Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

It’s with great pleasure that I introduce you to Coup De Quill, a new book review blog.

It’s still pretty young, but Quinn is hard at work building up an archive. She doesn’t pull punches, but by and large you can expect her not to waste your time with a book unless she would recommend it. She wont settle for new releases either – if there’s a book you need to read, she will tell you about it, be it five days old or five decades.

Speaking of which, her newest review, The After-Dinner Gardener, was suggested by yours truly. So if you take her advice and pick it up, tell her I sent you!


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About two weeks ago, I was looking for a good goat image to use in Etchstar‘s custom image engraving service. (A gift for a friend, if you were wondering.) Thumbing through Google’s image search, I learned an unsettling truth: many goats are ugly, and those unfortunate goats who aren’t, have ugly pictures taken of them.

Shoot, I thought, maybe I’ll have to get her something else. Or I might even have to draw an image myself.

It was just then that I stumbled across an adorable illustration. Perfect! Now, the practical ethics of tracing  over or drawing over a photo I found might be questionable (when does a derivative work become a work unto itself?), but if I was going to use someone else’s drawing, I knew I aught to ask them. No problem, since this is, after all, the Internet, home of copyfighters, open-source heros, and generally lots of people who are just happy to have someone paying attention to them (like me!). I shot off an e-mail as quickly as I found the “contact” page and went to bed, confident I could place my order in the morning.

Or not.

Instead, I had a sternly worded e-mail explaining to me that the artist had worked very hard and generally starved quite a while to get to the point where she could actually demand payment for her work, and now that she had, she wasn’t going to let people trample on her rights (I’m paraphrasing, of course – she was a little nicer then that actually).

Who exactly had I e-mailed? Back on her site, it wasn’t hard to figure out. Turns out she’s a cartoonist for the New Yorker. Well.

It turned out, there was a slight misunderstanding. She had thought I was Etchstar, asking to use her work (for free) to print and sell lots of engraved notebooks to other people. No small wonder why she said no to that. I would have too. When I explained the truth of the situation (I’m just some dude, making only one, and at no profit) she was more understanding. Ultimately, we worked out an arrangement very similar to the one under which I am showing you the goat below (that is to say, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License).

An adorable goat, no?

An adorable goat, no?

Of course, I’m grateful that she let me use her work without compensation. She would have been entitled to ask for it, regardless of how I was using her image. Instead, though, she let me off with the promise that I would do what I could to let people know it was hers. Which is what I’m doing.

Her name is Carolita Johnson. You can look at more of her stuff here, buy some of it here, or follow her blog here. So go, look at her stuff, and buy something! Tell her Zack sent you. And thanks again, Carolita!

(A quick note to would be, er, “friendly borrowers”: The arrangement Carolita agreed to with me was a personal favor, and I can’t say she would do the same again with that or any other piece of her work. At most I can tell you that anything on her blog falls under the Creative Commons license above, unless she changes her mind in the future. So if you like her stuff, then buy it, and if you can’t buy it, ask. Politely. )

(Another quick note: I find this whole story pretty hilarious, because really, the internet is so packed with amateurs and hobbyist who would do anything to get linked, looked at, or lauded, that it’s bizarre to remember that anyone successful actually uses this inter-tubes thing. Good lesson for the future though: before you e-mail someone to beg off their work, take five seconds to scan their site and figure out who they are.)

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Where I Am

I have about three weeks (er, two and a half?) until the end of another school year. I’ll be a junior, technically, but still have three years to go as a consequence of switching majors. In that regard, I’m going for a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with a photo concentration, and probably an Art History minor. I have classes, housing, financial aid, etc. Scholastically, I am pretty well set, and feeling more confident about my choices then ever.

This summer is a different story. No job, yet. I’m not terrible concerned about what the job is, which hopefully will make finding one easier. I’m still not exactly sure how people come back from school with jobs already in hand. I must be missing something.

Lots of artistic ideas, but no darkroom in which to execute them. Not sure what to do about that, but I keep trying.

In other ways, I’m also on unsure footing. Maybe more on that some other day, though.

A little bit of positive news though, to bring this to an optimistic close. I am receiving some sort of award from a scholarship show (that I didn’t enter) in the art department. What this award is or why I was chosen, I have no idea. Oh well! Recognition is recognition.

