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Archive for May 2008

Categories

I have a problem with categories. Basically, I’m just not very good at them. I find it difficult to choose tags for blog posts. I have too many sets on my Flickr account. I have too many email folders. I struggle with organising my filing cabinet. I desperately need to go through and rationalise all these things but it doesn’t come easily to me.

In terms of organisation, this is obviously A Very Bad Thing. I constantly lose things and I sometimes avoid tidying up because I simply can’t decide where stuff should go. And then I end up with this sort of thing!

Messy study
Kirsty Hall: Messy Study, May 2008

[I've tidied my desk since this was taken because the photo appalled me so much. If you have problems keeping your desk clear, check out Inspired Home Office for resources that may give you the push you need. Since tidying up this disaster zone, I've been noticeably more motivated and I'm feeling more on top of things.]

I do have systems but things still stump me. I’ve got a box that’s been sitting in my study unsorted and neglected for 6 months because it’s full of the sort of random objects that I find almost impossible to categorise. The pile of papers to be sorted into my filing cabinet is so large that it’s developed geographical layers and may actually have started to fossilise down at the bottom.

Since I’m so visual, I sometimes wonder if I should simply file things by colour – but I know that I’d just end up spending ages trying to decide if objects were blue or green instead because having trouble with categories is a global failure in my brain.

TIME TO LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE…

However, while it’s a problem in terms of organisation, being bad at categories can be a distinct advantage for an artist because you can see across boundaries to make associative leaps than non-artists often don’t. Leaps of logic that make perfect sense in KirstyLand often seem innovative and original to others.

For example, this piece called Lost was made for an exhibition in a church. To make the piece, I carefully broke an unglazed bowl, then mended it with glue, leaving deliberate holes. For the exhibition, the bowl was placed on linen and filled with salt water, which gradually evaporated through the porous clay.

lost 08
Kirsty Hall: Lost, 2003

Lot’s Wife was the inspiration for the piece and I combined her familiar story with the Japanese tradition of mending broken bowl with gold to make them more valuable than when they were whole. I’d read about this several years before and had been utterly captivated by the idea of regarding a mended object as beautiful and powerful instead of flawed and damaged. Somehow in my head, this linked with my sympathy for Lot’s Wife, who was forced to leave not only her home but two of her adult children. In that situation, what mother wouldn’t turn back to see what had happened? Isn’t it interesting that she’s usually held up as an example of female disobedience but if you turn it around, her story can just as easily be interpreted as being about the power of maternal love.

lost04.bmp
Kirsty Hall: Lost, 2003

As artists, we need to turn things around. We have to learn to look at our problems and disadvantages to see if they also contain power and wisdom for us. It’s time to recognise that the things that make us bad at fitting into the ‘real world’ are sometimes the exact same things that keep us making our art.

Sunday Links

Hooray, I’ve cleared out my links folder. Of course, I still have another two to get through but at least one of the three is empty.

ART

Beautiful microscopic photographs of sand from scientist and artist, Dr. Gary Greenberg.

An elaborate and intricate laser-cut book from artist, Olafur Eliasson

Arthur Ganson makes strange mechanical scupltures.

Tips on being an environmentally aware photographer.

I’m loving Poppytalk’s series of interviews with artists about their studio spaces.

Amy over at Life Craft makes intriguing collages and assemblages.

Miwa Koizumi makes ethereal sea creatures from plastic bottles.

There’s a ton of drawing lessons over on Drawspace.

I like J.T. Kirkland’s pierced wood drawings. He also has a great blog called Thinking About Art.

Reya Veltman makes very lovely pebbles covered with felt. Link found on the excellent This Is Love Forever blog.

RANDOM STUFF

Off-Grid is an excellent environmental site. I was particularly fascinated by this story about Microbial Fuel Cells, which use a combination of very basic technology and the energy given off by soil microbes to provide electricity.

A fascinating collection of objects found under the floorboards of an old British house that’s being renovated.

An alphabet made from clothes pegs shaping flesh – ouch!

Animals in formalin – what’s not to like?

