What is good art? Lots of answers at SAALM!

Onderdonk purchase prize 2018 – Brian Row, House Divided

For many months, the committee for the  San Antonio Art League’s 88th Juried Art Exhibition has been working toward yesterday’s event – the opening reception and award presentations. As President of the 106-year-old group (but truly unbiased) I gotta say that this show is a solid winner. Most of the 200 guests at the opening agreed. What an amazing, eclectic display of artwork in every media!

Sylvia Benitez, Texas Norwegian, Keller Memorial Award

As I watched juror Michael Ettema, Santa Fe art appraiser and gallerist, select each piece back in February, I was very curious about his criteria. He said he looks for a strong concept and a strong execution of the idea. There didn’t seem to be a lot of connection between the works he was choosing, but when I saw the show in its entirety yesterday, I got it!  This is from his juror’s statement – it’s well worth reading and remembering:

The quality of art must be measured by how well it performs its intended function.  Making that judgment requires an understanding of the relationship between what I believe are the two fundamental components of art: vision and skill.  Vision is the ability to imagine an aesthetic object that serves an expressive purpose, while skill is the technical ability to make that object effective in its purpose.  Both are worthy and enjoyable by themselves, but in the most effective art they depend on each other and reinforce each other.  Unskilled execution always distracts from and eventually discredits even the most profoundly creative vision.  A display of technical virtuosity alone can be very exciting, but ultimately we lose interest because it lacks any insight that would nourish us emotionally or intellectually.

So, it has to start with an idea – and you have to be skilled enough to share that idea effectively. It’s not enough to look at a flower and paint a picture of it that resembles a photo – there has to be a “why” behind the effort.

Take a look at this video showing examples from the just-opened exhibit and see if you can see both the “why” and the “how” of the works.

San Antonio Art League 88th Juried Exhibition from Lyn Belisle on Vimeo.

I invite you to see the show in person. It’s a learning experience for sure. The San Antonio Art League is located at 130 King William Street (MAP) – free parking across the street (and a great lunch spot, The Station Cafe, just down the block). Admission is always free to SAALM, so bring some friends, see the exhibit, and get some lively conversation going about “What IS art, anyway?”.. You won’t be sorry!

 

 

 

 

Inside an Etsy shop

No matter what else is going on in my life, my Etsy shop is open for business and humming along in the background, taking online orders from people all over the world. I opened Earthshards in 2012. Actually, it was the my second shop – anybody remember those kindle covers that I used to make? Boy, were those suckers labor-intensive.

There’s always stock on hand for the Earthshards shop, small earthenware faces that I make in the evenings when I’m not busy. I usually make about 80 each time, which takes two hours or so. They take a day to dry. After they are fired, they are sorted by clay type.

White and terra cotta unfinished clay faces

When I get an order, I select the faces according to the quantity and finish requested. Buyers can order three different finishes, Rune and Relic (walnut ink), Celtic Forge (metallic layers), or Mesa Verde (faux turquoise). I can’t do the finishes in advance because I never know who will want what, so they are finished at the time the orders are received.

From top left clockwise: Celtic Forge, Mesa Verde, and Rune and Relic finishes

Yesterday’s orders set a record – ten! Three were from other countries – Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Etsy orders printed and in progress

After the orders are sorted and laid out, each face is finished with walnut ink, wiped with a studio cloth, and signed on the back.

Then other finishes are applied.Here are some faces getting the Celtic Forge treatment. This takes about four separate layers of various metallics.

The Mesa Verde finish is done with hand-applied acrylics. It’s much like the faux-turquoise finish I wrote about in a recent post.

Once all of the faces are completed, each one is individually wrapped in bubble wrap.

The orders are then wrapped in tissue with ribbon with a packing slip, a skeleton leaf for decoration, one of my business cards, and, of course, a thank-you note..

The wrapped package goes into a padded envelope and weighed for postage. Most postage is $3-$4, but it cost about $24 to send that little package to the Netherlands!

