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The Greatest Creative Challenge

Saturday, we made a short-notice pilgrimage to Oakland, our destination the Eames exhibit at the Oakland Museum of Art. While full of chairs, plywood and period-specific photography, the exhibit held hermetically how Charles and Ray collaborated except to say they built an entire studio in which to work.

In addition to great food and beer at Drake’s Dealership (pizza) and Lost & Found (plaintains), we also intentionally sought out The Long Weekend shop. Curated, and I do mean curated, by Courtney Cerruti, artist, traveler and teacher at Creative Bug (online) in San Francisco, the one-room store was filled with unique delights. Sennelier watercolor sets for travel, inks made from plants, a mending book nook and an old-fashioned library cart were a few of the highlights.

In the back, a very small gallery held 100 micro-paintings that evoked a unique sense of place traveled to. It turns out that Courtney has a things for explorers and their carnet de voyage. I resonated because I was raised on a farm with Lewis & Clark, Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket as well as Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island as my exploring adventure heroes. I explored and mapped my environs, creeks, pasture and road, my conquests moths, butterflies and plants.

In the Long Weekend store I found Explorer’s Sketchbooks: The Art of Discover and Adventure. Novelist Wade Davis wrote the introduction to the chapter entitled Making Your Mark. Davis’ brief two-page essay touched me while in the midst of the creative challenge to architect my life to yield a state of illumination that is being alive as a vocation. Here are a few of the quotes that I thought you might also enjoy.

Travel

“I would later come to understand travel not as scientific inquiry, but rather as pilgrimage, with each step taking one closer to the goal, which was not a place but a state of mind, not a destination but a path of illumination and liberation that is the ultimate quest of the pilgrim.”

Wade Davis, “Making Your Mark”, Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure, Huy Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert, 2016.

Life and Work

“Life is neither linear nor predictable. A career is not something that you put on like a coat. It is something that grows organically around you, step-by-step, choice-by-choice, and experience-by-experience. Everything adds up.”

Wade Davis, “Making Your Mark”, Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure, Huy Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert, 2016.

“The work you do is just a lens through which to view and experience the world, and only for a time. The goal is to make living itself, the act of being alive, one’s vocation, knowing full well that nothing ultimately can be planned or anticipated, no blueprint found to predict the outcome of something as complex as a human life.”

Wade Davis, “Making Your Mark”, Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure, Huy Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert, 2016.

The Greatest Creative Challenge

“The greatest creative challenge is the struggle to be the architect of your own life.”

Wade Davis, “Making Your Mark”, Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure, Huy Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert, 2016.

I am encouraged to re-cast my journals from journal to carnet de voyage, a part of the process of architecting my own life. This re-imagining or vujade trying as hard as possible as if I’d never seen a journal imbues them with tremendous value because they lend insights to the milestones and in between of the journey. I am excited to see what difference this makes.

On Becoming a Sewist

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Photo by Annie Spratt / Found on Unsplash

Learn Always

If you had told me in college that I would not only drink beer but also brew it, I would have not believed you. The same with sewing. If you had told me that I would not only learn to sew with a machine but also want to design my own fabric and make my own fabric art projects, your lips would be movin’ but I would say you lie lie lie. Yet, here I am. 

How did this happen?

Instead of rushing to the now, like a fait accompli, I’ll take a moment to go back to the beginning, just this year, 2018, to figure out how on earth this happened.

Goal and Guides

Looking back at my Google calendar, it started in February with a sewing class at the Klum House. I didn’t want to learn to sew. I wanted to learn to make a purse because I have the ridiculous belief that if you can just find the right purse (or murse for men), you can handle anything that comes at you. 

I had a goal. Sewing was an unfortunate necessity. Ellie, the instructor, was a fantastic guide. With the patient and gracious aid of teaching assistants who threaded my machine and helped me get unstuck at various times, I and several others made a bag. 

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I carried the resulting bag in the following months and indeed, its design helped me have the right thing at the right time while staying up on my shoulder. In September, I followed up with a Learn to Sew Like a Boss workshop at the Klum House so I could learn how to actually operate a sewing machine on my own because I wanted to make more things.

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Machine Matters

At my husband’s encouragement, I pulled my mother-in-law’s portable Singer sewing machine out of storage in September. Some feature research helped me peg it as a 1951 Featherweight.

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It hadn’t been used in quite some time so in October I got it cleaned and oiled. The repairman said it was in good shape and would sew quite well.  Thankfully, the manual was with the machine and I spent some time reading it. 

