Sunday, March 30, 2014

Art Versus Craft





This month's Blog Carnival Topic is "Art or Craft, to which we reply...

There once was a kingdom that had two villages. All the subjects of the realm lived in one village or the other.  Much ado was made by the inhabitants of each village that they alone were the favorites of the Gods, and thus obviously superior to the inhabitants of the other village. These frequent declarations led to constant warfare and skirmishes between the two villages.

Despite generations of warfare, neither side was ever able to win a decisive victory in their claim to superiority over the other. This did nothing to dampen the fervor and tenacity to which each side proclaimed its virtue over the other.

Now, as it happened, this warfare between the villages was carried out in full view of all the other kingdoms in the land.  Rather than taking sides, the inhabitants of the other kingdoms were confused and frightened because both villages seemed completely the same to them.  What are they fighting about, they thought, the people in those two villages must all be crazy.  And so, the people of the other kingdoms stayed away from the two villages, not wanting to get dragged into the fighting.

So caught up in the fighting were the people of the two villages that they didn’t notice that no one was minding the crops, and the people of both villages were starving.  Or that the people of the other kingdoms no longer came to trade at their village markets and fairs.  To make matters worse, the generations of warfare had left some villagers so confused that they no longer could tell which village they belonged to.
It was if they were all the same.

Of course, this could never be. For the wise men of each village had prophesied, in tongues no less, the certainty of their differences. More sacrifices were needed, said the wise men, so that we may prove once and for all throughout the realm, which village is indeed the best.

And so the villagers continued to fight and starve and sacrifice their children in a battle that no one outside the villages cared about and those in each village no longer understood.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How does your ethnicity impact your art





This months Blog Carnival asks “What’s your ethnicity” and how has it impacted your artwork. Easy, we thought! Then again, what exactly does “ethnicity” mean? We looked it up. Turns out it covers a lot of ground.

Ethnicity or ethnic group is defined as social group of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experience.

Membership of an ethnic group tends to be associated with shared cultural heritage, ancestry, history, homeland, language (dialect), or ideology, and with symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, physical appearance, etc.

Larger ethnic groups will tend to form smaller sub-ethnic groups (historically also known as tribes), which over time may become separate ethnic groups themselves through the process of ethnogenesis.

Not so easy after all. Particularly if we are trying to draw meaning or particular influence on a lifetime of art work.




The Ancestors
John come from a very long line of seafarers. Norwegian Vikings as the parents pointedly reminded us as children. This was the way of the father and grandfather and great grandfather, etc., and was certainly the path proscribed for John from an early age.

Travel, looting and pillaging certainly had its appeal for a while, but participation in other groups of artists and intellectuals offered perspectives on life paths that were considerably different – and safer.

Corliss’ parents also had plans for her life. She was being groomed to take over the family floral business. Under the tutelage of her father, Corliss developed a strong creative voice as a designer.

Then John happened.

This had pretty much the same effect on the family plans as any standard Viking invasion. The odd twist of fate being that Corliss’ family tree stems from Germany, Ireland and France. An ancestral appreciation for drinking and brawling set the basis for an instant love match with John.
Oh yeah, and there was this art thing we shared too.




Cultural Experience
Hippies. Joining this tribe was a game-changer for both of us. By now all the parents were getting the idea that John & Corliss were straying from the chosen paths. This was a period of intense political activity made more intense by a massive quantities of sex drugs and rock&roll. As it turns out sex, drugs and rock&roll are just fine with everyone. Put politics into the mix and things can get violent quickly. Extensive travel during this period offered perspectives on other life paths that were considerably different – and safer.




National Experience
Duty called. Military service sort of summed up John’s life experience to date. It had it all. Travel, politics, looting, sex, drugs, rock&roll, and violence on government sanctioned scale that cannot be imagined until it is experienced. Being part of an invading army is a transcendent experience. Whatever ideas John had that there were any rules for anything, pretty much evaporated during this period. Moral ambivalence turned out to be just what the military was looking for however, and special assignments followed. Corliss became part of the military lifestyle in wartime – which is to say bat shit crazy became the new normal. By this time it was abundantly clear that just about any other path would be considerably safer than the one we were on.




