Category Archives: Featured

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Nudity In Art

Nudity: Good Or Bad?

When we were creating Ululating Undulating Ungulate, we had to come up with our policy on nudity in art; not being big into censorship, and creating a site for adults, we opted to include nudity.

Deciding what is art, or, perhaps more accurately, what are “good nudes vs. bad nudes” is highly subjective — but an important issue for all to consider.

Along with the issues raised in that article, does age of the work matter? Does it’s placement in a museum or other accreditation matter?

Image Credits: haunted by ~dysny.

Metallic Fashion Forward

The cover, and other pages, which graced the Coilhouse, issue 03, are from of a series called Avatars photographed by Gustavo Lopez Mañas, featuring the wearable metal work of Manuel Albarran.

A stunning collaboration, these photos; but today I’m all about Manuel Albarran’s works.

Called “Metal Couture” by some, but described by the artist as “Heavy Couture,” it might prompt the knee-jerk response of dubbing his work “Heavy Metal Couture” — but full or partial metal jackets aside, I first fell in love with the artist’s work from this photo (via) in which the metal piece on the face is more reminiscent of some quack medical device — or something from a future society. Steampunk-esque. The fact that the model’s hair is coiled like brains only further emphasizes the look.

In a November 2010 interview with Dazed, the artist said he’d most like to collaborate with Guillermo Del Toro and Ridley Scott. Which makes sense as Manuel Albarran’s main goals are to use his fashion work to further not only his art exhibitions but his film projects.

More images here.

Doodle Week Challenge: Doodle Away Your Bad Dreams!

I don’t usually post the Doodle Weeks; and, like too many of you, I am a sad participating in them as well. (Shame on all of us!) But, as coincidence (or my weird psyche) would have it, I had a bad dream last night — so bad I had to blog about it at my nearly dead dream blog. And the rule at that blog, such as it is, is that I’m to sketch or doodle a little part of the dream or otherwise illustrate the post. (Perhaps this is where my self-direct art therapy comes into play; why this art moves me so and maybe even why I was prompted forced to have such a strong dream, one strong enough to force me to post and therefore doodle.) So anyway, I had to draw a basset hound.

Amazing facts about the doggie doodles: One, they are done in pen! Amazing feat for anxious me. Two, the first one, posted at the dream blog, is the one I like best.

Perhaps these were so easy today because I needed this art therapy so badly; it was easy to bark away the bad spell. Or, perhaps they were easy because I used to doodle dogs all the time. Some sort of muscle-memory thing. As a kid (what we’d call a “tween” today), I used to doodle dogs like this:

In any case, I do seem to have shaken the worst of the after affects of the nightmare.

In fact, I feel rather light and — dare I say it! — joyful.

So, kiddos, I challenge you to doodle your bad dreams away.  Doodle something little that cheers you up.  It could be a dog, something you once doodled as a kid, or whatever pops into your head.

When you doodle, be sure to share it with us as part of Doodle Week.  (Come back here and leave a comment, a link to where we can find it!)  You can share your doodle, share your thoughts on the doodle exercise — both!  I look forward to seeing and hearing how the doodle drawing works for you!

Talking Photography With Alexander S. Kunz

After enjoying the landscapes and nature portraits by Alexander S. Kunz, I wanted to talk about photography with him; the self-taught artist graciously agreed.

Photography — in it’s original concept, anyway — was the means by which to capture a precise moment in time, the way a person, place, or object was. But your works capture something less literal and more ethereal, more emotive and fanciful than a documentation. Before we get to the philosophy, let’s address the issue of “how”… The photos are taken with digital cameras, but are they digitally manipulated or “photoshopped” as well?

Yes, my photos are definitely digitally manipulated. I’m using only raw data – and I process it only in Lightroom. That’s the short answer. But it’s not easy to keep that apart from philosophy. 😉

Forgive me if I get a bit techno-philosophical right away: in my opinion, every photo is “manipulated” somehow. There is no such thing as a “pure” and truthful depiction of reality in general (no matter if it’s film or digital). Reality is simply very different from that what we can and will capture on a photo.

Without getting into too much detail, and oversimplified: the digital sensor records nothing but luminance (and then color through a filter array), and my personal take is: everything that comes after that is part of the manipulation already. Even contrast, saturation, sharpness, color hue are just parameters of that manipulation (different films are different in that regard too). The only fix point in the world of digital photography is the light that the sensor captured. So why should I bother to NOT manipulate anything else if it’s in favor of my perception and what I want to convey with an image? It’s a mindset that frees me from being bound by the “realistic” and documentary approach to photography.

The term “photoshopped” often implies cheating. My alterations are limited to, for example, removing small unwanted elements in the frame, like a piece of paper in the grass of an otherwise unspoiled scenery, or the tip of a twig, a power pole sticking into the frame somewhere. That might be cheating to some of course. And I manipulate color, contrast, light and dark without shame. 🙂 And needless to say, it also includes creating the balance between that what our human eye can see, and that what the sensor is able to capture.

What’s your photographic or artistic philosophy? How would you describe the process of developing the photographic technique to match your philosophic vision of photography?

My philosophy: I want to show beauty, and I picked landscapes and nature because I love being outdoors, I love hiking, walks at the beach, forests and deserts all alike. The beauty that I look for is often found in “small scenes”.

And while I always liked making photos, using film and polaroids or my first digital compact camera was… too static. I felt like not being in control. Having grown up as part of the “generation C64” (one of the first widely spread home computers), and also being something like a computer freak ever since, the marriage of photography with the digital darkroom on the computer was probably the best thing that could happen to me. I’m a digital child.

I quite often find myself looking at some beautiful scenery and making a photo of it, but at home I find that it just doesn’t transport the entire beauty and emotion that I had seen and experienced when I released the shutter (and I also think that’s something that happens to almost everyone). And it can’t – it’s just a photo! A 2D snapshot of a very very short moment in time that lacks the sense of movement, depth, smell, sound… I find that what the camera captures often needs to be refined, increased, idealized, reduced, distilled… to the essence of what actually made me lift the camera and release the shutter.

So, to conclude… it’s this technology that makes my photography possible, and that what my camera captures is the starting point. Sometimes, it’s a long way from there to the final image and requires and includes heavy manipulation, sometimes it’s a light path with just some touches here and there.

“Creating the balance between that what our human eye can see, and that what the sensor is able to capture” is an interesting statement… I want to say something very clever about Le Petite Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupéry — about how “The essential things in life are seen not with the eyes, but with the heart.” How do you feel about using the “cold” sensor of photographic equipment to move the human heart and emotion?

I find the attribution of “cold” a bit odd. The camera with that sensor is just a tool. Like a chisel, or a brush. Using “technologic devices” to create something that (hopefully) stirs the beholders heart and creates an emotion is common in many art forms, isn’t it? But we have this tendency to refuse anything that is new or modern it’s acceptance at first. Our grandparents didn’t like music made with electric guitars, it was “only noise”, and so on… 😉

As long as it works, it doesn’t matter what that tool is, or how old or new the technology is that we’re using when we create something. (but needless to say, “seeing with the heart” and the wish to capture that what you love with a photo is what makes any passionate photographer get the camera out and make a photo first place.)

