• Phrygian Phreedom

    On: November 1, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1569

    Here’s another work from my Tiffany Schmierer Skyline College 2009 Summer Session: Phrygian (the cap’s style) Phreedom (because it is based on the face of Statue of Freedom on top of the US Capitol Building.)

    Anyhoo….I have a thing for these sorts of classical faces, both the originals from Ancient Greece and Rome and the Neo-classical interpretations down through the ages.  I have worked with the fearsome face of the Statue of Liberty, and while it is inspiring, it has a certain stern quality. Take a look at some close ups. There’s a straight-ahead no nonsense eagle-like stare to this statue.

    Contrast this with the sweet face of the Statue of Freedom! Still inspiring, but perhaps more egalitarian than eagle-like. The more I looked at this face, the more I wanted to make a larger than life-sized head based on it. So, using the techniques I learned a few summers ago from Stan Welsh, I built the basic Big Head shape.  I so appreciated conferring with Tiffany over the technical and aesthetic fine points as sometimes it comes down to millimeters and the fine dance between darks and lights….it really does. We proved it.

    What a nice face, but what to do about all that fancy headgear on the original statue? Yes, I suppose it could be made of clay, but it would not only be a dicey proposition to execute and forever vulnerable to breakage, it was also a complete aside to my inspiration: that face.

    If one is making a 3D sculpture and is not working from a 3D model, live or otherwise, it is useful to have lots of resource photos, from as many angles as possible. I love the internet for that function alone. In my Statue of Freedom visual travels, I read this whole wiki article of its history, and simultaneously answered my question about what to do about the headdress: The Phrygian cap, aka the Freedom Cap! It was the sculptor’s original choice….and it would be mine because I loved it and it was a tiny way of thumbing my nose at Jefferson Davis’ wrong-headed policies. I would give her the headdress she was supposed to have.

    Yes, this hat has appeared in many guises throughout history, and yes, it is a Smurf hat shape too. So???? I love all of it, the sacred and the profane. And, did I say I love this face? I imagine making other versions of it. In the meantime, some of you may recognize it from my Facebook and Twitter avatars.  As I said, I have a thing for this kind of face, so ultimately it is a reflection of me and I am comfortable with that. Phreedom, indeed.

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  • Magic Backyard Incinerator Maquette

    On: October 25, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1783

    One of the most vital requirements in art-making, in my humble opinion, is bell-ringing authenticity. To that end, one of my favorite quotations is here on my blog’s sidebar from J. F. Stephens, “Originality does not consist is saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you yourself think.”

    For me, in both 2D and 3D art, (and in writing about them) it has been a long haul to connect my personal impulses and my technical capabilities so that I get a result which comes dang near to what moved me to attempt it.

    As if you did not know, we humans often tend to have ‘way more complicated ideas than we can bring forth. When I sewed all my own clothes in high school, my biggest mistake was in making conceptual errors which lead to technical difficulties: not matching the fabric to the pattern or vice versa. I would pick a coarse kettlecloth and ask it to drape in soft mini-folds….or I would attempt to tailor double-sewn pockets with button-down flaps out of whisper-thin silk. In the right hands, those choices could work, but not for me at my skill level. I could think it up, but not do it.

    Pictured here is one ceramic sculpture that comes together better than my home-sewing. It’s about 18″ tall and its working title is Magic Backyard Incinerator Maquette, because someday I intend to make a life-sized one.

    It’s one of the works I created in my Super Schmierer Skyline College 2009 Summer Session. I think I have mentioned that I put 2500 miles on my car in six weeks in order to study with someone I absolutely knew could help me connect Authentic Impulse with Technical Execution: Tiffany Schmierer.

    What I enjoy about this piece, besides its wonderfully figurative presence, is the journey making it took me on. When I was quite young we lived in LA’s San Fernando Valley. In the backyard was this imposing Cycladic figure with fire in its belly and smoke coming out its noggin: our incinerator. Every house had one, because, amazingly, there was no garbage collection in all of Los Angeles County. That is, until folks noticed the rotten air quality and backyard incinerators were banned by Proposition A in 1957. Gone was my fire-breathing buddy. (Where? To the dump? Hrmmm.)

