Recently, a photographer friend of mine, Rebekah West, introduced me to a special room in Boulder – the Special Collections department of the CU Library. One collection they house is a beautiful set of Artists Books.

Artists Books are works of art, in the form of a book. Some are altered books, others are handmade books made from handmade paper, others are handcrafted books of meticulously pieced together digitally printed pages. Rebekah arranged a special viewing for us, and the librarian brought out some of the works that they purchased from Booklyn. We felt so grateful to have this opportunity!

Here’s a cool example of a beautiful puzzle-path encapsulated between the covers of a book. Artist Red Charming created an accordion-style book that folds out onto the table in many directions:

The book is called Walking Middletown. She tells the reader that there are 13 towns in the country called Middletown, and these are polaroids that she snapped in one of them, but she doesn’t say which one. I’ve always liked mysteries… One after another, we viewed books, each one more unique than the last.

Takeaway: the ways to be creative are absolutely limitless, and there is intricate beauty behind every corner and page. The thing that really struck me is the depth and breadth of book art (which also tends to involve a lot of printing, both in the printmaking form and the letterpress form).

Layer after layer, I continue to uncover a world of “making” that seems to be endless – where do all of these creative people live? (All over the world, if my twitter account has anything to say about it.) What do we do during the day, or for money? It doesn’t seem to matter. We are ever bound by our desire to work with our hands and create something out of nothing – perhaps trying to test the chaos theory, or to provide more fodder for it.

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Imagine the economy is struggling terribly, unemployment is high, and people are looking for things to do with their free time to make a buck. Imagine the government starts a fund to distribute money to all kinds of workers, including artists, to stimulate useful projects around the country. Artists can apply and, after proving need, receive a weekly stipend to create paintings, murals, drawings, prints, or sculptures that will be shown in public places around the country. Imagine this stimulation inspiring the country to engage with art and stay focused on the positive, at the same time enabling starving artists to work in the field of their passion and create over 200,000 works of art.

Sound like something that is or could be happening now? It does to me. But it was all part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, an economic stimulus plan enacted back in the post-depression years of the mid-1930’s. Painters such as Pollack, Rothko, and de Kooning participated in the Federal Art Project, the arm specific to funding artists. The Smithsonian had an exhibit last year, and still retains a site where you can learn more about the art from this era.

I wonder if something like this could happen today? Maybe it will happen in a different way, funded by some grassroots efforts, or some kind of underground revolution. I wonder, do you know anything about it?

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we see only what we want to see.
a case of copier paper,
scratches on the back of a seat on the public bus,
detail of grasslands,
smoke and music.
the question is whether it happened or not.
a hate zest of evidence,
a void filled in:
the “explanation”.
there is the absorption of the moment.

then, there is only the sky.

I wrote this as a response to Joy Harjo’s piece entitled Perhaps the World Ends Here in writing group one night not too long ago. Her poem is so beautiful, I don’t hope to match its power, but just wanted to share all of it. Sometimes the world calls, and only poetry can answer.

I’ve been really busy this month with guests in town, conferences, and changing jobs. So, I’m taking a little time to adjust, and I’ll be writing and creating again in a few weeks…

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For anyone interested in art, music, or the 70s, I recommend “Just Kids“, by Patti Smith. It’s a deeply honest memoir about her young adulthood spent in NYC with Robert Mapplethorpe, developing her art and eventually her musical talents. I came across a passage that really spoke to me about the learning process of creativity and making mistakes. Here, Patti is co-writing a play with Sam Shepard, in his hotel room, literally writing a part, handing the typewriter to the other, going back and forth:

When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. “I can’t do this,” I said. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say anything,” he said. “You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.”

“What if I mess it up? What if I screw up the rhythm?”

“You can’t,” he said. “It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.”

Wow. This is so liberating! My biggest challenge in my art is taking that next step, placing that next line, in fear that I’ll screw it up. I sometimes have a hard time finishing pieces, and my work can be slow going, because I deliberate, I practice (also because I’m new at this, so I tell myself), I do tryouts, and then I finally jump in.

I’ve been noticing that if I had just pushed forward with each idea, willing to make a mistake and even mess it up, and then started a new piece for every new thing I wanted to try out, I would have a much larger body of work, and this is what happens to artists! The work in early years is rough, but that’s because they are experimenting and doing at the same time.

