Monday, October 16, 2017

January Workshop: Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker

Sunday, January 28 at the San Francisco Center for the Book, from 10am to 4pm, I will be teaching a six-hour workshop, "Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker." I hope you will be in town to join us!

In 2012, I taught a six-week course, "Writing and the Creative Process," at JFK University. It featured a series of guided explorations linking writing to a hands-on, physical process and incorporated the use of art materials. In this workshop, we will sample many of those exercises and projects as well as new ones I've successfully taught in my bookmaking classes at CCA and during my guest semester at Cal State East Bay. We start by sewing a Zen or grunge notebook. (Instructions are here for those who cannot be at the workshop. Variations of some of the explorations may be found in the Creative Arts Process Cards.)

Course Description
Have you always wanted to write but were unsure how to begin? Interested in including words in your visual work? This gentle workshop will shine light on how words can be used like other art media to describe an object, to capture a mood, to tell a story, and to transform how we see the world. We will first make a Zen or grunge notebook, then move through a series of guided writing explorations to loosen up. Through examples we will also look at short forms of writing that lend themselves well to book art. Students will emerge with their notebook full of visual approaches, ideas, tips, tricks, and several short pieces that have the potential to kickstart a writing practice, to inspire a book project, or to be just for fun. Beginners warmly welcome. $130 (materials included).







Friday, October 13, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Where Is My Passport?

I am not sure where these quilts are coming from, but I am really happy working larger. and being able to write, sew, embroider, use color, and make use of my photographs. I'm starting to see quilts everywhere. I went back to look at Kenneth Patchen's painted poems in What Shall We Do Without Us? (2011 blog post here), wondering how they might become quilts. I see paintings in the museums and think of them on a grid and how they might be interpreted in fabric. How long this way of thinking will last, I do not know, but I am finding a little corner of  joy despite the floods, fires, and wrong thinkers in charge create social and economic chaos and distress. It isn't easy.

In a recent dream, I am trying to explain that the concept originates from your head, but the content should spring from your heart. A question I ask myself (and which I asked myself here) after thinking, wouldn't this be (neat, cool, interesting, curious—insert adjective here), is what does this mean to me/what emotions does it conjure and what do I want to communicate to others?

This quilt began with thoughts about immigrants and immigration. I took out my expired passport and scanned the patterns inside with the visa stamps, using the photos for the background pattern, which I then created on cotton cloth with Solarfast dyes. I remembered taking a photo of some graffiti on a door in New York City that said "Where Is My Passport?"  so I dyed that image, too. I carved a fictitious visa stamp from a linoleum block. I letterpress printed "Where Is My Passport?" and "Arrival/Departure" in wood type. With the piecing I included some jeans pocket pieces I had leftover from other quilts; sometimes we hold passports in our pants pockets. For texture I quilted faces all over, all connected with one machine stitched threadline, as we are all connected somehow. But the text content had to come from something I knew. Immigration suggests choice or the lack of choice. Some of us have choices whether we wish to leave or stay, travel or flee. This also relates to the idea of family and whom you choose (partner, children) versus whom you don't choose to be in it. Those concepts became the basis for the poem I embroidered on the quilt. So many layers. It felt natural to me.



You can see a larger image on my website
Some details:





Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Centering with Textures and Words: Martin Wong's Paintings

In her book, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, M.C. Richards writes "The experience of centering was one I  particularly sought because I thought of myself as dispersed, interested in too many things" (20-21). She writes how she wished to just focus on one thing like other people she knew. After becoming disillusioned with academia, she turned to pottery, but she never stopped writing. She learned to finally accept herself, that it was okay if she did more than one thing.

Centering is an interesting concept. Imagine the clay on the wheel as ourselves, spinning. We reach out toward the new, then bring it back in toward the familiar. Gather, then evaluate. Learn, then synthesize. Each willingness to reach out and learn brings new potential for the art and writing practices we already have. The new knowledge doesn't overwrite or erase; it enhances, enriches, deepens, and shapes. We grow.

Martin Wong's work at Berkeley Art Museum,  with a catalogue of the same name: Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is an exhibition that keeps centering itself. It reaches out to American finger spelling and graphics, urban textures and human isolation, his experience and interests as a gay man, as someone of Chinese heritage, and as an artist immersed in the world around him. Then it brings it all back together, synthesized. Not all of these interests are present in every work, but you can see both the outward looking and inward looking spirit in every piece. He began as someone who liked to draw, who drew people as "The Human Instamatic," and he studied ceramics in college. He designed sets and installations. But as the video of his life shows, he once wrote to Santa asking for an oil paint set "with no lines or numbers," so it is clear he always wanted to paint as well. The paintings in the exhibition are in both oils and acrylics. There is no hierarchy of oil over acrylic for him. Each medium fulfills its function.

