Saturday, January 30, 2010

Focus -- Losing It While I Gain It


This week's theme over at Illustration Friday is "Focus."  Yet another one of those serendipitous confluences as the theme itself seems to come into focus in my life.

It's that time of the year when my profession requires me to engage in the ritual of the annual review.  Polish up the CV, review what I accomplished in 2009, match that against what I said I would do, extrapolate from all that my plan for 2010.  I always put this bit of administrivia off until the last moment.  I loathe it, and I am convinced it will yield nothing but internal angst over my lack of direction, my lack of clear focus.  And yet, every year as I fill out the paperwork, I find I was more productive than I thought, and that there is a more or less clear direction in my labors.

And that's the point of it all, I guess: to demonstrate for others but also for myself that I am delivering on my commitments to profession.  To bring into sharp relief the fruits of those labors.  Still, it is exhausting work.  Even if the message is ultimately confirming, I find myself drained by the effort.  All evidence to the contrary, I feel like I've lost my way. 

So.  A dark illustration in shades of gray.  A lonely alley with noir shadows.  A face lost in black ink and crosshatch.  Call this an illustration of inner turmoil.  See in it how too much introspection, even if required, ends up being an exercise in beating your head against a wall.  And somehow, at the very edge of the frame, my life swimming in and out of focus.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Grace is in the Recovery


This week's theme over at Illustration Friday is "clumsy."  I struggled a bit with this week's theme, and hence my offering of two submissions in one blog post. 

The title of this entry -- "Grace is in the Recovery" -- is something of a life philosophy (yeah, I have a lot of those).  I've never been the most graceful person.  I trip a lot; I bonk my head a lot.  Sometimes I think I never really grew into my body.  However, even as an audience member, I bore quickly of the precisely controlled performance.  But I find it very exciting when an actor or artist has to deal with an unanticipated problem.  Yes, that is painful if they don't deal with it well.  But I am ecstatic if they respond well.  I feel like I am in the presence of a unique moment where a scripted and precise action gave over to one that must respond to context.  And how do we access those moments if not for the willingness to be clumsy?  That's not to say I value the under-prepared performance -- more that I value preparation that readies the performer to deal with the unexpected.

I recently wrote a brief piece for an environmental education center's newsletter where I discussed my lessons learned from walking down the side of a glacier's lateral moraine.  In that piece, I talk about how you have to give up the idea of sure and stable footing and be ready to respond quickly to the steep and slippery gravel-mound's tendency to slide.  There is really no way to do it and look pretty.  At its heart, the experience is about letting go and trusting your ability to respond.  That is where grace resides.  Not in the perfectly executed gesture, but in the capacity to recover from the fumble.  And that is a lesson about grace that goes well beyond walking and performance. 

We all fall.  None of us are perfect.  All of us are sometimes (often times?) clumsy.  But beauty is in how we respond to clumsy -- in ourselves and in others.  And I think beating ourselves up about not being perfect, about not being graceful, is about the least graceful we can be. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Social Knitworking: @Platea Tackles Crowdsourced Knitting in "PlateaKnit"

@Platea's sixth on-line performance project is scheduled to begin next week.  You can read about "PlateaKnit" here.  And if you check out the blog entry after that, you'll find some of my theorizing about knitworks and networks.

If knitting is not your thing, please know that you can still participate.  The basic idea is to create a knitting pattern by crowdsourcing it to Twitter.  And if you don't know a knitting pattern from Klingon poetry, have no fear.  The protocol for the performance encourages but does not require a knowledge of knitting to contribute to the instructions -- just describe what you would like to see in a row or two of a project.  Ingrid Murnane at @Platea has also provided a brief cheat sheet of possible knitting instructions to get you started.

Now, if Twitter is not your thing, let me extend an offer:  If you would rather make your suggested instructions for the project here in the comments section below, I will happily Tweet them myself and make sure they become part of the pattern.  And of course, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them here or at the @Platea site.

I'll be making something (probably a scarf) following the instructions, as will several other folks.  I'll post what I come up with here along with links to what others come up with.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Flexible and The Strange

The tag line of this blog: "Be Flexible.  Be Strange."  I like to imagine that as something of a life philosophy.   My interests are wide-ranging.  I like to think I can adjust to most situations.  And the strange part?  Well, that mostly happens without my attention or conscious effort.  Mostly, I mean don't be afraid of being strange.  Don't shy away from doing something just because it is not how others would do it.

