This fall I participated in a group art show organized by The Brigade, with the theme featuring portraits of women who are pioneers in technology. The show was titled Femme & Function and featured a wide range of mediums and contributions all made for silent auction bidding with proceeds going towards Girls, Inc – you can read more about it here on Medium.
I used the opportunity to create “off screen” with collage paper I had on hand, including an incredibly soft vintage piece of Swedish wallpaper I had received as gift wrap several years ago. This paper is so soft it’s almost a blanket, with gold and white screen printing worn down by time. My subject matter was Ada, Countess of Lovelace. I had read about her previously when doing some work for Code/Art (here and here) and had been taken by her interesting life. Trying out a new medium definitely gave me appreciation for true collage artists. My results are rudimentary, but the concept of a modern twist on the classic victorian portrait fits Ada and her before-her-time story well.
Portrait of Ada Lovelace
cut paper / mixed media
As one of the pioneering women entrenched in developing computing technology and code, the accomplishments of Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) are often discounted, minimized, or attributed to her teacher and collaborator Charles Babbage, who concepted the first digital programmable computer. What most can agree on, however, was that Ada was the first to imagine the powers of computing applying to more than just numbers – she made the leap that numbers could represent anything, and therefore computers could be used to analyze innumerable sets and types of data, instead of solely numerical tasks.
Another test in using Posca markers, this time in a smaller format and combined with collage paper bits taken from the Mohawk Paper Maker’s Quarterly publication.
I’ve been testing out working with Posca Markers, which are opaque liquid ink markers. Advertised as “mark vividly on any surface” I’ve found that the type of paper used really makes a difference in how they lay down (or tear up the paper), and that some colors seem more opaque than others. Testing out a new tool or material always takes some getting used to, especially if you have an idea of how it’s supposed to work versus how it actually works. So far the best success I’ve had with Posca Markers are for simple pieces.
A year ago I participated in an art show at Land Gallery in Portland, Oregon organized by two design friends, Cielle & Michelle. The show was a tribute to the band The Magnetic Fields’ album 69 Love Songs, which has precisely that number of songs in varying genres. Cielle and Michelle rallied 69 designers and artists to each choose a song and make a piece of art about it. My song to interpret was “I Think I Need a New Heart”.
After signing up to participate, I immediately formed a task force within my shared studio space to work on the project in a more collaborative way. Two of my studio mates joined the show (hi Jen & Drew), and we spent many afternoons brainstorming and working on our projects. My initial idea of illustrating a new heart morphed into a packaging project (my favorite kind of project) that would feature not just one package, but SIXTY-NINE packages of new hearts. In 3D. Because you don’t buy just one raisin, you buy a whole lot of them. Historically I have a tendency to go all in, whether it’s outfits, rabbits, feathers, pianos or books, books, books, and this was no different.
The first major decision was what format the package would take. Paper seemed too flimsy – I wanted people to be able to pick it up with confidence, set it on their windowsill and not have it tip over at the slightest breeze. Something that could fit in your hand and had a good heft to it. A few years earlier I had painted a piano, and the idea of painting little wooden boxes seemed attainable* and would give the right feel to the packages – real but not too overbearing.
*Hahahaha you silly fool.
Lacking a skill saw of my own, I scoured Etsy for a resource to make me a lot of tiny wooden boxes. I found several people who made giant Jenga sets, which were kind of like the boxes I wanted. After several estimates and questions about wood paint later, Anthony Mirra made me a custom set of blocks to the size of 3x2x1 inches and painted them blank white.
From my piano project I had a bunch of extra markers I hadn’t used that were industrial strength construction markers by Markal. They are thick, require lots of shaking before each use, and are made for withstanding outdoor construction site environments. EXACTLY the marker strength needed for making new heart packages. Luckily I had ordered a batch of blue and red markers which fit this project well in being limited in palette and representing the colors of blood both seen and unseen. In retrospect, I wished I had skinnier markers as the fat markers were hard to work with and limited the amount of text I could fit on a 3×2″ box.
Materials in order, it was now time to start drawing so I whipped out 12 boxes and thought….boy that took longer than I expected. And those markers take a lot of shaking to get the ink to flow just right. In fact, their industrial smell is making me feel a bit light headed. Right around this point in the project I reached the DESPAIR & DOUBT phase that is a part of many creative projects. Will I be able to finish it? What have I DONE??? This was a terrible idea! How was I going to think of phrases for 69 box fronts, 69 box backs, and 138 box sides?!?!? The main reason for PANIC was that time was running short, and I had 57 more wooden boxes to paint in addition to a full client work-load.
