Saturday, October 18, 2014

saturday night painting

Tomorrow is the second to last SoWa Open Market of the year! This market season (my first) has flown by. I'll write up a longer post about this art market season later, but overall they have been really fun to participate in and very successful. Out of 24 Sunday markets so far, I've only missed four; two while on vacation, one after my little sister's college graduation party, and one after learning the hard way that I can't enjoy a typical Saturday night out in the city with friends and still wake up at 5am and run a booth for ten hours. Oops! So Saturday nights are now very low key.

Tonight I worked on this 60"x36" painting that I started after looking back at my photos from Maine… rose, buttermilk, lemonade, mauve, rosewood, forget-me-not and magenta are experimental colors for me.

I'll be at the SoWa Market bright and early tomorrow with a bunch of original artwork and over seventy different paper prints. The farmer's market is awesome this time of year, there are a million food trucks and even a booth where you can buy a maple donut covered in bacon. BACON! What more do you need on a Sunday? What more in life, really.

Friday, October 17, 2014

magnificent minnesota

Since arriving home from my quick camping trip in coastal Maine, I've been mostly preoccupied by finishing up a second painting commission for the client I visited in Minnesota this summer. The first one was a 7'x3' timeline-style collage depicting the company's history in Minneapolis, now hanging in their atrium, and the second is a triptych of three 30"x40" panels celebrating Minnesota's environment, culture and industry.

Due to its size, the first painting had to be shipped by freight in a custom-built wood crate weighing an insane 173 lbs. These three were small enough that they could be shipped USPS Parcel Post and arrived today, so I can finally share the finished result and a few details about the process.

I sourced and dyed over two hundred pieces of paper: maps, letters, envelopes, travel brochures, sports tickets and concert programs, sheet music, history books, newspapers, book covers, and on and on. Each piece was individually dyed with different hues and water to dye ratios in order to create an almost ombre blue-green-tan paper background across the three panels.

Most of the material I use comes from vintage markets, antique stores or garage sales. When an antique dealer or vintage seller finds an amazing desk or dresser, a lot of times it's full of worthless (to them) old paper that's been tossed away and forgotten for decades. You'll usually find that stack somewhere off to the side of a thrift or consignment store, and I've met a number of local antique dealers who save particular types of paper for me, usually weird old advertisements or envelopes or ripped up newspapers used as drawer liners (I'm totally that customer. Ugh.)

I stopped at every random library, antique dealer and sketchy looking thrift store I saw in between Minneapolis, Bemidji and Duluth and ended up with some very interesting material full of patina and wear.

So much old paper! So much dust! It was really fun to be my rental car on the ride home to Boston.

I spent several days researching Minnesota and included references to nearly every important bit of history, from old loggers' songs and iron ore mine signs to the Pillsbury and Gold Medal mills and the First Avenue stars of native Minnesotan singers. There are a ton of early 1900s invoices from local paper, farming and milling companies, and some funky vintage food ads from the 1950s. Some other favorite additions were Bob Dylan's handwritten lyrics to It Ain't Me, very old Minnesota Statehood Centennial stamps, Great Northern Railway train schedules, a handwritten 1925 Mayo clinic prescription and an original newspaper from the Minnesota Twins' World Series win.

Before starting the first 7'x3' painting, I scanned in all the material I had collected and created a digital concept sketch. Only after tweaking it maybe a dozen or so times did I actually start working with the materials on canvas, sticking to it rigidly and creating a painting that was nearly identical to the concept sketch. For this triptych, I basically said "Blues and greens! Paint splatters! Stars? Trust me!" and they did! I had full artistic freedom provided that I included the most important and iconic references.

One challenge in this project was to highlight the best parts of Minnesota's past and present with bold images and words in the foreground while including a ton of smaller references in the background without either overwhelming the other. With collage art, you can run the risk of including too many materials and jumbling them together in non distinct layers. To avoid this I separated my materials into piles: the unimportant, the slightly more important, the background, the mid ground, the visible foreground and the prominent top layer. This is a good way to approach collage in general, because it helps ensure you won't accidentally drown your best, most special materials under layers of paint or glue; they'll be off in a special pile that only gets used on top of a completed background, not in it.

If you think this is a little too intense of a philosophy regarding torn up bits of paper, you're totally right.

For this project I also had to do something a little bit new and out of my comfort zone, which was outsource some of my photography needs. Sometimes people are surprised that every photograph in every collage I've made was taken by me sometime over the last eight years. I don't just Google random photos and I don't buy my backgrounds in the scrapbooking aisle... it's important to me to use genuine, relevant photos from places I've actually been and things I've really experienced because I feel it has a strong effect on the energy of the final painting.

