Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year That Was 2011

As is my custom, my end of the year wrap up of what I did related to art. For full details you can look back through the last 12 months of this blog, or read this post for the highlights.

Prints- Like many recent years, I didn't finish as many new prints as I would have liked. Only one boardwalk print was completed, but I did devote a bit of time to finally finishing the smoking figure (my largest ever single panel woodcut), a piece that I had started thinking about 5 years ago, and finally began in 2010. My only other significant print was a new saint print, which didn't take long in itself, but sessions were spread out over months. There was also a little (linoleum) demo piece, and this year's Christmas card.

Shows- Another year without a solo show, something I really need to work on. However, most of the year I had something up somewhere at any given time. Most of these were in spaces I am very familiar with (Belmar Arts Council, PCNJ), but for the first time I had work at New Jersey City University, at Rutgers- Newark, and in an international show in Estonia. Another new venue was in downtown Somerville, where I was chosen by PCNJ to represent the medium of woodcut, with 5 prints on display as part of Arts on Division. All together, I can remember 14 prints in 8 group shows, with two of those shows traveling to a second venue.

Publicity- Not much this year. I did get extensively quoted in an article about a project at the BAC, but it wasn't about my art. If the analytics that come with this blog are accurate, I've had over 8000 page views in 2011, for whatever that's worth.

Awards- The only one that I remember right now was an honorable mention for my print in the 7th Annual Jersey Shore Juried Art Show at the BAC.

Firsts- The show in Estonia was the first appearance of my art in a show in Eastern Europe. Over the summer I was involved in the creation of a freestanding mud mural. Last I checked (a few weeks ago), it was still in remarkably good shape, despite being exposed to an earthquake, a hurricane, a few other major storms, and the many coastal winds.

Miscellaneous- Had a day of fun in New York City, meeting up with some grad school friends in town for CAA. I did an artist presentation and demo in Westfield and a four day workshop at the BAC. I contributed a little to a more traditional painted mural in Belmar. I might have done more, but the organizer insisted on working early in the morning (protection against the 100 degree days at the time) and I'm not so into that.

Studio- Nothing new, but it's still a great place to work, when I can find time to get there. I did an emergency pack up this summer to secure my art in advance of Irene, but the 19th century building held tough against the hurricane. The critique group continues to remain popular with all who attend- old regulars and new visitors.

Next Year- Have plans for another workshop (this one being taught out of the Studio) and I've been offered another artist demo opportunity. Don't know about any shows yet, but I'm sure there will be some. I plan to get back to my Boardwalk series in January, and maybe even finish it before the end of 2012. Details will be posted on the blog as they happen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Time is Here Again

Christmas isn't over until I get my cards out to all those who earned them this year. Last night I had time to get back to this effort. I had all the cards at home, along with my watercolors, and taking care of a relatively mechanical task like coloring a large run of cards is easily done while watching late night tv. Above is how they looked after the first of many colors. Below is a later stage, with four colors done. I added a couple of more colors after this, before going to bed.

In the morning I added the last few colors, and after taking care of a few important errands, found my way to the Studio. I had brought my paper cutter home in case I ended up doing all this at home, but to this point had only completed my prototype on Christmas morning. As part of my ongoing effort to clean up my apartment, I figured I'd bring equipment back there and use my big work table to finish the job. The equipment and tools stayed there, and the cards came home with me.

Now I have 16 finished cards available to send out. The most time consuming part, actually writing out all the cards, is yet to come. I remain hopeful that I'll have a bunch out before New Year's Day, which is still way ahead of last year's blizzard influenced timetable.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Creativity By-The-Sea is Ready to Go

Got word this evening that the website for the upcoming Creativity-By-The-Sea festival is up and running. The festival will open with an evening reception for teachers and attendees at one of the vintage hotels in Ocean Grove on Friday, March 23rd. Classes will be taught as either half day or full day on both Saturday the 24th and Sunday the 25th, all within Ocean Grove. Options include painting, drawing, jewelry, fabrics, assemblage, soldering, fused glass, quilting, photography, even baking, and of course, printmaking. Registration hasn't begun yet, but you can read all the details about the classes, and there's a list of 8 quaint hotels in town that will be offering special and/or off-season rates for the weekend for those coming in from far away. Go to the Creativity-By-The-Sea website for more details.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Studio Arrabbiata

Yesterday I printed cards until I ran out of paper, which was right about when my last Christmas cd ended. When all was done, I had 17 good proofs. One was handed out today, and I'll try to get the rest colored over the next week, and the first batch out before the end of the month. If you don't recognize the inspiration for this year's card, I'll tell the story in a few days.

Friday, December 23, 2011

There Can Be Only One, One More Time

My thoughts on the final episode of Bravo's Work of Art Season 2, including spoilers.