So I did what usually works well when I’m stressed out – applied my efficiency factor to the project. The initial set of 12 boxes had enough elements that I could apply them to batches of blocks at a time: 12 boxes of “triple stripes”, 12 boxes of “over the top ribbons”, 12 boxes of “top & bottom borders”. Combining that system with varying phrases in different lettering styles gave me 69 boxes at a much faster clip than the original 12. It also allowed the basic box elements to dry while I lettered other boxes, so I didn’t have to be quite so careful when holding the box and drawing on it (FYI drawing on a small angled 3D box with a fat liquid paint marker is harder than drawing on flat paper).
Sprinkled in between the New Hearts and Love Units are boxes with lyrics that reference other songs on the 69 Love Songs album such as “Yeah oh yeah”, “I don’t want to get over you” and “Crazy for you (but not that crazy)”. Each and every new heart is a one-off, numbered from 1-69, with almost the same amount of red hearts as blue hearts. Here are a few of my favorites…
For anyone who has experienced heartbreak (once, twice, a thousand times?), you know it comes in all forms. Accordingly, each new heart was made to fix, make light of, or prevent the endless variations of heartbreak. One of my favorite side effects of the project is how groupings of the boxes read in a lyrically repetitive way that seem to have a life of their own – Sweet young fool heart! Oh new lucky love! New true love unit!
Shout outs for this projects go to many – Michelle & Cielle for having a fun idea for a show and making it happen – my studio mates for giving feedback and enduring endless hours of marker-shaking sounds – and all the influences in my life that have somehow instilled in me the desire and ability to follow through on projects that bring me satisfaction – go big or go home, right?
Looking back, I’m glad I went the extra 68 miles because I think the project benefits from the scale in quantity. The box-by-box execution is sub-par but I love the idea that heartbreak/new love/fresh starts/first loves/last loves/ is both so prevalent that we definitely need a stockpile of New Hearts, but in each single instance it is small and mundane – ubiquitous yet excruciatingly personal at the same time. Good luck to us all.
Thanks to Ian Whitmore for photographing the new heart packages and suggesting that we make a giant stack of them. Because if there is anything more precarious than Oh New Lucky Love then it’s a whole stack of it.
Last year I bought an iPad and decided I should try to utilize it in my work to (hopefully) save time and try something new. Old dog, new tricks. So far it has been equal parts frustrating, fun, and frustrating. Yes, frustrating is two of those parts – one for the technology part and the other for having to retrain yourself how to draw when you’ve been used to a Micron pen and Office Depot laser paper for the last 7 years.
So far it has been most useful for creating the sketch phase of work in a fidelity that is higher than sketching on paper, but I haven’t been able to transfer any tasks I do 1-to-1 yet. Here are some of my more successful practice drawings, including a blue mouse in pink pants popping unshelled peanuts.
Strangely, the VERY FIRST thing I drew on the iPad was my Micron pen. The spatter brush is very addicting so I hope for a resurgence in 80s graffiti style so I can use it in excess. Also, whatever party this mouse is headed to, I want an invite. Look how confident he is in his high rise pants and low rise belt combination. This is a mouse with panache!
In summation: magic oh yeah, oh yeah, YEAH YEAH, feeeeeelings. I feel the beginnings of a catchy millennial pop song coming on…now only if my iPad could teach me how to play the guitar, I’ll be set!
Last week WeMake held their annual WeMake Celebrates design conference and the theme was experiments. One of the break activities available was making marbled paper, so I did. I can’t decide if my results are vibrant and uplifting or kind of what interpretive art about global warming looks like.
One of the reasons I love working for myself is getting to use most parts of my brain: design, intuition, research, organization, efficiency, critical thinking, non-critical thinking, and chocolate consumption. Which is exactly why I enjoyed this Umpqua Bank project designing an evergreen calendar – there were many interconnected parts that created the end result. The goal was to create a keepsake piece for new employees that reinforced the philosophy of Umpqua, which employees had just learned during their on-boarding training. The format chosen by the client was a desk calendar featuring 12 tenets, and that is where my work started…
An initial round of sketches was created to explore an “evergreen” form factor, ease of usability, creativity, and how it lined up with the per unit production budget. Everything from rotating columns, flippable panels, turnable magnets, reversible cards, and game-inspired counters and pegboards were a part of the first round.
