Thursday, March 27, 2008

Money is the Root of All Great Annoyance

From 2003-2005, I really got myself into some financial trouble. Part of it was some mistakes I made; part of it was being naive and letting certain people take advantage of me. I don't really want to go into details out here in public, but let's just say it sucked.

Anyway, as part of a greater self-improvement plan, I am trying to get my finances in order this month. Included in this task:

1) Adjust my tax withholdings to ensure I neither owe money to the government nor am owed money by the government next January (I did that in 2007 and it was great to come out even).
2) Start my 401(k) and contributing 5% of my pre-tax salary to it (my company matches 100% up to 3% of my salary and 50% from 4 to 5%).
3) Open a savings account and route 2% of my take-home pay directly into it every paycheck. 3a) Find a savings account with the best rate of return I can get.
4) Find a better bank to house my checking account (SunTrust has largely not been my friend, and I'm kind of done with them).
5) Start a Roth IRA and contribute as much as I can stand.
6) Stop buying stuff; thrift/make what I need (i.e., live more cheaply and more sustainably).
7) Eat out less often and stop picking up the tab when I can't really afford it (i.e., carry more cash and just pay my portion).
8) Consider moving in with a roommate to save money (my rent has become too exhorbitant to handle alone anymore)
9) Consider moving down to Baltimore to save gas on driving down to see my boyfriend and friends; work from home 2-4 days per month

1) Done.
2) Done.
3) Done. Between 1, 2, & 3, my take-home pay is $400 less per month than it was about two months ago. This sucks. But I'm actually richer because of it - I just have to keep reminding myself of that. And less money in the checking account means less inclination to needlessly spend. In fact, now every time I find some extra money (I sell a plush, I stop myself from buying something expensive that I don't really need, a friend pays for dinner, etc.), I take that amount and immediately transfer it into my savings account. It's kind of like dumping your spare change into a jar - only way better. It's money I probably would have spent on something dumb, or at the very least would have sat dormant in my checking account for a while, and it's money I won't miss because it's "extra." I have to tell you: it feels GOOD.
3a) This was actually the impetus for this post, which was begun in an extreme state of agitation. I have since calmed down. I will return to this subject.
4) See 3a.
5) I've realized my apartment is sucking me dry and I won't be able to do this unless and until I complete items 6-9
6) I've so far been very successful in this. However, my continued vices include: art supplies, crafting supplies, tights (I don't want used tights!!), presents for my boyfriend, gasoline.
7) I've been very good about this. Carrying cash is still foreign to me, but I'm getting more used to it.
8) In progress. I sign my three-month lease this weekend, which will bring me up to August, at which point I am planning to move to Baltimore. I have a prospective roommate.
9) see 8)

3a) and 4) redux

OMG, I was so pissed off when I started this post. The reason is as follows: I found a bank that is offering 4% APR on savings accounts with no monthly fees or minimum balances when you link it to a checking account through them as well. I thought that sounded great. It would be an opportunity to move both my checking and savings over to a new bank and start afresh. Their deals look really good.

So I started the process. I linked my old SunTrust account over to them, and scheduled a transfer of funds to get my checking account started. After everything was approved and started, I would transfer my current savings account over to the new, higher yielding savings account, then start direct depositing my pay into both accounts. The whole process was supposed to take "3-4 days."

This was almost two weeks ago. Wamu confirmed and approved my outside funding source (via two microdeposits) but then gave me an error message saying my account information was wrong and I needed to cancel and reschedule my initial deposit. Okay, no big deal. I cancel it, then go to the "Transfer Funds" page, except I get an error message that says, "Sorry, you cannot transfer funds on this type of account." What?? It's an online-only account. That makes no sense. Wamu doesn't even have any branches in Maryland.

So I go to their contact page and select the "Send Us A Message" option. This gives me a form which I fill out with my problem, then click "send." I get the error message, "Please input a valid message in the message field." So apparently my message isn't valid enough for them. I get this error no matter WHAT I put in the message field. I want to punch my computer.

Wamu does not provide an email address, only this form, so I decide I need to call them. I call them, and the robot lady informs me that I will not be able to do any telephone banking unless I have my "telephone access code." I do not have one of these. They have never given me one. I didn't know such things exist. I try to get to the option I need, only to be denied access because I don't have a code. Wonderful.

