1 March, 2022

What it’s like to be awarded an arts grant

2022-03-31T15:39:35-05:00An Artist's Life, MSAB Creative Support|Comments Off on What it’s like to be awarded an arts grant

Want to listen instead of reading?

Today is the official start day for my MN State Arts Board Creative Support for Individuals grant. Woohoo! As I was getting ready to start the grant projects rolling I thought it would be interesting to write a little about how grants like this work if you’ve never applied for one.

I started work on this grant in August of 2021, which is when the application was due. I should have probably started sooner, but this is a new program and I wasn’t really sure that I qualified or that had a project in mind to work on. So it was a little bit of a last minute decision. This is the third grant like this that I have received, but the application process has all been fairly similar.

The application

The application starts with a section about eligibility and qualifications. For this grant, for example, I had to be a resident of MN and “have a history of engaging MN citizens in the arts” among other things. This program was specifically designed to help artists stay engaged with their audiences throughout the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Compared to many other applications, this one was relatively simple. It had a narrative section which asked you to answer three big questions, a basic budget form, and a collection of links to work samples. This is actually the first application I’ve done which didn’t require me to submit photos, which I thought was kind of awesome. Instead you could submit links to web pages, articles, videos or other media that demonstrated your history of working in the arts. I loved being able to link to projects on my website like my “I Spy” utility box covers or the “Reflected Wardrobes” collaborative art I did with participants at the Museum of Russian Art where I think you can get a much better sense of the whole project. All of those include photos of people making art with me, which I think reflects the project so much better than a single photo of a finished piece.

The narrative section is basically where you have to convince the panel that you have a solid project idea and that you are qualified to do it. These sections always have a limited word count and it’s never enough. I always end up having to cut and cut and cut what I write to get it to fit into the 5500 characters. For this grant I basically had to answer three things:

  1. How have you engaged Minnesotans in the arts as a creator, performer, or teacher of art? Describe how others have interacted with you and your art. Provide as many examples as you can, given the space provided.
  2. As a creator, performer, or teacher of art, how will you use the funds to remain connected with your community during the FY 2022 grant period?
  3. Reviewers will not see your applicant background form. Please use this section to tell the reviewers what you want them to know about your identity including your cultural background, ability or disability, or geographic location. If these characteristics of your identity influence the work you do as an artist or culture bearer, please describe how. Describe the connections you have to underserved communities as an artist or culture bearer. Underserved communities may include, but are not limited to, residents and communities in greater Minnesota; individuals with disabilities; veterans; individuals in institutions; individuals who are black, indigenous, and/or people of color; LGBTQIA communities; older adults; or others.

Picking a project & goals

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 are predominantly women. My social media audience is primarily women. 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.

In the past few years I have been incorporating more and more paper into my work and somewhat less fabric. I love working with both, but it has been a really practical choice as well. Much of what I love to do with my work is to create collaborative community pieces where I work with a group to make art together and then create larger installations or finished pieces with elements from the participants. But cost is always a factor when doing these projects and very simply, paper is much less expensive to work with than fabric. Accessibility is always a huge consideration for me. Not only is paper less costly, but people are often much more comfortable working with it as beginners. It feels more approachable; you don’t feel like you need to know how to sew to participate.

So here’s a tiny sneak peek of the project I proposed. My friends Carrie and Rolf aka OboeBass are professional musicians. They do music programs in schools and senior centers all over the region and one of the programs they do uses a story that Carrie wrote about the musicians in an orchestra and the jobs they do. They tell the story and play clips of music, but we have talked for years about how it would be awesome to have a book to go along with the story. So my project is illustrating that story called “Ada’s Orchestra”. The illustrations will all be done as cut paper collage made in handpainted and recycled paper. This is a technique I use all the time for designing fabrics. (In fact some fabric designs might come out of this project too!)

