Because at some point, we all need to take a leap of faith.
I’ve had this post in my draft box for two years. It was going to be a critique and comparison about Do It Yourself crafting, fine art and where the two overlap.
Where’s my Venn diagram?
Instead, let’s talk about making art approachable and accessible to beginners in terms of technique and expense by using the following example.
This was a screen printing project; a gift for my bestie’s husband. He is a fan of placemats. And who isn’t a fan of dinosaurs?
There are a number of ways to go about a screen print. A kit at Dick Blick will run a person anywhere from $25.00 to $472.00, depending on how serious you are about it. The basics are going to include a frame/screen, a squeegee, screen filler, drawing fluid, a brush and, hopefully, an instruction manual. Other materials include photo emulsion, photo emulsion remover, sensitizer, lighting, transparencies, tape and solvent. Whew!
So what if we break it down to five items that can get the job done? A screen, a roll of tape, a shower curtain liner, a defunct gift card and ink. It’s a little less intimidating than photo emulsion and if it turns out you hate screen printing, you haven’t invested too much in supplies.
You can use a piece of shower curtain to create a stencil. The plastic is thick enough to withstand multiple printings, easy to cut with a blade and disposable enough that you’re not going to feel too guilty when you mess up. Tape off your screen. This helps with clean up later. I like to tape my stencil to the back of my screen to ensure it will not slide, but usually it will stay put with ink/pressure. Put some ink at the top of your image and use your gift card to pull the ink through the screen.
Stencils can be as simple, or complicated as you want to make them and the printed results are indistinguishable from a more professional setup.
You might have noticed this post is not a step by step process. There are a lot of tutorials already out there. Check out this one by Catspit Productions:
And while there are other parts of the screen printing process like prepping your screen and registering your image, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Throw that stencil on your screen and have at it. Making art does not have to be cost prohibitive and creating beautiful/crafty/functional prints is within your power.
I love graphic t-shirts. I don’t wear a lot of them anymore, but I did when I was in my teens and twenties. My favorite was a shirt I ordered from Mad Magazine with many incarnations of Alfred E. Newman printed on it. I remember a long sleeved black t with a vampire sleeping in her coffin, purchased at a New Jersey horror convention. I got a lot of wear out of a vintage converse shirt I found thrifting. The t-shirt is long gone, but I cut out the graphic because I couldn’t bear to part with it.
Which leads me to this post. I don’t think of myself as sentimental, but I hate to throw out a good print. It does not seem prudent to hold on to unwearable t-shirts. How often are you going to look at them? Where are you going to put them? And yet, I find myself keeping them anyway.
I finally found a solution. I turn them into book cloth. It gives me the opportunity to appreciate the graphic one more time and create one of a kind books for others to enjoy.
I can also tell you where they all came from, in case anyone wants a story with their book. The jackalopes were a memento of a free burlesque show hosted by Indiana University. The show ended with a sparkler in a queen’s behind. Very patriotic. Everything is fine and the bananas came from the Northern Sun catalog. The koi was from my father- something he picked up at a pond trade show. The glowing red eye is part of a Sepultura (or within same genre) shirt that belonged to an ex. Sheep Unite? Something I screen printed in high school. I think there were Dead Kennedys lyrics on the back. I am not sure where the dino came from, but I do remember I wore it with duct tape (solid fashion choice) in high school.
Thanks for indulging me.
One more thing.
This book is untitled and was spawned from an ongoing Space Paste and Spring Leaf Press collaboration beginning in 2012. This exercise is from March to August of 2014 and the parameters included a miniature book constructed in a day using materials immediately available in the studio. I managed to successfully adhere to two out of the three and I’m good with that.
The book depicts the contents of my csa share from GroundWork Farms for August 6, 2014. I used watercolor for the vegetable images. A piece of my favorite (but broken) hat, a hemp shoe string and a paste cloth spine became the cover. Other materials included Rives BFK (so predictable- who doesn’t have this in their studio?), archival ink and linen thread.
