Welcome to Kathleen’s Art Blog!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Perseverance in a weak economy

With this economic crisis looming over us craftspeople, i'm thinking about business survival over the past 30 years. The late 80s were the heady days of craft when I could sell ANYTHING I made, and for a good price. Then a recession came during the early 90s and everything plummeted. I was fortunate to be living in Turkey at the time because my husband, Dave, had a job there so I was not as affected as my artist/craftsmen friends. But, the best craftsmen survived.

We just kept making things, selling them the best we could and we survived. The reason is that we persevered. There is nothing like perseverance when it comes to art and fine craft, in the midst of economic downturns, in the midst of creative blocks, and in the midst of getting rejected from shows we always used to get into. The best craftsmen persevere, and maybe it kicks them in the butt in order to do a little changing and growing as well.

So even though I may not make as much money now as I have been in the recent past, I will persevere. And I will continue to strive for excellence, not dumb down my work to make it more "saleable". "There is always a market for excellence" I read once. I will persevere and continue to make excellent things to the best of my ability.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fashion Week

I have had a very busy summer and so I am sorry for not having written anything for a couple of months.

Last week I went with some girlfriends on an overnight trip to New York city with the idea of going to Bryant Park to check out all the glitterati in their Manolo Blahniks going in and out of the designer runway shows (one of my friends weaves and makes clothing for a living). Amazingly, we saw the college-age daughter of another friend of ours who is a student at NYU and who was doing an internship stint at Fashion Week. Knowing it is impossible to get into the shows unless you are someone, we asked her if there was any way she could get us into standing-room-only at a show. She went to find out, and she got us some tickets!

Granted it was the collection of a young and supposedly up-and-coming Russian designer, but still it was a runway show in New York city! The show lasted all of 12 minutes with young, blond concentration-camp-like women walking very fast down the runway in his spring collection. The clothes did not make a lasting impression on me, but it was pretty exciting.

After that we went to a shop on Madison Ave. called "Julie: Artisans' Gallery" which is a gallery of wearable art, and there in the front window were 7 or my purses! I had just sent them to the shop and they had mentioned that maybe they would put some in the window, but it was still terribly exciting. They looked terrific.

We ate in a fabulous restaurant in the Meatpacking District and shopped in the West Village. Then we took a very cheap bus back to Boston ($18 one-way), then another bus up to New Hampshire. All in all, it was a splendid way to spend time with girlfriends.

But frankly, I am really glad to be home. I got my big-city fix and can now reflect on the whole experience. It seems trite to say it, but the whole Fashion Week experience was shallow. Is this what life is all about? To some people it is - paying attention to the latest must-haves. And actually I am quite ambivalent because this is the market I sell to.

I sell cool little containers and artsy jewelry for people to carry around and impress others. I feel uncomfortable about that and yet I really enjoy and have a passion for what I am doing.

I don't know if other artists are in this quandary. Maybe it's a result of living in frugal New Hampshire. Or maybe it's a result of my Christian faith and reading in the Bible about materialism. What ever it is, I've been doing a lot of thinking about it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Thoughts About Color, but First My New Granddaughter

It is such an exciting time in my life right now because I have a first grandchild, born May 31st, and her name is Eleanor Mae (sounds like a good novelist's or artist's name). I'm spending time at my daughter and son-in-law's helping to take care of her. I have to tell you right now, grandchildren are the best reason for having children. What a blessing from God she is!

In the midst of all this, believe it or not, I've been thinking about color. Maybe it's being impressed with the wonders of God's creation and color is a big part of that. Having a pretty good grounding in color theory from my formal art training, I feel I have an adequate ability to lay down and organize colors to express what I want or to make a good composition. What is more intuitive, however, and continually changing in my work is color mixing and color choice. Because I am now allowing nature to inspire me, I've come to notice the incredible range of colors that exist on the surface of one smooth stone or one small clump of moss. The wide variety of greens in a clump of moss may be extremely subtle and difficult to notice, but I strive to do just that and this enables me to get a real richness that I'm striving for in my work.