That's not to say I don't learn from others.  That's not to say that doing things differently from everyone else is the only valuable way to be.  Trust me, I spend plenty of my life conforming.  But sometimes it's wise, productive, and best to heed to that inner voice that wants to go its own way -- regardless of whether that way is different or strange.

Probably one of the most frustrating questions an artist gets is "Where did you get that idea?" (or possibly, "Why did you do it that way?").  I put it right up there with the most annoying question you can ask a performer: "How did you learn all those lines?"  I guess the only way to really answer any of those is: it's just what I do.  This time, anyway.

If you find these cartoons cryptic, know that you are not alone.  I don't know what they mean.  I don't know where they came from.  I don't know why I did them this way.  They are largely unplanned.  Just ideas put to paper and then digitally processed.  All along the way, I let my interest and sense of the appealing guide me.  I break some "rules" here and there.  But mostly they are what they are -- me playing around.  Me stretching my abilities and interests.  Me courting the strange. 

Colorful, aint it?


Friday, January 15, 2010

Ah Wilderness

Illustration Friday's theme this week is "wilderness."  Okay, so this is a great one for me.  I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about the wild, and I recognize the problems with it as a concept.  Namely, we have a lot of romanticized notions of wilderness and what it means.  Orginally, the concept referred to something unpleasant -- and so is etymologically linked to words like "bewilder." The Puritans saw the wilderness as a site of evil and danger, something to be tamed (like all "baser nature," internal or external).  It took visionaries like Romantic poets and early American nature writers to see in the wilderness the sublime, that mix of awe and wonder at once terrifying and spiritually uplifting.

Today, several environmental thinkers posit that our perceptions of wilderness get in the way of meaningful environmental management more than they motivate it.  Folks like William Cronon and Neil Evernden posit that our received notions of wilderness are more social construction than actual nature.  Cronon notes that in the US, we tend to equate wilderness with the absence of humans, and in the process conveniently erase the humans that lived here before European colonization.  Evernden cautions that many neophyte ecologists tend to focus on the happy "light" side of wilderness by emphasizing harmony and balance and downplaying the shadow side of all that -- including predation, parasitism, disease, etc.  Both (and others) suggest that the evocation of wilderness is often a problematic call for preservation that fails to recognize that nature is always about change.

So what is "wilderness," given all this history and critique?  For me, it is about systems of relationship.  It's about organisms in relationships, be those relationships predatory, parasitic, symbiotic, nurturing, or what have you.  Wilderness is an "organic" system, by which I mean both living and emergent/unplanned.  This conception allows us to consider humans as both a part of wilderness (nature) and apart from it.  The first half of that observation is easy -- we cannot escape it, it's all around us, and it supports us.  But humans also create, with purpose, their own complex systems (towns, buildings, farms, ranches, factories, etc.) -- and those systems often compete with wilderness systems.  The result of that competition is often bad for the wilderness, although occasionally wilderness "wins."  More importantly, wilderness adapts from the competition, although perhaps a bit more slowly than human systems do.

The ecological systems we designate "wilderness" have developed over eons.  They represent incredible diversity that still extends beyond our capacity to catalog let alone comprehend.  And much as we like to ignore it in the name of human "progress," those finely honed organic systems support us, making our life on this planet possible.  We have yet to replicate the dynamic and intricate system of relationships that is a wild ecosystem.  Perhaps, one day we will.  But until we do, we are ill-served in the casual destruction of wilderness.  If that sounds like a preservationist's ethic sneaking back in, so be it.  Or maybe, just maybe, it's about humbly accepting our place in (and not above) these wild systems of relationship.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The Dance of P and Q

Interesting conversations in the world of poemics and abstract comics about the relationship of words to images in experimental comics.  Coming at the question from two different directions, one of the most interesting aspects of this work is focus on the abstract shape (and, well, concept) of letters.  And words.  

As always, I find these conversations and the work of others profoundly inspiring (I highly recommend checking out Rosaire Appel's new abstract comic, As The If And, as well as his blog for additional inspiration of this kind)  When I should be, um, writing professional letters, I find myself absorbed in imagining letters as comics compositions.  I think my love of language gets in my way as I tend to default to visual puns and word games.  Still, this is what comes of PPPPlay.

