Yee-Haw for Printmaking!

Today I visited Yee-Haw Industries in Knoxville, Tennessee, with my friend Rhainy. (She's gonna be an art teacher too!)
Yee-Haw has been in operation since 1996, as a unique storefront/ studio/ print factory. The small area up front is packed with merchandise, including hand-printed signs, posters, cards, fabric, and clothing, all manufactured on site.

The staff allowed us to prowl around the back, where we were fascinated and overwhelmed by the vast amount of printing blocks and typeface. The walls were filled with their unique products, and the ceiling was partly covered too. Everywhere we looked, there was something amazing. They let me take pictures of everything, as long as I promised not to steal any of their designs.

(Side note: I hate shopping in a store full of amazing stuff when I have NO money to spend!)
Posters to the ceiling, and then some

Yee-Haw is in a 100+-year-old building on Gay Street in historic downtown Knoxville (just a few doors down from where Hank Sr. was last seen alive).

 The studio has recently collaborated with the National Gallery of Art to design & produce a unique line of Dada merchandise, available exclusively at the National Gallery for the duration of the 2006 Dada exhibition.
By Yee-Haw artist Kevin Bradley: It is a Hugo Ball nonsense poem from 1917 - during the Dada period.

HUNDREDS of drawers of typeface

thousands of antique metal dingbats
Yee-Haw Industries located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, TN, 413 South Gay Street with a neon Yee-Haw in the front window. You can't miss it.
Unless you're me and Rhainy... we drove past it twice. Maybe three times. 
countless one-of-a-kind wooden and linoleum plates

So much fun stuff to look at!
Visit their website for more info. Once there, you can also link to their Etsy store and their own blog.


The Oh-So-Boring Still Life

I don't know too many painters who get jazzed about painting still-lifes. They aren't very exciting to paint, and they aren't usually very fun to look at, either.

You can't hide poor drawing skills or shoddy compositions with a still-life. That's why so many students have to paint them; they are useful for building skill under the watchful eye of a professor.

Needless to say, I've done my fair share of them, and I thought it would be fun to share them, complain about them, and maybe even mention some ways to make them NOT so boring.
Vegetables, 2010, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20"
Group your items in threes. For some reason, the eye likes to see things in three; it's a satisfying number, easy to balance.  Make sure there's some diagonal lines in the composition to help the eye move through the scene and keep it from being too static. Another good tip: let some elements leave the edges of the composition, like the carrots in Vegetables.
These rules are very BASIC, and a skilled painter can and should break them. For example, maybe you WANT to create a sense of unbalance or a static, enclosed scene.

Fruit, 2010, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20"
 For Fruit, I focused on shading and highlighting the fruit to make it look as real as possible. I also tried to play up complementary colors, such as between the yellow of the apple and the reddish purple of the table, and the red apple and the green bowl. Points of contrasting color can create visual interest.
 Bonus tip: go grocery shopping! Find pretty stuff to paint, and have lunch the next day.

Stripes, 2010, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20"
Stripes is all about complementary colors. The professor's assignment was to prime the paper black, then do an under-painting in opposite colors. The tomatoes were first painted green, the bowl was originally red, the striped wall was orange... you get the idea. When the final colors are applied, the under-painting shows through in spots, which makes the colors appear more vibrant. This is NOT my favorite painting, but the technique was interesting, and fun.

Jessica's World, 2010, watercolor, 16" x 20"

This is where it gets much more interesting. This painting is actually a still-life. My artist friend, Jessica Sharpe, had made little ceramic sculptures that resembled mushrooms with horns sprouting from them. While cleaning house to prepare for a move to grad school, Jessica wanted to unload these little guys. I volunteered to adopt them; they were kinda cool. I arranged them on a table top, threw a sharp light on them, and drew them into a sort of surreal landscape. It's sort of an homage to my friend's twisted imagination.
Inheritance, 2010, acrylic on paper, 16" x 20"
The assignment for Inheritance was to create an autobiographical still-life. Most students chose to paint their i-pods and/or their favorite shoes- boring! I wanted to paint something that would still be significant to me when I'm old and gray, so I went with an ancestral theme. The painting in the background was painted by my paternal grandmother, and the frame was built by her father (his wedding portrait is in the red frame on the right); she gave it to me as a wedding gift. The dresser is part of a bedroom set which originally belonged to my maternal grandparents. The books are symbols of what I've learned from my family; some of them are antiques given to me by a great Aunt. The bottle of whiskey is Crown Royal, the favorite of my paternal grandfather, who had just passed away before I painted this. The leaves are from a plant I took home with me from his funeral. I painted it in warm colors, with softened shadows and highlights, to convey a sense of nostalgia.