While I was initially underwhelmed with the machine, everywhere I go, people ooh and ahh over my Singer like it was the cutest newborn they’d ever seen. Followed by, “Does it back stitch?” Yes, it does. Then, “Does it zig zag stitch?” No, it does not. Sometimes, “Does it have a buttonholer?” Absolutely not. And yet, I sew on. 

Materials

In early November, I happened upon a fabric selection event at creative reuse center Fabmo. Designer fabric is yours for a donation. Primed by friends’ mentions of this place, I stopped by during the limited hours available to the public without appointment. I browsed and found a few things that I responded to.

Fabric-Finds

Utility

By mid-November, I had made my first zippered bag and been given my first thread catcher. Bron at Fabmo explained to me that having a thread catcher was a bit like good sewing hygiene. I was thrilled. 

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Platform / Community

Some public platforms and the people who make them happen helped me continue on my journey.

  • The Sunnyvale Library hosts a Sewing Lab once a week. Two accomplished sewists answer specific questions on your project and you can sew in the company of others.
  • Fabmo, a creative reuse non-profit hosts Sew-Mo, a monthly sewing lab at Fabmo where fun sewists also help you with your project. I am a grateful beneficiary of guidance from and fun with Bron, Hannah, and Sara to name a few.

Friends

My friends have provided encouragement that helps me continue my creative explorations: Amy, Doro, Cindy, Kristin, Laura, Pam you know who you are:)

In another post, I’ll share some of the things I’ve sewn.


Selling on Ebay vs Facebook Marketplace

IMG_2586A former colleague of mine recently encouraged me to apply for a role at eBay. She’s very happy there and has a highly attenuated sense of cultural fit so I trust her judgement. I decided to experiment with selling on Ebay as a way of exploring the company.

While I used to buy and sell camera equipment on Ebay it had been awhile. To get reacquainted I listed a purse on Ebay and a bag on Facebook Marketplace (FBM) to also understand one of the competitors.

Here are a few things that I learned from these experiments first from the buyer’s point of view and then from the seller’s.

BUYERS

Standard of Comparison: Ebay vs Amazon

First time eBay buyers aren’t comparing today’s eBay experience with prior experience on the platform. Buyers today will more likely compare the eBay buying experience to Amazon’s. The buying process may hold surprises for them. For example, there’s no “pick up site”. Buyers have to have packages delivered to their front door step. Also, unless the seller chooses to offer free and expedited shipping there’s no free 2-day shipping like you get with Prime.

SELLERS

Listing is super easy with a smart phone. Just take pictures, write a keyword rich title and description, select the shipping service you want to offer, set your price and you’re off! eBay has a step-by-step guide.

The guide is text only. The lack of video quite surprised me. A helpful concierge persona or person in conjunction with text would have made the learning experience much more fun. Maybe eBay chose text only because of the difficulty of choosing a person(a) that all users would identify with and because video content is more difficult to update.

eBay’s platform is available via a browser and a mobile app. While I experienced some messaging sync issues between the two platforms, overall I found them easy to use. It was definitely nice to get mobile notifications and be able to respond quickly.

Pictures: Take lots. Select intentionally.

In each platform you can use nine or more photos to help set the buyer’s expectation about the condition of the item, particularly if pre-owned. I took 15 photos and used seven showing wide view, medium view of individual features and close-ups of areas of wear and indicators of brand authenticity. While pictures are worth a thousand words, a 90 second video overview could really help.

Item Description: eBay autofill / FBM manual

eBay will autopopulate detailed specs for your item based on previously sold similar items. This saves you time and increases accuracy through crowdsourcing. You can update any of the details you wish. FBM does not offer this feature.

Pricing: eBay pricing recommendation engine/ FBM current listing comparisons

eBay will show you what similar items sold for and will give you a recommended selling price. On eBay you can select different pricing models.

  • An auction means the item will go to the highest bidder. You can specify the number of days the auction is going to be open up to seven days.
  • A “buy-it-now” price model is used in conjunction with an auction model. The price is usually higher than the starting price for the auction. If a buyer wants to pay this higher price, the auction will end.
  • And there are fixed price listings where the price is the price. Negotiation happens within the Ebay platform via messages.

FBM has no history review or recommendation engine although you can look at the prices of other similar items currently for sale. FBM has fixed price listings and easy communication for negotiation via Messenger.

Fees: Ebay/Paypal 13% / FBM 0%

eBay charges an insertion fee to “insert”  or list the item in a category like “bags and purses” and a final value fee. The final value fee is 10% * (sale price + shipping) up to $50. If you get a track record of “item not as described” you pay an extra 4% in final value fees added on top. For my experiment, the insertion fee was free and the final value fee was $4.33. (*Your first 50 listings as a personal seller are free of insertion fees.)