It was a fun exercise. I had a chance to play around with a material I don’t normally use- hat- and I think it was successful in creating a farmy feel. I also had an opportunity to increase the range of my vegetable images. They are being used this September as marketing for the Duveneck Dinner, a fundraising event held by Hidden Villa, a nonprofit educational farm that provides a structure for learning about the environment and social justice in Los Altos Hills, California. Cool, yeah?
The Odyssey, for anyone who doesn’t remember, or didn’t get around to reading it, is the story of Odysseus and his long return home after the Trojan war. Over the course of a decade Odysseus and his crew face monsters, deities and narcotics until they finally reach Ithaca, where O arrives just in time to slaughter a bunch of suitors, housemaids and goatherds and reunite with his family.
This was the theme of the mobile my darling friend asked if I would make for her soon to be born son. It fit her requirements of educational, included her husband’s love of Greek mythology and fulfilled my deep set desire to make monsters.
I don’t usually take on the classic works of other artists. I don’t like to make master copies when I paint. When I make books, I rarely use text that isn’t mine. I have trouble following textile patterns to the letter. So, how was I going to make the characters in this story mine? And more importantly, how was I going to baby proof it?
I narrowed down the pieces to ten; one for each year O was gone. I used batik fabric as the ground and kept the shapes squishy and amorphous. I painted the figures in black- a nod to black-figure style and the developmental considerations of baby. Keeping child friendly in mind helped to direct the imagery.
In no particular order:
The ship. Odysseus’ ship has no name. Just like his horse.
Odysseus. Our hero. He’s holding a bag winds, a gift from Aeolus, to blow him home. Unfortunately his crew members open it and they are blown back to start.
The Lotus Eaters. O and his crew get blown off course and end up in a land where the inhabitants eat lotus fruits which have a pleasant, yet addictive narcotic effect (I always imagined a cross between the fruitarian Eloi in The Time Machine and the Bar-ba-loot bears in The Lorax). This is the kid’s favorite.
The Sirens. These ladies are monsters/mermaids/divas who lure men to their death through their song. In order to survive, the crew close their ears with wax and tie O to the mast because of his incurable curiosity and inability to say no to a pretty face.
Scylla. She is a six headed monster with a triple row of razor teeth and twelve legs. She accessorizes with a belt of barking dog heads. She is a voracious eater. And super hard to make child friendly. My favorite.
Charbydis. Charbydis is Scylla’s BFF and neighbor. Her head is a giant whirlpool.
Calypso. She is a sexy nymph and Odysseus spends seven years with her until he remembers he has a wife. She is often portrayed riding with dolphins. Also into weaving.
The Laestrygonians. A race of giant cannibals who in addition to eating the crew wrecked havoc on the ships. Also not easy to child proof.
You might have noticed there are only eight pieces here. Unfortunately, I never completed the last two. I had them sketched out, but couldn’t craft an image I was pleased with. Although the mobile is functioning, it’s not truly complete.
The final two:
Polyphemus. A cyclops and sheep herder who holds O and his crew captive after they steal and eat his sheep. He kills O’s men and O pokes his eye out with a sharp stick. My version is a farmer in overalls with an oversized head mostly filled by an eye. Sheep abound.
Circe. Another beautiful woman. Her hobbies are sorcery and turning men into pigs. O accepts an invitation into her bed and it takes him a year to get out of it. I envision her as a chemist holding up a sparkling test tube with a porcine creature under her arm.
I used an embroidery hoop as the base of the mobile and sewn loops of fabric to secure the pieces to it. When I find my video of the mobile in action, I will post it.
Stay tuned for the plushies!
