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Monday, September 26, 2011

Samples from an Artist Book

This is the front exterior of "Hurts Like Hell: Reports from the Democratic Republic of Pain," an artist book and compilation project.

Inside the book you can see that I stitched the pages in. What you can't see, but happens to be true, is that I used medical sutures to sew them. The paper lining the inside of the book is something I made on Photoshop.

If you can love something like Jack's description of his post-surgery pain, I loved it.

During class critique, this page drew an audible gasp.

I loved this page for its honest appraisal of something many divorced or separating parents have experienced.

The project here was to find an object -- preferably something that wasn't already a book -- and consider how the form might be used to inspire a book. But it doesn't stop there.

Form and content were supposed to mesh. All details were to be considered.

This is one of those conceptual practices I think of as Very Art School. Out in the real world, where non-artist types dwell, the object can become confounding or ridiculous. I'm always vaguely aware of the no-nonsense nature of my journalism background when I embark on a project like this. I lean toward literalism. I like for things to be functional, and kind of regular (though truly regular people would probably dispute that).

And yet I grew pretty passionately in love with working on this.

Without taking you through every last decision and what-all, I'll just make a couple of points. First, I landed on the idea of using a Band-Aid brand box of bandages that was decorated with a cartoon character. I bought several, and at first I wasn't sure that it mattered which character. What mattered most to me was the cheerful message the box was sending to those in need of a Band-Aid. "Ouch! You hurt yourself!" it says on the side of the box -- as if to imply that everything will be fine soon.

That got me thinking of the fallacy of Band-Aids -- which really do very little, even with the kinds of wounds they're intended for. And of course when we're talking big hurts, a little bandage like this is darn near useless. So in a way, the project is about the unkept nature of the implied promise.

I knew I wanted to catalogue different kinds of pain, so I sought stories from friends. Each wrapped bandage contains a sentence or two on some epic physical or emotional pain they've experienced. Obviously, I'm not showing all of them here, but you can get a little taste. It was an awe-inspiring thing to work on this book, and contemplate the person and what he or she went through. Without getting too dramatic, there were times when I got a little tear-y.

What I ended up loving about the process was how it made me think about the nature of pain. Which is harder, splitting up with your husband or being in junior high and finding out you were the only one who didn't see the big summer concert? Knee surgery or a burned eye? These things cannot be compared, most of them. In the moment, for the person experiencing the pain, each trumps everything else.

I should say that the formally, the project appeals to the fetishist in me. I love books and I love special little boxes of all kind. I really thrilled at transforming the Spongebob packaging here into something sinister, and figuring out how to turn the Band-Aids into pages, and sewing them all in.

One of the great luxuries of an art-school education is that it takes you places you wouldn't have gone otherwise. It takes you places you might not feel you want to go -- like it did for me the first year, when I explored the wonderful world of band saws. "I'm a two-dimensional person!" I wanted to say. "I like to DRAW!"

"Ahh yes," they might've said. "But you'll draw better if you do something strange every now and then."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What Is This "Real World" You Speak Of?

If I had one suggestion for the Cleveland Institute of Art, it would be to expand its expectations and attitudes regarding the so-called "non-traditional" student. Art college could be a viable second act for more mid-career folks than currently take advantage of it. On the other hand, the setup of the school -- no night classes to speak of, no weekends or summer scheduling to speak of -- make it tough for anyone who wants a transitional experience. It's rather an in-for-a-penny place.

That has all worked out for me pretty well, and for a tiny handful of other middle-agers. But there's one kind of funny thing several of us are involved now: the mandatory Business and Professional Practices class. It's actually a quite well-designed class aimed at getting the heads of students who will soon graduate into the world beyond art school.

So ... what about those of us who have spent more than half our lives in the alleged real world? Well, I would hasten to add that none of us has yet lived life as a working artist. In other words, it's certainly not the case that we know it all.

On the other hand -- well, you can read my sketchbook here if you like.

By the way, I was pleased with my little in-class drawings here. That's one of the teachers on the left, and a guest speaker on the right.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Flutter By

Click on the picture to read the text.

A mere 6 days ago, we were getting a late-summer blast of heat and sunshine and the monarchs dallied a bit before their big autumn migration. Today it's cool and cloudy and feels very autumnal indeed. It'll be another year before we see big swarms of butterflies.

I scanned this so you could see the chunky loveliness of the inside of the fantastic leather-bound sketchbook I got this year at the Ann Arbor art fair. The paper is made in India. The leather tie can be wrapped different ways to close the book. There's actually a video on the bookbinder's website that shows the fancy way to do it.