Also, Paypal charges 3% fees on the transaction or 3% * (sale price + shipping). For my experiment, Paypal fees were ~$1.29

Bottom line, you’re looking at 13% of (the selling price + the shipping cost) in fees.

FBM charges no fees. However, exchanging payment for the item with the buyer may require meeting in person.

Shipping: eBay partners with USPS and FedEx

If you chose USPS as your shipper of choice for a listing you get

  • a discount from regular USPS rates
  • automatically calculated shipping cost
  • a shipping label to print at home
  • the tracking number is automatically populated and hyperlinked in your view making it easy for you and the buyer to trace progress.

Competitive Landscape: Lots of options with different service levels. Also lots of overlap in the products available on competing platforms.

Local: While FBM, Craigslist and the traditional garage sale compete for the local market, eBay also has a listings filter for “local pickup only”.

Used/New: eBay, Amazon, FBM and Craigslist list offer a marketplace for used and new items.

Specialized: There are specialized marketplaces for used and new designer label clothes like Thred UpThe RealReal and Rebagg and for electronics like  GlydeSwappa, Gazelle,  uSell and Decluttr. I have not tried any of these.

Artist Statement Develoment

.albumtempA few days ago I set out to see if I could write a better artist statement than one randomly generated. I read over 100 artist statements and a few main themes emerged as driving forces:

  1. ritual remembrance of an influential family member
  2. truth and beauty
  3. a significant illness usually of the artist
  4. social change in response to outrage
  5. exploration of interests, for example in flora

The more common theme is “must”. Many artists expressed some feeling that they must create. And that response, while gratifying, was not the driving force. Amen to that.

So here’s my terrible first draft.  Please give me your comments and feedback and help me make it better! Thank you!

My day time super powers are to create ways of doing new things for the first time and to organize people, processes and information to create more peace. (My useless superpower is being able to sing the lyrics of songs from the 70s and 80s with little prompting.) My night time and weekend superpower is creating art.

As an artist, I create to make peace between things that are framed as opposites. I also create to surface and express emotions without words by turning things over with my mind’s hands without looking at it with my mind’s eye.

Media / Process

I loved drawing and painting in grade school and I kept my drawings safe between hay bales in a tin shed that doubled as my entomology lab where I watched caterpillars turn into chrysalis and emerge butterflies.

Later, I loved photography and desiring to hone my craft I earned an MFA in Digital Media. I continue to learn other disciplines because the challenge brings me energy and fun. For example, I have worked in: sculpture, jewelry, painting (acrylic, oils, pastels), drawing (ink, pencil, thread) collage, assemblage, installation (audio, robotics), books (handmade, self-published) and photography (film, digital, mobile, alternative process).

Subjects

There are a few broad themes that I return to over 20 years across different media:

  • I love faces. Which is funny because I am an introvert.
  • I lost much of my eyesight by the time I was 8 years old. Without my contacts in, many of my closeup photos reflect how I see.
  • I love flowers, trails, botanicals.
  • And there’s everything else.

Tradition / Influences

My influences are a jumble across disciplines and time.

  • Photography – Teachers Dan Burkholder, Brian Taylor, and Joel Slayton. Famous artists Josef Sudek, Frederick Evans, Karl Blossfeld
  • Drawing – Lynda Barry, Mike Rhode, Ed Emberely, Eva Lotta Lam, Kris Hargis, and teachers Lisa Congdon and Kate Bingaman-Burt
  • Portraits – Alice Neel, Lucien Freud, Roualt and teacher Jane Davenport

Value Add

How am I different? I am not so sure I am. I can tell you though that:

  • I am in general delighted by the world and attempt to convey some of that.
  • I am intrigued and delighted by the discovery and expression of what makes each person a unique and individual personality.
  • I cross the lines between disciplines in the spirit of exploring what works and what’s fun.

You can find out what I’m currently doing by following me on Instagram @JHartnettHender.

 

 

Learn from Others

When you’re working on your own artist statement, you can learn a lot from how other people answer the main questions to see what resonates for you.

Easy Research – There are lots of ways to find other artists’ statements. Here are just a few:

  • Visit a gallery or a museum and look at the exhibiting artist statements.
  • Listen to a gallery talk by an artist whose work is on exhibit.
  • Peruse viewing drawers. Some galleries have viewing drawers of prints from artists and include the artist’s resume and statement. For example, Blue Sky has the Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers to promote the work of regional artists.
  • Listen to an artist being interviewed on a podcast like Keep the Channel Open or The Modern Art Notes Podcast to hear what they say about their work and their driving force.
  • Watch artists classes on e-learning platforms like CreativeLive or Lynda.com.
  • Talk to or interview an artist to understand what they think.