I still don't really care much for still-lifes. I cope with the lack of excitement by choosing subjects that I like, and I focus on painting them with as much skill as I can. Some day I'm going to have to expect my own students to paint still-lifes, and I hope they see merit in it, like I do.


Techical Process: Figure Drawing, Part 2

Untitled Nude, graphite on plate-finish bristol, 16"x 12"
This is the result of a two-day figure drawing session.

I finished the figure by blending the shading, increasing the contrast, and finishing the hands, feet, and face.
This was the fun part! Day one was the hard part- check out my earlier post if you want to see the details.

I plan on darkening the background, especially under the bench and around her feet. I want to leave the background with a rougher texture, so the marble-like quality of her skin stands out in contrast.

When I finish the background, I'll add a new image to this post.

Here's an image of Rodin's The Kiss. This is an example of what I mean by contrasting texture. Rodin left the base of the sculpture rough and unpolished, which makes the flesh of the figures seem more alive in contrast.

I'm no Rodin, of course, but it's nice to dream, right?


Gallery Visit

I recently visited the Prairie Art Gallery in Northside. This is a very community-minded, non-profit gallery. Their current exhibit, House, perfectly exemplifies the philosophy of the gallery.

Artist Tony Becker created House by collaborating with over 15 different community arts centers. Children of all backgrounds decorated paper origami houses with whatever they felt a home is; some featured cut-outs and written words, and some were decorated on the inside as well. Once Becker collected the houses, he spent many hours arranging them into large, sphere-shaped hanging mobiles, which turn slowly in the air currents.

a close-up view of Becker's largest sphere of houses

Tony Becker's exhibit manages to be engaging and compelling, without being cliched or sentimental. After talking with the gallery director, David Rosenthal, I understand why this exhibit is perfectly suited to the philosophy of the Prairie Gallery. Rosenthal chooses to exhibit work that is community-minded and unique. He prefers work that is a collaboration between artists and members of the neighborhoods in which they work, because art should function as a way to provide culture, pride, and purposeful expression.
a smaller sphere of houses
This exhibit will continue until April 8th. Go check it out!

4035 Hamilton Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45223
HOURS: Tuesday-Friday 10-6 and Saturday 10-4


Technical Process: Figure Drawing

I am halfway through a two-class drawing session with the same model in the same pose. This is great, because I can take my time and pace myself.
Just for fun, I decided to analyze my process by running to the computer lab during the model's breaks so I can scan the work in progress.
1.Very faint lines, but accurate because I took my time.

 1. This first image is after about 30 minutes of work. I spent about 10 minutes on gesture drawings to get warmed up. This helps get me used to converting 3-D reality to a 2-D paper. Then, I switched to my 14" X 17" Bristol board, and started mapping out the figure. This involves making very light marks for all the "landmarks" like shoulders, knees, chin, heels, etc. I adjust and re-adjust til they are all in the right spot, often drawing imaginary lines to check for correct proportions and angles. Once I got it all down, I erased everything but the most basic, faint contour lines. Look closely, they're practically invisible!

2. Next, I started gradually blocking in major shadows, building them just as carefully and slowly as I did the contour lines. Notice I avoid working on the hands, feet, and face. This is intentional; I know they will be positioned slightly differently on day 2, so I'll wait until then to worry about the extremities. I want to make sure I place the highlights in just the right place, so that the shadows are balanced. (See Below)
2. You can barely see the shadows, but they're there.