I did just a couple of pages before I applied for the grant just to test out the idea and see if it looked like it would work and that Carrie and Rolf liked the look and style. I have two big challenges with this project: creating the instruments and making people. The biggest challenge for these designs will be the instruments. It’s really important that they look like the real instruments, but I can only do so much fine detail in cut paper. So it’s a balance to make sure I get the shapes just right to capture all of the important parts of the instruments. You can see my oboe and the bass here, but the bass is missing its strings and a couple of other tiny pieces that I will add using Photoshop. The second hurdle for me is that I really don’t like drawing people; it was a real mental block for me to convince myself I could make something I was happy with. Because this story is about people.

Finishing & waiting

The whole application took me about 6-8 hours to write, edit and complete all of the forms. My mom was my proofreader. I polished up the pages I’d linked on my website and quadruple checked that everything was complete.

Then you submit and wait. The applications all get reviewed by a panel of about 12-14 people that are all from the arts community. I have been a panelist on other grants and it’s an awesome experience and a LOT of reading. Panels are usually made up of people that work in all different kinds of art. I am a visual artist, but on the panel there will be dancers, musicians, theater performers and technicians, and arts administrators or the people who keep all of the arts organizations running from day to day. They read and discuss the applications and then give a score based on how completely you answered the questions. Sometimes you can listen to them discuss your application. I did for this one and it was totally nerve wracking hoping that they would “get it” and believe that I could do this project. I always learn a lot listening to the questions and concerns they have. They really thought this would be a great way for me to connect to some new audiences connecting through both book art and music. I’m glad they thought so!

Finally the panel makes recommendations and the State Arts Board meets and approves those recommendations for funding. I found out that I got the grant in mid-January, signed a bunch of paperwork, and today was the first official day that I could start working on it. One of my goals was to write and share a lot about the process of creating this book, so you will see more posts as I go. To celebrate today being the start day I did a little work setting up files to be ready to drop illustrations into and now I am going to go order some paint so I can start making more handpainted papers to start cutting and glueing.

24 February, 2022

A Pamphlet Book with Spoonflower’s Grasscloth Wallpaper

2022-02-24T15:34:18-06:00An Artist's Life, Spoonflower & Fabric Design, Tutorials|4 Comments

I’m not really a home decorating kind of person, so when Spoonflower introduced a new Grasscloth Wallpaper, I was intrigued to know what it was like, but it was pretty unlikely that I was going to be inspired to wallpaper parts of my house. So I decided to think about another project I could do with wallpaper. I have been very slowly working on a “Book Arts Certificate” from the MN Center for Book Arts here in Minneapolis over the past couple of years. I’ve loved book binding, marbling and paper making and have not really loved the letterpress because of major ink fumes and inaccessibility (I can’t really do it at my house.) But I love working with paper.

So I decided to make a pamphlet book. I am woefully un-expert at all of the vocabulary of book arts; there is a LOT. But basically a pamphlet book is sheets of folded paper, stitched together to make a binding, with a heavier paper on the outside for a cover. With my sewing background, I love sewn bindings. So I ordered a swatch of grasscloth wallpaper in one of my designs and decided to use that as my cover. When it arrived, it was rolled up and wouldn’t lay flat, so I unrolled it, slipped it under the heavy cutting mat that sits on my desk and let it flatten out for several days.

Grasscloth wallpaper is like a woven fabric backed with paper. It has a warp and weft that is very prominent, making its iconic texture. One set of threads are heavier than the other, which gives it a rib like texture. On the sample you can see at the top, the heavier threads are running parallel to the selvedge (that unprinted edge of the wallpaper sample) or horizontally across my design. This is the sisal or the grass in grasscloth. The threads running the other way are much thinner. As a wallpaper, it has a really rich looking texture. It has a very matte finish and feels like a piece of art paper when you run your fingers across it.

