I’ve been working with Creative Capital, an organization that, in part, works with artists to bolster their business skills — strategic planning, budgeting, time management, etc. A full day workshop and on-going webinar series are perks for this year’s Individual Artist Award Recipients, generously made possible by the Rasmuson Foundation, and I’m grateful for the guidance.
One of the things the presenters from Creative Capital stressed in our first day-long workshop back in May was the concept of “Doing Less with More.” Let me repeat that: Do. Less. With. More. I know. This goes against the Artist Super Power of “Doing More with Less,” but it’s a new mind-bender to try and apply to my own practice in a few different ways.
So, what do I have a lot of? What might this "more" currently be?
And that is a ridiculous combination of things.
But here are a few jobs I realized have already spun from that kind of kooky abundance, and one of the ways I'm applying that "less-with-more" mind set.
Dragons + Words = Article
Last winter I completed a public art project at the Chugiak-Eagle River Library. The 15-foot, 3-panel triptych originally commissioned in 2003 (for a different library), was taken apart and expanded to a 30-foot, 6 panel banner, featuring a community art project on the reverse. Now the dragon fits the space properly and the project feels complete. I blogged about it in a 3-part series (links at the end), which some of you may have read.
The editor for Machine Quilting Unlimited also read those posts, and hired me to craft an article based on them, sharing the process with her readers. The current May/June 2017 issue features that article.
Is this piece machine quilted? No. Is it a quilt? No. Does that matter? No.
But here's a sidebar that does matter: fiber people and quilt enthusiasts -- please ensure you are paid appropriately for writing print articles. Getting paid in "exposure" or magazine issues doesn’t count, because that’s like the time I received 9 bounced paychecks as a pattern maker in the fashion industry and my then-boss offered to pay me in the clothing we were designing for 14- and 16-year olds. I was 23.
Is it ironic that I blog for free at 45 yet still feel compelled to tell you all to pull up your Big Girl Pants? Yes. The amount artists and writers are paid sets the precedent for those who come after them, so ask for what you are worth. If you didn't make enough last time, get that figured out and make it right next time. The generation coming up will thank you.
Right. Enough said.
Dragons + Doilies = Commissioned Painting
This spring, a friend named Sherri (whom the kids called “Miss-Sherri-Our-Librarian,” when they were 3 and 5) retired after 31+ years with the Anchorage Public Library. I've had a long, lovely relationship with our state and municipal library system illustrating Summer Reading Program posters, custom painting computer kiosks, setting up my table in the youth services area and selling children’s books, reading and showing illustration sketches to groups of kids….and a lot of this was facilitated by Miss-Sherri-Our-Librarian.
Not only did I work with Miss-Sherri-Our-Librarian on the original Dragon textile banner in 2003, but I also got to write grants with her in 2015 and 2016 to double its size. She was also a contributor to the Inheritance Project, her family linens (above) were in The 19th boxes of mystery.
This is all coming together, I promise.
Did you know I've illustrated a dozen children's books? It's true. I'm taking a little break from that super good stuff, but not forever, so when another librarian contacted me to create a commissioned retirement gift for Miss-Sherri-Our-Librarian, I was thrilled and knew exactly what I wanted to do.
This idea put into words would've sounded ludicrous and I was glad I didn't have to explain it to anyone in advance. Like, to an art director.
This cracks me up every time I look at it.
Less with more, I'm telling you, stick it in your brain. Figure out what you have an abundance of and go make something fabulous with it, or with them.
Elsewhere on this blog, there be dragons:
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
Commissioned work & public art:
No. Not that kind of mount -- although it would be fun to watch (and no, not that other kind of mount either, which is totally inappropriate here) -- I'm talking about installing artwork.
Last week, while my parents visited us in Alaska, we loaded the commissioned painting that's been finished and sitting in my studio since June -- just waiting for flood/fire/riot/acts of god/small children screaming past on yoga balls to ruin it before I could get it installed -- and drove north from Anchorage about an hour to Wasilla.
