How important is craftsmanship? How exacting am I trying to be? How exacting can I be?
I have never really considered myself a craftsman and I have started to work with power tools for only a dozen years or so. Coming to power tools late in life is a good thing as it keeps me respecting the tools. Taking tools for granted can be a dangerous thing.
I want my work to be solid, to be well built but becoming a craftsman takes time. I never realized just how difficult it is to get a good 45 degree miter cut. Add to this that the items I am working with are not square and I can get pretty frustrated.
Just as in painting, is seeing the “hand of the artist” important? There are some painters, throughout time, who struggled to perfect their art. Their style or brush work was hidden in the pursuit of perfection. Other artists celebrated their style with obvious brushwork. You can tell a Vincent Van Gogh by just seeing a few square inches of one of his paintings.
So is this a cop out that I don’t make perfect corners? That my woodworking skills leave something to be desired? There is no such thing as perfection but aiming for it is a worthy goal. I do aim for getting the technical part “right” but then I do realize that there is beauty in the struggle. To see what I was trying for and understanding that even if I didn’t reach my goal, I got as close as I could. The effort was important.
As written in my last entry, I am working on a large piece. There are three reasons why: first, after doing a bunch of smaller pieces, the challenge of working on a large piece sounded like a good way to shake things up; second, in exploring the edges of my abilities, I learn what I like to do with these Foundlings. Each size has its own challenges above and beyond the aesthetics. Small works need to command enough attention so they don’t feel insignificant. Large works, just by their size have significance but can appear like furniture. These large pieces need a subtler aesthetic; and lastly; as a kind of strategy, I will have a fourth, outside wall on my booth at Art Expo Solo in April. It is my hope that having a large work on the outside wall will stand out in a very crowded event.
That’s the plan anyway. I want my large work to really stand out but not look like a clock (I received a lot of these clock comments last year).
And after all of this I still need to make sure that I can hang this…
Above is Number 3. A recent work that has become so dear to me.
I am working on a large piece — over five feet tall. Composed of two wooden specimen trays, the picture below shows how these trays, each almost three feet tall, will have a frame attached on the back (the image shows only one and a half trays). I didn’t think the trays could support all of the weight so I thought I needed a frame to support this oversized work. These two trays will also need to support all of the heavy parts that will be affixed to them and the frame will be modular so this can be transported in two pieces (and structurally, I am not sure this is a smart idea).
I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I want to do but not always an clear idea of how to do it. The first frame I made with the generous help of my friend Rande, turned out not to be thick enough to support all of the weight of this piece. This new frame is twice as thick and was put together with the help of another friend Dave.
Will this hold? How will the piece turn out? I have no idea. I still have to make sure the parts chosen work together, to figure out how to attach these parts to the frame, stain all of the parts as well as glue and bolt all of the parts into place. All while not losing sight of what I had originally envisioned.
And hanging, did I mention hanging? How am I going to even hang this?
It’s almost New Year’s and my thoughts turn to the future. It is impossible to know what the new year will bring just like it is impossible to know how exactly to create Foundlings. I can head off in one direction only to find obstacles, dead ends, and surprises — not unlike life. It seems to me that the issue is not to be frustrated, disappointed or surprised by what the future brings but to enjoy the unexpected. To be able to say something wasn’t expected but is just as good, or better, then what was intended. To be open to the new.
Below is a sample of the many stages this Foundling went through. Not only was I not sure where I was going with this work but I had no idea how to get to a finished, satisfying piece. I tried lots of different variations but it wasn’t until I added an old drain cover that the form finally felt right but so unexpected. So enjoy the new year, and its surprises.
I have been wrestling with this Foundling for months as this work presented problems at every turn. First, in choosing to use an old broken violin, the aesthetic challenge was to integrate the strong visual form into a Foundling. I was trying to find that balance where the form wasn’t hidden but wasn’t too obvious.
Then there was the question of not having a back to this Foundling. Would showing the back wall help or hurt the overall appearance of this piece. This also made figuring out how to engineer this so it was solidly put together as well as figuring out how to hang this, another obstacle.
Lastly, the fish bones, generously supplied by Joe Anderson and Sonja Huie, by preparing a delicious dinner, was a real pain to figure out how to get the bones not to smell (turns out a heavy duty primer did the trick). In the end, I am very pleased with how well the various textures work together (and especially pleased that I was able to finally get this together).
