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There’s a Distance Between*

What brought me here today:

I remember having a small, internal melt-down the first time I shopped for art tools, materials and supplies in Finland. There didn’t seem to be any store that had anything like what I was used to in the US. And when I did find tools, materials, and supplies, more of the time, they were priced too high. I couldn’t afford them.

Returning to the US has also proven to be more challenging. Especially when attempting to locate and procure the materials and supplies that I grew dependent on while living in Finland. It is easier to find ready-to-use art materials and supplies in the US. But not everything I want or need requires a ready-made art-related item. Recycled and upcycled items have become a mainstay of my art practice.

Finding recycled items so far:

During my years of teaching elementary school art, I learned a great deal about repurposing all kinds of items into art materials for my students. While living in Finland, I applied this knowledge. I looked at what kinds of materials I could find easily and then let the materials guide me in shaping the artwork I created. Cardboard, carton board, and newspaper were three items I had in abundance. More cardboards could be found at local grocery stores at no cost. Newspapers were delivered to my mailbox.

At present, I’m swimming in corrugated carboard. Even though we didn’t purchase a lot of furniture, I have a great deal of recyclable cardboard. We’re trying to eat less processed foods, so accumulating carton board may take a bit more time for me. Newspapers are something that I simply have not seen since we moved. Hopefully I can locate some soon. It’s an important material for me. Paper mache will not work without it.

Second Hand:

The second hand shops in Finland were incredibly cool. They always had a little area that would have all the yarns, fabrics, buttons, all kinds of sewing notions, etc. in it. Lots of the items that the second hand shops had were vintage too. I found some of the coolest threads, buttons, fabrics, and sewing books in these shops. Jewelry, beads, and storage were also things I could easily find second hand.The best parts of purchasing second hand arts and crafts materials were the uniqueness of the items and the low price points.

I also purchased clothing that I would pick apart and use the fabrics to use in the creation of my artwork. Sometimes, the cloth was used to create clothing for a doll. More recently, I’ve begun using the fabrics to cover the outsides of some of my larger, paper mache pieces.

Just a click away!

I didn’t do a great deal of ordering tools, supplies or materials online while living in Finland. Although I did order from Buddly Crafts and Wool Warehouse in the UK prior to the Brexit becoming finalized. I preferred to spend my small art budget in the local shops, including the second hand shops, around the city I lived in. Even when I knew that I was paying a bit more for a specific item, like embroidery flosses and pearl cottons.

I’m getting ready to place an order for felt with two different companies in the next week. Some of the felts that I’m ordering are ones that I used regularly prior to leaving the US. Today, I received an order of new thread. The order was placed only two days ago. An additional order is coming tomorrow evening. It feels so odd to me to just be pointing and clicking and then POOF! The materials are on my doorstep.

Sensory overload:

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a US chain arts and crafts store. I was completely overwhelmed by the huge selection of art materials and supplies they had for sale. A few purchases were made. Some Aleene’s Tacky Glue, pom-poms, and a dozen and a half or so skeins of embroidery floss. The embroidery floss was .62 cents each. I almost burst into tears on the spot. Embroidery floss was so much more expensive in Finland. (2.60 Euros each)

Looking at materials and supplies online also gives me a sensory overload. There are just so many different things that can be purchased so, so, so easily online. I get so overwhelmed with the seemingly limitless choices that are on offer. There have been lists created of supplies and materials that I would like to purchase, but haven’t as of yet. Part of me doesn’t know what I’m waiting for either.

That certain something:

I need to purchase felt. There’s no part of me that feels bad about placing an order for a material that I have used in the past, and am using in the present, to create my artwork. After all, I make a lot of dolls! Being able to purchase embroidery floss at such an incredibly low price is something that I plan on taking advantage of a lot in the future too.

That all being said, there are still some things, or should I say, some ways of procuring materials and supplies that I miss a great deal. I have yet to find a second hand shop locally that can compare to Ekocenter or Fida. The stores are either not easy to get to by foot or bus, or are open for two hours on a random day of the week. In addition to being difficult to get to by foot or bus. I miss Eri-Keeper glue desperately, and am trying to figure out how to get my hands on some here in the US.

The sense of being overwhelmed by the choices of art materials and supplies that I can easily order online, as well as fairly easily after a bus ride, makes me feel incredibly uneasy. I liked knowing that when I purchased items from a local shop in Finland, the money stayed in my community. There was a feeling of creative satisfaction I gained from buying second hand items, supplies, and materials and creating my artwork with them.

