refining a pubic art project

this project will go thru several stages (see previous posts, below). when i do a public art project all by myself, i spend many hours working up ideas before i settle on one, refine it with several drawings, then submit one drawing, as finished as possible, to whoever gets to approve my project.

but this public art project is different for many reasons. nobody put out a call for artists with a preselected site and materials and budget. it’s my idea, and i’m bringing it forward hoping to get people interested. so i will encounter resistance simply because nobody but me is thinking this way and it’s my job to get them interested. but i don’t have a finished final drawing to show them. i just have an idea – hey, i’d like to do a public art project in north iceland! whoopee! but all anybody can say to that is, ‘okay, and…?’

another reason it’s different is that much of it has to be done from thousands of miles away. which means a lot of other people will be involved. a lot of the work i’ll be doing will be done right here, on my computer, in emails and blog posts and facebook messges. others will have to choose a site and prepare it, make local contacts and organize the participants. i hope to minimize the burden on others, but the work they put into the project will mean it becomes their project, rather than mine. which is great.

the reason for this update is because my contact on the ground, the wonderful director of my art residency, has been talking to people around town about the ideas she and i brainstormed together in some facebook messages. and one of the people she’s been talking to came up with a really good objection to one of my ideas, which is that wildflower gardens take maintenance. and my whole operating method is to bring my art to a certain stage of completion and then walk away. so, because i don’t want to cause a train wreck, i am rethinking my idea.

the suggestion was that we might make some use of all the rock that came out of the tunnel that now connects the two towns of fjallabyggd. it was just finished a couple of years ago, and i’ll just bet there are tons and tons of rocks of all sizes and shapes, just lying around collecting moss.

here is an example of the rocks from the tunnel, decorating Menntaskólinn á Tröllaskaga, the local junior college.

the suggestion was also made that we could take the fairies into account.

i am of two minds about this. i believe in fairies, and you don’t mess with them. they are a proud people and don’t like being dissed.  but when you talk about rocks, and rocks of a certain size, and rocks which aren’t a normal part of the landscape, then i think fairy houses. so, maybe, we could use some of the rocks blasted out of the mountain, and make a fairy city. if the fairies didn’t mind, and the townspeople didn’t mind.

google translate gives álfur uppgjör, i’m sure there are many other ways to say it in icelandic, but i like Huldufólkbyggd. fjallabyggd is the name of the conjoined towns, and olafsfjord has a lot of -byggd streetnames.  i assume they refer to the fact that these streets used to be swampy vacant land, and i assume they were built up in recent decades.  byggd sometimes translates to ‘built-up area.’

so, the idea i came back with, based on practical criticism of my plan and a good suggestion for an alternative, is this.

we can take a number of rocks, not large ones but too big for people to lift, from whatever pile they’re in, and move them to a suitable site (which we’re working on finding). then, we can build a tiny little town of fairy houses.  we could make a design of our own, or even a small version of olafsfjordur itself.  we can make streets of paving sized stones, and buildings of larger rocks set into or on top of the ground. then we can decorate them as fairy houses, and plant flowers and grasses around them.

this would require a whole lot of participation by the people who live there.  for instance, i would like to open the design of the elf city to people who live there. we could have a contest, all ages. then, the ground that is selected will need to be cleared and prepared. and then the rocks have to be selected, moved, and placed.  this is real work, and it would be great if there was some local funding to compensate the people who will do this.  perhaps that kickstarter campaign…

the fun part would come after all the grunt work. i want to get the children involved in decorating the buildings. kids are great at painting, and they could make really good doors and windows, roofs, other architectural details.  if it was decided to make a mini-olafs, then they would be really good at making small copies of all the buildings in the town.

we would put annual flowers in front of the houses, and make streetsigns, and have a big party to open the exhibit. while i’m in the town, i will make up special seed packages to give out, and then later, in the fall, people can plant them around the fairy houses, which will grow next year, and hopefully make a permanent garden around the stones.

that’s my idea at the moment.  i have sent it off to the people who are interested in it, in facebook messages, and when they have a chance to think about it, they will respond with their thoughts, and i will think about what they say and redesign the project again.

if anybody reading this has an opinion or suggestion, i welcome them.


continuing with the silk scarf thing

i’ve been to a lot of blogs that start out well and then just trail off, because the writer got tired, or the essay was of the moment and they lost the trail, or they moved off to youtube to cruise for a couple hours after the dose kicked in.

i’m afraid some of my fabric posts are like that.  and that’s a shame because i’m trying to show how to do stuff, and if i don’t ever finish documenting it, then there’s some poor schmuck in the middle of trying to make whatever unique thing i’m trying to redesign my way, and what’re they going to do – improvise? – when i never come back to explain how i made it look that strange way that the photos don’t really show.

right now i’m thinking about the double-apron artist’s smock that i never posted another thing about after my computer crashed and i lost all the process photos.  thanks for helping, ex husband.  not.  stupid comment about never meeting your obligations mutter mutter.

i had this great idea for a smock.  i looked and looked for artist’s smocks that looked okay.  most looked like the xxxx shirts kids wear these days.  then there was gustav klimt’s smock.

but i didn’t want to be walking around in a sack.  i don’t look good in sacks.  to tell the truth, i only look good naked, and only if you like renaissance painting.