As with last season, the game changes once we get down to the final 3. Each is given a budget and 3 months at their home studio to make whatever they want for a small solo exhibition. We catch up to them 2 months into the process, tagging along with Simon. He starts by visiting Young in Chicago, meeting his family, and seeing the new work. The big piece is a four posted platform, rooted in Korean tradition. That, and the rest of the show is on the topic of his father and his death, referenced in his street art piece. He has photographs and plans to do something with his father's shirts. Simon points out that some of it is kind of boring. The other two artists are New York based. Kymia has been busy in Manhattan, creating some large and detailed mixed media drawings, as well as some figural sculptures. Simon loves one drawing, but declares on of the sculptures to be "horrendous", something he can't imagine anyone wanting to own. (his take on art often seems colored by his job as an art auctioneer, so that he considers salability more than the pure art critic or the guest artists on the judging panels do in their evaluations) Rather than the 15 works she shows in progress, Simon recommends keeping the one drawing and making 14 new works. Sara is over in Brooklyn. Her background is mostly drawing (which helped with the street selling challenge), but she had some success with sculpture in the later weeks of the show, and had developed some 3D and video pieces for the final show. The video showed her in a giant plaster head covering, and with a giant plaster vessel with a small hole hanging over her torso. She wore this on the street and people were invited to write secrets (anonymous confessions) on pieces of paper and insert them in the hole. Besides the plaster sculptures and the video, she had the papers with the secrets, which she planned to hang up in the gallery. In addition, she had made watercolors based on the videotaped images of people on the street watching her performance. These last items were the least interesting things for Simon, and I would agree that they didn't add much to the whole presentation.

Thanks to the magic of television, another month has passed and the three contestants are back together. (with two of them residents of NYC, it's not that much of a journey). We see scenes of them leading work crews in setting up their respective shows, then the opening receptions. Many of the eliminated contestants return for the occasion, most notably the Sucklord, who presents Jerry Saltz with an action figure of himself.

All three shows contain work that is more thought out and professionally finished than what we saw during the first 9 weeks, though having time to develop it takes away some of the urgency and immediacy of the work from the challenges. Young's show includes the platform, many of his deceased father's shirts (on hangers, on clotheslines) with photos attached, large projected images of family and boyfriend, and a homemade shrine to his father, made from various artifacts that had belonged to him (candies from his pockets, lip balm, etc) Show host China is very moved, mostly because of memories of one of her own parents dying from cancer, but without that kind of experience, it's kind of a boring show. Kymia has abandoned the more problematic sculptures in favor of more drawings. Some sculpture remains- three things that could be recently filled graves, and a head covering made with pieces of overlapping metal plates. Sara's show includes the video and a hired model to wear the plaster pieces and collect more secrets from those in attendance. A large artwork involving a man sized bird cage with what appears to be thousands of paper cranes escaping looks great on tv, and echoes the hanging clusters of confession notes from the original performance. Also some watercolors and other odds and ends (hair, skin cells). Some individual pieces are nice enough, but it doesn't seem like it all goes together as the work of one artist. After the judges have their usual post exhibition debate, they declare Kymia the winner of the large cash prize and the Brooklyn Museum show. Based on what we saw, I believe she was the best choice of the three.

Some general thoughts on the completed season:

*I've said this a few times before, but the artificial conditions set up by the weekly competitions work against the creation of good art. Doubling the creation time to two days instead of one would make a big difference.

*I've been a part of hundreds of critiques, as a student, a teacher, or the ones in my Studio, and in all of them together I've never saw as much crying as in 10 episodes of this show. I guess someone decided that emotional breakdowns are the point of this program, rather than the stated goal of finding the next great artist.

*If they do another season, they should explain to all the contestants that Simon's advice is not necessarily good, and following it may actually harm their chances of making it to the next round.

Whether there will be another season remains to be seen. Unlike last year's finale, there was no call over the closing credits for people to audition for a future season. It may be that they haven't decided yet, or may just be that they got so many to come out this last time that they see no need to promote it now. That they had so many sponsors providing cash prizes all throughout the episodes should be a sign that they can make a profit with this thing. On the other hand, the people at the Bravo network might decide that even one primetime hour per week not showing housewives or chefs is too much, and cancel production of the series. I'll be watching out for news on the topic in 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas is Coming

This time of the year is always busy, with the end of the semester and related grading, and all the usual things that need to get done around the holidays. My list always includes making my annual woodcut Christmas card. The past two years we had major snowstorms right around Christmas Day that made it difficult to get it done, mostly because I literally couldn't get to the Studio to work on them.

Although the forecasts for this week are generally favorable, I was hoping to be a bit better prepared this time around. I prepared a new piece of plywood last weekend. This past Tuesday I stopped at a Michael's near my work and picked up a couple of sheets of heavy paper suitable for the task of making cards. By yesterday morning I had narrowed my choices for the artwork to base this year's card on to two very different paintings, and last night I picked the one (which will remain secret until Sunday) and started doing the pencil sketch on the block at my kitchen table.