The wall text history says that in 1978, he began his new life in New York City as a night porter and felt isolated as if he were deaf and mute. This overwhelming feeling led him to incorporate finger spelling into his work. The merging of words as signs of the hand in a visual work is something I hadn't seen before. It's quite distinctive.



This work includes lettering and textures with urban surfaces: brick, wood, metal, and people. He created many paintings with brick-like surfaces.
Exile--This Night Without Seeing Her Passes Like an Eternity, 1987-88
acrylic on canvas

Text, lettering, books, and the writing in the sky: constellations.
Orion, 1984


Text, finger spelling, urban textures
Lower East Side Valentine, 1983
oil on canvas

Signage, portrait of his parents, urban textures
Chinese Laundry--Portrait of the Artist's Parents, 1984
acrylic on canvas

Books, lettering, bricks, urban textures
Voices, 1981
acrylic on canvas


Wong was not imprisoned, himself, but he had friends who had been.
He was interested in the experience, and was able to create emotionally moving paintings from the stories he gathered.
Cell Door Slot, 1986
acrylic on canvas

an early work, with finger spelling as the sole imagery
Silence, 1982
acrylic on canvas

it reads:
Silence
of a lost embrace
W(h)lispers
of another place
Dronings
of an afternoon
Sunlight
of an empty room

One of the earliest in the exhibition: lettering as texture
Left: Meeting of the Bored of Education, 1971
ink on vellum

R above and detail: Untitled (The Stone Steps Fall), 1967
ink on vellum

M.C. Richards also writes, "One does not decide between craft and art, pottery and sculpture, tradition and the individual talent. One is in a perpetual dialogue and performs the act one performs" (23). "Perpetual dialogue" is the perfect phrase for creative practice. Our curiosity keeps us constantly in motion, looking, sensing, trying on new approaches. We adjust to fit, alter to make useful to us.

Martin Wong's "perpetual dialogue" shines through in this exhibition as a wonderful example. Through the works you experience the repeated journeys of reaching out, gathering, and returning to weave the new threads back into the artist's nest, incorporating them, and making them his own.


The exhibition is on view at Berkeley Art Museum until December 10, 2017.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Autumn Sunset on the Ospreys

When we think of Fall, the word brings with it various associations: some obvious, some not so much. California urban dwellers, of which I am one, tend to see Fall marked more by stores and businesses and schools rather than by nature. But we do have trees that lose their leaves! My Japanese Maple, for one. The sycamores down the street, for another. But we don't have the skeletal silhouette skyline of, say, New York or Boston. We do have "pumpkin spice" flavored everything, which is almost always spice and not pumpkin. And weird cottony stuff people put on bushes to look like spiderwebs. We do have spiders that spin broad webs in Fall, too, though. Our hottest weather is in Fall. Every year I would make a Halloween costume for my daughter out of fleece, thinking it would be cold by the end of October, and every year I was wrong.

What has been less obvious to me are bird migration patterns. I've been aware of the Black Phoebes that are sometimes here, sometimes not. I've seen sparrows, hummingbirds, chickadees, house finches, American robbins in Winter. Our crows are year round these days. 

But I've started watching birds more carefully since I became intrigued and then addicted to watching the osprey nest camera, posted by the Golden Gate Audubon Society last March. I began my viewing in May, wanting to see the eggs hatch. Apparently there were three eggs, but I came late to the party, and there were only two. I wrote a post in June, "Stories that Fly and the Osprey Web Cam." Since that time, sadly, one of the chicks fledged, was injured, was rescued out of the bay, went to WildCare for treatment, but then did not make it. That story is here. There are some great videos of dramatic little stories of the family (Richmond, Rosie, Whirley, and Rivet) here. You can watch the chicks hatch as well as see Richmond bringing a hat to the nest.

And then, it was the Autumnal Equinox, and there was just one. We believe that Richmond hangs out at Brooks Island or the spit connected to it, the channel markers, and on the dolphin (a platform in the bay, not an animal) out there. Rivet was last seen mid-August, Rosie, mid-September. Juveniles and adult females migrate south. Why migrate? After watching the ospreys bring fish after fish to the nest it is clear that there are plenty of fish in the bay. The weather is pretty temperate. But that is how it is. If you ever see an osprey with a little blue anklet that says R/Z, it is Rivet.

