Unearthed

“Unearthed”- Lyn Belisle – Mixed Media Sculpture – 18″x 8″x 6″- 2019

Much of my new work is influenced by the Archaeological Investigations report which describes the 1979-80 research and discovery of 13 Archaic period human burials removed from a prehistoric cemetery by Olmos Dam. The investigation provided important information on the cultural practices during that period among people who lived almost exactly where I live now.

I call this new sculpture “Unearthed because I deliberately followed a process by which the clay shards that I created were fired in pieces that would be assembled like an unearthed archaeological puzzle – I did not have a plan about how they would go together, but rather worked on instinct. I let the piece “tell” me how it wanted to be built.

Clay shard pieces at the bottom of the kiln

It was harder than I thought. First of all, engineering a stable form from diverse clay pieces was a challenge. I used a combination of wood, plaster gauze (a gift from Shannon Weber) and a product called Platinum Patch in a few places where stability was critical.

Creating in three dimensions means paying as much attention to the sides and back as the front. The back of the piece shows the intricate textures pressed into the clay shard.

Here’s a detail of the texture on the front. I really like the way the plaster gauze looks like aged fabric remains.

I actually created two heads for this piece and ended up using the larger one.

A large head suggests child-like proportions, while this body suggests armor, so the whole piece resembles an ancient child warrior. Again, when I started out, I had no idea what this creature wanted or how to get there, but — trust the process!

You’ll be able to see this guy (and more of my brand new 3-D work) at  St Mary’s University Library in February as part of the exhibition called  “Naturally Inspired: works by Sabra Booth, Lyn Belisle, Jesus Toro Martinez, and Tim McMeans.” 

It’s gonna be a creative new year!

Resolving to sell more of your art this year? How about Etsy?

“Earthshards,” my Etsy shop for small earthenware faces, reached a milestone in 2018.

I opened the shop in February of 2012 and made my first sale at 08:52 p.m. on Saturday, March 31st, 2012 to Andrea Veldhoff in Newark, Ohio – thanks, Andrea! (This is what she ordered – they are definitely “shards,” not complete faces.)

By December of 2012, I had sold 83 orders and earned $1500. That was so exciting!

Six years later, there’s even more exciting news – for the first time, in 2018, my annual Etsy revenue exceeded $10,000. Woohoo! Honestly, I didn’t set out with that goal in mind, but it’s a proud moment.

Last year I sold 466 orders to people all over the world and earned $10,239.74! That’s not exactly a living wage, but it’s a lot of little faces – and I am grateful to every buyer for finding me. I’m also grateful to Etsy for keeping all the stats on every order. They really make it easy and fun to track sales.

For example, here’s where some of those faces went:

Plus, I get fantastic pictures from buyers showing me how they use the faces – they inspire me!

Spirit doll photo from a creative buyer

Reaching this milestone just kind of crept up on me. Filling Etsy orders has become such a part of my routine that I don’t think about it much. I spend one or two days a month making a hundred or so faces and firing them, and then I custom-finish them as the orders come in.

I’ve learned what buyers like (full faces, open eyes, holes at the top) and I’ve learned to wrap the orders attractively and stamp the mailers with my logo. While I don’t really advertise, word of mouth and persistence has paid off.

So what?? This isn’t just patting myself on the back – it’s mostly to say that if your New Year’s Resolutions include getting your art out there in the new year, opening an Etsy shop is one way to do that.

Some tips:

Find a niche that relates to your own art style.

I was lucky. There were no other sellers making the small clay faces which I was also using in my own work. Now there are lots of small faces, but most of the sellers are using polymer or air dry clay and commercial molds.

Show how the buyer might use the artwork.

I was able to post photos of the faces being used in my Spirit Doll workshops so buyers could see how the faces might work for them. I also showed them as pendants and talismans.

Think about how you will ship your work

If you can come up with artworks that are variations of pieces that are all about the same size and weight, it’s a lot easier than trying to figure out how to wrap and ship a bunch of different sized pieces. For example, if you are making Day of the Dead milagro-embedded candles, keep them all the same size, but use different scents and colors. (Etsy creates downloadable shipping labels for you, so that part is easy).

Make sure you like doing it!

If you can’t stand scented oils that go into candles, don’t make those Day of the Dead candles even if you’re selling like crazy. You’ll start to hate it.