The first experiment I did was to see if I could fold it because I needed to make at least one fold to make the spine of my book. It folds much better parallel to those heaver threads than if you fold across them. They are brittle, so they crack rather than folding. So I decided I needed to keep that in mind when I was cutting my cover. That meant that I needed to rotate 90 degrees so that my fold and the heavier threads were going the same way. It doesn’t really matter on this design, but you’d have to keep that in mind with a more obvious directional print.

One thing I noticed right away when I unrolled my wallpaper sample was that the edges felt a little fragile. It was easy to catch the fibers and peel them up from the backing. If it was glued flat to a wall that wouldn’t be so much a problem, but for a book cover it wasn’t ideal. I decided to bind the edges of the cover like you do with a quilt by wrapping a narrow strip around them. I tried a fabric tape I had and some simple 1/2 inch strips of white tissue paper. I didn’t have any in green, but I think that might have even kind of disappeared into this design. I made a couple of little samples and decided that I liked the way the tissue paper didn’t add any bulk to the cover, so I decided to go with that. For this one, I used gluestick to attach it to the cover. I think next time I would use a brush and some PVA (Elmers) glue because the glue stick was drying so fast, it was a challenge to get everything lined up and stuck in place. I stuck it to the back and then folded over to the front of each edge of the cover. I burnished it down with my bone folder to make sure it really stuck well to all of the bumps in the paper texture. It works great and traps all of those cut ends so nothing is rough or catching.

Finally I used the bone folder to score the cover and carefully fold it in half. I added the pages, which I made from some lightweight drawing paper, and used an awl to punch holes through so I could stitch the binding using some perle cotton thread. It makes a great paperback journal! I’m going to put mine under a heavy book for a couple of days to really set the fold so it doesn’t pop open. If you want to try one like mine, I cut my papers and cover to 9×6 inches and the strips of tissue paper were 1/2 wide and I trimmed them to length after I glued them. Here’s a really simple tutorial on how to make a pamphlet book like this. In the photo with the book cover open you can see the back of the wallpaper, which is a nice plain white paper. It comes without any paste on it, so you don’t have to worry about it getting wet or sticky, which makes it a better choice for a project like this than the Smooth Wallpaper that comes pre-pasted. I will probably be able to make 4 books like this from the 24×12 inch swatch I got. It was really fun to see if this would work and I think it makes a beautiful book.

23 January, 2022

Betrayed by my tools

2022-01-23T20:52:36-06:00An Artist's Life|Comments Off on Betrayed by my tools

Today was one of those days where I think I made negative progress on a project. Like I am pretty sure I ripped out more stitches than I made. It started when I mis-measured something. I didn’t want to cut out something using the pattern piece, so I thought I would just measure and cut the rectangle using my rotary cutter and a ruler. It seemed like it would be more accurate, but then I did the math wrong and ended up with a piece 7/8″ too long and I didn’t realize it until I had stitched it to something else and it completely didn’t match. (Enter seam ripper.)

So I recut and tried again. But then as I was cutting, trying to be more accurate than the first time, I discovered something. Take a really good look at that photo above. Do you notice anything unusual? Look at the hash marks.

This is the cutting mat that sits on my studio table and has been there for 18 months. Those hash marks are 1/10th inch and not 1/8 inch. This might seem trivial, but this is my cutting mat for sewing and quilting where 1/8 inch is the absolute standard. The long marks are for unknown reasons at the odd numbered increments: 1/10, 3/10, 5/10 and so on. But all this time, I saw them and assumed they were 1/4 inch. It never occurred to me that it would be anything else, so I never bothered to count them. Why would I?

The thing is, this is a great cutting mat. It’s heavy and thick and doesn’t slide around my table. It is much nicer and more durable than the quilting brand ones I have had before. But for 18 months, I have been using those tick marks to line up my ruler and cutting crooked pieces. Not enough that I noticed evidently, but enough that everything was just a little bit off. That’s why I finally noticed today. Because everything was a little bit off. I had to recut pieces. Things weren’t lining up when I stitched them, the sewing machine was acting a little funny. I was really frustrated, so I was being really careful. So I counted tickmarks. And then had a moment of “what the $%@&#@” when I realized what I was seeing.