And so, I've been spending a great deal of time recently just mixing colors of polymer. For example, I'll mix an interesting green, then cut it up into 8 or pieces and add a small amount of another color to each piece and mix it in - maybe white to one piece, ecru to another, a teeny bit of red to another, yellow to another and mud to another. So all the pieces work well together because they have the same base green, but yet all are different. The resulting richness of color enables me to achieve a successful organic quality.

This richness is particularly evident in my "Blowing Grass Purse". I first mixed a large Skinner blend made of 5 colors - purple/ecru/green/ecru/peachy orange - then cut it up into 6 equal pieces and added small amounts of other colors to each blend and mixed each in. So I ended up with 6 variations of one Skinner blend and rolled many pieces of grass out of each, then assembled them all into one clump. These variations are called color shifting and can become extremely powerful when used in one piece of artwork.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thinking Big

While doing the Smithsonian Craft Show last week, I was able to take an hour to visit the Helen Williams Drutt Jewelry Collection exhibit at the Renwick Gallery Museum of Fine Craft. It's an understatement to say I was absolutely blown away by the collection of art jewelry she has collected over the past 40 years.

After looking at the breath-taking jewelry pieces made by many different artists, what I came away with more than anything is the question "Why don't I think that big?" By thinking big, I don't mean big in scale, although that can be part of it, but rather big in idea, or big in elaborateness, big in complexity, big in the amount of time it takes to make it.

Unfortunately, sometimes we think that in order to make any money doing what we do, we have to do "affordable" work, or work that is popular. I'm not convinced that we have to think small in order to make a living and in fact, we may make a better living if we occasionally think "museum stuff" -- meaning work we would like to have in a museum or a conoisseur's collection someday.

I have seen so much unassuming polymer work -- little earrings, one small pendant on a cord, a bracelet made up of 10 or 12 beads. BORING. Not only would it never be in a major show, but people would not buy it for more than $5.00. Now it's fine to have some pieces that are affordable to the mainstream, but you also NEED pieces that are spectacular and even "pricey" to draw customers to your work. Also, there are people who only want to purchase spectacular pieces, and they don't want $5.00 earrings!

Thinking big takes risk. What if we spend all this time on one piece and it looks lousy when we're done? What if nobody likes it? I have created pieces that I was very excited about, but in the end didn't work out to my liking. But the next piece -- or the piece after that -- succeeded and in the end it was worth taking the risk to learn and develop. Everything worthwhile in life requires risk.

Thinking big takes work. I have once or twice taken a couple of months to make a piece, from sketching, planning, working it out and perfecting. Some of the pieces in the Renwick exhibit, however, I know took more than a couple of months just to work out the idea. Some of us are just not that interested in really putting a lot of work into something, we're a little lazy. Well, unless you are willing to work at it you'll just have to realize that your work will never be that good and you may not be as successful financially or artistically as you might like. That's OK, you just have to understand that.

Thinking big also takes perseverence. I've realized over 30 years of working at it that yes, being an artist takes some talent. But far more than that it takes passion and perseverence. Just keep making things, just keep doing it, just keep working and the ideas will come, you'll keep getting better and better!

As I'm writing this, I'm saying it to myself, even though I know it all already. I need to Think Big!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An award from the 2008 Smithsonian Craft Show

Kathleen is currently in Washington, D.C., where she is exhibiting at the prestigious Smithsonian Craft Show through this weekend (Sunday, April 13th). Yesterday she was very honored to receive the show's New Direction - Excellence in Design Of the Future award. To give some context, the annual Smithsonian Craft Show is one of the two most discriminating and prestigious shows in the world for contemporary fine craft, in the opinion of many leading artists. Kathleen was juried into this show several times earlier in her career, and indeed was profiled by Smithsonian Magazine in 2000, but had seen a Smithsonian dry spell in recent years. She asked me to share with you that returning to that extremely competitive show, with a risky/bold new body of work, was the culmination of a dream/goal for her, and she is thrilled to have received this award. She will share many more of her feelings and observations about the state of fine craft (including polymer clay) gleaned from experiencing this show upon her return. Now she will have some time to get back to blogging, which is still a new thing for her.