What prompted me to contact you was this image, Ask The Mountains:


I continue to be amazed by the crisp nearly pristine quality — something, which when coupled with the cool color tone, I normally would regard as “mechanical” and “cold” — how it moves me in a very good, elated, way. …I guess there’s no real question there. *wink* What were you trying to create with that image?

I wanted to create something that was “more than just another layers” photo. My question to you would be: why does it move you?

I can tell you why it moves me: I’ve been there, and I had this feeling of wide, open spaces, I understood the history and the (in human terms) “infinity” of these mountains, of nature in general; the promise that the world is big and has something new for us every day, the temptation of the unknown and the longing and the thrill of exploration, to find out what these ridges and mountains are, hear their call, go there…

And well… it can serve as an illustration to what I said regarding my philosophy: if you take all that what I felt away, you’d end up with the hazy and somewhat dull original scene that my camera captured. That’s why I bumped up the contrast and the blue saturation so much. I wanted it to look “over the top”, it had to “pop” just that much to give me back that feeling. And hopefully transport some of it to others as well.

Back in the days of film photography, photographers would joke (or ruefully muse upon) the number of shots or even rolls of film they took, wasted, before they took the “good one.” Do you think that’s still true in digital photography? (Minus the rolls of film, of course lol) How many photos do you think you take, even manipulate, before you have “the good one”?

To answer your first question: I think that it’s even WORSE with digital photography. Being freed from the “every click costs” thinking with using film, one tends to simply make more photos. That includes me. 🙂 We’re not wasting rolls of film, we’re wasting shutter actuations. That’s not a bad thing, but culling has become the most important thing for the digital photographer. Very very rigid and extensive culling. (wishful thinking here *grin*)

And to the second question: That’s really hard to answer. If I’m really hard on myself, maybe it’s 1 “long term portfolio quality” photo for 1000 shots taken. I’m happy if I can find 10 really really great photos for my personal selection of a year’s top 10.

A little background. Let’s say I’ve been on a hike for a day and I come home with… 100 photos? Only some 30 of them might actually be different enough to keep them apart – the rest is experiments with different exposures, depth of field, compositions. (It’s the luxury and curse of digital photography. A curse because it’s a lot of material that one SHOULD get rid of and delete pretty soon. The problem is: we’re not doing it.) Of the 30 individual photos, maybe 10 are keepers (for whatever reason). Sometimes, one of them might be “the good one”, portfolio quality. Maybe long-term portfolio quality, ie. it will still stand out in a year or two. Only time will tell that.

Certainly digital photography is much less expensive than film and print photography, and it’s far more instantly gratifying — just slip in the memory card, and voila! No waiting to develop prints. But still many would-be photographers hesitate to begin… What advice or tips do you have for those folks?

Do whatever you’re comfortable with. The hords of tech-gurus that preach things like “if you really want to learn how to use your camera, use the fully manual mode” or “if you want to get the maximum out of your photos, use raw data” might be right, but from a beginner’s point of view, it’s just not the most important thing. If someone decides to get a camera, it should be FUN to use and operate it. Shooting JPEGs in full-auto mode is just fine. The feeling that it might be limiting will come all by itself sooner or later for those who pick up the photography virus. 🙂

I learned a lot about the tech-side of photography solely through the internet and with the information that is available there for FREE. That’s awesome!

But I wouldn’t really trust “the internet” (photo forums or platforms) to get good advice and learn about (more than the basics of) design and composition though. I bought books for that. The average internet crowd might know little about photographic design, style and composition, and still put “nice composition!” as a comment to your photo. Or self-proclaimed “experts” criticize your photo while the only thing they ever heard about somewhere somehow was the rule of thirds (and then no one everrrr is allowed to break it!). It’s annoying to say the least, not very helpful quite often, or even dangerous if you really want to grow as an artist.

I’d like to thank Alex for making the time for the interview and invite you all to keep up with him at his blog.

Review: The Painted Backdrop: Behind the Sitter in American Tintype Photograph

The Painted Backdrop By Jim Linderman

Have you ever thought about the painted backgrounds in antique and vintage photographs?

No?

Well, you aren’t alone.

Until I read The Painted Backdrop: Behind the Sitter in American Tintype Photography, by Jim Linderman (with an essay by Kate Bloomquist), I hadn’t either.

In fact, the story of and between 19th century painters and American photography really has never been told — or, I should say, “hasn’t been explored” until Linderman came along and looked into it via his collection of antique tintype photographs.

Considering virtually every one of the millions upon millions of tintype photographs taken indoors from 1850 to 1920, (and a good number of the few taken outside) had a painted backdrop, it is remarkable  no one has ever written a book about them. This is even more remarkable given the importance of the background in motion pictures today. As entire films are produced by computer, the role of the actor has been reduced to standing before an empty screen mouthing words only later to be placed in a digital backdrop which never existed and never will. In a way, the early painted drops used by primitive tintype photographers of the late 19th century an unreal environment in a prescient manner; the thread connecting them to big-screen computer generated hyper-worlds is real but seldom considered.

He even dares to ask the question, “Could this be because photographers, even then, were so determined to prove THEY were doing the art and not the painter they relegated to the background?”

Antique Tintype Backdrop Being Painted

The author / collector states: “This is an art book about painting and photography (or vice-versa) and how they met in a certain time and place.”   Ever since the camera arrived, the debate about the merits of photography as an art form has raged (admittedly Ansel Adams helped sway a lot of people that it is), and this book and its 75 antique tintype images certainly is part of that debate. It also raises the question about whether or not the painted backdrops used behind the people in the photographs are art, folk art, or ephemera from the photographic industry.  But  it’s that last part, “how they met in a certain time and place,” which really gets to the core of things, the thrilling things, for me.  That’s where we get to the historical cultural contexts.

The book gives a brief historical overview of photography set in the context of culture, art and commerce. There’s a near ode to daguerreotypes and a rather sneering look at ambrotypes before we settle in to accept the (lowly fragile) tintypes as having won the hearts of the masses. While tintypes lack the gleam of their forerunners, the thin tintype’s popularity mirrors how the West was won: Easy, inexpensive, mobility.  The ease of mailing tintypes not only aligns with the power of rail road transportation, but in fact, photo studios sprung up near or at nearly every train station.

Two Antique Tintypes With Same Painted Backdrops

However, Linderman doesn’t end his considerations of the development of photography there; his (rather opinionated) narrative briefly covers paper prints, the Polaroid, and digital photos too. If you find the author judgmental, he is. But his thoughts are historically and culturally sane; and when it comes to art, we all have our preferences — or at least we ought to.

In many ways, Linderman’s brief text is more glorious than the many antique images he shares. For, agree or disagree with the author’s thoughts and opinions, you are rather forced to form your own thoughts and opinions. But none of us are really left with conclusions — at least those we haven’t, in part, jumped to.  As Linderman states, there’s just too little documentation, research and investigation, into what happened to painters when the camera came along — into the subject of photographic backdrops themselves — to reach any real conclusions.

