Poem by Rumi, “Green Ears,” ink micrography on paper – in progress.
Poem by Rumi, “Green Ears,” ink micrography on paper – in progress.
In 1912 the successful Lawrence (Massachusetts) Textile Strike was led by women and immigrants fighting for better working and living conditions. One slogan, made popular in culture and song, “We want bread, and we want roses, too!” summed up workers’ desire for both life’s necessities and its glories. It must’ve been in the back of my mind since my childhood (both my parents were big folkies, so I’m SURE I had heard this many times growing up), and it jumped off the page onto an abstract I just finished.
The poem, written by James Oppenheim after the strike:
As we come marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill-lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing, “Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.”
As we come marching, marching, we battle, too, for men—
For they are women’s children and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes—
Hearts starve as well as bodies: Give us Bread, but give us Roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient song of Bread;
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew—
Yes, it is bread we fight for—but we fight for Roses, too.
As we come marching, marching, we bring the Greater days—
The rising of the women means the rising of the race—
No more the drudge and idler—then that toil where one reposes—
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses!
So, ’tis the season of gift shopping and gift buying. If you’re like me, your tastes are pretty specific and difficult to describe to someone else. That also means that unless I’ve actually said “I love this artwork because” X, Y, and Z, it’s really hard for someone to pick, out of a selection of paintings or photographs or even pottery the one thing I would choose for myself. Yes, it’s the thought that counts, but someone wouldn’t necessarily know which thing I would be really drawn to, or what I think would go well with my style or decor or space.
Which is why I think it’s difficult to do a holiday show with large, somewhat expensive (though it’s all relative of course!) original artwork. I think folks prefer to buy artwork for themselves rather than for others, because they’re afraid of getting something the other person wouldn’t like. And if it’s something that has to hang on the wall, well, let’s just say it’s not something easy to switch out at the last minute when Aunt Mabel is coming over and you need to suddenly rearrange your walls to put up that awful thing she bought you two years ago but has been in the attic ever since.
So far I’ve done a few holiday shows, and I’ve found that people who like my work and gravitate toward it prefer to buy my original art for themselves and prints for others. I love it — they want to share my work around! They also tend to opt for more well-known authors or stories, something more easily relatable than some of the obscure stuff I find and embed into my artwork. In this vein, many a gift-seeker has requested certain themes… a flamingo, a giraffe, a lizard, a collection of Emily Dickinson poems, funny quotations, etc.
Your wish is my command! For the season, I’ve begun a line of handpainted giclees, most of animals and pets, which are all either well-known stories or sets of moving and/or funny quotations by famous folk. Check out my Etsy shop for the latest, and PLEASE! keep those requests coming! I’m having a blast! But don’t worry… I’m still working in layers of glass, I’m still working with poetry… it’s ALL (still!) WORDS!
I am an artist.
To me that means I keep moving, keep experimenting, keep trying new materials, new methods. It fits my personality, my ADD.
It’s hard not to. It’s why I ditched the Ph.D. track early on… getting a Ph.D. means you have specialized in something. Something so focused that you are perhaps the only expert in that one thing. I couldn’t do it. Gave up a fellowship and left grad school.
Now, a couple of careers later, I’m back to my first (and only, apart from my amazing hubby) love — art.
When it comes to applying for shows, though, it’s coming back to me. Specialization. When I get rejections, I’ve been told show promoters don’t want to see the breadth of work that I’ve done — watercolor, ink, printmaking, etched glass, layers of glass, mirrors, etc. They want to see a Cohesive Body of Work.
That’s kinda a new concept for me. Not that I don’t have it… my work is cohesive in theme — exploring the physical manifestation of poetry and language. But from a viewer’s perspective, you don’t get that at first. It takes some time to absorb. Ya gotta get closer. So they’re right in the sense that you don’t see that there’s a Cohesive Body of Work in front of you. It looks like a mishmash of styles, which, I guess, it is, when I present it that way.
So I’m learning to present my theme as a visually Cohesive Body of Work. Group all the works together by materials and colors. Separate out the 3D from the 2D. Mirror backs go with mirror backs; watercolors on paper go with watercolors on paper. Etched glass with etched glass.
And you know what? It looks great!
Only problem is… each style requires a separate application. And maybe even a separate booth. Wow. Maybe I’d better specialize?
What are your thoughts? Got any suggestions? What’s your favorite piece or style? Enquiring artists want to know!
Art show season is upon us here in the Northeast and I’m learning how to be an Art Fair Road Warrior. Seriously, I want a membership card, just ’cause I want to see what the logo would be. Sadly, it’s mainly just a virtual group on Facebook, but still. I think it’s gonna take a lot more shows and a lot more miles behind me before I really qualify, but I’m working towards it. This weekend will be my third show in four weeks, so that’s a damned good start if I say so myself. And I do.
