction in his space. We pulled out every rug in the house to put over the plastic on the floor because it was slippery and we didn’t want dog toe nails to compromise the area.

Once they got all the set up done, it really only took an hour to take out the asbestos, which was all in the floor tile. I understand that the tiles get double wrapped in plastic and then they can be disposed of. So we are no longer the proud owners of any asbestos. Yay!

The way our house is arranged, there is just one door that connects the left and right side. Our offices are one on either side of that doorway, so Stanley and my husband were kind of trapped on one side and I was stuck on the other. We made jokes about having to boost the 90lb labrador out the guestroom window to go potty, but happily we didn’t have to resort to that.

While all of that was going on inside, there was also a big project outside. Since the staircase to upstairs is narrow with a sharp corner at the top, and they need to haul huge sheets of plywood and 2x4s up there, they spent the day building an outside staircase to our second floor. So they will have an easier way to move all of the materials without everything needing to go through my living room. I’m really happy about that.

Once the asbestos was gone, demolition started! It looks so different already! We are keeping a little bit of that pine panelling in place around the stairs, but it was really too old and brittle to salvage most of it. Those yucky looking dirt piles are the disintegrated paper insulation. That’s what he has been working on most of the day today and I told him that I was really glad that was *his* job and not mine. There’s no insulation at all up there now and it’s COLD. Fortunately they will have that fixed in just a couple of weeks.

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