Etsy makes it easy to calculate postage and print labels. You can print them out on your own printer and stick them on. I use spray adhesive. Here are the packages waiting for their labels – then off they will go to the Post Office this morning!

It’s fun to have an Etsy shop. The best part is knowing that your work is going out all over the world to inspire other artists. The extra income is nice, too, but rarely do you get rich with your shop! And it’s definitely a bit of work, as you can see, but you can usually pace yourself.

If you’re thinking about opening your own Etsy shop, here’s a good article on what sells best on Etsy – the trick is to have a niche, I think.

And here’s an example of a creative idea that makes a ton of money on Etsy:

Confetti Momma is a popular party supply shop with more than 75,000 sales, thanks to vibrant colors, unicorn cake toppers, and endless boutique confetti. Confetti Momma found an engaged demographic on Etsy by offering trendy, handmade party supplies at an affordable price.

“My advice is to just get started,” Orillion said. “Let your customers tell you what they like or don’t like and then adjust. Today’s social selling platforms, such as Etsy, make it easy for your products to go viral, especially if you focus on delivering great customer service and a quality product.”

So there you have it – what goes on inside an Etsy shop! If you need advice, just send me an email. And if you know how to take digital photos of your work, you can be in business!

 

Rivers and remembrance –

We returned to San Antonio yesterday after a road trip to the past. My husband’s family is from East Texas and mine is from Louisiana and Mississippi. We visited family (and family cemeteries) in all three states, and reconnected with our roots. On the trip, I came to realize how rivers connect all my memories of childhood.

The Ouachita River near flood stage, March 11, 2018

In Louisiana, we walked along the Ouachita River which flowed near my maternal  grandparents’ farm near West Monroe. That river provided energy and materials for the paper mill, which is still in production. The distinct stinky odor of paper production took me right back to nostalgia-land! Anyone ever smelled a paper mill? You don’t forget it!

My father’s family roots run deep in the Mississippi Delta on the Yazoo River. He and his brother were raised in the town of Itta Bena near Greenwood. On Tuesday, we visited the family cemetery there, which is filled with Haleys and Reeses and Lees, all family names (my middle name is Rees and my maiden name is Haley).

Family graves near the Yazoo River

My cousin, Jesse Lee (“Skip”) Haley, came with us to tell us about the “Who’s-Who” in the Itta Bena Cemetery. One of the older graves in the cemetery is that of Ransom Reese, who was in the Infantry in the Civil War. I love his name.

The cemetery is bordered by the Yazoo River, which runs along the edge of Itta Bena. Incidentally, the crossroad near Itta Bena is supposedly where famed blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil.

Below is a photo of my father and mother in 1943, fishing just across the street from my paternal grandfather’s house on the riverbank near the cemetery. It was easy to imagine them there. There is a strange nostalgic peace in the Delta that I’ve never encountered anywhere else.

My parents fishing on the riverbank in Itta Bena

This beautiful, sorrowful angel was on the back side of the cemetery close to the river.

Angel in Itta Bena Cemetery, Mississippi

After all the rivers and memories, we went down to the biggest river of all, the Mississippi, to spend a couple of days in New Orleans. As usual, I visited galleries to see what local artists were up too.

They, too, seemed influenced by the rivers of the South. There was a wonderful show at the Degas Gallery on Julia Street by Lafayette artist Kelli Kaufman. She works in oil and cold wax.

Kelli Kaufman, To the Wetlands, 60×40″

I also found some great clay assemblages at the Ariodante Fine Crafts Gallery on Julia Street created by Nancy Susanek. This is called a Story Box – I brought it home with me to remind me of the trip and all the river stories that I learned along the way.

It’s good to be back home again to my favorite river – the one that runs through beautiful San Antonio.  I hope you get the chance to visit your own past – it’s an important journey. Thanks for letting me share!

Happy International Women’s (art) Day

Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

I’ll admit that I was curious about the origins of International Women’s Day – after all, shouldn’t every day be a day to honor women? And aren’t people always making up things like “National Milk Chocolate Day”?