After work today I took care of an errand, then drove to the Studio. I fixed up the pencil sketch a bit, then started cutting. The cards are not large, about 3" x 6", so it took only about an hour to cut the whole thing. Next, I tore down one of the large sheets of paper into pieces of the right size for the cards. Then I got out some oil based ink (an emergency experiment with water based ink didn't work out last year) and printed a few. I had done 3 when I realized that I was printing them backwards- so that the image was appearing on what would normally be considered the card's back cover. I guess I'll test colors with those. Pulled a few more the right way, then cleaned up and went home. I still need to do a larger production run soon, but I have enough proofs that I'll have at least one good one to post here on the blog on Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


After a longer delay than usual, my thoughts on the most recent episode of Bravo's Work of Art. Spoilers are included, but if you haven't seen it by now, you probably aren't going to.

The five remaining contestants were put on a train and went about 60 miles north of the city to a small town called Cold Spring. Each was given $200 to spend as needed in research and given the assignment to find someone local to become the subject of a portrait. They had a few hours to do whatever they could in town, then several hours back in their studio to make the actual work. On the surface it seems pretty simple, but as an artist who does occasionally work with portraits, I know that's not necessarily so.

The artists disperse on foot from the train station to see what they can find. Some literally knock on random doors, with no takers. Others wander into shops and stores. Young tries the strategy of talking to someone who he thinks would have knowledge of many people in town, but ends up wasting much of his brief time. From there he runs across an artist's studio/gallery with the painter at work, and uses his budget to commission a quick portrait of himself. While being painted, Young shoots many photos of the painter at work. Dusty meets a father and daughter, the girl reminding him a bit of his own daughter, and they agree to let him take some reference photos. Sara finds a firehouse with the firemen out front. She decided to do a piece about the senior fireman and his decades of volunteer service. Kymia discovers an antique shop and is intrigued by the couple who own and operate it. She buys a small music box that had played a role in couple's early dating history, and decides to base a painting of the pair on the box's surface decoration. Lola's choice is two men who run a coin shop, trading in antique coins and bills. She uses her budget to buy some sample of unusual old money. Then they all get back to the train and head to the studio.

The pieces done by Dusty and Kymia are probably the most literal, essentially representational images of the subjects. As the young girl mentioned a fondness for candy, Dusty decides to saturate the colors in the photo, blow it up, mount it in a box frame, and reproduce the colors in small candies (M&M's, Skittles). Even in progress he admits that it's pretty much the same process (with slightly different materials) as two pieces he's already done here. He comes up with an alternative idea, using little folded paper fortune telling devices, and Simon agrees. However, he can't get this done in time, so just finishes the candy piece. It's so last minute, that the glue isn't completely dry and candy regularly falls off the hung piece in the gallery. Kymia's painting at first looks like some cheesy cartoony double portrait, but viewers come to realize it captures the essence of the subjects in an odd way.

The the other artists get a little more complex with their pieces. Young edits the photos down to small details of his hired artist (eyes, hands, etc) and mounts dozens on thin planks of wood. After playing around with configurations, his piece is the commissioned painting of himself, with the mounted photo boards arranged near it. Sara produces a sort of diptych- an image of the fireman made by punching holes in a metal sheet, and a mass of small curled pieces of metal mounted as a wall sculpture, the tags smudged with something black, representing charred carbon from fires. Lola prints out enlargements of the fronts and backs of her old money and mounts them in sort of a tower formation. I understand her fascination with old money (it's one I share), but Simon questions how the piece is a portrait. The money ends up being half the work, which she accompanies with a long hand written letter to the men about how they are the most important historians in their community (?), and a tiny altered photo of one of them.

Something unusual is thrown into the mix- all of the subjects of the portraits are invited to come to the gallery show, where they can mix with the artists, viewers, and critics. All seem pleased with the resulting works, all positive images one way or another. And it turns out that it makes a difference in the judging. In his blog, Jerry Saltz admits that he was all set to move his darling Lola into the final round and dump Sara, but the firemen impressed him and in a befuddled state he switched his support on the two. It was in meeting Kymia's subjects that the judges realized how much sense her approach to the portrait made in relation to the subjects.

The judges uniformly decide that they like Kymia's painted portrait, despite being the most traditional piece, making her one of the final three. They all like the idea of Young commissioning a portrait and indicate that they would have preferred if he just showed that and not surrounded it with his own photos of the artist. Many online have since questioned the validity of using a piece he had no part in making as his entry in a competition about creating a portrait, but it has seemed all season that the judges have used a different set of rules for him from everyone else, and he is given the 2nd slot. The editors give us a clip of Lola complaining in the crit about the candy dropping off Dusty's piece over the course of the exhibition, but the judges actually think that adds to the piece. (I'm not sure I agree with them on that- it's not that it couldn't be part of a successful piece, it just doesn't seem relevant to the story) However, the similarity to previous work becomes the main issue and he is sent home. The judges seem to have finally lost patience with Lola doing another one of her random combination of ideas pieces. Having played the nudity card last week, all that's left for tonight is the breaking down crying during her crit routine. Despite all the regular judges still insisting she is potentially the best artist of the whole original group, she is also sent home. Although none of them particularly like the sculptural half of the piece, they like enough about the portrait half (and maybe her previous work) to give the last spot to Sara. As with last year, a long interval will have passed with the contestants working in their own studios, before next week's finale- three solo shows of new work in any medium or subject they like.