Religion, Mythology and Ritual
Catholicism and the Mob. Both John and Corliss were raised Catholic- old school Catholic. In John’s case the parents were mobbed up AND staunch Catholic. Two groups that share a lot of similarities in an many odd ways. The kinder softer church was still half a century away, and corporal punishment was accepted, encouraged. The mob never did make the transition.

Both the mob and the church were a big part of growing up and each organization had a very dense mythology and ritual. Sometimes they overlapped. This all seemed like the natural order of things growing up, even if it led to some truly bizarre nuggets of parental advice and guidance. Strange and beautiful advice it turned out, that provided a perspective on how to survive in an unsafe world. God works in mysterious ways.




Tribe
Art - Our tribe through all of the above. Art embraces everything, expresses everything. Art has been a shield and a weapon, sometimes both at the same time. Art is our way of seeing, our way of doing and our way of being. Everything we have ever been and want to be comes out in the art. It has always been safest path – even when it’s not.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Santa's Elves


This month’s Blog Carnival burning question is: What do you do to celebrate the holidays? Which holidays do you celebrate? What foods do you make? What special holiday jewelry do you make?

Glad you asked. We asked Santa’s elves once how they celebrate Christmas. They replied in a chorus of tiny voices, “How the fuck do you think we celebrate Christmas!? We Work!!” Elves are a little edgy that way.

And so goes our own steady descent into Christmas Elfdom. The madness starts each year in September when the Christmas buying season starts.  That is when the stores buy that all stuff they will use to hype you into a month long frenzy that would make a hungry shark blush. Of course, we’ve been toiling steadily throughout the summer to support the madness and frenzy. We’re team players.

The madness typically continues all the way through the holiday season, and crescendos on Christmas eve. Each year and every year for the last 20 years we have had a stranger knock upon our door on Christmas Eve. Usually around 8pm. Always a man.

He’s terrified, this man. “I need a Christmas gift”, he blurts out. “You’ve come to the right place” we discretely reply, while checking the street up and down, “come in quickly”.   We always wonder how these hapless souls find their way to our doorstep, but we’ve learned not to ask any questions.  Cash and goods quickly change hands and they vanish into the night, off to bestow thoughtful gifts to beloveds none the wiser.  So goes our Christmas Elfdom tradition.

It wasn’t always this way. As children we had different holiday traditions. Like going to Grandma’s house. Grandma ran a gambling parlor in her rural Indiana kitchen and also had a booming fruitcake business on the side. Gram and Gramps we’re also moonshiners, and at Christmas time you got a fruitcake with a gallon of shine. Gram had a secret recipe for the fruitcakes and they were awfully popular at Christmas parties. 

A few days before Christmas all the Uncles and Cousins would gather at Grams to deliver fruitcakes. This was always done after dark and would take all night until the last cake was delivered.  It was also the occasion for Gramps to make his traditional Fuckyouuppo holiday punch.  Gramp's Fuckyouuppo punch was much like Gram's fruitcakes. Nobody new exactly what was in it, but you sure recognized the effect once you had some.  

Delivery parties were always occasions to test the products to ensure quality. It was the consensus that it was “mighty good shit”, which I believe is the very tippy top highest accolade awarded by Good Housekeeping or Journal of American Moonshine or something. Once adequately fortified with shine and fruitcake Uncles and Cousins roared off in their hot rod sleds like so many sotted Santas  to deliver gifts till the wee hours of the morning.

We come from a long line of Christmas Elves. 


*Note: 2Roses makes jewelry. While many people testify to the stunning and intoxicating effects of our jewelry it is not a substitute for a good martini. We do not make moonshine, so don't ask. Not even on Christmas eve. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

True Confessions. What artists really do when you’re not looking!


