I’m almost finished with bad signal. I’ve been rolling the IV stand around the studio and studying her from different angles while I read and practice yoga and goof around. Here’s an angle that I found particularly pleasing this morning:
Sometimes I love looking at her on her own, but all of my newer work is uncomfortable for me to see next to the old work made with Serena (who is a department store mannequin). Even padded, Serena is tiny compared to me. The hardest part of the work, these days, is hanging it up in the front room when it’s finished.
This afternoon I came home and found this juxtaposition of the average American female mannequin vs. the average American flesh-and-blood female body in my newsfeed:
It’s from a photoshoot for Cosmopolitan Latina by Victoria Janashvili. The model’s name is Denise Bidot.
And then Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminded me:
“Seventy-five percent confident will do nicely. Seventy-five percent is a goodly amount. Remember, we say that a flower is blooming whether it is in half, three-quarters, or full bloom.”
Good enough, then. Thank you, everyone who helps me stay at seventy-five percent.
A while ago, I found an Instagram feed full of photographs of people in outrageous costumes holding taxidermied animals. Like this one:
When I don’t feel like doing my daily drawing, I bribe myself by using one of those photos as a model to draw from.
More recently, one of my artist friends has been playing with Yupo paper (which is not paper at all, but smooth plastic). Another has been doing blind contour drawing, where you don’t look at the paper or lift your pen while you draw.
All of that, plus my ongoing carpal tunnel issues, has resulted in my doing things like this:
I’m not particularly attached to these drawings, but it delights me to make them. There’s something magic about the process. It’s like being six years old again, but with less fear and loneliness.
I dream about someday facilitating collaborative art playgroups for grownups and sharing the fun I’ve been having with other people.
“It’s just energy,” she sometimes says when I’m feeling something especially intimidating.
During one recent session, she commented that the energy had a sound.
“Nobody wants to hear that,” I said. But I did. I wanted to hear it. Later that week, I drove to the edge of a big parking lot and I sat in my car and screamed.
As the sound came out of me, I felt a crackling sensation rising up through the muscles on either side of my spine like sparks.
Later, driving home, I pictured seed pods bursting open. I thought of a bag of jingle bells that I had bought years ago to put in hats, and imagined prying them open and attaching them to the sculpture I’ve been working on.
Just like this:
For the second week in a row, my Awesome Monday Plans got canceled because of snow.
I cried. I ate a frozen leftover cupcake.
And then I sat down at my desk and worked on a project that I started over the weekend. Prof Hebdo (aka Lynda Barry) posted this picture…
…with instructions to her students (for extra credit) to draw 8 of these creatures, then pick two at random. They fall in love. Pick another random creature. This one ruins their love. Make it into an 8 panel comic.
I’m not officially one of her students, but sometimes I do the extra credit assignments anyway. They are usually fun, and always worth doing. Yesterday I drew 15 creatures.
Everything I’ve been reading about comics says that if you want to do them you should get used to working fast. But I am not, as my therapist pointed out early in our relationship, “a fast and easy kinda gal” (that was at least 4 years ago, and we are still digging). Also, I seem to be having some sort of repetitive strain issue with my right hand. So I am working slowly, and that’s okay.
Today I drew 3 panels. As usual, I drew with a Sharpie pen because I hate eraser boogers and I hate the wispy tentative way that I draw when I’m using a pencil. I drew on index cards, because the big sheet of Bristol board intimidated me. Here is the first panel:
The Royal Whatever is about to fall in love with one of the Fishy Things. The Crab Thing in the lower left hand corner will ruin it, although it must be said that it is not really the Crab Thing’s fault. The Royal Whatever and the Fishy Thing were doomed before they ever laid eyes on one another.
Writing about my process is also showing my work!
I’ve made a lot of progress on the newest girl. She has a name now: bad signal.
Before I started working, I hung this print up behind my workbench for inspiration:
There’s a lot of writing under the scribbling. There are also faces:
I started finding little objects with faces on them all over the studio, and decided to incorporate some of them into the sculpture.
This one is a bead made by a friend of mine a long time ago. I like how it looks like it’s trying to chew its way out of a cage. The green wire reminds me of tiny little fists on the ends of wiry arms.
In the print, the faces are scattered randomly. On the sculpture, they’ve ended up being placed along the milk lines (where you might find extra nipples), for no other reason than that it amuses me and makes me think of this email that my ex-boyfriend sent me many years ago:
Subject: A Moderne Taxonomie Of Ye Beastes
Kitties – Hair, fur, mammaries, usually nipples.
Chickens – Have feathers. Also frequently beaks, bills, wattles,
beards, muffs, tufts, stripes, spots, quacks, clucks.
Fish – Cold blooded. Frequently wet. Not cuddly, but not too yukky.
Bugs – Cold blooded. Yukky, or obviously bugs (there are some nice bugs).
Quail = chickens.
Elephants = kitties.
Lobsters = bugs.
Turtles = fish (cold blooded, not overtly yukky).
Snakes = fish or bugs, depending. Doesn’t really matter.
Platypuses = Kitties (hair, mammaries, although no nipples).
Angels = Hard to classify – hair, feathers, nipples not found.
I suspect that, if you were to frisk your Arcturian Megachicken for nipples, you’ll find that it’s actually an Arcturian Megakitty.
(I still maintain that the Arcturian Megachicken is actually a megachicken. Those are not nipples. They are supernumerary beaks.)
(I don’t know if the Taxonomie is something he came up with himself, or if he found it somewhere. If it is yours, please let me know so I can give you credit!)
