Archive for August, 2010

A Blogger’s Worst Nightmare!

Forgetting your camera at the other side of your road trip. GAH.

In any case, my Road Trip Post will have to wait until my camera is shipped to me from Ohio.

In the meantime…

Check out what’s been up with Rurality in the News*

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*Should I come up with a series title for this? I don’t ever want to be a reblogger, but because rurality is such a broad concept I think it’s useful to compile all these different subjects and articles into one place.

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How To Keep Your Roots On The Road

I’m going to be gone until August 27, doing this:

Boulder - Black Hills - Keystone - Blue Mounds - Winona - Nappanee - Gambier (and some stops in between)

To make up for my absence, though, expect a Massive Artsy Post (MAP*) on my travels when I get back. I’ve got my travel sketchbook packed, my watercolors condensed into a travel kit, my camera is charged, and I’m prepared to spend some quality time with a scanner when I get back.

Road trips always make me feel excited and uncomfortable at the same time: I don’t want to be one of those tourists that takes advantage of a rural place and then just heads back to my cushy privileged “regular” life. But in this case, I’m taking a friend back to school– legitimate reason, right? –and the Dakotas are calling to me way more than that long drive across Kansas.

Rurality (that is: roots, heritage, history, physicality, wisdom…) is functionally incompatible with Jack Kerouac. There are no roots “on the road.” That’s why trickster figures– the unpredictable Coyote and Ravin of myths and folk tales –appear in varied settings in different stories. Trickster figures are without a home (or at least, any stable or consistent home). They lack roots, and so it’s ironic that they have been consistently present in the indigenous folk tales of cultures for millenia.

Trickster has smarts, but no wisdom. (That’s why they say one has “street smarts,” but wisdom seems to be something more associated with rural values). And thus stealing, deception and trickery all reside at the crossroads. They characterize the traveling life.

Yet “on the road” is also where adventure, flexibility, and possibility come into play. And those things are necessary too. Justso long as one’s sense of Play doesn’t overwhelm one’s sense of Place.

Until the 26th, then!

*ha!

Mixing Up Summer Inks

Impending college loans have put me in a super-frugal state of mind. I haven’t bought any new inks in a while– but I have had some fun this summer mixing up remnants of the inks that I had.

The result? A veritable rainbow. Makes for very exciting writing.

Summer Inks on a Rhodia Dotpad

Survey, from top to Bottom

I. Aurora Black is a staple in my ink lineup. It’s not waterproof, which is unfortunate, but it’s just so. smooth. On the sexy end of the smooth spectrum, really.

II. I mixed this green– a combination of J. Herbin Vert Olive and Levenger Gemstone Green –for the first time in May, when I was writing a paper on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It’s a wonderful dark olive green, professional and not too yellow.

III. This was a spastic mixing experiment, but I’m really pleased with the green-gray result, which is now in my Pelikan M400. I started with an anonymous dark blue that kind of resembled PR’s Black Magic Blue, and then added a lot of J. Herbin Vert Olive and J. Herbin Poussiere de Lune.

IV. I love J. Herbin’s Diabolo Menthe, but it’s totally impractical for writing. I added a few drops of PR’s Electric DC Blue, which darkened it to a lovely aqua blue and also made it flow better.

V. I’ve used this mix for a while to create the perfect mid-tone blue; it’s a combination of J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche and PR Electric DC Blue.

VI. I think I officially prefer to mix my own Burgundy’s, rather than buying them. I literally combined a ton of leftover samples of various blues and reds –and came up with this wonderful purply-wine color.

VII. This bright red started with Noodler’s Golden Brown, which I combined with a sample of Noodler’s Dragon’s Napalm, to which I added J. Herbin Rouge Carobier and J. Herbin Rouge Opera.

VIII. Diamine’s Poppy Red. Enough said.

IX. I wanted a good summer peach color, so I started with J. Herbin Rouille d’Ancre, and added some Diamine Poppy Red and J. Herbin Orange Indien.

Technical Updates (with Pictoral Evidence)

As you can see, I've been moving. Messily.

