Archives For art

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I have made ART–a painting or drawing–every day of 2018, and after three straight months of this, I have some thoughts. Here they are in the order in which I think them:

Thought 1: It’s possible! I believed I could do it, but I didn’t know what it would be like day-in and day-out. It’s a commitment, but it’s doable. I’m not sure I could have done it during other periods of my life (pre-tenure, pre-kid-in-college), but whatever, I’m doing it now.

Thought 2: It’s working! My goal for 2018 is to make “50 pounds of art” (metaphorically) (literally: to make art every day), which I explain here, and which basically means that I will paint or draw something every day, and that I will learn through the process of making and trying and failing and failing better (#beckett). After three months of daily art-making, daily thinking about art, daily work with different paints and different papers and different brushes, I literally feel like a different artist than I was just three months ago.

Thought 3: I get to buy art supplies! Instead of buying supplies *aspirationally* for projects I hope to do but probably won’t, I buy them and use them right away. I have already filled two journals.

Thought 4: Accountability (aka social media) helps! I joined Instagram (link) and post most of my daily work there. I follow other artists, illustrators, and writers, and see what they’re all up to (though it gives me a bit of a complex because they’re all amazing), and the platform provides a nice archive of what I’ve made. And it’s nice to get a few HEARTS and feedback along the way.

Thought 5: I have an aesthetic! I knew that, of course, but I’m exploring and honing it. When every day is another day of, “What do I paint today?”, it becomes clear what sorts of things (subjects, styles, media) interest me and what things don’t. For example, though this is not shocking since I’m a writer: Turns out I love words in paintings. Whether it’s a comic with images and speech bubbles, a story or caption written on the background, a quote from a book, an object that has a word on it, or a weird sign or misreading (like the image below), I love words as part of the design.

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What I thought it said. (What it actually said: Saunders)

 

Thought 6: It has led to new opportunities! I’m talking about ACTUAL opportunities: people have asked to buy my paintings, commission me to make paintings, publish my paintings (possibly) in a book, use my painting on social media ads, and exhibit my paintings in a gallery!

Thought 7: I have made some crappy crap! Oh well, on to the next thing.

Thought 8: I have made some things I’m proud of! This post features some faves.

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Thought 9: Some days it’s really hard! I have no idea what to make. Very little time to make it. And a desire not to make crappy crap.

Thought 10: Confession: I actually missed two days! But some days I make 3-4 things, so it all evens out.

Thought 11: Online art classes give me a boost! I get insights and ideas from the lessons, inspiration from other members posting their work, and helpful prompts when I’m stuck. My all-time favorite online teacher is Misty Mawn. Her lessons cover all sorts of mixed-media projects and techniques; her video lessons are well-thought out, detailed and thorough, but also EDITED, and have amazing music. She is a beautiful soul (and this is not a phrase I am known to use or even think) and she includes recipes and side projects and fabulous introductory videos. I have also explored Sketchbook Skool (but the K’s kill me: skool, klass. ugh), Katie Kendrick, Jeanne Oliver, and Roz Stendahl.

Thought 12: It makes me think about WRITING in new ways! Even though I’m working in a different medium, I’m still thinking about storytelling, and I’m even thinking about poetry–the poetry of color and value, of repetitions and tones. I’m thinking about process and mindset and aesthetics, about editing and revising, about layers and details. And it shines a light back on writing and helps me see anew.

Onward! The year is young. I’m excited for what’s to come.

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MM Arts 1-3-18

Art’s Cleaners by k. ervick

It’s a new year! Which means a new phrase-of-the-year. Becomes I’m not very resolved when it comes to resolutions, I come up with one word or phrase designed to inspire me, challenge me, and even nudge me in a new direction. I call it my non-resolution, and I actually devote a LOT of time to choosing it. Last year’s word was Order — which was amazing! I dedicated the year to getting my health, home, and finances in order. I dove into the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, gave away or threw away what seems like half of my belongings, emptied out and sold my 1929 house and moved into a new apartment with a river view.