Welcome to Blog Carnival, where you, the reader, gets to wander around inside the brains of an international collective of artists. Please watch your step, its slippery in here.
Each month a random selection from over 300 artists around the world give their perspective on a common theme related to living life as an artist. If you have ever wondered what it is like to live life as an artist, or been curious how the creative life compares in different parts of the world…read on.

This month we’re talking about “Favorite things to do in the studio”.  We’ll assume for a moment that sex and drugs is probably not what they had in mind when they brought this up. So, moving on, what DO we really, really, like to do in the studio?

Many people, particularly non-artists types (you know who you are), look at the creative life and think of it as unfettered playtime. "You sit around and make shit up"…and they are right…sometimes. Most of the time however it is nothing like that at all. Its deadlines, and pressure to come up with designs that meet specific, often multiple objectives related to concept, style, production methodology and salability.  Surprise! Artists think about such things in addition to engaging in the hard work of creating stuff that your kid could probably make better.

But all that silly romantic business stuff is likely not what drew us all to being artists. We confess, it’s the fun of sitting around and making shit up.  You discover truth in doing this. Truth about yourself, truth about your work, truth about the world you and your work exist in. It is a magical process, and we don’t know of a single artist who gets to engage in this activity of pure creation as much as they would like. 

Of course, we are talking about that aspect of creation that is unfettered and independent from all worldly concerns. Which leads to a related human experience of being completely absorbed and focused on a single task. We don’t mean, “intently paying attention to what you are doing”, we mean time stops and the external world fades completely away focus. The artist literally gets lost in the work. THIS is what artists really like to do in the studio. It is certainly what we like to do in the studio, and it is a luxury when we can give ourselves permission to do this. Did we mention that artists tend to be a very disciplined lot, despite our disheveled public image.

Not coincidentally, psychologists have studied the common traits of truly happy people. Ten things that happy people have in common is the ability and practice of singular focus on a task to the exclusion of all distractions whether they be internal or external. Does all this mean that artists are happier?  Who knows? Ask one…or click on the links to see what other artists have to say.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Woe be the path of the polymath



Welcome to another installment of Blog Carnival, where an international selection of artists provides their perspective on a common theme. This month it is “Businesses you have started”. For artists this is a distinct and separate question from “Businesses you have finished”. As all artists know, a work is never finished - it’s only abandoned.

Artistic discipline (or lack thereof) aside, the real point of all this is that artists tend to be polymaths. That is a ten-dollar word meaning a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. Artists probably aren’t born polymaths, but become such in a life-long quest to make a living while hopefully staying as close to their art as possible. In plain English this all means that artists do a lot of things to get by. This often results in a rather curious effect, when charted out, of the artist’s career bearing a strong resemblance to the path of a pin-ball. Artists will often remark that the effect in real life feels very much the same.

We like to look at artistic economics in geological terms: many little streams come together to make a mighty river. This perspective has generally worked out well over the years, but occasionally results with us ending up a creek without a paddle. We passed through distinct phases on our way to fame and fortune; “Empire Building Mode”, “Get Rich Quick Scheme of the Week” and “Black Market Über-Lord” are just a few that come to mind.

The odd part is that we have started, operated and sold so many businesses over the last 30 years that we are now by definition serial entrepreneurs. Here’s a peek at some of the businesses that got us here…


One Hit Wonder Bong Factory.
This was many years ago during our ceramics period. This seemed like a natural extension of our manufacturing capabilities. Based on our extra-curricular activities at the time we also had a built-in distribution network. The world needed more artistically designed bongs and there was a distinct moneyed niche that was willing to buy something unique. The business prospered, but the product R&D proved to be a real impediment to efficiency. We eventually sold the business to our partner when we became interested in other media.


