Saturday, September 27, 2008

Art: Has it all been done before? Experiment and see!

No, of course not, but after my article yesterday what did I discover but that there is a similar method out there used in jewelry bead making...they call the finished result 'pillows'. Instead of blowing into it they just form the 'pillow' much like I did my bagpiper bag and then insert a little flat sided bead inside to keep it from collapsing and then bake. Haha...and I thought I was so ingenius! 

So it does beg the there anything new out there or has someone, somewhere, in some point in history, done it before? Well, you know, it really doesn't matter. It's perfectly fine to use techniques that are tried and proven or, through your own efforts, stumble upon something already done. And the only way there will be new, yet to be discovered processes is if we experiment.

Oh yeah, there'll be tons of failures along the way. Sometimes materials just aren't meant to do what you ask of them, or there's a flawed theory in what you try to accomplish. But when you get a Eureka! moment it's worth all the effort. And even if someone else has done it, what counts is that you have found something that works in your own work and will be utilized in your own unique way.

So what do you experiment with? Well, create challenges for yourself in your artwork...add elements that you've never tried before. Try to approach them in a unique way. If you are afraid to try it on existing work, then do practice pieces. For painting I used to recommend making photocopies of your existing artwork and playing on them. For sculpting, you can just make a blob to practice on or a simple piece without detail that you're not worried about. If you carve then try soap or soft wood for easier practice. 

Never be afraid to fail...something newer artists say a lot is 'I'm afraid to do anything more to it or I might ruin it'. Well, I understand, I was new once myself and it's hard to let go when you worked so hard to do something well. But if you don't learn to let go and take a chance you will never grow, as an artist and as a human being. 

In case you haven't noticed I have a new link to the side here for Peter Holland's wonderful sculpture site. If you want to know just about anything concerning sculpture you'll probably find it there or in links he's provided.  I could hardly tear myself away to sculpt yesterday and will certainly have a lot of reading to do there. Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Flashes of Art Inspiration come from letting your thoughts flow

Yesterday I shared my 'happy accident' that inspired me to step out of the box with my sculpture. But that wasn't the only flash of inspiration I, it was a VERY good day :)

So, one of the elements in my piece was a set of bagpipes leaning against a gravestone. (If you want to know why I'd want that then check out my Work in Progress). I'd already gotten all the pipes done, all that remained was the bag and inserting the pipes once formed. So I didn't quite have a clear picture in my head of what I wanted...references either showed it blown up while it was being played or sadly deflated in a resting state.

Like me, I figured most people don't know what bagpipes really look like, and the thing that most worried me was people wouldn't know what they were unless I inflated the bag (meaning I'd form it as a solid roundish object). But that's sort of been a thorn tickling the back of my mind. It didn't really satisfy the vision of the pipes being at rest. 

So I had a hard time getting into the thought of doing this next step. I even thought about taking the day off to think on it, which essentially was a good idea. Usually it's not good to procrastinate, but it's worse to plow into something without a plan and ruin the whole thing. 

So the first step to letting my thoughts run was to take the stress of needing to get it done away. Hard to think when you're stressed. I set the pipes, and the piece I planned to affix them to, out in front of me at the computer so I could look at three different reference photos and also look at the geometry of the main piece and where the best positioning would be for the 5 (yes, count them...five!) pipes. My original thought for how it would sit wasn't quite right so I tried to play around with it, but it was hard to picture it without the bag in place. 

So then one of those stray thoughts popped in as a sigh...'gee, I wish I had a tiny little water skin (wine skin) to use to position these'. 

Then that thought progressed to thinking about modeling a solid piece based on that shape.
But then I thought, it still won't have the right form, this would be at least partially deflated just sitting there, the rounded form is going to throw it off. 

And then that thought made me think about how I could fold a thin piece of the clay to look like flattened material.

Then came the thought that 'gee, too bad I couldn't blow it up like a balloon and then let it partially deflate'.

Well, at this point thought became action. I just had to jump up and run over to my work table and quickly roll out a very thin section of clay in the round. Then I gathered the ends together and tried to blow it up. ( table is viewable from the front picture window...wonder if anyone caught me trying to blow clay into a balloon and what on earth they thought?)

Well, the gathering was too loose and it wouldn't hold air, plus there was just too much clay at the gather and a round shape wasn't right either. It seemed like such a ridiculous idea that I just smooched the whole thing and put it away. I walked back to the computer but my infamous stubborness kicked in and turned me right back around to try a new approach.

I didn't even know what it would be until I rolled out the clay. This time I'd rolled it in a rectangular shape. 

So the thought came...hmmm, too bad I couldn't just sew the shape together.

Then the thought, even if it was material how would you get the right shape?

Then I thought, idiot! How do you think they make the original cloth bags to get the shape? It's just a long slightly shaped rectangular bag gathered at the end. And you don't even have to sew can just press your edges together! 