Now my story. The definition of a portrait played a factor in this episode. On the surface, any image of an individual reads as a portrait. For example, many times I have referred to my smoking figure as a portrait, but that would not be completely accurate as I often define it. The woman in the print looks a lot like the model who posed for it, but it's not about her as a person. It would have been about an aspect of the woman who inspired it, but she chose not to pose for it. Aspects of the model's experience were drawn on, but really the piece is about an archetype, which is why the piece has always been called 21st Century Employee in my mind, and not named after the depicted individual. A better example of what I consider a true portrait is shown at the top of this posting. The subject is a former co-worker who had occasionally helped me by posing for print projects. I invited her to the reception when one such piece was in a group show at the Newark Museum. She came and it was obvious that she was well along in pregnancy. Besides the opportunity to see herself on the museum wall, part of the reason she attended the reception was to inquire about having me do some kind of formal pregnancy portrait of her, inspired by something she saw on some cable show.

A few weeks later we spoke on the phone about thoughts she was having relating to the whole experience of expecting a child. The one thing that stuck out was that she mentioned having been adopted herself (if I had known that, I had forgotten that) and she had never had any contact with her birth family. Therefore, her first child would be her first opportunity to see the face of someone she was related to. Based on that I developed the idea- a double portrait, showing her in profile (emphasizing the large belly) in the foreground, while looking at her own face in the mirror (hand on belly), as if wondering about the face of the child to come. The calendar behind her shows the expected date (the baby came early, so I was lucky to get the session done in time). The frame of the mirror was based on one I saw in a local antique store. I added symbols of a patron saint for expectant mothers, and images of a chicken and an egg, based on the old riddle. Obviously mother comes before child, but she was seeking a connection back to her own parents before her. For the title of the piece I went with a Zen koan, "What did your face look like before your parents were born?" I'm sure that there are many possible Zen answers, but the one logical answer that I thought of was that it looked like your grandparents. Any of her baby's features that weren't hers or her husband's could be of her unknown ancestors. I was trying to tell a story about this one individual, considering past, present, and future in one image. She liked the idea, and was very happy with the results, so the portrait was successful to its most important audience.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Asbury Opening

About quarter after 7 I bundled up against the rapidly chilling air, and made a second attempt to visit the new group show at Parlor Gallery, featuring a selection of Molly's work and work from a few other artists I know who have made occasional appearances in our Studio. The exhibition is called "Local Color", but I'm not sure why, as some of the artists are from far away, and not all the work is in color. There were a few dozen visitors at the time I arrived, the numbers maybe doubling over the next hour.

Molly's work was all located in the back corner of the gallery. On the left wall- a group of silkscreen collages and a rubbing of Molly's newest block. On the right wall- a very recently completed silkscreen (since the last crit it accidentally spent some time out in a rain storm and got a little bit burned by a space heater), a shelf full of her "robutt" characters, and small wood sculptures on the floor. Click photo to enlarge it.

A shelf full of Robutts on the march.

Arranged on the floor were some wood pieces with designs on them. The gushing oil rigs are a very recent work- I saw the painted original on the glass coffee table outside our door. The discs have pig images, finished versions of objects she showed at the last critique group.

Molly arrives late to things more often than not. Today she arrived not quite an hour into the reception, which is actually much better than the last time she showed here. We had gotten the word out to our mutual friends, so the critique group was represented during the first 90 minutes by myself, Harriet (and her husband), Sandy, Adam, and Katie. Several other local art world people also turned up while I was there. Around 8:30 pm I decided to leave and head for next location. I walked back to my car in the parking lot outside my building and drove away.

St Benno part 9- finished

The semester is winding down, and Christmas is coming up fast, so I decided to use some free time this afternoon to deal with some old and new projects. I went up to the Studio in the afternoon, parked in the lot, but instead of going into the building I walked directly over to Cookman Avenue. Molly's show opens tonight and I thought I'd get some photos of her installed work before the crowds showed up. However, the gallery was locked up, so I took care of one other errand up the street and walked back to Ocean Grove.

The main thing I wanted to do today was to color the second copy of the St Benno print. Everyone seems to like the first version, as do I, so I decided to just pretty much copy what I did. It's been a few weeks since I did the first, but I was able to figure out what the colors were (it helps that it's just 5 tube colors and mixes between them) and get pretty close matches. As with the first proof, some of the colors were done by overlaying washes. Not difficult, but it did require letting the paper dry between washes. Used one break to fetch a couple of slices of pizza across the street. I used some later downtime to saw off a couple of new blocks. The smaller one was surfaced with wood filler and will be for this year's holiday card. The other will be for the next boardwalk print, but rather than surface it, I stuck it under a large pile of other boards to let the weight help flatten it out.