I’ve been packing a lot into these last few weeks of summer, including an apartment change and taking a friend back to school across the country, so please pardon my sparse posting recently. The good news is that I’ve just moved into a place with internet (!!) And so I’ll be dependent on it once more– which is good for you all, at least.

So, instead of sorting through that mess of boxes, I spent this morning doing some maintenance around The Orchard. I’ve finally been able to update the PortfolioPaper & Pen, and Essays pages. I was also able to update my digital “business card” on the Portfolio page–because apparently it’s had a typo for the past four months that I’ve totally failed to notice. Kind of embarrassing– unless someone did want to hire a “grahic designer.”

Updated Digital Business Card

How to be a Starving Artist (with a Full Belly)

So, the Carnival of Pen and Paper is an ongoing series of… well, of pen and paper articles. It’s super-nerdy, and it’s hosted by a different super-nerdy blog every month. This past month, hosted at Daydreamers Welcome, JoniB departed from the typical nerditude for her “Editor’s Pick” choice, and featured an article by Caitlin Burns called 10 Money-Saving Tips for Starving Artists.

I really enjoyed reading an article with a more accessible subject– so much, in fact, that I wanted to assemble my own version. Caitlin Burns’ article had some great ideas, but I want to elaborate some new suggestions and guidelines that incorporate this blog’s specific focus on rurality, art, and technology… and, you know the topic-drill by now. So here are my guidelines, to be customized as you see fit.

1. Don’t be picky.

I’m right there with Caitlin on this first tip: don’t ever think of yourself as “too good” for any art supply. Great art can be made from anything. In fact, you may accidentally say something really profound by using crayons and construction paper instead of oils and canvas. Probably something about childhood, if I had to guess.

2. Do It Yourself.

Hooray! The importance of DIY for artists has been a focus of mine on this blog for a while. And this will absolutely save you money (until you cross the line of too-many-mistakes, where you keep having to buy more supplies and surpass the original cost of the pre-made item). But just as important as saving money is the fact that DIY will connect you to centuries of trades-people and crafts-people, to times where an “Artist” was just another type of tradesperson, like a carpenter or a blacksmith. Plus, learning skills like bookbinding, carpentry, or glassblowing will absolutely enhance your artistic skills. There are some mind-blowing artists out there (like Micheal A. Cummings’ art quilts) who are breaking down the barriers between “Art,” “Trade,” and “Craft.” And you can be one of them!

Here are suggestions for DIY projects for artists: Stretch your own canvas. Bind your own sketchbooks from your favorite paper, and customize them in your preferred dimensions. Learn to mix your own paints. Create a travel palette from a mints tin. Learn how to use a table saw and start making your own frames. Buy some padding compound and make your own watercolor blocks.

3. Invest Strategically.

Here’s where I depart a bit from Caitlin’s list. Because unfortunately, I can’t advocate shopping at Wal-Mart with a clean conscience– but wait! I swear this isn’t a privileged “fuck the corporation” rant. This advice will actually save you money in the long run. Here’s the thing: Wal-Mart will never give you a discount on anything. Even if you build a great relationship with a Wal-Mart employee, they still can’t violate corporate rules and let you try a pastel sample for free, or order a special supply for you. Building a relationship with the folks at your local art-supply store, on the other hand, will totally pay off.

For the times when quality really doesn’t matter (for example, as Caitlin writes, when a black craft paint is equal an expensive acrylic black), there are far better options than going to Wal-Mart (see Number 4). Plus, I have a suspicion that those fluorescent lights can actually drive you insane.

Most importantly, make sure you know the difference between when to invest and when to buy cheap. In many cases, cheap art supplies will lose you money in the long run. Not only can they can hold back your skills as an artist (cheap paints will blend into a muddy mess, and cheap brushes will quickly shed bristles into your painting), but replacing cheap supplies will eventually cost more than the nicer version in the first place. I think fashion magazines are always giving this advice as well: invest in a few staple items that will never go out of style (like well-fitting jeans, little black dress, rain boots…). So, the same goes for your art supplies: investing in a nice palette or high-quality brushes is totally worth it, when you make them last a lifetime. Which also means take care of your supplies when you have them. I’m totally guilty of forgetting to wash my brushes, and that will shorten their lifespan.

