June 11, 2011

In Lieu of Flowers and Chocolates, Here's Art and Science

I've been on a lot of bad first dates.  I've also been on a few awful ones.  But, I'm happy to say I've had a couple great first dates in my lifetime-- the kind that I expect to always remember and use to gauge just how meh to awful all my other dates are.  What makes a first date great?  Well I'm not going to go too far into that for the fact that this is supposed to be some kind of art blog, and mostly because I'm sure dozens, nay, hundreds of potential courters are reading this for possible insight into the innermost working of my romantic being, and they'd only use such information to gain unfair advantage in the process of sweeping me off my currently poison ivy-ed feet.  Well I'm sorry, gentlemen, but you're just going to have to do your homework like countless others did (or did not) before you!

It's considered a bit old fashioned or cheesy now-a-days, but a few of my most (fondly) memorable first dates involved some kind of flowers-and-chocolates-esque courtship gesture.  I can't say I blame most guys for abandoning this one.  A cutsie/classic/corny display does not a great date make anymore than a lack of one kills your chances. There's a very fine line between sweet and creepy and so many factors that can nudge you on either side.  That said, there's never been a time when I haven't exceedingly appreciated having a single rose or simple bouquet presented to me.

Yeah, so I'm a sucker for flowers, but by far, the best courtship gift I've ever received was this:

Art Forms in Nature by the zoologist Ernst Haeckel, or Art Forms of Nature if translated from the original German title, Kunstformen der Natur.

It's not hard to guess what my favorite flower is, but being surprised with this on a first date this was something else entirely.  If knowing one another's taste in books was enough to sustain a relationship alone, it's safe to say I'd no longer be pretending to play the field.  Both the artist and wanna-be biology geek in me cannot recommend this book enough.  This edition not only contains one hundred of Haeckel's full page scientific illustrations, it gives some insight into the significance of this type of art.  Here are a few of my favorite plates.  You can see a few others in better scan quality here, which includes their titles and subject details.  Of course, the best way to enjoy them is to pick up the book.

Scientific illustration holds a long time appeal and progressively fascinating quality for me.  I love a work that delights my eye as well as my thinky sponge.  It takes a skillful and often overlooked caliber of artist to create it.  The forms they create are essential teaching tools, and they were especially important prior to the days of photomicrography for numerous reasons.  In the introductory pages of the 2010 Prestel publication, contributor Olaf Breidbach discusses how Haeckel's understanding and representation of living organisms-- specifically the simultaneous similarly and diversity of their structures, reinforced Darwin's explanation of the evolution of life.  The digestible detail and beautiful complexity of Haeckel's work served to not only popularize Darwin's discovery, it strengthened its validity and eventual acceptance during a critical time in biological science.  Through this exploration of the structure of living organisms, simple and complex, there emerges a unique means of classification and lineal establishment, which makes me wonder why I've never heard of Haeckel until receiving this book.

When you ask art historians about the most significant types of art throughout history, the works of the masters of the Italian Renaissance, the Lascaux cave paintings, the political and socially ignited Neoclassical era, are the prominent responses.  That's understandable, says the former art history student in me, but looking back, I wish there was just a mention of artists/scientists like Haeckel.  I know, it's art history, not art science, but when a body of artistic work furthers the most powerful biological discovery in history, I'd venture to say that's worth a bit of lecture time.  Even in the strict realm of art, Haeckel's work is significant with regard to his influence on the 1805-1905 Art Nouveau period-- for me, the very essence of Victorian charm and curiosity.

The work of Ernst Haeckel resonates with me for the way in which it dissolves the divide between science and art, a differentiation I only wish I had the aptitude to make.  In the biographical notes of the book, it seems that Haeckel felt he had to choose between one and the other despite him bridging the gap in such a wonderful way.
There's Haeckel sitting on the left, while his assistant Nicholas Miklouh-Maclay attempts to seduce us with his gaze... and net. 
"Despite this uninterrupted uniformity, life is anything but tedious owning to nature's inexhaustible richness which, time and again, produces ever-new, beautiful and fascinating forms that provide new material to speculate and ponder over, to draw and describe. Indeed, this is just the right sort of work for me because, in addition to the scientific element, it involves artistic matters to a large degree.  At the same time, I have once again completely reconciled myself to my dear science in loyalty, which shall, throughout my entire life, take the highest priority and which I had seriously begun to doubt owning to your artistic-aesthetic influences." - Ernst Haeckel on ultimately choosing the life of a zoologist over one of a landscape painter in 1860-- a tough decision.  I greatly admire (and perhaps envy) such a choice.  