So, now what?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ve only been here for a short time. There have to be interesting shops and businesses that I just haven’t discovered yet. I also need to remember that there is still a pandemic going on, so ordering materials and supplies online can be seen as beneficial to reducing the spread of the Delta Variant (as well as any other variants that may exist). My husband and I are fully vaccinated, but are being careful.

ANYWAY. I’ve missed being able to create artwork for the time we were moving. Part of me still feels a little ‘out of phase’ with my own mind. Creating new artwork will help me to anchor myself better in the here and the now of living in Delaware.

Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Tuesday!

*The Devo song, Out of Sync from 1982’s Oh No! It’s Devo has been running through my head a lot lately. Unlike the lyrics, I have accepted that I feel out of sync. Time and some mental and emotional work are what will get me back into sync. The first step for me was acknowledging to myself that I still wish I was living in Finland. And the place that I find myself in physically is not exactly where I wish I was.

 

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Thoughts and Objects

What brought me here today:

My husband and I are getting closer to the big move. I must admit, I’m finding it harder and harder to not create artwork for the majority of each day. Making art is part of every day. I wake up. Eat breakfast. Sit down at my work table and start working. Most of what I’ve been accomplishing is a lot of list making. This isn’t a bad thing. I just need to actually start doing the things on the lists!

My time has been occupied with two things: sorting my art supplies and creating the layouts for my next day journal. It’s a lot of putting items, thoughts, plans and lists into the correct places.

New day journal(s):

I have come to depend on my day journal to keep me on track over the past almost two years. As an elementary at teacher, I kept a lesson planner, daily class notes and a daily journal. All three of these helped to keep me focused as I planned my professional life as an art teacher and as an artist.

A few weeks ago, my husband pointed out that our local Flying Tiger had some larger bullet journals. They were closer in size to my current day journal (17.5 x 25 cm). I liked the larger size and bought it. I think it was around 4-5€ ($4.88-$6.10). My current journal will be done at the end of August. My plan was to prepare the large bullet journal from September to December 2021.

It took me almost an entire day to add the layout to the new bullet journal. My husband came over at one point to see what I was working on and seemed surprised by all the work I was doing. He confessed to being a little less picky about the layouts in his own bullet journals. It must be the graphic designer in me. I can’t leave the pages un-designed.

This seems excessively anal-retentive:

It actually took me almost two complete days to finish getting the new day journal ready. Everything on each page is colour coded. Two separate stencils were used to highlight the headers for each section on each individual page. The dates and days of the week were all written in by hand.  Pages were added at the front and end of each month for projects that I want to work on. Each month has a tab. They’re secured with glue and clear packing tape.

Yes. This seems excessively anal-retentive for something as utilitarian as a daily work journal. Except, it’s really not. This day journal is going to be with me every day. I want it to be something that I will want to use. Finishing the layouts on all the pages will make it an attractive tool to use. The finished, designed layouts and personalization will make it more likely that I will want to use my day journal every day.

Like what kinds of bad things? Well, not keeping track of my marketing. Losing track of long-term project. Not being able to find passwords or contact information. There’s also not knowing what I’m creating, or keeping track of how long it takes to create. I also wouldn’t be able to keep track of what I’m posting online either. Keeping a record my artwork sales and shipping wouldn’t be done either. My day journal is the instruction manual for my small business.

Dividing up art supplies:

Giving away art supplies is proving easier than figuring out exactly which art supplies I need to take with me. There are art supplies that I brought with me from the US that I didn’t use much. And while creating artwork in Finland, I’ve become dependent upon some supplies that I know will be difficult to obtain after the move. I’ll figure out how to do without some supplies. And find replacements for others.

My sorting method is extremely simple. I’m sorting the tools, supplies and materials that I’m not taking with me into two categories: donating to an arts organization and bags of different items for specific people. I also have my carefully curated bags of recyclable materials. Those are already sorted and will just be placed into the appropriate recycling bins.

Strange bits and bobs:

I do have some materials that resist being donated or given away. My rather large button collection is one example. It goes without saying that the vintage and antique buttons will come with me. But some of the buttons are weird ones that I’ve been collecting, with the intent of doing something specific with them. Donating them to an arts organization will probably be the final decision.

Object ownership:

When my husband and I moved to Finland, we downsized dramatically. We had been reducing the number of items that we’d been obtaining prior to moving. At first, it felt strange to not own so much ‘stuff’. I’m an artist and having a lot of stuff seems to be part of the job description.

What I learned after moving here is that I don’t necessarily need as many things to make art. It  became more important to have the right materials and a quality of tools that would allow me to create the artwork I wanted to. Everything else that I have can be re-homed, recycled and donated to the right arts organizations.

So what now?

I go back to sorting for one! My husband saw that Flying Tiger had a few of the larger bullet journals that I liked and bought me another one. This means I have another day journal to prep for 2022!

