Friday, December 31, 2010

Art-A-Day -- it's over!!

A year ago I started an art project for 2010, in which I would take a photograph every day.  Very soon I realized that to make this project worthwhile, I would need a way to do something with the photos, and started this blog as a vehicle for displaying them.  While the blog has expanded to deal with lots of other varieties of art, and my activities and thoughts regarding them, the daily photo project has been a constant.

I cannot begin to describe the benefits I've gotten from this endeavor.  My eye has gotten so much better, my sense of what makes a good photo has improved, my ability to take the picture I see has improved (thanks in part to a nifty new camera).  Even the inexorable demands of needing a photo every day, no matter if I'm feeling sick or have too many meetings or am snowbound or trapped in the intercontinental transportation system, have paid dividends.  I've learned to find photos in unlikely spots, by looking for the unlikely, the incongruous, the visually striking little view among a vast landscape of boring mediocrity.  It's not that hard -- all you have to do is make yourself concentrate, make yourself look, have the camera in your pocket.

As the year has drawn to its close I have thought a lot about whether to extend the photo project to next year.  I do enjoy taking the photos, and suspect it wouldn't be nearly as much fun if I didn't have the discipline of posting them.  But the daily deadline can sometimes be tedious, and I'm running out of failsafe photos to snap when it's 11 pm and I haven't gotten a picture yet today.  You've already seen my thread drawer, my paintings and sculptures, the night view from my back porch, the ice in my cocktail glass. 

I watched with great interest when Linda McLaughlin, who conducted a similar project starting a month before I did, reached the end of her year.  She decided to maintain the routine of posting a photo every day, but removed the requirement that the photo be taken that very day.  She pointed out, reasonably, that her archive of neat photos is fat enough to allow her to post old shots that are nevertheless new to her readers.  I thought this was an excellent solution and so that's what I'm going to do for 2011.

Meanwhile, I'm also taking another good idea from Linda, inviting you to choose your favorite photo from the year, and I'll send you a print of it.  Review the photos by clicking here. You probably don't want to post your email or street address in the comments, so send a note to and tell me your favorite and how I should send it to you. 

Thank you for reading the blog, and for looking at my daily pictures, and I hope you enjoy doing it next year as well.

December 26 -- frozen pond

December 27 -- plywood

December 28 -- tail fin

December 29 -- nandina

December 30 -- Christmas cat

December 31 -- shadow

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sign of the week

and we really appreciate your business!  come see us again!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good deeds

Every now and then I like to do a good deed or two for my loved ones, and this week's deeds both had to do with mending.  The last time Zoe came over, wearing her hand-me-down warm winter coat, it looked a little bedraggled, with a sleeve strap hanging loose and buttons missing.  I was too busy fixing Christmas dinner to deal with it, but when she came over yesterday the time was right!

I cannibalized places inside the coat to find a few replacement buttons, but finally had to root through the button box for almost-matches.  Nobody will ever notice the non-matching button holding the hood to the neckline, and probably nobody will notice the non-matching sleeves unless it's a fashion-conscious cop handcuffing her behind her back.

That left the front, where we needed one semi-functional and one cosmetic button to complete the double-breasted look.  (Semi-functional in that the top button on the right side of the coat secured a functional button on the inside.)  I put an almost-matching button on the top, where it will be visible only when the collar is turned up.

What about that last cosmetic-only button?  If it were my own coat I would have moved the second button down to the bottom, and filled the second space with an ultrasuede heart or a bright orange button.  But Zoe voted to leave well enough alone.  I reminded her to hold her purse over the blank spot if she's being photographed.

In doing this repair job I was reminded of the sheer volume of work required to properly attach a button that has to go through a heavy layer.  You need a little button on the back side to relieve the tension and keep the thread from cutting through the fabric.  You need to hold the button up from the surface as you sew, to give yourself enough slack to clear the thickness of the coat.  You have to wrap those slack threads into a firm shank, and secure it firmly underneath.  And even on this particular half-length little girl's coat, you have to do it 13 times, plus three buttons that can simply be sewed on without shanks.  Tailoring doesn't happen in a minute.

By contrast, my good deed earlier this week was to mend a big tear in my husband's work shorts, which had been sitting in the studio since summer. 

