Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Fine connecting threads

I'm learning a lot about the limitations of pre-made colors (and especially appreciated Hannah Hinchman's observation about how greens are especially limiting when straight out of the tube, etc.). But mostly I'm learning about the importance of trying to draw my rhododendrons every day, or most days. It's a simple but grounding exercise and extremely satisfying to see these plants accumulate in my book.
Yesterday I had to check something in the studio and was amazed to see how it is coming along. This shot is misleading because of the lens so this front space is not as huge as it looks, but will be the storefront gallery.
This space in the back will be the beater room, which explains why the floor is torn up for floor drains. Thank god this contractor is smart enough to have dug into the lowest point in the floor so that it will eventually rake to the drain (fingers crossed).

I'm now deep into writing an essay about a seminal figure in the American hand papermaking revival. It was slow going at first, but I am excited now. As an added fire to get me moving, I promised him and his wife a draft by end of week. I also reached out to his past employees/apprentices, and that outpouring of love and respect made me so happy to be able to honor his legacy. The most important bit is that it made me feel connected to other people by this act of writing, which normally feels solitary and isolated. These days, I need all the connection I can get.

In that vein, I sent an email newsletter this morning with a survey I created about giving to artists. I always struggle when asking people for money, and by people I mean individual human beings. When there is a formal process of approaching funders through grant applications and the like, I have no qualms. But when asking fellow people, I wonder how they feel about the ask. I'm not a pro survey maker and already see problems in its framing, but if you're interested, it only takes 45 seconds (and doesn't ask you for any money! I promise). I will share the results and have been fascinated by the responses so far. Thank you for participating—even this helps me feel connected.

Monday, March 30, 2020

My jiseung how to, first in a series

Ever since I started teaching jiseung (the Korean way of twining twists of paper into all sorts of useful items), I grappled with how I to do it. Instruction had to be in person but some students did not have enough time to grasp it. Part of that is because you can't learn this in a day, or two, or even a week. But that's how workshops are structured, so we all do our best.
For the initial steps of tearing down large sheets of paper into paired strips, I needed a handout, otherwise some people would never get to the cord-making process. I tried a few times over several years to draw versions of how to do that, and even posted a series of photos to illustrate it. That was almost 10 years ago, and looking at it now I see how I could have done it better but it was my best effort at the time. To illustrate cord making, I usually share a spread from an excellent Hisako Sekijima book (I recommend the entire book!).
Once students got past making cords and had to start twining, then a whole new chaos would begin. For that I had a basic handout but it was only about general twining. I usually travel with a good how-to/overview book on jiseung to show pictures and diagrams, but it's only in Korean. Last year, I began drawings for a new series of booklet/zine/manual that would finally synthesize all the info. After about ten pages, it was so hard that I gave up and shelved it. This year, I finally dove back in and sometimes felt I had to bolt myself to the chair to finish.

To order the first of this series, which gives a quick overview of jiseung, how to make cords, how to twine a circular basket, and how to finish it, let me know! You can see more about my publications here. Prices reflect shipping, handling, and fees taken by intermediaries. To choose a no-fee option (check, Zelle, Venmo, friends and family PayPal), contact me directly so I can provide a discount. Though this is best used as an accompaniment to direct instruction, we all know that's no longer an option. Book 2 preview: flat twining and a fold-over rim finish. But that may well take another year!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The world with and without us