The King of the Bar Nude.
Small town USA, particularly throughout the mid-west, is generously populated with old bars and saloons. Many of these places are left-overs from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. They haven’t changed much since the day they were built, which either adds to their charm or designation as a “shit-hole” bar depending on your point of view. We are hopeless romantics, so we thought these places quite charming.  We were actually doing research for a book, “Guide to America’s Shit Hole Bars” when we began to notice that more than a few of these places had old paintings of nudes hanging over the bar. More often than not, these painting had degenerated into state of very poor condition. Sitting, drinking, thinking at one of these bars, it occurred to us that WE paint nudes and were totally capable of reproducing historical styles (thank you old school art training). This had opportunity written all over it. We approached the bar owner about either repairing or replacing his bar nude. Bingo - Our first sale! This led to a five year run and hundreds of bar nudes. We eventually burned out and just stopped taking orders. Never did finish the book.


Gingerbread Taj Mahal.
One of our artistic hallmarks is embracing a wide spectrum of media. For many, many years we were into playing with our food. Not content to build mountains out of mashed potatoes ala Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we took food sculpture to a whole new level. It was an instant success, and on an international level we had not experienced before. The recognition, money and offers came pouring in. Frankly, we were not prepared.
This eventually became a pivotal experience in our careers and our lives. Prior to this, we had a vague idea of what “fame and fortune” meant and an illusion of what the lifestyle would be like. It was all that, and a whole lot more. Unfortunately, that “more” part was stuff we really didn’t like. In fact, we hated it. As the saying goes, “be careful what you ask for, you may just get it”.  We were doing television, traveling with royalty, making more money than we had ever thought possible and were utterly miserable. How can this be you ask? Another saying goes, God says, “You can have anything you want in this life, all you have to do is pay for it.” Meaning everything comes with a cost – to your metal stability, health, personal relationships etc.  Sometimes knowing what you want is defined by knowing what you don’t want.

Over the years there have been many, many more businesses that we have started and run. All have been more or less successful. We have made money, but more important, we have learned. We have learned to be comfortable with who we are, and we have learned that the best things in life aren’t things. 

We currently own four businesses that operate internationally and constantly fight the urge to make it an even five. We have learned that entrepreneurialism is addictive.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How can you be in two places at once if you're not anywere at all

Where do you live?
Welcome to another installment of Blog Carnival** a monthly project of the notorious international art cabal EtsyMetal. This month’s subject is “Where do YOU live?”, or, from our perspective, “where do you LIVE?”.

For some artists location is important, and granted some places are much nicer than others. But when it comes down to it, art happens where ever you are because, well, you’re an artist and you don’t store that at some location. So, to answer the question, we live on the corner of What If Street and Why Not Avenue. We have lived here for a very, very long time.

It’s an interesting neighborhood filled with creative types and we are comfortable here. We’re way off the beaten track, outside the comfort zone, and navigating our neighborhood can be disorienting but full of fun surprises.

Which is exactly why living on the corner of What If Street and Why Not Avenue is so interesting. We like surprises, and are willing to park our car in unknown places just to see what happens. We’re quite used to things going “wrong”. We’ve learned from the folks living on Why Not Avenue that maybe it’s our expectations that are “wrong”, and that things are really OK.  Either way something gets trashed, “things” or “expectations”.

 We have to sort our trash in this neighborhood and we have a special bin for Expectations and Preconceived notions. These get thrown out about once a week, but we also recycle these things. It’s a bad habit.

The result of all this is not so much a paradigm shift as a paradigm merry-go-round. Our perceptions, expectations and preconceived notions are always shifting, being tested and resetting. Meanwhile “things” are flying off the merry-go-round at an alarming rate.


 “What kind of things?” you ask. 
Things like this:

 


Disco Chicken . Mixed media. This piece is the result of a game artists play called Exquisite Corpse. To play,one artists starts a work and then passes it on to another artist to add something. The piece is passed among each player the last in line being the one who “finishes” the piece. Disco Chicken was the result of three artists. We were the last in line, having received the silver square and the branching pendants.


 




Sylph on the move. We have been exploring the concept of alien life forms and how they might manifest themselves. This images is also an exploration of how we depict these pieces. 