It took a little while, but I finished coloring the print. Maybe not an exact match in every spot, but certainly close enough, as can be seen above. I cleaned up and headed back toward Cookman and Molly's opening reception.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another Workshop, Another Demo

It seems that I just barely finished putting away all my tools and supplies from the recent woodcut workshop at the BAC, and now it's time to get them out again and prepare for another. The event in this case is called Creativity By The Sea, a weekend of art and craft workshops scattered all over Ocean Grove. It's being organized by Carol Bernard, mother of Michelle Bernard, long time friend of the Studio. Carol had first mentioned it to me in May, and distributed the forms over the summer. I delayed for a while, trying to see if I could coordinate something with Molly (who was also invited), but Molly finally officially declined for scheduling reasons. I figured it's a worthwhile opportunity, so I committed. It will be running in late March 2012, but she wants to get the advertising up now, so this week I sent her the specifics and a short bio. The last thing needed was a sample of the project, and there I had a problem. For practical reasons, I decided to go with using linoleum instead of wood. With only a one day workshop, wood just takes too long for new students to cut. Unfortunately, I've never taught it before, and I don't use the stuff, so I had no completed samples in stock. Time to make a new demonstration piece.

As with my last demonstration piece, to save time I decided to recycle an old image. This time I went back about 20 years. In the years between schools in Virginia and Illinois, I was in New Jersey working on an MA at Montclair State. During those years I regularly went to the annual River Blues festival in Philadelphia, held in an outdoor space overlooking the Delaware. It was just $10 a day, with 3 stages so there was music going most of the time, and a significant number of celebrated blues musicians in attendance. Saw some of the legends (John Lee Hooker, BB King, Buddy Guy, Gatemouth Brown) and many of the contemporary stars I was regularly playing on my radio show (most of the Alligator roster). One of my favorite performances of all those I had seen was on the acoustic stage, John Cephas (guitar) and Phil Wiggins (harmonica). A piedmont style duo reminiscent of legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, their Dog Days of August album was a new release when I was on the air in Williamsburg. The record was good, but live they were really good- the arrangements faithful to the recordings, just with a little extra emotion. I usually brought my camera and on that day I took several photos of them playing, as seen above. (it wasn't a high stage- we were all sitting on the paved ground to enjoy the show)

It was around that same time that I started doing woodcuts. I had by accident settled on a process of cutting the blocks, but instead of traditional inking and printing, I would place paper on top of the dry block, then roll inked brayers over the top to create something kind of like a rubbing. Using different types of brayers and viscosities of ink, and very thin Japanese papers, I was able to achieve some interesting effects. Probably around 1991 I made the above print, based on one of my photos (the middle one at the top) of John Cephas. I continued this process for about a year into my MFA, then switched to the more traditional printing method. This morning I was thinking about possibilities for a two color print and remembered the image. Luckily I had about a dozen examples in stock, and brought them, and the original photos to the Studio this afternoon.

One advantage of this older process was that the image could be very clearly seen through the back of the paper, so I used the mirrored image as the source for my new print. Years ago I had purchased a 4"x 6" piece of linoleum to use someday, and since that is the size I want to use for the workshop, it was perfect for my task today. I did a few rough pencil sketches on paper of the figure in horizontal and vertical formats and decided to go with the former. I sketched it out with pencil on the linoleum, on the right side in the above photo. I then went over the lines and shapes with a black marker to clarify what to cut, shown below.

I quickly cut out the design, mixed an indigo in water based relief ink, and pulled a proof, seen above. It looked good, so I re-inked the block and offset it onto a small piece of prepared plywood. (for the workshop all the blocks will be linoleum, but I don't have that handy right now) I used the transfer proof to break down where the second color would go, then cut the wood block. I mixed an orange color and pulled a proof of that, seen below.

I pulled 5 or 6 of that orange tone block, then mixed some more indigo and overprinted them with the key block. I didn't bother to set up a registration system, so I just eyeballed it. Below is the best proof made today. I wouldn't call it a great work of art, but it should serve the purpose of showing potential students what can be done. From the moment I picked up the pencil to the completion of the print, the process took about 3 hours. I think it's reasonable that people taking my workshop could complete a similar print in the 6 hours or so that it will run.

I sent the photos to Carol tonight. She says that they hope to have a website for the festival up by next week, with all the schedule and details. I'll post the link once I learn about it.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Selling Out

My thoughts on the most recent episode of Bravo's Work of Art, spoilers included.