I cannot send a message to this bank. I cannot call them. Since their closest branch is in NEW JERSEY, my only recourse at this point is to send them a letter. Are you kidding me? Not only will that take several days to get there, I can't (or won't) include any account information because of security issues. Then I'll have to wait for THEM to contact ME, and who knows how long that could take.

At this point, I could give two shits about getting the account open and running. I just want that stuff closed and my information deleted, and I will go back to the bank with the slightly lower interest rate that has taken care of me from the outset.

What a frustrating experience. No wonder no one ever wants to change banks...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wild Goose--er, Swan Chase

Yesterday, I got this very strange email from my boyfriend:

Can you do me a huge favor after work? I need a stuffed swan. I thought maybe like the card store at the mall or something, or even Toys R Us, might have stuffed animals. I don't think I'm going to get a chance to get to a store like that and I need it by Wednesday. Do you think you could stop by on your way home? I know it's a huge pain in the ass. Also, if there's a little stuffed black and white border collie, I would like to get one of those too. Is that possible?

No explanation - just the request. I didn't ask any questions; I just accepted the mission. Needless to say, I didn't get any painting done last night. But I did get a lot of other things done. Five stores, and four and a half hours later, how did it end up? You can read the whole story, complete with illustrative photographs, here.

Warning: there is a graphic picture of plushicide in progress. If you are squeamish about seeing a toy's stuffing, you may not want to look.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Art Lessons

I guess you could say the results of the painting experiment are in. Once the painting had been drying for a couple days, I started to notice that the areas heavy with impasto medium were beginning to crack and discolor. So that's a big red flag on using a lot of impasto. That's unfortunate, because I really enjoyed using it to beef up my paint. I guess I'll have to work on my proportion. I don't want to imagine I can't use it at all. I think I'll just have to use less of it.

I went to the Walters for a bit again this weekend. Mostly, I got up close and personal with some fantastic oil paintings. I tried to get into the artists' heads and really try to see the painting as they would have as they were working on it. Even as magnificent as some of them appear from afar, when you get really close, you can see it's just one brush stroke at a time. I think that will be my mantra: One brushstroke at a time. I think if I practice zen-like patience, I should be able to develop higher quality paintings.

I only had an hour, and mostly was looking at painting, but I did get one post-worthy drawing done of Rodin's Death of Apollo. My proportion is still not great - his legs are too long. I think part of the problem is that I was working without an eraser, as usual. I think I need to start seeing the eraser as a tool and not a sign of weakness. :)

The "Woman Alone" painting is still on the back burner. I have plans to work tonight on a Chiaroscuro-style self portrait based on a photograph of my 16-year old self - one brushstroke at a time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

*Snap, Snap* Addendum

I lost my nerve.

Photographs and artwork have been removed from the Etsy shop due to lack of response needed for immediate gratification.

I am considering opening a second shop to keep my plushes separate from other works. I might feel better about that. A photograph of my naked knees for sale next to a teddy bear I made just wasn't working for me. And it might work better for the people visiting my shop.

Maybe I'm just a pussy.

I'm conflicted.

I get very little response to things I consider more serious projects, more "art." Then something like this sells the first day I list it.

It's kind of demoralizing. I mean, I'm proud to be selling things I made--but . . . But, but, but.

Experimenting in Oil

Wednesdays have become my "art night." I went to one life drawing session, but then the next week I was too fired up about working on my new painting series to go, and I spent the evening working on Woman Alone No. 1. Yesterday, I was completely planning to go back for another life drawing session (I even got a bunch of quarters at the store to plug the parking meter), but the minute I stepped across the threshold of my apartment a deep fatigue fell over me. That happens a lot: I walk in, drop my bag and laptop, hang up my coat, and then all I want to do is to sink into the couch with a DVD and my cats napping by my side. Sometimes, it's really difficult to drag myself back out of the house once I get home. When I have no particular obligation to anyone other than myself (as is the case with going to life drawing in Towson), it's even more difficult.

So the short of it is I didn't go (to my only slight regret). But I figured that if I was going to stay home, I would be at least somewhat productive. I was too tired to give the focus demanded by my Woman project, so I decided I'd just do some experiments with paint.