Watching birds leave the nest, well, that's a bit melancholy, but exciting, too. New adventures ahead. And a few osprey-inspired projects in mind. Stay tuned.

The Live Chat will be turned off shortly. But the camera remains on for a look at some beautiful sunsets over San Francisco and Marin County, and occasional glimpses of an osprey far away. All images below are screenshots from GGAS webcam.

The ospreys don't use the nest other than for raising a family, and the nest has been in use since 2012 (I think), so we'll find out if Richmond and Rosie (or others?) are back for a reprise next March, 2018. The whole life cycle, in detail, Reality Show with Ospreys. It's a great one.

Rosie with Whirley and Rivet
6.5.17

Rosie feeding Whirley morsels of striped bass
6.8.17

Whirley and Rivet
6.18.17

Rosie in mid-air

Whirley's first flight
7.3.17

Rivet flying with partial fish that parents brought her
8.8.17

Rivet on the nest
8.13.17?

Rivet on the nest, mantling
8.16.17

Richmond with flapping fish

Rosie and Richmond on the Red Oak Victory ship rigging.
One of their last evenings together (we think)
9.16.17

sunset over the bay looking toward Marin county
9.24.17

Autumn migration
New birds will be arriving
I must go find them


Monday, September 25, 2017

Instructions: Using SolarFast Dyes

Having painted paper since 1995 or so and enjoyed cutting it up and making books out of it, dying cloth to use in a larger work feels familiar. In college, I used to go to the seconds store and get cotton clothing in odd colors, then dye it to something wearable, so working with dye is also familiar. For fear of sounding like an ad, the Jacquard SolarFast dyes are non-toxic, really fun and quite simple to use. They took some trial and error, but not too much. I'm always looking for ways to streamline a process, so happy to share it with you. 

You'll need to print out some high contrast, black and white negatives, or you can place objects on the fabric for a solar print. Doubling the transparencies increases the contrast. When I used a single transparency, I got a two-tone print, which is nice if you want texture, but not clarity.


I first create a temporary shelter inside so I can work in shadow and not expose the light-sensitive dye too soon. It's fine to do this indoors in the daytime. Paper plate, old brush, cotton cloth, gloves, vinyl tablecloth. This is the brown dye.

Pour out about a Tablespoon or two of dye for a 9" x 12" piece of cloth. You can always add more, but don't pour out more than you can use in the next few minutes. Start painting it onto the fabric. You can tape a border to mask it if you want a clean edge.

Cover the entire cloth. It's still pretty light. (Yours won't be so blurry.)

Place your doubled transparency on top of the wet cloth (I did it toner up/smooth side down so I could clean the back later). I printed out both negatives and positives onto transparencies. To get a crisp print, print out two of the same, align them, and tape them together to make a rich black to block out the sunlight. This is one case where a double negative isn't not acceptable. ;

Pin the transparencies and cloth to a piece of cardboard.
Place in direct sunlight.

This is after 15 minutes in upper 70s F weather. Do these on a bright, sunny day if you can. I like to make sure the cloth dries before removing it from the board. In August, between 11:30am and 4pm left me enough light. Exposure time is 10 to 20 minutes. I like to let it go 20 minutes unless it is a very hot day.

Peel off the negatives. What you see is pretty close to what you'll get.

The dye leaves some residue on the transparencies, which can be cleaned off right away by spraying it with water and wiping with a paper towel. If you've left it there awhile, try soap and water. If you want to reuse the transparencies multiple times, make sure you remove as much residue as possible because it will eventually interfere and degrade the printed image (unless this is the effect you want).

Prepare a little bath. I found a large food storage container was perfect for the basin. Fill it with hot water. For this amount, you need about 1/2 teaspoon of the SolarFast Wash or Synthropol (these are heavy duty detergents to lift off excess dye). For good measure I added about 1/2 teaspoon of soda ash (a fix agent).

Place the cloth in the hot water and agitate it for ten minutes by moving it around, squeezing gently, etc. I found that even with two different colors, they did not bleed onto each other.


Rinse the cloth thoroughly, wring it out, and lay it flat to dry. Easy to iron later, but does not require ironing to set.


Regarding the colors described by the manufacturer: they don't really match their descriptions, as other reviewers have noted, so here's the rundown of colors I've tried and how they revealed themselves to me. Brown, blue, and purple are the only colors I found to be true to their names.