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This is a another guest post from Quinn Maclaren. Quinn is a freelance writer, was published in The Oasis Journal, and is currently building content for a site of her own (Ed – Coup De Quill is live). (By the way, if you have an idea for a guest post and would like the exposure, please contact me, I would love to hear from you.)

A few days ago, Step Lightly featured a post on starting. Starting anything can be difficult, but starting a new creative endeavor can be agonizing. Any writer who has faced a blank page, or any painter with a blank canvas, can tell you stories. We are led to believe that if we wait, inspiration will come. So we wait, and the longer we wait, the larger the fear of that blank page or blank canvas becomes.

But we all know people, or have read of famous creators, who have no problem starting. Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most prolific authors publishing today, talks in her journals, “The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973 – 1982,” of her writing practice. She always has multiple projects on the burner. If the book of fiction isn’t coming together too well one day, she might instead complete a book review, or polish some poems for publication. When one book goes off to the publisher, she has often already started taking notes on another one.

As Oates writes the end of a book, she also rewrites the beginning. She says that by the end of the book she knows the characters better, so she puts that knowledge to work polishing what she wrote when she was just getting to know them. I suspect that it also helps her to begin with the knowledge that she will be going back over the beginning chapters later. It is mesmerizing to read her journals and see how a master keeps creativity flowing.

Now Twyla Tharp, one of America’s greatest and well-known choreographers, has published “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.” Tharp’s blank canvas is an empty white dance studio, and since beginning her career in 1965, she has created more than 130 dances for her company, has choreographed ballet, has collaborated with film directors, and has worked with every kind of music from classical composers to Billy Joel. Her book boils down all of that experience, and offers it to anyone from composers to writers to a businessman working on a deal to a chef developing a new recipe. Tharp doesn’t see creativity as a gift from the gods. No more waiting for divine inspiration. You can make it happen anytime, and every time.

Over the course of her career, Tharp has developed ways of moving from one project to another without missing a beat. She offers rituals to prepare for new projects, offers exercises to teach us to ‘scratch’ for new ideas, and shows us the difference between being in a rut and being in the groove. Each chapter of her book is followed by exercises (over thirty in all) to help a struggling creator put Tharp’s years of experience and insight to work, not someday, but today. Everything she offers is practical and accessible for beginners and experts alike. There’s nothing fancy here: you might need a pencil and a piece of paper, or a few coins. But there is power in her simplicity.

For example, Tharp begins every creative project with a box. She writes the project name on the box, and as she progresses, she fills it up with everything that went into making the dance. “This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.” Her Billy Joel project eventually filled twelve boxes! The beauty of the system is that nothing is ever lost.

And yes, even Tharp has known failure. She says “…there is a therapeutic power to failure. It cleanses. It helps you put aside who you aren’t and reminds you who you are.” As creators, we all fail. We must try to put failure to work for us, and find positive growth in it. Never let it stop you.

So, what are you waiting for? Begin here.

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When I switched to the art program, I did so with full knowledge that I might be dooming myself to life as a starving artist. I can live with that idea. For many people, though, the perceived lack of income is enough to keep them from pursuing their dreams. And it’s a reasonable enough fear. Lots of people want to be artists (meaning the market is flooded with work), which drops prices. Add to this that many works can be resold or mass produced, and the supply side of art gets even more crowded, mean, yes, lower prices. Toss in the generally subjective way the public choses which art to support, and the industry is a minefield.

Luckily, Kevin Kelly offers an alternative on his website. He calls his idea 1,000 True Fans. He suggests that the problem arises because everyone wants a blockbuster success, but that blockbuster success is typically short lived. This can be a good way to make a lot of money quickly, but not a long term plan for success. Instead, he suggests the key is to focus on your true fans.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

He assumes, I would say rather conservatively, that each true fan may reasonably spend about one days wages per year on your work (or about $100), if not more. With 1,000 such fans, you’re looking at $100,000, minus expenses and taxes. (I think he assumes, since you’re no longer aiming for blockbuster success, that you’re focused more on one-off or print-on-demand work, which lowers the cost). It’s easy to see how this could communicate into a living, perhaps even quite respectable, wage.

What I especially like about his thinking is that it changes the way artists relate to their fans. If you want blockbuster success, it’s all about bringing in as many people as possible, while cutting costs everywhere you can. Not so if you have a small group of true fans. Like Kevin says,

Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.