I recently purchased Oil Painting for the Serious Beginner by Steve Allrich, and have read about half of it. The book is pretty good, but it's restricting, because Allrich only really expounds upon the way HE paints, and really does little to explore other techniques (like glazing, which I was curious about) or other palettes (he doesn't put green on his palette, so there is a chapter about mixing green, but hardly anything about using green paint). Regardless, I did find out a lot of information I was looking for. It definitely wasn't a waste of money.

One of the most interesting things Allrich had to say was to use black paint. I've been taught by both serious painting teachers I've had not to use black, because the black that comes out of a tube rarely, if ever, occurs in life. Instead, I'd always been taught to make a mix of umber and blue to make a deep gray that can be warmed or cooled accordingly. Allrich does not agree with this school of thought, and encourages the use of black, but says to think of it as a color in and of itself, not something you add to other colors to make them darker. I thought that was interesting.

Since my tube of Lamp Black was unused from date of purchase (probably 6 years ago now) I decided that I was going to open it up and use the hell out of it.

I also took this opportunity to explore some other things I wanted to try out - different brushes, using the palette knife, mixing on the canvas, adding subtle color to black, creating texture with impasto medium, etc. One of my main objectives, as well, was to see if I could complete (or "complete") a painting in one session (known as alla prima), since I know how my attention span can wander. I don't want to end up with another half dozen unfinished paintings that I lose the source material for and end up gessoing over (as was the case with the canvases I'm working on right now: they were once other paintings).

It was a fun session. Great to play with the paint without worrying about the results. I learned that I need to figure out the best way to thin my paint (it was either too thick or too runny; rarely did I get a perfect medium). I learned that I bought horrible paint brushes that shed like crazy. I learned that if I'm going to be serious about painting I have to come to terms with the fact that I'm going to go through a LOT of paint and I have to be willing to put in the money to buy supplies (which can be tax deductible in certain cases if I remember to keep receipts). Mostly I learned that I have a lot to learn, and, as Allrich indicates in his book (and much like advice related to writing), the best way to learn how to paint is to paint a lot and look at a lot of paintings.

Here was what I ended up with at the end of the night. I think I may go back and redo her face in finer/better detail when it dries. I might also add some spot colors. Who knows. It's an experiment: I can do whatever I want.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"A Book Meme"

I've been "tagged."

A Book Meme.

Here are the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people and post a comment here once you post it to your blog so I can come see!

So here we go, from The Art Book. Page 123 is Edgar Degas' The Rehearsal:

"The composition appears totally random: the figure on the far right is cut off by the edge of the canvas, and truncated legs appear at the top of the stairs - had he waited only a few seconds more, it seems, another dancer wold have walked into the picture. The painting is executed with vibrant, rapid strokes of pastel and some areas have merely been sketched in. The cool tones and lack of formality are refreshing."

I'll tag a few members of my writers group:


R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke

He was a visionary and hugely important figure in science fiction, space exploration, and secular humanism. He will be missed by many.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Even in death Arthur C. Clarke would not compromise his vision.
The famed science fiction writer, who once denigrated religion as "a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species," left written instructions that his funeral be completely secular, according to his aides.

"Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral," he wrote.

Clarke died early Wednesday at age 90 and was to be buried in a private funeral this weekend in his adopted home of Sri Lanka. Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome for years, had suffered breathing problems in recent days, aide Rohan De Silva said.

The visionary author won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future. The 1968 story "2001: A Space Odyssey" — written simultaneously as a novel and screenplay with director Stanley Kubrick — was a frightening prophecy of artificial intelligence run amok.

One year after it made Clarke a household name in fiction, the scientist entered the homes of millions of Americans alongside Walter Cronkite anchoring television coverage of the Apollo mission to the moon.

Clarke also was credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called Clarke orbits.

His nonfiction volumes on space travel and his explorations of the Great Barrier Reef and Indian Ocean earned him respect in the world of science, and in 1976 he became an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

But it was his writing that shot him to his greatest fame and that gave him the greatest fulfillment.

"Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered," Clarke said recently. "I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these, I would like to be remembered as a writer."

From 1950, he began a prolific output of both fiction and nonfiction, sometimes publishing three books in a year.

A statement from Clarke's office said he had recently reviewed the final manuscript of his latest novel. "The Last Theorem," co-written with Frederik Pohl, will be published later this year, it said.