But I  found out that this celebration is rooted in a long and honorable history of social activism. The first national Woman’s Day was held across the United States on February 28, 1909. Here is an excellent article from the University of Chicago on the origins and growth of IWD. It’s impressive.

Women in the arts have long known that there is a history of gender disparity in our cultural field. I’m old enough to remember the “Artist and Models Balls” where the guys were the artists and the women were their models. And the term “woman artist” (like, what – as opposed to a “real” artist?) is still common – but that’s a whole ‘nother issue. Any race or gender qualifier that precedes the word “artist” can be both problematic and definitive.

Women have historically faced challenges due to gender biases, finding difficulty selling their work and gaining recognition. I love this Guerrilla Girls poster:

Times really are changing, though. I am so lucky to know scores of powerful women in the arts who are expressing themselves in diverse media with diverse voices. They are leading by example in the arts and in society. Check out this list on the GAGA website, for example!

Leading by example and possessing a gender parity mindset drive positive action and change. When diversity and inclusion are celebrated, equality thrives. Championing women’s equality across all spheres is very important.

Because the arts are close to my heart, I applaud my female friends who are making a difference through their unique creativity in every medium. Happy International Women’s Day!

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

 

Another road trip – Hill Country spirit dolls with orchid-cousin hair

The Hill country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas is a magical place. Located at the  crossroads where Johnson Creek merges with the Guadalupe River, it’s a venue for the education of the arts, visual art exhibitions and  theatrical performances.

On Saturday, I went to HCAF to teach a Spirit Doll workshop. My friend Lynn Luukinen who lives in nearby Kerrville, helped me set up by gathering sticks and twigs from the riverbank – and also ball moss (which almost became the star of the show).

Choosing and assembling spirit doll body parts 🙂

Ball moss has a bad rep, but in fact, it’s not a parasite. It’s an an epiphyte (non-parasitic plant living on other plants) and is a cousin to bromeliads and orchids.

A spirit doll in her underwear with a ball moss hairdo

Besides using the native branches and moss, participating artists brought their own stash of great materials to add to their mystical spirit dolls, and they wrote a purposeful intention to wrap inside each one.

Here are some of our spirit dolls – we had a whole day to play and create at HCAF!

Some people call ball moss, which is rampant everywhere in South Texas, a &%$$%##!! nuisance and pay a fortune to get rid of it. We call it “Spirit Doll Hair” 🙂

If you want to create your own Hill Country spirit doll, here’s a link to the materials list we used. Don’t forget the ball moss!

Road trip – and the fantastic Dallas fiber artists

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I’ve spent almost a week in Big D and lived to tell the tale! Last fall,  I was invited to do a presentation for DAFA, the Dallas Area Fiber Artists, and to teach workshops on mixed media to their group.

They decided that they want to learn more about Composition and Collage, so that’s what we did on Saturday. I taught two three-hour workshops, and it was really fun. Each participant was a skilled fiber artist and the way they arranged and embellished their images was fascinating.

Here are some examples:

Nice, right?

On Monday evening for the DAFA monthly meeting, I did a mini-workshop before the presentation. It was called “The Enduring Kimono” and I taught them how to fold small kimonos from paper just to learn how the folds work. These are similar to the large kimonos that I made in the 90’s, only a lot smaller!

If you’d like to give it a try, here are the directions that I gave to the DAFA members to follow along with as we learned to fold the kimono model.

Finally, I did a presentation for the DAFA members called “Shards and Mirrors: Life is just one big mixed media collage.” and I talked about how we can find a small shard of inspiration anywhere, and mirror it through our own creative intuitition into a new work of art.

Eggshells, for example, inspired my fiber art piece, below with the idea of eggs and cocoons. I used silk cocoons on the piece as symbolic elements.

It was a great trip – many thanks to everyone who welcomed me and learned with me. This is an extraordinary group of artists. To learn more about the Dallas Area Fiber Artists, visit their website, here.

 

A weekend with the art and the Juror

Friday and Saturday were super-busy days at the San Antonio Art League – there were a total of 351 entries submitted for the 88th Annual Artists Exhibition. From those, 65 will be accepted and 24 awards will be given.

