Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Step by Step

View from GMU Art & Design Building, looking west.

I have nineteen working days left before my MFA thesis show opens on Monday, January 16th.  Today I felt much less anxious than I did a week ago--time spent catching up with family and friends has done me good.  Having made satisfactory headway with the one of the motorized pieces that was really giving me a headache, I spent the day painting.

I really enjoy being in the middle of a painting.  Starting a painting always seems daunting and finishing can be frustrating because there's always "one more thing" to add.  The beginning and ending of a painting are often stressful, but the middle is fun.  When I'm in the middle of a painting, I feel a sense of exploration and I loose track of time because I have enough structure that I'm not lost but not so much that there are no surprises.  

I took a break from painting this afternoon to move some of the television monitors out of my studio and into the main gallery downstairs.  I'm enjoying having a bit more room to move around.  Also, it's not so difficult to get to my coffee maker now--that's going to be increasingly important in the days ahead, I predict!

Sunday, December 25, 2011


I had planned to travel to visit family during my winter break off from school.  However, last week I decided to stay home in order to continue working on unfinished pieces that will go in my MFA thesis exhibition, which opens January 16th.  I felt that I needed all of the time that I could get to bring the show together successfully. Taking a week off seemed irresponsible and so I spent the past week in the studio rather than visiting family.

Even so, I spent yesterday and today away from the studio enjoying a stay-cation with my wife.  It has been good for me to take a break, especially since I have become so keyed-up about the success of my exhibition.  I spent today catching up with family and friends by phone, Skype, and Facebook.  My head feels a little clearer today and I don't feel as anxious--today, the world does not seem like it will end if my show is a flop.  Most importantly, I feel connected to my family and friends.  Those relationships are more important than any success I will ever achieve and I need to remember that as I jump back into my frenzied production on Monday morning.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Circular Logic

One of the "contraptions" (I'm still trying to decide what to call these structures) that will appear in my MFA thesis exhibition in January requires a hula hoop.  Like the other contraptions, this one will help generate a cinematic image on a nearby television monitor.  Each contraption presents me with a set of problems that I tackle as though I were solving a puzzle or a math problem.

I begin with image that I want to generate on a television screen and then work backwards to create a structure that will produce the image.  This reverse-engineering approach always forces me to learn how to use new materials, tools, and methods.  Often I also have to crack open my old college physics textbooks and ask,  "It's V = IR, right?"    

Making things, whether the things are drawings or motorized structures, is my way of understanding the world.  This approach of stumbling along and learning things as I go ultimately makes me happy even when the process is exasperating!

Of course, it also makes me happy when these goofy contraptions work as I intend.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What a Mess

Although I prefer to have my materials organized, my studio is currently a mess because I am working on several projects at one time.   I find that the condition of my studio reflects my state of mind--at the moment, both are fragmented and cluttered.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Floating Utopia

I spent a few days this past week working on a project with Floating Lab Collective.  The drawings I made have been installed alongside several other Floating Lab projects in the WIP Gallery at Artisphere, an arts center in Arlington, Virginia.  The exhibition is titled "Floating Utopia: Mobile Art Gallery Designs" and features drawings and objects from a variety of projects that Floating Lab is currently working on.

My contribution of drawings to the "collective object" project.

One of the walls in the gallery is painted with chalkboard paint and we wanted to use it in some way.  I spent an hour (because that's how much time was on the parking meter) making a drawing related to the Re-museum project.  I didn't have an eraser but my shirt sleeve worked just as well.

The MET and the Screamer on display.  

I also drew instructions on the MET that invite visitors to cut out and assemble a paper model of the Floating Museum (Floating Lab's taco truck turned mobile gallery).  Hopefully, visitors will feel free to contribute their own designs to our attempts to expand the possibilities of a mobile museum by augmenting and adapting the structure of the truck.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Collective Objects

I recently joined the group of DC-based artists known as Floating Lab Collective.  Formed in 2007, artists in Floating Lab work collectively to bring the space of art into public space through media art, performances, and research.  Floating Lab's activities are aimed at creating discourse with the hope of creating aesthetic avenues by which voices on the margins can be heard at the center.  The artists in Floating Lab often use humor as a counterpoint to the gravity of social issues, such as the project called "Scream at the Economy".

Despite the frantic preparations I am making for my thesis exhibition opening in January, I spent a few days this past week creating a series of drawings as part of my first project working with Floating Lab Collective.  The drawings illustrate common individual-use objects re-imagined for collective use.  