So at that point I shut the voices in my head off :D I just folded the thin piece of clay over and took a razor to loosely cut a pattern. I then pressed the edges together on the two sides and then gathered the top into a tube. (oooh, promising! said the voices)

I was purely ecstatic  when I blew into it and it inflated and then just deflated a little when I removed my mouth. I immediately inserted the chanter, which goes in the end of the bag and sealed it to hold the shape. I did all this with the most delicate touch I could possibly do...I didn't want to deform either the bag inflation or the edges. I smoothed the edges very carefully to where a tiny touch of sanding would give it a seamless effect and immediately affixed it to the main piece. Then I inserted the rest of the pipes. 

I had to leave the top ends not touching anything because later I will be hand weaving a cord around them (geez, that will be maddening...each area I have to tie the cord around is no bigger than a thin jewelry cord itself and I only have about 1/4 inch space behind it to work with).

Anyways, as soon as I got it fastened as well as possible I put it in to bake. And during the wait is when I tried to solve the dilemma of a base, which I talked about yesterday. 

Here's the result of just letting my thoughts lead me to a great solution....

The piece is unfinished, so bear that in mind...there will be tinting, coloring and writing enhanced before it's over...and of course it needs it's Jammins' character added and everything placed and firmly affixed to the base.

I don't know if people will know or even care that this is hollow inside and invested with the artist's breath, and I know the photos don't quite capture the fullness that the real piece has, but I'm sooooooo happy with it. And as I do these things, like yesterday and today, I think how much value that things like allowing your mind to be analytical and free flowing at the same time can be to an artist. Yet no one tells you quite how to do that.

So I hope by sharing how it worked for me that it might lead you to new and innovative ways of creating your artwork.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Art Inspiration and happy accidents

Bob Ross, a TV show artist, used to talk about happy accidents. By that he meant an unintentional effect that occurred while painting that was useful to the whole and therefore kept.

It's easy to get stuck in a box when it comes to technique, we have a vision in our head and we've learned almost formula ways to express it with our mediums. But sometimes artists are so used to looking into their own mind and at the canvas/clay that their eyes are closed to everything else.

As Obi Kanobi (or was it the sensei master in Karate Kid ?) once said..."Be one with the universe". I may mix up who said what lol, but the point is to not get lost in your own world but to become an interacting part of what you are creating...that is what will open your eyes to possibilities that the universe gives you, as a little added bonus.

For example, this morning I headed into a stage of binding together different elements of the same sculpture. I've designed it so that things are leaning or brushing up against a central theme piece. But as I was working, even though everything was holding together, I realized that having such small appendages that weren't fully anchored to the piece increased the likelihood that something could break in someone's hand when they were touching and looking at it. And I haven't even sculpted and attached the Jammins' character. Every other piece has been more self contained and this was never a worry. 

So I figured I needed a base for this one, so there will be one more point of contact and less possibility of a delicate piece being stressed by too much pressure from someone's hand. At first I thought of a wood base and then I thought that's stupid...I have a material I can make into a base. No lathe I could use but I could cut angles close and then sand into obedience after it's fired. 

Then I thought that I really didn't like the idea of a faux wood finish, so thought I'd go for a granite/stone effect. I had some gray clay so took part of it and some white to make a lighter gray that I could mix with the dark for a little striation. I was just going to make a solid light gray. Then I was going to partially mix the two and use a rolling pin and guides to make a thick base.

So, the quickest way to mix clay is to dot smaller pieces on a square of the base color, fold it into itself and then roll into a snake. I then folded and re-rolled into a snake again about 5 times. Then you put it through a pasta machine, and then you keep folding and re-insert until it's all blended. During this process you can see lots of striations, but they are quite bold in gray and white. A lot of jewelry artists use this technique to get patterns, but that wasn't my intent.

I wasn't paying much attention to what came out of the rollers, just quickly picking it up, refolding and putting it through again, not worried if the piece came out square or distorted, but suddenly the clay and I became one. 'LOOK AT ME!' it screamed...'you didn't plan it but I've come to be exactly what you need!' And, oh boy! was it ever! doesn't just take seeing something, it also requires having a flash of inspiration in how to use it. Now, one of the restrictions to my sculpture was that pieces couldn't stand apart from each other, they needed to be interlocked for support. I really had wished I could place the character a little further away but there really wasn't a way to do it that worked and I didn't want two seperate pieces.

So, not only did I see how a pattern and shape could work as a base, I saw how I could use the strange shape to position my pieces just how I had originally wanted!

Here's my happy accident, which reminded me of a cross section cut of quartz stone...

As you can see it's a lovely base material with an interesting shape. It's fairly thin, about a 1/4 inch thick...enough to be solid, but won't really add weight. It's in neutral tones and the pattern isn't so busy that it will detract from my sculpture. Once this is varnished it will look just like polished stone. It's also something that I can loosely re-create for future bases (a hint of rose in there would have been lovely).

So there you have it..sometimes a mis-shaped blob can be all you could have wanted if you just have the inner eye to see it with. I think all artists have the ability, it's part of what makes us artists, but just as in the rest of life, we're sometimes rushing through and don't even see what it is that we're rushing by. 

I'll show you how the sculpture comes together once it's done. :)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A couple of interesting art links

I've never been too much into concept art but I guess I'm evolving...

