A free moment

Emerge No. 5, detail

The large figure drawings have been photographed and posted on my website, the prints and photographs are at the framer, and my studio is set up and ready to go for Waltham Mills Open Studios this weekend.  For the first time in months I don’t have any pressing work that needs to be done immediately. I’m taking some time this morning to breathe momentarily before the wave of installations, opening receptions, and gallery talks begins next month.

My advice column “Ask the Art Professor” has been on hiatus for the past two months while I prepared for my exhibitions.  Now that the exhibition work is complete, I’m going to work on getting the column up and running again. I have missed working on the column, so it will be nice to get back to writing.

I’ve also made two local contacts who have agreed to provide consultation on my idea for creating a series of video tutorials. One meeting is with a small local production company, and the other is with someone who has worked in public television. At this point I’m just interested in knowing what my options are, and what kind of logistics might be involved. I probably don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but it’s very refreshing to enter a new field which is completely unknown to me.

Emerge No. 2, detail

Open studios: Artists and visitors

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Waltham Mills Open Studios is just a week away, so I am starting to prepare for the event.  Last year I wrote a blog post, titled “12 ways to prepare for open studios” that makes concrete suggestions for artists getting ready for an open studios event. I revisited my list to be sure that I am on top of every detail.

I’m always thinking about ways that I can improve the open studios experience, both for myself and my visitors, so this past week I’ve been brainstorming some potential strategies.  There is one aspect of open studios that I’ve always found to be at times awkward for both the artist and the visitors.  Inevitably, there are moments when your studio is empty, and then you get one or two visitors who walk in and you’re just standing there by yourself, watching them as they enter. This can awkward for the artist, because you don’t want to come on too strong and force a conversation your visitor doesn’t necessarily want to have.  On the other hand, ignoring your visitors doesn’t seem polite either. From the visitor’s point of view, this situation can be uncomfortable because you can feel pressured to make conversation with the artist. When the studio is empty, and it’s just you and the artist, you can’t just wander at your own pace the way you can when the studio is full of other people. In the past, when I’ve visited other artists’ studios at other open studios events and this happens, I get anxious that the artist is scrutinizing my actions, and I feel pressured to linger longer so I don’t offend them by leaving too quickly. I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve visited an artist’s studio, and realized within minutes that I’m not interested in staying.  If the studio is crowded, it’s really easy to slip out quickly without feeling like you’re going to offend the artist with your very brief visit.

So I’ve been trying to think about what activity I could be actively engaged in during the event that wouldn’t require too much concentration on my part, that visitors might be interested in seeing, but that would also keep me accessible to my visitors.  Then it occurred to me that I could demonstrate printing some mezzotints throughout the event. I have yet to edition these mezzotints, so it’s something I need to be working on anyway. This would allow my visitors to watch me in action, and provide some insight into how the work is made. Printing the mezzotints is a purely technical process; I don’t have to concentrate very hard to do it and I know I will be able to talk to people and answer questions at the same time.  I can also stop and easily pick up from where I left off. (by comparison, I could never do this while I was drawing)  It’s an experiment, I’ll try it the first day and see if it works!

Studio View

Scraping

In progress

This sixth and final drawing that I’ve been working on recently has proved to be more work than I initially thought. With the exception of the central standing figure, the other figures in this drawing are extremely light and suggestive. I thought for this reason that it would be less work. On the contrary, I discovered that the quickest way to get the subtleties I was looking for was to “overdraw” the figures and then scrape them down. It was really difficult to directly smear the etching ink in a subtle manner, so the only way I could get the lightest tones was to scrape with the x-acto knife. I’m sure I spent more time scraping than I did actually drawing with the etching ink.

I did finish this drawing today, which felt terrific.  This means that all six large scale drawings for my upcoming solo exhibition at Simmons college are 99% complete.  I have just enough time to review each drawing and make slight tweaks, but the work needed for this show is pretty much done.

November is going to be an avalanche of events; I’m participating in Waltham Open Studios on Nov. 1 & 2, and then I have the Simmons exhibition and the solo exhibition at Framingham State immediately afterwards. My calendar is a little scary looking, but it’s nice to know that the work is finally done.

In progress

Accessibility

Brainstorming a series of fine art tutorials has me thinking a lot about this idea of accessibility. One of the aspects of the contemporary fine art world that has always bothered me is how incredibly exclusive it is.   In my experience, so much of the fine art world behaves in an elite, condescending manner towards the layman. Take contemporary art galleries, for example:  the last time I was in New York City walking around art galleries in Chelsea, one thing I noticed was how cold and unfriendly the people working in the galleries were.  I walked into one gallery where the two people at the desk wouldn’t even make eye contact or greet me as I walked into the gallery. In the past, when I did make an attempt to talk to someone in the gallery, I felt like I was intruding on their space, and how dare I try to speak to them. Can you imagine any other business or store treating a visitor in such a manner? All of these qualities sends a harsh message to the average person that the contemporary fine art world is off limits to them, it’s a closed world that they cannot enter.