The Wasilla Public Library's grand opening is at the end of the month. Librarians are stacking shelves, carpenters are finessing details and this was the last piece of public art to be installed. We chose to wait since it hangs in a higher traffic area and we didn't want it to accidentally get dinged by tool belts/new shelves/book carts/children screaming past on yoga balls.
My dad wouldn't let go of the top of the painting while we were rolling it in and sometimes it's clear where I get my everything-that-can-go-wrong-probably-will-go-wrong-all-hopped-up-on-worry-prickly-sweat personality. It was great to spend that hour in the truck with my parents, despite all of us feeling nervous about moving the piece, installing it and hoping everyone would be happy after we drove away. We had some good chuckles about all the unicorns I used to draw when I was the same age as my children are now. Thank you Mom and Dad for keeping me sane that morning.
Thank you architect husband and trusted finishing carpenter friend for hashing out the details on the design and execution of the maple frame and panel, which was created as a complete unit before the painting even began. I removed the mdf panel to do the work, then reinserted it when complete. A double row of French cleats holds the piece flush to the wall. The frame is super clean, all biscuit joined with a 1/4 " reveal around the work -- basically a custom piece of furniture that happens to have a unicorn painted on it. Painting, schmainting. This frame is freaking gorgeous.
"Lost in a Book" hangs at the entrance to the library's childrens' section. It echoes the birch forest that surrounds the building and the materials used inside. It looks like it was made to hang on that wall.
(Because it was).
Below are more images from the children's area (note the Narnia lightpost in the courtyard outside, just waiting for the first snowfall). The librarians are all smiles and you would be too if you got to come to work in a space like this.
Lucky, lucky folks in Wasilla who deserve a lovely library. I'm honored to be a part of it and looking forward to the grand opening.
The Ribbon Cutting and Open House is on Thursday, September 22 from 2 - 6:30 pm if you're in the area -- all are welcome! A shout out to Cornerstone (general contractors) and ECI (architects).
I'm about to start working on a big dragon. More on that below.
More posts about children's book illustration and other illustration:
More posts about public art:
I used to be a painter.
At least this is how the thought sometimes rings in my head. In the same way I used to make wedding gowns, or used to live one place or another, used to have hair that was a lot less ... curly (?), used to not have to wear glasses to read street signs or recognize faces across the room, or how I used to have childhood walls plastered with unicorns.
Last year, the City of Wasilla, Alaska commissioned me to create a piece of artwork for installation in the children's section of their new library, slated for completion this June.
That initial conversation went something like this:
Me: "What sort of work do you have in mind? I work a lot with textiles."
Them: "No. No textiles."
Which is understandable. The perception of textiles in the realm of public art could easily go to a sooty, difficult-to-care-for place, populated with dust bunnies and light damage. And while a vacuum cleaner with a wand attachment will do a lot to vanquish at least some of those foes, when I saw the architectural drawings for the space and the wall they envisioned for the installation, it was clear this artwork would inevitably be touched -- loved on, even -- by small hands.
Them: "Our librarians are familiar with your children's books. We would like a painting."
Me: " ... "
Them: "... something 'filled with joy."'
I took this to mean they wanted a page from a story. I wanted this, too, as well as an image that reflected the library's wooded surroundings, the magic of childhood, my reverence for imagination and a deep love of reading and children's books.
I submitted a concept sketch, expecting some dialogue -- that back-and-forth dance I used to have with art directors -- but they accepted the proposed design and dimensions right away.
In February, I commissioned the construction of a biscuit-joined maple frame and a 40" x 40", 1/2"- thick MDF panel. The panel pops out of the frame so I can work on it, and is designed with pre-mounted French cleats, so none of this has to get fussed with after the the work is complete. The finished painting screws into the frame from the reverse through pre-drilled, counter-sunk holes -- super clean, super strong -- leaving a 1/4" reveal between the painting and frame. This is what happens when an architect husband and a trusted cabinet maker/finishing carpenter put their heads together to come up with a beautiful structural design and solve all those problems in advance. I have a huge issue with otherwise gorgeous artwork in a slapped-together frame, and in this case, the frame is the cradle for the finished product. It won't fall off the wall, and the edges of the work are protected from book cart bumps and dings.