Brown: chocolate or dark wood color with slight oatmeal tint to the white parts.
Sepia (not brown): tawny lion tan with yellow tint to the white parts
Avocado (not dark olive!): bight greenish yellow with yellow tint to white parts
Black (not black): midnight blue with grayish tint to white parts
Teal: green blue with greenish tint to white parts
Red (not fire engine red): pink with light pinkish tint to the white parts
Burnt Orange (not pumpkin orange): dark salmon with light salmon tint to the white parts
Blue: pure dark blue, close to what you would expect from a cyanotype, slight lighter blue tint to the white parts
Purple: deep grape purple, slight lighter blue to tint to the white parts

I found that mixing the red and the supposed black make a more convincing black. So mixing may be the way to get the colors you want. All supplies are available through the wonderful Dharma Trading Company in San Rafael, CA.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Hand Gun

If you had asked me to make something about guns a couple of months ago I would have shaken my head. Not my thing. I don't feel comfortable using them as imagery in my work. I began writing tiny stories for one of my favorite little magazines, Blink-Ink; but even though the theme was "Outlaws," my submissions had no guns. (My story, "Right of Way," was published; it has cows in it, instead.) Another call for entries got me thinking. How could I work with this subject matter? After taking an experimental fiction class in grad school, I found that I can learn a lot when I pursue subjects that make me feel uncomfortable. How could I pursue this one? Gradually, I remembered stories people told me about personal experiences with guns. I thought about good and bad and how you might begin a conversation. I began this art quilt: Hand Gun. The repeating visuals, like theme and variations, reference Wallace Berman's 1960s Verifax Collages, particularly those that contain a hand holding a transistor radio. Some of those collages contain guns, too.

The imagery was created using hand-dyed solar prints from a photograph of my hand, three fingers curled. The text was embroidered freehand and is the quilting technique. I letterpress printed wood type with the words: I GOT THIS / GOT YOU / IS IT / NEWS / GAME / REAL.


What really launches a project for me? I must remember, it isn't hard: the stories.



detail:


Hand Gun

she told me she got scared at a bad sound and shot through the window glass. the police told her this was dangerous.

during westerns they pointed toy guns at the tv and shot at the bad guys.

he told me his bad sister shot their good mother.

*


A larger image may be found here.
I've started a new page on my website to collect all the Art Quilts/Open Books.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Rethinking Submission Fees

Artists' books have undergone a change in the thirty years I've been involved in the community. They used to be inexpensive; book artists could afford each other's books. Once they moved to the gallery setting and became more visual and less literary, the prices went up to gallery prices, affordable only to the wealthy. We priced our best and most enthusiastic audience out of the market. Understandably, this was the only way galleries who sold artists books could stay in business. And it keeps the book arts field alive. The unintentional response to that, related or not, has been the proliferation of zines and inexpensive publications, which turns the focus back to reading, and is affordable to everyone. I've found that my artwork falls somewhere in between categories.

As an artist and writer, I want a conduit for my work. I can't stop making it, and I need room to make more. That means I need an outlet, which traditionally was a gallery, exhibition, or publication. Now it can be selling online. Or giving it away. The writing wants readers, otherwise whom is it for? But more and more calls for entry are asking for submission fees. Some are minimal, to weed out those who are not serious. Others are quite high, perhaps for the same reason. For whatever reason, I've been finding fewer and fewer opportunities that do not charge a fee.


I always felt that when artists and writers submit work to exhibitions and publications that they should not have to pay an entry or submission fee. (I touched on this in a previous 2014 post, "Thinking about Submission Fees.") Contests usually require a fee, which pays for the awards. But if you are not accepted, you are paying for something for which you get nothing. It seemed to me it was the responsibility of the magazine or organization to secure funding before embarking on the product. Artists make so little money as it is, I felt asking for fees when there was no guarantee of acceptance wasn't right. (I still won't do it for the magazine I produce.)


A step above paying entry fees is the requirement that if you are accepted you will have to pay (shipping, or catalogue, or print magazine copies). That makes a little more sense since your fee directly supports you. The ideal situation, one that supports an artist's dignity and self-worth, is: no fee, publications free of charge, and getting paid for your work. But in our society, this is rare, except for those who are already successful.


I'm rethinking the concept of submission fees again. Recently, I joined SAQA, an organization that is an empire of opportunities. It takes money to keep it running. The calls for entry are limited to members, but in addition, the members have to pay an entry fee to submit. The venues are good, and the judges are notable. So, I'm coming around to a new opinion. I'm thinking about entry fees now as supporting communities and organizations, which in turn support artists and writers. If I can afford the fees, why not contribute?