    We moved to Northern California soon after and I never thought about it for years and years and years, until I began visiting the objects of my childhood in my art. I needed photos to make this maquette accurate. I got them here and here and here.

    I also got news write-ups which explained what I had not known and even my mom could not recall: exactly what happened to make the incinerators disappear. And! I found this exquisite poem, “In the Days of Backyard Incineration,” by John Nimmo. It so moved me that I transferred the last part of it onto the back of the maquette, as you can see here, which really turns this piece into a sculpture by lifting it even beyond my intentions (but, for once, not my capabilities) to a supremely thoughtful place.

    When I make the big one, I will be able to inscribe the entire poem which, (poetically) observes that waste is waste, however satisfactorily we think we are getting rid of it. No small point, considering the size of our planet and its population.

    All that from authentic curiosity and technical exactitude. More magic. Hooray!

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  • Local Talkers: Third Quarter Gathering

    On: October 18, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 543

    Quick now, how many weeks in a quarter of a year? How many playing cards in a suit? How many donuts in a Baker’s Dozen? Yep, thirteen and thirteen and thirteen!

    And, now, how many columns in the photo above? Oooooh, twelve! Looks like, after hitting the half year mark last June in my year-long one-a-week small face jug project based on the question man-type column called “Local Talk” in the Santa Cruz entertainment rag the Good Times, I just might have gotten one done in the Third Quarter.

    But, oh, what a good one! And oh, what a great lesson in the creative process! Am I bothered and beating up on myself over not working The Plan? Absolutely not. Did I earlier? Maybe, although I was so busy I don’t recall.

    Basically this project is going like this:

    Last January, Week One, I tremblingly cut out the column on that first crystalline Thursday, went to my studio and made a small jug. I sweetly imagined myself doing this each Thursday the entire year.

    Might have done that for the first five weeks.

    From February to April I wound up making jugs every 2-3 weeks, a more economical use of time! I bisque-fired the first thirteen from Quarter One and wrote a few blog postings about it.

    The blog photos and the writing gave an accountability to the project like I had never experienced and I created the jugs for the Second Quarter with anticipation. It was great fun to introduce them.

    So then here came the busy summer, the busier fall. I have made lots of ceramic pieces, just not my Local Talkers.

    Of course, I still collect the Thursday paper and date and number each column. If I start to fuss over the backlog, I breathe and take a much longer view. How do you take care of your dreams? Gently. Lovingly. Determinedly. With humor!

    Look at all that potential up there! I scan those faces, absorbing them and conceptualizing. This apparent pause is rather normal and not a cause for any flustering doubt or flapping guilt. It is a time of Gathering: ideas, columns, steam, right intention and focus. When I get back to the making, addressing each week in order, I will make one lovely face jug at a time with all my heart, just as I imagined.

    I will still bisque the whole lot of them before I add the colors. I did research and test some of my color ideas over the summer: more Gathering! When I have the whole year, the full deck, the Baker’s Dozen times four, they will begin to become the body of work I intend. In the meantime, I take it bird by bird.

    So that’s what’s happened in Quarter Three. That and this:

    All my gentle, loving, determined, funny and irreverent wishes for the rest of the year!