The book raises more questions, really, than it answers. At least for me. But in that most excellent of ways which rather than being too light of a snack, leaving me unsatisfied, this book whets my appetite, makes me want more, leaves me with something to chew on… Technology, commerce, art, and culture collide at a crossroads, supposed “forward progress” exposing values, leaving the role of art and artists themselves as question marks… Not at all unlike the digital situation of today.

Tintype Of Painter Working On Photographic Backdrop

The very fact that we haven’t really put any effort into exploring “what happened” is a testament to how little we value photography, art, and artists, I suppose. Yet art, and more than a few artists, have managed to survive.

Collections and books like this preserve what was — not just for us all to see and enjoy, but to force us to look at what happened and to examine for ourselves just what is all involved in such technological advances and shifts in “style.”

An Interview With Ghosts In The Machines Creator Erika Iris Simmons

I so fell in love with the stunning art made from cassette tapes by Erika Iris Simmons that I just had to speak with her and learn more about her incredibly iconic works.

Erika Iris Simmons

Erika, I don’t like to ask a lady her age — especially right at the start! — but in this case I feel compelled to do so… Your works, especially the Ghosts In Machines, have a youthful pop culture quality, but the detail work is incredible, which lends me to believing you are older (at least in art years!) than I think. So, how old are you, when did you begin the Ghost In The Machine Series, and how long have you been working as an independent artist?

Thanks! No worries, I’m not shy, I’m 27 now but I started making this series in 2008, when I was 24 I think.

I was a waitress at Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando at the time, looking for interesting art projects. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on art supplies so I went through all the junk drawers at home, tearing up anything I could find, dabbling in composite art. I was fascinated with optical illusions and wanted to make something really different. I think going to work everyday surrounded by music memorabilia definitely had an impact! haha

One day I thought to use the cassette tapes in my art – when I started messing with the ribbon it curled up and reminded me of Jimi Hendrix’s afro, so that was the first portrait I made.

Ghost in the Machine: Jimi Hendrix, Cassette Tape On Canvas

At the time I was reading some science books about the philosophy of the mind; that’s where the “ghost in the machine” theme came from. It was great to sit there while working on these, wondering about the meaning in the data on the tapes and how by simply rearranging the tape on the board I could make it look like a face. My goal was to not cut the tape or take any away, just arrange it.

I’ve been working as a full-time independent artist for two years now.

Have you had any formal training or study, an art degree?

No formal art training; I got a ton of art books out from the library, but mostly its just been trial and error.

The Ghost In The Machine pieces are how I first found you — the amaze me because they incorporate the spirit of the medium, the tape and film, and display the iconic images we see when we experience their performances. What inspired the works?

I never wanted to be an artist until I saw the work of Ken Knowlton. He makes incredible composite portraits. My favorite is his portrait of Einstein using nothing but black dice. It blew my mind and I thought I want to make something like that, something that would resonate with people. I just kept experimenting after that.

Ghost In Machine: Madonna

They are incredibly fluid and effortless looking, as if they just spilled out that way, but I suspect there’s a lot more to them than that. 😉 Can you tell us more about the work involved, how long it takes to make a piece — how many tapes, etc. are used?

I almost always just need a single cassette, unless the work is really big. You’d be surprised how long the tape is inside.

Every piece is different, but I usually start by drawing the basic outline, focusing on the facial details first. I go about filling in the design, either gluing the tape flat and cutting away when necessary, or folding and twisting the tape into the desired shapes. This can take weeks if its very detailed. Toward the end I try to let the tape fall into really natural shapes and “capture” that movement with dots of glue. Finally, I use epoxy to permanently mount the case.

Of the works I’ve seen, you seem to use or recycle other items to create your works of art. Do you consider these altered art works? How do you feel about that term?

I call these cassette tape or film sculptures, but the term altered art works too. It falls into a lot of categories, I think. I often hear people call them “installations.” I don’t know why.

Your Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast At Tiffany’s piece is probably my favorite, so far! I love the use of 8mm film, right down to the reel!

Audrey Hepburn Work In Progress...

Audrey Hepburn Ghost In Machine, 8mm Film

Erika Iris Simmons Artwork In Progress

Working With Film To Make Ghost In Machine

"Reel" Breakfast At Tiffany's Hair

Shadow Details

Audrey Hepburn Ghost In Machine

The Graceful Ghost In The Machine

I read at your blog that the Breakfast At Tiffany’s work was the result of a woman who approached you about doing a series of collection of Audrey Hepburn pieces… Does that mean you do custom or commissioned works?

Thanks! I’ve actually made my living for the last few years making custom pieces for people; I still do sometimes, but not as my bread-and-butter like I used to.

Does doing works that way, at the direction of others, frustrate you in any way as an artist?

Yes, every single time! haha. There is no way of avoiding the pressure of “performance.” I am not a performer and I’ve found that my work is much better when it comes from the heart and not from a need to pay rent. I find myself questioning every action. Instead, I just take the commissions that I feel a spark for. I used to have a “custom work” page on my website, but I don’t solicit those offers anymore. A lot more time for experimenting.

How much do you charge for such works? And, as you currently have no originals for sale, only prints at Etsy, how much do original works cost?

Honestly every piece is different. I sell some for hundreds, some for many thousands, so its a hard question to answer… An average Ghost in the Machine piece is about $2500. The only prints I sell are letter size and A2. But the size of the originals range from 12 by 16, up to 40 by 60 inches, so there is a wide range.

Your other works, that I’ve seen at Flickr mainly, are also composite or altered works. Do you feel that will likely remain a part of your style, or do you feel that you’ll need to move on in a completely different direction at some point in time?

I don’t really define what I do by the medium. I feel like the running theme in my head is finding a story within a single object. Recursion and nested concepts are what fascinate me, so whether I’m painting or writing or doing any other creative activity I think this theme will remain.

Portrait of former Dodger's pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, made from an authentic major-league baseball, "grass stains and all."

When you are best known for a series, or when someone spots an older series, like Ghosts In Machines, how do you as an artist feel when you move onto another series, project or style of work?

It doesn’t bother me that I will probably never “out-do” the success of this series because I know the biggest thrill is the idea and execution rather than what other people think. The images will one day be played like that song on the radio that you’ve heard fifty times too many, but I will always remember what it felt like to hold something like that in my hands before the glue was even dry, having never sold a piece of artwork, knowing that I made something special.

Its nice that people are still interested though, I do appreciate it.

Bob Dylan by Erika Iris Simmons for AARP

At The Ungulate, we hear a lot about how “success” is at least partly defined as making a living in art; yet we also hear from artists who feel great frustration in the commercial aspects of that sort of success. Aside from not soliciting custom works as much as you once did, how do you plan to address or balance these issues for yourself as an artist?