3. For the last half hour of class, I deepened the shadows and strengthened the lines. I feel like I am at a good halfway point; the hard part is over (making sure everything is positioned correctly). Next class I can complete the extremities, refine the shading, and do just enough background to suggest a setting.

3. This is about 2 hours of work. Halfway done!
 I was smart enough to mark the floor with masking tape so I can place my seat in the same spot next class. I just have to make sure I get there early so no one else steals my spot...

I can't believe this is my last figure drawing before the final critique.

I will update this post next week so I can show you the final product. Stay tuned!

Party at the Pendleton!

Being a waitress has its pros and cons. One of the biggest cons is that I work every Friday, and thus I never get to visit the Pendleton Art Center during Final Friday. Miracle: I got out of my shift last Friday night, called up my friend Caitlin (fellow art student) and we headed downtown to see some art!
the humble exterior
What is this Pendleton place, you ask?
It was originally built in 1909 as a shoe company. In September 1991, The Verdin Company, the world's oldest and largest bell and clock manufacturer, opened the building close to their world headquarters to promote and showcase local artisans. With eight floors of studios featuring original pine floors , eight foot arched windows and over 200 artists, PAC is the world's largest collection of artists under one roof.

The last Friday of every month, from 6 til 10, artists open their studios to the public. There all many types of artists here. Old, young, professionals, hobbyists, painters, sculptors, you get the idea. Most artists work with traditional subject matter, such as landscapes and portraits. Some artists' work is very affordable, while others sell their work for thousands of dollars.

wear comfortable shoes for lots of climbing!
Pendleton is unique because it gives the public a chance to purchase art directly from the artist, while seeing the artist in his or her own work space.

Caitlin and I took full advantage of the situation- we talked to as many artists as we could up until 9:59- and we asked how and why they worked, how they supported themselves, and what kind of advice they would offer to a young artist attempting to become professional. I can't believe I had never done that before- just TALKED to the artists- because it was easy, and they WANTED to talk! It gave me hope- this networking thing might not be so hard, after all.


Make a Mini-Comic!

 I love my special studio class with Carol Tyler this quarter! She is a well-known and talented comic book artist and writer, and she is great at imparting her vast knowledge to her students. I just read volumes one and two of her three-volume masterpiece, You'll Never Know, and it was fantastic!
The cover of Carol Tyler's second volume, Collateral Damage
 There is a LOT to learn about the technical processes involved in creating a graphic novel. Ms. Tyler demands that we follow the "rules." These are strict industry standards which exist because of the publishing/ business side of things, and also are a part of an honored tradition for which all of her students gain a lot of respect.
She also demands that we begin with the basics: proper tools, proper inking and layout, and simple, clear storytelling. Her advice ALWAYS helps create a better final product.
In an earlier post I described the process of making a four page mini-bio comic. That project was much more daunting that it may seem, and creating an eight page mini comic was exponentially more challenging. How do you tell a whole story, with a beginning, middle, and end, on eight tiny pages? How do you use illustrations to advance the story without being redundant? How do you find the time to draw the pages, ink them, scan them and digitize them, lay them out properly, print them, cut them, fold them, and staple them before they are due? Answer: you don't. I finished mine an hour late, running in all sweaty from Kinko's across campus. Every student had difficulty to some degree, and we all fell short to some degree, but most importantly, we all know what we did wrong and how to fix it (thanks to dear Ms. Tyler!).
At the time I was creating this mini comic, I was drowning in schoolwork from my other courses, mostly from an art theory/philosophy class. I decided to write about that class, mostly because by brain was too fried to do anything else.
This is the "splash panel"- and it's not quite splashy enough. I should have incorporated some imagery to make it more appealing.

Introducing my main character: Me! (And yes, I know I'm not that skinny. But the cartoon version of me is.)

The titles and authors shown are straight from the required reading list on the syllabus. Notice all the Heidegger? Our professor LOVES Heidegger. My favorite part of the whole project: the hang-in-there kitty in the background.

Actual quotes from the readings.

Philosophers like to make up their own words. They aren't always in dictionaries.

Don't ask me what happens here. It made sense at the time. My brain breaks- because I'm thinking too hard?