The challenge this week was a little different. Artists were paired up (they did the choosing), and were given just 5 hours to shop for and create works of art that could be sold on the street (specifically vendor stalls in a park) to people passing by. The one restriction- they would have to sell a product- no performance art allowed. The same work would hang in the gallery show later that night, so the art would have to be successful in both locations. The bonus- the pair which totaled the highest sales would split $30,000 and be immune from elimination after the gallery show. Previous winner Sara J was given first pick and selected Young. Very logical, since he's won all or part of almost every cash prize so far. After that it was up to remaining contestants, and Kymia grabbed Dusty, mostly to make sure she wasn't stuck with Lola. That left Lola and Sarah K as the third pair.

The challenge did point out that there can be a difference in art made specifically for quick sale, as opposed to a focus on juror/critic response. In the latter case a sale is generally desirable, but it's not necessary for the piece to be successful. On the other hand, ribbons and glowing reviews don't pay the bills. And up until about a century ago, art was thought up primarily as a job, using learned skills to turn out products in exchange for money. The experience of modernism helped change that- artists creating new work that was sometimes years or decades ahead of finding paying customers. The incredibly expanded number of exhibitions spaces and modern economics also played a role. Art made for quick sale is generally designed to appeal to a wide variety of people (including those with no knowledge of higher art), while art aimed at the critics only has to appeal to them, and as we've seen on this show, the critics' choices can baffle the tv audience. For this challenge, the contestants concentrated on the money making part, since winning the street battle would bring in cash and guarantee passage to the following week.

With such a short time to prepare, some of the contestants fell back on previous experiences. Sara J had experience making small ink and watercolor drawings and selling them on the street, and started cranking them out. Many of the others had experience making t-shirts for street sales, and got started printing on clothing. Kymia decided to do something more conceptual, selling small pieces of paper with her signature in exchange for $5 and a signature on a similar paper from the purchaser. Lola's quickly decides to take a nude photograph of herself and sell that. (oh Sucklord, you were sent home just a little too soon) She added some text across the image, sharing secrets about herself.

Very quickly they were out to the park to begin selling. Simon eventually showed up, but at this point everyone was committed to their idea so he couldn't do much meddling. Some of the ideas evolved. Sara started doing inexpensive portraits of passers-by, Lola would add unique secrets to her images for an extra fee. (some of these could start approaching performance, but no one was called on it) After the park, each got one more hour to prepare something for the gallery show, then they had that.

After the show they started with the cash tally. The winning pair was Sara J and Young, but it was her, not him, that drove the sales- she moved over $300 worth of her drawings and portraits. Still Young got to be part of another cash prize and the two were immune from possible elimination at the crits. Of the remaining four artists, the judges liked Kymia and Lola's work the best. Kymia's gallery display was grids made up of her signature cards and those from the customers. Not very visually exciting, but they appreciated it on a conceptual level. Not surprisingly, the male judges and Simon couldn't find enough nice things to say about Lola's photo piece. The photo showed her fully nude, standing and facing the camera. The show gave us many long looks at it, making this probably the most frontal nudity every seen on basic cable. Many of the secrets were obvious to anyone who has ever watched this show ("I am moody and sometimes mean", "I am envious of the success of others", "I say sorry when I don't mean it"), along with a few more personal things. The judges kept talking about how it daring and exciting it was, to reveal so much about herself. Gotta disagree here. First of all, it's nothing new- artists have been using their own nude bodies in photograph based art for several decades. And Lola is young enough to be part of the original sexting generation; even if she never had occasion to send nude photos of herself out over her cell phone, she likely has friends who have. As for the secrets, most teens and young adults have far more embarrassing stuff on their Facebook pages. The photo itself wasn't particularly exciting, but then again, just before the episode was broadcast I had spent 2 hours at a life drawing session, staring at a real live nude woman, one who seems to be a much nicer person than Lola.

That left Dusty and Sarah K. Dusty came up with an image- a map of the continental United States with a black shape in the center- a surveillance camera. At least that's what he said it was. None of the judges could figure it out. (toner cartridge and burrito were some guesses) He printed this on t-shirts and made a freestanding sign. Besides having no idea what the sign was about originally, the judges criticized him for falling back on something similar to a previous project (U.S. map with image in the center), though they had no problem with Lola combining image and text for like the 4th time in row, something that they brought up as an issue just last week. (apparently nudity will buy you some good will) Either way, it was a dull image and it would be hard to argue that it didn't deserve to be in the bottom group. Joining him there was Sarah K, who made construction paper Indian style headdresses, and stenciled stylized gender specific parts on t-shirts. The judges saw the former as grade school crafts and the latter as juvenile doodling. Perhaps because he's been more successful in some of the challenges, they kept Dusty and sent Sarah home.