Why? Why is it in 10ths of inches? I texted my dad who had the same “what the $%&#*” reaction I did and had to google. He discovered that some engineers use “decimal inches” because the math is easier. This mat isn’t branded as an engineering tool. It’s just an “art cutting mat”. The description doesn’t say that it’s in 10ths of inches. But maybe that was a factor in this design choice. Who knows! So I’ve pulled it off my table and ordered a different one. Because as much as I like it, that inability to trust the measurements thing is a deal breaker for me. It’s a go-to tool that suddenly got a whole lot less useful. I feel a little bit betrayed! (For anyone who is curious it’s an Arteza brand mat I got on Amazon. And except for the absurd measurements it’s been awesome.)

My sewing machine decided today to have a tantrum as well. Just as I was coming back to work on the project after discovering my measuring issue, the stitch length/tension of my machine went off the rails. Nothing happened except for the clumsy puppy stepped on the pedal and zoomed the motor for a few seconds. That must have stuffed some lint into a crevasse or made a belt slip or something. Because suddenly it only makes ridiculously tiny stitches. I checked everything, rethreaded, cleaned, swapped threads and bobbin, googled and all of the other tricks I know and nothing helped. So I am completely out of commission and I’ve emailed the local dealership. Sigh.

5 August, 2021

You Don’t Have to Spend Money to Make Art & A Symposium Takeaway

2021-08-29T22:07:17-05:00An Artist's Life, Spoonflower & Fabric Design|4 Comments

I attended the first ever Surface Design Symposium with Craft Industry Alliance and Spoonflower today. It was a day of webinars on different topics about being a surface designer: marketing, licensing, creating repeats in Illustrator and Procreate. It had a little something for lots of interests. I didn’t go to every session, but I picked three that I thought I would take a little something away from. I think overall the conference was aimed at a slightly more beginner level than I am, but I always learn something new from watching someone else teach. So I had a lot of fun.

There were a lot of messages about embracing your style, getting your work out there, or doing something every day to further your goals. Those are really great advice. The whole conference had a real “can do” and “everyone is welcome” kind of vibe in many ways. But I realized sitting down and reflecting about what I had learned today that there was also a more subtle message: that to be successful, you had to have money to get there. Absolutely no one said this specifically or explicity; don’t get me wrong. The intent was absolutely not to say “you have to buy your way to success”, but in each session I attended, often the advice that the panelists gave involved investing in something with a not insignificant cost.

For example, one person advised getting a fat quarter of your favorite designs and making something with it that you could photograph and show on Instagram. That’s an awesome idea and I think it’s great advice. People love to see samples of the “real thing”. But then I think about my personal budget for “making random things to show on Instagram” and I wonder how many fat quarters that stretches to. Fat quarters are about $10-$20 a piece. That adds up fast.

Another panelist talked about how Spoonflower is almost more curated than other print-on-demand companies because you do have to purchase a swatch before you can make something available for sale. Her point was that as a designer you might self-curate or post your best work because there was an investment of money (as well as time) in order to putting your design out there. She has a totally great point there as well; I might be more picky about what I placed for sale knowing that it’s not free to do it. But on the flip side, that means that I need to have a budget to be able to pay $1-5 a piece to make my designs part of the Marketplace.

Several of the presenters talked about or demonstrated using Adobe Illustrator and I learned several things watching one of those sessions. It was great! I love Illustrator. It took me YEARS to learn it and it was hard to learn, but I use it all the time now. My husband worked for Adobe for many years; we are big fans of all of the Adobe software. That’s how I could afford to learn it when my business was just a baby.

The panelists talked about how Illustrator was a standard for surface design so you should really invest the time to learn it if you wanted to work in the field more professionally. I don’t disagree. They also talked about how they often used it in conjunction with other tools like an iPad and Procreate. But wow. Getting an iPad, Procreate, an Apple Pencil, and a subscription to just Adobe Illustrator for a year is about $1500 (on the low end). That’s a big investment and more than I used to make working for a month at my non-profit arts job.