I’ve never been interested in money – I threaten to quit art and go back to waiting tables any day! ha. But seriously, making art for a living is by far harder than I expected, and I feel I’m one of the lucky ones to have so much support and exposure. But some months I still barely scrape by. Don’t get me wrong; when it rains it pours. But its hard counting on the weatherman. In lieu of commissions I’m working with a stationary company for a little rolling income. The ‘m’ word: Merchandising. We’re still putting the website together – I don’t know a date it will be live…

But you’ll let us know, right?

Of course!

Until then, we can still marvel at the other works by Ericka Iris Simmons, and enjoy spotting them all sorts of places, like the Bob Dylan piece for the AARP.

The Interview With Collin David

Collin David

I’ve known Collin David for like 5-6 years now; we met when we both started writing for Collectors’ Quest. I quickly discovered his passion for comics, action figures, robots, cephalopods, etc. was entwined with something more… His art.

In the past year, Collin’s art work has been getting him more attention, respect, and, yes, money. So it seemed now was the time to sit down with him — you know, before he’s too busy for a “remember me” request for an interview. *wink*

Call me old, uncool — old and uncool, even — but I can’t seem to follow all your art news, projects, events, etc. on Facebook. (I am, after all, a Twitter girl *neener neener*) So help me out and give me a general run down about you, ResonantFish, what the heck you do as a freelancer art and design dude. You drop names like “Ninja Turtles show in Philly” and “Gallery1988”; so don’t forget those.

Well, my business cards say “Collin David makes stuff”, because that’s the most accurate phrase I could come up with.

This includes comics, sculpture, digital design (like icons, iPhone games, business cards), ink portraiture, painting, and even animation occasionally—every project calls for some new approach. I’ve never seen the merit of those artists who approach very different problems with the same approach, over and over. It’s completely marketable, but it’s transparent. There’s a way to find a balance, and it’s not by being creatively lazy.

As a freelancer, I tend to do a lot of digital art, because that’s what the freelance market wants right now. As far as my portion of the freelance market goes, a majority of it is technology-based, and people trying to make their technology pretty. While my brain is fueled by robots and meat and monsters, my bank account relies on icons for travel websites and improving old logos for businesses. Every so often, a project comes along where I serve as an art director and have total creative freedom, or I get to use real paper and ink, but those are far less common.

It all comes back to “making stuff”, for whatever purpose it may serve in the end. Every project is an education towards greater things. In my free time, I’m sometimes invited to do group art shows all around the world about things that I love: toys, Ninja Turtles, pretty girls, Star Wars. I don’t know how that happened, honestly, because that was just a natural progression.

Custom Robolucha For International Show

Ah, you sort of glossed over those art show invitations… Where have you your works, been seen recently? What’s it like to get the invite?

Right now, I have three ink pieces in Gallery1988 in California, in a show centered around Beetlejuice, Back to the Future and Bill & Ted.

Piece From 3B Show at Gallery1988

I also currently have an acrylic Ninja Turtles piece in Philly. Both of these shows are through The Autumn Society, a collection of great illustrators who just happen to do lots of shows together that seem to focus on 1980s pop culture. Recently, I was honored enough to show alongside Wallace & Grommit’s Nick Park in the UK for a group show (via a Twitter invite), an arcade in Texas, and a few other places I don’t remember. I’m horrible at keeping track, but should probably comb my e-mails in order to get my stuff back. I don’t want to say something stupid like “art is so pure that I keep it separate from business”, but 100% of my focus is on creation, and whatever happens outside of that to get it out there is fate and luck and whatever momentum gravity has granted me, or if Facebook is behaving properly.

MUMM-RA! For The Autumn Society's '80s POP!' Show

Invites always come with a sense of dread. Can I make something worthwhile? Will this show be worth my time? Will my art get destroyed by the gallery or post office again? Do I have enough time to make something? How do I approach this uniquely? I’ve had so many bad gallery experiences that it’s a process I’ve learned to hate, so I do far fewer showings than is ideal, and I don’t seek them out. I love a challenge, but I’d rather that challenge be creative over diplomatically begging for my art back for a year from an unscrupulous gallery director like Rocket Pop’s David Rodriguez or APW’s Hans Yim.

How is the invitation to group art shows “just a natural progression”?

It’s momentum. If you really do things that you love and believe in, it’s infectious. Eventually.

It’s a long, long crawl towards respect, and if you ever stop digging your nails in, you’ll slip backwards into anonymity. Some people (who I’m not going to name here) market themselves raw and have absolutely no skill to back it up, but they get a ton of work and notoriety. I’m just not the kind of person to write press releases in the third person or describe myself as “up-and-coming”. It’s one way to progress, and it’s tried and true and not invalid, but it’s not natural. There’s no foundation in that, and you don’t get a realistic perspective of yourself or your work. Some promotion, sure – but not a full-time marketing machine.

I make stuff constantly, and people see it, and sometimes they like it, and share it, and eventually, it falls onto the right eyes. And I wish it were more profitable, but I’ll take truth over an elaborate self-deception any time.

In-progress sculpt for "Into the Darkness"

"Into the Darkness @ 1:AM Gallery in SF

I’ve known you for awhile now, and there’s been a big change in the amount of work you’re now doing. I wouldn’t say this, but you recently commented to me that you somehow see this as “awful,” as if this wasn’t just one of the risks of going pro; explain to me how you see the increase in work, recognition, and, I presume, pay.

About six months ago, I was spread out everywhere, doing work-for-hire for a ton of different venues—most of it writing, and I burnt out. I decided to drop (mostly) everything and focus on seeing how far my art could get me, because that’s what really matters to me, at my core. I wouldn’t say it defines me, and I wouldn’t call myself an “artist” (because I hate that word), but it definitely made me feel the most complete.

As it turns out, the rise to credibility was faster than I expected, and it was great. I’d been doing spot illustrations for magazines and things like that since high school, just to experiment with the wide world of art publishing, but the Internet enabled me to pursue these things in earnest, at least 40 hours a week and in parallel with a full-time job. The “Artist’s Market” books never did me any good except for a rejection letter from Cricket Magazine.

The process of making art is never “awful”, but it becomes awful when other people start sticking their hot little fingers in it. As a freelancer, you’re doing work for someone else, and you’re being paid to serve. I don’t have a problem with that, at all, ever. Ideally, one would be hired on the merits of their talents, and not their ability to parrot their employer. It’s the difference between having a hard-working employee and a yes-man, and it shows in the final product.

From the VinylPulse Dragon Eats Knight Show

In terms of “awful”, I was recently hired to design a series of monsters for an iPhone game. The project started out with the client telling me that I had total creative freedom, because he liked my work. When the first drafts came around, he had changes to make : facial expressions, colors, and the like. In the freelancing world, these kinds of changes are acceptable. The employer has a vision which they weren’t able to articulate before (thought they should have probably tried harder), but now that they see the product, they can understand what they want better. A second round of changes was made, and I was sent back screencaps from Pixar films, which bore no resemblance to any prior work, and a few notes that essentially said, “Make it look like this.”