However… for the foreground of this project I needed two specific images I wasn't able to obtain on my own. The Gold Medal Flour sign and the stars on First Ave Theatre were easy to photograph upon arriving in Minneapolis, but despite stopping at a dozen lakes and braving several billion mosquitos I couldn't get a photo of the state bird, and it was shockingly hard to get Duluth native Bob Dylan to sit down with me for a personal photo shoot. Luckily I found a non-copyrighted photograph of Dylan and bought the rights to use another photographer's stock photo of loons. I won't make a habit of it, but it was necessary and totally worth it this time.

I am so excited with how this project turned out! And not just because I like looking at things that are green and blue. I'm not taking on many commissions at the moment because it's difficult for me to create someone else's vision with my hands, especially these ginormous ones that start out with me flailing over a blank canvas without a clue where to start. But this one was a fun challenge to explore a new place and make art from my experience… and obviously I can't say no to travel artwork.

Does this mean I can be bought for travel?

Well… yes.

Will work for road trips.

(P.S. For the artists reading this, here is a shot of the first painting's custom-built crate. Shipping a painting of this size was brand new to me, and even in Boston it was surprisingly hard to find a service that could deal with an item of this size and value in the time frame I needed it shipped. UPS, USPS, and FedEx Freight services all had limitations, and all three art galleries I called recommended art-shipping companies that had very slow schedules to limited locations. I ended up hiring Craters and Freighters, who built a solid upright crate around the painting and freighted it out to Minneapolis fully insured in five days at a total cost of $1,024. A little pricey, but in line with the value of the piece and right around the initial shipping cost I gave my client. They rule and I would recommend them.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

on the road in maine, part two

Waking up in this little tent on this little island was the best! Seriously. Heaven.

On my second morning on Mount Desert Island the air was so fresh and the breeze so crisp that I didn't even need a coffee to feel awake. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky when I poked my head out of my tent. The tide had gone out since I called it quits with my camera and my gently lapping front yard of waves had turned into fifty feet of pebbly sand and tide pools where a few seagulls and a heron were hunting breakfast.

I drove into the town of Bar Harbor for breakfast and walked around for a couple hours, hopping around taking photos of the beach and the piers.

To be honest, it wasn't my favorite part of the day; there were a lot of gift shops, art galleries and cute looking restaurants that I probably would have enjoyed more if I weren't by myself, but there were a lot of slow, dazed-looking tourists ambling about, tour buses idling everywhere and even a giant cruise ship pulling into port. I like cities and I like people, but wasn't in the mood for either at the time.

I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed south to roam Acadia National Park, which was beautiful and offered a few beautiful short hikes and lots of great beach turn outs. Towards sunset I stopped one last time at Seal Cove and tip toed around the waves, collecting shells, rocks, feathers and other little things that probably sound sort of crazy unless you are also a person who likes to glue such things to canvases.

Have you ever seen one of those photos of beaches so crowded that you can't even make out individual people - there is just one solid colorful swarm of umbrellas and beach chairs and people right up to the water line? Maine is the polar opposite of that; out of a dozen different beaches I poked around, maybe half had one or two other beachcombers at the time and the other half were completely empty. Obviously mid-September in the northern latitudes isn't exactly beach-going season but I had a feeling many of these shores are in a constant state empty of people, tides going in and out and in and out every day, every year, tossing up pebbles and shells and the occasional lobster buoy with barely anyone paying any notice besides sand birds.

After camping near the entrance of the campground I was feeling safe and decided to switch it up a little bit and moved my tent out onto the peninsula on the other side where there were fewer campers. Instead of being right near the shoreline, my tent was now about twenty feet above the sound on a little cliff overlooking Sheep Island and its docks and boats.

My new view:

As usual, I totally forgot to bring a cooler! So once again I stuck beers in the closest body of water to chill while I made a little fire to heat up my dinner and warm up.

There was no cell phone service in this area either so I read my book by lantern light until my fire got low, practiced some more star photography and then wrote and drew a little before falling asleep face first into my sketchbook. I woke up just as the sun was coming up, shining gently on the layer of mist blanketing the surface of the sound and making it glow. The water was as flat as puddle, mirroring the blue treetops until here and there a gull landed or took off and rippled its surface. There is no silence and serenity like that anywhere near my home in Boston so I sat there for a good hour taking it all in.

Just when this camping trip was beginning to feel suspiciously too good, it happened.

On my way to get a coffee and plan the day, my car's check engine light came on! This might not normally be a big deal, but anyone who has ever owned a thirteen years old car with 165,000 miles on it can understand the level of anxiety it provokes. Is it just a loose wire? Should I check my oil? Is there a spontaneous explosion in my near future? There's nothing that gets the imagination going quite like a mysterious car problem.

The bad thing about car problems on a road trip is that there is the potential to be stranded alone, hundreds of miles from home, with almost no cell phone service and a gigantic repair bill. The good thing is that there really isn't that much you can do besides just keep on driving home like you planned. So that's what I did, keeping a wary eye on my temperature gauge and trying to avoid potholes and mentally scolding myself each time I took an irresponsible detour, of which there were many.

