Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Documenting the package project

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that in 2011 I did a regular art project in which I made bundles or packages of stuff that I found lying around in the studio or on the street.  Although I had set up a blog specifically to record my daily art projects, for some reason I never posted my packages.  I had rationalizations: it wasn't technically DAILY art because I only required at least one package per week, and I hadn't gotten around to doing a good job of photography.

Years passed, and at the end of August I had an impetus to clean up my act -- I am getting ready for a solo show about my regular art projects of the past.  I wanted to have my daily art blog up to date with everything I've done since 2010, and also wanted to publish a magazine about the package project.  That meant I needed to haul the packages out of storage and photograph them, which meant I needed a photography station with a better background than the green cutting mat that I had perched packages on at the time.

Fortunately I have in my possession a whole pack of foam core boards (yes, the corners are all bashed in, but that wasn't a problem with this particular use) and many yards of black cotton.  So I made a photo booth:

Here I'm shooting my sketchbooks from 2016, in which my daily art was drawing, but the same setup worked great for the packages.  And you will be happy to hear that the picturesque drapes and droops of the fabric became invisible in the photo, leaving just a nice lush black.

So now all my packages -- 99 in all -- are properly photographed and identified and posted to my daily art blog.  If you want to check them out, go HERE.

And here are all the packages that were made out of packaging -- all the stuff that wraps, protects, swathes and bulks up the stuff we buy.  It has always seemed criminal to me to throw all that away.  I feel much better when I can wrap it up in a bundle, stash it away in a box and call it art.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Online publishing -- the easy way and the hard way

I wrote last week about sending a new self-publishing project off to the printer, using the Blurb service.  Although I get laughs over Blurb's spellcheck, I mostly admire their platform and its ease of use; same with Snapfish, another service that I have used several times.  In both cases you choose a format and up pops a template for you to work with.  It shows the dimensions of the page, with a pink line around the margins to show where you don't dare put anything because it's too close to the edge.  If you have chosen a format with information that has to go in a certain place -- for instance, if you're making a calendar, the grid goes HERE and your photos go THERE -- that's obvious on the screen.

Coincidentally, while I was working on Blurb for project 1, I was also working on project 2, the postcard for my solo show, opening in late October.  I needed a supplier who would not only print the card but mail it so I went with Modern Postcard.  I went to the website and downloaded the template for a postcard.  But wait -- it was a zip file and I don't have an unzip program on my computer.

Plan B was to just find a schematic for how a postcard has to be laid out.  Postal regulations are very picky about where you have to put the mailing permit into, where you have to put the address, which areas you have to keep blank for the bar code.  I sort of knew about all that; I didn't know that there are also large areas that must be kept free of any state abbreviation or zip code lest the optical reading devices at the post office get confused.

Surely there would be a diagram somewhere on the Modern Postcard site that would show me these specs.  And after only ten or eleven clicks I did find one -- but it was so small and blurry that I couldn't read it.

I had to run the video and pause it when the diagram came on screen; fortunately that wasn't quite so blurry so I could read and copy down the dimensions.

Now into Photoshop Elements to set up the postcard -- I made myself a little template marking off the no-fly zones.

Then I put in all the info in the space that was left, and I was all set.  And it only took 15 clicks around the Modern Postcard site to get me there.

All the while I kept thinking how much more difficult this was than project 1, which was proceeding at the same time.  If Modern Postcard had a user interface like Blurb or Snapfish, I would have just gone to their site, chosen "4.25 x 6" postcard," and up would have popped an interactive screen onto which I could have drawn text boxes and typed into them, drawn photo boxes and flowed images into them, and moved things around until I was happy.

This is not to trash Modern Postcard -- I've used them in the past and been happy with their quality, and get this, I even have a personal representative, based in the same hemisphere as me, who calls me on the phone and responds to my emails within minutes!  After I hit the SEND button on this project, I told her that I wished they would take a look at Blurb and Snapfish and maybe put in something like that instead of what they have.

Anyway, here's what I came up with:

If you're going to be anywhere near Louisville during the month of November, I hope you'll drop by and see my show!

Friday, September 7, 2018

A death in the family

I've had freezers go kaput three times in my life.  The first time was 40 years ago and that load of bad meat represented not only a big waste disposal problem but a huge hit in the pocketbook.  I remember sitting on a stool in front of the open box, loading rotten steaks into a garbage can, trying not to puke from the smell, with tears running down my face every time I caught sight of a price sticker.