June 4, 2011

Etsy First Impressions, Output Problems, Creative Communities and the Prevention of Soul Sucking

Painting just hasn't been in the cards lately, nor has it been on the coffee or kitchen tables and certainly not at the desk.  That explains the nearly month-long gap between the last update and now-- but what explains the not-painting?  Well a couple of things.

Psssttt.... This is going to be a wordy one, and since there's no single painting to breakdown or discuss, I've sprinkled photos of things that've taken up time which has not been spent painting.  I hope this will be somewhat more appealing to those readers who are not interesting in my rambling all my readers.  

The second and shorter thing, which is why I'm starting with it, is an overall frustration with Etsy as a promoting and selling platform for "all things handmade"(Lies upon lies!).  It's been fairly easy and inexpensive to display things to sell on Etsy.  For my meager inventory, it's certainly cheaper than building a website with shopping cart capabilities.  The majority of my frustration is on the promotion end.  While Etsy makes a claim for all things handmade, it's branding itself to a very specific market *cough, hipsters, cough*.  Since most of my items feature more than one color, and do not contain owls and handlebar mustaches, it's likely my stuff will not gain much exposure.  And so, the lackluster store debut doesn't have me clearing the candles from my coffee table to build up my inventory.

Since my childhood days of beading, I've always, always wanted to make jewelry
by drilling directly through glass marbles. Even as I have the right bits and drill
to cut through glass, I've never been able to get to the other end before the marble
cracks.  Here are a couple of failed attempts, and a cracked piece of sea glass,
which almost never cracks on me.  It was that kind of day though. 
It seems I'm not alone in my frustration with Etsy, which is nice.  When I'm annoyed or angry about something, I feel like less of a crazy malcontent when there's a community for that annoyance and anger-- always comforting.  Speaking of community, I tend to have trouble finding them, which is one Etsy element that has me pleased.  Art and writing are more often than not, solitary activities.  Even when you find communities and groups devoted to encouraging and creating connections among its members, I've never found much long-term fraternity or success among them.  Writers often pretend they want to discuss and help improve your work, but most writers use that as a pretense to discuss their work, or at least apply/compare your style and methods to their own.  It's hard not to.  You want to offer advice from experience, so what do you have to work with apart from your own writing experience?  Talking to other writers is great when you want to talk about the publishing industry or personal quirks that come with the process-- it's also extremely important to learn how to workshop among them.  But once you learn how to do it and do it well, don't bother with it unless you haven't heard the word "theme" or "form" in a while.  I have yet to hear a non-writer ever give a crap about "theme" or "form"in anything (and to a lesser extent "tone").  In the real world, "theme" is for lame parties and "form" is something you use to sew or display a dress.  If you want help with writing, get a bitchin' community of readers, not fellow writers.  With artists, it's either hit or miss.  It's not uncommon for artists to hate other artists based on nothing more than the fact that they're artists (writers do this too).  For the most part, we're a contentious, pretentious and ultimately insecure lot-- myself certainly included!  When you do encounter fellow artists, whose company you find enjoyable and inspiring, it usually has more to do with them being nice, easy-going people apart from being artists.  The only problem with this sort is their incredible flakiness-- myself less certainly included.  If you actively want to do something artistic and communal, it often involves some degree having of your shit together.  Hate to say it, but friendly, fun, artists who have their shit together are rare. Happy to say, I seem to have found a few on Etsy.  Etsy is many people who enjoy creating things, but have at least enough of their shit together to open a shop for those things.  Connections there are slowly starting to develop.  Wish I could say the same for sales, but I'll have to follow up on this after some littering guerilla marketing.

Finally finished that freakin' hemp water bottle carry
 after fourteen months or so. 
The first and biggest thing is output.  I'm pretty sure I haven't resumed painting yet because I'm not accustom to the level of output that was happening in the weeks prior to the Etsy debut.  I started this blog shortly after I started a plan, which was started shortly after I was laid off from my nine-to-five.  My goal was to create a minimum of ten new paintings, all stylistically honest (as if I had a choice in that) yet generally appealing enough that strangers may wish to purchase and display them.  I'd paint them one after the other, a new painting every one to three days, and make them available to sell online.  It turned out to be a new painting every one to five or six days, but this still seemed like a splendid way to create a sense of things happening while day after day of job searching seemed very much the same.  It was also a new challenge as a painter, and perhaps it'd even bring in a teensy bit of income while seeking my next *sigh* nine-to-five.  It's certainly not much of a business plan (although there is a spreadsheet) and I have no illusions about solely painting for a living.  I wish I could say, "well, not anymore", but even at my most idealistic, I knew that was never going to happen.  Sure, I still dream about it.  But is it ever going to happen?  No.  Is it nice to to know I can create at that pace if I ever achieved some type of in-demand status as a semi-professional painter?  Yes and sorta.  Yes, because... well, yes, it'd be nice to know that.  And sorta, because I haven't really maintained that pace.  Whether that's due lack of immediate positive reinforcement or the fact that I'm just not that type of painter, I can't tell yet.  I probably won't be able to tell until I'm put in a situation where paintings are created, sold, and there's a demand for more.  Is that ever going to happen?  Hard to say.   I hope so.  It would certainly make the next office job I plan/hope (plope?) to get sooner than later much more livable.