My cabin fever was bad today so I drove to the big nature preserve to escape. I am grateful for the metroparks system that cares for this land and does things like clear paths. This visit made me realize I haven't been in a long time, because I didn't realize how sunny it would be with no leaf cover.
The sylvan loop is one of my favorites. Someone has been busy here at the end of a precipitous drop! As I suspected, the paved paths and those close to the road were packed with people and dogs and bicycles, but I was almost completely alone in the wooded trails, which were muddier. I foolishly wore my regular boots instead of my muck boots, but it's not a bad thing that I'll have to clean and polish them as they were long overdue.
This is one overlook point from that trail. Two older men were jogging and telling stories to each other early on this path and when I was on this deck, one other woman stopped to admire the view. Then, no one for a while until two young women practiced lovely trail etiquette / physical distancing by stepping off the trail to let me pass and sharing a friendly greeting.
My biggest takeaway, besides the fact that there is no canopy in winter (duh!), was that a ton of trees have fallen since my last visit. And that's the normal cycle of trees. Mostly they were where they had fallen, but in the places where they blocked the trail, they've been moved or cut through for safe passage.
The textures here reminded me of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. The other side of the tree had a different story to tell.
Lots and lots of root textures.
Still lots of water (and more to come with rain forecasted for a week straight) covering the leaves, making a reflection of the trees that had dropped them in the first place. Everything makes sense, has its place and role, out here. The birdsong was different from what I hear at home and welcome music. I wish we were better at reciprocal living, which Robin Wall Kimmerer writes a lot about. Velma sent me an excellent interview with Robin, "on gardening and citizenship," that addresses that idea of us loving the earth and the earth loving us and gifting us with beans and so many other riches.
This sign is for the museum trail or something but whenever I see it it reminds me that I'm almost home (AKA almost to my car). After listening to the gardening interview, I listened to part of an older interview with Rebecca Solnit, and so appreciated her confirmation that people are generally good and revert to that in times of crisis, but are thwarted by systems that trap them and vilify them (she was talking specifically about the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina). I wanted to hear more of her stories and less interruption but still found it useful listening while sewing. I'm still stumbling through my days and nights but grateful for my human friends and family as well as my non-human ones.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Practicing gratitude for now

Okay, back to attempting cheeriness! Here is the new storefront of my studio. The corner bit will be where my gallery is.
Big improvement from the original, right?
This looks roomy now but will be subdivided into three spaces. What's behind the camera and slightly in front will be gallery, the middle part my work space, and the back portion the beater room.
I confess I've been too distraught and stressed (my mom is a health care worker, has been sick, and is getting sick again) to make art, but I've been sewing lots of things.
I'm grateful to live on my own, so no one can yell at me for making ridiculous and mismatched chair and seat covers.
This is a pair of small bags that I made for a musician friend's daughters. I know she is hurting a LOT with cancelled concerts and world premieres and summer camps, so I hope this will bring some fun as everyone is stuck at home.
These are not the right fabrics to use for bags because they're for curtains, but I don't care!
The best therapy has been to draw my front yard rhododendrons from the window. A robin keeps flying from the tree next to these plants into my window, knocking itself constantly against the glass and pooping all over my window sill. I don't know what it sees in my living room studio that it wants. I'm pretty sure I am supposed to go and clean all of the poop but am not sure how to prevent more. Good thing I have lots of time at home to figure it out.

Up to here

[Guess who got a phone call last week to say that a 1,200-lb shipment had fallen over during transport? The slats you see are supposed to be the bottom of the crate. Yes, lots of calls have been made to estimate repairs.]

I'm going to complain a bunch, so you can skip this if you need happy news (which I will attempt to return to after this venting). I also acknowledge that while I am negatively impacted by this crisis, I am not the worst off.

These terrible times bring into focus all at once the broken parts of our systems, whether it's "public servants" who are allowed to have vested financial interests that benefit from directly harming the public, the huge numbers of poor and hungry children and adults in this "first world" nation, the push to construct a border wall in the middle of a pandemic while also clamping down on voter rights and trying to halt abortions in the hopes that no one will notice because they are too busy fighting in supermarket aisles, or the dog whistling and outright racism from the top that encourages people to attack and attempt to murder Asian people.

But these aren't my immediate complaints. I'm tired of the broken systems that affect me as a freelancer, someone who will likely get no relief from the packages being passed, floated, or debated. My income comes from teaching/lecturing gigs, art and book sales, and whatever grants I may or may not be lucky enough to get. I've lived with uncertainty my entire career as an artist and will continue to until the end.