so i took a regular old restaurant apron, which i actually kind of like wearing, made it so there was one apron on my front, and one on my back, added sleeves, and i was off.

and then it sat there half finished for over a year.

so i still have to detail that.

but i can go forward with the scarves i’ve been making for gifts and to wear underneath my sweater to keep my neck warm.

i had four patterns that jim drew for me.  two were little wee fairies frolicking in the flowers.  you’d say too cute, except jim’s cute turns out very sinister and twisted.  the other two were puffins, who inhabit the islands where i’m going to be.

i started off with the puffins.  it had been about a year, maybe more, since i’d done any scarves, and boy what a learning curve there is.  it’s mainly simple, painting on silk, but things can go wrong, and you’ve got to prepare for it.

i forgot.  things like how easily the silk takes up the dye and why don”t i use a drop of alcohol in the damned mix instead of either not having enough dye or flooding the whole scarf with it.  things like the use of sugar syrup for interesting effects that can sometimes look lousy.

anyway, i hated the first two scarves.  they looked horrible right up to the end, when i was splashing dye on and violating all the lines.  somehow this helps my work to look better, to overpaint and then pretend it was my intention all along.

i really screwed up the first fairy scarf.  putting sugar syrup all over the fairies’ wings and clothes was a good idea, but the dye i painted over the sugar syrup was too strong.  plus, it was humid and i waited too long for the syrup to dr, which it won’t when it’s humid.  it just sort of melts and runs, and then it’s as if you used no-flow.

this is why i stopped posting the progress.  because to me it didn’t feel like progress.  it felt like a mistake.  the kind you hide in the corner.  but i only had the one scarf of the puffins, over colored, and i wasn’t happy with that.  the first fairy scarf was ruined, so i had to proceed.  so i whipped out jim’s template and inked it in using homemade water-based resist (alginate print paste), and started in on it using the lessons i’d just absorbed fucking up the first two scarves.

everything went in pastel at first.  a basic light green, a dilute magenta, yellow, a dirty orange.  then i developed the colors a bit, adding a tip of yellow to a magenta flower, etc.  then i deepened the greens with blue.  notice i avoided painting any fairies until i was happy enough with the half-way stage of the flowers.

the fairies got an underpainting of dirty yellow where their bodies are, leaving the drapery floating out away from them untouched – the white of the scarf.  then i went over their skin with dirty orange, and made sure to smear resist all over their faces so that later i could apply eyes and mouths with a fine brush, like makeup on a tiny doll.

i put sugar syrup over their clothes and wings, tho not their hair like i did last time.  i didn’t bother letting the syrup dry, which takes hours, because it’s been damp lately and i knew from recent experience that it would only get worse the longer i left it on there.  so i came in over the sticky wet syrup with a brush full of medium dark purple, and put it on the wings, with magenta on the clothes.  and then before it had a chance to do much, i flooded the whole area with water, so that the dye would hitchhike on the back of the syrup as it flowed and made cool patterns.  neat trick, and just the thing to make the fairies seem ethereal.

but it didn’t work with the flowers, which were pale and pastel.  i hated it, and put it over a door to dry out, moving on to the second puffin template.

this one went pretty smooth, because i didn’t take so many hesitant starts.  i just went ahead and put in a medium blue on the water, and diluted black in the clouds, coming in much earlier with the rich tones, being a lot more heavy handed with the blacks.  i like this result better.

so then i went  back to the fairy painting, and went ahead and got bold on the plants, putting in black for shadows and strength.  normally you wouldn’t use black, silk is one of the few mediums where black is necessary to get any kind of dark at all.  it’s more like light than pigment.  it’s like printing when you use the four colors and everything in the range is represented with those four colors, white being the paper, the substrate.  that’s why i have so much trouble using white paint, because i expect the substrate to supply the lightest values, and in silk painting, the white silk blank does just that.

so i got bold, deliberately going outside the resist lines, flooding the area around the plants with clear water every time so that the overs would fan out and spread.  and slowly the whole thing got richer without looking like a disney poster.

and the whole thing looks much better.  and even if the intended recipient thinks my scarves are touristy as hell, she might like the colors, and she might deign to take one from me as thanks for all she’s done.  or else i’ll just wear them myself to ward off the cold.

another silk scarf

i really do love to paint on silk.  the whole staying inside the lines thing that i get to violate to my heart’s content.  the brilliant colors, the way the whole thing is made out of light, rather than darkness, as with pigments on paper.

this is the composite scarf.  there’s a lot of white in it, but not for very long.  i did the usual outlining of all the flowers, and started painting on them with various greens and flower colors.  that’s going to be the easy part.  the difficult part will be the fairies.  i don’t want them too strong, but i dislike pastel colors, so it gave me a few fits before i figured out what i need to do.

sugar syrup.  karo syrup.  in a squeeze bottle.  it does interesting and strange things to dyes.

so i put sugar syrup around the fairies’ clothes and wings.  i’m leaving them under the fan all night to dry (hopefully, as it’s quite humid here), and then tomorrow i’m going to hit them with some fairly strong dark dye on top of the sugar syrup.  and when i hit them with water later on, they’ll do very interesting things.   the ephemeral touch i’m looking for on the fairies.

* * *

in other news, i’ve just started a test watercolor on a piece of clayboard, and it’s producing nice results.  more later.