Again, it's not clear what's happening here... The idea was that in my struggle to gasp for air, I knocked over the leaning tower of books, which has tragic consequences...

I do like my last panel. I just wish I had been able to spend more time getting to this point. The important thing is I know it's not great, and I'll know how to fix it the next time.

Based on what I learned from this project, here are some tips for those of you wanting to attempt your own mini-comic:
1. Make sure your story makes sense, and has a logical beginning, middle, and end.
2. Make the splash panel inviting! It's the only way to attract a potential reader, so it has to be good! Make sure the title is relevant to the story, and include your name and date.
3. Don't waste an entire page with the word "CRASH!" or any other onomatopoeia, for that matter.  You need that space to advance the story!
4. Work larger, and shrink it down after scanning it to make it fit. The key here is to make sure the larger original is proportional to the final page size.
5. Ink the panel border first. If you mess up, you can always start over. If you've already spent an hour inking the artwork and the letters, and THEN you mess up the border, you WILL CRY.
6. The Ames Lettering Guide: Learn It, Use It, Love It!
7. This part is tricky: laying out the pages for double-sided printing! The best way is to make a "dummy" first. Fold up a sheet of paper in quarters, number the pages, and then unfold them to see the layout. Here's an illustration of that process:

Peek in between folded pages and number them, 1 through 8. Once it's unfolded, you'll see how the pages should be laid out and printed, front to back.

I am currently working on our final project: a full size four-pager with 36-48 panels. It's a LOT OF WORK... I'll be posting the results by the end of the quarter. Don't worry, it will be a lot better than my mini comic!

Update as of May, 2011:
I FINALLY showed this mini-comic to Andre, the professor who taught the class which inspired the story. He loved it, especially the stack of books with all the Heidegger. We have discussed possible sequel ideas. I like the one where dead philosophers come back as zombies, invade our classroom, and freak out because we're interpreting their ideas all wrong. Heeheehee.

RESEARCH, my new best friend

Research is not a pleasant word for most students. It conjures images of bleary-eyed long sessions in front of the computer, hours lost in the stacks at the library, taking detailed notes so the works-cited page will be complete... NOT fun.
But research for the artist is fun, and pretty much necessary. To me, it's has become a valued part of the artistic process. After the initial inspiration, it's the next step. Sometimes a little research will turn me off to an idea, and that's okay, because it always opens me up to a million other ideas in the process.

As a kid I used to love the glossy pages of the family's multi-volume encyclopedia and the dictionary. I would sit for hours and look through them, loving the way the information was organized, in alphabetical order with no consideration to topic. This organization combined with arbitrariness is still intriguing to me today, and is often a major device I use when communicating with my own artwork.
See what I mean? Volume 19: Excretion through Geometry. You can't make this stuff up!

 My new favorite gadget for research is the iPad. I use Google Image search, look up the topic I want, and with just one touch I save the image to a folder. I can access the folder easily and quickly and take it anywhere, even places without internet access, and have those images ready for reference.Why is this so great? First, I can edit and delete these photos anytime. Also, I can flip through them easily with a slideshow or thumbnails, and zooming in on the details is no problem. Also, in the course of any normal web browsing, I can save any intriguing images to be looked over later when I need a little inspiration.

Just in case you were wondering, I never just copy these images into my work. I just select bits and pieces, such as color palettes and perspectives, to use in my process. I recently wanted to do a series about circus freaks, presented as vintage side show posters, which were actually showcasing very mundane exhibits, in order to illustrate the hypocrisy of xenophobia. I haven't done it yet, but I have about a hundred examples of vintage circus posters ready to go on my iPad when I'm ready.
See? Fun! Just as a note: it took me ten times longer to search, save, and upload this image onto this blog than it would have for me to find and save it on my iPad.

Research is a multi-faceted process, and in actuality, it never ends for an artist. I'm always observing and gathering new visual data, both to support existing ideas and to form new ones. It's easy to get stuck in a routine where you don't just LOOK AT THE WORLD around you- I try to stay out of that routine.