 

Sylph Arabia. This is one of many recent pieces where we are using our artistic voice in a conscious effort to counterbalance the mindless demonizing of all thing Arabic and Middle Eastern in western culture. We are doing this by incorporating Middle Eastern design elements into our work to demonstrate the sophisticated and sensitive nature of these ancient cultures.


 

Slinking. This is a purely experimental piece that is the result of working with our friend and fellow artist Jillian Moore  http://www.jillianmoore.net/. We are now beginning to develop our own voice (this isn’t it) using the techniques that we learned from Jillian


Lastly, for all you who don’t like metaphore and are thinking “just cut the artsy-fartsy crap and show us where you live”…Here ya go, Rancho 2Roses in LaLa Land.



••Blog Carnival is the mind-meld of Etsymetal an International group of artists who write each month on a common topic. In doing so we demonstrate how we each interpret the same subject from our own realities.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Jewelry Photography Secret Weapons

-->
This month’s Blog Carnival** is about jewelry photography

It is a necessary part of this trade that once an item is made it has to be documented for a variety of purposes eg, inventory, sales promotion, exhibition and a portfolio record of the artist’s work. Very few craftspeople can afford to hire a professional photographer to take pictures of all the things they make, so most of us become more or less proficient at taking our own photos. Many of us do our own photography for the full range of purposes that images are needed for, and supplement our efforts with professionally done images for more important publicity work such as a magazine cover.

As anyone who has set out to do jewelry photography has learned, information on the specific subject is scant, scattered and hard to come by. Which means that the vast majority of us learn by trial and error – and by talking amongst ourselves, when others are willing to share their hard earned knowledge.  These discussions are usually kicked off with…”how did you get that effect”. 

95% of jewelry photography is about controlling the lighting. That said, we have several secret weapons (tools really) that we find indispensible to the task. First and foremost among these tools are light diffusers. Theses soften the light and reduce or eliminate harsh reflections on shiny surfaces.
Soft Box lighting unit

We use “soft box” lighting units that have a diffuser built in, however we frequently supplement this with additional diffusing units for additional control or to achieve a particular effect. Diffusing units can be constructed of anything that is translucent. We typically use lightweight white plastic film, which can be obtained from most art supply or photography stores. The sheeting can be cut easily with scissors to make any shape or size needed. We often make a specific diffuser shape from coat hanger wire and tape the plastic material to it. It’s a cheap, fast and highly effective solution. This photo shows two rectangle diffuser panels made from coat hangers. Thin milk plexiglass or other types of plastic that will stand up on their own are also very useful and we have an entire armada of such shapes and panels in our studio.
Diffuser Panels

Reflectors and light scrims are the other secret weapons that we use extensively. The most common type of reflector we use is common matt board, black on one side and white on the other.  The matt board is easily cut to any size and shape to instantly suite the task at hand. Reflectors are positioned opposite light sources to bounce light or color back into specific areas of the object, such as the underside of a curved surface.  We wrap the reflector board in tin foil if brighter reflections are needed. The black surface is used when you need to eliminate a bright reflection. We also have a good array of various colored boards to have better control over the color tone of the reflection.
Reflectors and Scrims

Scrims are shapes, usually cut from matt board or foam core, that help restrict, form or shape the light source. They are very useful when you need an extra spot of light on just one small area, or you want the light to be restricted to a specific area on the object or shooting stage. Scrims are positioned between the light source and the object. The distances between the three will determine how “hard” or “soft” the lighting effect will be.
Tripod Boom Attachment

One of our guilty studio pleasures is the boom attachment for the tripod.  We got by for years without one, but doing jewelry photography with one is so-o-o-o-o much easier. The boom allows you to position the camera over a small piece rather than shooting obliquely. It’s a small point, but can be a big deal when attempting to get the right angle on a piece and for gaining more control over depth of field issues related to macro lenses. 

For more tips and tricks about jewelry photography, take a look at some of the other Etsymetal Team artist’s blogs who have generously shared what they have learned.

** Blog Carnival is a project of EtsyMetal Team, an international group of jewelry makers, whereby various team members each write about a common topic, giving readers a variety of perspectives.