The second time was two and a half years ago; a different house, and this time the freezer lived in the garage.  We started noticing a bad odor in the house -- was it a dead animal?  It took us a couple of days before we realized that it wasn't a dead animal but a dead freezer.  The chore of cleaning out the rotten food was just as unpleasant, but at least this time I didn't cry over the hundreds of dollars down the drain.  The intervening years had given us not only a bigger bank balance but a more mature perspective on life: on the disaster scale, a freezer full of rotten food wasn't anywhere near the top.

The third time occurred last weekend.  We had had premonitions for a week or so beforehand, a gallon of ice cream that wasn't rock hard, but the temperature still seemed cold enough and we forgot about it.  Then on Saturday a gallon of ice cream was not only soft to the touch but sloshed around when I lifted it.  The bacon was soft and pliable.  The big ham yielded a bit to finger pressure.  Oops.  Of course this happens on a long holiday weekend when the repair people are off duty.

We bought two huge bags of ice and put them in the freezer, and monitored the temperature twice a day.  We invited people over for dinner and cooked up the big ham.  I sent a box full of food home with my daughter-in-law.  We moved some food into the little freezer in the kitchen fridge.  We cooked up a pot roast that was thawing and had bacon for breakfast.

Days passed.  The Maytag repair shop reopened -- but couldn't send a guy out until Thursday.  We watched the thermometer in the freezer go up.  Finally on Wednesday it hit 40 degrees, maximum fridge temperature. Time for the final solution.

I gave five pounds of ground beef to my house cleaner.  I gave ten pounds of chicken breasts to my friend Debby, who proceeded to poach it all, eat some for dinner and package up the rest for future use.  We moved various containers of leftover soup and spaghetti sauce into the fridge, told the previously frozen bread and nuts they would just have to get by at room temperature, and pitched a stack of TV dinners (good riddance).

No tears, no rotten meat; five stars on the dead-freezer-experience evaluation form.  My only big regret was that the two-year limited warranty had expired -- wait for it -- on Sunday of Labor Day weekend!  That is, the day after we realized we had a big problem.  I kicked myself for not acting sooner when the first gallon of ice cream seemed soft.

By the time the repairman got here yesterday the freezer was empty.  He diagnosed a leak in the plumbing, allowing the Freon to escape.  To fix it, he would have to inject dye into the innards and come back in a couple of days (at $89 per visit) to see exactly where the leak was.  Then, he thought, it would cost about $350 to fix it.  The whole freezer had cost $550, so the decision was a no-brainer -- DNR.

There was one bright spot: the two-year limited warranty wouldn't have covered Freon leaks anyway.  The repairman cynically pointed to the sticker on the door that in large type announced a ten-year warranty on the compressor.  He told us that compressors never go bad so why not be generous!  But leaky plumbing is only covered for one year.  Makes you think twice about buying a new freezer.  I guess we'll do that we did the last time around -- try to get by without a big freezer for a while and see what life is like.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Don't you love spellcheck?

I spent the last couple of days at the computer, trying to finish up two big projects.  One was to put out another issue of my art zine with Blurb, my in-demand publisher of choice, with whom I have made several books and magazines. 

The very last step before you hit the "SEND" button is a spell check.  I don't put much faith in spell check, because I have seen it leave too many trusting souls in the lurch, but I always run it anyway because you never know.  And with Blurb's version, because it provides a dose of much-needed humor.

Blurb's grammar mavens obviously don't approve of contractions.

They apparently don't believe that a quotation can start with an uncapitalized word.

They never heard of a blog.

Strangely, for a publishing company, they don't recognize the copyright symbol.

And the coup de grace is always what the spellcheck thinks of my blog name.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Frustration with technology

Yes, I get frustrated with technology sometimes, but that's not what I'm crabby about today.

Today I'm crabby about other people's technology skills -- or rather, their lack of same.

My local fiber and textile art group is getting ready for a show and we want to prepare a gallery notebook with information on each piece in the show.  We have asked members to submit the info and a photo of their artwork; I'm in charge of compiling the info for the notebook.  I want the notebook to look professional, so I want to copy everybody's information into a single document and make sure it's all formatted the same.

We thought it would be easy -- provide a form in a Word document that people would fill out (so all the information would be there in the right order to be copied and pasted into my document), give directions for submitting the photo (don't have to crop or resize, just send us the image straight from the camera).  But it's not.