Here are some situations to opt for cheaper: Caitlin mentions that art board is the same thing as masonite, which can be bought for much less from any hardware store. Drafting tables, which are super-expensive in art stores, can often be found at salvage yards, on Craigslist, or from architecture firms who are updating the furniture. In fact, most storage and containers, from palettes to pochade boxes to shelves, can be found for less money in different markets: try looking in hardware stores, beauty supply stores, gardening centers, or browsing the medical supplies category on ebay (you might have to explain that last one to your spouse/friend/parent). You can use any large piece of hard material as a drawing board, provided that it does’t have any sharp edges, so browse the hardware store for plastic laminate or search for  scrap construction materials. This post is full of more suggestions like this from various alternative sources.

4. Dumpster Dive.

Yes, that might mean literally. I’ve found some beautiful old cigar boxes in dumpsters that now house my paint tubes. But in a more general sense, this just means learn how to scrounge. So start browsing Craigslist and join your local freecycle network. Another benefit of this method is that you’ll become hyper-aware of how wealthy our society is, and how oblivious we must be to throw away perfectly useful things. Talk about building character.

5. Mailing. Lists.

Two words that artists should never forget.

I once heard an artist say that she would wait until Jerry’s Artarama or Cheap Joe’s was having a big sale, and then stock up for a supply that would last her several years. You can’t really do this with paints, which will go bad after a certain point, but this is a great method when you can’t afford to invest at your local art supply store.

6. Share/Collaborate/Commune.

Needless to say, the benefits of being in a community go far beyond sharing art supplies. If you’re able to live in an area with a thriving artists’ community– where they really do hang out together– that’s great. Opportunities to share and trade are at your fingertips. If you live in a more rural area, take advantage of the online opportunities for community. You can start an artists trade with somebody across the the world who has access to different types of art supplies (I’ve always wanted to do a trade with someone in Tokyo, personally), or you can get instructions on how to construct your own pochade box. You can also search sites like Zapp and Art Fair Calendar to see if an art fair is coming to your area. Instant community!

7. Be a networker.

I know that many artists (including myself) can have some anti-social tendencies. Or, to make a more general statement, artists tend to be really bad at marketing themselves. But here’s a good reason to exercise your social skills: it will save you money (at least, indirectly). Last summer I worked for a guy who would often let artists stay on his farm for a few days, join the family barbeque, and paint the beautiful area. The more you network, the more likely you are to meet people like that. Another good tip is to have a computer geek friend, especially one who works for Apple (hel-lo, discount Adobe).

8. Get your paycheck from within the field.

Until your art takes off and makes you Super Rich And Famous, it’s a good idea to work somewhere that benefits your cause. Working in an art supply store or a hardware store will get you some super-helpful discounts. Working in a gallery, on the other hand, will help you with the whole networking thing (see previous note). And don’t rule out working a different trade– working as a glassblower or in a print shop will also help your career in the right direction.

9. Live Simply

or, “Starving Artists Can’t Go Clubbing Every Night”

This is a hard tip to write without sounding preachy… but hey, I already bashed Wal-Mart, so it can’t hurt now! Plus, I know this one from experience: if you’re a college student and an artist, don’t expect to be able to pay for drinks/concert tickets/karaoke every single weekend. You never be able to invest in that Winsor & Newton palette you’ve been drooling over. And despite the (greatly-exaggerated) myth of the drunken and/or insane artist, living a crazy, elaborate, high-maintenance life will take your energies away from making art.

10. Practice over Theory

or, “Put It All to Use”

All the supply-collecting in the world does you no good when you can’t decide what to pack on a weekend trip. The biggest waste of money is letting materials go bad because you’re not using them. Which will happen, especially with things like paints or mediums. Plus, if you’re not using your supplies, you’re missing out on the opportunity to make money off (gasp!) your art.

I Keep Coming Back to the Figure

Sure, the face looks a bit stiff. There’s some problems with the proportions of the head. And I wasn’t expecting Quinacridone Burnt Orange to stain as much as it did… but I’m getting back in the game.