 P Stream


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Doodle or Die

But what does it say?  A log, a pipe...but this is not a pipe, right?  It's a sketchbook page.  No, it's a scan from a sketchbook...digitally edited and colored.  It's not abstract enough to be an abstract comic.  It doesn't play with words enough to be a poemic.  Maybe it's just another doodle.  Maybe it's just a visual stream of consciousness drawing.  Maybe it's crap.  Maybe it's just a blog post.  And, of course, none of these possibilities are mutually exclusive.

And for those of us who prefer our world less colorful...

Friday, January 8, 2010 home.

Actually, it was a lot more 
comfortable than flying coach class. 

This week's prompt over at Illustration Friday is "confined."  Given that I am more or less trapped at home this weekend since our car is snowed in at the top of an icy hill with unplowed roads, you'd think I'd focus on something like cabin fever.  However, I kind of like being stuck at home with plenty of groceries and art supplies.  Today, anyway.

Am I alone in a selfish response to the Christmas attempt to blow up a plane in Detroit?  I thought air travel was bad enough, but now we're making it even more loathsome.  I doubt it will be too long before mailing yourself somewhere would actually be more comfortable and probably more efficient than flying.  The prisons we build for ourselves are always worse than any dungeon imagined by others.  If that claim is too much of a sweeping generalization, it is at least a thought to carry with us as we return to contemplating how much of our liberties we are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of "perfect" security. 

Maybe in the end, it's the rhetoric that is the most confining.  Here we are again, back among the pre-packaged arguments and memes, pointing the finger for political gain.  The world may (!!) have changed on 9/11, but the more it changed the more it stayed the same.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Found 01

Mirro-Krome Card.  H.S. Crocker Co., San Francisco.

On a recent day-trip to Cape Girardeau, I enjoyed perusing vintage post cards in one of the many antique malls downtown. I like gathering cartoon post cards because they offer interesting source material for line-work techniques.  I also like them because they offer hints at differing fashions, technologies, and both shifting and universal humor.  To the best of my abilities, I locate these cards as circa 1940s.  I dig the camping equipment!  And the humor is much more risque than my grandmother ever led me to believe was popular in the 1940s.  None of these cards were actually mailed, though.  I wonder if they were more often collected than sent, an underground amusement.

My digital work has led me recently back into mail art.  I am making my own post cards now to send to friends who, in turn, send me little capsules of their own work.  Fun to imagine what might become of those as the minutia and ephemera of our day find their way into someone's packrat house and eventually an estate sale and flea market.  Years from now, what sense will collectors make of our sense of aesthetics and humor, our taken-for-granted technologies of exchange?  Hard to know, but fun to speculate.

Plastichrome.  Coulourpicture Publishers, Inc., Boston.

Kromekolor Comic Card.  Noble, Colorado Springs.

Plastichrome.  Colourpicture Publishers, Inc.  Boston.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 -- A Year of Renewal?

The good folks over at Illustration Friday have kicked off the new year with a great prompt, "Renewal."  Indeed, as we put away the old and face the new, now is a great time to consider renewal.

Surely, 2009 gives us a lot to be cynical about.  In the US, Health Care reform consumed our political process, demonstrating that even though the bulk of the population wanted meaningful reform, special interests were able to clutter and stymie the process so much so that the current compromise(s) offers little in the way of real reform.  We thought with its hopeful beginning and a new President, 2009 might see significant changes in our foreign policy -- and we have.  But that change still involves more troop deployments and daily news of unrest in the places where we are involved.  Christmas Day reminded us that the free world is still vulnerable to terrorism -- avoiding it often only with a little luck.  And then, with a heavy sigh, we look at how little was accomplished at Copenhagen with regards to meaningful international agreements on climate change mitigation.

Now is not the time to give up hope.  And so, we recycle the wrapping paper, compost the holiday leftovers, pick up the party detritus, and come back from this liminal solstice time to the work of the new year.  The planet is doing its yearly tilt-thing, and the sun is coming back in the Northern Hemisphere.  Let us take energy from its shine and renew our commitments to getting it right. "It" being our lives -- individually and, more importantly, collectively.  We are all in this world together.