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  • Fairy God Cub

    On: September 18, 2009
    In: Art Biz, Artmaking, Community, Studio Journal
    Views: 881
    Here’s the bookend to my last post about Ratty Got Her Wings, a second sculpture of mine accepted into the Santa Cruz Art League’s upcoming exhibit entitled Beasts on Broadway: Animals Galore. (The SCAL is located on Broadway in Santa Cruz, hence the show title.)
    Introducing the Fairy God Cub! It’s another animal sculpture “with a twist” completed under the tutelage of Tiffany Schmierer of Skyline College last summer.
    What I love about this one is the vulnerable (sheepish?) expression of the baby lion and of course those strap-on costume fairy wings. All fantasy protectors should engage us like this. Here’s another shot of the wings:
    The interesting thing about wings  is,  as far as I can tell, angels have feathered bird wings and fairies have diaphanous insect wings. So, am I right? Any of you out there really informed about this? It’s the sort of detail that makes a huge difference between a general interpretation and getting a sculpture that reads in all the right ways.
    What ever did we do before Google Image searches? I remember using picture encyclopedias, but even they could fall short at times. Or maybe I am just a lot more specific and picky than I used to be. Yeah, that’s it!
    All I wanted today was a short and sweet post about the short and sweet Fairy God Cub.
    May you glimpse your own inner kid-self playing dress-up and donning, along with the wings or the cape or the mask, magical powers in spite of very real doubts… and for the time being becoming protected and fantastic.
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  • "Dear Artist, Congratulations…"

    On: September 13, 2009
    In: Art Biz, Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1245

    Thus began the letter from the Santa Cruz Art League. It said that my work was accepted into their upcoming Beasts On Broadway, Animals Galore exhibit, which was juried by George Rivera, Executive Director of the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, CA.

    Well, triple yippee to that! This letter is also heaps sweeter in ways beyond its YES! to my art and my efforts to take it into the world for Show and Sell. It says YES! to rats and YES! to pertinacity.

    Here’s one piece that will soon be a Beast on Broadway. It’s titled Ratty Got Her Wings. I made it this past summer while studying at Skyline College in San Bruno, CA with the inspiring and wise Tiffany Schmierer. (I put 2,500 worthwhile miles on my car in order to receive her inspiration, guidance and feedback! I can’t wait to share this good news with her.)

    Rats are one animal that get a bad rap over their historically, and admittedly not undeserved, bad rep. Yet to categorically reject all rats is, well, Rattism. You can find lots of positive action websites dedicated to easing that prejudice. Look, there goes one now.

    My piece is more personal than political, though. Rats, even pet ones, just don’t live very long. Two-three years. This life-size rat sculpture is for all the gentle females that came to be cared for and then leave my sons: Zelda, Kiwi, Latte, GL (short for Greased Lightning,) the One-Who-We-Can’t-Quite-Remember-Her-Name-Right-Now, and dear Moose. They are buried in a group in our redwood grove with a sign, RaT pAcK, posted on a nearby trunk.

    Ratty Got Her Wings is my way of saying a heartfelt thank you to those animals. I’m certain that the intimate knowledge of their bodies and movements allowed me to fold that love into the sculptural form I had in mind. Here are two more detail shots of the piece: Oh my, that dreaded snaky tail and a perky face because a rat knows you,just like a dog does.

    So, what about that acceptance letter’s ratification of pertinacity (a $2 word for doggedness)?

    Like Weight Watchers, I have joined the Santa Cruz Art League at least four times since I moved here in 1989. I’d join for a year, desultorily put something in the everyone’s-included Annual Members’ Exhibit, never quite figure out what else I could do to become involved there, feel awful artistic angst and let the membership lapse. In a common case of sour grapes, I mentally thought of it as The Fart League, which surely is neither clever NOR original. Last year, however, I joined with some goals in mind and I knew that if I did not see them realized, I would understand why, not feel bad and move on to other venues for my work.

    I think that a more professional grade of doggedness led me to both better art and better ways to present it and it is what ultimately got me into the animal show at SCAL. To my way of thinking, it is decidedly all connected

    In one way or another, though, I have been perfecting my art my whole adult life. But I have been effectively perfecting how I package and present that art less than a year. (Read my last post about my business card saga, just to hear one story about this.) One of my undeniable artbiz mentors is Alyson Stanfield. And now, as I wind up an online blogging class with her and Cynthia Morris, I can say a personal but public thank you to them. And to the other students I have struggled alongside, who I have come to know through their questions, humor and writing: Dear Artists, Congratulations!

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  • Requiem for Purple Music

    On: August 28, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 652

    It is with torn-asunder reverence that I am writing this.