Amazingly enough I don’t really get bored to tears sitting, standing, or futzing around in and around my booth. I thought I would, but I don’t. At least as long as there’s somebody around. The first show was pretty rough because the weather was so awful (Pouring in Pittsburgh) that people just didn’t come around, or if they did they were moving quickly. The second show (Hot in Harrisburg) started out fabulously to the point I was freaking out — my first customer came in and picked out a piece before I had even gotten my sales book and credit card thingy out and ready, and there were early crowds that made me panic thinking that they were all getting impatient waiting to buy something. Sadly that turned out to be a common first-day early morning rush, and I had no other sales that day or the next. And did I mention hot? It was hot. And I was in a spot which, while on the grass (so it coulda been a lot hotter), received no shade from the gorgeous park trees to the east or the west for the duration of the show. My face and my fan were never more than four inches apart.
But Monday, Day 3 of the show, was a beeeeeeYOUtiful day, and all the visitors seemed much more relaxed and interested in hanging around and talking.
THAT’s my favorite part. Well, apart from writing in the sales book of course.
There are always folks who bring their kids in (usually bored-looking preadolescents) and tell them that my work is just like that project they did in fourth grade, right? To which I usually reply with encouragement to the kids, and try to ignore the obvious corollary to the parents’ comment that indicates their opinion of my artistry, skill, and/or experience.
But many times — MANY times, thankfully, I received or heard comments from visitors such as “this is absolutely fabulous,” “how creative,” and, the one that will keep me going through the next dry spell, “this is the most unique work I’ve ever seen.”
Thank you, stranger. You paid me more in warm fuzzies than I’ve gotten in a long time.
I know my work is not conventional. It doesn’t fit into many folks’ conception of art. It doesn’t fit into others’ view of craft. I have difficulty getting into some shows because the jury doesn’t know where to put it, or I don’t know which box to check on the application.
But I do it because I love it and I love experimenting and tweaking ways to experience language and image together. On paper, in glass, in shadows, in layers, with watercolor, with ink, on mylar, on vellum, on cut paper, whatever.
And if you enjoy it, please let me know. If you don’t, but have some constructive criticism, please let me know that too. Beyond that, just enjoy the show. I’m sure you can find another artist that fits your style better. We’re all here just waiting to find our peeps. While that’s no guarantee we can make a living doing what we love (or even just make back our expenses and booth fee), it helps to build a following. Someday they’ll need a gift of fabulous, creative, and absolutely unique artwork. And I’ll be here. Or there. I’ll be somewhere. Come find me.
So here’s the calendar for this summer’s shows… Now the tricky part is to figure out a) which pieces to bring to each show, and b) once everything is set up and I’m waiting for folks to come look and hopefully talk to me, what do I do with myself?
There’s a weird balance between making sure that people feel welcomed and that they’re not bothering me, making sure I’m not hounding or pressuring them (see: carnival barker description from last year), and being out of my mind bored.
I can work on some sketches or perhaps even paint, but I’ve been told that people feel awkward interrupting me and don’t want to bother me.
I can read a book but that’s just kinda rude.
I can try to hide an earbud and pretend like I’m not listening to anything, which would also be rude.
I can just sit there eating fair food all day, but, first of all, ick, and second of all, I need to not have to buy yet another larger size.
Or I can be bored out of my skull hoping people will come talk to me and praying they’ll buy something to perk me up.
What would your reactions be? Would you avoid talking to someone who’s working on a piece of artwork? Would you feel it’s rude if I was doing something other than sitting there waiting hopefully for customers? Got any other suggestions?
May 21, 22 Shadyside Art & Craft Festival, Pittsburgh, PA
May 28, 29, 30 Patriot-News Artsfest in Harrisburg, PA (http://www.jumpstreet.org/events/artsfest/)
June 11, 12 Art at Ives, Danbury, CT
July 9, 10 Haddonfield, NJ
August 20, 21 Arts at the Gardens, Sonnenberg Gardens, Canandaigua, NY (http://www.artsatthegardens.org/)
September 10, 11 Clothesline Festival at the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester NY (http://mag.rochester.edu/events/clothesline-festival/)
October 8-9 and 15-16 Greater Ithaca Art Trail (www.arttrail.com)
Single-line drawings pull only the essence of an image and force you to concentrate on the contours that matter in depicting a scene. Once the pen hits the paper, you can’t lift it until your drawing is done. Sure, you can trace back over a line to get to a different part of the image, but it muddies it up and in a way defeats the purpose. And for me, I can’t do that because my lines will then become lines of text – writing over a previous line is not an option.
Here’s what I’ve just finished on paper:
I love the challenge of drawing with a single line. Will add color soon.
While I know that had I stayed at RISD way back when, I probably would’ve come away with a degree (in photography or a BFA or something else from their estimable selection of programs), today I’m pretty sure I’m a better artist than I ever could have become at that time.