We are surrounded with technology, everybody with her various devices and connections, and yet to judge from the responses to our call for entries, a lot of people cannot use them for what I consider to be ordinary activities.  They can't figure out how to get a cellphone photo attached to their entry form.  They don't know how to tell whether their photo has been saved as a .jpg or a .dat file. They don't notice that their computer automatically resizes photos to a handful of pixels when sending email.  They send their info in a Pages document or a PDF instead of a Word document.  They don't have Word on their computers and can't open or can't fill in a document.  They don't know how to work around by typing their info into an email.

I know I'm a curmudgeon, and I know I'm way more dedicated to the written and printed word than most people are.  But I worry that ordinary, everyday capabilities that every educated person used to have are now endangered, washed away in the flood of cellphones and tablets and Facebook and Instagram.  The tech industry has enabled this by equipping many smaller devices with alternative programs, perhaps easier to use for minimal tasks but incompatible with the grownup programs like Word on which the business world operates.  And people who own these smaller devices often retire their actual computers, on which grownup business tasks would be much easier.  Meanwhile, the proprietors of grownup programs discourage people from using them, by charging continuing user fees instead of allowing people to buy the programs outright.

As a result, people can easily do minimal things on their phones or tablets, but they can't produce any kind of work that is compatible with the grownup world.  Is this progress?  What do people use when they have to write a letter?  (Do people write letters any more?)  What do they do if they need to print out a biography or an artist statement or a page for a gallery notebook?  What if they are asked to give a presentation to a group?  How do they keep track of their artwork and their show entries?

And I try not to even think about how the "informality" of text and email, plus the "convenience" of voice-recognition dictation, has turned us into a nation of inarticulate, ungrammatical misspellers who never think to proofread before they hit the send button.

I try to be tolerant of people who feel overwhelmed by learning new tasks, particularly older people like myself.  There are tech tasks that I have resisted, preferring to play dumb and hope my kids will step in and do it for me.  But if you want to participate in a serious art activity and can't do things on a computer to enable you to enter a show or take good photos or whatever, then I think you should find a friend or hire a geek to help you.

Now back to retyping my gallery notebook, since I can't copy and paste from what people have sent me.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Refugee quilt people

Longtime readers of my blog may recall how last year I made a lot of little sculptures of people and had a lot of fun doing it.  But after I put them all together into a single installation for a show, and then took them apart and put them back in their boxes, and then sold a few of them, I thought that project was over.

Until a few weeks ago when I noticed the weekly email from SAQA with a call for entries for a new show with the theme of refugees.  It's called "Forced to Flee" and the entry deadline is October 31.  And it specifically allows 3-D entries.

I decided I needed to make some more people specifically for this show.  But I knew they would have to fit the SAQA definition of a quilt, which is a creative visual work that is layered and stitched or that references this form of stitched layered structure.

After a bit of thinking about how I could make sure that my people, who were generally layered but not stitched, would fit that definition, I had a brainstorm.  What if I were to start with pieces of actual quilts?  And I knew exactly where to get pieces of actual quilts -- I would ask my friend Denise Furnish, whose art M.O. is to paint onto beat-up old quilts, if she had some leftover bits and pieces she could donate to my cause.

She did, and I have been making quilt refugee people for a couple of weeks now.

While my previous batch of daily people were all shapes and sizes and made out of all kinds of materials, these guys are all pretty similar.  Their clothing all looks beat-up, faded and torn, as befitting people who have trekked across the desert or sailed in a leaky boat across the sea.

I have made no attempt to conceal the holes and stains and frayed edges and the cotton batting leaking out from between the layers; I think it gives my little people substance and character.  The only thing I've added to the quilt pieces, besides thread and cord, is some walnut ink to give many of the people dark skin.  And they all have heavy wire armatures inside to allow them to stand up on a board with drilled holes.

I have a lot to do these days and I know I can't spend the entire fall sewing up little refugee quilt people, but I hope to get a fairly large number of them finished before the entry deadline.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Thought for the day

Every so often I fall through a time hole and spend some time with old posts on a favorite blog.  That happened to me while reading Tanya Watanabe's great blog, which I discovered a few years ago and have been addicted to ever since.  She is an American who went to Japan 35 years ago, got married to a Japanese, and still lives there.  She's a quilter but what I love most about the blog is her description of daily life in Japan.  Check it out here.

But you don't have to read the blog to enjoy the thought for the day:

I remember hearing a story about a missionary who lived in Central America for many years and when she was getting ready to return to America, the missions board sent out an announcement to all the churches she had ministered to that she was leaving.  One day an old man arrived at her door carrying two coconuts as a thank-you gift for her time with them.  She was very touched by the gift but she was more concerned about the man, who she knew had had a four-day walk from his village just to give her the coconuts.  "Thank you so much for your gift, but what a long walk you had to have!"  The old man replied, "Long walk part of gift."