Be specific/original in your approach

Let’s say you’re a fiber artist who does needle felting – don’t open a needle-felted whatever shop. Narrow it down to small needle-felted pouches for your grandkids’ baby teeth. Well, maybe not THAT specific, but you get the idea.

Here are some good articles if you’re interested in thinking more about this . . .

The Most Successful Art-Related Etsy Shops – with advice

Tips from Three Successful Artists about Selling on Etsy

And finally, the Etsy site has great guides to opening your own shop!

The Etsy Seller’s Handbook

Thanks for reading SHARDS, and Happy (and prosperous) New Year!!

 

 

 

 

Art from 40 years ago – and a lesson about archival media

I just came across a portfolio of old mixed media drawings that I hadn’t seen in decades. The year was 1978. I was teaching art at MacArthur High School and working part-time as an illustrator.

Even though these nine pieces are 40 years old, I can still see my style in development – narrative work, limited palette, graphite. And there are lots of Jasper Johns and Larry Rivers influences, which I cherish today.

Each piece is fairly large, 18″x24″. The are done with Ebony pencil, watercolor, even spray paint. Most of the drawings are in good shape – however . . . .

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One of my favorite pieces is the mixed media drawing titled “Delta Dawn,” from the Tanya Tucker song:

“She’s forty-one and her daddy still calls her “baby”
All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy
‘Cause she walks downtown with a suitcase in her hand
Looking for a mysterious dark-haired man. . .”

Unfortunately, I created this layered piece on manilla paper, which is made from wood fiber and is anything but archival – you can see on the left side how it’s crumbling and disintegrating.

More severe deterioration can be seen in this untitled piece of a mysterious guy floating on what appears to be a dream-catcher:

In 1978, I had no idea that I’d be looking at this work 40 years later, but I’ve certainly learned a lesson about archival paper! These days, we can photograph old works and “repair” them digitally, but it’s always a good idea to think ahead and use a substrate that will stand up to time.

Here is a great article on archival paper from Making a Mark blog – I wish I had read it 40 years ago. Oh, wait, there was no Internet back them . . . .

 

Holiday eye-candy – with fiber!

The 44th Annual Juried Fiber Arts Exhibition at SAY Si is a holiday treat for any art lover. It’s surprising, innovative, and inspiring. The theme, ‘All Things Possible in Fiber Art’, called on artists to explore boundaries beyond their normal comfort zones. All types of fiber art were eligible, including 3-D, free standing, and art-to-wear.

Juror Alana J Coates, a gallerist, educator, and curator who is academically trained in Art History, Museum Studies, and Nonprofit Leadership, made some intriguing choices for both inclusions and awards.The back-stories are important – read on.

First place went to fiber artist Kathy Puente for her piece titled Flight 1380, a hand-embroidered homage to the April 17, 2018 Southwest Airlines tragedy in which the plane’s left engine exploded after one of its fan blades broke off. A gust of shrapnel blew out a window, partly sucking one passenger in Row 14 headfirst into the sky.

Katy Puente, Flight 1380

Second place went to veteran artist and designer Caryl Gaubatz for her garment titled #MeToo. Subtle details like the uneven hemline with its metaphoric cutouts are clarified in the machine-embroidered dialog on sexual harassment contained in the fabric.

Caryl Gaubatz. #MeToo

It’s a meticulous art piece that requires close examination to fully appreciate its impact.

Detail, Caryl Gaubatz, #MeToo

And I’m happy to report that “Nine Antlers,” my piece inspired by the prehistoric archaeological remains of a young woman near Olmos Basin, won the Mixed Fiber Award.

Lyn Belisle, Nine Antlers

You can view the entire catalog here – food for thought, delights for the artistic spirit, inspiration for the new year.

The FASA 44th Annual Fiber Art Exhibit 2018 opened at SAY Si on December 7th, 2018 and will show until January 25th, 2019. The SAY Si Gallery is located at 1518 S. Alamo St., San Antonio, TX 78204.

Reindeer really know how to fly . . .

Rare Reindeer Feather ornament

Of course, reindeer have feathers – how else could they fly? Occasionally, you will find a few of these feathers stuck in trees or in a corner by your back door after Christmas. Collect them, and save them in a lucky ornament for your tree.

