Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Return to Half Moon Bay

This past weekend I was thrilled to return to Judy's Kitsune Community Studio and teach pulp painting again. I'm not sure if it's the weather, Half Moon Bay, or Judy herself (most likely) that makes every time I go there just magical.

Oddly enough, to add to the magic of the memory, some shmutz on the lens of my phone gave all my images from the day a slight halo effect.

Last time visited Judy's, her cat Winky decided to join the class. This time around, Tanuki, her other cat, spent a portion of the day supervising the class.

This class really took to the technique. Below is Yoko's paper.

Nancy picked up the painting part of method very naturally. Many of her pieces were portraits or figurative works.

Besides everyone making paper, a workshop at Judy's includes incredible food. I was introduced to HMB artichoke bread this trip, which is worth the drive "over the hill" just for that. I also learned that it is almost impossible to buy underwear in Half Moon Bay. So, artichoke bread, yes, underwear, only at the Walgreen's, apparently.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Making Paper at the Berkeley Botanical Gardens

I was fortunate to teach Papermaking from Plants last week at the Berkeley Botanical Garden, as part of their Fiber and Dye programming. For the class, I decided to prepare some fibers that grown locally, so participants could learn how to make paper from their very own gardens. I also invited participants to bring plants from home, and asked the garden for any cuttings they could spare.

One of the fibers I prepared was yucca - that's what's beating in Dulcinea above. It's from my yucca plant that I grew in Richmond - you can see it in the picture here - that I'd harvested and dried before we moved. Winnie had warned me that the fiber would foam in the beater, but I didn't realize how much it it would foam! Even dried, the fibers were full of saponins.

Below, the beaten fiber, still sudsy.

I posted a picture of the suds to Facebook, and I think some people found it pretty gross. However, I found the suds almost like a luxurious bubble bath, and I was so enchanted I decided to write about it for Mary's "Eat Your Words" zine.

Every time I do a class like this, the prep exhausts me and I wonder if its worth it. Then I teach the class, and watch how people are transformed by making plant matter into paper, and realize it totally is. I've been thinking about how making paper from local fibers connects people to place, and how paper from local plants has what I think of as hereness - the sense of the landscape in the very fibers.

Along with the yucca, I prepared New Zealand Flax (which really isn't flax, it's phormium), daylily, and corn husk, and during the class we coaked and blendered some pampas grass leaves. It was so, so , so great to teach people how to make paper from scratch from their own gardens.

We started out with everyone making a sheet of each of the fibers from the pure botanical, and then added a little abaca so that we didn't run out too soon.

It was a full class, with very enthusiastic participants. The garden also gave us some banana cuttings, which we didn't get to, but they let me take them home.

Below, Lisa experimented with incorporating fresh plant matter into her paper.

I had been pouring our waste paper onto the plants, and took the press outside to press, hoping the water would drain into the garden - but then was chagrined to learn that the plants were under controlled watering conditions for study. Oops.

We went through almost all the pulp, and I let Christine take the remainder home - she used it up right away.

We ended the workshop with the pampas grass paper - completing the cycle of plant to paper in a day. We didn't have enough for everyone to make a sheet of pure pampas, so it was a pampas grass-abaca mix. All of my prepared fibers has been dried, so the bright green of the fresh fiber excited the participants and felt to me like the grand finale of the workshop.

Tomorrow I return to Half Moon Bay to teach at Judy's again!

In other exciting news, I've been invited by the San Francisco Center for the Book to make a book for their 2015 Small Plates Imprint! I'm going to work with a variation on the flag book structure.

I was also selected for Creative Capital's "On Our Radar" program!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Artist Book Review: "Driving Distances" by Cynthia Nawalinski

Ok, this post starts with a bit of boasting - at Codex, the UC Berkeley Environmental Design Library purchased a copy of Population Dynamics for their Special Collections. I'm thrilled. It's always wonderful to sell your work, but it's especially great when it goes to a collection that is conceptually appropriate.

As a book artist, I should visit collections regularly, but I rarely make time for it. So I offered to deliver the work in person as a chance to peruse some of their collection. I selected ten books to view, and I'm hoping to write about several of them here. The first of which is Driving Directions, by Cynthia Nawalinski.

Above is the cover. The book is an altered sketchbook, in which the artist has adhered maps of US states to the pages. Each map is cut through, leaving only waterways and major highways. For larger views, click on any of the images. Below is Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Despite the alterations, I can still pick out the intersections of Routes 80 and 15!