 

Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Tuesday!

 

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Workspace Cleaning

With the arrival of spring in Finland, comes the ever-increasing amount of daylight every day. From the end of November through to the end of February, the amount of sunlight we get isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. Consequently, accumulated dust isn’t necessarily visible, or perhaps better said, not bothersome, during the long, dark days of winter. The arrival of spring changes all of that. Now we I can see the dust-bunnies the size of some of the hares out in the fields!

Winter creative nesting:

I spent a lot of last autumn and winter creating artwork that would be in a public exhibition space. Once the artwork was taken down, most of it returned to our small apartment. Everything felt a bit more crowded after this. The creative mess accumulated during the creation of the artwork was now living side by side with the finished artwork.

My creating continued, even though my work space was becoming increasingly difficult to work in. At one point, I honestly felt like I was just tossing recyclables onto an ever-growing pile that had taken over a corner of my workspace. There was no way that this could go on much longer.

Small creative workspace:

It’s been mentioned here quite a few times, that the space in which I’m creating my artwork is not big. It’s more of less one third of our living room. My husband works in the kitchen, with his own desk and shelves. As a writer, he doesn’t require the amount of space for tools, materials and supplies that I do.

I try very hard to keep all of my creative workspace as neat and orderly as possible. My husband’s a very understanding man though. He knows that my work requires more space. When the majority of those materials are recyclables, storage can become a bit midden-like.

Cardboard and carton board:

I use a lot of recycled materials that I’ve scavenged from communal recycling bins, or our own recycling. Knowing that a certain percentage of my artwork was once something that was tossed out as trash or recycling is something that I absolutely love. Not only does it help cut the cost of materials for me, it also lends meaning to my work, by way of metaphor.

These materials take up a lot of space and can quickly get out of hand if you’re not keeping on top of them. The vast majority of the recycled materials that I had to clean up was my cardboard and carton board. Most of what I had on hand consisted of  cardboards in the form of small, oddly shaped pieces of that were not usable for my larger work.

The better part of a day was taken sorting through the mountain of cardboard and carton board that I had on hand. An entire large, Ikea bag was needed for the cardboard and carton board scraps that went into the recycling bins.

Plastics:

Our apartment complex now has plastics recycling. I felt a little better the fact that plastics that I had been keeping for my artwork could be recycled if I decided that I didn’t want or need them. Over the past year, I have been pointedly trying to not purchase items with too much plastic packaging, while at the same time trying to use more recyclable plastics in my artwork.

Some plastics have gone into recycling during the cleaning and organizing. While others have gone into an “I’m not sure” bag. This bag will need to be gone through once more, so that I can make final decisions about specific pieces of plastic.

There’s a large part of me that is still very much an art teacher. I was always on the look-out for plastic tubs with lids that I could put art supplies in, or mix paints in. For me as an art teacher, those are gold! That being said, I will still go through the “I’m not sure” bag and recycle what I cannot immediately use.

Sewing materials:

My sewing materials, especially my threads had gotten scarily out of control over the past few months. I went through everything. All of my threads were consolidated. Making sure that I had them all stored in the same place. Getting rid of useless scraps that I would never be able to use. Happily discovering another spool of white thread too!

A lot of my sewing materials, notions, buttons, etc., have now been organized neatly and stored in those lovely (and free!) clear, plastic, bulk candy tubs from the grocery store. Each of the plastic tubs in see through, and labeled on the side and the top. This is so that I’m able to quickly identify by sight what’s in each individual storage tub.

Lots of odds and ends:

In addition to all the cardboards and sewing materials, I needed to sort through all of my odd bits of materials too. Some of my materials, like wooden components, were stored in three different places on my desk and in un-labeled boxes. Yuck! I now have a single box for my wooden components. My glitter, wiggly eyes and sequins are all in a separate box. Pom-pom makers are in a box next to my small store-bought acrylic and wool pom-poms.

Each of the labeled boxes is within a step or two of my desk, and is clearly labeled. My sewing storage is on one shelf. I put my painting supplies on another. All of my glues now in two places (down from four!). Big bottles in a tray I can pull off the shelf, and my tiny bottles of Loc Tite type glues, glue sticks and rarely used glue gun are in a drawer at my desk.

Lost and found:

During my cleaning, I found dolls that I had completed, but for some reason hadn’t put in my shop. Quite a few of them need only a few small things completed to be finished too. I think that the reason that I (more or less) forgot about these dolls is because I was trying out some new clothing patterns on them. Most of the time, these sorts of dolls are not usually offered for sale. These dolls don’t have any glaring flaws, so I can see them going into the shop.