In June to August of 2015 I participated in the Ideation Experience exhibit at The Abecedarian Gallery. The project was based on the Ideation Deck by Barbara Tetenbaum and Julie Chen. Within the deck are Category and Adjective cards representing aspects of design and bookmaking structure. The deck acts as a catalyst in the creative process. The player of this game picks twelve cards-seven in Category and five in Adjective- and that determines the technical attitude of the book. It does not however, create the theme.
In the category deck I blindly drew abstract (image), hand drawn/painted (technique), stream of consciousness/free write/rant (text), pre-treated (paper), grid (layout), highly colorful (color) and innovative (structure). Adjectives included poetic, soft, textured, whimsical and impressionistic.
I wasn’t sure how to make it work. The only way I thought I could incorporate all of my cards was to draw from the subconscious (but not my subconscious, ahem) and use the fears, desires, epiphanies and general absurdities that come from dreaming. In the end, I had a box that housed five dice and unfolded into a circle when opened.
I imagine there could be a lot of dialogue over whether or not a folded box is innovative, but there it is. The paper was pre-treated with a water color wash in light colors (soft, impressionistic), illustrated with dream imagery (whimsical, hand painted) and then over painted with a broken grid.
I used an awl to punch holes along the grid lines. I used gold pigment and sandpaper to create pattern and texture.
The dice are numbered. When rolled and put together in numerical order they form a sentence that can hopefully be interpreted as poetic and following a stream of consciousness. There are 7776 possible sentence combinations. The chances of rolling the original sentences are slim to none.
They are as follows (in case you were wondering):
1. Winged nightmare threatens vulnerable eyeballs
2. Pornographic lagomorph enthralls into orgasm
3. Living tree reaches throughout existence
4. Impassioned lover acquiesces individual consciousness
5. Perceived labyrinth confuses existential reality
6. (The wild card and resulting title of this piece) This dream intentionally left blank
I promise, the more you roll, the more ridiculous it gets.
Winged dream acquiesces into reality
Impassioned nightmare confuses existential blank
This labyrinth threatens individual existence
I think I might be ready for open mic night.
I live in the rural lands and I miss the accessibility and sparkle of The City. When I was in my early twenties I moved to Seattle, Washington from central Pennsylvania. The variety of food, men and shoes available were unbelievable. I tried pho for the first time, met an architect at a film festival and bought my first pair of Vogs. Over time, I lost perspective and forgot what was dear to me. I got caught up in the culture and the concrete. I felt alone, depressed and stopped taking advantage of anything Seattle had to offer. Eventually, I returned to Pennsylvania and then moved to Indiana.
I know myself better now. I can walk off my porch and into the woods. I leave the garage unlocked so the neighbor can borrow the chainsaw. I live in a place where someone will stop if I have a flat tire. I do not have to pick up after my dogs.
And I still love cities. Pittsburgh, Phili, Baltimore, D.C. and New York are all within easy reach when I want a little more art, action and limited release movies in my life.
A friend of mine left the green spaces of rural Pennsylvania last year for the grittiness of Pittsburgh. Initially she had trouble seeing the beauty in it and missed the stillness she left behind. I wanted to give her something that would help lend a sense of grounding to her day if she needed it. I was playing around with concepts of ritual and reliquaries at the time and I decided to make her a portable altar.
I used an Altoids tin as the vessel. I removed the color from the outside with a dremel tool, leaving some of the letters behind and applied some new imagery.
When the box is opened, the contents are removed and the altar constructed.
It unfolds to reveal a moonlit forest. The contents include an acorn, a pine cone, a bit of moss, quartz and two miniature deer. All local to central Pennsylvania. And what altar would be complete without incense? Forest flavored.
I don’t know if carrying around a tin full of nature helped her transition. Or if encouraging a ritual around a places you leave is healthy. I remember that spending time in Volunteer Park, or Green Lake wasn’t enough for me to feel whole. I missed where I came from and the grounding effect it had on me. My friend has transitioned beautifully into an urban landscape and is wrapped up in the scene of the city. And I can visit on weekends.