I obliged, while still giving these monsters their own uniqueness. When these monsters met his descriptions dead-on, he sent me back a picture of Spongebob Squarepants and asked me to trace it for his game, instead of all of the work I’d previously done. When I asked him to sign a contract to free me from all legal and moral responsibility when Nickelodeon came down to smite him and completely crush his business on the grounds of copyright infringement, we ended the project. I walked away with character design and consultation fees and a clean slate. He walked away with the sudden understanding that it wasn’t actually okay to plagiarize well-known cartoon characters for profit.

These are the “awful” things, and they’re pretty common, but not universal. Sometimes, you spend more time justifying yourself or explaining how “art” works than actually putting together work.

[Interviewer Aside: Check out Collin’s The Nine Circles Of Freelancing Hell for more on this; I giggled an groaned through the whole true thing.]

"The Golden Faces" for Multiple Personalities 2 @ LIFT Gallery, MI. "The Jello didn't making the trip because of last-minute damage, alas!"

And you can’t work on one project at once. Four seems to be the magic number, given the amount of time that clients can take to get back to you with revisions. You start on one project, work on a couple of others, and close out another one. This way, you generally always have something to do and a way to generate profit. It helps if your clients are in different time zones as well. Qatar is great if you work early in the morning or very late at night. It also helps to take breaks to play GoldenEye.

It’s all about momentum. Once you actually land a project or two by mastering the art of crafting a proposal, and can show these products off to other relevant jobs, the work will come.

"Something From Long Ago" by Collin David

Why do you hate the word “artist”?

The word “artist” is used like it’s an excuse for erratic behavior or a refusal to be a productive member of society. “Artists” don’t have to maintain jobs – not because they’re highly skilled, but because they’ve appointed themselves to the title of “artist”. It’s not a universal perception of the word, but it’s definitely not uncommon, and I really want no part of it.

I once had someone come up to the desk at the library where I worked who refused to pay late fees because she was an “artist”, and “artists” break all of the rules. I refrained from “artistically” punching her in the face, even though by her own definition it would have been perfectly acceptable.

I make stuff, and some of it is “art” because it’s totally impractical and self-indulgent. I don’t have any misperceptions that I’m making the world better by making pictures, but I hope I’m making tiny little parts of peoples’ lives better. Either way, it’s something I can’t stop doing, and I enjoy doing it.

APW Arts on Record Vol. 2: The Skeletron

“Sometimes, you spend more time justifying yourself or explaining how “art” works than actually putting together work.” Like this interview? 😛

Though, I imagine this sort of thing is preferable to schooling a client in the ways of intellectual property… At least it’s more fun!

I hope.

But seriously, in terms of being a guy who makes stuff, how important are interviews? First, in terms of making the stuff — do you find reading interviews inspiring or motivational or helpful at all? And second, what makes participating in an interview worth the time away from making stuff? Is it just the promotional aspects? (Links: How the internet was won!)

Interviews are fun! They force you to take a look at why you do what you do, and they open up your eyes to how others might perceive you, and every shade of this will color your work, whether you like it or not. Observing it changes the experimental results.

My favorite interviews are in Hi Fructose Magazine, because I find myself reading things I’ve been thinking for years coming from artists who I admire. It’s inspiring to know that I’m on the right path, and it’s always useful to be reminded to stay true to yourself.

I don’t think I’ve ever landed any work through an interview (yet), but the introspection makes them worthwhile to participate in. A lot of what I feel like I have to say about art may sound negative or like I don’t respect other artists, but it’s just passion for good, true creators and an impatience with the imitators – so I have to bite my tongue a lot.

Plush Custom Art Called Either "Fuckface the Fucknificent" or "You & Your Ugly Heart"

For many, making some money off a creative gig seems like the ultimate goal, the real mark of professional success; but as you’ve discussed there’s a clear divide between creative expression, making stuff for the sake of making it, and commerce, selling stuff &/or making stuff to sell. How do you best balance what can be at times such contradictory positions and determine success for yourself?

Well, I’m not yet in a place where I can turn down well-paying jobs, so they’ve taken over. About six months ago, I decided to focus on making commercially viable stuff and hunting down clients, and perfecting the skills necessary to work on the highly technical professional stuff. I’ve always done paintings on commission, and small works for small magazines, but I really needed to conduct a concentrated test about the viability of doing this kind of thing for a living. So, I dropped everything (including personal projects and writing gigs) and started researching what people want right now in the creative world, and how to do those things. Art school didn’t provide a single iota of information that was useful in finding an art-related job, so it’s a very do-it-yourself kind of education.

"The Spacemen: Burn-Up Re-Entry Model" Custom Toys, Edition of Four, by Collin David

For me, it was a solid moment of decision, so the “real” art happens between gigs. There’s never a shortage of work if you know how to ferret it out, and I’m never at a lack of ideas for personal art. I have five sketchbooks full of projects that want to be done. I don’t think I’ve found the kind of success I want just yet, but I don’t think I ever will. That’s the kind of thing that keeps you moving and evolving, so the dissatisfaction isn’t all bad.

I’d love for art to be a full-time job, but I don’t think I could do the corporate letterhead design thing for more than a few weeks at a time before losing my mind. There are too many ghosts in my head for that, and they all want to be painted.

Detail from 'Queen of the Bees', which is "about a cheating, lying ex-girlfriend."

If you had to pick one piece or project that you feel marked professional success or otherwise signified success to you, what would it be and how does it reflect success to you?

Star Wars cards. During middle school, and high school, and college, there were a few things that I held in such high creative regard that I never envisioned myself touching them, and Star Wars was way up there. Last year, I was asked to draw a whole bunch of original sketch cards which were randomly packaged with packs of Star Wars cards. They’re quirky and fun drawings of aliens, and they had to be done quickly so they’re not top quality, but I don’t think I could ever do anything cooler than official Star Wars art. Being accepted into such an established and impenetrable universe marks success for me.

Star Wars Series V Sketch Card by Collin David

Here at The Ungulate we try to focus on adding creativity and art (making and buying/owning) to your life, on inspiring people to just make stuff and to delight in stuff that’s made. One of the things we hear most often is how hard it is to just start. How do you respond to that, what advice do you have?

This is probably an answer that’s been given a hundred times, but just do it. I’ve created thousands of embarrassing drawings, and had even more terrible ideas, but you have to realize that creativity is flawed, and that’s just par for the course, like anything else. It’s not a perfect, pristine, inaccessible spirit that needs to be handled delicately. It’s a dirty, frustrating thing that you can’t be afraid to smack around. You need to throw away any delusions of preciousness.

I remember the moment in high school when I realized that I’d been holding back because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by drawing something dumb. And then I realized that no one ever had to see it but me. As long as art fits in the garbage, you’re safe, so just go for it. Also realize that no time spent creating is wasted time, because every second is an enormous education: how materials work, which lines are beautiful, which ideas are disasters, how to use color and space. These things are much more visceral when you’re doing them, and you really can’t learn them from a book without doing them.

And there you have it, good advice from an artist a busy guy who “makes stuff.”

