Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Failure...Bad For The Heart, Good For Your Art

My challenge to myself this semester was to try several new projects using materials and methods I've not had prior experience with. I strongly feel the best way to keep myself not only inspired and fresh but also to grow as an artist is to push myself out of my comfort zone.

One of the things I've never done was work with clay. I had an idea to make some sort of light shade or lamp cover out of ceramic with an abstract cutout design. It looked really neat in my head so I decided to give it a shot.

One of the many things about creating art is that often, you find you don't have the skills to bring to life whatever was birthed in your imagination. And this definitely happened with my light shade!! I quickly realized the clay I bought wasn't the right consistency to create a solid, ceramic-type object but as I don't have access to a kiln, I was limited by what material I could cook in a standard home oven. The project I had in my head was a very large-scale installation style piece but I decided to try and make a tiny version for the sake of practicality.


The clay is a flesh-toned waxy material that feels kind of gross, a combination of Silly Putty and Play-Doh~
 I've got my wire mesh to fortify the panels~
 Using a rolling pin, I start flattening the skin. I mean clay. Honestly, I kept hearing the phrase "It puts the lotion in its skin" a lot while working on this...
 Rolling it out over the wire mesh and trimming the excess clay off, I start using a knife to cut shapes into and through the clay layer and aluminum mesh.
 It's a tedious and time consuming task, and I'm getting frustrated because I don't have a curved blade that would allow for finer detail and swirling shapes, which is how I initially pictured the cutout design. At least I had the foresight to put foam core under the knife so as not to carve my kitchen table!
 The first two sides carved and baked and the adhesive drying...canned goods make good weights and braces for projects! I left the first panel in the oven much longer than suggested because it turns out this particular kind of clay doesn't bake to a perfectly solid material. It stays somewhat malleable, which was not at all what needed to happen, nor what I was expecting.
 All four sides are done and glued together, but it is just looking worse and worse! I think that if the panels were significantly thicker, this might have gone better, but perhaps not even then. The panels are bendy and not very sturdy, and certainly won't form a reasonably square shape, preferring to sag and bend at their own imaginary whims.
The description on the box of clay made it sound like it would bake to a semi-translucent material, which I had chosen to enhance the glow of light it would allow through, but that's not how it turned out, so I decided to paint the box in an attempt to make it look less frightening and more purposeful.
 Then, because it was still super ugly, I threw some beads on it. When in doubt, Bedazzle!
 The beads do little,'s still saggy and crooked and lumpy and quite sad looking!
 And so finally, I set it up in the dark with a candle in the middle, and it does the something cool I was hoping for....
 The shadows thrown from the cutout shapes look pretty neat, in my opinion.

If using a sturdier clay and being able to properly kiln-bake it, I think this project would have come out awesome. And if I was able to make it on a large scale and install bulbs or many candles in it or behind it, I think it would look amazing.

So while my test-dummy of a light shade came out pretty lame-o for the most part, I guess the fact that it's 90% Fail means that I now know 10% more than I did about working with clay and how to proceed the next time around!

This is obviously a fitting lesson for not only creating Art but all life situations in general. Mistakes are usually our greatest learning experiences. If we were successful the first time around in all our pursuits, we'd be very boring people without much depth.

This of course, means I am a very deep and fascinating individual....*wry laugh*

Friday, May 1, 2015

That Time People Enjoyed Getting Offended...

A couple days I ago, I brought up a topic on Facebook and shared my opinion on an issue, knowing it would be unpopular but deciding it was important to share anyways. In an effort to show how tolerant they were, several people attacked my opinion by saying I was ignorant, selfish, mean, and numerous other statements to that effect. A few people even dragged their vitriol against God into the feed for no apparent relevant reason other than to continue abusing my belief system and/or the belief system of the author of the blog I posted.