I hate that these systems always place the money/time risk and burden onto the most unstable party: the individual artist. Travel reimbursement always happens after the fact, so I have to outlay my money to book flights, transportation, lodging, etc. The best (but rare) hosts book these on their dime. Some prepare a check to present to me immediately after I'm done but most mail a check afterwards. Two weeks after my latest gig, I have yet to be paid or reimbursed for my travel expenses (of which only a portion are covered). My next two gigs were cancelled, and I won't be reimbursed for my flight for one of them—they hope to reschedule but I have to eat the cost for now.

Individual artists also shoulder other burdens with no recompense, classified as "prep." Over a year before many gigs, I begin to spend hours and days scheduling, filling out forms, talking to people on the phone, sending emails, designing courses, writing descriptions and lesson plans and supply lists, creating budgets, and providing PR materials. This work is never compensated. The people on the other end earn salaries and sometimes benefits (yes, I know as a former non-profit worker that these are tiny, but they are real and the photocopies are free). Only two places I've taught for provided paid prep time: a non-profit that went out of business, and a state school that only did so after I asked. That only covered physical prep for class, which includes hauling tools / equipment / materials, unpacking, preparing and cooking dyes and fibers, rearranging classroom furniture, cleaning, tarping surfaces, and a million other things.

This equation sucks. Though I am still far from a functioning studio, I've fantasized about how to do better if I ever invite outside teachers to work in my space. This means valuing and paying teachers for ALL of their labor and even giving them a portion of the tuition that arrives months before class begins. While many orgs place the burden of travel costs onto students (e.g., you pay more for a class if the teacher flies in from across the country than if they live in town), there has to be another way of making up the difference. Once a class has filled, it seems only fair to give a portion of that money to the teacher ahead of time to pay for travel. So many orgs already include travel and materials reimbursements onto our 1099s (rendering it taxable income), they may as well provide the money up front. The other idea would be to provide a non-refundable deposit to the teacher when booking the class.

I know arguments against this: tuition goes up, no one signs up for class and it doesn't run, or only the richest people can participate. That's why development folks are always writing grants to subsidize programs. I also know that many orgs and businesses run less responsible practices where the tuition for your class is what they use to pay the last teacher/keep the lights on (similar to galleries that won't pay you until the next artist makes a sale—stay away from those!). But how much would it cost to start to think about better practices? A lot. But humanity should cost a lot. We are learning quickly the people we value more, and less, and it's not pretty. But I hope we can start new conversations that lead to real change that make us more deserving of all the space we take up on this planet.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Home projects

This is was a gift I finished before I left NY; it made me so happy I had to photograph it in my lap on the way to the airport.
I did one last sweep edit for my new jiseung how-to (was aghast to find a drawn error) and then rushed to the library the next morning to reproduce.
It required THREE trips (1. OMG the non-repro blue pencil is showing up, so angry! 2. Figured it out by lightening the copy by one click, 3. Somehow left one original page behind but found it in the recycling trash). I knew I had to do it ASAP because it was only a matter of time before the libraries would get shut down. Editioned 30 copies that night and cleaned up my writing page, so it's live.
The gym where I swim is also closing and I didn't feel like seeing ignorant people look at my Asian-looking face and have racist reactions (my mom had both silent and yelling reactions while out, another friend's friend who is Chinese was asked to leave her yoga class in Brooklyn. At least they did not have hands put onto them in violence, unlike unfortunate others). So I went for a morning walk at the local metropark where I saw this little sign. Directly above is a bracket to hold your phone and take a picture.
Then you upload the picture to a site that arranges them into a time lapse! I checked online and didn't post mine because someone already did one from this morning, but I love the idea especially because this area is a watershed that is in the process of being restored. I'll die before it changes significant but it's nice to know that people are willing to set aside land to return to a less developed state—ostensibly for future generations.
Once I got home, I cleaned up the side of my house that I never look at, whose window wells were FULL of leaves and debris. I was inspired by accidentally discovering these flowers yesterday, which Velma told me are snowdrops. I had no idea! They have brought me enormous joy and hope for the future. Velma also shared info that included an article about suburban perennial gardening that buoyed me as well (my goal is for my land to reflect me, which will take time, but then to eventually run itself). We were told in this particular pandemic time that walking outside in nature and gardening are allowed, so I'm happy to lean that way.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