Sincere regards to all,

David Dustin

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I just returned a few days ago from doing two presentations at the Synergy Conference at the same time as showing and selling my work at the American Craft Council show in Baltimore, then traveling immediately to Florida for the Palm Beach Fine Craft Show, and then an unexpected 2-day workshop at Ocean Reef near Key Largo. Needless to say, I'm exhausted, but not too exhausted to remain inspired by the ceramic work of Andy Rogers at Baltimore.  You may see his work at www.andyrogersceramics.com.  He came to my booth exclaiming about how much crossover there is between his work and mine and then I went to his booth and we talked for quite a while about images, techniques, and books -- giving ideas to each other and getting ideas from one another. 

I'm telling you this because even though I endeavor to get my inspiration purely from nature, it is impossible not to be influenced by fellow artists.  I mean this in a positive way. Andy was very open with me as I looked at the shapes of his pods, excitedly mentioning what good purses they would make.  I was very open with him as he saw and asked about how he could use polymer clay for little spikey parts of his organic forms. We BOTH benefited from being open about ideas and techniques.

This is a very important idea to me.  You as artists and craftsmen MUST be open, sharing, and eager to help other artists/craftsmen.  Believe it or not, it hurts YOU and the whole community when you are secretive about what you do.  In history, there were families of potters in China and glassworkers in Egypt who kept their techniques and recipes secret and it was lost to the world when everyone in the family died with the secret.  It's OK to give things away to the artistic competition because it actually keeps you on your toes and doesn't allow you to become too complacent about your work, doing the same old formulas over and over again. 

This is why I teach everything I do, at least eventually.  I may not teach a class on a new and exciting technique I only recently discovered and am still developing, but I will at some point. Because my work is so personal, no one else can or should want to do what I do specifically, so I do not feel threatened by teaching the techniques surrounding it.  After all, wise King Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, "There is nothing new under the sun," so who am I to think that the techniques I use cannot be discovered independently by someone else, or be done even better by someone else?

It is also OK to "borrow" or get ideas from another's work, as long as you push it and move it enough to make it your own.  It is also courteous to give credit to that artist when it is appropriate.  But, the art we make should come from inside us -- inside our brains, inside our experience, inside our guts -- so we don't have to depend on someone else's ideas or techniques to make art.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pictures from La Cascade (Oct. 2008 workshop site)

Here are some pictures taken at La Cascade, an artists' retreat in the medieval village of Durfort, France, the site of my October "French Connection" 5-day workshop. Penina, a student I had in Sacramento last week, had studied there last summer and said it was the most quaint place she'd ever been to and that it was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Owner Gwen Gibson just sent me these pictures, which were taken by Denise Andersen (thank you!). There are still spaces available and I am looking forward to this in-depth, inspiring study experience! Visit the Calendar page on my website for details...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Craft Cast interview

Craft Cast has just published an interview with me on the web. If interested you can go to www.craftcast.com/.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Work for the New Year

Here you see two images of new work that is not even on my website yet.  This continues within my recent "Pod" series where I make use of tiny organic forms and reinterpret them on a different scale. The series began with the idea that a pod is a hollow container designed to hold and protect something that is fragile and important. This idea seemed appropriate for the function of an evening bag as well, and so began the series.

So, expanding on that original idea, I noticed some beautiful tall grass blowing in the wind by the side of the road with purple tips, green and peachy stalks and I thought, "What beautiful grass.  Now, what can I do with that to make a purse?"  After doing some drawings and thinking about it for quite a long time, I came up with "Blowing Grass Purse." (Catchy title, huh?) I am very excited about this piece!

Ideas like this come about because I feel my job as an artist includes "paying attention". Earlier in my life when we lived in big cities, in other countries, while I was raising a family, I was paying attention to the stages in my life, paying attention to the lives of other women, and I tried to pay attention to my inner life. All of this is reflected in earlier purses that you can see on my website. Now, with more time and living in the woods of New Hampshire, I am paying attention to nature, not because I ever intended to but because it has pretty much forced itself upon me.  I used to resist being "inspired by nature" because it seemed like an overused theme for artists. Now, here I am looking at grass and reinterpreting it in colored plastic in the form of a purse.

By paying attention and then putting it somehow into my work, I hope then to open other's eyes and perhaps enable them to pay attention: to life, to the world, to people, to whatever they might be missing at the moment.