This week, the big, final, studio puzzle piece arrived: a custom built flat file drawer cabinet that looks like an antique map drawer cabinet in pristine condition. I’d had slight heart failure last fall when my husband cc’d me on an email he’d sent about getting it custom built. As a highly productive, tools and materials pack rat, storage of both my massive collection of unused “good” paper and my finished 2D artwork has become more than a challenge. Things have been getting dinged up, creased, and (gasp) discolored by the palmetto insects (a Southern euphemism for huge cock roaches) that are as inevitable in Georgia as summer sugar ants and loonies who believe in space lasers starting forest fires.
I’d stored all the paintings and prints in archival sleeves but not my stash of old stock Arches and Fabriano watercolor paper. If this makes you gasp, then you know they don’t size (coat) those papers like they used to. If this means nothing to you, trust me. The price tag per sheet would make you gasp.
The wonderful artisans at Woodology built the cabinet to fit the space exactly with only my measurements and a quick photo as a reference.
Now the tough part…
As each new piece of equipment or storage furniture has arrived, I’ve had to make the million tedious micro decisions of what to toss, what to keep, and where to put it. You can probably guess that not much gets tossed. One of my last hold outs was an archival file of old greeting cards and photos. As I looked through versions of a much much younger me, I smugly congratulated myself on how well I’d aged even as I recognized how different I looked in my twenties and as a young mother in my thirties.
Unfortunately, my smug satisfaction evaporated in a matter of hours.
Last week one of the full spectrum, globe lightbulbs in my bathroom vanity mirror expired, so we ordered some bright new LED bulbs that were supposed to imitate daylight just as well. I got the shock of my week when I flicked on the lights and stared straight ahead. Apparently we had a slight miscommunication about whether to replace just the burnt out bulb or all of them, and thoughtfully – in an effort to be environmentally friendly – my husband had replaced them all with the new LED bulbs.
Staring back at me were way way more gray and wrinkles than I’d seen before. My skin looked like someone who rarely sees the light of day. – Well, go figure…captivity and all. – We’re talking the harsh, cruel light of a bad mirror with fluorescent fixtures in a cheap motel bathroom, the kind of mirror that makes putting on makeup take 5 times longer than normal because no amount of makeup seems to improve the sallow visage preparing to face the world.
As my husband and son reassured me that I look nothing like what I was seeing, I asked them, “So what’s reality then? The new lighting? The old lighting? Your words? The ‘improve my appearance’ setting in Zoom???”
I suppose it depends on who’s looking, their perceptions, and, perhaps, their internet connection.
My son and husband then had the brains to trade three of the four harsh reality LEDs for the old bulbs that still worked. Waste not, want not. When I eventually calmed down, dinner, chocolate, and two margaritas later, It got me thinking about how I evaluate my own work when I see it and am not pleased.
Quieting the critics in one’s head is absolutely essential to creating anything. If every other thought is “Aaaaaaauuuuuuuggggghhhhhh, this sucks!” then it’s impossible to make the next move toward completion. Thinking everything looks great is fun for one’s ego, but it rarely leads to great art. What is required is just enough intuitive discernment to make that next move. “Yes, like this. No, more like that. Maybe some red here…Does that work? How can I resolve this awkward composition? Hey, maybe this direction? What if I hammer over here…” the million micro choices that eventually lead from a vague idea to the manifestation of an object that at least somewhat pleases its maker. The trick is to be gently objective, to suspend a little disbelief so you can get where you’re artistically heading.
Back in 2007 when I took a workshop from and got to know Nick Bantock, I was in The Zone of Flow, in class working away on a collage project. I put down my brush and leaned back in my chair for a desperately needed break. As I looked up from my table, I saw Nick watching me with his (all too frequent) slight smirk of trickster amusement. “Exhausting, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Yeah, and I have no idea why! It’s not that physical, as work goes.”
“Because you don’t realize just how many things you’re deciding, jettisoning, applying, or trying different ways while you’re working. You think you’re sitting, quietly working, but afterwards, for me it’s like I’ve been repairing cars all day or have just run a marathon.”
So after a day of keeping this and jettisoning that from 30 years of keepsakes, and deciding where all the kept stuff will live in this still full but more aesthetically pleasing space, small wonder that the harsh reality of myself was, well, so harsh. I’d relived decades of moments from past projects, holidays, friends’ weddings and baby showers, and mommyhood to see a washed out, middle aged me.
In viewing nature’s art, I’d opted for the “Aaaaaaauuuuuuuggggghhhhhh, this sucks!” decision rather than the “How can I resolve this awkward composition? Hey, maybe this direction…” intuitive discernment. I definitely wasn’t gentle or objective with myself.
All good art in process needs a break from being viewed, whether it’s five minutes or five years. When I stop looking at it then return, I know what isn’t working and why, and I know what is the next move to try. That’s why it’s called a process.
The vanity lights are now a bit brighter but not quite so harsh. With the one LED, they’re definitely not as kind as that filter on Zoom though at least I’m not a cat! So, yeah, reality…There is definitely way more gray in my hair, and there has been painfully little sun or bearable outside temps for weeks to keep me from looking and feeling washed out (or requiring vast amounts of vitamin D3 capsules).
One the other hand, I’m alive, creating, teaching, and mostly well, which is no small accomplishment in the current pandemic. I’m a bit like my new flat file drawer cabinet, an antique in (almost) pristine condition and full of blank slates, ideas in progress, and completed work.
Eastern Repoussé And CHASING with Victoria Lansford (online)
Tuesdays & Fridays , May 4-21, 2021, 9:00AM – 12:00PM PT (Pacific Time) – 12:00-3:00PM (Eastern Time)
Get in Quick. This one is sure to fill!
In this special live, online edition of Victoria’s popular workshop, learn the secret of hammering metal into any shape or design. Whether high or low relief, traditional or contemporary styles, the technique of Eastern repoussé and chasing encompasses it all. This is the type of repoussé used by the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Scythian metalsmiths to achieve works of unsurpassed beauty, and the technique Victoria has employed for everything from stunning jewelry to huge sliding doors on a bespoke super yacht.
Eastern repoussé is an easily learnable system of exactly how, where, when, with which tool, and how hard to strike your metal to create the designs you want. It empowers you to achieve exquisite detail, unsurpassed depth, and multiple levels of relief. By working on a jewelry scale, you will gain a deep knowledge of the process that can be used on any scale whether wearable, functional, or sculptural. We will also touch on the possibilities of dimensional forms such as rings and bracelets as well as using this process with alternative materials, such as mokume gane and bi-metal.
This extended workshop format is designed to help you achieve mastery of this technique. All class time will be devoted to learning and working in the Eastern repoussé process (not tool making). The demos are in 4K so you can see in magnified, lifelike detail everything that is happening. You are also encouraged to turn your device on your own bench so Victoria can coach you through the nuances of hammering to get the results in your own work that you desire.