Some of his best-known books are "Childhood's End," 1953; "The City and The Stars," 1956; "The Nine Billion Names of God," 1967; "Rendezvous with Rama," 1973; "Imperial Earth," 1975; and "The Songs of Distant Earth," 1986.

When Clarke and Kubrick got together to develop a movie about space, they looked for inspiration to several of Clarke's shorter pieces. As work progressed on the screenplay, Clarke also wrote a novel of the story. He followed it up with "2010," "2061," and "3001: The Final Odyssey."

Planetary scientist Torrence Johnson said Clarke's work was a major influence on many in the field.

Johnson, who has been exploring the solar system through the Voyager, Galileo and Cassini missions in his 35 years at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recalled a meeting of planetary scientists and rocket engineers where talk turned to the author.

"All of us around the table said we read Arthur C. Clarke," Johnson said. "That was the thing that got us there."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Clarke said he did not regret having never traveled to space himself, though he arranged to have DNA from his hair sent into orbit.

"One day, some super civilization may encounter this relic from the vanished species and I may exist in another time," he said. "Move over, Stephen King."

Clarke, a British citizen, won a host of science fiction awards, and was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1989. Clarke was officially given a knighthood in 1998, but he delayed accepting it for two years after a London tabloid accused him of being a child molester. The allegation was never proved.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa lauded Clarke for his passion for his adopted home and his efforts to aid its progress.

"We were all proud to have this celebrated author, visionary and promoter of space exploration, prophet of satellite communications, great humanist and lover of animals in our midst," he said in a statement.

Born in Minehead, western England, on Dec. 16, 1917, the son of a farmer, Arthur Charles Clark became addicted to science fiction after buying his first copies of the pulp magazine "Amazing Stories" at Woolworth's. He read English writers H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon and began writing for his school magazine in his teens.

Clarke went to work as a clerk in Her Majesty's Exchequer and Audit Department in London, where he joined the British Interplanetary Society and wrote his first short stories and scientific articles on space travel.

It was not until after World War II that Clarke received a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics from King's College in London.

Serving in the wartime Royal Air Force, he wrote a 1945 memo about the possibility of using satellites to revolutionize communications. Clarke later sent it to a publication called Wireless World, which almost rejected it as too far-fetched.

He moved to Sri Lanka in 1956.

In recent years, Clarke was linked by his computer with friends and fans around the world, spending each morning answering e-mails and browsing the Internet.

Clarke married in 1953, and was divorced in 1964. He had no children. He is survived by his brother, Fred, and sister, Mary. His body is to be brought to his home in Colombo so friends and fans can pay their respects before his burial.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dead Baby Jokes Are Still Tasteless . . . Right?

I was checking out how much "art dolls" can go for on eBay this evening, and I came across this.

My initial response was one of awe at the amazing craftsmanship that would go into such a creation. But then I started to get disturbed. Who on earth would want such a realistic, lifelike--yet lifeless--doll in their home? In their life?

Then, even more disturbing, I saw this one. I would give all my prayers to the mother of a premature baby (my brother was one) but that is absolutely horrifying. And unlike my brother, who grew up to be a healthy, wonderful man, that "baby" will look like that forever.

On further exploration, I discovered these dolls have a sort of brand - they are "Reborn" dolls, and it is considered an artform to make them. Some of them have mechanized limbs and internalized motors to simulate breathing and heartbeats. All the ones I saw were anatomically correct. But stranger and creepier than the artists who "reborn" them (one of whom I saw went to the grocery store to sell them...) are the women who purchase them - and even collect them en masse. Some buy them to replace babies they lost. Some buy them to carry them around and get the attention that new moms get. Some are just hardcore doll collectors who needed the next, better, realer fix.

I have to say I am completely disturbed by this phenomenon. I try not to judge people, but I cannot deny my strongly aversive feelings about this. It's like having a taxidermied baby in your house, or in your carriage (!). *Shudder*

Okay, I'm off to bed... have nightmares...

Here's a video, so you can join me:

*Snap, snap*

Since my wonderful boyfriend was thoughtful enough to get me a new digital camera for Christmas (I broke my last one falling down in the streets of Montreal), I have been able to start back into my Etsy business.

