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/dəˈfəNGkt/

no longer living, existing, or functioning

Defunct: A Resurrection is a book of my paintings and mini-essays about all things defunct, from my vintage Polaroid camera to my Ellis Island ancestors. It is being letterpress printed and hand bound in a limited run of 60 copies by the Book Arts Collaborative in Muncie, Indiana. It will be released this Friday, April 12, 2019 as part of their Interrobang festival!

The prototype of the book with the awesome “word Coptic” binding. Rachel reported spending 2.5 hours making this binding!

Who remembers typing on a typewriter? Watching filmstrips in school? Dialing a rotary phone?

There are objects that become such a part of our daily lives that they are embedded into our memories through sensory experience long after they’ve been replaced with the latest technology. And seeing, touching, or hearing the object again seems to transport us back in time.

Printing presses are a link to our past. When I was invited to give a reading at Ball State University in fall 2017, one of my first questions was, “Can I visit the Book Arts Collaborative while I’m there?” I’d read about it online and, having taken a letterpress workshop in NYC, was eager to see this makers’ space for book arts and letterpress printing. I was smitten from the start. A few months later when Prof. Rai Peterson asked if the students could make a book of my writing and paintings, I could barely contain my excitement.

I wasn’t originally sure what the focus of the book would be, but when I looked back at my daily paintings, I realized how often I returned to a particular subject: the vintage objects I keep in my home. My 1940s phone, 1950s camera, 1960s pencil sharpener, 1970s globe. These once-functional items don’t serve much of a purpose anymore; they are defunct. But they are alive to me. They carry messages from the past: reminders that things can be beautifully designed and well made; warnings that we are making and consuming too rapidly.

And what better mode of publication for a book celebrating defunct people, places, and things than letterpress?

The title page and epigraph after they were printed and before the students “killed the chase” (returned the letters to the cases).

In both content and form, this book is a meditation on materiality and ephemerality; on the objects we love and the stories we tell. It is a celebration of the handmade, the skilled trade, the human touch.

Book Arts Collaborative and Rob and Kim at Tribune Showprint Posters have resurrected defunct letterpress machines, salvaged them, and made them functional again.

One of the greatest aspects of this whole experience is that I feel like an honorary member of Book Arts Collaborative! I have loved spending time with Rai and the students, and witnessing the students’ excitement and pride as they learn new skills and old techniques, make amazing books and journals by hand, and work together to run a business.

They have all devoted hours and hours to this book, and have given my paintings and words the most beautiful home I could imagine. I can’t wait to celebrate with them at Interrobang this week!

Here are the students working on a Saturday! They’re almost finished!
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[Today THE RUMPUS will publish a visual essay I wrote about what it was like to make a painting every day, featuring a number of this year’s paintings as illustrations. I’ll update this post with the link when it goes live.]

In 2018 my non-resolution was to make 50 pounds of art (metaphorically) by making a painting every single day (literally). I did it – I painted or sketched or made a comic every day this year – and it has utterly transformed my creative life. The idea was to focus on quantity and process rather than on perfection and preciousness.

I’m a writer and professor of creative writing, and while I’m incorporating more and more visual material in my storytelling (especially comics and collage), visual arts are not my primary focus. Which means painting can be a space of exploration and experimentation. With writing, I rarely share work that hasn’t been revised, vetted, edited, and published by someone who is not me. With painting, I just make a thing and then post it on Instagram in its often imperfect form.

I’ve learned to see in new ways, not only as a human in the world, but as a story-teller. In a written story, certain visual specifics can be eclipsed by atmosphere and the rhythm of sentences, and I’m starting to realize how much I’ve done this–avoided details that didn’t feel necessary. This is true in a comic as well–that you choose what to include and what not to–but you are also forced to answer certain questions, like: okay, you’ve drawn a nightstand: what’s on the nightstand? what kind of lamp? Or, what color is the house? what is the character wearing?