Monday, August 20, 2018

Daily art update 8 -- I've been there

One of my favorite recurring formats is "I've been there" -- I find a photo in the newspaper of something happening in a place that I've been, then paste it up with a map of that place.  I wrote about this format earlier in the year and since then I've done dozens.

Sometimes the "there" in I've been there is interpreted relatively loosely -- I've driven over that particular bridge or been through that particular town.

But I'm getting much more satisfaction out of a tight reading of "there."  For instance, this photo of Stuttgart, with the cutlines referencing the main train station in the background.  I give myself extra points because I've not only been to Stuttgart but came and went through the main train station.

Here's a photo of Wrangell, Alaska, where I've been -- but extra points because the story was about getting to Wrangell on the Alaska State Ferry, and that's exactly how we got there.

This photo shows a nurse in the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Hospital, and I'm sorry to report that we once spent a very long night in its emergency room.

Here's a photo of 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a troubled property owned by Jared Kushner's family.  Not only did my parents occasionally take us to dinner in the very fancy restaurant on the top floor ("Top of the Sixes") but at least twice a month I would take the E train to the Fifth Avenue station, walk upstairs into the 666 building and turn left on 53rd Street to get to the Donnell Library, my favorite teenage haunt.

And here's a story about a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996 that led the Australian government to effectively ban most private guns.  We visited the actual site of the shooting, at a national park, where they have set up a little remembrance area.

This project has added a new dimension to my morning ritual of a cup of tea and two newspapers; now in addition to reading what fabulously good news has developed throughout the world, I scan every photo to see if I've been there.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Unhappy customer

I am going to have a solo show in November focusing on my many daily art projects over the last two decades, and I'm getting serious about what pieces to exhibit and how to display them.  I decided that the best way to show four years worth of collage work on index cards would be to choose maybe 20 of the cards and pin them to a foam core board, and put the file boxes with the rest of the cards on a table where visitors could leaf through them at leisure.

So I needed some big foam core boards.

After not finding them at my local office supply store, I went online and discovered that Office Depot had a pack of ten for sale.  Great!  But they were not available for instore purchase.  Instead, they would deliver them to my house tomorrow for free.  Seemed like a great deal, so I bought them.

But when the boards came the next day, it was bad news.  They were loosely packed in a cardboard carton with no internal packaging.  No flaps to protect the corners.  And guess what -- every single corner of every single board was busted in. 

I filed a complaint and got a speedy reply telling me that they would of course refund my money, and would be happy to put in a replacement shipment, and the beat-up boards would be picked up Tuesday between 89:30 and 5 pm. 

Tuesday came and went, but nobody showed up to pick up the boards.  I called.  She looked up the order -- and there was no pickup scheduled.  I should dispose of the boards myself, and did I want her to put the replacement shipment in.

I asked if they were just going to send a new pack of boards in the same packaging.  She consulted something and finally came back to say there was no way to request special packaging, the next shipment would be just like the first one.  I declined.  Could I have the boards delivered to a store so I could see what I was buying?  She consulted something and finally came back to say no.

So now I own ten FREE foam core boards with busted-in corners, but none that are pristine enough to be put in a gallery.  One friend suggested that our local art store might be able to cut the corners off neatly.  (Because if you've ever tried to cut foam core, you know that home tools just give you a big mess.)  I will pursue that.  But if they can't, I guess I will have a search for some place in town other than Office Depot that can sell me big foam core boards.

I'm glad I have started on this show planning with plenty of lead time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Daily art update 7 -- museum maps and a plea for help!

I wrote last week about train tickets that have been brought to me by vacationing friends.

And speaking of friends....

I'm always wildly grateful for help from my friends.  I've been asking people who are on their way to vacation if they would bring me train tickets, maps or any tourist things that include a map.  I'm thinking of things like museum brochures that have a street map on the back or business cards from restaurants with a street map.

Here are four pages that will eventually become part of a book called "My Friends Go to the Museum."  Each page has the name of the museum, a little picture of something on display in the museum, a map, and of course, thanks to the friends who brought it to me.

I find it interesting that different museums have such different approaches to maps.  The Bologna map is totally detailed, showing every street within a one-mile radius.  The Paris map is stylized, with only a few main drags.  The Sao Miguel map shows a whole chunk of Portugal.