So the non-resolution phrase-of-the-year for 2018 is . . . 50 Pounds of Art.

The phrase is adapted from a popular anecdote in the book Art and Fear that suggests that focusing on quantity in any pursuit is a way to experiment and learn and will thus lead to quality. Would you rather be asked to make one PERFECT something . . . or 50 POUNDS of it? My idea is to make 50 pounds of art (metaphorically) by making a painting or drawing (literally) every day of the year:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

— from Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

This first week of the year I have made a painting each day, and I already feel transformed in the way I think about making art and in my connection to others who I’ve been interacting with about this project. And I’ve already learned so much about my materials and paper and process. I’m learning what I’m drawn to, what I’m good at, what I need to practice, what I can do on this paper or with this type of brush or paint that I can’t do with that one.

That said, I had no clue where to begin when I started on New Year’s Day. I vaguely knew that I wanted to draw/paint something each day but was still trying to come up with a phrase for the year. Then I drew the thing that was in front of me: my Dial Complete hand soap. And so it began.

I posted the image on Facebook and got nice feedback and support, and since I had no plan for what to do next, I made some paintings inspired by my friends’ Facebook photos:

Against my better judgment, I even joined Instagram so I can post there.

I don’t know how it will evolve, so I’m thinking that each week will be a different series. A friend of mine sent me a link to a Library of Congress exhibit on Women Illustrators and Cartoonists, so that might be the focus one week. I’m taking a couple of online art classes those will probably each get a week. Last year I got a new Gelli plate for easy monoprints that I’ve never used, so maybe I’ll spend a week with that.

I’m obviously very suggestible (so please share ideas), and I’d also love some company. Anyone else in for making 50 Pounds of Art this year?

 

 

 

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I’m excited to start a new year of drawing or painting or collaging something each day. Last year my theme was ORDER, and man did I get things in order: home, possessions, finances, schedule. I literally experienced the life-changing magic of tidying up. The guiding principle of last year’s non-resolution was from Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I’m off to a humble start, but I’m ready to see where daily art practice takes me in 2018.

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All signs point to SAW

First, to get this out of the way: I don’t like comics. Or at least I didn’t think I did. I definitely don’t like the cartoony aesthetic or formulaic narratives that I thought defined comics.

Then again: when I was a kid I loved the Sunday comics. I had a page-a-day Far Side calendar that never ceased to amuse me. In high school, after a particularly traumatic loss to the cross-town rival soccer team (I was the goalie and took it hard when I got scored upon), I stayed up drawing copies of comic characters late into the night: Charlie Brown, Garfield, Calvin, Hobbes.

Fast-forward a few decades, and this summer I was awarded a grant to work on a graphic narrative. How did I get here?

There are probably all sorts of grad-school, elitist, even gendered reasons why I decided I wouldn’t like graphic narratives, but I’m in the midst of discovering a form that has both been here along and that is also coming into its own, and it’s pretty exciting. I would say my gateway artist was Maira Kalman, an illustrator with a quirky style and a witty, beautiful voice that emerges in the short commentaries she pairs with her images. Here are a couple pages from her awesome Principles of Uncertainty:

Her work inspired me to create short graphic narratives from painted pages in my journal, and in my book, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, I created art and images to pair with the text.