What do guys do to their shorts to put symmetrical rips just above the cuffs?  Because there was an earlier mend on the other leg in exactly the same place.  This rip gave me the opportunity to do my favorite kind of repair: one that doesn't have to be really neat, just sturdy; that involves the sewing machine, not handstitching; that gets finished in minutes; and that uses whatever nice strong fabric happens to be out on the work table, as you can see from the back side view below.  I thought the most recent repair (at right in the photo above) was nicer than the earlier one, and briefly considered putting some more stitching into the old one, but stopped myself.  It's mending, not art.

So, two jobs done.  That should fill my good deed quota for the rest of the year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Naming your work -- unless you don't want to!!

I wrote earlier this month about naming your work, and speculated that artists who have a hard time doing it may be suffering from insufficient thought about what they're up to.  I suggested that an important part of the visual artist's job is to be able to articulate his own motives and concerns.  Deborah Stearns posted a long, interesting comment and asked whether it's really necessary for visual art to be intermediated with words -- aren't there situations where an artist would rather simply let the work speak for itself?

Log Rhythms 1  (the title may be better than the quilt)

A fascinating question, and one that forces me to look in the mirror a bit.  I was a word person long before I was an image person, making my living as a writer for decades before I retired and decided to be an artist in my second career.  As one who enjoys a facility with the written and spoken language, am I just being elitist comparing myself (favorably) to people who simply enjoy a facility with visual language? 

Well, I hope not -- it's no fun being thought of as an elitist. But I did think about situations where world-class artists have chosen to zip their lips when it comes to naming their work.  I started, of course, with an expedition to Google.  That revealed many bits of advice on why you should title your work and many more bits of advice on how to title your work, mostly from people you never heard of.  The consensus among these advisors is that a title helps people understand what you're up to, and thus helps them form emotional bonds with the artwork, and thus makes them more likely to buy it.  But I also found some fascinating info on the use of titles through art history.

Old Masters' paintings often were given titles not by the artists but by the purchasers, or the art dealers who needed to identify the paintings for sale, or perhaps the scholars who later started keeping track of their body of work.  "Mona Lisa," for instance, came from one of Leonardo's biographers, but it's also known as "La Gioconda."

Presenting works of art as "Untitled" became a deliberate philosophical statement among some artists in the last century, especially Minimalists.  As I flip through my thin Taschen book on Minimal Art I find "Untitled" works by Dan Flavin, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Carl Andre and a couple of other artists I never heard of.  Here's a comment from the website of the Finnish National Gallery

When an artwork is just labelled Untitled, does it imply that the artist’s treasurehouse of words is empty? Or can the lack of a title in itself be intentional and therefore meaningful? Some artists may not want to give any clues for interpretation, others can feel the title is unimportant.  Entitling works ’untitled’ has also been an extreme modernist phenomenon, part of an ideology of art which states that a work does not, and should not, point to any reality beyond itself. For example, a painting must only be a painting, addressing such issues as colour, form, texture and composition, and nothing more. According to this strategy, inventing a title for a painting leads the viewers’ imagination astray instead of leading them to focus on the essential, the painting’s intrinsic reality.

Jackson Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner, once said that he "used to give his pictures conventional titles... but now he simply numbers them. Numbers are neutral. They make people look at a picture for what it is -- pure painting."  A typical Pollock might be titled "Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)", although arguably Lavender Mist is what people now call it, and Lavender Mist strongly resembles one of those tacky "conventional titles."

Cindy Sherman calls the photos in her most famous series "Untitled Film Still #1" or "Untitled Film Still #13."  Morris Louis refused to title his works; his wife chose Hebrew and Greek letters as labels, such as "Beta Kappa" or "Saf Gimmel."

Some academic researchers have found that viewers get more pleasure out of paintings when they can deduce the artist's message, and that titling an abstract painting does make it more meaningful to viewers -- but not necessarily more pleasurable.  You may wonder how valuable it was to humanity for them to have reached these conclusions but that would be rude and beside the point.

So if Jackson Pollock wants to give his work deliberately meaningless names, who am I to tell him he can't or shouldn't?  But for those of us on much lower levels of the food chain, the title of a work may be a weapon in our arsenal of ways to get people to like the work and maybe even buy it.  One advisor even suggests that "Given two identical works of art, one titled "Untitled" and the other untitled, the one titled "Untitled" is worth more than the one that's untitled..... Given two identical untitled works of art, one with an explanation of why it's untitled and the other with no explanation, the one with the explanation is worth more and will sell for a higher price than the one without."

