Category Archives: Creative Process

Tiny Elephants

I feel rather uniquely well-suited to remaining at home and limiting my time outside of the house to one grocery store trip per week. I do have some things coming up that require me to leave the house this week. It makes me a little nervous, but I’m confident that my chances of becoming ill are significantly less here in central Finland than in other parts of the world. It seems like every morning, the numbers of people diagnosed with COVID-19 just keep going up and up and up. The virus seems to be galloping through the population. It’s scary.

I’m trying to keep my own anxiety down to a dull roar. Making art has always been my preferred method of therapy, so that’s what I’m doing. I made two elephants yesterday. I’ve never had any reason or need to make elephants. I just wanted to see if I could. I basically created a problem for myself, and then made attempts to solve it. Making a tiny elephant or two was something that I could be in complete control of. There were no other people outside myself that were controlling it. It was all me. I called all the shots. I was the one who made the decision to use the materials that I thought would work the best. I’m the person who decided how to alter the pattern for the second elephant so that the ears would fold and kind of droop the way I thought they should.

When I’m making something, there is something about the act of creating. It’s the opposite of destruction. It’s ordered. Methodical. On the surface, not at all chaotic, or at least not the worst parts of the concept of chaos (panic, fear, non-thinking). This brings to mind “I thought I could organize freedom, how Scandinavian of me” from the song Hunter by Björk. Somehow, I always change the word ‘freedom‘ to ‘chaos‘ in my mind. There must be something Freudian about that, I’m sure. But I digress.

The act of creation, breathing life into something that on the surface, seems lifeless it’s a divine act. Rooted in the past and looking, hoping, striding towards the future. Acts of creation come in as many different forms as there are individual people on the planet. I make art. What I create perhaps seems to some people as trivial. I make dolls. This is where I have to start internally fending off “Katie doesn’t make friends. She “makes” friends.” that at times in the past has gotten the better of me. Is this an attempt to make my acts of creation seem childish, meaningless, small and inconsequential? No act of creation is too small. Small things have a way of growing into larger things over time. At least, if they are carefully nurtured.

Times like the ones in which we are currently living is a time in which all of that nurture can begin to pay off. Not necessarily pay off in the monetary sense, but more in terms of the mental and emotional sense. I’ve said this so many times before; making art keeps me intact, mentally and emotionally. I feel fortunate that my personal methods of self-soothing and self-medicating are potentially far less destructive than alcohol or illegal substances. (Okay. I do want coffee. I’m a huge fan and require two cups prior to 12 in order to function without a headache. Here, go listen to the Descendants sing about coffee, live and from the album I would think that the entire country of Finland might feel the same?)

COVID-19 is scary. At times, it can be huge-Godzilla-sized-scary. An individual person can feel helpless and without control of their life. They can’t go to work. They can’t get together with friends and family. Some are in full quarantine, while other people are dealing with being in isolation, either state or self-imposed. Children are out of school and at home. There are bills that need to be paid and perhaps no money coming in. Or even scarier, you are one of those people deemed ‘essential’ and you are at work, serving the public by doing your job. (Thank you for doing this. You are an amazing person and you deserve more consideration and compensation for your service to the communities in which you live and work.) This is all weird and scary and dangerous.

Take it all in. Acknowledge what is going on. What you are in control of and what you are not in control of. Be honest. Look inward. Find yourself. Make art.

I’m not at all trivializing the danger that many people are in, especially those essential workers. It may seem like I’m saying, “Hey! Make some arts and crafts and everything will be okey-dokey! All your worries will just vanish!” No. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that being creative, making art can help a person deal with all of the scary-weird-crazy that seems to be happening in the world. A person can find one tiny area of their life in which they have control. No one else can tell them what to do or how to do it or where to go, or where to stay…it’s just them and the art. It may be only for a few minutes per day. Singing a song. Take a picture. Writing down their thoughts. Drawing a picture. Cooking a meal. Dance a dance. Planting some seeds. These small acts of creativity can grow into larger ones that help keep a person intact mentally and emotionally. COVID-19 will still be there after the art is created. Your mind will be different. You will be more yourself and feel as though, even though things suck right now, that you can get through it. You will get through this and it will change you.

So, I make tiny elephants. After I post this online, I’m going to make a third tiny elephant. I feel as though the pattern and the sequence of construction will be in the final form once I’ve completed it. Who knows what will come of my tiny elephant dolls and pattern? Maybe they will grow larger?

Thanks for reading, and I will see you next Monday.

Links:

A song by The Double Clicks, “Tiny Paper Elephant” seems to be a good song for everything that’s happening in the world right now. Listen to their other songs too. I love the Double Clicks! They’re amazing!

I know that the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear has become quite popular right now. I’m a sci-fi fan and have actually read all six Dune books. (You can stop after the third book.) Here are two different versions. One from the really not-so-great David Lynch version, (some great casting, especially Sian Phillips) and one that’s a musical version from Akira the Don and Comic Girl 19. It might also be a good time to read the books, but remember! Stop after the third book! I mean it!

I’ve been watching/listening to a lot of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 over the past two weeks. It’s wonderfully funny and goofy. Right now, some people need that more than anything.

Dispatch from the Desktop

I’ve spent the past few days experimenting with the most recent tiny doll pattern I’ve created. It’s the same one that I used to create bunnies, bears and ducks. One of the great things about being a visual artist is that I can go from idea to physical object in a relatively short span of time. Revisions and streamlining of the art production process can sometimes take a bit longer. Sometimes, I have to simply put a piece aside so I can think about the problem for a while, and that takes time. At present, I’m still not sure about Stanley’s top hat. It’s merely pinned to the top of his head, instead of being permanently attached. This is because I want to be completely sure about something before committing to it totally. Nothing sucks quite as much as not listening to your creative gut instincts, rushing through a decision, and then having to come up with a way to fix the solution that you thought would work.

The bird and duck dolls contain the most individual pieces of each of the dolls I’ve been creating lately. It’s strange, because it doesn’t seem like a lot of parts to me. They seem to come together quite quickly. The additional hats, dresses and collars feel like they take a lot more time to me. The dress for the little ducky doll Edwina was actually made twice. That was about four hours of work, and I only used one of them.

I took some photos while creating a blue bird. I wanted to try out a new method of attaching the heads to the dolls that wouldn’t require them to be sewn on. I wanted to try this out, because if I ever created a pattern to sell for these dolls, I wanted an easier method than the one I’m employing. That’s not to say that how I sew the dolls heads to their bodies is insanely hard. It’s just tricky. A novice doll maker might become frustrated with the method. I think this is the ‘art teacher’ part of me at work. I want everyone to feel successful when creating art.

I’m still being lazy and not creating a pattern piece for the wings or the tail. It’s just so much easier to cut them out free-hand for me. Each of the pieces that are pinned are two-layers of felt. I used a medium and a dark blue felt to make it more interesting to look at. The yellow pieces, in the shape of U’s are the feet. The kind of longish pieces that’s tapered at each end are the beak pieces. I use a single strand of regular sewing thread, and a blanket stitch, to hand sew all of the pieces together to create the feet, wings, tail and beak.

The picture above shows what all the cut pieces look like once they’ve all been sewn together. I think the only piece I didn’t show was the little pink tongue. It’s about two and half millimeters long and about a millimeter wide. I only cut it out when I have the beak sewn onto the head of the doll and it’s ready to be glued in. For the more easier method of attaching the head to the body, the arms and legs are sewn onto the torso first, then the head is attached. When I sew the head on, it’s sewn to the torso first, then I add the arms and legs. All of the sewing on the head is completed before it’s attached to anything. It’s so much easier to hid knots inside the head on the underside.

I think I’m okay with the new way of attaching the head, but I still think it needs some work. I don’t like how there’s a visible bump between the top of the torso where it meets the head. It really bugs me. The head is securely fastened. I think I’ll crochet a collar to hid this, otherwise it will drive me nuts!

I also made a little pig, because I found a few tiny scraps of some wool felt and I wanted to see how it would work for such a tiny doll.

The felt was harder to work with. It’s a 40/60 acrylic and wool blend. It was a little thicker than 1mm as well. Honestly, I hated this doll when I got to the point of putting the snout on. I was so close to just scrapping it completely. Then I added the ears and the doll started to look ‘right’ to me. Any future piggies will be made with a lighter weight felt, and have a shorter snout I think.

I tried out making a little strawberry head doll next. She went well. I used a 1mm felt for her body and head, but don’t like how her body came out. I may have just been working too fast though. The second attempt at the strawberry head I think was much improved.

I like the dark green for the body better. I also added some stitches for the ‘seeds’ that should be on a strawberry. I like using yellow for this, making the strawberry more ‘cartoony’, but it didn’t look right. I changed to a slightly darker red and it looks much better I think. The new method of attaching the head worked out well for this doll. I think due in large part to the fact that I added a green ruff to look like leaves around the neck.

And what goes with strawberry? Banana! (I love strawberry and banana flavours together!) I like how this little guy turned out. What really kills me is that I had to stop and create a pattern for this little banana, but I can free-hand cut more complicated wings and have them come out almost identical. I suppose it’s because I’ve made thousands of wings over my lifetime of being an artist, and this is the first time I’ve ever made a banana!

The size of these dolls, between 6 and 6.5 cm or so, makes it fairly easy for me to change things around once I feel like I’m getting a bit bored. I always feel like a bit of a lout when I say that, but it’s true. I like solving the problem, and once it’s solved, I want to go on to the next problem. These problems always start with, “I wonder if I could do that?” or “Would this work?” Perhaps it’s not true boredom, but impatience. Or perhaps a combination of the two? I’m not sure. I’m just thankful that I don’t ever seem to run low on ideas for artwork that I want to create. Time is something that I never seem to have enough of though.

That’s what I’m working on this week. What are you working on?

Time

I make my own sketchbooks and notebooks. Rarely do I purchase them. I make them to my personal specifications and they serve my creative needs well.

I wrote yesterday about participating in this years Meet the Makers challenge on Instagram. Yesterdays prompt was ‘Time’. Time seems to be something I always feel in short supply of as an artist. I feel extremely fortunate to not suffer from artist block. Time for me is short, but I have more ideas than I can possibly create in my head and in my sketch and notebooks.

I mentioned in my Instagram post that I have been told “You have a lot of time on your hands!” in the past by some people looking at, or experiencing my artwork for the first time. I said that I kind of smile and shrug it off in my post, but it goes deeper than that. I smile and shrug it off to the face of the person or people who are saying this to me because I don’t think that they have any kind of ill intent towards me or my artwork. I don’t think they are trying to demean me in any way, as if by saying the aforementioned phrase, the true meaning is, “Wow. You have nothing real or worthwhile in your life. No husband. No kids. No real job. No house to take care of. No one and no thing that demands your immediate attention all of the time. Oh. And cats don’t count. They just make you sadder and more pathetic.” Yes. I know. I kind of go off on a bit of a tangent with the reading between the lines. There are reasons why I do this, even if it is just internally: I’m a woman and I’ve been ‘Queen Bee’d’ since I was a kid; I had a caregiver that is the absolute monarch of passive-aggressiveness, meaning, I learned from The Master of the craft from an early age, and I’m weirdly sensitive, even though I seem like I just smile and shrug it off, while at the same time I’m screaming like a banshee in my head.

That all being said, last year, I wondered how much time I was actually spending creating my artwork. How much time did it actually take to create one of the Creative Experiment dolls? I decided to gather some data and crunch some numbers and see what I could learn.

I recorded my start and end times during periods of work, as well as what exactly I was doing during that specific time. I conducted five separate tests; four with completely original doll designs, and one in which I duplicated a doll form, but created different appliqué and embroidery work on. Upon completion of each doll, I went through my recorded data and came up with how many hours it took me to complete the piece.

Man. I hope my math is correct. I feel like I’m letting everyone look at my homework for third period algebra class.

I then gave myself three separate hourly wages; $20, $10 and $7.25 per hour. As a public school art teacher, I was earning around $22.50 per hour. I chose $20 (17.98€) per hour as my top-end, because of the length of time I have been a practicing artist, as well as my possessing a bachelors degree in art. The $10 (8.99€) per hour, was a kind of middle of the road kind of hourly wage that I have been paid in past employment situations. $7.25 (6.52€) per hour is the US minimum wage. I also used an arbitrary set price for the given doll of $100 (89.90€), and then worked out how much I would be earning per hour, if the doll sold at that price.

I did not figure the price of materials and tools in the creative process. Nor did I include utility usage (water and electricity), or the square footage of my workspace within the residential apartment in which I live. The element of time was my sole concern for this experiment.

I knew that the $20 per hour wage would make my artwork completely unmarketable. No one would buy one of my dolls for $431.60 (21 hours, 58 minutes to complete doll).Perhaps if I were a better known artist, or had the stamp of approval from a gallery, museum or show space, there could be a possibility of selling my work for that price, but the gallery, museum or show space is going to take a chunk of that money. Many artists like myself have difficulty even getting a foot in the door for spaces like this, because we are (as one gallery owner told me years ago), “You are not a proven seller. I can’t risk the floor space on you.” I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing (that’s a topic for another blog post entirely!) but it’s the way that it is for many artists.

The $10 per hour wage was not an attainable price point either. That $431.60 doll, goes down to $251.80 (226.36€) at the aforementioned hourly wage. Still, much too high for many, many people to readily afford. There have been times in the past in which I have broken down the price of a doll into payments for a buyer who really wanted a piece, but that is few and far between. To be honest, I do that for people that are past customers or who I really trust, because I’ve gotten burned on propositions like this in the past. Really, really burned.

The $7.25 minimum wage in the US brings the price further down to $156.45 (140.64€). For a set few people, perhaps the types of people who regularly buy artwork from local or regional artists at galleries and shows could purchase them. But if they don’t like  style of my work, or are part of the ‘niche’ that gets my work, likes my work and wants to own my work, the chances of them putting money down for my work, even at this lowest price, is relatively slim.

When I set an arbitrary price of $100 on this piece, my hourly wage is $4.63 (4.16€) per hour. And remember, I’ve not even factored in the tools, materials, rent and utilities involved in creating the piece of artwork. There is also the personal and professional efficacy (knowledge, experience and ability) involved in the creation of the piece. Nor is there any accounting for the creativity and personal artistic expression accounted for in this calculation.

Now, all of this being said, I do not feel that the world owes me. That the world must buy my artwork. No. Not at all. Nothing is guaranteed like that in life. It would be super-nice if I could occasionally sell my artwork at prices that better reflect my personal investment of time, efficacy, energy, creativity and craftsmanship into the artwork itself. For those reading this, I would hope that the next time you look at the price tag of a piece of artwork in a gallery, or at an arts sale, that you stop and think before rolling your eyes at the high price. Know that there is a lot of furious, dedicated work going on prior to you setting eyes on it. When you buy that artwork, you are buying a part of a persons life. A specific length of time, a period in the evolution of their own unique creative vision, that has come and gone and left the artwork as a mile-marker. If you love the work and can afford it, buy it! If you can’t buy it, but still love it, please tell the artist how much you love it and appreciate their time and energy being spent in the pursuit of making the world more unique and beautiful. Please do not say, “Wow. You have a lot of time on your hands!

My Own Path

I recently read a blog post by an artist named Salley Mavor regarding how she feels about creating patterns and instructions for people other than her self to purchase and use. You can read the post ‘To Teach or Not to Teach’ here. It was interesting to read about how an artist, who works in the same realm as I do, hand sewing, embroidery, doll creation, thinks about their own original art creation and the creation of patterns and instructions of their original work for sale to others.

Before I go any further, I should note that I have owned a copy of her book Wee Felt Folk in the past. I think it’s a lovely book with clear, easy to follow patterns and instructions for creating incredibly sweet, tiny dolls. I made a few dolls from the book and while they were a lot of fun to make, I found myself more interested in creating my own original artwork and art dolls.

One of the many reasons that I found Mavor’s post so interesting is that I have been working on a project that would at least partially encompass patterns and instructions for doll creation that I may offer for sale. Some of the points that Mavor makes struck a chord within me and made me think that maybe I didn’t want to make and sell patterns and instructions for doll making. This made me feel as though perhaps I had wasted the time that I had already spent planning, writing and creating patterns for my project.

There were three points that Mavor asserts that she feels negatively affect her feelings towards creating patterns and instructions for sale.

Salley Mavor, in addition to being an artist, is also an accomplished illustrator. She creates intricate embroidered illustrations using a variety of different embroidery techniques as well as her own original compositions that are just brimming with amazing details. Her work is enchanting, sweet and elegant all at the same time. The longer you look at them, the more little surprises you find within them, which makes them all the more fabulous!

Mavor speaks about how there have been people wanting to know if she would ever create patterns for some of her illustrations. Which on the face of it sounds like a huge compliment, but is in fact more complicated than that. Mavor states that she feels creating patterns for some of her larger illustrations and pieces of art would stifle her own artistic creativity, because she would constantly be thinking about how to create instructions for other people, instead of being within the moment of creation, actually making the art.

What makes this complicated is that would people ever ask a painter or a sculptor for instructions on how to re-create their original artistic creation? Did anyone ask Picasso for instructions on how to re-create Guernica? Was Rodin asked for instructions about how to re-create The Kiss? This is a weird double standard that artists who work with textile and fiber arts, and something that within a consumer economy, where everything is for sale, customers think that they should be able to get that pattern and those instructions, because, you know, it’s just sewing and embroidery, right? It’s not like…you know, Art of anything. It’s just craft…right? (Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox of sarcasm now.)

Another point that Mavor makes is that she wants to keep some of her own creative secrets for herself. She has her methods of construction and creation that she has honed over decades of artistic practice. Why give that away? In addition, what she does and how she does it may not be something that can necessarily be ‘taught’ via a set of instructions and a few pattern pieces.

I know that I have ways of holding the pieces of felt that I’m sewing together that work for me. Doing it the way that I do it has simply evolved over my own decades of artistic practice. At this point, I don’t need to always create a pattern either. Sometimes I just sit down and start cutting. That’s efficacy and it’s earned by years of dedicated work within an artistic medium(s). That cannot be conveyed through a set of patterns and instructions, unless the purchaser is someone who already has a fair amount of knowledge, skill and ability under their own belt. So, I get that point. I like the idea of keeping some of my magic for myself as well.

Salley Mavor has published a book of patterns and instructions, Wee Felt Folk. She took one of the simpler elements (the dolls) within her own artwork and broke down the construction into easy to replicate steps, complete with patterns. She hoped that people who purchase the book would put their own creative spin on the dolls — alter them so that they are more an expression of the person who is utilizing the patterns and instructions, rather than just an attempt to copy exactly what Mavor creates herself as an artist. As stated previously, I’ve worked with her patterns. I chose to create my own dolls instead, because…I’m an artist too. I want to make my own create visions, not the visions of someone else.

Mavor speaks about being a bit of an outsider within the greater world of Art (with that capitol A). She’s expressed that she doesn’t even really fit with current trends within sewing and embroidery movements, which are much more modern than her personal style of needlework. There is also the resurgence of needleworkers who create patterns and kits for people who want to follow someone else’s creative vision, instead of creating their own unique pieces of work. And that’s fine, but it should be noted that when you create something using someone else’s pattern and instructions, without making any type of creative alterations yourself, you are creating a craft, not a piece of original artwork.

The weird space that I feel as though I tread is not considered Art and not considered craft, simply because I utilize tools, materials and techniques that are not considered by the wider world as a form of Art — with that capitol A — and is somehow less than a painting or sculpture. I’m not bemoaning this; it just seems to be the way that people other than those who work within the same creative realm think when they look at my work.

I can see my own thoughts regarding my artwork reflected in what Mavor writes. There are two big differences between the two of us though. 1) I’m a very, very, very small art creator by comparison and 2) I’m an art teacher.

I truly enjoy teaching people how to create artwork, especially their own artwork. This may mean that they begin their work by utilizing a pattern or technique that I have demonstrated or supplied, but their end product should be, will be, their own. Mavor stated that teaching people how to create using her techniques is not something that she is interested in. And she totally has the right to say that. She doesn’t owe anyone anything, period.

As an art teacher, I have learned how to give the student enough information to get them started, to allow them to get comfortable with the entire creative process, so that when it comes to the point within the creative process in which the student needs to take that leap and put themselves into their artwork, they are brave enough to be unique and add themselves into their artwork. Teaching art is not something everyone can do or wants to do. I love being there when the art begins to happen. When the confidence is built. When the students tries out an idea, and another idea and another idea. I love the planning, creation and implementation of art lessons. I think the biggest part of why I love it so much, is that I want to share with my students this amazing thing that makes me so incredibly happy and I want them to be able to experience it as well.

So, I am going to continue working on my plans for patterns and instructions…and the other things I want to go along with it as well.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

Forks and Spoons

I’ve received criticisms about the artwork I make. When I say ‘criticisms’, I mean to speak about the good, the bad and the not-so-great things about a specific piece of artwork that I’ve created. I majored in Visual Communications (Graphic Design) in art school and learned a lot about how to critique another person’s artwork. Within my studio, we could get into some fairly gory depth and detail during our critiques. I never took the negative comments personally. It just meant that what I was trying to do wasn’t working and that I needed to try something else. I also felt that these sorts of critiques would prepare me for the much rougher world of graphic design that I would eventually enter once I graduated.

What this early training in art criticism did not prepare me for was the world of non-commercial art. (Regular art? Fine art? Gallery art?) To be more specifically, it didn’t prepare me for the things people who are not makers of art will say to me about my artwork, techniques, materials, craft and presentation.

The how and why of some of the things that people have communicated to me leave me confused and sometimes annoyed. I’ve talked to another artist who work in the same vein as me and they have too have had some similar feelings and experiences. I talked at length about these weird, confusing and annoying comments, in an effort to try and figure out why a person might say these things, and what the root causes might be.

1. The Customer is Always Right:

I almost feel as though this concept is baked into the DNA of most of the people in the US. I take a great deal of joy when I see that my artwork makes people happy. I take even greater joy when a person thinks my artwork is good enough that they decide to open their wallet and purchase it. I know that my artwork is more or less a luxury item, serving no other purpose than to make the customer happy to know they own it. I mean, it’s not like one of my paper maché play-set dolls is going to complete their taxes for them, or perform useful household tasks like dusting and laundry.

What will stick in my craw wrong, is when the customer will offer a completely unsolicited opinion on how I should make my artwork, as well as the types of artwork they think I should be making, you know, so I can make lots more money. Because you know, money is the only possible reason I would spend as much time as I do making artwork, right? Getting lots and lots of money is my end goal, right?

You should make Minecraft and Duck Dynasty dolls. People would buy those!” This comment by far is one of the stranger ones. I also got a “You should make dolls like Ugly Dolls! People love those!” comment once. I would think that the people offering this advice know very little about copyright law.

I think this is part and parcel of a consumer society like the US. There are some people who feel as though the conveniences of buying just about anything they can imagine at any time of the day or night, translates into this being their ‘right’ as a member of that society. And when they do not get what they want, when they want, how they want, they will tell you, either to your face, or through a negative review online.

2. Dolls are Not Always Toys:

My artwork is incredibly personal. To some, it doesn’t appear that way. To some, all they see is a doll. Sometimes that doll is cute and sometimes that doll does not conform to the persons preconceived ideas of what a doll is and isn’t. To many people, a doll is a plaything for children and is therefore something that is almost a disposable item, both physically and mentally speaking. Toys are part of childhood. Period.

The dolls that I make are not play things for children. They are art. As an artist, I’m constantly exploring why the doll is a constant theme of my artwork. It never goes away, which means, I still have things I need to ‘figure out’ about the doll and why it is so important to me. Each individual piece is a creative exploration of who I am as a person.

Dolls have never been ‘just toys’. They have been used to teach children about religion and societal roles, and to train young through creative play as to what is expected of them within their culture as well. For me, the dolls that I create have become a fusion of many different roles that dolls have played for humans over the millennia.

I just don’t know what I would do with a doll. You know, I’m a forty-year-old-woman! I don’t play with doll!.” Said to me at a craft show, while her sticky-fingered daughter touched every single one of the highly embroidered and appliquéd faces of some of the dolls I had for sale.

At the time, I was a forty-year-old woman who was making dolls. Lots of dolls.

3. Handmade Things are Not as Good as Store-Bought Things:

My younger brother once told me that he didn’t want me to give him handmade gifts, because he’d just rather have a gift card or money. At the time, I thought it was better that he was honest with me, but it really hit me like a brick in the face. I’ve never made him another gift.

For some people who may want to purchase my work, they get a little ‘sticker shock’ when I give them a price for a specific piece of artwork. Sometimes, they will try and get me to lower my price, with weird back-handed compliments. When those don’t work, then they start to comment on what they perceive as the shabby parts of my work, thinking, I guess, that I will believe them and say, “Oh! You are so right! 300€ is way too much for this piece! It’s really tremendously crappy construction and made of cardboard and newspaper that I got for free, and you know, the 100+ hours that I have spent working on it don’t really mean anything. I was already ‘paid’ in the emotional sense, so I’ll let you have it for 20€, no, no 10€!”

I once took a doll to work to show my supervisor. He was curious about what I was making and I valued his criticisms and advice regarding placing it in an upcoming art show. A woman in our department saw what I was showing my supervisor and offered me $20 for the doll. It was a large and complicated doll (Cactus Mama, an opuntia cactus with multiple faces and smaller babies) and I declined her offer. She walked away and then came back a few minutes later and hung into the doorway and kind of rolled her eyes and said, “Wellll….I GUESS I could give you $40…” Again, I declined her offer, stating how many hours I had worked on the piece. I put the piece in a show and won a ribbon.

4. People Who Have No Knowledge of Art Creation of Craftsmanship:

I make the artwork that I make, with the materials and techniques that I use, because it suits me to do so. In my personal experience, that’s kind of how creating my own art works. I’ve spent more than thirty years making art with anything that I could get my hands on. I’ve been an art teacher, and continue to teach art workshops here in Finland. I have been fascinated with my hands since I stuck my own right thumb into my mouth while still in utero. I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon and have never stopped. So it always surprises me when someone who does not make art, or do any kind of craft or activity with their hands, attempts to tell me what they feel I’m doing ‘wrong’ in my artwork, and how I might fix those things, so I can be more successful as an artist. Their only credentials seem to be that of ‘personal opinion’, and that their personal opinion of my work is something that I should change my own personal artwork because of. (Fnck my drag, am I right?)

I spend an insane amount of time inside my own head. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, planning and physically creating my artwork. As I’ve stated previously in this post, my work is extremely personal in nature, but I do reference other artists (of the older, more dead variety, as well as of the more alive, breathing, and contemporary kind), art movements, music, literature, nature as well as vintage toys (GAH! The toys of my childhood are now ‘vintage’!) and contemporary toys. I am mining my own life experiences and how I interact with the world around me while creating my artwork. My life. My experience. My thoughts. My art.

A few weeks ago, my husband came over to look at some of the tiny dolls I was working on. He said, “You know these kind of look like Lego Minifigs, right?” Yup. Totally. I was aiming for something in between a Lego Minifig and a Playmobil figure visually speaking, so his observation told me I was more or less, on the mark with my artistic intensions. These are toys from my childhood. Take those toys and smash them up with my fascination with miniatures and dollhouses, and my creating these tiny dolls makes sense.

I suppose that this section paints me in a rather snobby light. The insinuation being, that if a person doesn’t have the experience of what it’s like to make or do something with their own hands, that encapsulates their own unique visions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams, while using a variety of materials, supplies and techniques, as well as having a depth and breadth of knowledge and practice about the subject of art (or gardening, or writing, or cooking, or modern dance, or film, or carpentry, or playing a musical instrument, or sewing clothing, or crocheting items, take your pick of all the creative fields!) then deciding that without any of the aforementioned credentials, that they can tell an artist how to make their work better, or more sellable, does not hold a whole lot of water with me. Making art is when I feel the most ‘myself’ and I’m fairly sure that there is no one out there who can tell me how to ‘be me’.

My husband and I talk about ‘forks’ and ‘spoons’ a lot. When I was teaching art in the elementary school, I would have lessons in which I would give the students a lot of three dimensional recycled and up-cycled items and we’d create sculptures. I remember on exercise in which I was holding up some of the materials they would get to use to create these sculptures and as a group, we would brainstorm about all the things that the object could become. I held up a plastic fork first and the whole class said, “It’s a fork!” I asked them again, but what could it be, use your imaginations! “It’s a fork for a person!” Okay. Okay. I will re-frame the question for them. Imagine you’ve never seen anything like this before, and you find it while you are walking in a forest, what do you think it could be? I got a lot of silent stares, until…someone yelled, “I’d use it to eat food with!

I was about down to my last spoon with that last answer.

Some people see my artwork for what it is and accept it. There are others who don’t find it attractive, or interesting, and simply move on without saying anything about it. Then there are others who think my work should be a fork and they tell me why it should be a fork. Hopefully, I will have enough spoons to deal with it internally.

And occasionally through a blog post.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

 

A little additional reading, if you are so inclined:

The Customer is Always Right

Spoon Theory

I’m good at thrashing around inside this concept: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Sticky Brains: Control Issues

I’ve always liked mice, however, I know that they sometimes are the carriers of nasty things like the plague. Such horrors carried in such a cute, tiny, furry, squeaky package.

We all have things that have been said about us, perhaps to us, that for whatever reason, stick to the inside of our minds like mice in a glue trap, and never, ever go away. Ever. These are the kinds of things that bubble-up when you find yourself asked to describe yourself. When cornered like this, whether in person, or while filling out a form, I inevitably, I describe myself exclusively in the most negative terms. Loud and obnoxious are my typical go-to’s, with ‘has control issues’ in rapid succession. These reactions are so natural, so unquestionable to me, that when friends ask me why I’m saying these things about myself, or inquire as to whether or not I’m being self deprecating, I have no answer other than, ‘but… I’m being truthful. These things describe who I really am‘.

But, am I being truthful?