After the sketch presentation, the array was narrowed to three main form factors to price specifically. Umpqua wanted to focus on premium materials so some simpler options were chosen to give more of the budget to materials rather than form complexity.
A combination of B and C was chosen to move into the visual design phase, with some modifications to meet the budget. After the form factor was nailed (for now), visual directions were explored to find the right balance of “Umpqua”, banking, fun, and feeling like a custom piece that could hold its own on a desktop. A few focus areas in the initial design process were how much emphasis to put on the date (month, day), how integrated the messaging and illustration should be, what style the illustration should have, and what color impression the calendar should have. The option chosen (C) placed the most focus on the tenet, leaving the dates to be purely functional to highlight the messaging and illustration.
Throughout the production process, the per unit budget was the major factor in determining the final form. The more parts there are to assemble in production, the higher the cost, so a simple solution was needed. In the end a compromise between materials and functionality was reached. A triangular wooden stand with a powder coated lip met the cost requirement, and could hold the tenets and dates in a nice presentation. A bit of functionality was ceded in that the panels have to be manually rotated instead of flipping them on fixed rings from front to back of the stand. Real projects = real budgets. IT BE REAL, FOLKS!
When the term evergreen calendar is used it usually refers to a calendar that can be used for any given year because it isn’t dated specifically. We took the term “evergreen” to the next level so both the information panels AND the form factor were evergreen. Umpqua wanted the option to switch out the panels, so the structure was designed to accommodate rotating messaging without it being a hassle to change out and didn’t create too much waste. An added bonus of the form factor was that it could also serve double duty as a picture rail, note holder, whatever, if users took the tenet and date panels out.
Tenet themes were used to guide each illustration which were created in the Umpqua brand palette, which thankfully is quite broad with multiple blues, greens, yellows and oranges. Client provided themes included: strive, thrive/challenge, change/versatility, knowledge, collaborate, diligence, grow/curiosity, heart/kindness, betterment, generosity, commitment, and unity.
This year I participated for the third time in the Portland Art Museum’s annual Monster Drawing Rally. A fundraiser for art programs at the museum, it’s a night of fun and exploration with a special area for kids to draw and display their work. Spectators and artists of all kinds join for an evening of fast-paced art making. One of my favorite parts of participating is talking with the kids who watch me draw, seeing how curious they are and how art can place a 6-year-old and 36-year-old on such equal footing if you give it a chance. You like to use markers? Me too. You draw zebras? Yeah, I try that sometimes. You like the color pink? I mostly use black and white but colors are nice too. Art can be whatever you want it to be, that’s the great part.
How exactly does the Monster Drawing Rally work? The format is simple, but it does help to know the basics when you arrive. Three rounds of artists each draw for an hour from 6-9:30pm, with 25 artists in each round. Each time an artists finishes a piece it is taken to the bidding wall, where whoever wants to buy it raises their hand. If multiple people “bid”, the winner is chosen by drawing from a deck of cards as artwork is all sold at a flat fee of $35. So it’s best to keep an eye on when an artist finishes their work and follow it straight to the wall so you can hopefully bid on it before anybody notices it’s there!
This year I decided to draw on some leftover white wooden boxes I had from another project (still documenting that one…). In the past two rally’s I had created some lettering similar to these typographic terrains, but they were much too complex to finish well in an hour at any kind of large scale. Having a very small format would let me create more pieces – I started the evening with a goal of four, and completed four! Doing a test box to make sure the timing was somewhat accurate helped a lot so I could just have fun and know I would be able to finish.
“Magic Boxes” was my personal theme, filling the imaginary packages with fantastic product that you can’t buy at your local supermarket. The first box was Pure Magic (with a warning to “use wisely”), but I forgot to take a photo of it. The rest of the boxes were Unicorn Tears (super rare!), a Pocket Rainbow (one all-terrain multi-color arc), and a White Hot Bolt of Lightning (fully charged, handle with care). One person suggested I put a puppy in a box but now that’s just silly!
Even though I had planned ahead, no art project dos 100% smoothly. The markers I had planned on using somehow didn’t transfer well when I was outside, so I had to revert to a thicker-tipped liquid based marker. This meant all the phrases I thought would fit on a 2×3″ box were suddenly 30% wider, so it was a challenge to do tiny fat letters. Other than a few lines trailing off into super condensed letters, it went alright. Enough that all my little boxes flew off the bidding wall and I hardly got to see them after I had finished. One buyer even sent me a photo of their Pocket Rainbow box at home on their bookshelf – so cute!