Those are just three examples, and there were many more recommendations for classes and tools, which were all great and valuable resources for sure, but also involved additional costs. I absolutely agree with all of the panelists that you can do a lot by investing in your art and learning and it’s important to do that. I am a teacher; I believe in that 100%. But not everyone can jump in full-time the minute they are inspired to try it. Even having the conference in the middle of the day on a week day made it inaccessible to aspiring artists with regular day jobs (which is a lot of us).

I thought about how much these sessions would have completely broken my heart when I was just starting out because there’s no way our budget would have been able to stretch to afford all of those things that were recommended. I still don’t make enough regularly in commissions on Spoonflower to pay for my Adobe subscription. As a new artist, an iPad for me would have been equivalent to a couple of months rent and completely out of the question. So if I had one more message to contribute to the discussion today it would be:

 You don’t have to spend money to make art

Sure, Illustrator is an amazing tool and fun to use. Yes, it’s fun to print your fabric and make a quilt from it. But you don’t HAVE TO do that to get started. There are many ways to make art and you don’t have to spend lots of money to do it. You just have to want to make art.

I have struggled for years as a teacher trying to figure out the best way to teach people how to get started in designing fabrics. When we were working on the Spoonflower Handbook, I was a huge advocate for not making the instructions be step-by-steps for using Photoshop or Illustrator, but using more general tools and concepts that were common to many kinds of graphic design apps. That probably made some people crazy, but I thought it was important to not make the book specific to one app. I love to teach Photoshop and Illustrator because I think they are fun and they are tools I use all the time, but the guilds and groups that would approach me to teach for them were asking more and more about alternatives because their members were really interested in learning, but couldn’t afford to buy an iPad or subscribe to Photoshop. “Can you teach us with something that’s free?” they said. I wrote a grant to buy 6 Chromebooks so I could teach more people who didn’t have access to a laptop. I developed a series of classes that used all kinds of other apps that work on different platforms. And for a while I felt disappointed teaching them because it felt like it wasn’t “professional” enough or that I wasn’t good enough to teach Photoshop like the “famous” designers.

And what I realized was that I was perpetuating the myth. There is a huge group of new artists out there who want to learn but are stuck because they think the only way to do it is to have an iPad and Procreate and an Adobe subscription and that’s the only message that’s getting out there. I heard it again today.

When you learned to ride a bike, you had a tiny little rig with training wheels. You didn’t start on a ten speed, but you were still learning all the fundamentals to ride a bike. There’s no reason to start learning to be a designer with Illustrator. As much as I love Illustrator, it’s just a TOOL. It doesn’t make my art great; I do. And I can use any tool I want to make my art. No matter what tool I am using, I am learning how to make better art by doing it. Several of the panelists spoke to this today too; the more art you make, the better you get at it. Someone on a panel mentioned a one year timeline to get to be a successful surface design artist. That’s fiction. Everyone has a different journey and a different timeline.

You can watch all of the recorded sessions from the conference on Spoonflower’s blog later next week and I think there’s some awesome information there but the biggest thing I learned was that I need to keep helping to make learning fabric design MORE accessible. There aren’t enough people doing that. I don’t want the fabric design community that I am a part of to be limited only to people who have the flexibility to take a day off to attend a conference or those who can afford an iPad and Photoshop. You might need to proof some designs or print some fat quarters to help grow your business, but you don’t have to start out with that investment. You can grow to get there at your own pace. I want to find more ways to help people get started, like the Intro to Pixlr for Fabric Design class I launched a few weeks ago, and that’s what I want to keep teaching. (Pixlr is a free web-based design app a lot like Photoshop.) If you take the time to go watch those symposium sessions, think about this post as an extra bonus session with a message that says: You just have to want to make art.