I’ve been teasing apart the phrase, “Katie has control issues” for some time now. Recently, it’s surfaced by way of my most recent artwork.

My Thought Process:

Wanting to have a level of control over your own body and immediate surroundings is not something that is out of the ordinary for an individual. During your lifetime, you experience periods of control to a greater and lesser extent. Children have far less control than the adults who care for them. The elderly have less control as they age. Those who have mental and physical conditions that require differing levels of interventions, lack complete control over themselves. Society and culture exert a level of control upon the people within them as well. Religion can control the actions of the adherents. Good grief! Paying taxes is a form of governmental control. Humans spend a great deal of their lives being under the control, with various degrees of stress or anxiety attached to that control, for a large part of their lives. It’s no wonder that as an individual would want to exert as much personal control over their lives as possible, even if that control can be detrimental to the person exerting it.

When I started looking at the phrase “Katie has control issues“, I discovered that it can be interpreted in different ways, depending upon the context in which the phrase it uttered, and by whom it is uttered. I should note that this phrase was said to my face, by people in positions of authority over me, by way of familial relationship. When I was a young person (under 18), I interpreted this phrase to mean, “Katie has no self control” or “Katie is out of control“. This personal interpretation dove-tailed nicely with my inability to lose weight and be more like my female peers. I just thought, oh well. I cannot control my eating. There must be something wrong with me. I have no impulse control. Okay. I’ve got ‘control issues’.

These beliefs were internalized, along with being loud and obnoxious and that was simply that. I could file that away, and pull it out when the situation required the information. I know who I am. I am loud, obnoxious and lacking in any sort of control.

It wasn’t until fairly recently (the past five years or so) that my interpretation has been called into question by people around me. I mentioned in one conversation with the friend, “Oh, I’ve always been told I have control issues…so, yeah…you know…I can’t control myself…” or something to that effect. My friend was a bit incredulous. She said she didn’t think I had control issues. She said I had issues with being controlled by others. Those who stated I had issues, simply did not like the fact that I resisted their attempts to control me.

What?

What my friend pointed out, is that I simply did not like having anyone, even someone within my family attempting to control me. No one likes being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, all of the time. I’m sure you’ve had a job where this came into play, and how did it make you feel? I began to get rubbed raw as an art teacher in the public school when I felt as if my action and agency were being squashed by administrators who felt as though with no experience in the arts or as an art teacher, they knew how to teach visual arts to children better than I did. For me personally, the levels of personal and professional control I felt was being unreasonably exerted upon me were crushing, and I had to leave. I needed space. I needed a change. I needed to find a place in which I was much more in control that I felt I had been in the past.

Prior to moving to Finland, the place in which I felt the most centered, the most myself, the most in control, was within my own artwork. It served as my therapy and helped me from completely shattering into a billions of gooey bits. I could reign in those erroneous beliefs about myself. I could bring them to heel and have some control over them when I was making art. It should be noted that I still feel this way when creating art while living in Finland.

Teaching art, the act of teaching to children and adults is where I feel the most myself while I’m interacting with people. Making art myself is where I am deliriously, completely and totally myself while I’m alone. Both of these activities have varying levels of control embedded within them. Regarding teaching art, it’s more like a controlled chaos, which I find invigorating from a creative standpoint, as I like seeing what happens when ‘this’ smushes up against ‘that’ and something completely new is made. It’s a little chaotic and messy, but beautiful. And as strange as it may seem, I feel a greater level of control within it.

My most recent artwork, the creation of an extended series of tiny felt dolls that I call, Little Ladies has brought to the surface the ideas and beliefs about control that I have as an adult, and where they came from during my childhood. As a child, I found so much happiness within dollhouses and miniatures. I don’t remember a time in which I wasn’t fascinated by miniature things, especially dolls. I could create perfect little displays within these dollhouses. I could make it anything that I wanted it to be. Looking back as an adult, I see what I was doing and why.

I know that I will struggle with the glue trapped mice of external control mechanisms placed in my head for the rest of my life. Some days, they win, some days they don’t. The difference is that I know what they are and why they are there, and for me, that helps to give me back the control I need.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.

As a Generation X’er, I thought adding Janet Jackson’s Control (1986) was appropriate.

Naturally Occurring Processes

Recently, I’ve had a few people ask me how I create the artwork I make. Specifically, there were a few who asked me if I did any kind of sketching prior to the creation of my work. It sounds like an easy question to answer. It’s a yes, no, or ‘sorta’ type of question. If you’ve read anything I’ve posted here in the past, there is no such thing as a ‘simple answer’ for me. I’ve got to make it insanely complicated and dissect my whole personal history of sketching, so that I can answer, yes, no, or sorta.

I’ve had sketchbooks for as long as I can remember drawing. My early adult manner of keeping a sketchbook solidified when I was in art school in the early 1990’s. I’ve always found proper drawing paper incredibly intimidating, so the vast majority of my sketchbooks were 5 by 7 in. (12 by 18 cm approx.) Mead 5-Star Spiral Bound Notebooks, college ruled. I did a great deal of writing in them, along with drawings and sketching out ideas for illustrations, prints and hand-bound books. Yes. You read that correctly. I was learning how to bind books, but chose a mass produced sketchbook for myself.