An hour detour from Route 1 was Pemaquid Point Light, which shines over an intensely dramatic slope of exposed bedrock where thousands of years of waves have crashed, smoothed the rock, created mossy pools of water and slick layers of stone. I climbed the spiral staircase inside up to the light, an enormous spotless teal lens that overlooks miles and miles of flat northern sea.

I planned to spend the next night in Wolf Neck Woods near Freeport, but being so close to Portland I headed straight there to catch Portland Head Light at golden hour. It didn't disappoint!

New England is a treasure trove for anyone who loves old things, history and American nostalgia, and Maine in particular is one long adventure tale of a hardy people steadfastly carving out little towns on a somewhat desolate shore. Portland Head Light, lit in 1791, is the oldest in the state and the first to be built after the American Revolution. It's easy to reach now, but for a century or more many of the 57 lights along the Maine coast were nearly inaccessible… a light house keeper's job was actually their whole life, living (often alone) in tiny houses on rocky cliffs, battered by salty storms as they manually lit the lights and rang bells to guide ships past these unforgiving rocks. 

Every lighthouse has it's own totally insane story, like having to be continually rebuilt because rough surf would toss giant boulders ashore and damage them, or being kept by light keepers who only saw other people twice a year on supply runs. How wild is that? Through it all they stand like sentries, pillars of light guarding the shore and beckoning sailors for centuries. Thinking about this during my few days in Maine sparked an idea for this year's personal project that I hope to share by the end of the week.

Monday, September 22, 2014

dispatch from northern maine

Last week, in a fit of wanderlust and inspiration and a bit of anxiety from just thinking about winter (when New England gets very inhospitable in a way this Pacific Northwesterner is still not used to) I packed up my car and headed six hours north to Mount Desert Island, Maine for a few days of camping and exploring. Unfortunately Mike was in the middle of a few lab experiments at work and couldn't join but I felt strongly about getting one last outdoor adventure in before summer was over, even if I had to do it alone.

Mount Desert Island is mostly famous for the vacation town of Bar Harbor, but is also home to Acadia National Park and a few beautiful little fishing towns. I found a campground that overlooked Somes Sound and set up my tent on a little platform right near the water. The ground was so soft, covered in a bed of pine needles and moss warmed by the sun, and the breeze was an intoxicating blend of salt air and pine… it was heavenly and right away I was so happy that I decided to make the trip.

Because I got there on a Wednesday afternoon in the off season, the campground was only about 20%  full and there were a lot of empty sites and it was very quiet. When traveling alone I always try to "borrow a family" by setting up camp somewhat near a family or group… as a solo female it can be tempting to sort of hide yourself away in order fly under the radar of anyone who may want to pester you, but it's actually better to be very visible in everything you do. Nobody minds a quiet solo neighbor, plus parents are parents no matter where you go and there is almost always a mom happy to make sure you feel safe regardless of whether she actually knows you ;) I still had plenty of privacy and space.

When the camp office opened I bought some firewood, asked for a recommendation for dinner and was sent on my way with a map down to Bass Harbor, on the Southwest corner of the island, where I got a lobster roll as big as my face and a slice of raspberry pie on the side from Thurston's Lobster Pound. While I was waiting I roamed around the idyllic working harbor taking photos of lobster boats unloading their last catch, old boats in various state of faded beauty and lobster buoys! So many lobster buoys.

I wish I had gotten a photo of my lobster roll. It was intense.

Due to the spur of the moment nature of this trip I didn't do a ton of planning or researching, but I chatted with the kitchen staff at Thurston's while they were tossing lobsters and shellfish into the boilers outside and got some good tips on what to see (Side note: always, always ask locals or other travelers where they'd go if they were visiting. It can change your life.) I made my way to the other side of the harbor to see Bass Harbor Light, where there's a pathway that leads down to a clearing below the lighthouse, and jagged rocks to scramble over to get right down at wave level.

I got there just in time to perch on a rock a few feet above the waves and watch an intensely vibrant sunset behind the lighthouse, and then watch the waves crash and swirl through little canyons in the dimming twilight. While most of New England's coast is sandy shore, the coast of northern Maine has a lot of exposed bedrock which looks similar to the Washington coast, where I grew up.

Back at my campsite I sketched and wrote for a while. And then the best part of camping...

I've been trying to teach myself the ins and outs of star photography and am (clearly) still learning, but these do an okay job of showing just how amazing the night sky looked from the edge of Somes Sound. With no light pollution the Milky Way was a bright streak of stars across the entire sky and there almost seemed to be more stars than blackness. It was incredible! Sadly, I didn't have a remote shutter release with me so most of my photos are a bit blurry from manually holding down the shutter for 60-80 seconds in the very cold air, but it was still fun to get to practice on such a beautiful cloudless sky. Crashing waves and billions of stars have a lovely way of making one feel tiny and infinite at the same time.