OK, well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m always thinking up artistic projects to share with you (and any assorted kids). Here’s one that just (*eureka*) came to me when I saw some clear plastic ornament with removable tops that were on sale yesterday at Michaels. Get a few of these:

Top is removable, globe is unbreakable

The only other thing you will need is a feather duster (with reindeer feathers, of course – ahem), and a pair of small, sharp scissors. Dusters are available at most home stores.

Carefully take the top off the ornament. With small scissors, snip a 2-3″ feather tip.

Insert it into the top of the ornament. The natural curve of the feather will help it conform to the side of the ornament.

Keep adding feathers, turning the ornament so all sides have a bit of feather showing. You can use a toothpick to help poke them down if you need to.

Don’t overfill – there should be some clear airy space between the feathers.

This is such a pretty object – you don’t have to make these just for a Christmas tree. They would look lovely hanging in a window all year around.

During the holiday season, however,  they prove that “reindeer really know how to fly.” Right? <wink>

 

 

 

November? Vanished!

Eek! How the heck did it get to be December? I don’t think I posted one thing to SHARDS in November. Sure, there is always a lot going on at the San Antonio Art League where I work these days, and we did take a quick trip to Charleston, where I got to research South Carolina Indigo plantations, but still . . . shame on me for slacking.

The problem is that I always want to wait to post until something is finished, or new, or spectacular, but most of us just don’t produce like that. We squeeze in time for our art when we can, and most of it is simply ongoing work in progress, either for an event or for our own exploration.

Work in progress – this one has been around a couple of months!

Have you ever read Jude Hill’s blog, Sprint Cloth? She posts almost every day, even if it’s just a photo of a small patch of fabric she’s working on, or a picture of her cat. She doesn’t wait till something is finished – she posts her daily practice. Kinda brave, since who knows how things will turn out. I’ve had plenty of good ideas crash and burn while trying to create them.

Jude Hill – Spirit Cloth

So, just to check back in with you, with nothing finished or spectacular, here’s what I’m working on right now even though it’s still in baby steps. It’s a project for an exhibit at St. Mary’s University coming in February, “Naturally Inspired: Works by Sabra Booth, Lyn Belisle, Jesus Toro Martinez, and Tim McMeans.” The other three artists are amazing – I’m grateful to be in their company.

Curator Brian St. John has tasked me with making 3D work for the exhibit, and I am building three or four free-standing screens with twig supports and panels of 300# watercolor paper. Some of the images will be photos of my clay work, enhanced with natural beeswax and walnut ink.

Initial planning layout – 24″ x 50″

Single panel prototype

Double panel

The panels are coming along well – just gotta figure out how they are going to go together, and whether to use two or four panels in each screen. I like the idea that they can be configured in different ways with different sides showing. And the engineering is challenging, but fun. Hopefully, I’ll have a final product to who you soon.

I did finish this piece (below) recently and may use the idea of a free-standing clay structure with branches similar to this one in the St, Mary’s show – we will see.

“Grace and Deliverance” Clay, Wax, Silk

One of the reasons I miss teaching workshops so much is that in a three-hour block of time, projects were finished, and results were ready to show-and-tell. But with my volunteer day job at the Art League, it’s just not possible right now. Sigh.

Coincidentally, Laura George, a business consultant for artists, just posted an article called “Productivity hacks for artists with day jobs.” Here’s the link – definitely worth a read.

I hope all is well with all of you, and that you are happy and busy. Thanks for reading SHARDS. Let me know what you’re working on!

 

Ancient indigo, heroic weeds, and instant rust

But make no mistake: the weeds will win; nature bats last. ~Robert M. Pyle

“Indigo Weeds: Elegant”
6×6″
Lyn Belisle 2018

Weeds are my heroes. They are tenacious, enduring, simple, and elegant. “Indigo Weeds” is my new series of small works celebrating these wild, determined plants that are the ultimate survivors.

Here is the series of four finished pieces:

Process: I made enhanced photographs of weeds, then phototransferred them onto sections of torn canvas dropcloth from my studio.They were designed to be stitched into place on a cloth-covered stretched canvas.

It seemed appropriate to build these little fiber works on canvases covered with fabric that was hand-dyed with indigo (a plant related to beans) and then rusted with common metal objects. I liked the nature-inspired symbolism.

Hand-dyed indigo cloth for the covering was no problem – I had plenty left from teaching previous workshops on dyeing with indigo. Remember this one?