It's been almost exactly a year since I started on the site, so it's kind of like my second try at doing this. I was very successful the first time, and I think I have two options:

1) Keep doing what I was doing, and do more of it, and thus be even more successful (financially and statistically successful, to be specific)

2) Use past success to "check off the box" (I sold things I made for money - yay), and now spend this "round" being experimental with what I'm selling (less conventional items, less "cutesy" stuff - more "authentic" art).

3) A hybrid of both.

I think I'm going with 3. I can really only make so many stuffed animals before I want to paint a portrait or take provocative photographs. I have never felt, and do not feel now, that they are mutually exclusive. I should be able to, and just plain should, make and try to sell whatever I want to. It all comes from me; there is no need to segregate one from the other. I think... Sometimes I'm not sure provocative photographs and stuffed toys should be sold together in the same store. Sometimes I think, "Fuck it." Who knows.

But now is the time to be experimental. I'm pushing my boundaries in both directions, but still creating some of the old standards that bring in enough income to buy more supplies. You can write off hobby supplies on your taxes - but not if you make more money than you spend. I'd like to fall into the latter category. But I want to maintain my integrity, too.

On that note, I've posted some new items, and plan to spend the rest of the evening on a really cool rabbit doll I started yesterday. Please check them out when you get a chance.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Woman Alone Series Photographs Made Available

I have listed the first four photographs in the Woman Alone series for sale in my Etsy shop. As I stated earlier, I don't really identify myself as a photographer, but I am trying to spread my artistic wings. I'm thinking of this as more of an interesting experiment than anything. Sometimes I don't honestly expect to be able to sell anything other than stuffed animals. :-/

How to Hire a Woman

If you can't see the full jpeg, click here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Phthalo Blue Gets Into EVERYTHING

Worked a couple hours this evening, starting in with the oils. I wish I could say it all came back to me, but it didn't. I have a lot of remembering and a lot of learning to do. I'm thinking maybe I should have started with a master copy, just to work on technique before I started on a "real" piece (like I'd planned in the beginning). Oh well.

Painting also takes a lot more patience than I've been willing to give activities for a long time. This will certainly be a test for me.

I'm Totally Going to This

Dr. Sketchy's at the Palace of Wonders

Where: 1210 H Street, NE
When: Every third Sunday of the month. Doors open at 7 p.m.; sketching begins at 8 p.m.
How Much: Free
More Info: Models perform as burlesque dancers, and are not fully nude. Drinks are available at the bar, and prizes are given for most creative artwork. See guidelines and more details here.

Dr. Sketchy's on Flickr.

Under the Painting is the Underpainting

I began the underpainting last night. I admit to not concentrating on it fully (I was tired and distracted, but still wanted to get started), so it's pretty flawed even at this stage. But it's still a start. BOY, did I miss painting. It is such a good feeling to start up again.

I worked this in acrylic, but the overpainting will be in water-mixable oil paint. I am running low on several key colors (white, phthalo blue, and burnt umber, especially, since I use those colors almost exclusively in making grays, blacks, and other neutrals), so I'll have to do some shopping before I start the overpainting.

I'm still trying to decide whether to attend the life drawing session tonight, or to focus my efforts on my painting. I probably won't have another opportunity to work on it till Monday, and I don't know if I want to wait that long. Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ghost, Ghost, I Know You Live Within Me

As so often happens with my plans, they've changed. I was trying to go through the motions of classical study, including doing some master copies and self portraits and other sort of "standard" exercises, but I quickly got bored. I'm not sure when or why it happened, but I had a flash of inspiration over the weekend about a painting project I want to begin. No, actually, I do think I know why it happened. I've been playing the hell out of Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and I think it has gotten into my brain.

The album, which grows more fantastic with each play, is a concept album about--or greatly influenced by--the life and death of Anne Frank. What has really been haunting me about the record are the images evoked by the lyrics. They are at once beautiful, but also unashamedly sexual and raw, sometimes violent, and always pure in their emotion. And if you put Anne Frank's face on all the "you"s and "she"s in the lyrics (it may not have been the intent, but it's difficult not to do so), there is an added layer of creepiness--the sexualization of a young girl. Even further: the sexualization of a dead girl. One could even take it so far as pedophilia, and almost abstract rape, because the girl cannot defend herself or enjoin herself with any of the images Mangum evokes. But I'm still never offended by the lyrics, perhaps because the passion is unashamed, unassuming, and guiltless. I think "haunting" really is exactly the right adjective to describe this album.