Sometimes the work ends up being harder and more complicated than I expect. Other times, like today, it ends up being simpler and easier. The sculpture told me, when I started working, that I should stop thinking about exotic fruits and other complicated structures. She said she would settle for zig-zagging horizontal lines and the wavy middle of the coil of wire.
A while back, Home Depot sold me a spool of wire that’s pretty much all wavy middle. It’s Hillman brand. It weighs two pounds, and is wound around a hollow plastic core. The wire I usually use is a 3.5 pound coil from Red Brand. Both are 19-gauge dark annealed steel wire. The guys at the hardware stores look at me like I’ve got two heads when I ask for that, though. Around here, they mostly seem to call it “stovepipe wire.”
My usual wire has a greasy coating on it that looks and smells like used motor oil. The Hillman wire has a powdery black coating, like finely ground charcoal. Here is what my hands looked like after working with it:
Boraxo powdered hand soap makes short work of both ground charcoal and used motor oil. If you live around here, they sell it at the Lebanon Co-op.
P.S. Nobody paid me or otherwise enticed me to talk about Red Brand wire, Hillman wire, Boraxo, or the Co-op.
I finished a new sculpture this week, which prompted a little existential crisis about the whole body of work.
My therapist said that whatever this new piece represents is so painful that my brain is trying to protect me from it by telling me that there is nothing worth doing. It’s unusual for her to make that sort of pronouncement. Usually she’s more given to soothing noises and difficult questions. Usually I’m not having an existential crisis about my work. Maybe she’s right.
The next morning, I read this little snippet of wisdom in an article that my sister-in-law posted on Facebook:
“In those moments when you feel discouraged or lost in the studio, or when you experience rejection, rest completely assured that what you don’t know about something is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to understand. In many ways, making art is like blindly trying to see the shape of what you don’t yet know. Whenever you catch a little glimpse of that blind spot, of your ignorance, of your vulnerability, of that unknown, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to stare at it. Instead, try to relish in its profound mystery. Art is about taking the risk of engaging in something somewhat ridiculous and irrational simply because you need to get a closer look at it, you simply need to break it open to see what’s inside.”
– Teresita Fernández
Staring and relishing the ridiculousness and mystery has always been part of my process. I like to practice yoga in the front room of the studio, where all the girls are hanging. It’s especially important when I’ve just finished one. So I went back to the studio and unrolled my yoga mat.
Here is what the new girl (on the left) looks like when I’m lying on the floor:
I was going to call her “second brain,” but she insists that her name is “i know what i know.” When I’m feeling really sour, I think of her as “don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”
The crisis seems to be over for now, and I probably won’t take all the sculptures down and flatten them before my next open studio (6 February 2015). The idea of flattening them still appeals to some parts of me, but maybe I’ll save it for when I’m older and maybe I’ll make it into a party and ask people to help me.
I think this one is going to be called “second brain.”
Drawing is not something I’ve done much since I was a kid, but recently it occurred to me that I have to do a graphic novel. The idea came to me during a long, stupid fight with my therapist (ostensibly about her wastebasket, but of course it was really about something else). A year later, things are very different in her office but the idea hasn’t gone away. It has made itself at home in my head and follows me around all day long begging for scraps. All-righty, then.
If I’m going to make a book full of comics, obviously I have to make drawing a habit. So I am drawing every day. Other than that, there is only one rule: no pencils and no erasers, just a blank notebook and a black Sharpie pen. Sometimes I draw for five minutes. Sometimes it takes almost an hour.
It is starting to be my favorite part of the day, which means I am starting to spend more time on it.
I’m going to try to share a 3×4-inch chunk of my sketchbook every week. I will stop if it gets in the way of my actually doing the work. Here is a piece of last night’s page:
I have a long list of things I need to get comfortable drawing, and a big library of reference photos. The list keeps getting longer, and the library keeps getting bigger. Every day I pick a different thing to draw. This will keep me busy for a long time. It would take a long time even if I abandoned the sculptures (which I will not). It is okay if the book doesn’t happen until I’m 70, or if it never happens at all. The process is taking me somewhere, and I trust that it is somewhere worth going.
Lynda Barry’s blog is enormously encouraging.
Here’s another view of the latest one:
It’s called “how bees work.” I think I might have mentioned that it surprised me. I didn’t see it coming. It was a little like being carjacked.
Anyway, it demanded that I use this antique eggbeater, which was left behind in one of the failed restaurants in the Copeland Block. The eggbeater reminded me of a dream I had a long time ago. In the dream I saw a swarm of bees with transparent abdomens, and inside their abdomens were tiny eggbeaters. “Can I have a stinger?” the force behind the sculpture asked. How could I say no?
I’m never sure how much to say about what a particular sculpture represents to me. I know that people are often curious. I also know that I don’t want to deprive them of the opportunity to make their own meaning of it. I heard a story about this piece resonating with someone while it was at the photographer’s studio in a way that I never would have imagined because it’s so far from my own experience. I’d really love for people to weigh in on this issue if they have opinions.
This piece is an ending of sorts. I’m not sure exactly how to explain it. It’s like an exclamation point on the end of a sentence. Someone who saw it when it was freshly finished said that they had a sense of a soap bubble stretching and stretching and finally breaking apart into two separate bubbles.
I’m a long way from being done with wire sculptures about living in a female body, and I suppose I could get carjacked again by another piece of my past, but the ideas in my queue are all based on a plaster cast of my own 45-year-old torso. The work I’m planning now is about the present, about being middle-aged. It feels incredibly vulnerable to be putting my own shape on display like that. It feels vulnerable to even talk about it. It also feels necessary.