Monday, August 30, 2010

Forming, Coloring, and Applying Patinazation to my World

Apparently expanding one's repertoire IS healthy. Or so I was reminded after spending 3 days in a workshop with Helen Shirk, professor (now emeritus) of metals at San Diego State, famous for her large, vibrantly-colored floral forms. I'd been looking forward to the class for 6 months and thought I knew exactly what I wanted to get from the whole experience. I've followed Helen's work for years. Her use of Prismacolor pencils on copper creates incredible color and effect ( I have ALWAYS wanted to know how she does it, and I FINALLY had my chance!
While I came for the colored pencils, I stayed for the patinas. And the forming. And the color theory. And the discussions on being a working artist. Early into the first day, Helen had us raising bowls and other forms in copper, using hammers and leather instead of stakes and other forming tools. While aim was initially an issue, Helen's harem of hammers, many of which she made specifically for her needs, yielded a wide (and narrow) variety of lines. While the pointy tips couldn't give quite the same fine lines as a repouse tool might, the hammers were amazingly versatile, allowing us to tease unexpected details from flat copper sheet.
When Helen announced we were also going to learn to patina metal I thought, 'Okay, fine, been there, done that. Liver of sulfur - you dip metal in it, it turns black. It makes gold colors pop and covers boo-boos.' Then she took the class into the back yard of our studio and lit up a big butane plumber's torch. As it turned out gentle heat (below 212 F) and spray bottles of liver of sulfur, cupric nitrate, and ferric nitrate create some really cool colors. While liver goes black, ferric turns into lovely caramel brown colors and cupric yields amazing aquamarine blues.
Cupric nitrate
Used in combination, the precise pencils and the spray-on patinas add vivid color and texture to metal. Cupric nitrate, for example, becomes nubbly as it's layered. I chose to leave the roughness (instead of sanding it off) to juxtapose the super smooth shiny exterior of the piece, which was sandblasted and covered in Prismacolor pencil.
Prismacolor on the outside, cupric nitrate inside

I also entered into this workshop with the idea that I am a vibrant color kind of person who doesn't have enough understanding of drawing to create any sort of complexities of shading or tone. Fortunately, I also experimented with this piece:
Red and violets Prismacolor pencil outside, layers of
cupric and ferric nitrates inside
Detail of attempted shading

While it wasn't quite as smooth as I'd hoped, I was pleased to discover that layering a darker shade under my dominant color (in this case, red) would create a shadowy effect. In the end, the piece looked as though it had been covered in enamel and fired until slightly burned (a very Victorian motif).

The whole process sounds simple - cut a shape, form it, sand blast it, apply color, patina, apply more color, lacquer, enjoy, but, as it turned out, the possibilities were limitless. In the end I came away with pieces I was honestly satisfied with, having been able to give them dimension, color, texture - a real life of their own. While I probably won't run out and become a sculptor, my perception of what I can do with metal, and my sense of the possible, is broader now than it was before and that is what lets me grow as an artist and creator.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's on!

Today I was accepted to the Northwest Art Alliance Best of the Northwest show because I took initiative and called the organizers to introduce myself. This also follows closely on the heels of being accepted to a gallery in which several accomplished, well-known jewelry artists have their work. I got in because I walked in wearing one of my pieces. The owner wants 10 pieces to start. It may not seem like a big deal, but for me it represents a flying leap forward as an artist and as a person capable of chasing a dream.
I haven't done a show in nearly a year and a half. I haven't been in a gallery since 2004. I've been stagnating. But now I feel like I've burst into bloom, a desert plant after heavy rain. It's exhilarating, though an intimidating amount of work to pull off in a short time.
But this is what chasing my passion looks like - sudden opportunity and lots of hard work. For the last 2 years I have been thinking about all the things I need to do to finally launch my business in a serious way. Then, in the space of one short week, I found opportunities that require me to do it NOW. Perhaps this is an extension of my procrastinative nature, but I'm trying to see it instead as really having something to work for. Once more into the studio!

Friday, May 28, 2010

"I can't quite figure out what I just saw, but I want someone to give me a Happy Meal and tell me everything's okay," my boyfriend said after the curtains fell. The performance we'd just seen, Heaven, a collaboration between choreographer Morgan Thorsen and musical group Low, was the very definition of modern dance, replete with men in white dresses walking in slow circles around the stage while women in suits made from mattress pads ran back and forth at top speed, pausing occasionally to fling themselves to the ground.

I know that Heaven affected me, that what I saw moved me consciously and unconsciously. It also aroused in me a creative crisis. Everything was engaging -the movement (incorporating familiar yoga posses executed perfectly by dancers totally at ease with their bodies), the costumes (eerily clean, crisp, and white), the lighting (strobbing, pulsing, utterly disconcerting), sounds (amplified floor fans), and music (live chanting and spirituals). But did I GET it? Did I actually understand the performance? For that matter, did I even understand art at all?

As one who considers herself an artist, this question is troubling. I've had many of those Liberal Arts courses that aspired to teach symbolism, facilitated by professors who sought to help us tease out the deeper, hidden meanings of important works. I always did well in those classes, due more to my writing skills than to any original ideas. The last time I looked at a Rothko I didn't grasp a deep universal truth, but I was inspired to repaint my kitchen.

Perhaps this is really a manifestation of my own lack of confidence as an artist - I can't possibly succeed because I don't, in fact, "get it," this huge, massive, nebulous thing called "art." I can't access that higher plain of creativity required to break through and make truly awe-inspiring, revolutionary work. There are just some people who can distill ideas, concepts, statements into works of deep symbolism and profundity. And then there's me.

Here's where I pause to say I KNOW, on some level, that this thought process is ridiculous. It basically says that if I can't paint like Van Gough, I shouldn't try. If I can't be Alexander Calder, I shouldn't make jewelry. If I don't understand all the nuances of Heaven, I'm not a real artist.

So what to do? In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron stresses the importance of simply showing up. Don't question your creative endeavors, just do them. So I'm going to try to simply be with my art, not judge, to not worry if what I'm doing is deeply symbolic or just looks pretty, to switch from, "Do I get it?" to "I'm going to do it."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Now what?

Hmmm...April 2010. Has it really been this long since I put fingers to keyboard and posted to my blog? Guess so...

My new series of work, the first I've actually completed in 5 years, is now sitting on the dinning table. The pieces are as pristine as they will ever be, in the stage of life before they are purchased, worn, worn. They have been in this unblemished state for 2 weeks; I cannot for the life of me think of what comes next.

As one who struggles constantly with creative confidence (or lack there of), the act of finishing an entire body of work is nothing short of wrenching - a labor of exhausting uncertainty that now leaves me with 6 new creations. And I just can't stop looking at them. I just can't believe these the pieces came from me, and I have no idea what their futures will hold.

I could take my chances at a regional art fair, selling them to the first taker willing to pay my asking price. Or I could put more time and more money into them with professional photographs and try to hit the beauty pageant circuit of galleries, exhibitions, and publications. Or I could keep them all for myself and protect them from the world.

It just seems like such an overwhelming dilemma, this next step, so I think I'll just sit at the dinning table for a little longer...