Here are a few of my favorite snippets from the lyrics:

And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy's shoulder
And your dad would throw the garbage all across the floor
As we would lay and learn what each other's bodies were for

Now how I remember you
How I would push my fingers through
Your mouth to make those muscles move

Made for his lover who's floating and choking with her hands across her face
And in the dark we will take off our clothes
And they'll be placing fingers through the notches in your spine

Semen stains the mountain tops

Your father made fetuses
With flesh licking ladies

The movements were beautiful
All in your ovaries
All of them milking with green fleshy flowers
While powerful pistons were sugary sweet machines
Smelling of semen all under the garden
Was all you were needing when you still believed in me

But now we move to feel
For ourselves inside some stranger's stomach
Place your body here
Let your skin begin to blend itself with mine


Probably my favorite:

And here's where your mother sleeps
And here is the room where your brothers were born
Indentions in the sheets
Where their bodies once moved but don't move anymore
And it's so sad to see the world agree
That they'd rather see their faces fill with flies
All when I'd want to keep white roses in their eyes

So I think I was inspired to create my own images that juxtapose beauty with both overt and covert sexuality, in addition to praising ownership and guiltlessness over own's own sexuality. I'm also interested in the fine line between girlhood and womanhood. Anne Frank is 15 years old in perpetuity--a girl. That, in part, is what makes some of the sexual imagery on Aeroplane uncomfortable. But at 15, a girl is going through puberty (if she has not already finished) and is beginning to explore her own sexuality. Certainly today, many girls have lost their virginity by age 15 or 16. This is true whether or not anyone wants to publicly acknowledge it.

One of the first images that came to me was a pair of bare knees and hands clasping or grabbing at a skirt in some sort of strong emotion--distress, or desire--pushing it upward. I don't know exactly where this image came from, but in my head, it represented a lot of the ideas I wanted to portray. Unable to get this image, or the ideas evoked by the music, out of my head, I took some photographs last night that I plan to use as studies for a series of paintings I want to do. I think some of them work really well as just photographs alone, but I don't identify myself as a photographer so I have difficulty seeing any of them as finished works of art. I'll probably still go on to paint them, and then decide which works better.

I used high contrast and harsh light to achieve a more interesting visual effect, but there are obvious symbolic subtexts as well. In the costuming, I chose ultra-feminine pieces of clothing--lacy, airy pieces in muted neutral colors. Some of the pieces remind me of 1940s clothing, which may be part of the reason I chose them. The interesting thing about some of the pieces were that, though they were dowdy in cut (button to the throat, full sleeve, cut past the knee, etc.) they were made of sheer fabric. If nothing is worn beneath, the nudity of the figure is exposed. I also chose to crop off the face/head/identifying features of the subject. This isn't for the purpose of objectification; rather, I want these pieces to be intensely personal. But I also want to demonstrate the universality of the feminine dilemma.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Life Drawing Sketches

Okay, changed my mind. Thought I might throw these up here. I did about eight sketches over the course of the 2.5 hours I was there; these were the most "finished." I think it's very telling that the last one looks the least complete, when I actually spent the most time on it. That was supposed to be a 30-minute pose, but she broke after 15. I'd been pacing myself--concentrating and moving very slowly (I didn't have to erase...that's how careful I was being)--so when she broke pose, it was very frustrating. I'm glad I was leaving the head/face and for later, or else I really would have been behind. It's very easy to get caught up in the details of drawing a face. But unless your focus is portrait studies, it's best to leave them till later or last.

The first three were 6B charcoal. The last was HB graphite.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Live Nude Girls

Well, just one live nude girl. And "girl" is generous.

Anyway, I went to my first ever life drawing session last night at the Towson Arts Collective, which I found out about on Craig's List. Sometimes, it's hard for me that, with all the art study I've done, I've never worked with a live model before. But I guess that's "inappropriate" for high school art programs, and Goucher's art minor is not set up very well to allow in-depth study. I only had cursory level courses in a variety of areas, and did not get to focus on anything, like drawing. In Drawing I, we only ever got as far as still life and one day of portraits (which we did of our classmates). We didn't get to the point of drawing models.