More recently I discovered Poetry Comics, especially the strange and wonderful work of Bianca Stone:

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Then I came across the dreamy work of Aiden Koch:

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And it was as I tried to find out more about her work that I first found the Sequential Artists Workshop, known as SAW, where she had recently given a workshop. SAW was conceived, created, and is now fearlessly led by the amazing Tom Hart (author of Rosalie Lightning, which I’ll discuss in my next post). SAW is a small, unassuming space with a fully stocked library and terrific artistic energy. In the video below, Tom (on the left) calls it “bare bones” and a “work in progress,” but that’s exactly what makes it such an exciting and inspiring space. You can get a great sense of it in just the first few minutes of this online open house (which is good because you can get seasick from the live cam!):

SAW has a year-long workshop, but once or twice a year they do a low-res, week-long workshop, which is what I did in May of this year. I had never been to Gainesville, and I sort of fell in love with it. All the UF students were gone, and the town had great restaurants and outdoor seating, all within walking distance of SAW. There were just a handful of students in the workshop, so it was intimate and focused. There are three main faculty that teach, and each of them took a day or part of day for artist talks and instruction:

  • Tom Hart gave an engrossing thematic overview of his work over the years and led us in some exercises including a scavenger hunt of images and texts from his library that we copy-and-pasted into our own mini-comic books.
  • Justine Andersen gave us some real-talk about the life of an artist, shared her amazing portfolio, and gave instruction in inking (how to hold a brush, how to use the ink, how to make lines, even how to clean brushes).
  • Jess Ruliffson shared her comic journalism projects and gave a lesson in working with gouache.

There was also time to work on our own projects, and I managed to finish the art on something I’d been thinking about and had roughly drafted: a story about an aquarium fish I had that would not die and that lived through several of my major life changes.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been delving deeper by enrolling in a couple of SAW’s online workshops: Comics for Writers, Nonfiction Comics, Creating Your Graphic Memoir, etc. The online classes are organized well and offer short videos that walk you through excellent examples of whatever is being taught in each lesson. Every time I watch a video lesson, I add new books to my reading list.

Because the cost of the low-res workshop was so reasonable (<$400 for the week), we could afford to rent a great AirBnB house and were surrounded by Spanish Moss and a lake full of gators.

Thanks for reading. My next posts will be about the graphic memoirs I’m reading (and loving) and, if I’m feeling brave, about the graphic memoir I’m trying to create from scratch this summer.

Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.

James Baldwin

On election day I was weepy all morning. My Facebook feed was full of images of friends in pantsuits and suffragette pins, of women bringing their sons and daughters to vote, of Susan B. Anthony’s stickered grave. I didn’t expect to be so moved by the potential history-making moment of electing a woman President, but I was.

Election night was obviously a very different story. I had an essay about women’s lives – how we write and talk about them – scheduled to be published the next day at LitHub, and I was asked to write an introduction that linked it to the election. Some protest words. Here it is:

How We Talk About Women’s Lives

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life is a case study in the limits imposed on even the smartest, most driven of women. Arkansans had never seen a First Lady like her, and she quickly learned to get rid of her glasses, use some hairspray, pluck her eyebrows, and take her husband’s last name (she had kept her own until then). Today, the most experienced Presidential candidate, man or woman, has lost to a philandering, pussy-grabbing, name-calling, interrupting, disability-mocking former pageant owner.

But perhaps Hillary Clinton’s life narrative is the true embodiment of Miss USA: the most qualified woman is forced to compromise her goals, change her name, and smile prettier—and she still gets called a Nasty Woman.

I wrote this essay a month ago, as the tapes of Donald Trump’s comments about grabbing women were being revealed, as women were coming forward with sexual assault lawsuits. Back when it seemed impossible that he would be President of the United States of America. All of which is to say: this essay about how we talk about women’s lives reveals only a fraction of the fury I feel today.

* * * *

Growing up I had a boy’s life. Or least that’s how I think of it now. I played co-ed soccer and basketball. I was the first one picked for gym teams. I could throw a perfect spiral, and I kicked home runs in cul-de-sac kickball. In college I was goalie and MVP of a nationally ranked Division I soccer team. But a year after I graduated from college, I got married, and a year after that I got pregnant. My life as a woman had begun.

The rest of the article is at LitHub.

The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová by Kelcey Parker Ervick
is one of the least bitter, most loving books I have read in a long time,
and it’s beautifully made.