I am a slow learner of things that matter. I can memorize stuff pretty easily… at least I used to when my brain cells were nice and perky, but alas they are as old as the rest of my over-the-hill body. And fer cryin’ in the kitchen, I’ve got an impressive repertoire of almost entire movies, complete with gestures and stage direction, in my head, along with all 18 minutes of Alice’s Restaurant rattling around in my brain like a spray paint can. But as time goes by it becomes apparent that those things, while fun and good drunk party tricks for my brother to use to show me off, don’t actually matter. At least not when it comes to figuring out what I want to leave after I’m gone.
I didn’t stay at RISD long enough to learn much about style, art history, composition, or any of that. I stayed long enough to learn that my art and my creativity were so deeply buried beneath 19-year-old insecurities that I’d never find them in an environment of artifice, affectation and angst. I created far, far better artwork before attending art school simply because I was free to explore at my own pace and following my own interest and path.
Now here I am, thirty-something years later, finally ready to face my old nemesis, myself. It has taken THAT long of doing other stuff just to have a title on my door or to have a nametag on my shirt — to be an official member of society — while I secretly learned what creating is all about.
As I said… I’m a slow learner.
Drawing visitors into my booth at art shows is tremendously difficult sometimes… in most cases it’s impossible to understand what my work is without spending a few extra seconds to step closer and look, but at a big fair with 600+ different booths, most of which are artists and craftspersons, there aren’t enough extra seconds for folks to spend.
which I fixed up this year to make them even more eye-catching – while my handwriting font was very personalized, it didn’t look so great, so I got ’em printed with a different font and made a few other changes. I don’t have the updated image right now to show you – trust me, it’s nicer.
The signs worked great, mostly. Lots of people saw the signs and stopped dead in their tracks. Fantastic! Still something held folks back, so I wound up giving a quick explanation to the ones that stopped but would not actually come close. “It’s all words,” I say… “Tiny tiny writing.” Got a lot more people interested, but after a while I felt like I was sounding like a carnival barker, which really has no place at an art show and made me feel kinda cheap.
How to bring the folks that come to these shows in close enough so they can see what my drawings and paintings are comprised of and where the poetry lies, without being loud or obnoxious?
This year I think I’ve got it: I attach large magnifiers onto a couple of pieces on a table display, to encourage viewers to step up and examine them for themselves. Once they do that, their reactions are a riot, ranging from speechlessness coupled with a raised eyebrow and looks of incredulity, to outbursts of “holy shit” and “NO WAY,” or “are you crazy?” From there many folks are hooked and want to check out other pieces to read the poems.
I still have a lot of coaxing to do, even with the new setup. I suspect some people who stop when they read “Look Closely” are really not interested in wall art or don’t like my style at all… it’s fine to move along. But I’d hate to lose someone in a split second, not because they’re not interested, but because they don’t understand what it is that I do.
Anybody have any other suggestions?
Artful backgrounds often accompany words, poems, stories – simple flourishes can add atmosphere to a story, illuminated scripts kept many an artist busy in candlelit Medieval abbeys, and a good illustrator can keep a young reader’s imagination piqued. As you can tell, my artwork blends poetry – “language art,” with pictures, colors, textures, visual elements – to create a unified whole. The words are the art. I’m always looking for ways to express this in different ways, whether it’s by playing with materials, media, colors, or simple light and shadow. And on a practical note, I’m also keeping my eyes open for new ways to get my work “out there.”
I had an interesting experience a couple of months ago when I was asked to create something that incorporates a wedding proposal that would be used by a very romantic guy to ask his girlfriend to marry him… Commissions are always a rather dicey proposition, if you’ll excuse the pun. Art is completely subjective — where one person swoons another might shrug — so there’s no guarantee that it will be as well received by the giftee as it was conceived by either the giftor or the artist commissioned to do the work.
I loved the idea of using a piece of art to express such a momentous occasion in one’s life, and it brought to mind the Jewish tradition of a ketubah — a wedding contract, usually decorated and framed for hanging in the home. While I don’t necessarily agree with all the text that might go into one, especially extremely strict traditional ones, I believe that a piece of art that uses the couple’s own words in the image itself could become a cherished part of a family’s home and shared history.
So on February 9th, I am unveiling three new pieces of my work this weekend, at — you guessed it — a bridal expo. I will be displaying three examples of my new work that will be available for customization with a couple’s own wedding vows or selected poetry of their choice. Depending on the light where the art is displayed, the words can either “float” above the painting or throw moving shadows onto it. Check out the samples here and on my website: www.cbgb-arts.com, and look for the Wedding Vow Art link on the left.
I’ll be at the expo with Salmon Gallery which has a new wedding registry service, and with my dear friend Barb Behrmann, who helped Gordon and me create our own special day and who now has put her fantastic skills that into creating Ceremonies and Events Planning of the Finger Lakes. The expo is a new event that focuses on local artists and vendors to help folks create an absolutely unique and homegrown wedding. It’s hosted by Trumansburg’s own Dressella’s and promises to be a fun time, with music and giveaways. The website for the event is http://www.IthacaBridalExpo.com and will be at Emerson Suites on the Ithaca College campus from 12-3 on Sunday, Feb. 9. Please share with anyone you know who’s planning a big event soon!