In light of this, I was really excited about the chance to try it out, and also to meet some people in the local arts community. I realized recently that I don't have many friends anymore (at least locally) who are really into producing fine art, so I saw this as an opportunity to expand my social circle to include some more like-minded people.

I was actually very close to talking myself out of going last night, as I'd had an exhausting weekend. Monday was spent preparing my house for guests, and Tuesday was a house full of guests. Wednesday, I really wanted nothing more than to crash out with a couple DVDs and a frozen dinner. But I knew that if I didn't push myself to go that first night, I'd never actually make it at all.

In a sentence: it was not what I expected, and was disappointing in many ways. But it wasn't so awful that I wouldn't give it a second chance.

I had to park far away (parking meters operable till 9?? damn you, Towson!), then I found the to-be-infamous "red door" and navigated through a rather labrynthine art gallery in search of the naked lady. I finally found the session, and it was in a large, white, ugly room lit from overhead with harsh fluorescent lights. About half a dozen people where in there--a girl about my age, two men roughly in their 30s, and several older gentlemen. I'll admit it wasn't who I expected. I expect younger jaded generations as the ones to form "arts collectives." But the crowd was friendly, and there were varying levels of talent.

Besides the ugly, unpleasant room, there was really horrible music playing over the PA system. At first I thought it was just Muzac, but then I heard some vocals and assumed it was light hits or something. But then some really weird dance music came on. It was seriously the grossest music I've ever listened to for any length of time. I was relieved when the mixed CD ran out...

The final negative aspect of the session was the model herself. A consumate professional she was not. She did not have the ability to pose for longer than 15 minutes at a time. And she would take a 5-10 minute break (getting fully clothed and leaving the room) between nearly every pose. Even when we asked her to do a 30-minute pose, she secretly set the timer for 15 minutes, and when it rang, she got up and put her clothes on. She said she would "get back into it" after her break. I feel like I spent almost as much time waiting as I did drawing. I'll bring a book next time. And an iPod. And lots of quarters.

Besides those aspects, however, I generally liked the experience. I craved better atmosphere, better lighting, and a better model, but it was still an opportunity I'd never had. I could see myself learning a lot and improving my skill significantly if I do this on a regular basis. Also, the participants were pretty cool, and maybe next time I'll have the nerve to chat some of them up. One man in particular was doing really amazing watercolor sketches, and I really want to ask him about the paper he was using.

The gallery space itself was really nice, and there was a wide range of pieces on display, from what looked like paint-by-numbers, to really beautiful and technically advanced pieces. I will spend more time looking around next time. Also, if I start to produce more work, I will have the opportunity to join the collective and participate in juried shows--something else I've never done but have always wanted to do.

I couldn't spend enough time on any one drawing to have anything worth posting on here (too bad, really). Hopefully, next week will be better. If it's not, I'm not sure what I'll do. We'll see...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On the Shelves

I took these pictures last night to help me fill out my "shelves" on GoodReads. Thought I'd post them for those bookshelf voyeurs out there. Post your own and leave the link as a comment: I'd love to see! Also, join me on GoodReads so we can share what's good, and what's not.

ABOVE: This is a shelf of favorites, mostly. Like We Care was the last book I helped publish at Bancroft Press. It was written by Tom Matthews who was an absolute delight to work with. I picked the book from the slush pile, helped negotiate the deal, edited the book, and worked directly with the graphic designer on the cover and layout. The title image is in my handwriting. I'm also credited in the acknowledgements, which is pretty cool.

Money by Martin Amis is my favorite book of all time, and Jazz by Toni Morrison is the book that made me want to be a writer. Narrative Design is a great writing book written by my favorite fiction professor at Goucher, Madison Smartt Bell. Lots of good stuff on this shelf.

ABOVE: Mostly books about writing and the industry. Also the random classic, There's a Wocket in My Pocket.

ABOVE: Mostly trashy novels (Valley of the Dolls!) with a few random gems thrown in (Watership Down and The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay).

ABOVE: More trashy novels (Ann Majors, yuck!) with a random classic (Art of War) and what I think is my third copy of Like We Care.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Is the World Entitled to Art?