One of the things I’ve been angsting about this summer is how I have yet to develop a signature artistic style. Not having a unique style can really hold an artist back. Without it, you can’t create a unified show to submit to galleries, and you can’t really gain an online following if you’re always spazzing out in a new medium. If you take a look at my portfolio, it looks like five different artists contributed to it. I admit: when it comes to art supplies, giddiness and experimentation often trumps stylistic consistency.

I’ve also given myself a hard time about how often I draw women. Because c’mon, every bloody male artist since the Renaissance has made his career off of scantily-clad white women. And the feminist in me does not want to make money off of naked women. (Not that I’m against naked women…or even making money off of your own nudity. But I am against making money off of other naked women, I think).

Anyways. So that anxiety has caused me to wander through a wide range of styles and mediums, thinking I’ll magically stumble across my strength—my artistic niche—like Jackson Pollock drunkenly spilling that first drop of paint on a canvas.

And yet I keep coming back to the figure. Figure drawing is my strength. It’s what I unconsciously doodle in the margins of my notes. It’s most satisfying to me to figure out how bones and muscle create shadows and curves. Drawing/painting the figure is also a way for me to explore social and political questions about gender, about self-presentation, and about how we view ourselves and each other.

Looks like the ol’ Nature-versus-Nurture debate strikes again. What do you think– do we make our own creative niche?

lolconstitution?

When was the last time you received a letter that looked like this? (...If you're one of my pen readers, don't answer that.)

The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.

–Neil Postman

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When Neil Postman writes, “Each medium makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility,” he means that each medium for sharing information (letter-writing, telephone, smoke signals, etc.) re-orients our brains—not in a neurological sense, necessarily, but in the way we communicate, and in what we communicate. More than that, the medium affects what we think in the first place.

For example, I would never think about tsunamis or earthquakes in other countries if it weren’t delivered to me as “the news of the day.” If letter-writing were our main means of communicating information, I wouldn’t find out until months afterward—and they probably wouldn’t even tell me unless I had a family member in the region.

Sometimes I like to imagine…

How different our constitution might be if  it had been composed on the computer. Would typing, instead of writing with dip pens, have altered the things that the Founding Fathers thought important enough to include? Would they have wikipedia’d other nations’ governments first in order to do a thorough comparison study?

But the medium affects more than the contents of the information-document. The difference in information-mediums between the 18th century and the 21st —that is, dip pens and written letters versus email, news web sites, and texting—affects the quality and the meaning of our individual (and national) character. Think about how different a meaning “patriotism” had when it didn’t involve bumper stickers or even military service, but rather it meant: sitting at a desk in a cold, cold house, way out in the boonies, reflecting on the things that you believed in. You wouldn’t have been affected by any media-hype; instead, you would read a bunch of pamphlets, written by other people in cold, dark houses. You would reflect on their thoughts, and respond to them. And each of those pamphlets would have been well thought out– you kind of have to be more thoughtful, when you’re writing more slowly. (Dip…5 words….dip…4 words…)

If we still defined patriotism this way, I think we’d have a healthier nation. How strange to think that we might actually reflect on our beliefs, instead of becoming a “fan” of ideology X on Facebook. Personally, I think we’re damn lucky that the Founding Fathers were writing with dip pens when they declared independence. We at least know that it wasn’t a rash decision (“Shit! I hit “send” on that email to King George too early!”).

Quite a few people have already written admirable essays on the benefits of letter writing–though I embarrassingly don’t have their links on hand–and I don’t need to repeat them. It’s also important to note that none of us are advocating for the demise of technology: emails and quick-composition on the computer serve an important function in today’s world. My point is that we must keep in mind the effect that each medium has on what we write, not just how we write. In other words, it’s not about using “omg” instead of “oh my god” –it’s about how our responses to surprising news have become limited to an automatic acronym—“omg!”—without any real, individual reflection.

So I received this great letter  (pictured at the top) along with my order for ten new dip nibs this past week. I appreciate knowing that this person took ten, fifteen minutes to focus on communicating with me. And it wasn’t multi-tasked with checking email or youtube (because distractions, trust me, are a killer when you’re using dip nibs. India ink dries fast. And the next thing you know, you’ve shellacked your fingers together).

Check back soon to see what projects I come up with for these new nibs. I’m currently working on a big artsy birthday present for a friend, so they might become a useful tool for that…


Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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