More things to make into art:

There were other items that I discovered during my cleaning that I’d like to find a way to use or finish-up. Sometimes I make multiple components, like buttons, beads or drawer pulls, out of air dry clay or paper mâché. I do this just in case something breaks or warps weirdly to the point that I cannot use it. When this doesn’t occur, I’m left with little extra bits from finished pieces.

I found some air dry doll blanks that I experimented with, but for some reason, never finished. There’s also a spare set of doll arms and legs that look a lot like the dolls Turk Tank, Piiing Tree, and Purple Fork. I’m looking forward to what I can do with these, and all the other small pieces and components that I found.

So, what now?

Well, back to work for me. Now that I have enough space to work in, and the ability to find everything that I need to work, I can’t wait!

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

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Material Challenges

Long time readers of my blog know that in addition to being an artist, I’m also an art teacher. As an art teacher with a finite budget, I almost never turned down anything that I thought could be used in my classroom. Either as a tool or a material. It could become quite challenging to store them. Most being of irregular shapes, sizes and amounts. And even more confusing, of unknown usability.

There is a large swath of my inner-being that, through nature and nurture, collects all manner of supplies and materials that some people might think of as needing to go into the recycling or trash bin. Keeping it even remotely organized is difficult most of the time. Extremely challenging at other times.

So, how do I try to keep it all in some semblance or order?

What do I use?

In reality, just about everything I come across in any given day is something I could use to make art. There are some items that I’m always on the look-out for. Fibers and fabrics, newsprint, product packaging, plastics, corrugated cardboard, carton board, wrapping, containers from food and other purchased items (for storage and for usage in art making) plastic bottles and liquid containers.

Really, anything that I would have included in my “crap bags” I had as an art teacher. I kept glue stick and marker caps, because it was useful to have an extra one on hand in case one was lost or misplaced during an art lesson. Sometimes, the contents of a crap bag were just interesting bits and bobs. Paper scraps, wire, beads, caps from different art supplies (paint, glue, etc.) Again, it was always handy to have them around.

Then what?

These crap bags were just extra-large resealable, clear plastic bags. Every time I came across something interesting, or a stray cap from a glue stick or pen, it went right into the bag. When they were filled. I sealed them and put them into a larger cardboard box. Most of the time, I would go through the bags myself. Sorting the contents into categories. Then re-bagging them and placing them in the correct art supply category.

I had art lessons in which many of these found crap-bag objects would be used. Most of them were collage and sculptural lessons. As a working artist now, I employ this same technique for choosing, sorting, storing and using of the objects I collect. Instead of going into cardboard boxes, the sorted, clear, plastic bags go into a large reusable grocery bags.

How about larger things?

To keep my corrugated cardboard and carton board stored in a fairly organized manner, I also use large reusable grocery bags. Using these bags keeps me from having stacks of cardboards sliding all over the place. And it keeps me from collecting too much cardboard.

In fact, I really need to go through both of my bags of cardboard soon. They’re both a bit clutter with scraps I cannot use. And which take-up too much valuable storage space. The storage space of which I speak is directly underneath and to the back of my desk area. Right next to my feet.

Other larger objects that I’ve decided to keep and use in the creation of my art are stowed and stashed where-ever I have space left. To be honest, most of my personal closet space in the bedroom is devoted to materials and finished artwork storage.

Deck chairs on the Titanic:

Never do I feel as though I’ve gotten myself as organized as I would like to be regarding my materials and supplies. The problem being that I am always getting in and out of the supplies while at the same time working on a piece of artwork. Some tools, supplies or materials have to be out an on my desk to use. This all results in a lot of clutter.

Presently, I’m working on finishing up the gesso on several small pieces, and adding the base paint coats to several others. Because of this, my desk area is a total mess. When I’m painting or working with anything wet, I do not do any sewing. Because I don’t want to ruin a cloth project.

This is all part of creating artwork in a very confined amount of space. In the home studio I had prior to moving to Finland, I had multiple work areas set up. Paints or clay could be left out in one work area, while I sewed or embroidered in another. Someday I would like to have something similar to that again. But for now, I work with what I have and am thankful for it!

So…now what?

The methods I use to store tools, materials and supplies for my art-making isn’t perfect. It’s just the way that I do things. Hopefully there is something here or there that I talked about that you can use for yourself. Or perhaps something that I mentioned that gave you your own good idea!

I had hoped to have done some spring cleaning and organizing by the time of this blog post. But I didn’t quite get there. The Midden has begun to grow more around my desk and work area again. To the point where it’s beginning to bug me. Which means that it must be really bugging the crud out of my husband!

Thank you for reading, and I will see you again next Tuesday.