Today I saw the work of Manfred Kleinhofer, online of course, but would love to see his Time Guardians in person. Sometimes things just 'speak' to you and these talk to me.

Check out his work and see if it talks to you :)

Here's an interesting blog my Google reader pointed me to...there's a lot of interesting work here in clay, glass and paper by many talented artists and some really good photos. I subscribed and am going to go back to check out more of the artist links. Would love for my blog to be so entertaining but I'd have to give up my day job to it  :D

Check it out.... The Daily Art Muse

Plastic as an art medium

Plastic seems like a strange art medium. First thing I'd think of when asked to imagine a plastic figurine would be one of the toy soldiers I played with as a kid. Cheap, mold poured, not of much value.

My medium for sculpting is polymer clay and plastic is what it really is, vinyl to be more exact. The question of its validity as a fine art medium is bound to come up. So I'd like to just expound on it a little.

Beyond its value to me as an art medium (which is great because it's so forgiving) it has durability. Sometimes beyond traditional mediums...although it's susceptible to UV rays it's not an issue if cured well and it's slightly flexible (un-noticeable in larger areas) so it won't chip or shatter. It doesn't feel cheap, it feels rich like stone once formed and protected by a suitable varnish. It's got a better feel than fired clay in my opinion. And it's not been poured like bronze, it comes to you fresh from the artist's hands. Granted, bronze sculpture started in the artist's hands, but every process artwork goes through creates minor changes that weren't left by the artist. 

And not only is it moldable by hand it can also be carved and sanded if crisp detail is the goal. So it does fit in with stone, wood or ivory (and other carving materials) more than bronze. I will admit that more skill is involved in the carving aspect of those materials, once you've taken something away you can't put it back. With plastic if you do break a thin appendage while sanding or carving, even after its cured, you can re-bond it with new plastic, re-cure it, and it's even stronger than the original bond because it chemically bonds into a single piece again.

So like any newer medium it comes down to perception. I think questioning the material quality of a medium is a valid process when buying art, and I think plastic is a good bet for longevity. When it comes down to bragging rights though, it might be harder to say "This is made of plastic!" rather than marble, bronze, ivory, etc. And I guess that's a valid point. 

So what does an artist do? Well, then the point becomes more about creating something that is so good that someone will say "Wow! Can you believe this is made from PLASTIC?" 

In the end, as long as an artist isn't using shoddy materials of any kind, the artwork should speak for itself. And then it becomes a matter of a collector wanting the piece because of its artistic value. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pushing through with your art

How does an artist know when to throw in the towel and start over or push through? Well, I think it depends on whether it still has the potential to get your point of view across. If the foundation was laid well and the medium allows for further work then you can paint or sculpt new layers to make it work. Just remember that if you do the same thing over and over you will get the same result, so you're going to have to approach it a little differently the second time around.

I'm happy to say I finally got my transfer issue worked out..and it was totally worth the angst to get it right in the end. Yay!

I'm pleased to give you this Site of the Week... Lisa Lorenz Paintings "Colourful Canvases" . I think Lisa sees the world through a wonderful pair of colored lenses...her work delights me every time I see it. I've always tried to go for a three dimensional look in painting (and of course sculpture) but Lisa adapts a 2 dimensional plane to 2 dimensional work...sort of a mix of graphic, pop art and wonderful style, all original in her unique mind view. I'm sure you'll enjoy it too. 

I was invited to join this weekend. It's a website set up to be an online Collector's Museum, based in Switzerland. It's an interesting concept...a place for people to upload and enquire about their own collections and a place where 'direct from the artist' allows artists and collectors to interact. It has a blind voting feature so that people can rate items according to aesthetic or monetary value (depending on the collection and particular item). It's a good system, it's not about kudos but an interesting comment on what appeals or has value for others. Humbling and sometimes surprising, from an artist's point of view. Check it's free and has the goal of being the largest online collectors museum in the online world and it's very nicely put together. One note...your notifications of votes or enquiries come in German (although you have the option to use English or German on site) so if you register then it might be a good idea to get a translation widget. 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dealing with failed art experiments

Ha....this is a sequel to yesterday's post...can you guess that my experiment process didn't work? 

Since I faithfully followed the steps of the initial experiment but got different results I tend to think that other factors than skill level are involved. I tried to do something that just wasn't meant to work in this way.

Of course it's very disappointing when you've got a certain technique in mind and nothing else will quite do, but you have to learn to leave it behind you. There's always more than one way to approach and solve a problem.

My problem is I need a simple transfer of lettering to a very small surface. It's much too small to paint or carve in. The item also needs to handle 275°F. There are no letter templates small enough and I only have ink jet photocopies to work from (I did the design I'm using on the computer).  So far I've failed with 2 mediums and about 6 techniques, but I'm far from the point of giving up. 

The thing is not to let the failures bring you down, if it was all easy the results would probably be mediocre. You seriously have to get over it, put your mind to new solutions and plow through until you find the answer.  

I do believe if there's a will there's a way. Sometimes you can deviate from your original concept in small ways, so always look for the opportunity to improve on your idea, but don't lower your expectations and take the chance of compromising your art by opting out for something that wasn't in your vision.