At no point did I state that anyone was a bad person, stupid, ignorant, worthless, shameful, or any other negative assessment. I said that I thought someone had a mental illness. This specific opinion, by the way, is shared by thousands of licensed psychiatrists recognized by the APA and has garnered much discussion and back-and-forth consideration over the last several decades, a fact (among many other facts) that I am aware of after spending 12 years working with well over a thousand people diagnosed with every mental illness you can think of (and several you didn't know even existed) as well as doing my own research on the subject. 

I didn't say my opinion was an established fact, but my opinion IS backed up by facts, research and other mental health professionals. MANY issues in the mental health field are contradictory and this is why so much on-going discussion and research is necessary for crucial issues in flux.

I find it very sad that several people took my statement of believing someone had a mental illness as some sort of defamation or cruel assessment of that person's value and worth as a human being. It seems more appropriate to ask why there are people who still have such a negative connotation of mental illness and complete misunderstanding of what having one entails.

It was mentioned by a few people that I can't know someone else's feelings and that they are entitled to their feelings, and that feelings are the only thing that should matter, but the truth is, mental illness is often defined by the fact that someone's feelings lie to them. Depression tells you that you are worthless and the world is better off without you. Anxiety tells you that nothing is ok and all the bad things your brain conjures up will come true. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder tells you that if you do not complete certain rituals, someone you love will die or the world will end and it will be your fault. Schizophrenia tells you, clear as day, that you should probably cut and burn yourself and that men with uzis are going to get you. Most mental illnesses carry the component of the brain creating and believing false thoughts that create feelings based on inaccuracies.

You cannot reasonably say that a person whose brain is telling them these lies is the best one to make an accurate assessment of what they need and how they should proceed with treating these conditions. Their opinion MATTERS and everyone has the right to decide how much or what kind of help they want, but to claim that a sick brain in the throes of instability can make the best decision for itself is absurd.

I don't care that people disagree with my statements or opinions. I DO care that people seem to go out of their way to find offense where offense is not intended and attack me personally. 

Saying someone has a mental illness is not attacking them or condemning them. Saying someone is stupid, arrogant, mean, and all the other nonsense that was said to me was an attack. I may not always says things “RIGHT” or “PROPERLY” but I was given a brain and a personality that works the way it does for a reason, and I will not be quiet about my opinions to keep anyone feeling more comfortable in the little box of their choosing, nor does anyone have the right to expect such a thing. I share my opinions out loud or in writing for the simple fact that I know other people feel the way that I do about many things and cannot find a way to speak about them, and my ability and comfort in doing so helps them in some way. Any additional benefit of getting people to think outside their comfort zone is just a bonus. 

I do what I do, I say what I say, and I think what I think. I'm not asking for, nor do I require, an apology, a blessing, or permission from anyone. 


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Planting Tree

My project “The Planting Tree” is an amalgam of many artistic techniques as well as a representation of my desire to contribute to a better Earth both holistically and in a preservationist sense. The trunk of the tree is made from fallen limbs I've picked up while hiking local trails. Spending time alone in nature is important for me mentally and spiritually. To be able to experience quiet and a sense of calm without the affliction of other human noise or presence provides a rejuvenation in mind, body, and spirit. The twine rope is from the hay bales sourced locally and used to feed my family's horses. Hundreds of these twines are accumulated each year and while they will break down eventually if left exposed to the elements, giving them a new purpose feels better. The cans were collected over many weeks of feeding my cats and dogs, cleaned, painted, and drilled for drainage. The wood used for the base was re-claimed wood intended for disposal by a local pallet making company. Painting it to look antiqued gave it a pop of color and playfulness, as does the contrasting red of the cans. Organic soil was used to pot herblings and seeds. As these plants grow, they will resemble the greenery on a tree budding to life along its branches. Additionally, the layout and design of the Planting Tree allows for sunlight to reach each individual planter and many herbs to be grown along a vertical space instead of a horizontal space, an important factor when lacking acreage to create a traditional garden. This design could be used indoors during cool months and outdoors during warm months and it's lightweight enough to be transported back and forth fairly easily. I chose to use herbs because these are plants that not only provide an attractive green assortment, but are edible and therefore helpful to a human, more so than just something to look at. Additionally, herbs do not require extensive root system or large growing containers. Anyone copying the design or improvising it for their own use could certainly plant whatever they wished that would best suit their own aesthetics, and I'd love to see variations of my idea if anyone were to design their own Planting Tree!
From Start to Finish:

Spray painting the aluminum cans in the dark on my porch!
 Beginning to bind the "trunk" of the Planting Tree together with bailing twine
 Putting the base together
 Had to make several attempts at screwing the base together...
 Because this happened! Whee! The drill bit had to be cut out and thankfully the chuck wasn't damaged and the drill is still usable
 All the bits and pieces
 Starting to attach the planting cans to the trunk
 It's coming alive!
 Fully assembled! I'm leaving the clothespins on as extra holding power for now, even though each can is glued with a super adhesive waterproof polymer
 A closer look at the cans...each herb name has been painted on for identification...I would absolutely forget what was what 3 months from now :)
One little sprout! We've had such a late start to spring, it's hard to say how long it's going to take for all the plants to catch up and grow with enthusiasm
 An overhead view! Sadly, the Planting Tree has to live in my bathroom until it's consistently warm outside and then I can move it to the porch.

The construction was a struggle at times, with tools breaking and malfunctioning, the glue not setting properly, weather conditions inhibiting the use and drying of paint, the physics of weighting the base sufficiently to compensate for the height and angle of the branches, etc. It's still not as sturdy as I'd like it to be and when it goes outside, I'll have to tie it down to the railings to ensure it doesn't get knocked over by a wind gust. 
While the complete effect isn't achieved without the greenery in full growth, I'm pretty happy with how this venture turned out and I'm excited to see what happens with it over the next few months. I have some worries whether I should have drilled more drainage holes in the sides of the cans as well, as the soil seems to be retaining moisture overly well, and being in the bathroom doesn't help the humidity which sometimes contributes to rot, but I'm hoping it does ok until I can put it outside where it will have more air and sun. 
At some point, I will build another one of these, and the learning curve will be less steep the second time around!

Friday, March 27, 2015

First Venture Into the World of Building Stuff

Recently, I decided to undertake the project of building a wine rack. I have a nice one I found years ago that is very sturdy, but the problem is it only holds standard 750 mL bottles and I've been collecting the magnum 1.5 L sized bottles more often than not. I say "collecting" as if they aren't cheap pinots and merlots that get drunk quicker than an actual collection can be formed, but hey, I still don't want them sitting willy nilly on a counter top for a week or two; I want them settled in a nice orderly fashion in a rack that accommodates their fat waistlines.

After several weeks of planning it out and consulting Pinterest for some starting points, I came up with a list of Must-Haves.

1. Be sculptural and visually interesting
2. Be super inexpensive to make (I'm poor. Did you not see the bit about cheap wine?)
3. Can hold a half, a standard, and a magnum bottle, preferably more than one of each
4. Be a mix of wood and metal (I like the design style of mixing warm and cold elements. It's very au courant. It also suits my temperament. First person to get Katy Perry's Hot 'N Cold stuck in their head gets a cookie. I mean a smack. Crap. Now it's stuck in my head.)
5. Include some element of "other" that would make it neat-o, unique, and special.

I found some Pins that utilized Coffee Cans and Pallet Board and thought combining the two with my own variations might look pretty awesome so I started hunting down materials.

Turns out, finding solid metal coffee cans was really hard! Almost all the brands sold in supermarkets utilize a cardboard body with only the bottom and top being aluminum, and that was not up to par for a durable construction design. After poking, prodding, and manhandling several dozen coffee canisters at WalMart, and receiving more than a few concerned stares by leery shoppers, I found that Master Chef brand coffee is not only the least expensive but also the only brand whose cans are solid aluminum construction. Score! I can't speak to the TASTE or quality of their beans because it's all in freezer bags for future consumption, but their cans are spectacular.