Origami model “Bunny Bill” shown at top by Mark Morden, folded by me.

22 March, 2021

How I take Photos & My Studio Setup

2021-03-22T13:09:33-05:00An Artist's Life, Everything Else, Tutorials|1 Comment

I thought it might be really appropriate to start off with a “How it started; How it’s going” kind of meme to talk about photography. When I first started making my art to sell or to show at gallery exhibitions about 20 years ago, the first and worst stumbling block was getting good photos. I had a camera, but I had no experience in what it took to get great photos of objects and I absolutely couldn’t afford to hire someone to take photos for me. So I needed to learn how to do it myself. This was before Etsy was really around, so there weren’t a bunch of tutorials to help you or recommend photo white boxes that were easy to find. (Wow, I am making myself feel old!) So everything I learned was by trial and error and I mean LOTS of trial and error.

The felted dragon shown up above was one of the first photos of my art that I found when I went digging through my photo archives. This is the photo straight off my camera. You can barely see the little guy because the image is so dark. I thought a plain background would be best, so I draped some white fabric behind it but it’s really wrinkly and not really professional looking at all.

Things I learned: You always need more light.
LIGHT. Light is the answer to nearly every photo dilemma. This is absolutely the one thing that made the most difference to my photos. My very first photo setup was to put objects on a table in my guestroom and masking tape a piece of white muslin up behind them. I had four utility shop lights that I got from Home Depot and I put the brightest bulbs in them that they were rated for. I clipped them on the back of a folding chair so I could aim them at whatever I was photographing. The photos still looked a little dark, but I could usually fix them in Photoshop to make them a little better. They weren’t amazing photos, but they were pretty good and it worked for me for a long while. It was a struggle to photograph some things, so I started to look for something that would help.

I did a lot of searching around for a light box because that was something people were recommending on Etsy. I found a folding plastic white box called a “Foldio” with a strip of LED lights that were attached to the top edge of it. It ran off of a 9V battery. It was brand new, just off a Kickstarter campaign. The Foldio has gotten much fancier and more powerful than the one I had; some of the new ones look awesome. But that original basic model really gave my photos a serious upgrade. The bracelet above is a beaded silk cuff and these were best sellers in my Etsy shop for a while. That photo is also straight off the camera without any edits.

Things I learned: Ditch the fabric.

One of the things I learned when I had the Foldio is that a sheet of white posterboard or craft foam is 100 times better than a piece of fabric as a background. Paper doesn’t have wrinkles and no matter how many times I would iron that piece of fabric, you still saw wrinkles and folds. Now I have both large sheets of white foam core and a big roll of white paper that I use as the background for everything in my studio. The bonus of using white versus another color as a background is that white reflects light. So effectively it’s like adding more light to your scene and more light is always helpful.

The problem with the white box was that I really couldn’t photograph anything larger than a loaf of bread because it wouldn’t fit into the box. And I started to make larger pieces that needed much more light again. One solution was to take things outside. If I could get a bright overcast day, photographing pieces against a piece of white paper taped up to my house worked great. This bag (made by my friend Pat Grady) was something we needed an image of for a postcard at the art center I worked at. So I took it home, dressed up in this cute ensemble, and my husband helped me take this photo using natural light. You can see we had to do some Photoshopping still to make it work, erasing the seam in the paper and so on.

Things I learned: Use a reflector.

For bigger items it helps a lot to have a big white surface to reflect extra light back on to the scene. For this shot, we had a big sheet of white foam core that we propped up on a chair to help get more light on the bottom of the scene where it was a little shadowy. You don’t see the effect with your eyes very well, but the camera can totally see the difference.