Back to the idea of selling. I am part of the Outlaw Printmakers, a group that has had a wide approach to marketing. Members have sold plenty of art at the high end of the market, hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a single print. However many have also participated in low cost events, such as the series of "Prints Gone Wild" sales where everything is priced at under $50, and much is even less. (the image at the top is a detail from my Employee print, a depiction of fellow Outlaw Sean Star Wars, who is a regular at such sales) I was never a part of any of those events, but I do have a line of small inexpensive prints that sell in the range of $8 to $20, which I have sold out of print bins, galleries and holiday related sales. I don't see this as a negative. As long as you are making art that is of comparable quality to what you place on a museum wall, I don't think any artistic sins have been committed. Just because the work is selling to the public at large doesn't necessarily mean that you're selling out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Another Long Day

This is one of those weeks where I'm busy morning, noon, and night. In addition to getting up early to work intense jobs during the day, Monday night I had the critique, last night I had the woodcut class, and tonight was a drawing night in Belmar. Luckily all those evening activities are fun, so after each I had more energy than when I started, but I'm still glad that tomorrow is a much shorter work day.

The above drawing was the best of the night, taking about an hour, not including model breaks. The model liked it, although she felt that the face looked a little "severe", reminding her a little bit of my smoker print. The woman in the drawing does look a bit angry, but others have noted I have a tendency to do that. Actually her favorite part of it was the little light spot by the elbow on the right side. I'm glad that I went to the trouble to get that part right.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

School's Out

Tonight was the last night of my inaugural BAC woodcut workshop, this fourth meeting coming some 6 weeks after the first one. Both of my regular students were back and ready to work. Linda quickly finished the second block (started last week) of her multi block print, while Kim took on the last remaining part of her block, the figure itself.

We did a test proof of Linda's second block with a warm dark gray, overprinting it over her proof on Kinwashi from last week, and ending up with a pretty good registration despite having not planned for it originally. We decided to go a step further and print both blocks on some Rives, using the registration system. Above Linda is inking the first block with the lighter color of the pair, and below can be seen printing it.

Kim's piece was conceived from the start as black and white print, so after she finished cutting the image, she inked it and pulled two proofs on the Rives. Below are the student results from the workshop.

Above is Linda's image based on her photo of trees in a woods. She will likely play around with the ink colors in later printings, and we prepared a third block tonight to eventually add some foliage and other colors. Meanwhile, in its current state it has a real German Expressionist feel. Below is Kim's portrait print. It's a very nice print as is, but I think a second color could further strengthen the composition.

Overall I think that the woodcut class was a success. I definitely plan to talk to the BAC about trying it again in the future.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Art is a Dangerous Business

As people were arriving for tonight's monthly critique group, we had to give Lisa plenty of space, as she was carrying this very dangerous looking piece, a blowfish sculpture made largely from bike helmets and golf tees. It was hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room, where Tim bumped his head on it twice- once before and once after someone gave him a hardhat to wear. The average person out there doesn't realize how dangerous art can be.

We opened tonight with Molly, who had an extra large supply of work, as she has a big group show coming up in a few weeks. Shown above are (top row) a silkscreen print, her long in process cougar block, a board cut to the cougar shape to eventually hold a rubbing (not shown) of the cougar block, a tail attachment for the cougar block, (bottom row), a lined up set of Robutts (which Jane would knock down accidentally on two occasions), a set of four silkscreen images on blocks, and two painted wood discs.

Several artists had work over by the main board. These included (left to right) Sheilagh's box assemblage/sculpture, Mary's mixed media drawing, my new woodcut, Lisa's cupcake sculpture. Up top, Edy's encaustic pieces.

Tim did his first ever oil painting (above), and figures this means he's reached a new level of status as an artist as a result. He plans to do more.

Newcomer Adam (not our regular Adam) brought a pouch filled with small treasures, small painted pieces of wood. Some are more like tiles with images, while others are dice or the equivalent. The book is not part of the piece, just a place to display them.

We then went out in the hallway to see the last couple of artists. Above are Vince's life drawings, which everyone thought were a little more realized than some of the previous ones shown. Jane's paintings on wood had also been in the hall (below) but we decided to bring them all back into the room where the light was better.

My new St Benno print was well received. Everyone thought that the color was just fine as it is, both in the choice of colors and in the application. One observation that I remember was one artist who liked the print noted the simplicity and stillness, especially relative to the intensely busy and dense boardwalk prints. The answer- the new saints are meant to fit with the older saint prints which were often simple iconic images, while the boardwalk images are purposely dense, reflecting the chaos and overstimulation of the boardwalk.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

St Benno part 8

With my two recently pulled proofs stable enough to color, I taped them to a drawing board this morning, and in the afternoon I started the process of coloring one of them. Over the past few days I had been looking at frog images online. One tends to think of frogs as green, and very many of them are, but they can come in many other colors as well and I needed to come up with a color scheme that would work for the whole composition. I settled on a frog that was a warm color (the image caption referred to it as bronze), with shadings toward green in some spots and a light underside.