Within book arts, we've now established that we can be paid from outside of the community, which is an accomplishment; it fits my initial desire for organizations to secure funding from outside its members. But it limits what will be shown to what can be sold, which in turn influences taste and the field in general. While art is good for the soul of society, art is also a commodity.

But art has no limits. What happens to good art and writing that can be appreciated, that can touch people, but is not salable?

This is where the magazines and organizations come in. No one who starts a literary magazine expects to make money doing so. No one who starts a member organization does so to get rich. They do so because they love the medium, the interactions, the exchange of knowledge, the sharing of work, and the people involved. Organizations want members, and this by nature can also make them more inclusive. 

I enjoy the arts. I thrive on different kinds of opportunities. I've decided to pay entry fees this year and see how it goes. I know how subjective the judging can be, and that just trying one or two times won't be a good indicator of success. I'll go all in this year. But instead of being irritated or upset if my work is declined, I will accept that my fees are supporting a community, opportunities, and the promotion of the arts. And the soul.


View of San Francisco at Sunset 9.14.17: screen capture from the sfbayospreys,org web camera

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Star 82 Review 5.3 is LIVE!

The newest issue of Star 82 Review, the online and print art and literary magazine I produce and edit, has been released. An intriguing mix of art and writing that relates to intersections and crossroads and choices not yet made as well as the comforts we seek from images. I try to choose work that sparks a new thought or confirms a feeling, transforms a situation, and gives us a new view in bite-sized forms. This issue contains an image of an urban art quilt by Jette Clover, and paintings by Carole Jeung,  among other wonderful works. Thanks, as usual, to all the contributors; there is no magazine without you!

Online: http://star82review.com/5.3/contents.html
Print: https://www.createspace.com/7465291
Keep up with the news on Facebook.
Submission guidelines: http://star82review.com/submissions.html

Contributors to 5.3
Stephen Barber
Rebecca Brill
Natasha Burge
Simona Carini
Jette Clover
William C. Crawford
Lanny Durbin
Jennifer Fliss
Dorian Fox
Phil Gallos
Ann Marie Gamble
Joe Hess
Colette Love Hilliard
Carole Jeung
Richard Jones
Rebecca Landau
Claire S. Lee
Erin Leigh
Erica Lemley
Ray Malone
Nate Maxson
Mary McBeth
Pamela Miller
Claudine Nash
M. Rather, Jr.
Ricky Ray
Hannah Silvers
Tanya Singh
Rodd Whelpley

Roy White


Sunday, August 27, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Seraph

In January, 2017, I had been thinking I might do a book, a kind of typographer's pun, called Sans Seraph: without angel. The project turned out to be an art quilt, which I like better: you could wrap yourself in it like wings or a prayer shawl. 



My journal notes: "a seraph is an angel with three wings—no, three PAIRS of wings. What would you do with six wings?" Apparently, in addition to the wings on their backs, the other two pairs of seraphs' wings cover their faces and their feet. Seraphs appear in the Bible, and they voice an important part of a Jewish prayer that begins, "Holy, holy, holy." I began drawing my own versions of seraphs, based on a variety of butterflies, and made them into photopolymer plates.




I put the idea on hold until March, when I did a little writing for a linoleum block, a contribution to someone else's project.



I printed the seraphim (plural of seraph) on cotton cloth, and printed words in wood type. I pieced the quilt in June, then I let it rest until mid-August, when I solidified the longer text and began quilting. The design of the quilting, which seems to flow randomly, is based on the word holy in Hebrew handwritten text: Kadosh (circled in this photo in pink).



My thought was that holiness doesn't have to tie to a deity or religion. A cousin of mindfulness, holiness can be the spiritual in daily tasks. This paying attention, this reminder that nature is greater than ourselves, can ground us, humble us, perhaps slow us down and grant us a generosity toward others, so lacking these days.

I finished the binding on August 26. Sometimes a project needs a lot of breathing room. More deep breaths.

You can find larger images now on a new Art Quilts:Open Books page on my website.

I'm amassing a pile of textiles on the couch in my office. What to do? After a little online research I joined SAQA: Studio Art Quilt Associates. I was particularly drawn to the work of Jette Clover and will feature her quilts in Star 82 Review this year. SAQA has many calls for entries through the organization. I already have several ideas. Perhaps there is another outlet for what I'm doing, after all.