I would love to have a lot more pages in this book, so here's an invitation -- if you have brought home piles of brochures from past travels that are simply gathering dust in your files or piles, and you'd just as soon have them disappear and become somebody else's junk, and a few of them include a map on the back page, send them to me!  I will love and cherish them and turn them into certified ART, and thank you on the page.

Same with tickets, or museum brochures that include a map/floor plan of the museum rather than a street map.  Every one will find a home in my daily art this year.  And these ephemera don't have to come from exotic places -- the next time you visit your local museum, look on the back of the brochure and see if you find a map.  If you do, I would be a very happy recipient.

In case you are moved to send me something, shoot me an email and I'll tell you my address (I'm hesitant to publish it on the internet, although of course a thousand hackers across the second and third worlds already know it).  And my sincerest thanks in advance!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Inadequacy and style

Last week on Hyperallergic, the daily e-newsletter about edgy art, I found an interesting cartoon, a recurring feature by CM Campbell about "How to Draw a Black Guy."  In two minutes you can get much to chew on about cartooning, race relations and artist doubt.  But what I liked the most was his almost-at-the-end conclusion.

"That's why you should never force style.  It's just inadequacy combined with practice."

What a profound and true statement!  As I look at my own art practice, I see so many examples of inadequacy combined with practice.  Probably the most blatant is that I can't do beautiful calligraphy, so I have cultivated varieties of handwriting and handlettering that are deliberately awkward, wobbly and misproportioned.  I think they look pretty nice.

I guess there are two ways to deal with inadequacy -- avoid the area entirely, or figure out a way to embrace the situation and make the best of it.  Think about that for a bit.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Daily art update 6 -- ticket to ride

Another format for my daily map depends on a train ticket, either one that I bought and used at some point in the past, or one that I found on the street, or one that a friend brought home for me.  And I must give a shout-out to those wonderful friends who are supplying me with tickets, museum brochures, flyers and just plain maps from their travels.  I really appreciate what you have brought me!!!

My rule for this format: paste the ticket onto an index card, add a map.  Thank the friend who brought it to me.

Serendipity struck with this last ticket.  As we went places in Hamburg in May, we ended up at the train station at least twice a day, and if I saw some tickets on the floor or in the street that weren't too encrusted with crud I would pick them up.

When I got home I inspected them closely and realized that this ticket wasn't from Hamburg at all but Graz -- almost 700 miles away in Austria. (I wonder how it got to the floor of the Hamburg station.)  And noted that in my newly acquired  collection of brochures was an ad for Graz tourism, complete with map!  So it was easy to match the ticket with its map.  I don't suppose I'll find that kind of coincidence again.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Daily art update 5 -- endless highway

This year my daily art is different from past years in that I don't make a piece every day with the same format that I can easily photograph and post to my blogs.  Instead I have a theme -- maps -- but no rules as to what kind of art I should do each day with a map.  Some days I might be making a little book, other days a collage/painting, other days a 3D construction.  Some days I work on a continuing project without trying to precisely document the beginning and end of that particular day's work.

I haven't reported on my progress in quite a while, so maybe it's time for an update.

One of the new formats that I've been doing more than once is what I call "endless highway," in which I cut small bits from the road atlas or other map source and join them to others.  Sometimes I mount these constructions in accordion books; sometimes I make cubes.

It's amusing to see a highway go from Cleveland to Honolulu to Twin Falls.

The cubes are most difficult to make.  It's tricky to find a map bit with highways heading in three directions, meeting the adjacent sides in exactly the right place.

And it's also tricky to construct the cube from cardstock; how do you get a firm bond when gluing the sides together when you can't get your hands inside?  But these little technical challenges are what I love about making art.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Art report / Hamburg 5

This is the end of my art reports from Europe, with something kind of funny from the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Annette Streyl,  BMW München / Palast der Republik / Reichstag Berlin (details below)

As the wall sign explains:  "The sculptures use architectural models as their starting point.  Annette Streyl had the Reichstag and other landmarks of German politics and history knit at a scale of 1:100 and hung them over a clothesline.  Deprived of their power and importance, they resemble pieces of wet laundry."

Germans might find more of an instant frisson of recognition, but if you aren't familiar with the buildings (as Americans would be, for instance, with a model of the White House) you have to take it on faith that these are accurate scale models.

I got a laugh out of these pieces, especially the limply dangling flag atop the Reichstag.  The tall BMW towers looked to me just like as a pair of long johns.

Worth the price of admission!