Next, I had to find wood. Facebook networking came to the rescue on that matter~a relative informed me there was a pallet company less than three miles from my apartment (Thanks Sue!).  Getting there during their hours of operation took a little effort but once I barged in their back door and had a roomful of grizzled, sawdusty, bearded lumberjack-styled workers stop mid-action and turn to gape at my audacity, the supervisor was generous enough to offer me my choice of several armfuls of wood from their scrap containers. Double score.

Then, spray paint, binder clips, glue, sandpaper, can opener, screw gun....oh yeah. No idea how to use one of those...

I was prepared to buy one and spend a few hours with some tutorials on youtube but I texted my dad for some advice and he offered me one of his spares. Then we had this conversation that probably left him concerned for my safety...

Me: "Great! How about those thingies that go in it?"
Dad: "Drill bits?"
Me: "Um...whatever you put the screws into."
Dad: "The chuck?"
Me: "Who is Chuck?"
Dad: "What?"

One of us obviously didn't have a clue what was going on and it wasn't my Dad...

I ended up with a cordless Hitachi drill and a box of assorted "thingies," some of which I still don't know what they're called, but I DO know what the "chuck" is, and like most times in life when you learn something new, suddenly everywhere I go, someone is talking about chucks and I have to stop myself from going, "Hey, you! I know what that is now!" because that would be cray-cray in a big way-way.

I still ended up watching some youtube tutorials about using a cordless drill, one featured A Nice British Guy and one featured  A Nice American Girl, figuring advice from both sides of the pond as well as both genders would give me a well-rounded education. They were quite helpful and gave good basic advice, if anyone reading this needs some lessons in using one. I still had to play around with lots of scrap wood and metal bits to get comfortable with all the functions and quirks, and trying to keep a herd of cats from playing with metal shavings is no picnic either, but I prevailed.

 ^Collection of assorted sized cans, spray painted with a hammered-texture copper and burnished brass  color
 ^I quickly realized the binder clips the girl used in the Pinterest tutorial were not going to work with my design, so I switched to wooden clothes pins to clamp the cans together while the glue set. They worked like a charm.
 ^After sanding and assembling the base, I used what I had on hand to weigh down the pieces while the glue was setting...lots of and lots of heavy books!! By the way, if you've never built a wood thing before, you should know that for strength and durability, it's best to glue and screw the pieces together.
 Love the texture provided by the various cans...

 ^The bottom side of the wooden base using reclaimed pallet board and brace edging-the slats are a soft wood, likely pine as it was setting off my allergies, lol, but the braces are made from a hard wood, probably oak, so working with the two different woods was an additional challenge because of how they behave, screws needed, sandpapering, etc. I used two different sized drill bits to make a design in the bottom of two smaller cans, which would be used for decoration.
 ^The top side of the wood base-I applied clear Polyurethane to the wood, wanting its natural color and texture variations to show
 ^Almost done...
 ^Et Voila! C'est Fini! I designed the base so that four wine glasses can be hung upside down from the slats. This way your glasses and wine are conveniently paired close to each other. Because I wanted the holder to have a sculptural appearance, I positioned the drilled cans to add some drama and shape to it. A tea light can also be placed inside the can so the flame will shine through the drilled holes, or someone could customize the display with small battery operated lights for the same effect (but safer).
^My design encompasses all the goals I set out to fulfill, and can not only hold all three (most commonly) sized wine bottles, but other wine accessories can be stored in the smaller tins as well, like a corkscrew and glass charms.

I enjoyed working on this project quite a bit. There are things that would go a lot smoother if I make more along this design, which I may do, but it's extremely satisfying to create something not only useful but attractive, and from materials that were going to be thrown away no less. Continuing to pursue more projects with an environmental conscientiousness is my focus this year, so be on the lookout for upcoming ventures!