There was a period of my life in which I lived the greater part of my creative life inside of my sketchbooks. They were always close at hand. I was very possessive of them, never letting anyone look at what I was writing or drawing. By the time I moved to New Mexico, the vast majority of my physical art creation were direct photocopies of selected pages of my sketchbooks, hand-painted and sometimes altered. I was letting people see portions of my sketchbook, but edited and altered them as I saw fit.

I’m sure that these sketchbooks are largely unintelligible, due to the subject matter I was writing and drawing about, as well as my incredibly bad longhand writing style. I coded some things within my sketchbooks, on the off-chance that anyone would read them. When I was in my early teens, my younger brother read portions of my personal journal. When I complained, loudly and through tears, to our mother, I was made to feel as though the invasion into my privacy did not matter. That left a deep mark on me. I leaned-in to my horrid handwriting and added codes and abbreviations to deter/confuse anyone who might attempt to pry into my private thoughts.

My privacy was invaded again as an adult, when people in the small office I was working in went through my sketchbook and journal when I was out of the office. They could make heads nor tails of anything I had written (remember: bad handwriting and codes) or drawn. My personal style is very Dada and Surrealism influenced, so my drawings meant little to them. I’m led to believe my co-workers did this because they thought I was writing down things about them.

Nope. I was just writing about how depressed and unhappy I was. (insert shrugged shoulder emoji here.)

When I began teaching art in the public schools, my daily Class Notes became the place in which I did a great deal of writing. This writing was a form of reflexive writing, used to assist me in being a better teacher. I had a form that I printed out, with four sections. I filled out the day and time, the class grade, teacher and the lesson taught. I still wrote in code. Again, there were times when my clipboard was out of my control. Although, now that I think about it, my handwriting was enough to disguise everything. ANYWAY, these class notes were kept for use by me, with occasional usage by others, like classroom teachers, or principals. They really did save my bacon a number of times, and in a variety of ways.

After moving here to Finland, I began making my own sketchbooks, partially because I wanted to, and partially because the types of note or sketchbooks I wanted were out of my price range. Even though I can create utilize much more complicated bookbinding techniques, I go the easy route with my own note and sketchbooks; a saddle stitch. I use recycled carton board for the covers, and loose-leaf notebook paper for the inside pages. I like the graph paper that is used here in Finland. It lends itself to drawing as well. A little folding, a little stitching, some tape and ephemera decorations and voila! I have a sketchbook. I do sometimes use a sulfide drawing paper, but not always. It depends on the mood I’m in, or rather, do I really want to hunt for the drawing paper.

My current sketchbooks are filled, just like my previous sketchbooks, but not in the same amount of detail (and not nearly the amount of depression) that they once were. I feel like there has been some switch flipped in my brain regarding the amount of sketching or drawing I do prior to beginning a piece now. I just don’t feel like I have to, or need to spend days or weeks drawing before beginning work on an idea or theme or doll. I’m choosing to call this the ‘Pinto Rule’.

(Okay. Long story longer. I had a photo teacher while I was getting my art education degree who counseled me regarding writing good art lessons that were in compliance with the state standards and benchmarks for art and education. A good lesson would fit nicely, and the standards and benchmarks would fall into place within the lesson, some lessons you might have to rethink or work a little to make them fit, while other lessons just did not fit and would never fit, maybe. So, just put them aside and work with the lessons that do. Applied to my own personal art creation, I use this rule to use and keep the good ideas, the ones that won’t leave me alone mentally. The others, that require too much effort to stuff them into my sketchbook. Put them aside and let them be.)

In New Mexico, I created very detailed sketches of the dolls that I was creating. Full-on colour sketches with over-lays, etc. And while I like the work that I did, there seems to be something missing in it when I look at it now. I think that’s because I know what the sketches looked like and how the finished work failed to live-up to the vision I had for them. The doll work that I have created here in Finland has, by comparison, very little sketching or planning done prior to the actual artwork being created. This has been practiced for the past two years through the Creative Experiment.

The Creative Experiment was meant to just give my creativity a little jump-start. It evolved into something far more complicated for me creatively speaking. In a nutshell, I did no sketches and just started working with the materials in front of me. I felt as though I needed to be more comfortable swimming around in the ‘grey space’. One of the unexpected outcomes from the experiment was that I stopped needing to sketch or draw so much. I was still drawing and sketching, in my mind, but also in three-dimensions, while I was creating the work. And the ‘sketching’ that I’m doing happens more as performance, while taking this shape and putting it with that shape, in the physical world. My sketching is me playing around with the forms that I build out of cardboard and papier mache.

I still sketch. They’re really rough though. Mostly shapes and colours. I may work out how I want the limbs to look. How I want the eye to travel when looking at the piece. I do still enjoy seeing how different ideas smash up against other ideas on the pages of my sketchbook, but I don’t ‘live’ there anymore. I don’t have to anymore. My handwriting is still awful and yes, I will always write in code sometimes. And no, I will not share my sketchbook with you, and woe be unto the person I find pawing through it without my permission.

Woe. (insert a stern look here.)

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next Tuesday.