Today is Halloween. A holiday dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows) and martyrs. Not to get morbid but some of my work has bones incorporated into them and all of my pieces are made up of old parts. These parts tend to be 50 to 100 years old so I would assume that most of these parts were owned by people who are no longer with us.
Rather then have a sense of loss or sadness associated with death, I prefer to see death as a reminder of how precious our time on Earth is. So much has been left to us. Gifts that have been created, collected, loved or perhaps merely cast aside. From these parts I create a place were they come together. I give them a new life that speaks of things past. They have their story to tell and it is a privilege to listen. We can learn a lot from these stories. All you have to do is spend the time. There is no trick to this, but it is a treat.
Is Norman Rockwell an illustrator or fine artist? How about Maxfield Parrish? If we are talking about technical expertise then of course, both are fine artists. If we are talking about something beyond mere technical expertise then the assessment gets a little more complicated.
I find the same complication is true of the pieces I have been creating. To me, some of my pieces clearly transcend their parts or my technical ability in putting them together. Other works are nice but don’t seem to have that quality. That is not to say that they aren’t art or worthy, just that they seem to not have that quality that takes them to another place. I must confess that I am not sure that I am the best judge of what makes a piece successful. Some of my most favorite works are not necessarily well received.
Spiral (left) seems to have a balance and a kind of movement that makes it seem so much more then the few parts would suggest. This piece always pleases me when I look at it. Ketch (right), on the other hand, is pleasant but somehow doesn’t seem to go beyond what it is. Still, I have received kinds words on both.
I have no idea how to describe what fine art is but I do think that I seem to know it when I see it. Now all I have to do is create it.
This is Gallery Juno. The gallery has been showing artists in Soho since 1990. These images are of this gallery empty, between shows. I am so pleased that I will be getting the chance to show here. The show is from October 9th to the 31st with the opening reception on the 9th (no need to worry about getting information, I will be emailing or mailing
out postcards about this).
I am still a little shy about inviting people to these shows. I have to keep reminding myself that people who show up are either friends — who really care about me and want to support my work — or they are people who have seen my work and have wanted to see more (very flattering).
Now come the decisions, which pieces to show, how many to display and how they will be arranged. I do like the “salon style” with lots of work almost bumping up against one another. I am surprised how well these pieces “talk” to eachother. Then again, the “gallery style” with far fewer pieces, shows the work with much more breathing room. This gives each piece the space to allow viewers can relate to each piece on its own terms.
I am so grateful to Junko for giving me the opportunity to show here and for her help in organizing the show.
I started making these Foundlings back in 2007 and by the time 2008 came around I had created four pieces. I jokingly suggested that I would make a hundred pieces before I would assess how successful I was in expressing my voice and where I was going with this work.
I have now created a hundred pieces. I have included 80 of these in two self-published books; have had a half dozen shows; received relative success in entering art shows; and have sold over 20 pieces. Am I successful? Have I met some imagined goal?
I don’t have any hard and fast goals but I have learned several things. I really enjoy creating these pieces (and as an aside, I have more skills using tools then I ever thought I would have). The exploration of the creative process has been helpful in my transition from graphic designer to fine artist. Having a creative objective rather then merely a monetary pursuit has been very freeing. And lastly, fulfilling a life-long dream of being a fine artist fills me with a peace that I have seldom found in my life as a graphic designer.
I owe so much to Marie who has helped me in this endeavor. She has been an inspiration, a business partner, a muse and critic. I am just not sure that I would have been able to go so far without her.
If there is a “down side” to being a fine artist, it is the solitary aspect of the pursuit. As a graphic designer, I had a skill that I would frequently offer to friends and family. There is something very satisfying in the offer to help the important people in my life. It made no difference if I was making a resume, creating a logo for a friend starting a business, or making a wedding announcement. To give, to make another person’s life a little better (or just a little prettier), has seemed both trivial and profound.
Thank you to all of the friends and family who have been so inspiring and so helpful in this quest. I could not have gotten so far with you as well. In the end, to paraphrase John Lennon, the beauty you take is only equal to the beauty you make.
Now to see where the next 100 pieces leads me.
A wooden serving tray, decorative carvings from an old piece of Victorian furniture, a cutting board, and glass lamp parts from an electrician’s basement. Somehow this all only came together when I added the shell. I do wonder sometimes, that all I am doing is making pretty frames to hold bits of organic things. Then I do this.
It still has a focal point of organic material, a lion’s paw shell, but this has really gone beyond merely displaying a shell. With its beautiful white center to its brown edging, the shell seems to glow. Like the moon.
I am especially pleased with this piece.