My pal Michelle Belto fills out her paperwork at the Art League for her submissions

It was a huge workload for Juror Michael Ettema from Santa Fe, who spent Sunday (yesterday) making his decisions. Three members of the exhibition committee were there to help (and so was I, a presidential perk!), but the process was closed to everyone else.

Juror Michael Ettema from Santa Fe evaluates the artwork

I got to be a fly on the wall as I watched and listened to Michael. He was amazing – fair and meticulous in his selections. I talked to him at our lunch break and found out that he has been involved in art since he was 16 – starting out as an intern at a museum in Dearborn, MI, and pursuing a career as a gallery manager, a museum curator and director, and a successful art appraiser. Wow.

He made at least five rounds of selection, narrowing by about a third each time. Every piece received close scrutiny and constructive comments. He did take a break to take a walk around the King William neighborhood, but worked steadily through the day.

Once the final selections were made, he was left by himself to award the monetary prizes. And nobody knows who got those – not me, not the committee chair – just Michael! And he ain’t tellin’ 🙂

Last night, Bill and I hosted an informal dinner for Michael and the committee and Art League board. Michael explained his criteria for selection. Basically, he looks for an original idea that is carried out with confidence – concept and skill were the keywords.

Michael Ettema is not the kind of juror who picks landscapes or portraits or abstracts or any other specific genre. He based his selections on what he observes regarding the artist’s purpose and how successfully that was conveyed.

Acceptance notices are going out today. Awards will not be revealed until the opening on April 15th. I will say this – if you were one of the selected artist, congratulations. It was a very competitive field. If you were not selected, know that your piece was expertly and respectfully considered by a truly knowledgeable juror and a nice guy, to boot!

Special thanks to all the artists who submitted. Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.”It’s a risk to put your work out there for a juror. And special thanks to Francis Huang, committee chair (and wonderful artist himself) who found Michael Ettema for us. We know Michael has good taste, because he fell in love with San Antonio! I hope he’ll be back soon.

The amazing Shannon Weber: an authentic life in art

Shannon Weber

When I met Shannon Weber in Santa Fe last fall, I gushed shamelessly,proclaiming that I was her biggest fan and that images of her work had been on my computer desktop for a decade. I said that her three-dimensional assemblages resonated so deeply within my artistic soul that it was almost scary. Poor Shannon, she probably thought I was slightly nuts.

After spending five days with her, I am even more in awe of her work and her process. Shannon was invited by the Fiber Artists of San Antonio to come to San Antonio for a workshop and a presentation. And she stayed with me for the five-day visit! We had a really good time taking about art and creativity. Here’s a wonderful quote about her relationship with her materials:

“Intellectually, humans own this genetic history, “we are makers”, and are known to use what we have.  My choice in materials would be Pacific sea kelps, and coastal debris of which I have a long lasting affair and bring their own mythologies of place. The benefits of working with raw organic materials, is that they provide a rich dialog to every design.”

Shannon Weber

For our two-day workshop, Shannon shipped three huge boxes of found materials and dried sea kelp to San Antonio for us to experience in our pieces. She is a tireless teacher, and we all worked without downtime for two days.

I was so frustrated at first because I could not random-weave a long piece of reed into a structure that would hold together. Shannon patiently went over the process again and again until I finally got it.

This was one of my structures – actually, both of the main ones I completed looked remarkably like teapots!

Please watch the workshop video, below – it is an amazing thing to see the variety of structures that emerged from essentially the same materials over a two-day period. Shannon encouraged us to go our own way.

SHANNON WEBER Workshop for the Fiber Artists of San Antonio from Lyn Belisle on Vimeo.

Shannon lives in an isolated region near the coast of Oregon without television or technology. She and her husband ran a fishing lodge for many years when she was first beginning to make things for found materials. Her stories are priceless. She is astonishingly down-to-earth for an artist whose works are found in museums and galleries from California to New York and beyond.