It becomes about producing quality work. There’s no pressure to “sell out,” to rush the next book/CD/show, to swindle fans into buying less-then-perfect work. You can directly relate to a 1,000 people (especially with the help of the internet).

I especially love the implications for the future of free samples. I know people (some near and dear to me) who think giving away anything as an artist is a waste. I’ve been told that, even though it would mean less up-front exposure, I should submit writing to magazines for printing, not post them on a blog for free. But people can’t be fans of yours unless they know you exist. If giving away one piece (a story, a song, what have you) starts fifty more people on their life-long love affair with your work, all the better, especially when you consider what a True Fan will do to spread the word.

Maybe I am overly optimistic to believe that. At the same time, I know many of my favorite artists are ones I learned about through free work. In addition, when I see an artist who makes a conscious effort to treat their fans properly, as people on whom their livelihoods depends and not consumers to be taken advantage of, it makes me want to support them. So I go out, and I buy the extra shirt, the CD, the poster, even if their material is available for free. It’s the sort of relationship that used to dominate every economy, and the sort of relationship I would like to engage in with you. (Which is why, while I’d love to be paid for my writing eventually, this blog is still free.)

Is this a better path for today’s artists to take? I think so. Printing-on-demand is getting cheaper and easier all the time. The internet isn’t going to start shrinking anytime soon. And it seems like this may be more rewarding, not only monetarily, but psychologically. Make your art, and find a small group of people who love you for it.

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A Little Self Promotion

I would love your thoughts!

Turtle Soup On The Half Shell

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On Spock

Okay, not Spock, Leonard Nimoy. I have beef with this man.

The reason is his new book of art photography, called the Full Body Project (probably NSFW). I’m not so much bothered by the photos themselves as with the message he made about them on the Colbert Report. You can see that interview here. To summarize, he wanted to photograph women who did not fit the typical model mold – that is, dangerously underweight – and so used very large women.

I agree that the tendency in fashion photography and Hollywood to portray beautiful women as extremely thin is bad. Most women aren’t. In fact, it isn’t healthy, physically or psychologically, to try to look like that. It’s a terribly negative aspect of our culture. (For that matter, it’s pretty non-nonsensical; do any men actually think emaciated is attractive?)

However, I cannot condone Nimoy’s approach. (You can see a gallery of the photos here [NSFW].) While I respect his intentions, glorifying women who are clearly obese is not the answer. I can agree with his sentiment that these are beautiful people, but their bodies are no more beautiful or ugly then that of women who suffer from anorexia. This is a bit like photographing crack addicts to show how bad heroin use is. In fact, obesity is a substantially larger problem in developed nations like the USA then under eating is. Is Nimoy helping anyone by sanctioning obesity? I doubt it.

It’s true that real people don’t look like super models. I wouldn’t want them to. But most people don’t want to be obese, the same as they don’t want to be addicted to drugs; they may feel powerless about it, but the answer isn’t to say “well, then, it’s okay.”

I suggest, instead, Shane Cooper’s Adam and Eve project (somewhat NSFW). From his website:

The Adam and Eve Project seeks to discover who emerges when images of many people are averaged together.

With this as the goal, I am receiving images from volunteers who are interested in contributing to this exciting project.

Each participant contributes three images – one of the face, one of the front of the body, and one of the back of the body. These images are then blended with those of the other participants into single images. The result is a single face and body of each sex – a composite of all contributors.

The results so far are really suggestive. The average woman so far is 26, 5’4″, and weighs 121 lbs. Which is slim, but well within the recommended healthy range on the BMI scale (Eve is a 20.8, the healthy range is given as 18.5-24.9). I think it’s probably fair to assume, as well, that Eve is low on the scale because slimmer (as well as younger) women were more likely to submit to the project because they are more comfortable with their body. Still, we can notice a few things about Eve: We don’t see her ribs. She has breasts and a curvy figure. Maybe most importantly, though, she is blurry because there is a wide range of ways women can look and still be proud of their bodies.

That’s the message Nimoy meant to send, and I support him for it. However, obesity is no lesser evil, and portraying it as an ideal or beautiful thing is doing as much harm as good.

(Also, I hope a few men who read this will consider submitting their photos to the project. I’m curious to see what Adam looks like as well, but Shane doesn’t yet have enough images for the composite. More contributers to Eve couldn’t hurt either.)

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