I’d like to thank Collin for sharing all this — and encourage the rest of you to visit all the links to “all things Collin David”  in this interview.  (He’s got so much going on, if you only have time for two, it’s these two: ResonantFish and ResonantFish on Facebook.)

An Interview With Sam Garton, The Illustrator Behind The Adorable Otter & Robot Suicides

I first met Sam at Tumblr, where I immediately was attracted to the dark yet whimsical works…

Mr. Gerald Beaufort, the rat, making plans to break in:

A robot suicide:

A dog who finds scary movies too scary:

But Sam, it turns out, is more known for his role as The Otter Keeper, the creator of I Am Otter.

Tell us a little about yourself, Sam… Did you go to art school? How long have you been doing I Am Otter?

I’m 28 and have an office job by day but also work as a freelance illustrator. I graduated from Derby University with a degree in illustration in 2005. I’m obsessed with otters and I enjoy putting sweets in the freezer so they last longer (especially jelly tots). I’ve been doing I Am Otter for about 2 years now!

How would you describe I Am Otter in terms of a project?

I am Otter is a website dedicated to a modern day domestic otter who lives with her Otter Keeper in the London suburbs. Nobody (not even me) can quite remember the day I became obsessed with an otter and decided to dedicate a rather unhealthy amount of time to her. I have a theory it happened when walking to work one day but you can’t be too sure about these things.

It’s a basic html site but I have also got quite into flash recently, so there are games and interactive elements too. At first you could be mistaken for thinking the site is directly aimed at children, but upon closer inspection you’ll find there is plenty of humour that will appeal to adults too. The site also has a built in blog where you can find lots of mini Otter stories, which I update frequently.

When did you start your shop? When did you feel you (and Otter) were ready for a shop?

People would ask me to buy prints so I decided eventually a shop was the best option, sadly me and Otter don’t get too much custom these days and there is a monthly fee. I keep meaning to change over to etsy or a free service but I spent quite a long time customizing this one so I’m reluctant to change for that reason.

What’s the story behind your Tumblr… Not only is the art different, but it’s rather orphaned from the rest of Otter’s world.

Well believe it or not I haven’t always drawn an Otter and her Teddy!

I’m actually very fond of a darker palette and enjoy more sinister and serious themes. There is just no place for that in otters world and so I really wanted somewhere I could be more myself and not be tied down. There is also the fact that lots of kids follow Otter and I wouldn’t want to scare anyone. 🙂

It’s gone well so far, but I’m still getting used to using Tumblr which is very different from WordPress.

The otter series is rather unusual… It’s almost like a graphic novel, more than an art series, isn’t it? Did you plan on this narrative sort of storytelling from the start, or did that evolve more organically?

It all sort of evolved organically to be honest. I Never set out with a master plan. I just started drawing otter and after a while my imagination just took over – I then had to keep drawing her to get the stories out of my head!

I never thought I could write particularly well (and I’m not saying I can) but it was quite a surprise how much I enjoy writing the text that comes along with the picture. I now feel the pictures require the story and vice versa. It does take me a while though – I’m constantly re-writing sentences to get the pacing right and I’m very picky over the words I use.

Do you have any plans to do this sort of presentation with the darker works? Any plans to sell prints of these works?

I would always sell prints to anyone who wanted them. I have my special printer I invested in and it creates great prints.

Sadly printing, packaging and trips to the post office take up time! And after doing otter shop for a while I’ve begun to find the whole process a bit tedious. But, unfortunately, I also have a bit of a dislike for the third party printers. “We print on anything and post to your customer” – great! “We also take 70% of your profit” – not so great. And I don’t like to use them either.

If I sell anything, I like the customer to be happy and get a good deal. It’s almost impossible to do this and make it worthwhile with the middle man too!

How do you feel the commercial aspects, selling prints, running sites, etc., have affected or impacted your work?

The creation of the websites and learning software like Photoshop are half the fun for me, if I’m honest. I guess they have impacted on my work in so much as I don’t do as much drawing because I’m learning WordPress or trying to make a new flash game for Otter. But If I didn’t do this, then it’s not like anyone would know about Otter in the first place!

And, like I said, the process of selling prints is a bit of a pain. I’d rather spend the time learning/drawing something new.

Do you feel more obligated to produce new works or, in the case of blogging, new posts?

I start to feel guilty after a week or so goes by with no Otter story. Half of this is because I know a few fans really enjoy the stories and are waiting for the next; the other half is that I actually feel bad for Otter! I need to make up her next adventure to keep her world alive… and I take this responsibility very seriously. 🙂

I don’t think I’d ever be able to stop writing about Otter… It would make me feel too sad?

As an artist, what is your definition of success?

For me success would be to make enough money out of my art that allowed me to do it full time! This would be fantastic as I have so much in my head I want to get out, but just not enough time. I’m sure this is the same for most artists. And I envy the ones that get to that level very much.

It also makes me very happy that my work can affect people in a positive way. For example, I get really nice messages from people saying that reading about Otter has really turned around a bad day they were having, or similar things to this. I’m not sure my darker stuff has this affect on people but hopefully it still invokes a positive or inspiring reaction of some kind.

It sure does, Sam; it inspired this interview.

 

Creating Ceramic Mosaics Of Silent Film Stars

Annette Kellerman, The Australian Mermaid, "the Diving Venus"

A few months ago I was contacted by Nick Bannikoff, a graphic designer in Sydney, Australia, who had recently worked on the refurbished Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre in Marrickville. The centre is now finished, and Bannikoff was assisting with the creation of a graphic interpreting / explaining Annette Kellerman’s life to be installed at the pool. Because I’m rather well connected to Kellerman on the Internet, Bannikoff was hoping I’d be able to assist him finding decent quality images to include in the graphic; which I did, by connecting him to silent film collector Mary Ann Cade. Because I’m rather nosy fascinated with Kellerman, film and art — and unable to get to Australia myself — I asked Bannikoff to tell me more about the project.

 

Background:

The redevelopment of the pool was undertaken by Marrickville council a while ago. The existing pool was only 33mm and a bit dilapidated. There’s plenty of information on the project here.

Annette was born in the council area and the centre (AKAC) was renamed after her in ‘94 (I don’t have any information on that process).

As part of the project a separate graphic design firm was engaged to design the logo for the AKAC (along with several other facilities), and we were engaged as specialists to design the signage and environmental graphics. For a better idea of what we specialise in, you can visit Society for Environmental Graphic Design.

The Mosaics:

We wanted to create an inviting entrance to the change rooms, and decided that the best way to do this was to create life-sized graphics of people standing at the entrances. In effect inviting people in (it also has the advantage of very clearly differentiating the male and female entrances). Annette was obviously a natural choice for the Female change room, but being such an extraordinary character it was difficult to select a male counterpart. In the end we settled on Cecil, a contemporary of Annette’s (this was important to us) who was sadly killed at the Somme in 1918. Had we not been constricted in our selection to an Australian, we would have recommended Jonny Weismuller, whose career so closely mimicked Annette’s.