– Kate Bernheimer
author of How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales

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Still Life with Books and Beer

 

Today is publication day for The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová! My journeys in the Czech Republic and Slovakia took me to this book, and this book has taken me on its own journey. It’s my first book-length work of nonfiction, and it includes a series of postcards I wrote to Němcová about my travels, my Czech language class, my Slovakian family, and, well, my failing marriage. I quote from my favorite Prague-based letter-writers: Franz Kafka’s Letters to Milena, Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Bohumil Hrabal’s Letters to Dubenka, and Vaclav Havel’s Letters to Olga.

What I am probably most amazed about is that this book also includes collages and paintings I made, published in beautiful full color. The first two here are images from my travels to Česká Skalice, where Božena Němcová grew up. I was lost, and these were the not very helpful signs. The third image is of a photo on a bulletin board at Shakespeare and Sons in Prague that addresses anxieties one might feel about publishing a strange hybrid beast of a book such as mine.

But you can help make the book a bestseller! It is now available for purchase from Rose Metal Press, Small Press Distribution (SPD, where it is a Handpicked selection, 20% off in November), Amazon (ugh, this will update soon!), Amazon’s Kindle (live and ready!), etc. It costs $17.95, which is pretty amazing considering the color images.

If you read and like it, please consider posting a review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. If you’re even thinking of reading it, you can mark it as “want-to-read” on Goodreads. All this helps libraries and other potential readers know about the book, and make it an even-better-seller.

I want to end with a major thanks to Abby Beckel and Kathleen Rooney at Rose Metal Press. I’ll say more in a future post, but they did SO MUCH GOOD WORK  make this book the beautiful object that it is. And thanks to Heather Butterfield for her stunning design work.

Mexico City Magic

August 3, 2016 — 2 Comments

I’m just back from three weeks in Mexico City, where I studied some Spanish, worked on a new project, visited old loves like Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo, and found new loves like Lilia Carillo, the painter, and Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god.

Here’s Leonora Carrington’s Cocodrilo on Paseo de la Reforma (and my quick watercolor sketch of it):

I almost didn’t go to Frida’s Casa Azul again (here’s a link to my 2014 visit), but I’m so glad I did:

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I love her amazing collection of retablos, amateur paintings made to thank the Virgin of Guadalupe for interceding at life-threatening moments:

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These influenced some of her most famous paintings, and the museum juxtaposes small reproductions of her actual paintings with the retablos that inspired them:

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At the Museum of Modern Art, I got to see Dos Fridas in person for the first time:

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This painting was made after one of her breakups with Diego and represents two sides of herself, one as a comfort to the other. She is dressed in European attire on the left and in her classic Tehuana dress (which Diego preferred) on the right.

In all my times of viewing the painting online, I’d never noticed that the heart on the left is gray and withered:

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And I discovered the beautiful abstract paintings of Lilia Carrillo:

We saw an outdoor film at the Monument of the Revolution:

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about this guy, Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god:

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…who was removed from his original site in Coatlinchan and relocated to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The film, La Piedra Ausente (The Absent Stone), tells the amazing story of the removal of the stone amidst the town’s protests and its celebrated/contested arrival in Mexico City.

[More Mexico City magic: The night before the film, we went to a birthday dinner for a friend and met a woman named Sandra. After we’d talked for a while, she said, “I made a film; it’s screening tomorrow night at the Monument of the Revolution. You should come!” So we did. It was awesome.]

At the Palacio Nacional, we saw the journals of the artist Francisco Toledo, which were part of an exhibit of — get this — art that Mexican artists give to the nation as payment for their taxes:

These inspired a couple of my own journal sketches:

I thought I saw a Dirty Dancing sculpture, but it was just a strange sculpture that happened to have an ad for Dirty Dancing, The Musical behind it:

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Finally, I should mention that there was a tree hanging in the center of our airbnb apartment building:

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