My photographer cousin, Thomas Moore, coincidently just made the a similar comment on my last post, about accepting “imperfections” as part of the work that perhaps make it better, not worse. As artists, as people, we may have heard this advice before, and it’s an important reminder. And combining it with the analogy of the changing drum beat does something exciting for me – it allows me to realize that, instead of trying to force the outcome or feeling like I will have to throw out the things I mess up, I can listen to the changing beat and let it teach me what needs to emerge next.

In some ways, there is no such thing as a mistake.

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In my last post, I started to describe the screen printing process that I learned in a class I took this winter. In that post, I described how I picked out an idea and transferred it to the screen. Here, I talk about the printing and end result….

As you can see, there are two images on the same screen – you can utilize your screen to maximum capacity, as long as you leave enough room at the edges to press the ink in. I taped over one image while printing the other, and then vice versa. Then I mounted the screen onto the work surface, which has two clamps with hinges, allowing the screen to be lifted up to place paper underneath.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures while I was actually printing, so I’ll just have to describe it. Basically, you put a decent amount of ink at the top of the screen (from this perspective, above the right image), and then use a squeegie to “pull” the ink across the screen. Anywhere that is open (in the image above, anywhere that is white), the ink will go through.

I did several variations of color, one was yellow for the right side image, and blue for the left side image (reversing the whole process: cleaning the screen, taping over the right side, and pulling the ink across the left side). I printed a run of the right side first, then I let them dry, reversed the setup, registered the paper, and did the other.

Here’s the resulting print – I’m pretty happy with it, for a first try.

I had some trouble leaning onto the squeegie while pulling the ink, because of my broken rib, so I’m going to create my own screen printing surface with clamps and try the whole thing again here in my studio. And, as I mentioned in my last post, I made a mistake when initially prepping the screen and I didn’t get all of the polymer out – you can see an imperfection in the top left corner of this image where the yellow doesn’t fill in the corner all the way. In the future, I’ll have to fix that by hand every time I print this – live and learn! That’s what this blog is all about….

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One of my goals this year is to learn new printing techniques, so I signed up for a screen printing class at the Art Students League of Denver, with my friend Theresa Haberkorn. Side note: one ulterior motive was to check out the League and see how it felt to drive to Denver for a class. I love the building and the atmosphere, and the instructor, Mark Friday, was super knowledgeable, clearly a professional. I’ll definitely take a class there again.

Here’s what I ended up doing:

First, In class we “prepped” the screen (wood frame with mesh) by applying a photo-sensitive emulsion. In a dark room, we applied several coats and let it dry. From this point forward, the screen had to be kept “in the dark” (haha) until it was time to expose it.

Then, at home, I created transparencies of the image I wanted to print out. On a road trip last fall, I took this picture of a truck carrying a huge load of pipes. I love it!!

So I altered the picture to give it more contrast (remove detail) using <unpaid plug> Adobe Photoshop products, and then I created another copy of the image and reversed the black and white, to create a negative. I asked Kinkos to print both images onto transparency paper. (If you want to draw, you can also use a Sharpie on the transparency, but I don’t think it works to run transparency paper through most home printers.)

So now I was ready to “expose” the screen. I placed both transparancies onto the screen, and put it under a super strong photo light (500W, I think), for about 20 minutes. Trust me, you didn’t want me to take the picture with the light on – it’s like looking into the sun!

After 20 minutes, the “pink” emulsion that was exposed to the light hardens, and everything underneath the black areas stays unexposed. You have to wash out the unexposed area as soon as possible, and thoroughly – something I didn’t quite achieve, as you’ll see in the finished product.

This is what the screen looks like when it’s done exposing and washed out. All of the white areas will allow ink through, and the pink areas are all blocked. And now the screen can be in full sunlight and it won’t get damaged, in fact I think it can stay this way for years, for future use.

The screen is now ready to be printed! Stay tuned for my next post, where I show you how to screen print (and with a cracked rib no less!)…

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I’m looking at Rebekah West’s 100 Everyday Solutions to Creativity Obstacles blog today. She is deeply inspiring and works in the realm of truth.

I’m looking within for clarity on where I am going with my art, but I’m continuing to mess around in my studio and feeling more playful again. I know I get a little winter nesting syndrome, and I don’t feel super inspired. But it’s passing, despite the sub-zero (literally) temperatures right now – I’ve recently smelled spring, and I know it’s on its way. Something shifts in me, and I get back to digging.