I started pulling some premixed browns and greens out of my watercolor box, when I noticed a packaged set of 3 colors, one of the triads that Daniel Smith sells at reduced price. These are sets of three colors that can work well together as pure side by side hues and in mixes. One of them included zoisite genuine (a dark neutral verging on green) and permanent orange. I guessed that these colors could mix some greenish browns and tested a few such mixes. The results were promising, so I put them on the frog in washes. After considering a few options I chose a darker neutral as a base color for the ground around the frog, mixing it from the same two colors, and put it in everywhere. This early state is shown above.

For the background vegetation I wanted something more like a real green, and selected a few tubes from the box. However, to try to keep some relationship, I mixed some of the zoisite or orange (or both) into each of those colors, and put them in place, including a little here and there on the ground plane. The same two colors were also part of the mixes for the little critters, and there's even a little of the zoisite mixed into the pale phthalo sky. The result of today's coloring is shown below.

The color palette is a bit more refined than many in the first generation of saint prints (mid 90's), but the same can be said for many of those done in the past several years. Not sure if I completely like it, but it's good enough to show in tomorrow night's critique. If anyone makes a strong case for some changes, I'll at least consider it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Used Cars

My thoughts on the most recent episode of Bravo's Work of Art, spoilers included.

This week's challenge was this year's automobile sponsor crossover episode, where the major sponsor's product becomes part of the competition. The contestants arrived in the gallery to find a completely disassembled car, laid out in very organized arrangements, and were given 15 minutes to stuff whatever they wanted into little carts, which were then hauled up to the studio. The gang didn't look as excited as they sometimes do, as it seemed that none of them had any particular ideas at the start. Back at the studio they started going through their piles, and trying random combinations and arrangements until something clicked. Some got to that point sooner than others. For example, Sarah K had grabbed the car's front seats. Almost immediately (on the show anyway) she decided to remove the upholstery as one piece, almost like an animal's skin being pulled off a carcass. Laying them out flat, she realized they were interesting shapes, so just attached them to a white backing board. Popped in a frame, it was done. On the other hand, Sara J started playing with the cottony stuffing from another seat, and without really having a plan, starts gluing hunks of it together, long segments forming from the central core. Seeing something from these shapes, she continued the process, having them come out of the exhaust pipe (muffler still attached), forming what could be a stylized flower, flame, or crystal formation. These two ended up in the top two, with Sara J taking the top prize, which for the fourth time this season included a large wad of cash. (we need to get some kind of sponsorship deal for our critique group)

The others generally followed these two paths at the start, some quickly getting an idea, some struggling to find something good in their junk pile. Then Simon walked in for his mentoring session. At some point the judges should sit down with the contestants and make sure that they understand that Simon's advice is dubious at best and should not necessarily be taken seriously. He complained that a number of them were not making enough use of the materials, which reminded me of his rant several weeks ago during the movement theme that no one had enough parkour in their work to suit him. Michelle showed a large installation she was forming, which he shot down instantly, leading her to make something more comfortable. Her Disney-ish car front was her ticket home, while her original piece probably would have gotten her through to the next week.

Of the rest of the work, Young used a cluster of wiring to form the guts of a robot like form that probably had more presence in person than on tv. Dusty worked on an early idea for a while, but had already lost confidence in the result before Simon came around. Near the end he got an idea to cut out letters, attach them to the road surface of a tire, and use it to print a repeated message. Two perfunctory pieces, two safe artists for the week.

The elimination three included Michelle, Kymia, and Lola, two who have won some weeks, and one who inexplicably remains a favorite of the judges despite showing the least amount of skills of anyone remaining. In his blog, judge Jerry Saltz admitted to freaking out at the thought of sending one home, trying to convince the others to eliminate one of the safe guys, or to just let everyone through. Not because of the quality of the art they made this time, but because he just personally liked the women. Off camera, the producers basically had to sit him down and tell him to do his job. Lola did one of her usual strategies, combine a bad tracing, some random objects that didn't work out, and some random text. A mess, but the judges are still convinced that she's one of the top artists, so they won't send her home. Kymia's piece was a mess from the start, and broke during the gallery show, but based on her success through the first several weeks, they decided to spare her, so Michelle was eliminated.

No image from me today, because the last time that I let the materials dictate the artwork was maybe some found object sculptures from my 3D foundations class back in 1987. My art starts with an idea, and then I come up with the medium and materials to make it happen. I consider any other approach to be a compromise at best.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

St Benno part 7

When I finished cutting the current block a few weeks ago, I stated that I planned to print it at next session of my woodcut workshop, where it could serve as a demonstration. However, at that session a few days ago, my one student was all prepared to move on to the next step in her project and that kept me pretty busy for the next two hours.

Today I had a few hours to spare in the middle of the day, so I finally had some time to get into the Studio and proof the block. The block had a slight warp in it, making it slightly difficult to roll ink onto a few spots, but otherwise it went pretty much as expected. Below is the first proof.

I pulled a second proof as well before cleaning up. They should be dry enough to try coloring it over the weekend, which will give me something to show at next week's critique group.