    Reverence for creative curiosity and bravery, the unknown and the unmet, and for the crazy wild-hair day that led Karen Koch and me to send each other a piece of our artwork to make into something else by any means we could concoct…in the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased DeKooning, which RR considered “poetry.”

    I think we were expecting to make some meaningful poetry as well. And it sounded so madcap adventurous. Dare we? If you want the whole tale, you are invited to read my immediately previous post of two days ago, “Channeling Willem and Karen” which will take you to all the other links, hers and mine, you might want to follow. (I’m too drained to do all that explanatory reference writing and linking again.)

    But, if you’re starting in on the story of this Art Swap right here, you most likely don’t need to do that, because **!SPOILER ALERT!** this is The End.

    And the end is bittersweet and leaves me caught up, thoughtful and seeking solace.

    The photos show how I destroyed Karen’s creation. I’m not sure I need to describe the steps in much detail, just know that the inside of the lid is inscribed: “Bubble Soap Reliquary for Purple Music.”

    All along I have been making a funerary urn. All along, as some may have conjectured, I intended to burn Purple Music in my kiln. All along I wanted to capture its decorative essence on the clay’s surface and send the original up in smoke to Cone 04, or about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

    I am amazed at that big ol’ piece of ash left because it means there is an actual relic in the Reliquary. I crack a tiny wry grin over that.

    The heroine in the novel Norma Jean the Termite Queen by Sheila Ballantyne saves her 1970s married-with-three-children sanity by turning to ceramics, in particular Egyptian-style canopic jars. Now, I must have read this book 6-7 times, twice a decade, since I first discovered it. I quote it frequently and I have searched out a lot of her references (Verdi’s Requiem, for one.) I am floored to realize I have wound up with a parallel existence to Norma Jean, death and afterlife jars included.

    Why create? Why destroy? What comes to me in this limnal period of Afterwards is to feel: connected, thrilled, daunted, grateful, poetic and broken open with a slight grin.

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  • Channeling Willem and Karen

    On: August 26, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 679

    So The Plan was this: trade a piece of my art for one of Karen Koch’s and alter it mightily as in Erased DeKooning by Robert Rauschenberg. (You who need the thrilling and informative backstory are encouraged to see Karen’s blog and my previous post, the one just before this one, which will connect you to the other two previous posts…so just scroll down…as always, I’ll be right here when you get back!)

    I have concocted this lidded ceramic container recalling some of the shapes and textures of both my work (the Soap Bubble bottle) and Karen’s. It has been bisque-fired and is ready for more decoration. My plan was to add colors and patterns not to exactly replicate Karen’s lovely little piece, but to riff off of it in 3D. Could I do that with the decidedly less-wieldy underglazes?

    Apparently not. My first brushings were tentative AND pretty ham-handed, if that is possible! I hated them. But the hate was well-utilized because, all of a sudden, I remembered that DeKooning spent eons scraping his paint off of his surfaces, painting more and applying absorbent newspapers, and scraping and applying, scraping and applying. Thank You, Willem! I just got creative permission to do less than rinsing it all off and starting over, but to do more than piling on more colors in hopes it would get better.

    Enter the sanding screen as seen in the first photo up top. I LOVE this thing! It makes Instant Old surfaces. Off I went outside with a mask (because you don’t want to breathe ceramic-anything dust) and ever so lightly and randomly scraped and altered the surface I had thickly painted.

    It got better! I started to feel the rhythms of Karen’s piece, titled Purple Music. I thought about music. I wondered what Karen was listening to when she made it. (Karen?) I put the Real Jazz station on the satellite radio, literally caught the vibes, and painted and scraped and scraped and painted.

    Eventually I broke out the underglaze chalks and pencils. Betchadidntknow they had those, right? For we who love that dry, calligraphic surface, they are heaven. AND they smudge good, too! The bottom photo shows the piece nearly done. It is altogether more playful and rhythmic and totally has the effect I was wanting. Whew!

    So, I leave us right here with just a few more steps to go: clear glaze wash and the final firing, with an important twist in the works. Stay tuned, kids!

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