Drawings that Work: 21st BCA Drawing Show

Many other fields, like design and illustration, across the board aggressively make themselves accessible to the general public.  There are millions of professional blogs, TV shows, online tutorials, social media sites for these fields. This accessibility is completely accepted and encouraged by other professionals in these fields.  This is not the case in the contemporary fine arts world.  The vast majority of professional fine artists today present their work with a mystique.  They don’t generally show any glimpse of their creative process, all of the mistakes and blunders are completely hidden from the public. One of my favorite things about Julia Child was that she was not afraid to make a mistake on camera.  Instead of being embarrassed by her mistake, she would transform it into a teachable moment and explain how to fix it and move on. For many people, her mistakes taught people just as much, if not more than when they watched her do something perfectly.

I’ve written in the past about how at times I get self-conscious about the fact that I blog extensively about my fine arts work.  I worry that many of my academic colleagues would look down on the kind of writing and blogging that I do.  My approach to my writing is conversational and not written for an academic audience.  For this reason, I’m an anomaly in the academic fine arts world.  This is why I’m thinking that a series of art tutorials from someone with my background could fill a niche that has not been addressed so far.

Researching art tutorials

I was teaching at RISD yesterday, and was able to carve out time to have lunch and dinner with two other RISD faculty. I talked to both of them about my “pie in the sky” idea of creating a show for fine artists which would feature tutorials on techniques and approaches in visual art. Both of them were very encouraging about this idea and it got me thinking that maybe I’m not crazy, and maybe this really is something I should seriously think about pursuing in the near future.

While I enjoy writing my advice column “Ask the Art Professor” for the Huffington Post, I have come to the realization that the format of a written advice column is limited when it comes to the visual arts. Yes, there are endless topics to be discussed, and I do intend to continue the column-but-ultimately to truly drive an idea home it seems like the format for talking about visual art has to be, well, visual.

I’ve been doing some research, trying to get a sense of what has been done before in how-to art shows.  All of the videos I’ve come across have been embarrassingly awful, demonstrating terrible approaches to drawing that offer both cheap shortcuts and incredibly inefficient ways of working. Or, I’ve found a few select documentaries that depict someone who is a contemporary master of an extremely difficult, specialized technique. (for an example, watch this video about engraving) While these documentaries are really great and fascinating, the techniques being shown are so advanced and require such high end facilities that for the average person, the technique is totally inaccessible.

In thinking about how I might approach this, I’ve been considering cooking shows as an analogy to what I might want to do. I love to cook, and hands down my favorite chef is Jacques Pepin.  I’ve watched his shows and cooked through many of his cookbooks throughout my life. He embodies the perfect balance of accessibility and mastery in his cooking shows. In his demonstrations, he delivers content in a distilled, simple manner that anyone can understand and actually put to practical use.  He provides solid, fundamental ideas but is also extremely detail oriented.  I hate recipes that say “salt and pepper to taste.”  By contrast, Jacques Pepin always tells you precisely how much salt and pepper to put in. Simultaneously, he is undeniably a master chef, and does amazing things that I will never be able to do as a home cook.  (I will never, ever, be able to chop garlic like he does.)

I think there is a void in the fine arts that I could potentially fill, and it’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

Pie in the Sky

Final Crit

Recently I’ve been thinking about other opportunities I could create for myself that would allow me to broaden my teaching.  Currently, my teaching is focused on my classes at RISD and through writing my “Ask the Art Professor” column for the Huffington Post. (although the column has been on hiatus because I am preparing for my solo exhibitions in November.  I’ll resume the column when the two exhibitions are up) I enjoy both, but lately I have been feeling an itch to somehow expand beyond those two veins of teaching.

In graduate school, I once helped a friend with some sculpture techniques, and she joked “you should have your own cooking show!” From what I’ve seen online, it seems like there is a huge audience that is starving for tutorials in art.  In some ways, I’m thinking of taking my friend’s suggestion literally:  a “cooking” show for artists.  This is totally pie in the sky, but I figure that it doesn’t hurt to think about it, and we all have to start somewhere.  I like that this is percolating in my head right now, and that something new is stirring in me. What do you think?  What would you like to see from me?

6th drawing

In progress

I am working on the 6th and final drawing for my November exhibition at Simmons College. This drawing by far has the most solid and opaque central standing figure.  The surrounding figures will have almost entirely disappeared.  They will be transparent and slightly hinted at. I’m glad this is the final drawing I’m doing before the show, by contrast it’s going to be much less work because most of the figures will be barely there.  The drawings that are packed with figures took multiple revisions and adjustments because they were so dense. It’s a relief to finish the work for the show with a drawing that is so much less labor by comparison.