The book asks the viewer to consider how much is seen from the windows of a car, and how much goes unseen. This seemed particularly evident below, for Maine.

Paging through the book, a viewer also discovered the moments when the images overlapped, such what happens below with Texas.

Below, the wide open, flat spaces of Kansas are suggested by the straight highway cuts.

A small clarification on this map reminds the viewer that distances are measured in kilometers in Canada.

For some reason, all of the books I selected to view had some sort of repetition, either in the text or the design. Here in Driving Distances it's a bit obvious, each page is a cut-up map. But it got me thinking about the significance of repetition in design, and how repetition can suggest and construct ideas for sequence and structure.

Monday, March 9, 2015

So you are thinking about art school...

As an art instructor, the first question parents ask me about any school or program is, “Will my child be able to get a job in the arts?” There isn’t clear-cut answer to this question – the arts are a broad field that requires more skills than just being able to draw well. Many artists have to invent their jobs, which requires a creative, innovative, and disciplined mindset. A colleague of mine has described an arts career as “hacking” into the world.

More than anything, an arts career requires being able to work harder than imaginable, and the study of art requires being curious and critical about everything and anything, not just visual art.

Outside of teaching, a career in the arts does not necessarily require an arts degree. However, it can be a huge stepping-stone and open doors faster than for someone without one. While thinking about this, I pooled my collective friends about what they wished they would have known in high school.

This list came from that discussion. It is a set of questions for students and parents in evaluating the value of an art school or university art program. I encourage students and parents to push for specific answers to these questions rather than vague assurances. In addition, many stressed that it is almost impossible for an eighteen-year-old to conceive of the weight and duration of time that college debt carries to someone in the arts, and stressed that avoiding debt is essential for individuals in the arts.


1) Does the school or program require a portfolio? What types of artwork(s) are required for admission? How do they evaluate this portfolio in determining admission? Is it possible to see examples of portfolios of students who have been accepted?

2) What sort of financial aid is available? Are there need-based or merit based scholarships? Does the financial aid office assist in finding financial aid from outside of the institution?

3) How much should a student budget for supplies each semester? Students can borrow and share books for regular academic classes, but paint, clay, or computer programs can be more difficult to share, and this can be a surprise added expense for some students.

4) What sort of technology does the school provide for students? What technology are students required to purchase? Does the school have any programs that provide discounts on technology purchases to students?

5) What are the differences between applied arts (graphic design, fashion design, video game design, illustration, animation, etc.) and fine arts? What are the differences in career options between the two fields?

6) What sort of skills will a student learn that are applicable and marketable to possible non-art making jobs, such as carpentry, welding, web design, marketing, installation/art handling?

7) What sort of business management or professional practices classes does the school or program offer? How are these introduced?

8) What sort of interdisciplinary opportunities or combination degrees does the school or department offer? Are there opportunities to minor or study in other (non-art) areas?

9) Does your school or program have regular guest artist lectures or Visiting Artist critiques from active professionals in the field? How often?

10) How does the school or program develop writing and critical thinking skills?

11) What is the ratio of fulltime professors to adjuncts? (Believe it or not, this will greatly affect the quality of education at a given program).

12) Are the adjuncts unionized? (Again, this matters).

13) What sort of tracking of alumni does the school do? How good is the alumni network? Does the school ever offer opportunities for career advancement to alumni?

14) What sort of specific networking opportunities outside of the campus community does the program offer?

15) Is an internship required for graduation? If the only offerings are unpaid internships, what networking opportunities will they include for possible career building during or after school? Does the school have any funding (such as work study) so that students in internship programs can earn wages or financial assistance?

16) Does the school have a Career Services program? If applying to an art program at a large university, how much assistance can art students and alumni count on Career Services for actual help? At art schools, a Career Center is targeted towards art careers, whereas a Career Center at a large university may be spread too thin to offer any support of value. And even at art schools, a Career Center may be limited to helping those in the applied arts - ask if they have workshops or advice on such grant writing, using Kickstarter, financial planning, etc.

Some other helpful articles:

5 Things You Must Do When Applying to Art Colleges
Art and Music Schools: Should you go to one?
The Reality of Going to Art School and the Basic FAQ For Those Considering It

Thanks to Katie Baldwin, Amanda D'Amico, Gerard Brown, Zoe Cohen, Reed Davaz McGowan, Kristi Holohan, Kara Petraglia, Michelle Ramin, Jessica Ramsay Liberatore, Elisabeth Nickles, Nova Printmakers, Kathryn Sclavi, Kathrine Worel, and Imin Yeh for help assembling this list of questions.