From serious snow to spring

Before I left town, I was excited to experience ZeroLandfill and went on both harvest days with a friend who wholly appreciates going to the solid waste department to get free stuff to divert from the trash. It was really cold and snowy the last day but still worth the visit. I got tile as book weights, carpet pieces for fatigue mats, wallpaper books for book classes, vinyl surfaces to dry paper, fabric samples because how could I resist? and other things I can't remember now because it feels a million years ago.
Instead of packing and working on my newest book, I spent most of my final full day home sewing pillow covers and a bag, which wore me out as if I had been working out all day. But it was a delightful diversion.
This is an old book that I bound years ago in grad school but never used. It will be my newest sketchbook, which I was so attached to that I didn't touch it for almost 15 years!
Here are two early drafts of my new book, which I somehow managed to finish in New York. It's a how-to intro to jiseung, which people have requested for the past 10 years.
I'm terrible at drawing hands so I had to take a lot of pictures of my hands posing. This was a big reason I put off making this book for so many years. The first batch almost sold out in class and I'll put it up for sale once I make some more.
Aside from major family time (a new niece arrived in late Feb!) and helping both my parents and my sister with small and large projects, I managed to have one day for my stuff. That meant a photo shoot (here are some new ducks and a few new hanji bits), friend lunch, seeing the retrospective show of my former boss/mentor at Pratt, and visiting the opening night of a big paper art fair to see some friends. Above, one of many cases in Robbin's show.
Robbin did a great installation on the stairs of Pratt's beautiful library in Brooklyn. As she says, it's her biggest book yet.
She also installed five cases in the gorgeous stacks that you discover as you search/browse. Loved this treasure hunt.
This was a book I helped her edition; it was so weird to see my own handwriting from 12 years ago. She taught me SO MUCH and the wisdom expands and grows over time.
This was part of an installation she did at my grad school when I was a student and it was my first introduction to turning paper into thread. During my internship with her in my last year of my MFA, she showed me shifu samples by Asao Shimura and opened an enormous new world to me that I'm still mucking about in. I was so happy that I was able to see her at the exhibit to catch up and savor the entire show.
Then I rushed off to see the Art on Paper fair, where some of the usual Korean suspects were (these are by Kwang Young Chun, his signature look of paper wrapped blocks). It was great to see friends, meet a few new folks, and bump into happy colleagues. But it was also great to get home after a long day.
Class this weekend was so busy that I took almost no pictures. I had a fabulous group of very hardworking students. For the first time ever, I made them make cords ALL DAY on Saturday and instead of the usual one sheet, I gave them three sheets (instead of 16 cords, 48—or more, depending on how thin their strips were). They were super engaged and kind to each other, and I had two repeat students from last year's class, so it felt like a cozy hive of weavers. I'm bewildered by the warm weather and time change but managed to pack and now must get off this computer!

Tomorrow: flying home, getting a ride from a friend to the mechanic, where I will hand over every penny I earned this weekend to get my car back.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Feb's paddling

I'm getting worse and worse at sticking with tasks and seeing them through because my attention span has gotten woefully short and there are too many tasks. This was something I had started last year as a teaching guide (I have to always make a piece identical to the one my student is doing to model the right stuff) and I decided to test a new lid for it.
The lid surface worked but I still need to finesse where it comes apart from the body of the basket. I also took the handle off of the striped bottom basket and took up the walls of another square bottomed piece. All of this was very satisfying.
This month was all about new ducks. The first two went immediately to a new married couple and a few more will go to homes soon. The rest was me playing with cords from last year's big dyeing and installation work, because I love to recycle my own work.
I leave very soon for my NYC teaching and seeing family, which is especially exciting as it has grown by one healthy baby niece. She arrived last week, another excuse for my already sad attention to be diverted from work. My printer also decided to die and the brake light in my car went on for a bit so there was a lot of that kind of time eating, but I tried to reclaim some of that today by making 80 cords and laying out a new how-to book on jiseung (this is my millionth stab at this book, let's see if it finally materializes!).