I’ve also found new artists I admire and whose work inspires me. I participated in Inktober this year (the challenge is to make an ink drawing each day of October), and I learned how use ink in ways I’ve never tried before (like the sketch of my journals on this post!). Then I participated in National Novel Writing Month in November and made over 30 pages of a graphic novel about my great-grandmother from Ireland.

And I filled so many journals! Like most people, I typically buy a journal, write or paint in a few pages of it, then abandon it. This year I filled 13 journals (with paintings on one side of each page) and 3 art portfolios with loose sheets of watercolor paper.

Yesterday I was carrying the heavy stack of journals and portfolios I’d filled in 2018 to make the above drawing, and my daughter said, “Weren’t you going to make 50 pounds of art or something? How much do those journals weigh?”

So I weighed them: 22 pounds. Then I weighed a larger painting I’d made on a wood panel; with the frame it was 7 pounds. Then I weighed one of the three a 30×30″ canvas I’d painted: 4.8 pounds (x 3 = 14.4 pounds). Then I weighed the 30×24″ canvas and the 36×24″ canvas and the 36×36″. And a few other smaller wood panels. And then next thing I knew, it was over 50 pounds. Turns out I made a painting every day AND 50 pounds of art – literally!

Click here for my first post of the year where I describe the 50 pounds of art idea for 2018 – and where I have links to the last several years of non-resolutions.

Click here for 12 thoughts after I made it to the 3-month mark.

Click here to see my daily posts on Instagram.

 

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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.

—–

night

Last week I got to teach a 3-day Sprint Workshop on hybrid genres and literary collage to students in Miami University’s (OHIO!) MFA program. On the first day I said, “Here’s some paper, a bone folder, an awl, and some string. Make a mini-book!”

On the second day, they wrote poems and postcards, they cut and pasted:

That night, I put my game face on and gave a reading from The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová.

On the third day, they typed on a typewriter, arranged an accordion, glued pictures of corpses and houses and ice sculptures, and made pockets and postcards and silhouettes. They finished their books as I channeled Tim Gunn and counted down the final minutes saying, “Make it work, designers, make it work!”

That night we shared and celebrated:

Thanks so much to Jody Bates, Margaret Luongo, Cathy Wagner, and especially the MFA students for an awesome week!

It’s been a busy and inspiring coupla months. Here’s a little recap of things I saw and did, starting with the AWP Writers’ Conference in Washington, DC, where I was on a couple of panels, did a reading, and got to sign some books at the Rose Metal Press table. Those are my books on the left side of the sign:

My colleague and friend, David Dodd Lee had a book release and art show at Lang Lab. Here he his reading from his latest Ashbury erasure book, surrounded by his fans and collages:

I was thrilled to have my visual essay, “Empty Nest/Emptiness,” published (in full color!!!) in the latest issue of Passages North. It’s 14 pages, something I made when my daughter left for college:

Speaking of my daughter, I got to see Mamma Mia in Bloomington, IN with her and her bestie for her birthday. The next morning I saw the whole cast and crew in the lobby of my hotel!

Colson Freaking Whitehead came to my campus, Indiana University South Bend, and I got to sit in the almost front row. Here he is talking to Darryl Heller of the Civil Rights Heritage Center:

I invited the comic artists Marnie Galloway and Scott Roberts to visit IU South Bend, and the room was full for their artist talks:

Then the poet Steve Henn came to talk to my classes about his new book by Wolfson Press: Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year. Here he is showing off his “tour” T-shirt:

Another visual/collage essay published in Quarterly West!

I already blogged about being the guest author at Butler University’s Litfest and doing a workshop for the Indiana Writers Center, which was an honor and a blast.

And over the weekend, Wordman and I headed to Chicago and saw Lambchop at Lincoln Hall:

Then I got to read at Sunday Salon Series with amazing fellow readers and a fabulous crowd. Here’s Howard Axelrod reading:

Got some partial views of the Navy Pier Ferris wheel from the hotel window:

And made it to the Bean for the first time, and took the requisite selfie:

The AWP gods are against me. Last year none of my panels was accepted; this year all three were accepted so I had to drop one. And the two panels I’m on are in the first and last slots of the conference!