I've found a lot of joy painting this piece. It still needs around 8-10 hours of shadow and highlight work plus several clear coats before framing (the color on-screen is a bit wacky because this shot was taken with my phone), but I've even had the luxury of taking a week off from it to pursue another project and allow it some breathing room. My husband confided he'll miss this one when it's gone. I've been staring at it on my studio wall, getting a little lost in its stories.
Part of that story is that I'm still a painter, and despite the darker subject matter I explore in other work, I can still conjure a bit of whimsy and have been so grateful for the opportunity to do so.
I'll post installation images when it's all finished.
To see this work installed:
More public art:
"Before paperbacks and pocket books, before blogs, there were broadsides.
Ten years ago, Elizabeth Bradfield -- writer, naturalist, published poet, fellow MFA companion (back in the day) and good friend (to this day) -- told me she was starting a special online project: Broadsided Press.
A bit like a literary magazine -- but collaborative and reliant on community effort for distribution and printing -- Broadsided Press would take submissions from poets, ask a group of artists to "dibs" on new poetry each month and create artwork that arose from the poems that spoke to them directly. These Broadsides would be printed and hung by "vectors" all over the world, and it was a new format for an old idea, and it was super exciting, and it would include interviews and translations and opportunities for special response features to world events, plus years "in haiku," and did I want to be a part of this?
I did. But what I was really focused on around that time was wading through an icky-pukey first trimester, so I was distracted and didn't really understand how large this project could potentially become. My son's name is "Pelle," in part because of the time Liz patted my belly and asked, "How's Pelagic Meissner?" I might have barfed right after that, but "Pelle" stuck. When he was born, "Carl" was absolutely the wrong name. Ahhh, good friends.
The Butterfly Farm is the latest Broadside I've had the pleasure of being a part of. The poem was written by New York writer, Nicole Callihan and spoke to me as a mother, woman and observer; I knew I had the perfect piece of artwork to accompany Nicole's writing.
Broadsided Press is going strong after a decade of successful collaboration. I've moved in and out as an artist, once even getting an email (okay, maybe twice getting this email) that said "Nudge, nudge your artwork is due," and I looked at my kids and said, "You guys need to entertain yourselves while I help my friend Liz."
Sometimes the artwork already existed:
But most of the time the poetry has spoken to me as an illustrator, warranting something brand new.
The first glimmers of my current direction with textiles happened within these Broadsides -- small opportunities to diversify and explore new materials. Initially, I'd wanted to incorporate textile use into children's book art, but this hasn't come about yet. My work is dark, and somehow the textiles tapped into an even darker place. I know there are dark children's books, I'm drawn to them, but I've been told a number of times by art directors that my particular darkness is a little too ... scary.
Clicking on any of these images will take you to Broadsided Press, where you can print out and distribute these Broadsides in your own haunts -- coffee shops, street corners, buses, bars -- you, too, could be a vector. For those of us who don't get out much, they also look pretty good on design walls.
I'm grateful for the opportunity Broadsided has given me to crack knuckles and stretch arms a bit. It's in this diversification -- format, materials, collaborative effort -- where I've discovered new ways to extend my voice and apply it to current work. If you have the chance to diversify within your art form, it will serve you well. I recommend it.
I also recommend the following:
Elizabeth Bradfield is an award-winning poet, writer, naturalist and publisher. Check out her blog, The Haul Out, which considers seals and other items ashore, mostly on Cape Cod. If I could give her an award for being an awesome person, I'd do that too. Also, I wish she could accompany our family on all our Alaskan boat outings because she can identify everything flora and fauna, and she's not a picky eater.
"Bradfield's poems guide us alertly into this treacherous territory pocked with political pitfalls and theoretical quagmires. One hardly notices the perils that abound because Bradfield is such a deft naturalist, with a keen eye."
—Jon Christensen, reviewing Interpretive Work in The San Francisco Chronicle
* * *
For even more diversification, a year ago I published this. A bit beachy, a bit writerly, a bit of insight as to how all things have a way of fitting together to make a life whole.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.