If this is true -- that viewers look to a title to help understand what the artist is trying to communicate -- then it is in every artist's interest to put that into the title.  And returning to my original point, if you don't know yourself what you're trying to communicate, it's going to be hard to come up with persuasive and appealing titles.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cincinnati art 5

So I took a Christmas break from this series, but I still have lots of photos from the Cincinnati Art Museum to share with you.

For some reason I usually enter the modern art rooms at this museum backward -- instead of coming upon them after a nice chronological jaunt through the impressionists and the cubists and the other early 20th century painters, I walk in through a long narrow corridor from the elevator lobby.  You sacrifice grandeur sneaking in this way, but in return you get to see the wonderful Franz Kline from a hundred feet away, framed by the doorways and waiting for you at the end of the road. I wish I had thought to take a photo of that view, but instead I just shot the painting itself.

And what a great painting it is.

Franz Kline, Horizontal Rust, 1960

Kline's signature modus operandi is his huge, bold black brushstrokes on white backgrounds, so it's a bit of a surprise to see that hint of pinky red in behind the black in this painting.  My brief research reveals that he started adding color a few years before this one was painted, and continued to do so until his death in 1962, but wherever these paintings are, I have either never seen them or they failed to enter my long-term memory.

Instead, my mental Kline gallery has pictures like this one, which I saw in January at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Franz Kline, Hazelton, 1957

But back to Horizontal Rust -- I was intrigued by the details of the brushstrokes, especially the dry brush effect between the bold black areas.  A beautiful painting, both from far away and up close.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The typographic observer 5

Place: Japan 
Graffiti: Roman alphabet
Go figure

Saturday, December 25, 2010


December 19 -- frozen

December 20 -- rivulet

December 21 -- candlelight

December 22 -- cold tomatoes

December 23 -- marked

December 24 -- centerpiece

December 25 -- hearth

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas ornaments 2

I don't always use my "signature" lettering style (which resembles the great typeface Optima) on my ornaments; sometimes I find pre-existing letters or typefaces to copy. 

These ornaments came from the year my dad died; Palatino was his favorite typeface so I printed the letters off the computer, traced them backward onto a stabilizer, put metallic thread in the bobbin, and machine-embroidered freehand so the letters appeared on the top layer.

Underneath the wire wrapping and the teabag overlay are press-on type letters (the real Optima, not my hand-drawn faux version).

I drafted my own letters on graph paper for these cross-stitch models, also for the bead-weaving ones below (which look especially gorgeous when the light shines through from behind).

Sometimes I used old type, either to print from (I apply paint to the type with a brush, then print the letter onto the fabric) or to emboss into Fimo clay.

Here are some ornaments using store-bought initials of various styles and materials.

Wood letters, about an inch high, enhanced with lots of wire curlicues and beads.

Plastic letters, with two holes so you could sew them onto your baseball cap or something.  I thought the holes looked tacky, so I affixed the letter to the background by wrapping it with thread and sewing through the fabric.

Alphabet beads.

I guess these count as store-bought, too -- the fancy embroidery fonts on my new-that-year Bernina 1230.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas ornaments

I wrote a few weeks ago about setbacks in making my annual Christmas ornaments.  I'm happy to report that Plan B turned out well, and as of this morning, all recipients of the 2010 ornaments have received their gifts.  So it's safe for me to post photos without ruining anybody's surprise.

The rules of this tradition are that each ornament must include the recipient's name or initial, and the year.  This year's ornament is almost all paper, a change from my usual approach of using fiber.  I glued commercial scrapbooking paper in a music design onto thin wood blanks, then cut the initials and the date out of paper that I had painted with acrylics.  Over the years I've cut a lot of letters out of both fabric and paper, but until now, never with an X-acto knife. 

I had a lot of fun with my cutting, and never drew any guidelines.  I generally cut from the back of the paper to keep the painted surface from getting nicks in it, and I think that working in reverse gave the letters an air of unexpected jauntiness that wouldn't have happened had I really seen what I was making.