But rusting the cloth afterwards can be tedious. It has to be done after the indigo dyeing so it won’t corrupt the indigo vat. I first tried my usual method – wrapping rusted objects in the vinegar-soaked indigo cloth after sprinkling a layer of salt on everything, then leaving it overnight sealed in a plastic bag. Time-consuming . . . .

As always, the results are unpredictable, but that’s part of the appeal of the process.

However, I had a real AHA! moment in the middle of all this – wouldn’t terra cotta walnut ink mimic the rust effect? And it might be an even more appropriate material to use because it is plant-based!

Here are photos of the walnut ink being sprayed onto the indigo cloth – I used rust objects and found objects to create patterns.

TIP: If you scrunch up the walnut-ink-sprayed fabric while it is still damp, it will soften the pattern edges and give a more natural result.

Side by side, fabric rusted with oxidized iron objects (left) and fabric “rusted” with plant-based walnut ink (right):

The walnut ink finish is not a washable process for garments and will fade (as will “real” rust) but I love it because it is fast, engaging, slightly more controllable, and – plant-based!

For my purpose – celebrating the tenacious, adaptable, unbeatable weeds of the world  – it’s perfect!

The Indigo Weeds series will be available at the Pop-Up Gallery at SAY Si during the 44th Juried Fiber Arts Exhibit at Say Si Art Gallery, located at 1518 S. Alamo St., San Antonio, TX 78204. Art will hang December 7, 2018 to January 25, 2019.

Oh, and guess who got into the show?? Yep, Boro Horse! You can see him, too, when you come to the FASA exhibit! 

Happy trails!

Lyn Belisle
“Boro Horse” 2018

 

 

 

 

20-minute tune-up kit for busy artists

Have you ever felt guilty about not doing any art for a while? Do you buy cool art materials and never seen to have time to actually open and use them? Do you get all sorts of ideas from Pinterest, then think about all the stuff it would take, so you just forget it?

Auntie Lyn has a solution!  Put together a little creativity tune-up kit with simple materials and pre-cut 5×7″ substrates for mixed-media collages to kick-start your ideas and quell the non-productive guilt – you’ll have some finished artwork in 20 minutes.

There’s something magic about a 5×7″ blank surface – not too big to be intimidating, not too small to be insignificant. And you can do so much with work this size (see the journal cover video, below). Plus, you can put together a pretty cool collage in about 20 minutes, including getting out the stuff out and putting it back.

Here’s what’s in your 20- Minute Tune-up kit (and it fits in one box):

IMPORTANT – SET A TIMER FOR 20 MINUTES

You don’t have to limit yourself to 20 minutes (or force yourself to work for 20 minutes if you want to stop before that), but you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you set  a 20-minute deadline and go for it.

My process:

I keep a stack of 5×7″ archival mat board handy for my own personal kick-start “meditations.”  I grab one, find a central image from a magazine that I like, tear or cut it out, see what it tells me to add, then just build quickly and intuitively using glue stick to adhere.

I sometimes add white paint to veil and coalesce the images, and sometimes add matte medium to seal the surface. I scribble with graphite, make lines with Sharpie, and often add a bit of color with the water-soluble oil pastels. DING!! (that’s the timer going off).

Example of 20-minute 5×7″ collage

So now I’ll share a personal story about how I know this works. When I started teaching in the Computer Science Department at Trinity University fifteen years ago, it was an impossibly steep learning curve for me and I had no time for anything, much less art. After three or four years, I started making “therapeutic” 5×7″ collages in a very limited time just to save my sanity.

These morphed into journal covers, which morphed into my first Etsy shop. I sold over 200 hand-made journals in that shop, some with rather weird custom requests! Making those small collages turned things around for me as an artist and gave me a much-needed tune-up and kick start.

Here is a video of 200 of those 5×7″ covers from that first Etsy shop. From that small-format beginning, I learned about composition, about marketing, and about how much you can get done in 20-minute segments, even if you have a challenging life. Click on the image below to see the video.

Now gather your 20-Minute Tune Up kit together and get busy – a cold front is coming and you can certainly find 20 minutes to hunker down and create!

Thanks, as always, for reading SHARDS.