What I notice is also that despite going through this slow period, it’s not the same as starting over, which only really happened once, within the last couple of years, as I started creating art again after so many years off. These yearly nesting periods will just be part of the process, and I still have the knowledge that I’ve learned last year and while I was struggling over the winter. It’s all learning, and just like my professional career, it’s experience under my belt.

What experience do you have under your belt? How do you know it’s still there when you haven’t used it in a while?

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I recently watched a video on Visual Art and Color from The Science of the Arts conference, hosted by the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins.

The panel of speakers, Jeremy Nathans (Biologist, Johns Hopkins?), Margaret Livingstone (Neuroscientist, Harvard), and William Stoehr (Boulder Artist), had many compelling ideas to share, with good scientific background: Color provides information about identity; The yellow from the light wavelength spectrum is not physically the same yellow that comes from combining the red and green wavelengths; We visually process images (and in particular, faces) by how they differ from the average; and more.

At the very end of the panel discussion, a provocative question was raised in the audience: If color is helpful for survival, what is the survival advantage of art? Jeremy Nathans proposed that art is something of an epi-phenomenon – because our brains are so powerful and built to manage so much complexity, art probably arose as a “side effect”, but it’s not essential. However, Margaret Livingstone commented that art comes out of communication, which is a fairly low-level survival skill, implying that there is a possibility that art is a necessary survival skill in some way.

And my thought is, besides storytelling, communication, and other historical reasons, there is something in the undercurrent of art that is necessary for our brain function. The ability to innovate, build, and even survive seems highly dependent on the process of switching back and forth from verbal to non-verbal (see recent post), and there is no way we could have evolved into the society that we are now without that creative process and expression. Perhaps there is a difference between art that is necessary for the individual’s survival vs. art necessary for society’s survival?

In between trying to perfect my process of printing the very large hand, I’m trying to distract myself with another piece.

I grew up around big buildings and construction sites – my dad is in the construction industry. I have a strange love for the smell of sawdust and melted sotter. For me growing up, being around large buildings was natural, so I grew used to tramping around jobsites with an oversized hardhat on, looking at pipe & steel girders, and riding dirty construction elevators. I love the way a building represents so many things in our material and social worlds – shelter, community, work, intricate parts fit together by so many different workers, upholding our society for so many generations now. There is something comforting about the ability to put something so complex down on paper in coded image form and then slowly over time hundreds of people stitch the whole thing together. Kind of like art.

So, I’ve started working with scraps of blueprints that I’ve collected. I began this piece by collaging the scraps onto a piece of plywood:

Tapping into the figure drawing class again, I cut out one of my sketches – the shape of a hand resting on a leg – and attached it in the lower right corner:

Next I pulled out another big scrap bin and cut up pieces of financial outlook statements. I love the blues that are showing in here, and so I also added some other loose long scraps on the left, not shown:

Finally, I printed an image that I created last year of an airplane engine, onto a large sheet of sheer paper, and then pasted the whole thing on top, so that all of the images I describe above were obscured:

Strangely, all of these images came to me separately, but this whole thing weaves a story of 9/11 that I wasn’t expecting. I’m from the east, and I’ve been on the construction sites of several huge buildings in NYC, including the new World Trade Center (expect a future blog post on this). And the WTC resides in the heart of the financial district. Somehow the hand seems to be one at rest, calm yet strong, our people? And then the overlay of the plane, taking down what was once structural and whole and sending it back to the beginning.

Cool happenings in 2010 (sabbatical + studio = creativity integration project & art coming back to life) provide fertile ground for artistic resolutions in 2011! Here they are:

  • Finish several large “hand” pieces, keep dialing in technique
  • Get imaginative with layering: layering ideas, layering papers & prints, layering technique & materials
  • Practice art+thought+technology: this blog, and twitter @talismanplace, @boulderart (given to me by Lindsey Cash)
  • Education: taking a screen printing class this spring, spurs new techniques, learning the field of printmaking

What are your creative resolutions…?

If you don’t feel like you have a concrete imaginative aspiration, one resolution could be to pick a creative “muse”. Who inspires you? What do you remember about creativity (art/design/architecture/music/etc) in your childhood? What are your passions? Pick one person/piece/event that stands out to you, and look more closely. Read about it, hang up a picture, get curious…

Happy New Year!!!

Organic intensity – Energy – and motion made visible – memories arrested in space – human needs and motives – acceptance.”  –Jackson Pollack, found written on the back of a photo of himself.