The last afternoon that she stayed with me, she went for a walk in the woods near my house and came back with a gift – three beautifully arranged found objects – twine and rusty bits, just what I love – I now have my very own Shannon Weber work!

Found object altar – Shannon Weber

Shannon says, “It’s all the in magic and mystery of talking to rocks, rusty bits, and piles of gathered sticks that keeps me inspired.” And the magic and mystery in her work keeps us ALL inspired.

My rusty weathered heart I give to you

You know how one thing leads to another – I was sanding a cedar block this morning when I remembered a technique I developed for a faux rust finish a couple of years ago.

Sanding this block gave me an idea . . . .

Aha! I though. That is perfect for Valentine’s day gift for SHARDS readers!!

Here’s a great quote to go with it, from poet John Mark Green. “Beneath the rust and grime which dulls the shine of our weathered hearts, joy patiently waits to be rediscovered” You can write that on the tag you attach to the heart.

So here are the materials and steps – you should have most of this stuff, especially if you tried the faux turquoise finish I posted several weeks ago.

What you will need:

  • A scrap of coarse-grit sandpaper – used is fine
  • A scrap of 300# watercolor paper or card stock
  • Acrylic paint – Quinacridone gold, Aqua Green
  • Tsukineko Walnut Ink – Java
  • Twig
  • Ribbon scrap
  • Heavy-duty hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Glue Stick
  • Tag (optional)

Steps:

Get some coarse-grit sandpaper and some scissors

Fold the sandpaper in half, and draw half a heart on the fold – this one was about four inches wide

Unfold the sandpaper heart

With a glue stick, adhere the sandpaper heart to a piece of watercolor paper to reinforce it

Cut out around the reinforced sandpaper heart

Paint a coat of Quinacridone Gold acrylic on the surface of the heart

Spray randomly and lightly with Java walnut ink

With your fingertip, brush on a teensy accent of aqua green acrylic for a dash of patina

With a heavy-duty hole punch, make two small holes on the edges of the heart

Poke a twig through the holes, letting it stick out on either side

Add some ribbon (you could also use wire) and a note tag if you like

Optional – hang it on the nearest bird beak

Honestly, this is such a fun little diversion – and you can make several of these in less that an hour. Get a small tree limb and stick it in a flower pot and hang these guys from the branches. How totally Martha Stewart!

Sometimes we just need an artsy-craftsy break from our serious artwork, plus this is a technique that you might find useful in your mixed-media work. Happy early Valentine’s day, my weathered, rusty-hearted friends!

New critters on the block . .

Oh, boy – the First Friday Art Walk in Marble Falls is this week (February 2nd, 5-8 pm), and as part of it Marta Stafford’s gallery is having a bee-youtiful celebration featuring jazz, honey wine, valentine-inspired jewelry, and my beeswax photocollages and B Beautiful dishes.

I wanted to do something extra and different for this show, something that uses beeswax in a new way for me, and I came up with these five fun wall sculptures using earthenware, gauze, sticks, wire and beeswax and Secret Sauce (aka walnut ink).

Here’s the first one, called “Sacred Sentry”.

I’m calling this series “Earthen Wax & Wings,” and I have a feeling that I’ll be doing more of these. This one’s called “Cloudhopper” – a very happy creature.

Each piece has a tag with its name – and each one has a story that you can read in the faces if you use your imagination. Here’s “Icebound Angel” – so what’s HER story? You might not want to mess with her.

And here’s the “Messenger” – kind of androgynous? I guess they all are. Wings are non-gender specific!

Finally, here’s my fave – “Peacemaker.” Simple and serene – I may keep this one.

It’s funny how things work – I made the little earthenware “blanket” faces weeks ago  without knowing exactly what I was going to do with them. Then I got an idea from Linda Rael that turned out to be the perfect extension for the earthenware.

And when Marta announced her “bee and honey” theme, I tried beeswax and walnut ink on the exterior and it all works together beautifully. Trust the process!

PS – the cataract surgery went very very well! Thanks for the good wishes – I practically have X-ray vision now!