25 Amazing Everyday Do It Yourself Inventions – the fangs made from a plastic fork are my favourite.

Lost caverns and buried cities from the excellent Web Urbanist.

Ladders made especially for cats – who knew such a thing even existed?

FUNNIES
Andre Jordan’s pointed cartoons about disability always make me laugh.

Cookie Monster faces his cookie addiction and asks ‘Is Me Really Monster?’

Ah, real comedy of recognition here – The Artist’s Decision Tree

Not at all seasonal but as a knitter, this photo story about Christmas sweaters made me laugh a lot and gave me 80′s flashbacks!

I was a 70's child

I sometimes think I was dreadfully scarred by growing up in the 70′s. I look at the things I make and I can see the legacy of string pictures and macramé.

3 Score & 10 vs crazy 70′s macramé birdcage.

3 score & 10 01
Kirsty Hall: 3 Score & 10, Jan 2006


Random Macrame found on internet but unfortunately I’ve lost the link

I rest my case!

Well, what can I say? Apart from reproduction prints of paintings or images in books, string pictures and macramé were the primary examples of art that I saw as a child. My parents aren’t big art people plus I had three noisy younger brothers so although I’m sure I must have seen paintings in museums, I don’t remember visiting an actual art gallery until I was in my teens. By the time I was 15, I had started taking myself off to galleries at every opportunity and had broadened my art horizons a little but before then, pins and string had featured highly in my formative visual experiences.

Ha, you should think yourselves lucky that I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to make all my art in shades of orange and brown!

I started a new piece on Wednesday and to my eyes it’s got a distinctly 70′s look, probably because it’s on brown linen. It’s another thread drawing but from a brand new series. I’ve been contemplating this particular series for a while now; it’s all to do with pithy phrases, emotional tension, domesticity and lots and lots of red thread. For ages I’ve been collecting strange trite sayings that people use – things like “well, I suppose it could be worse” or “but apart from that, how are you”. I’m fascinated by the emotional gaps in language, the way we use clichés and meaningless phrases, especially in Britain, to cover a vastness of things unsaid. For some reason, this is connected in my mind with endless images of red thread.

red drawing 02
Kirsty Hall: Red Drawing, May 2008

I had an image in my head of a red thread drawing on raw linen that I wanted to test out. I found a natural framed linen canvas that may work although I’m not entirely sure about it because it’s sized with clear primer and I think it might be too glossy and stiff. For some reason, I’m a lot more comfortable sewing on framed canvases meant for painting than on loose fabric and when I was in the craft shop, I got scared by the proper linen embroidery fabric and coped out and bought a sized canvas instead. This one is my test piece to see if I can live with the sized surface or if I need to make that intellectual leap and do ‘proper embroidery’ on ‘real fabric’.

It’s odd: intellectually I know that what I’m doing is probably embroidery but I don’t think of it as sewing. Instead, I always think of it as a very slow and laborious way of drawing.

With little bits of thread.

On fabric.

I mean, obviously I know it is sewing. Except that in my head, it isn’t. I cannot explain this.

red drawing 01
Kirsty Hall: Red Drawing, May 2008

I don’t know why I feel this way about using cloth. A couple of years ago, I started doing sewn drawings on felt and that didn’t bother me so it’s clearly something to do with the fabric. When I was about 7 or 8, I had a scary primary school teacher who endlessly criticising the sloppiness of my stitches and I suspect this has a lot to do with my fear of using ‘real fabric’ and doing ‘real sewing’. I did like threading shoelaces through pictures with holes in them though (did anyone else do that, what was it supposed to teach us?) and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I now pierce holes in my canvases before threading my needle through. Actually, you have to when using sized canvas because if you make a mistake, the hole doesn’t close up again but I also think it takes me to a safer, happier place than the word ‘embroidery’ does.

Pretties

I’m in a photo mood this week. Here’s some luscious British flora that I took earlier today – not as shockingly vibrant as the Australian photos from yesterday but the colours are still very lovely. And maybe these will seem as beautifully exotic to my Australian readers as their flowers do to me.

Herb Robert grows freely around here. There’s loads in my garden and it’s so pretty that I always feel guilty pulling it up but if I don’t, it takes over.
Herb Robert
Kirsty Hall: Herb Robert, May 2008

No idea what this is but the shape of the stems and buds are just gorgeous.
White Buds
Kirsty Hall: White Buds, May 2008

Red blushed leaves on a shrub at Clifton Cathedral.
Red Leaves
Kirsty Hall: Red Leaves, May 2008

Beautiful pinky-red flower buds on the same shrub.
Red Buds
Kirsty Hall: Red Buds, May 2008

Check out the luminous red stems.
Red Buds Close-up
Kirsty Hall: Red Buds, Close Up, May 2008

Australia: Hot Colours

I woke this morning thinking of Australia and was inspired to put together another photo essay (you poor people are going to be seeing my holiday photos for months to come!) It’s been a little grey in Bristol over the last few days, so some hot tropical colour is just the thing to keep me dreaming of our own summer flowers still to come.

Kirsty Hall, photograph of Australian flower
Kirsty Hall: Australian Flower, March 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of Australian flower
Kirsty Hall: Australian Flower, March 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of Australian flower
Kirsty Hall: Australian Flower, March 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of Australian flower
Kirsty Hall: Australian Flower, March 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of Australian flower
Kirsty Hall: Australian Flower, March 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of Australian flower
Kirsty Hall: Australian Flower, March 2008

Kirsty Hall, photograph of Australian flower
Kirsty Hall: Australian Flower, March 2008

Edited to add: Erin left the following comment with a few names. “I recognize a few of these from florida and thought you might want to know names. The first is a bottle brush, the fifth looks like perhaps bird of paradise and the last is a canna lily.”

The Slow Art Movement

I’m a fairly slow artist at the best of times: I like to potter, to muse, to drink lots of cups of tea and endlessly faff around. I generally only work in a very fast and focused way if I’ve got a deadline. I’ve always berated myself for this – feeling that I ought to be one of those artists who works for 10 hours every single day of my life, despite the fact that I’ve never been that sort of artist. Trying to be that person aggravates my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and then I end up crashing for weeks or months on end, unable to do anything at all. I’ve gradually come to see that my meandering way of making art is my body’s way of protecting itself and that it probably ensures that I get more done in the long run.

I need to appreciate the way I actually make my art instead of continually wishing that I worked faster. Part of that is accepting my own art rhythms instead of fighting against them. I have fast times and slow times, times when I’m making and times when I’m not. After a major piece of work or an exhibition, I invariably need to ‘lie fallow’ for a little while.

I can always tell when I’m in this stage because the idea of making art makes me incredibly grumpy. I just have no motivation for it and even though I have ideas, I can’t bring myself to do anything about them. If I try to push through and do it anyway, I end up ruining pieces or souring myself on a good idea. So instead, I catch up with the rest of my life: I rest, knit, read, organise household stuff, garden, visit friends, bake cakes and declutter cupboards.

It’s been five months since I finished The Diary Project and I would normally be out the other side and onto the next big art thing by now. However, with my son being ill and then my trip to Australia, my schedule has fallen behind and I’m still stuck in the unwinding/rewinding stage.

In this particular fallow period, I’ve been working in the garden. It’s been very neglected in the last couple of years because I haven’t had the energy for it but in the last week, I’ve remembered how much I need the garden. Being outside makes me feel a lot better, it helps my mood and my health and I want to get the garden to a level where it’s a restful and healing space for me. Unusually, instead of trying to do it all at once and getting overwhelmed and giving up, I’ve been breaking it down into small manageable chunks and doing one tiny area at a time and I’m starting to see results. I think that ‘little and often’ was the valuable lesson that I took from drawing every day last year. Now if I can just apply it to my art again…

I can always tell when I’m starting to come out of my art funk when I reach The Manic Mad Project Stage. In the past, I’ve impulsively wanted to do things like buying a piano (I can’t play), learn to play the harp (can’t do that either), learn bellydancing (I’ve got a big belly, it seemed a shame to let it go to waste) and various other ideas that seem perfectly sensible at the time but involve me having far more time and energy than I actually do. My poor, long-suffering family have learnt to to dread the words, “hey, you know what would be a really great idea…”

Sometimes I actually go ahead and start one of my mad ideas, especially decorating projects because for some reason, those always seem practical and achievable. Sadly this often doesn’t end well because I’m notorious for running out of steam half way through and abandoning things – especially since the mad project stage is usually a precursor to a new burst of art energy and in a knock-down fight between decorating and art, art always wins.

I’ve learnt through bitter experience that it’s wise to run such things past my family. If they say ‘no way, are you completely nuts?’ or sound a note of sensible caution, then I probably ought to listen to them. If they say “why don’t you take piano lessons first and see if you like it” and my answer is “where’s the fun in that?”, then it’s a sure sign that I’ve reached The Manic Mad Project Stage and need to get back into the studio before all hell breaks out.

So… last night I decided that I wanted to own chickens. I’m doing up the garden, I want to grow more vegetables and our family is interested in environmental things like micro generation of power (we have solar panels that heat our hot water) and getting off-grid as much as possible. So a couple of urban chickens producing lovely fresh eggs wasn’t that out of left field – food yards instead of miles, it would be great!

Actually, I originally thought that both chickens and a beehive would be the way to go but apparently I’m learning because I recognised that bee-keeping was probably a bit beyond me and discarded the idea before enthusiastically announcing it to my bemused family. But I honestly thought that the chickens were perfectly reasonable. One little chicken ark and two chickens – how hard could it be? My family kept chickens when I was a teenager so I know how to look after them – in theory. What could possibly go wrong?

Yes, well… apparently, my family did not share my wild enthusiasm for this wonderful idea and I was told in no uncertain terms that there would be no chickens unless egg prices went through the roof or the fall of civilisation seemed imminent. So it looks like The Manic Mad Project Stage may be starting and the art should be back soon. In the meantime, I faithfully promise my family that I won’t start any large decorating projects and I’ll continue gardening in a slow, sensible and sustainable fashion.

Um, digging a pond isn’t an unreasonable idea, is it?

Blog Tour: I'd Rather Be In The Studio!

Something a bit different today – my very first blog tour. Alyson B. Stanfield, author of I’d Rather Be in the Studio! The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion is here to promote her book. I recommend visiting the other stops on the blog tour, I read them all last week and it was fascinating to see everyone else’s questions.

Read on to find out how you can win a free copy of her book, but first here’s our short interview:

KH: Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on the book, Alyson, I think it’s amazing and an incredibly valuable resource for artists. I’ve already started working my way through the exercises, I’m currently rewriting my old artists’ statement using your guidelines and although it’s not finished yet, I already feel that the new statement is going to be much more accessible and powerful.

AS: Kirsty, I’m so glad to hear that! I’m glad that you found value in the book right away–that you could pick it up and use it immediately.

KH: I did have one small problem with the book though – it was really tough to come up with a question for the blog tour because every time I thought of one, I’d turn the page and find you’d answered it already! It was as though you were anticipating my needs before I even knew I had them.

AS: I’m psychic that way. :)

KH: I know you’re a big fan of blogging for artists, as am I. However, I’ve noticed that much of the art world doesn’t seem to have caught up with us on this; I feel that I’m far better known online than offline. So my question is, how can an artist translate blogging success into offline art world success?

AS: Oh, wow! You are spot on with this question, Kirsty.

First, let’s define “the art world.” I’m going to assume that you mean the traditional art world that is defined by high-end galleries and museums. Is that correct? (I tend to believe that there are many different art worlds that are somewhat oblivious to one another.)

Second, remember that blogging is only one tool in your marketing arsenal. It has to be part of an overall self-promotion plan in which everything works together to help you succeed. Again, I return to your original question, which is a search for “offline art world success.” And I have to reiterate what I wrote in the book: You must define success for yourself (pages 9-12). Knowing what “offline art success” means to you will help you clarify your path.

The best advice I can give you (an artist in the “online art world”) is to keep it up. The more people who know you, the better off you are. It doesn’t matter if the people are in a virtual or real space. It only matters that you are known and that you keep your name in front of people.

At the same time, most art needs to be appreciated in a real space. And most people need to see the art in a real space in order to fully value its complexities. That means getting your art out there and on exhibit as much as possible. Keep showing, keep showing, keep showing. Use your online contacts to set up shows in new venues or to trade venues with artists in other locations. Differentiate yourself from other artists (and other artist-bloggers) as much as possible.

Kirsty, I loved the energy behind The Diary Project. I think this was a stellar example of how to bring the virtual world into a real space. Artists who create online projects such as these should also come up with some sort of marketing plans to go with them. These might include mailings (snail mail as well as email), updates to patrons and potential galleries, being a guest blogger on other sites, creating articles about the experience, issuing press releases, and so forth.

Getting your art appreciated in the real world might also mean developing strategic alliances with others (pages 190-193). In The Diary Project, I can see possible strategic alliances with a stationery (envelope) supplier, stamp collectors, or even with the post office. I can’t tell you that this will meet your definition of success, but I can tell you that these people exist in a real space and are involved in the real as well as the virtual world.

Bottom line: an online presence can’t be seen as separate from your overall goals. Take a serious look at how the blogging fits in with your definition of success and what you need to do to supplement and to build on your Internet fame.

KH: Thanks for your detailed answer, Alyson, that’s really helpful to me and I hope it’ll be helpful to my readers as well. Guess it’s time to do the first step in your book and define just what I mean by success.

Thanks for visiting Up All Night Again, Alyson and best of luck with the book.

And now onto the all-important freebie! Visit this site, read the instructions, and enter. Your odds are good as Alyson is giving away a free copy on most of the blog tour stops. You can increase your odds by visiting the other blog tour stops and entering on those sites as well. I highly recommend that you do this as the book is great, with masses of helpful information and lots of well placed nudges for even the most reluctant artist (and let’s face it, when it comes to promoting ourselves, most of us need all the help we can get). In short, it’s a very helpful addition to any artist’s library. Although I got my copy for free, I would have gladly paid for it; I found it much more useful than the other books I’ve read on this subject.

Clifton Graffiti

Because it’s a posh area, there’s not much graffiti in Clifton but there is some and it’s often more quirky than the brightly-coloured tagging popular in other parts of Bristol.

It’s a bit hard to decipher but the text reads “the way is in the heart” – yay, Zen graffiti!

graffiti heart
Kirsty Hall: Graffiti Heart, April 2008

Someone having fun juxtaposing a house shape with this very appropriate sign. Or perhaps it’s a warning, with the cross through the house indicating that they’re a bad agency to use?

graffiti house
Kirsty Hall: Graffiti House, May 2008

These next two bits of graffiti have been ineffectively painted out, I love the resulting subtleness.

This one reminds me of Jean Dubuffet’s art…

painted out
Kirsty Hall: Graffiti Covered With White Paint, May 2008

…while this one’s like faded Arabic writing.

painted out 2
Kirsty Hall: Graffiti Covered With White Paint, May 2008

Very Jean Miro.

Abstract graffiti
Kirsty Hall: Abstract Graffiti, May 2008

My favourite shot, I can imagine this as a huge oil painting in a gallery.

abstract close up
Kirsty Hall: Abstract Graffiti Close Up, May 2008

It’s not really graffiti if the council does it!

practical mark
Kirsty Hall: Practical Mark, April 2008

In The Beginning

I’ve been working my way through Alyson B. Stanfield’s fantastic new book, I’d Rather Be In The Studio.

Instead of reading the book from cover to cover, Stanfield encourages her readers to dive in and read and then act on the chapters that relate to where they are right now. The one that immediately leaped out at me was the chapter on writing an artist’s statement.