The book now has our Cape Cod trip in it, as well as the little watercolor portrait of my classmate Kelsey.

Here's a photo I shot right after I bought it:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Senioritis: Kelsey Cretcher

This is Kelsey. She's part of my Senioritis series, documenting my senior year as an illustration major at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Check back for other interviews and observations on art-studentry.

My classmate Kelsey Cretcher and I were talking the other day about our mutual affection for illustration. I mentioned how tiresome I find the perennial discussion about the supposed superiority of fine art over illustration. (As if the line between them is always crystal clear, by the way.)

We agreed that one of the beautiful qualities of illustration is how democratic it is. Illustration gives everyone access to art through newspapers and magazines, games, book jackets and T-shirts. That's part of why Kelsey loved it when, for class assignments, we had to design wine bottle labels and cereal boxes.

She has been known to reject a purchase she would otherwise make because there were bad drawings on the box.
"Packaging sways me," Kelsey says. "I DO judge a book by its cover."
This, then, is one of the things I like about Kelsey. (Note: To see Kelsey's wonderful art, visit her website.)
Like me, she arrived at the Cleveland Institute of Art as a transfer student in spring semester of 2009. Unlike me, she was fresh off a stint at Kent State, where, at the urging of her father, she had tried majoring in art education with the idea that it was practical choice.

She suspected this was a wrong path when, during the first session of a Methods & Materials class, the instructor lectured heavily on strategies for persuading principals and school boards that the art program was necessary and should be continued.

It wasn't that she'd been all that interested in art-ed anyway. As Kelsey says, "We were learning how to teach Picasso to 4-year-olds. I was more interested in making macaroni pictures with 4-year-olds."

Having found her rightful place as part of the CIA Class of 2012 Illustration majors, Kelsey now revels in making her own art. She's a ravenous reader who has been known to own more than one copy of a favorite book -- one for reading and one that must be in pristine shape. She finds art inspiration in the pulp magazine illustrations of the early- and mid-20th century, though she wants to add a 21st century sensibility.

And she's got a killer work ethic. Having arrived at CIA without any formal Photoshop training, she taught herself this complex software and has become someone who works almost exclusively in digital media, though she often starts with hand-done work.

Anyone who knows Kelsey also knows at least a little about her boyfriend, Harry. He's an engineering student at Case Western Reserve University. Together they get lost in fantasy and sci-fi movies and games, and once a week they go somewhere to try a new boutique beer. Harry has sensitized Kelsey's palate for the brew, she says, while she has introduced into their relationship a growing collection of books featuring images of beautiful women and pinup girls.

Get a few beers into Kelsey, and she's likely to go on about her habit of immediately analyzing the aesthetics of other women: what makes them beautiful, if they are, and or what about them makes them unattractive. She eyes them up in terms of things like proportions, and how certain features work with or fail to work with other features.

In fact, she says she objectifies other women in that she regards them, at first, as "walking pieces of art."
How does this affect her sexual preference?

It doesn't, she says. "I'm probably as straight as you can get," she says.
If you are a woman, and you find Kelsey staring your way, the question running through her mind is, "Do I want to draw you, not do I want to do you."

Kelsey spent 5 years as a part-time worker at Jo Ann, the fabric and crafts store. She credits the job for helping her develop a stronger sense of color, since she was surrounded by material and liked studying the palettes.
And she loved helping customers work out their plans.

"My favorite was when someone would come in with a (craft) idea, but they didn't quite know how to do it."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

All State Barber College

I visited this Cleveland landmark back in summer (you remember summer, don't you?) and did reporting in anticipation of a Sketchbook Cleveland page. Unforeseen delays boggled things, however, but I've decided to give it some air.

By the way, Carlo tested the waters at Allstate a few weeks ago and got a not-bad $4 haircut!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

So ... What did you?

In describing the keys to becoming better at drawing, especially drawing from life, one of my illustration teachers often falls back on the phrase, "You have to become more sensitive. "

I love that reminder. However sensitive we think we are, we can be more so, improving what we notice so as to represent it on the page.

And indeed, two of the blessings of an art-school education are that if we're doing it right, we become more sensitive, and we also begin to see things in ways that are both subtlely and radically different than before. Color class makes you notice the difference between maroon and magenta, or purple and violet. You delight in combinations of hues. Art history makes you think about lower-case art ("I draw because I love to draw") and upper-case Art ("I draw because I have something to say about the world").

What am I learning in art school? The same thing, though in a different way, that journalism taught me: Remember to keep toggling between big and small, to not get stuck on the forest or lost in the trees. Remember to notice, and -- for me -- to record the noticing.