Knowing what we wanted to do we were inspired by two sources. A photo of a confident young woman in a bathing costume with a very contemporary lighting scheme, and the work of mosaic artist Brett Campbell.

We particularly liked the confident pose and dynamic lighting for the young woman. We felt if we could present Annette in the same way it would convey more of her life and story (than any photo) and make her more relevant to a contemporary audience. We engaged the services of a talented illustrator, Justine Missen, who over 2-3 weeks developed sketches of Annette and Cecil with the stances, shading and attitude we wanted. I’ve attached a couple of images from the process. As we always knew we wanted to create the final work in mosaic, Justine sketched to that end, mapping out the broad areas of colour that we knew could only accommodate a limited amount of detail.

As I mentioned, we had decided early on that if we could execute the graphic as a mosaic we would. The material would fit beautifully within a swimming pool environment, and given Annette’s life was a perfect medium with which to portray her. Brett Campbell, being part of the inspiration, was then engaged to create the final pieces. Brett helped out a great deal with the selection of the tiles. There is actually a very limited range of colours out there, and we wanted a nice glossy finish and a ceramic tile which we felt matched our aims (there is a much greater colour selection available in glass tiles). Due to the fact the entrances were a little dark and out of the way, we also wanted nice bright colours which made the selection even more difficult. He worked in his studio in Queensland (about 1000km away) and would send photos of the progress on a weekly basis, which we would then discuss and occasionally make adjustments or suggestions. This part of the project took about 2 months.

Finally, Brett visited site in late November last year and installed the mosiacs over 3 days, along with another mosaic that formed the background for the main identification sign for the AKAC.

Other things you may be interested in:

As part of the project the council also commissioned artwork for a couple of locations. One of the artists, Mark Wotherspoon, took his inspiration from the life of Annette.

The piece is entitled “Silver Screen Mermaid” and a plaque will be installed soon that reads: Inspired by the collective consciousness of Annette Kellerman, the divine silver screen mermaid and Hollywood starlet (1887-1975)

The Art Of Making Stuff, Making The Pain Going Away, And Making Child Artists

In case you’ve missed my flurry of posts, and so have missed meeting the lovely artisan-crafter behind I Sew Cute and As Luck Would Have It, consider these comments by June on the importance of art your inspiring introduction:

Making stuff is so rewarding on many levels. It really is my therapy, taking my mind of physical pains I have due to two autoimmune diseases, allowing me to get lost in the creative process.

I was a lucky kid to have the folks in my life who made it possible for me to learn and grow as a maker of things and hope I can maybe be that someone for somebody else, encouraging them and giving them the confidence to try…

My sister in law is now a cross stitcher because I gave her a kit one year. And well, you’ve seen my kids.

“Babygirl” (her nickname given her by her brother) was just now begging me to give her the stuff to make bracelets — and they draw every day.

My boy came home from school the other day and told me that someone said he wasn’t an artist. I had to ask him if he thought they were right about that or not. We talked about how everyone can be an artist — if they want to be.

He’s happy about drawing again now.

Stitches In (My) Time

My mother, as she will tell you, is neither a very artsy person nor a very domesticated woman. While she is a rather gifted decorator, with an eye for beauty, detail, & quality — and a pocketbook which supports the artsy along with the arts, she doesn’t make things (other than reservations!). The result is that she didn’t teach me to sew or anything like that, and she was always rather fascinated by my continued purchase and completion of craft kits. As a kid, I taught myself to sew.

There was an older woman in our family who could have taught me, or at least nurtured me and and encouraged my interest; but she didn’t. (I’ll not name her, nor the relationship to me; so as not to hurt others and because the specifics of who she was does not matter as much as what she did or didn’t do.)

When I spotted this woman’s jar full of buttons, I was allowed to examine them. I fell in love with some adorable vintage lamb buttons (like these, except the ones I loved were made of white plastic). When she wouldn’t even broker the idea of giving me one, I decided I had to earn those coveted figural buttons. So I decided to teach myself to sew.

I began with what I thought would be a simple beginner’s project, using an iron-on transfer to place the blue outlines of a cheery juvenile bunny rabbit onto a piece of scrap muslin (both from a garage sale), and earnestly began making my first stitches.

After completing most of Mr. Bunny Rabbit’s head, I — in that shy sense of accomplishment of a beginner — presented my first wobbly stitches to this woman. I receive not one word of praise, even for taking up such an activity; instead she told me my stitches were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor.

They were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor — I was a child teaching herself needlework.

Had her appraisal included any sort of constructive tips in terms of just how to improve my stitches, I might not have been so devastated.

But I didn’t give up. I just didn’t show her, or anyone else, what I was working on. In my mind, I thought if I could improve, if I could make something worthy of showing, that one day I’d earn her respect — and those cute figural lamb buttons.

But I never did.

I never felt skilled enough to show that woman what I made, needlework or otherwise.

Years passed. I continued to make things. But, full of that woman’s scorn for my work, feeling that my skills were so poor that I’d never be worth mention let alone any investment in time, supplies or support, I just “piddled about” with projects on my own. My parents knew what I did, simply because good parents know what their children are up to, be it reading, crafting, or whatnot.

So when this woman got too old to use any of her sewing machines, my parents asked if I could have one. That woman refused; like the jar full of old buttons, the sewing machines just vanished from her house — and my life. But not my memory.

Instead of giving me the gifts of her time and counsel, of nurturing me and my skills, this woman left me with a very poor opinion of my work. I made less things, tried less projects, and, certain what I was making was crap, I obviously wasn’t going to let my peers see the fruits of my “piddling about.” By the time high school ended, so had my crafting efforts. I put them on hold for that “someday” when I’d have my own apartment and could piddle in private.

The story of that path or a promised “someday” is another story. But today’s point is that children and beginners need to be encouraged to create things. No matter how uneven, clumsy, and poor their initial (and subsequent) works may be.

Needlework is especially worth encouraging — not only as a nearly lost art, but as a practical life skill; the number of persons who cannot even replace a button or repair a separating seam is astonishing.

To help foster a young child’s interest in ans mastery of needlework, check out Easy Hand Sewing for Kids. Heck, if you don’t consider yourself a child but your stitches are childish, check out that article (and the slew of resources within it). It’s never too late to learn.

And, as far as I can see, it’s never too late to give an old lady her comeuppance.

Image Credits:

Vintage animal buttons via Prestige-Enterprises.

Vintage iron-on transfer of baby animals via Blondies-Spot.

Handmade Craft Shopping Parties

Back in the day, I offered and held a few home parties for selling my artworks. Being about 15 years ago, ish, I felt like I was charting new territories.

I had a bunch of catalogs and brochures from other successful home party plan businesses — and my vast knowledge of attending such parties — to build my plan on, but even then, the concept was just that — more concept than anything else.

I made sales at the parties (and secured plenty of commissioned works as well), but found I really had to sell the idea of such a party by educating the potential host or hostess more than anything else.