Sources are everywhere. Here are some things I’ve learned so far by seeking out other artist statements.

How Matters – Artists who include the backstory of how the current body of work came about are more engaging

  • Photographer Lauren Hare relates that she started in portraiture but began incorporating flora into the portraits until one day the flora became equal in importance.
  • Photographer Deb Stoner shares her progression from composing entirely in camera to composing entirely on the scanner until she found through extensive research that artist Karl Blossfeldt composed many of his amazing images by cutting up different prints and reassembling them into a new whole.

Motivation – What motivates you? Do you like to do the same style or do you like to vary it? What brings you energy about your work? Children’s book illustrator and author Ed Emberley says:

  • “I don’t like to work the same way all the time. I would prefer to experiment with different materials. I find that when I am challenged the challenge brings me energy and fun….If I have fun I can pass the fun on.”
  • “It’s very important that people succeed [viewing and using my work].”

I like what Ed says applied to artist statements as well. Your artist statement should help people succeed in understanding something about your work while viewing it.

Elements of an Artist Statement

What is an artist statement supposed to do? For the artist, it can be a way to connect with the viewer by revealing more. Elements of an artist statement generally include:

Media – Did you use oil? pastel? acrylic? Why? Artist statements tend to be posted with a show so they are often specific to the body of work on display. Bodies of work, unless they are retrospectives, tend to be very cohesive. My favorite retrospective so far is David Hockney’s. His use of a wide variety of technologies and media from pencils to iPad was inspiring.

Process – If there is something accretive to meaning about the artist’s process, include it. Jackson Pollock’s process of flinging paint was important because it showed how he achieved such a wildly different effect.

Subject – If the subject is portraits, the viewer can probably tell, but are who are the people and how did they end up sitting for you? What’s important about your choice of subject? Alice Neel painted wonderful portraits of neighbors, children, people she knew, not famous but everyday.

Why – if you’ve watched Simon Sinek’s TED talk you know that this is the most important part. People don’t care about your what if they don’t understand your why. Last night in the Basil Hallward Gallery at Powells, I read the why of the artist on exhibit, Annamieka Hopps Davidson: “People who give a damn need access to the power and the resilience that joy brings.”

Extra credit – including these in your artist statement shows that you understand more than just your own work.

Tradition – how does your work relate to other work in the same tradition? Another way to get at this is to ask yourself, “Who inspired you?” Austin Kleon suggests that you track that even further back and ask, “Who inspired them?”

Distinction – how is your work different from those who influenced you and from contemporaries? What does it add to the conversation? You are unique. There is no one else like you in the world ever. You bring that uniqueness to the work. Where does it show up?

If you’ve been through an MFA program, these questions are very similar to ones asked on the pre-thesis or oral exams conducted by a panel of teachers.

Do you understand why you are doing what you are doing? Why this material and not that one? Why this amount of embellishment and not that? How do your artistic decisions about media contribute to the overall meaning of the piece(s)? Do you understand your place in the canon? Who is your work influenced by or derivative of? How is your work new and different?

I created a notebook of all the pre-thesis questions asked over a couple of semesters at San Jose State to prepare for my own oral exams. Answering these questions requires a level of inquiry that assumes at it’s foundation that your work as worthy of study. That you’ve brought something to the “page” that’s valuable and that can be improved through examination. IMG_2046

 

Writing an Artist Statement

This week my goal is to write an artist statement that I can be proud of and feel congruent with. The purpose of the artist statement is to give the viewer a handle on the artist’s work, a lens through which to translate. It can cover materials/process (how), subject matter (what), deep matters (what about), tradition (how it relates) and critical view (what you’re doing that’s different from before).

It’s challenging. I’ve been an artist for over 20 years. Some things are consistent over time like dancing with my curiosity. Other things have changed like the subjects and medium.

In times like these, when the going gets tough, I turned to Arty Bollocks for an instant artist statement for a start. Here’s what I got:

My work explores the relationship between gender politics and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Rousseau and Buckminster Fuller, new synergies are manufactured from both opaque and transparent narratives.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of the universe. What starts out as contemplation soon becomes corrupted into a manifesto of greed, leaving only a sense of failing and the unlikelihood of a new beginning.

As shifting replicas become frozen through studious and repetitive practice, the viewer is left with an epitaph for the inaccuracies of our condition.

Not exactly or nearly true for me. However, if at the end of this week, I can’t do better than this, then that’s what I’ll use!

Here are quick links to how it unfolded: