Posts Tagged 'DIY'

On Resolutions, Goals, and Playing Cards

“We must imagine the possibility of a more just world before the world may become more just. That’s something that poets do well.”

– Martin Espada

In the progressive artsy sector of the internet, it seems pretty well-accepted that New Year’s Resolutions are over-simplifying things, at the very least. Even Oprah thinks that keeping a journal is a better method for self-improvement than making some spastic once-a-year goals (and I agree). I also like Stephanie’s (aka Biffybeans’) guidelines for making manifestations instead of resolutions.

There’s something about Boulder the United States the Holidays that leaves me exhausted. And maybe that’s why people find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions so refreshing, like a deep cleansing meditation after a bad hangover. But the general sentiment from friends and fellow bloggers is that a feeling of “stuck-ness” is more than a matter of internal motivation. Unfortunately, there really are external factors that affect your success – a shitty economy, for one. A highly motivated, optimistic, and qualified individual is not guaranteed a job, at least at the moment. In fact just such a friend of mine is currently on food stamps.

One of my big-picture goals has always been to bring these larger systems up in conversations, especially with people who believe that the individual is 100% responsible for his or her fate. Having tried to live as a low-income person in a high-income city for the past few months, I can tell you that positive attitudes and initiative can only take you so far. Chance has a lot to do with it, and so does the willingness of luckier people to reach out to you. There isn’t a lot of outreach here in Boulder, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for poor folks to mingle with the rich folks. Let alone different racial groups.

In 1994, the KKK held a rally in Boulder. When Boulder residents vehemently protested, a KKK leader gave a speech in which he identified Boulder as a model city for the KKK because (contrary to the image of being one of the most progressive cities in the nation) “it is impossible for a lower middle class family with multiple childeren to live here.” In fact, he congratulated Boulder on achieving 90% white demographics. It took a member of the KKK to give the city a wake-up call about privilege, to show them that no amount of Buddhist meditation groups and African dance lessons will create real diversity.

Having said that, I’m no fatalist when it comes to success and happiness, and I don’t think The Man can keep you down forever. Re-examine the cards you’ve been dealt: the privileges and the opportunities, the options and the limitations. There are a lot of people who don’t have the opportunity to save or invest money, and will never have the financial padding to move to a different city or switch professions. So heck, I feel real good about being able to miserably pinch pennies in order to move across the country (yet again). Miserable, sure, but lucky as hell.

I propose we think of the new year as reshuffling your deck. See if new patterns emerge, or if you’ve been trying to play the wrong hand for too long. (Is this metaphor still making sense?)

My Hand This Year

  1. Do whatever it takes to avoid being overwhelmed by job-searching. Take a day off to rest my brain, and ask for help if I need it. Indulge in self pity if necessary, but don’t be crippled by it.
  2. Fake the enthusiasm that I don’t always have. I know that my tendency is to curl up alone and read or paint, but that certainly isn’t going to make me friends or get a job.
  3. Spend money in ways that enhance my life. I will not feel guilty about going out to a restaurant if it helps me get closer to a new friend. And I will not feel guilty about ordering lunch, if it helps me bond with my co-workers. Sometimes not spending money can isolate you and prevent you from connecting with your workplace or hometown.
  4. Be strategic with the Great Flow of Information. Because damn, it’s easy to get lost in the internet. Instead of zoning out on forums and looking at infinite other artists, use that time to read tutorials on job-searching, or better yet – to actually paint something myself.
  5. Seriously consider whether graduate school will make me happier or more marketable. And if the answer is yes, get going on that.

In the News: Cities, Notebook Love, and Presidential Proclamations

Technology (and the like)

» Scary fact: did you know the cell phone industry actually admits the health risks of cell phone radiation? Apparently this is not the stuff of conspiracy theorists anymore: Apple recommends holding your iPhone no closer than 5/8″ to your body, and BlackBerry recommends holding your phone a full inch away. Read more in Tom Philpott’s article: Is my smartphone making me dumb?

» Some “Tough Love” advice for having a better life: Americans need to stop multitasking while eating alone.

» The event already passed, but I really like the message behind Jimmy Kimmel’s National Unfriend Day. The idea is to restore meaning to the word ‘friend’ by cutting down on facebook friends who… well, aren’t actually your friends.

» The event already passed, but I really like Jimmy Kimmel’s “National Unfriend Day.” The idea is to cut down on facebook “friends” who… aren’t actually your friends. Heck, you can do this anytime and restore some meaning to the word ‘friend’.

» Read a good paperback recently? I like this down-to-earth ‘best books’ list from The Guardian (via The EarlyWord)

Pen | Paper | Ink | DIY

» Etsy, how I love thee. Check out their recommendations for keeping analog time in 2011 – nothing digital about it.

» Jonathan Safran Foer, I love you and your unmakeable book more than Etsy.

» I hate to bash NaNoWriMo so soon after writing a positive post about it, but I’m just so in agreement with this Salon.com article that I had to share.

» DIY Love: Social activists have long protested the consumerism of Black Friday by celebrating Buy Nothing Day instead, but I’m even MORE supportive of this new (more positive) approach: Make Something Day.

» Ooh, lovely burgundies, wines, and maroons:  Ink Mixing with J. Herbin’s Anniversary Ink (via Writer’s Bloc)

» Hooray, two of my favorite things: Notebooks and gardening!