Natural light works amazingly well, but let’s be realistic. I live in MN and there is about one day in every month that has the right combination of bright, overcast, no snow, and not windy to be able to take photos. And especially with an Etsy shop, I can’t be limited to hoping I can take photos once a month. So, we borrowed some lights from a co-worker to get this shot (above). We set it up in the corner of an office, taped up a piece of white paper and had a couple of really bright lights and one big light with an umbrella on it to light up the whole scene. We thought we’d try out his set up and see if maybe we needed to buy some lights like this. You can see there is still some Photoshopping that had to happen, but this turned into a pretty great photo.

What I learned: The larger the item, the more light you need.
Getting a whole person lit up evenly from head to toe takes a lot of light. I realized that if I wanted to continue to photograph my garments, I was going to need to invest in some photo lights. We started looking at the free-standing umbrella style lights that you could buy as a kit on Amazon. We talked about painting a corner of our unfinished basement bright white to use as a giant sized white box.

Here’s the part where we got lucky. A friend of ours who is an artist and photographer decided to downsize his studio and gave us some hand-me down equipment in exchange for us helping him with his website. Best trade ever. Instead of reflector lights, these are strobes inside big fabric boxes which are like a giant camera flash. We have two and you can see them in this photo. The large one is to the left and the smaller one is behind me. On the right hand side you can see sheets of white foam core that we are using to reflect light to that other side. This was a photo that we staged for an event at the art center where I worked where they were giving me an award and needed a photo of me for the invitation. I wanted to show off the skirt without it being a photo of my face and so we came up with the idea of doing a parody on the Magritte “Son of Man” painting. You can see the final photo up at the very top of this post.

Our setup is a Speedotron kit similar to these. (You can also find them used like we have.) It’s amazing. I photograph nearly everything in my basement studio with these lights. I say nearly everything because for things that I post on social media, that’s still a piece of white posterboard next to a window with the camera on my phone. Because that also works amazingly well. And using this pro equipment is a little bit of a process. I have a checklist taped to the wall downstairs so I turn on everything in the right order. And I never remember the settings on the camera so I have a cheat sheet for that too.

Other than the lights, our studio isn’t fancy. We have an unfinished basement (which I LOVE) and we have about a quarter of the space dedicated to photo equipment, mostly because I use it often enough that it’s nice to not have to get it out and put it away all the time. The backdrop is a roll of white paper that we roll up when it’s not needed. I’ve upgraded to wider paper since this photo was taken so I don’t have to Photoshop out that seam all the time. We have a shelf that holds all of the clips, clamps, dress forms and props that I use for photos and a stack of large sheets of foam core to act as backgrounds and reflectors. This is where we take most of our annual Halloween photos as well. This one took a lot of creativity to get this mood lighting just right.

You’ll notice that I haven’t even mentioned the kind of camera I have. That’s because having an expensive or super fancy camera isn’t necessary for great photos. I take a lot of photos for things like social media and all of the instruction sheets for my Etsy kits with my iPhone because it’s small and convenient and does a great job. When I shoot things in the studio, I have a Canon 60D which we got in about 2010 and it still works super well. We got a couple of upgraded/specialized lenses that are for specific tasks like shots for my Etsy shop (24mm pancake lens).

I’ve also talked a lot about Photoshopping, but really you don’t need to have Photoshop either. I did when I first started out because I couldn’t quite get the photos I wanted. My goal with photos now is to get it right in the camera so I never even have to open it in Photoshop. That saves so much time!  It took me a long time and a lot of learning to get to that point, but I can now do an entire photoshoot of new designs without anything but minor touchups. It’s not hard to learn, but you have to be willing to take a lot of photos and try new things until you get something you like. There’s no one cookbook recipe for how you need to photograph your work; everyone has different items with different challenges. I still get it wrong sometimes and have to go back and move lights around and try things set up in different ways.

I wrote this post because I friend said “You should write something about your photo setup; you always have great photos of your work.” and I wanted to show that there’s a lot of behind the scenes work to make it look that way. Hopefully this will give you an idea of where to start if you want to try learning how to photograph your own work too.

