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!
Since Valentines Day is just around the corner, I thought I would post a quick tutorial for making a heart shaped cut out design. You can use any image or pattern and “cut it out” to make it into a heart shape. (Or any other shape you want to use. The steps are the same.)
Make a heart
The first thing is to create your heart. I want a nice smooth shape that is basic black and white. You could use some clip art, but I really prefer to make my own “clip art”. (pun intended) With my own art, I never have to worry about using a copyrighted image or inadvertently stealing someone else’s design. I could draw something in Illustrator or use the vector tools in Photoshop, but I think it is so much easier to just start with a piece of paper. Seriously.
Why? I like the quality of the shape. Vector designs often look too perfect to me. It is really fast and easy to use the circle tool and the pen tool to create something that is symmetrical and has perfectly smooth lines, but I think that’s boring. It is also fast and easy to use scissors and a piece of dark colored paper to cut out a shape, and get all kinds of imperfections: little wobbles of the scissors, curves that are more irregular and so on. It looks less computer generated to me and I like that.
So I sketched a heart with an arrow design on a piece of black paper and cut it out. I used a paper punch to make the little dots. Then, I scanned it. I adjusted the scanner so it was scanning it black and white and I bumped up the contrast. The scanner DPI settings aren’t very important here, so I chose 150 dpi because that should be plenty of pixels to work with.
If you have Photoshop, you can use that do do this next step, but it is also really easy to do in PicMonkey and that’s what I will show you in this tutorial.
Go to picmonkey.com and choose Design (t icon) from the menu at the top. Then create a custom canvas. I am going to make mine 600×600 pixels. That’s a great size for a blog post or email and by making it square, it will look great in my Instagram feed.
Go to the Overlays menu (butterfly icon at left) and choose Add your Own at the top of that column. Then find your scanned heart design.
Next choose the photo or image that you want to “cut out” with this heart. I will use a picture of my dogs as my example. Choose Add Your Own in Overlays again and find that image.
To make it “cut out” you just need to select a different blend mode for this new overlay layer. Look in the Overlay pop up palette that should have popped up somewhere in your editor. (It’s on the right side in my screen shot) Under the Blend Mode dropdown, choose Add.
I can adjust the size of the overlay by using the bubble toggles at the corners or rotating with the handle at the top until I have the image and the heart cutout aligned the way I like it.
You can also use another repeating design instead of a photo; in fact any .jpg image will work. How about a sushi valentine? For this one, I just took a screen shot of this sushi stripe design that I created and used it to make an overlay.
And here I took the same idea with a different design and then uploaded it to Spoonflower to make a repeating pattern for a fabric design. This one would be cute as wrapping paper!
If you want to learn more techniques like this for designing your own patterns and fabrics, be sure to check out my online classes. There is even a free one to get you started and it builds on some of the ideas in this tutorial. Or check out my events calendar for in-person classes.
You’d think by this point in my life that I wouldn’t miss things like this, but there it is. I was focused on a project (taking photos for some new classes) and then I had a meeting to run to and I am pretty sure I didn’t even finish my cup of tea. So then this afternoon, I was kind of scatterbrained and not very focused and suddenly I realized that all I have eaten today is a bowl of lettuce and a hard-boiled egg. That explains a lot.
Forgetting to fuel up, in the metaphorical sense, came up in a couple of conversations today. Back in the late summer, when it was time to schedule teaching gigs for this winter, I was 100% apathetic. I scheduled almost nothing. I was busy and the thought of scheduling one more thing was just completely unappealing, no matter how far away it was on the calendar or how easy it was. They were all classes I had taught before and venues where I know all of the quirks. I was so bogged down in the boring details of contracts, descriptions and logistics that it was just easier to say “no, I’m just too busy” and know that I was really just bored.
And that was kind of the conversation that we had today. Being so caught up in the “getting it done” part of your job, that you don’t have time for the reason you were there in the first place: because it is something you love.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I taught a class at a new venue to a new group that I haven’t worked with before and it was like a breath of fresh air. It was a beautiful space, the class was engaged and asked good questions, and the things that went wrong (like wonky wifi) were things I am well prepared to deal with. (I can’t tell you how many classes I have taught tethered off my phone.) I am booking some new classes at some new to me venues because I realized that I needed to get out of my rut, go to some different places and talk to some new people. I need some new fuel.
That design up above is another source of fuel I have discovered: the Spoonflower Design Challenge. I have been a huge fan of the challenges for years, but rarely took the time to participate. I decided that designing more was a goal for me this year and this has been a great motivator. I like deadlines. That’s a little detail of my design for the “origami” theme this week.
What has been bogging you down lately? Have you found some new fuel to get you going?
Last year, I got a grant from the state arts board to make some new work. Part of the requirements of the grant was to have a part of the project that the public could participate in. This could be a performance to attend, art making, a video to watch. Something that they could interact with in some way.