 

Nine Antlers

“Nine Antlers” (detail)
Lyn Belisle 2018
Clay, plaster, gauze, fiber, found objects
14×28″

This mixed media work on canvas, titled “Nine Antlers” is my second entry for the Fiber Artists juried show. It has a compelling back story…….

In 1988, a team of archaeologists from the University of Texas in San Antonio excavated a burial site less than half a mile from where I live now. This is from the abstract of the study:

“The burials, identified as a Late Archaic component, were associated with two radiocarbon dates of 1920 B.P. and 2200 B.P. The burial practices of this time period as documented at this site include flexed burials of adults and children interred with a variety of grave offerings, including deer antlers, deer skull fragments, marine and freshwater shell ornaments, worked bone, ocher, a ground stone slab, and unaltered cobbles.”

One of the bodies was a young woman – here is her description:

It’s impossible not to wonder what kind of life this young woman had in prehistoric Texas, just north of the Olmos Dam. I wanted to honor her by putting together clay shards with pieces of fiber and found objects that represented both her burial and her discovery. I named her “Nine Antlers” because of this description:

“Nine antler racks (18 bases and associated deer skull fragments) were covering Burial 10. All are identified as from white-tailed deer. These were carefully placed atop one another with the base or cap of the skull placed towards or near the chest area.”

Someone must have loved her a great deal to adorn her body with these ritually placed antlers.

I stared by looking through my clay components for a good match – not too pretty or defined. And actual antlers would be out-of-scale, so I did not choose them.

These terra cotta pieces, below, almost worked, but they were not “deconstructed” enough to fit the concept.

I settled on white clay for the head and body and added bone-white branches. I wrapped them together with plaster and gauze, rather like a bindings of a mummy.

This is the first stage, below, with wire, wax and walnut ink added to the mix.

I covered a stretched canvas with linen drop-cloth strips, laid the figure on it, then partially covered the side with the fabric.

I kept adding linen strips and gauze, wire and plaster, wanting to both conceal and reveal the figure. The mixture of clay and sticks and fiber worked well.

Here is the finished piece:

“Nine Antlers” Lyn Belisle 2018 Clay, plaster, gauze, fiber, found objects 14×28″

“Nine Antlers” may be finished, but I want to continue working with this scientific narrative and perhaps do a series honoring the thirteen people who were buried and discovered here so close to my home. The materials I love – clay, fiber, bone, wax and pigment – lend themselves to this exploration.

I invite you to read this archaeological study, especially the details about adornments, traces of ochre pigments, and all of the other small gestures that connect us as humans across time. You can read the entire 1988 report about Nine Antlers and her people here.

 

Boro-Horse – meant to be!

Boro Horse
Lyn Belisle 2018
24″ high with stand
Mixed media fiber, clay and paper

This magical horse insisted on being created while I was in the middle of getting another piece ready for the Fiber Artists juried show. I had some scraps of indigo linen on the table when I spied a beat-up papier-mache horse figure that had come from my old studio and was much the worse for wear, with one leg broken.

On impulse, I wrapped the strip of indigo linen around his broken leghe liked it! So I kept going, patching in the tradition of the Boro textiles of old Japan.

Example of patched indigo Boro cloth

Boro textiles are usually sewn from nineteenth and early twentieth century rags and patches of indigo dyed cotton.  The diversity of patches on any given piece is a veritable encyclopedia of hand loomed cotton indigo from historic Japan.

Once he was covered with indigo scraps, Boro-style, I began adding strips of sari ribbon. I sewed a saddle-blanket for him and added sticks and beads and fund objects.

Detail of saddle blanket on Boro-Hourse

This weekend, I decided that Boro-Horse needed a stand to elevate him to his proper status as a very cool animal.

I used more scraps from old indigo and rust projects to cover his platform, the sealed it all with acrylic matte medium.

Boro-Horse will have little Velcro dots on the bottom of his hooves and matching ones on the stand so he will be able to be secured but still be removable. With his stand, he’s about 24″ high.

He’ll be one of my entries in the San Antonio Fiber Arts Juried Show. I encourage all of you to enter as well. If you work in fiber of any kind (including paper, which is a fiber), you are eligible to enter your artwork in the upcoming 44th Annual Juried Fiber Art Exhibit!!

When and Where: Say Si Art Gallery, located at 1518 S. Alamo St., San Antonio, TX 78204. Art will hang December 7, 2018 to January 25, 2019.

You might just see Boro-Horse there!!