11 January, 2021

Resting the Creative Brain through Stitching

2021-02-12T18:28:39-06:00An Artist's Life, Embroidery|1 Comment

I spent August stitching. And September. And October, November and December. In fact, I still have a box of stitchery on my dining room table and I pick up something almost every night. My job as an artist means that I am making things during most of the hours of my work days. Depending on the day I am writing, or photographing, or assembling kits or making things for my Etsy shops, or making art for one of half a dozen projects. But all of those things I do during my work day are “me powered”. I am the one designing, making the creative decisions, assembling the practice pieces, doing the edits. It’s a one-woman-show here and if I’m not doing the work, then nothing gets done. Most of the time I love it and I love being busy.

But with everything going on in 2020, my creative brain was feeling just tapped out. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you. I managed to keep a lot of my regular juggling balls in the air, so to speak, but I just didn’t have much capacity for taking on anything new or thinking of the next new thing or the next big art project. The class proposals that I used to put together in an afternoon were taking me a week (with a lot of procrastinating). I couldn’t think of anything to write here on the blog. I didn’t want to make art because it just felt like it was simultaneously too much to take on and why-bother-because-no-ones-going-to-see-it-anyway-because-everything-is-cancelled. It was really frustrating and exhausting, so I just kept getting sucked in to doomscrolling and reading Firefly novelizations because it was just easier.

Mr Scrooge Ornament, pattern by Larissa Holland mmmcrafts.etsy.com

Let me introduce you to my friend Mr. Scrooge. He’s an ornament pattern designed by my friend Larissa Holland at mmmcrafts. (This one’s stitched by me.) He’s grouchy and “bah humbug”ish and utterly delightful. At least I think so. In August, I decided that Mr. Scrooge was the perfect metaphor-in-an-ornament-form for 2020, so I decided to make Scrooges for my sisters as a Christmas gift. He’s made from embroidered and beaded felt and entirely hand sewn, so really a perfect kitchen table kind of project while watching vintage episodes of All Creatures Great and Small.

What I realized as I started stitching was that it was exactly what my brain needed: to follow someone else’s pattern. There are lots of studies and reports about the physical act of stitching or knitting and the meditative effects it has on the brain. But what I also came to realize is that there is something really restful in following a pattern and letting someone else steer the creative ship. Although I got to do the fun part of picking out the colors, for everything else, I didn’t have to problem solve, troubleshoot, design, or choose anything. I just followed the directions. Stitch the beads to lower left coat trim, then go to step 5.

Soon, almost every night after dinner, I would turn off the news and the social media and pull out some felt to stitch. Although I don’t do embroidery or beadwork for my business (for many reasons), I love both things and my hands have years of practice. It was fun to have a reason to dive into my stash of beads and vintage sequins for the perfect shade of rosy pink or try out that Kreinik metallic thread. I made one Scrooge. And then another. I stitched my way through the rest of the autumn making Santas, Scrooges and sardines for friends and family. And even though it’s January, I started a partridge and a pear for myself this week.

I realized, as I was thinking about writing this post about my new-found daily stitch practice, that it was the practice of craft that I needed right now. I didn’t make a lot of art this past year, but instead I found myself drawn to the craft: the precise, detailed, fine craft work with my hands. That’s what made me feel grounded and my brain feel a little less overwhelmed. And it’s not just me. My mom took up cross-stitch again this year after a couple of decades. My dad made me a turned wood rolling pin for Christmas. I saw a good friend post a finished cross-stitch piece on her Facebook feed just this morning. Another friend made a delicate straw star ornament for me that I have hanging in my window and I Instagram chatted with someone else about learning to make our first hard covered books coincidentally on the same week. My friend MissChiff has assigned herself 1000 hours of painting to practice her watercolor skills.

So maybe if you’ve run out of Mandalorian episodes and you want to reduce your mindless phone surfing, try folding some origami. Or teaching yourself cross stitch. Or finger knitting. Or sketching. Or making friendship bracelets. Maybe it’s the thing your brain needs too.

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