While the crochet hooks were handy, I swapped out the hemp for some 32
gauge jeweler's wire and some seed beads to make a crocheted wire bangle.
It's photographed on an aloe vera plant because on Etsy you're supposed to put
the item you're selling with stuff you're not selling to make it "artsie", and to make it
hard for potential customers to tell what they're buying.  It's a stupid way to market
stuff but on Etsy, that's how it's done.
As much as I loathe working in an office (same goes for retail counters, summer camps, and I'd also imagine: classrooms, assembly lines, restaurants and operating tables) I will maintain and work reasonably hard at such forms of employment.  I know, I know, I'm like some sort of  hero-- a hero who will do whatever it takes to not have to live with her parents or a roommate.  Did I say hero?  I meant grammar whore with a BFA and light Photoshopping skills.  Anyway, so long as there is a painting or a novel progressing well outside of office hours, the fluorescent lights, email signature protocol and escape mental patient clients aren't as torturous or soul-sucking as they would be.  A job can only suck your soul if bring too much of it to work.  Bring your soul to work day... nice try!  Not me!  Not all of it at least.  I've tried to make a habit of leaving little bits of mine stashed away here and there.

Mixed a new batch of henna from two-year-old (maybe older) powder. I didn't
allow the paste to sit for long, but it's still not a bad stain for henna from so
long ago.  Looking forward to retuning to my mehndi artist roots this summer
since I don't have to worry about office appropriate just yet.
Granted, I've found most of my adult employment to be mentally and emotionally draining enough that pulling out the brushes, paints, and seeing what happens just isn't worth the trouble if I have to put everything away in an hour so I can get to bed, get up before the sun and go somewhere I hate to do things I hate even more.  I admire those people with dreams, endeavors and hobbies that have a regular and set place after their work hours.  I was one of those people for a while, but eventually it felt more natural to spend that time staring at a wall and hating myself.  Not all of my jobs have started out that way, but they've all ended that way.

The only recent bit of two dimensional art I've done over the past couple weeks.
It's colored pencil on artagain paper.  I got sick of em before I filled in his back leg. 
Expectedly, this sort of nine-to-five, week-to-week lifestyle made for a minimal output of paintings.  During my past life as a project manager and SEO content writer, I probably produced between three and seven paintings a year, excluding novel-inspired pieces and illustrations.  There was virtually no financial motivation or pressure to create them.  The pressure was created from the paintings themselves-- from a creative impulse and need, which seldom overpowered the stare at a wall and hate oneself impulse.  It was simply a quietly nagging voice, stating "I should be painting."  Turns out that voice has gotten a little louder now that I'm not nine-to-fiving it, and regardless of the fact that I've cranked out more paintings in a month than I have in the last couple years.

An unfinished painted egg.  I wanted to do a couple of these in art nouveau
style for an Easter post.  Maybe next year?
So maybe it's time to resume painting the sort of paintings that create their own pressure, and not the sort of paintings that are created from pressures of money, getting-yourself-out-there-ness and marketable acceptability.  Now don't get me wrong, the paintings you've seen still came from an honest place.  I enjoyed painting them, learned from them and got a little closer to teaching through them.  I genuinely hope people enjoy them just as much, if not more than something more "expressive" and less defined.  I have a feeling that no matter what I do, how quickly I produce it, how fast it sells and whether or not the word is spread and to whom, Etsy is probably going to be just as frustrating and I'll eventually need to concern myself with a 401k... again.

If you've noticed the images are of slightly better quality that previous posts,
good job, eagle eye.  It's because of this: A Nikon Coolpix l22.  It was an
imperative purchase for shop photos, especially if I start upping jewelry
and armigurumi production.  This shot was taken with my cell phone, so
you get the idea.

And here's the cell phone I used to take the picture of my camera.  I like red
electronics.  I should post a picture of my coffee grinder to prove it. And yup,
that's a Moonserpent header design mug.
The new camera has been a time-muncher in and off itself, and it's given me  a chance to appreciate my local invertebrate friends on a whole new level. I'll save the blurry shots for painting references. I'm more than happy enough with clear ones that they can stand on their own.  Look at this little guy! 
Well hello, Phidippus audax! Thank you for posing.
And you, Cepaea nemoralis. You may end up in a painting.