I wrote my current statement in the final year of my degree – six years ago this summer! Sure, I’ve tweaked it a bit since then but when I put up my website last year, I realised that it read like something an art student would write to impress a tutor. Obviously that was appropriate at the time but it isn’t so helpful now. However, I needed to get the website up and I knew that I would noodle around until the end of time if given half an excuse, so I decided to let it stand and change it at a later date. That later date has finally arrived. Alyson’s system for writing a statement, based around a series of helpful writing prompts, has inspired me to start writing a statement that’s a bit friendlier and more accessible with much less ‘art wank’ (what, it’s a technical term!).

I thought I’d share some of the process with you, so here’s my answer to the question,
“How do you begin an artwork?”

I usually begin with an idea, often a single sentence written in the notebook that I keep by my bed. My ideas can take a long time to come to the surface and even longer for me to act on them. I’m not a quick artist – I often think about pieces for several years before I make them! A lot of working out happens in my head first and then I usually wait until I’m absolutely compelled to make a piece before I start. It often feels like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces have to be slowly swirled around in my mind before I can start the actual making.

Next the idea enters the test piece stage, at which point it might stall because it just doesn’t work. I’ll noodle around with the test piece for a while, rethinking things, trying other approaches and fitting more pieces of the puzzle together until I eventually find a solution or discard the idea altogether on the basis that it was shallow, pointless or just a bit crappy.

I absolutely love the problem solving aspect of making art. My art needs to work on three different but related levels: the practical level (will it fall down?), the aesthetic level (does it look right?) and finally, the intellectual level (does it convey the right meaning?). All three things must be in balance for me to consider it a successful piece and I constantly look for elegant solutions to all three problems. I like simplicity in my art, it’s good when something is ‘just so’. It’s important that I don’t say too much or too little and I know a piece is right when the solution works precisely and completely.

…..

I don’t know how much, if any, of this piece of writing will make it into the final statement but just being nudged to think about my process again has already proved inspiring and useful. I’m feeling less stuck and more connected to my art than I have for a couple of months.

Spike Island Highlights

I went along to the Spike Island Open on Friday evening. Unfortunately I wasn’t really in the mood, so I didn’t get as much out of it as I’d hoped. However, there were some artists who impressed me…

Ceramicist Karen Welsh was showing an unsettling series of domestic porcelain featuring little doll hands and feet. I especially loved the tiny little milk jugs with a hand instead of a handle. Unfortunately the only photos I could find were tiny, so you’ll have to go to her website to look.

I’ve been aware of Philippa Lawrence‘s work for a while now, ever since I saw her stunning gilded lightbulbs in [AN] Magazine a few years ago.


Philippa Lawrence: Glow

For this event, she was showing some wonderful melted lightbulbs (they’d clearly been slumped in a kiln) and large photographs of her wrapped tree pieces.


Philippa Lawrence: Bound

Keep an eye on this one, she’s definitely an artist to watch!

Patrick Haines makes gorgeous cast sculptures based on birds and deliciously spiky houses from thorn branches. I love his stuff because he such has a light hand: his work captures the essence of birds, rather than being literal and boring copies. As a birdwatcher, I appreciate this feeling of a bird that’s only just alighted on a branch and is just about to flit off again – there’s a real sense of movement in his work.


Patrick Haines: Blackthorn and Swallow

Nicola Donovan was my favourite artist of the night, she makes edgy works in textile that references clothing and childhood toys and her sinister but funny fetish rats made from black vinyl and leather knocked me for six. Unfortunately they’re so new that they’re not online yet (I overheard her telling someone that she’d finished the last one the night before the private view – btdt!). She makes works with pins too.


Nicola Donovan: The fur sedition-21st century silver fox

Kate Raggett was showing her latest works, ink drawings based on visits to sacred landscapes. I’m a big fan of her drawings, I own a small one and it’s my favourite piece in my art collection. I couldn’t find an example of her most recent drawings but this is typical of her work.


Kate Raggett: Discatom

Jessica Bartlett makes exquisite drawings by burning images of natural forms into thickly primed canvas.


Jessica Bartlett: Feather

Invariably, there were several other artists that I wanted to showcase but who don’t have an online presence – their loss!


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