Each of the drawings will be sent with a letter to companies producing such products.  For example, the drawing of the "collective Coca-Cola bottle" will be mailed to the Coca-Cola company with a letter suggesting that the company consider manufacturing new bottles matching the drawing.  

Until now,  I have strictly been a work-alone-in-studio-with-a-closed-door.  Now, I have an opportunity to work collectively with other talented and highly inventive artists.  So far, it has been awesome.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Git Yer Motor Runnin'

My thesis show is now only a month away.  There are still several issues I am working to resolve, particularly related to the pieces that involve motors.  I needed to take a couple of days to learn about and play with electric motors and gears to understand how to get the rotation speed I'm after.  I purchased a small kit from a local hobby store that included a dc motor and a set of gears that reduced the speed to about 10 rpm.  It was a fun way to quickly see how a worm gear works.

Next I disassembled a motor that I had pulled out of a microwave oven.  As I removed the gears, I took photographs and video to help me remember how to put it back together.

Taking time to understand how things are put together seems frustrating sometimes, especially since my show is fast approaching, but it's an important part of how I make art and I can't skip it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Toys

One of the things I love about being a graduate student is the steady exposure to new methods and new tools.  These images show the set-up I used for a recent video project.  

With tutoring from fellow graduate students, I learned about how to arrange lighting equipment to get the effect I was after. The video will premiere at my MFA Thesis Exhibition on January 16th at George Mason University's School of Art. Not wanting to give away too much, I'll just show the photographs as documents of my process without commentary.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Getting Somewhere

A big painting calls for a big brush.  Unfortunately, a big brush also calls for more time to wash out all of the pigment when it's time to clean up.

My studio feels very crowded because I am trying to work on several pieces concurrently in order to have everything ready for my show beginning January 16th.

True Colors

An easy way for me to mix the color I want: I squeeze out two stripes of Prussian Blue for every stripe of Burnt Umber.

This painting needs a large, dark background that I have to apply in layers if I want to create a sense of depth.  I'm planning to apply at least five more thin layers.  Since each layer takes about a day to dry, this segment of the painting process requires patience on my part--an attribute I find harder and harder to maintain as the deadline for my show gets nearer and nearer. 

While I wait for the background to dry I can mix the colors I will need for the landscape.

Fresh Start

Ahh, a blank canvas, a clean glass palette, and a tidy taboret -- all I need now is coffee . . . 

. . . and some preparatory sketches.  Oh, there they are!

Before starting to put paint on canvas, I find it helpful to do some drawing to better understand what I want to see in the finished painting.  For me, more than any other medium, drawing with graphite is a way of knowing.  If I can draw it, then I can understand it.  The painting I am currently working on includes a crater.  For inspiration, I looked through images posted on NASA's website of the surface of Mars.  There I found a beautiful panorama of the "Santa Maria" crater assembled from photographs taken by the rover Opportunity in December 2010.  

Using the panorama image as a guide, I made a drawing on three feet by five feet tracing paper to define the overall shape of my crater.  Next I built a small model using a shallow plastic container, cardboard, aluminum foil, and spray paint.  I sculpted the contours of the rim of the aluminum foil crater to match the contours of the large drawing.  Finally, I made several small graphite drawings of the aluminum foil model, lit by the studio lamp on my drafting table, in order to better understand how shadows fall across the crater.

This process helps me see the connections between three-dimensional form and the two-dimensional world used to represent it.  It also helps me understand the basic structure of forms in three-dimensional space (I should say four-dimensional space-time!) so that I understand how to create my own worlds in two-dimensions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting Organized

Keeping my studio organized is always a challenge.  Figuring out how to organize all the objects I collect feels like solving a puzzle-- fun and frustrating at the same time.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Looking for Rejection

About a month ago I set out to get my artwork rejected.  For too long I avoided entering my work into juried competitions because of my anxiety that my work was not strong enough.  I used to think, “I don’t want to pay a fifty dollar entry fee just to have my artwork rejected.”   However, after many conversations with other artists, I now realize that rejection is a part of the experience of being an artist.   Every artist that I have talked to or read about has had artwork rejected.  If I am going to work as an artist then I need the experience of rejection.  In the past month I have submitted work to three juried shows and I plan to keep looking for ways to get some rejections under my belt.