» I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but Rhodia/Clairefontaine/Exaclair have some of the best customer service and genuine grassroots marketing. Ever.

Rurality | Urbanism

» Poor urbanites: apparently New Yorkers are the most stressed Americans since the economy collapsed – but not because they’re doing worse than other parts of the country (they’re not). It’s because the city doesn’t offer effective ways to deal with stress. (via Daily News)

» But! This whole city-stress phenomenon may not be unique to New York. A recent study showed that the overstimulated atmosphere cities had a negative impact on attention span, memory, and on mood in general. (via CNN)

» Somehow I find the idea of “Proclamations” adorably antiquated, but this one I can get behind: Obama declared November 19-25th “Farm-City Week”

» Whoa whoa whoa – Kentucky canceled a coal plant?

Miscellaneous Cultural Fun!

Custom Office Moleskines

My office is a very Do-It-Yourself kind of place: we make breakfast bars in the Big Fancy Kitchen (BFK), test potential clients’ food products in the conference room, and hike mountains on our staff retreat. And when the Boss wants to make a retreat goodie bag for every employee, we interns get down with our crafty selves.

So that’s how I ended up cutting and pasting through a set of 10 large ruled Moleskine notebooks …despite my general aversion to Moleskine notebooks. Our retreat focus this year was “ReFresh” –note the clever use of company name! –and, as always, green dominates our color scheme.

Note to those interested in attempting a similar project: if you have a laser printer that uses toner oil, Lasertran is a pretty sweet method for transferring images onto the cover. However, if your office has a shiny new laser printer, chances are that it does not use toner oil and you will have wasted $30 on a pack of transfer paper. Not that I’m speaking from experience.

MIA: Multi-tasking In Action

I’m in the middle of a few different projects right now, but nothing is really completed enough for a full post. I’m sure I’ll have a finished post for each of these eventually.

But for now, let us remember that most of Life is a Do-It-Yourself project… unless you have a wife, of course. Or nanny. Or housekeeper. Or personal assistant.

Okay, it turns out that many people don’t build their own lives. Shame on them.

Re-tiling the shower. And avoiding mold infections...

Painting the exterior of our apartment.

Making chicken salad, banana bread, and salsa. The salsa is in-progress, but the banana bread is in the progress of being eaten.

Oh, and this huge-ass painting.

and art.

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.

Nib Grinding, in Brief

…it scares the crap out of me.

But also, I have a pipe dream of apprenticing some day under a local nibmeister. Let us only hope that I don’t giggle at the term “nibmeister” in his presence.

It seems that there are less women in the pen world, similar to… well, just like most other trades (there are less women tattoo artists, less women metalsmiths…). Anyone who says feminism is over and women have achieved equality in the workplace should take a look at the stats. And well, it would rock to make some money off pen grinding/making in the long run.

But for now, I successfully turned my skipping, dry-writing Parker 45 M nib to a smooth-writing stub. Which, I think, is one step closer to being a Hot Pen Babe.

I didn’t completely get rid of its skipping problems; it requires priming every so often (sliding the converter to push the ink up the feed). But it’s a hell of a lot smoother, and more of a stub than it was before. Overall, I’m very satisfied with this little experiment…

A more recent writing sample

An Assorted (Yet Cohesive!) Paper Review

In this post, I outlined my initial impressions of four different Clairefontaine papers, which I received generously from Exaclair and bound into a short-term, multi-purpose book (what some people call a “journal”). I used this book during the last weeks of classes, as well as through the madness of Senior Week, and Graduation itself.

And it felt good (really good) to put this book aside after graduation– to start brand new, on a blank page. (What a handy metaphor, no?)

As it turns out, my blank page was on the other side of the country. But now I’m here in Colorado, and yes, I promised fuller reviews. So here we go.

Digital Color Printing Paper

Pentel Pocket Pen and ink on DCP Paper

First, to clarify: this paper isn’t meant for traditional writing and media. It’s for machines, and I’m sure it works superbly that way. But I’m not interested in machines (except, maybe, Leo Marx’s). I wanted to test a loose-leaf Clairefontaine paper– one that could be used for bookbinding!

This has perhaps been one of the few drawbacks to Clairefontaine products– they’re more like, well, office supplies than art supplies. So I really appreciate trying out some loose-leaf paper, which can be used as a raw material for a variety of art projects. The DCP paper is also available in a variety of weights (90 to 350 gsm), which allows for even more customization.

The short version: Use your fountain pens, markers, brush pens, and crayons on this paper; leave the paint and wet media alone. Water-soluble pencils/crayons/pastels have the potential to work well (perhaps if they’re more oil-based) but don’t overdo the water. Stephanie at Biffybeans did a review of this paper, and had similar findings.

Also, this is the time to experiment with bright colors. So channel your inner pop artist.

However, for whatever reason, I found that I did less art on this kind of paper. When I did draw, I used my Pentel Pocket Pen, which left beautiful, clean, high-contrast lines. Writing (in ink) on this paper was pleasurable, but the paper was too glossy to use a pencil, and the thinness also encouraged more minimalist approach.

Stamped! Notice the wet spot to the left; that's bleed-through from the drawing posted above

Continue reading ‘An Assorted (Yet Cohesive!) Paper Review’


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