Now that home party plans are so mainstream that a woman between the ages of 20 and 35 fears invitations in the mail, the indie crafting party isn’t an educational exercise — and the lure of less common products is far stronger than say the usual home party suspects, resulting in more attendees and an increase of wallets being opened.

I mention this trend for two reasons.

One, if you’re a crafter, craftsman, or artisan looking for a way to make sales and connect with your local community, you might want to consider using home craft shopping parties. Even crafters who just have an over-load of made things could probably find an occasional party a good way to rid themselves of surplus handcrafted items, and those with mad skills could combine selling creations with workshops at parties.

If this sounds at all like you, Miss Malaprop has a great article, 5 Tips for a Successful Handmade Craft Shopping Party, which also includes links to some great resources. She even peddles the stuff other folks make at the home parties she demonstrates/sells at. (Keen idea for those who want to increase their offerings past their own skills.)

I respectfully disagree with CraftyTammie, when she says that she wouldn’t throw a party and invite her friends because “they all know i have an etsy shop, and i figure if they want to buy something they will let me know.” Shopping for art, for gifty stuff and crafts, is very much a visual in-the-moment thing. And people need to see it.

The second reason I mention the home party plan idea, is that if you are not a maker of things but a lover of them, you might wish to host a craft selling party in your own home. You and your pals can get together, shop, maybe even become inspired to make a thing or two yourself, all while you support arts in your community.

The only real tricky thing with hosting one of these home parties selling handmade things is finding a willing artisan or crafter. To that end, The Ungulate has started an Art Directory, including a category for listings of creative folks who are willing to do home parties selling their arts and crafts.

Image Credits: Handmade goodies from MissMalaprop’s shop.

John Waters Says, “Contemporary Art Hates You …And Your Family Too”

I subscribe to Modern Painters, but just now got around to reading the September ’09 issue — despite the fabulous John Waters on the cover.

Mr. Waters need not take it personally; I just have a plethora of magazines to get through, and if they aren’t in the magazine rack in the bathroom, well, it just takes that much longer.

Such reading habits, and the fact that my family refer to the bathroom as “the library,” won’t upset Waters either. If you don’t know that, you don’t know Waters. And you certainly haven’t read the magazine feature, which discusses his contemporary art collection, including:

Over the toilet in the bathroom is a Mike Kelley piece that “really pisses people off,” but Waters asks me not to say why, since he writes about it in his book. Also in the bathroom are a funny “Queer Batman” watercolor by Mark Chamberlain and “a Brigid Berlin tit painting; she painted with her tits.”

In Baltimore, he says, “I have the Michael Jackson print by Gary Hume looking through a glory hole right in my hall, which is really scary. Plus, you can see it in the mirror, which is even worse.”

But more interesting, to me, than the art John Waters collects is the art John Waters makes.

Waters calls his art conceptual and says it’s about writing and editing. “Hardly am I Ansel Adams. Or sitting around with a pottery wheel, like in Ghost. The craft is not the issue here. The idea is. And the presentation.”

And I love the ideas and the presentation. Like this piece, part of his Rear Projection series which combines parts of four film-title stills to spell out: contemporary art hates you.

The work’s title amusing title is …And Your Family Too.

In the article, Lawrence Levi describes Waters’ work this way: “Much of his work pokes fun at the art and film worlds he inhabits, allowing him to be at once an insider and a heckler.”

And if you think Levi or I are reading into the art, here’s what the artist himself has to say about it:

The art world “is a secret club,” Waters says. “It is a language; you have to learn everything. You have to learn how to dress, you have to learn how to see it, you have to learn how to talk about it, you have to learn how to read about it. All of it is impenetrable to a newcomer, and it was to me too.”

So let the art of John Waters speak to you, your insecurity over the intimidating impenetrability of the art world — go ahead and laugh, even. But don’t forget to just open your eyes too:

In his 1998 film Pecker, when the laundromat worker played by Christina Ricci tells her photographer boyfriend, played by Edward Furlong, “I don’t understand any of that art crap,” he replies sincerely, “You could if you just open your eyes.” But as his feelings about impenetrability suggest, Waters has no problem with elitism.

PS The book mentioned — which will contain the story of a Mike Kelley artwork above the toilet that “really pisses people off” — is Role Models; it’s to be published in May, 2010.

PPS I’d just like to say, that when discussing anything John Waters, you’re bound to mention bathroom artwork that piss-es people off, as well as “glory holes,” penetration issues, and the word “pecker.”  And I loved it.

Art Dolls

This photo comes from GreenMarie on Flickr.

This photo comes from GreenMarie on Flickr.

Taken literally, an art doll could be a pile of rocks with some kind of face created on it. Art dolls can be far more unique and extraordinary than the traditional dolls we (most of us) grew up with. Some of them are just as cute, sweet and adorable as our wonderful cuddly Raggedy Ann dolls. (My Mother made my Raggedy Ann and others, but I still have Ann).  Some of them take pride in being ugly and yet in some odd way they are still lovable, if you give them a chance.  Then, there are some gruesome dolls, the kind of doll that may give a child nightmares. Just imagine waking up with one of those on the pillow next to you.

Art dolls can be made out of anything: fabric, paper, clay, etc. There are standards for being human in basic structure. They may be missing an eye or have a misshapen face, but there is still a face of some kind.

I admit to having a soft spot for the cloth dolls, like my old Raggedy Ann with the grey hair my Mother gave her. Now and then when I’m shopping at a thrift store I pick out a new outfit for old Ann. I find something in great shape still and yet not something anyone is likely to buy for a child to wear. After all, Ann is still just a doll. But, lucky for her, her clothes always fit and last forever since she never gets them stained and they only seem to need a little brushing off now and then.

If you were making an art doll what kind would you create?

Art Doll Groups:

Does anyone know of more international or regional groups outside of North America? I tried to find them but no luck.

Photos, galleries and ideas for making some art dolls of your own:

The image used with this post comes from Green Marie.

A Word On Buying Antique Paintings At Auctions

auction painting I hate putting a value on art. I think you should pay what the artist asks, so long as the depth of your affection for the piece matches the depth of your pockets.

But, because I mostly write about antiques and collectibles, people often ask me about how much they should pay for art at auctions, or at least want a rule of thumb to guide them at their local farm or estate auction…

I’m no art appraiser; most of my experience with antique paintings has been observed at (countless) smaller local auctions, Antiques Roadshow episodes, and those Roadshow style trash or treasure events. But I feel rather confident saying that any antique painting purchased for $150 or less is a bargain. Seems like no old painting is ever, unless the canvas is completely shredded, deemed worth less than $150. Even antique paintings by unknown artists with small tears and in need of professional cleaning seem to be valued at or over $150.

That said, expect to pay more. Not just for big name artists, but for paintings which charm. If the painting charms you, it likely will charm another bidder or two, increasing the price. That said, console yourself with the following rational reasons to spend as much as you’d like buying antique paintings at auctions:

  • Consider how much something else covering that space would cost — be it a framed poster or generic starving artist art.
  • Spend as much as you are comfortable with; you’re going to have to live with it.