I chose to do a series of mini-workshops where I showed participants how to do a tiny taste of my process making the art for the exhibition that was the culmination of the grant. The workshops were well attended and I had so much fun. A friend recently did a similar series of art making workshops for another grant. She posted about her nervousness and excitement about the events and one of the commenters on that post of hers really stood out for me. The comment was something like this:
“You are so brave. I could never do an event like that, I would be too scared that nobody would show up.”
I read that comment and I thought to myself, “Oh honey. Nobody always shows up. You can count on that.”
When I say “nobody” I don’t mean literally nobody. I mean that you never know exactly who is going to show up and it is never going to be who you think it is. I do a lot of art making events and residencies and pop-up kinds of things in many different venues because I love it, but the reality is that:
- 80% of the time there are fewer people there than I would wish for
- 5% of the time there are way more people than I am prepared for
- 5% of the time there is just me and the crickets (or it’s cancelled altogether)
- Which leaves about 10% of the time that the class is actually living up to what I pictured in my head
I often don’t know what category an event is going to fall into until I show up. About 25% of the classes I offered this year were cancelled due to low enrollment. At least one event that I had scheduled, the venue forgot I was even coming. I have had events this year that have sold out/filled up in just a few hours and ones that were teetering on the edge of being cancelled for weeks. Sometimes they snowball and a class gets cancelled on a weekend when I turned down other things, since I can’t be in two places at once. (And now I have no events instead of too many.)
The thing I had to learn is that the number of people that show up isn’t the most important part. Numbers don’t equal success. Numbers don’t equal value. Numbers don’t equal quality. And that’s hard to wrap your head around.
I worked at an art center for more than 11 years and I was in charge of scheduling classes and workshops and having to make the call when something would run or be cancelled. One of my “rules of thumb” was that pretty often, the first time you offered a new class it would not have enough students registered to be able to run but the second time it was offered, it would fill up. I can’t explain why with any certainty, but I have a feeling that it was some subtle psychology. There is a marketing theory, called the “Rule of Seven”, that says for an ad or message to be effective, you the consumer, have to see it 7 times before you will take action. I think that totally happened with these classes. By the time it was offered a second time, it seemed familiar and reminded that potential student that this was something that looked amazing the first time they read about it.
Think about it. The reasons for you to not do something (like sign up for a class) pretty much always outnumber the reasons to do it: you don’t have time right now, you shouldn’t spend the money right now, you don’t know the teacher and you aren’t sure you will like it, there’s so much else needing your attention….
And you know what? None of those reasons have anything to do with me, the artist who is offering this class or performance or art making event.
I did several art-making-in-the-gallery events when my exhibition was on display. I was there one afternoon for about 3 hours and I had four people show up for the activity. Four seems kind of depressing. But that group of four was delightful. We did the art project. No one was waiting, so we made another and everyone got to practice a second time. They took pictures, we posted to social media, we laughed and talked about all kinds of other creative ideas that they had while they were working. This was 6 months ago and I still think of that group and smile. There were several dozen other people who “said they were interested” in the event on Facebook or liked the post that I wrote about it. It went out in newsletters and postcards and word of mouth. Not everyone is going to be interested. Not everyone is even going to pay attention. But for those four people, the balance tipped the other way and the reasons to go do it outweighed the reasons not to and that, when you think about it, is something to celebrate.
When I say that 80% of the time there are fewer people there than I would wish for it’s not because the number is important by itself. It’s because I want to share that kind of experience with more people. That’s why I love teaching. It’s because there is something magic that happens when you have just the right size group to build some energy and spark conversation, where people feel like they can contribute without feeling self-conscious. A class of 3 people rarely hits that magic groove, but a class of 8 or 12 can be amazing. (A class of 50 rarely hits the magic groove either. It goes both ways.) Sometimes I wish for more students because the flat out financial logistics don’t work out if you don’t get enough. Then I am paying the venue more than I am making in order to use the space. That is difficult to sustain. Sometimes I wish for more because I want to build momentum. If more people took my beginning class, I would have the push and demand to develop the next more advanced one. And that’s fun for me and for my students too.
I feel like every day in my Facebook or Twitter feed there is a promo post from someone for how to grow your numbers. Number of followers or likes or shares or retweets. As if the number is going to magically make you successful and if you aren’t getting enough likes you are a failure. I think that blog commenter I mentioned at the beginning of this post had this same feeling: She couldn’t even do it, because if no one showed up then she would be a failure. I get it. If I looked at every cancelled class or low attendance as failure, I couldn’t do it either.
Instead, I try to think of it this way: Getting 100 “likes” is like getting a round of applause. It’s fun and very satisfying but it’s over in 23 seconds and everyone has moved on. But I would trade those 100 likes for another mini class with the four ladies from the gallery. Every time.
There’s a quote (with an original source which is highly debated) that says “It’s not the years in your life that matters; it’s the life in your years”. I am pretty sure that applies: It’s not the numbers in your class that matters, it’s the class with those students.
Visit my brand new Online Classes page to learn more and sign up. Take the intro class for free and then dig in to designing all kinds of projects that don’t need a repeat. I am so excited to have these new classes to share with all of you. There are two classes that are live now and much more to come.