About those Roman numerals -- aside from MM, MMI and MMV, on which I missed the boat, this is the last year in my lifetime that I'll be able to get away with just three letters, so I thought I'd better carpe annum.  (Besides, it's easier to cut straight lines than curves, and I thought 2 would be especially difficult to render with a blade, 40 times, attractively.)

I inserted a gold hanging thread between the wood and the paper when I glued down the back side, and finished the edges with a bead of dimensional gold acrylic paint.

This year's material was new to my ornament repertoire, but I can't say the same for the typography.  I have been chagrined in the past to realize that one year's ornaments were riffing on the same theme as a previous year's, and oops, I just did it again!  I don't set out to copy myself, it just turns out that way.  Exhibits A and B:

Oh well, at least the Roman numerals are original.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cincinnati art 4

More of the all-star team that I saw at the Cincinnati Art Museum last week. 

I'm a Warhol fan, but can't say that the piece in Cincinnati moves me as much as many of his other works.  This one was commissioned by the museum, and commemorates Pete Rose.  Some observers think that everything Warhol ever did was shallow, crude and deliberately trendy.  I disagree, but this particular piece may come closer than a lot of others.  It is colorful and cheery.

Andy Warhol, Pete Rose, 1985

Here's a nice Richard Diebenkorn, with an intriguing mix of interior and exterior views; hard to tell where one stops and the other starts.

Richard Diebenkorn, Interior with View of Buildings, 1962

And a small Robert Rauschenberg combine picture.  I learned that he made an entire series called "Glut," named for the oil glut of the 1980s that wreaked economic havoc on his home state of Texas.  He collected the raw materials for these assemblages on a visit to Texas, where it wasn't hard to find a lot of junk on the sites of failed businesses and factories.

Robert Rauschenberg, Kaleidoscope Summer Glut, 1987

And a nice Rothko, a painting in his standard three-bar format.  The title of the painting describes the background of the painting as maroon, but Mark's idea of maroon is a lot different than mine.  I would describe it as black with a red/brown cast.  To me the most important color relationship in this picture is the complementary orange/blue reverberation.  And while none of these colors will make it to my top ten favorite list, they work well together in this painting.

Mark Rothko, Brown, Orange, Blue on Maroon, 1963

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cincinnati art 3 -- comparison shopping

In the Cincinnati Art Museum I saw two paintings that reminded me of works by the same artists I had seen recently.  One I liked the Cincinnati work better, one I liked the work I had seen earlier better.

First the (relative) disappointment.  I've always loved Gerhard Richter, and was so happy to find several of his works on display in the museums I visited this summer in Germany. 

So last week I found a new Richter in Cincinnati, made last year; I haven't been to the museum in several months and this is the first time I've seen it.  It's from his Abstract Painting series.  He has made hundreds of these paintings, each of them heavily layered, scraped, overpainted, sanded away and reworked to show depths upon depths.  If you want to get a flavor of this body of work, click here and here and here and here.

I've seen several of these in the flesh, but this is the smallest, only about 20 inches wide.  Don't get me wrong, if you gave this to me I'd hang it in my living room in a nanosecond and love it forever.  But I didn't think it had the depth and richness of color of the painting I saw in Nürnberg. Nor the sheer impact of size: the Nürnberg picture was about four times bigger on each dimension than the Cincinnati one.

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (908-02), 2009  (Cincinnati Museum of Art)

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, (Abstract Picture) 1991  (Neues Museum, Nürnberg) 

The next pair of paintings comes from Sam Gilliam.  I wrote earlier this month about a new piece that was just acquired by the Speed Museum in Louisville.

In this pair, I like the Cincinnati version better. In the three years between these two paintings, Gilliam did away with stretcher bars and suspended his canvas from a single point on the wall. My only quibble with this method of display is that you only get to see half of the gorgeous surface, mostly composed of stains and drops rather than brushwork.

Sam Gilliam, Arch, 1971    (Cincinnati Museum of Art)  -- detail below
Sam Gilliam, Restore, 1968 (Speed Museum, Louisville)

Seeing this piece made me want to go home and put grommets into my quilts instead of hanging sleeves and sticks!  But I always have that thought upon visiting this piece, and have never yet managed to translate the thought into action.