One more thing: just in case I haven't made it clear, research for me is more than just gathering visual data. I love to know the history of things, people and places when I put them in my work. If I'm making up a subject out of my imagination, there is still always a link to the real world (it's unavoidable) and I can't help but assign a story to my new subject. Why? It helps me convey the message, and it's more fun.

And now for some color!

As promised, I branched out into colored pencils over the last few sessions of figure drawing. I really like Prismacolor pencils on smooth Bristol board, because I can achieve the same sensitivity and specificity of mark making as with graphite. I'm a little overly cautious still, though, because colored pencils don't erase as easily as regular ones do.

I initially intended to be more realistic with the color, but she had a blue spotlight shining on her... once I got started on the blue, I didn't want to stop. I always end up choosing the most fore-shortened angles with this model. I think it's because she always lays down for these long poses, and the foreshortening makes it more interesting to me.

See what I mean? Foreshortening is my thing, I guess. I do have fun with the challenge of it. I like the way she looks like she's sunbathing-makes me forget that it's freezing outside.

I've only drawn this model once. Too bad, because I like her ferocity. There really are green streaks in her hair, by the way. I really tried to loosen up my style with this one, to try and break out of my usually tighter style.

I know this post is supposed to be about color, but I really liked this one and wanted to share it. She was reclining (big surprise) and I chose a foreshortened angle (big surprise) but the fun part was that she was laying in front of a mirror. I hauled my easel up on top of the platform next to her so I could see her reflection and include it. This is graphite and white charcoal on gray toned paper.

 NEXT in figure drawing: we only have a few more classes this quarter, and I want to try pastels on black paper. Fun!

It's just what I do

My last post was about John Stewart, who teaches my figure drawing class. This class keeps me sane- for about six hours per week. I sit still, pop in my headphones, and just DRAW. There have been days when I might have skipped class in order to catch up on work in other courses, but I just can't- I love it too much. I don't always love the result, but the process is... I don't know... sublime.
I don't typically decapitate the models. I was just most interested in hands and feet that day. John Stewart said the hands remind him of "bunches of bananas" and to avoid that in the future. He's right, unfortunately. This is graphite and white chalk on gray paper, with touches of black charcoal.

I did this one the first day of class. I think it's my favorite, because it reminds me of Ingres. I felt unsure of myself, out of practice, but it works with the sensitivity of the model's pose. Graphite on white paper: my favorite medium for figure drawing.

I love this model's dramatic poses. And he never moves a muscle!

Next post I will include some color work. I do love my graphite on white paper, but I love color too.

Artist and Professor John Stewart

I am lucky to be a student in John Stewart's Figure Drawing class this quarter. I am also lucky that he allowed me and fellow classmate Kelsey to interview him today. He has lots of interesting stories.
John Stewart, artist and professor

He's been a member of UC's faculty since "a week before they discovered dirt," in other words, almost 38 years. He's a world traveler, spending much of his childhood in military bases in Japan and Germany. He backpacked through Europe when he was young. Shortly after arriving in Paris, he was walking through a museum when he saw The Lacemaker by Vermeer.
Tiny, perfect: The Lacemaker by Vermeer

He says he got goosebumps and chills when he saw it, and it still does to this day (he showed me the goosebumps on his arm as proof!). Up until that moment, he had been a printmaker and sculptor and was not all that impressed with painting. Vermeer changed his mind. He spent the rest of his European vacation tracking down as many Vermeer originals as he could, and saw nearly all of them.

When I asked him if he had any other major influences in his work as an artist, he didn't hesitate for a second to mention Caroll Spinney, puppeteer and creator of Oscar the Grouch (my favorite!) and Big Bird. Before his Sesame Street days, Spinney worked as a cartoonist for a paper on the military base where Stewart lived as a teenager in Germany. He made a huge impression because he was having fun at his job, which was, needless to say, RARE on a military base in Germany. John says he ways always fascinated with the visual world and artistically inclined, but it took the creator of Big Bird to make him realize that being an artist was a possibility.
Carroll Spinney with his most famous creations

Today John Stewart teaches life drawing and painting at the University of Cincinnati. His own current work features oil paintings of landscapes and the human figure.