In between panels, I’ll be at the Rose Metal Press table (#629) to sign and hopefully sell a few copies of The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová. Because the second half of the book is my memoir-in-postcards, the first 20 people to buy a copy of the book will get their choice of a Prague-themed postcard hand-painted by me. They are made on watercolor postcard paper and have all the postcard markings on the reverse to be sent in the mail.

If you’ve ever been to Prague, you have seen these posters around town:

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And here is the Golem as seen on a Prague sidewalk, a hearty glass of pivo, and Kafka’s head based on a new statue in Prague:

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And here is Kafka’s tiny house at No. 22 Golden Lane on the grounds of the Prague Castle:

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I still have a few more to make this weekend. What should I paint? Accepting ideas in the comments!

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– Here are my events –
Hope to see you! Say hello!

Feb. 8-11, 2017 – AWP in Washington, DC
Thurs. Feb 9, 2017 at 9:00-10:15am
PANEL: “The Long from the Short: Turning Flash Pieces into a Novel, Novella, or Memoir”
Abigail Beckel, Lex Williford, Kelcey Parker Ervick,  Tyrese Coleman, Tara Laskowski
[Rm 206, Washington Convention Ctr, Level Two]

Thurs. Feb 9, 2017 at 10:30-11:30am

Table 629: BOOK SIGNING AT ROSE METAL PRESS TABLE with Lex Williford

Fri., Feb 10, 2017 at 12:00-12:30

Table 629: BOOK SIGNING AT ROSE METAL PRESS TABLE

Fri. Feb 10, 2017 at 6:30-9:30pm

OFF-SITE READING with authors from Rose Metal, Cupboard, and Soho Press

at BABY WALE DC

1124 9th St. NW

Sat. Feb. 11, 2017 at 4:30-5:45pm

PANEL: “Attempting the Impossible: Strategies for Writing Creative Biography”
Kathleen Rooney, Sarah Domet, Anthony Michael Morena, Kelcey Parker Ervick, Sarah Blake

[Rm 101, Washington Convention Ctr, Level One]

“Be regular and orderly in your life,
so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

-Gustave Flaubert

It’s Friday the 13th! This year is almost two weeks old, and I am at last prepared to announce my New Year’s Non-Resolution. Instead of resolutions–which I resolve to do one day but forget to do the next–I come up with an idea, theme, or guiding principle. A word or phrase that sets the tone for the year. I’ve blamed everything in the last two months on the fact that I came down with Mononucleosis immediately after my last post in November about my book launch, and I am tempted to blame it on this untimely announcement. But the fact is, I tried out several ideas for 2017 and none of them felt right.

Until now!

Since I have already waited almost two weeks, I’ll just out with it. My theme for 2017 is Order.

Order is not a very sexy theme; perhaps it’s the least sexy theme ever. But look at the quote by Flaubert at the top of this post. Order may not be sexy, but making violent and original work/art/writing is.

Backstory: A week ago, I thought my theme would be “meander.” I was feeling stressed by my constant desire to getthingsdone compounded by my procrastination, so I liked the idea of letting myself meander about, slow down the pace. I even painted a river with lots of meanders (from a photo of one in California).

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But it didn’t settle right. Then I hit on “Wabi Sabi,” a phrase I think I could say multiple times a day and feel delighted, and which means, basically, “nothing is permanent, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.” I love this so much, and I tried it out this week, but the problem with both Wabi Sabi and meander is that they both already speak to my aesthetic, so I felt they weren’t really pushing me in a new direction.

I needed a word that I don’t already sort of do. 2016 my phrase was “Own It” because I had a book coming out, and I have a tendency to apologize for things. (“I’m so sorry I wrote a weird book.”)

I’m a pretty productive and reliable person. I get a lot done in writing and teaching. But it ain’t pretty; in fact it can be pretty chaotic. And it often takes its toll on me in terms of stress. What I need is ORDER.

Each day of 2017 I want to take small steps each day toward ORDER in my life. And I want to be WILD in my art.

(What are your resolutions and non-resolutions, dear reader?)