As you’ll notice from the adoring Lolita posts from the end of last year, I’ve recently become a huge Nabokov fan. I’m not rabid, or well-read, enough to yet call myself a “Nabokovian,” but I could see it happening eventually. And so I’ve been mildly to warmly interested in the recent debate surrounding the late author: an unfinished manuscript of his last work before his death exists in a vault somewhere, but Nabokov’s son, Dmitri was tasked with the death-bed request to burn the manuscript before anyone could read it. Dmitri has not yet made a decision, and is stuck between meeting his dead father’s wishes to burn the manuscript and keep it a secret forever from the world, and some other option—publishing it for mass consumption, bequeathing it to the Ivory Tower for study, even just keeping it in a vault forever and ever.

It’s really a fascinating debate, and I don’t envy Dmitri’s position. At first blush, my reaction was “Set the work free!” As a fan, of course I want to read the manuscript. Despite the fact that Nabokov considered his work unfinished, unpolished, and thus unfit for public consumption, I’ve no doubt that it’s perfect in its genius as it came straight from his pen. I admit I haven’t even read all his works, but I can empathize with any Nabokovian who has read all his work and has been all but drooling for just one more morsel dropped from the table. How easy (or possible) is it to for any literati at all to be objective about this situation?

But, Chris (of course!) brought objectivity and level-headedness to the argument, showing me a side of the story I hadn’t considered: why do we (the world—the readers, the viewers, the experiencers, the fans) think we are entitled to the art created by artists? What right do we inherently have to what they produce?

I recently read an article in Slate about Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel in which the headline compared him to J.D. Salinger. Both are artists who have contributed heartbreakingly small collection of brilliant works to the world, and have now all but vanished, having ceased to make their work public or even to make work at all. Writes Taylor Clark about Mangum:

“And if Aeroplane really is Jeff Mangum's final statement to the universe, maybe we should be happy with that—not because of some tired line about going out at your peak (which he likely didn't reach), but because his story is a kind of modern fable. Many fans see his disappearance only in selfish terms: They've been deprived of more great music for no good reason. They can't understand why Mangum would shun success just to shuffle through his days, and, indeed, when musicians abandon this much promise, the culprit is usually drugs or debilitating accidents or people named Yoko. So he must have gone nuts, right? Well, no. After all, what if Mangum is just being honest? What if he poured his life into achieving musical success only to discover that it wasn't going to make him happy, so he elected to make a clean break and move on? We should all be so crazy.”

Is it selfish to desire, even to demand, that artists of genius not withhold themselves from the world? Or is the artist the selfish one?

Like I imagine it is for others, it’s extremely difficult for me to empathize with the artists at all. I live (and participate) in a world where most of us are clambering for attention, recognition, and even fame. I’m a mediocre artist in a world full of mediocre (and lesser) artists screaming in a crowded room of screamers. The internet has made things worse a million-fold. We have the ability to broadcast our thoughts, art, and “art” to billions of people all over the planet—and so we do, largely to our own detriment, contributing to “information overload” and the general watering down of what’s left of our culture.

So when a “real” artist chooses to cease contributing his work to the world, is it because of, or despite, the noise?

Is the world entitled to the art created by the artists it itself created? Or is the artist more entitled to do whatever the hell he wants? Burn the manuscript, or publish it?

Nabokov is dead. His published work will never die. His unpublished work (that we know of, at least) has a death sentence. If it’s pardoned, it will then live in perpetuity, and in possible imperfection, if what Nabokov had to say was true. If the sentence is carried out . . . we’re only left with speculation and disappointment—but some of us will also have the satisfaction that we’d given something back to Nabokov, whose already given so much to us, by granting his final wish.

Monday, March 3, 2008

It Was Bound To Happen...

Squinty caught in the act of demolishing my still life:

With cats in my apartment, I may have to give up on still lives altogether. Or maybe I just have to draw more often, and more quickly. He did give me a generous three weeks before unleashing his attack.

In the wake of that, I still wanted to draw, but was demoralized about the still life. I worked from a photograph. I'd always been taught not to do that. . . BUT, I took the photograph myself, and edited and cropped it myself--so I was not committing the sin of "copying someone else's composition."

Anyway, here it is. Took about half an hour. 6B charcoal pencil on light pink watercolor paper, 7x10.