portrait commission of two cats

A Creative Life, animals in art, art commission, art techniques, cat portrait, Cats in art, fine art, Fine Art Commission, handmade papers, visual story

This time of year most of my art commissions are gifts and are top secret. No blogging about them. Well this time a couple asked me to create a double portrait of their two cats and since it’s a gift to themselves they’ve let me blog about it! (Happy Holidays to all of us!) Here’s how it went:

In September Sue and Dean asked me via Caplan Art Designs, my Portland gallery, to create a double portrait of their two cats.  They were pretty sure they wanted it to be 12 inches by 18 inches and on handmade paper to be framed.

A time to meet to discuss the commission was arranged and my wife, Judy, and I went to dinner at Sue and Dean’s house.  I brought an example of the 100% cotton handmade paper that I’d use at the size they’d requested and a few other sizes just in case. I also brought my camera, a note pad and an extra pen.

After we’d been there a short while the cats came out. So did my camera. As the cats got used to me, and over the evening, I took over 41 photos of them. Here are two of the photos I took.

I asked questions of the humans about the cats favorite places, toys and habits. I asked questions about the humans favorite places, drinks and memories. On my note pad I wrote down the answers. Where possible I photographed the answers .  For example on of my questions was: “What drink do you reach for most often when you want to relax? And what kind of glass do you have it in?” Here was the answer:

Drink

Generally we just talked about one thing and another. You know, dinner party talk. I asked questions, kept my ears open, and my notepad ready for recording things that might be relevant to the commission. I like to include in any pet portrait elements from the humans’ lives: favorite objects, drinks, food, anything that sparks pleasant memories. Helpfully, Sue and Dean both volunteered lots of information about themselves such as a favorite artwork that was meaningful to them.

backgoundart

They told of past travels that were particularly memorable. Famous people they’d met in Hawaii.  All kinds of things were talked about and without interrupting flow I asked  more questions  and made as many notes as I could. Without being too obvious I also looked around their house noting colors and patterns, writing those notes down too.  This is what I call the “data dump” phase of a commission. At this point I have no idea what information will be relevant for the final artwork.

We relaxed into the evening; just talking, having a very yummy dinner with a good wine. Slowly as Sue and Dean talked I began to get ideas…  The cats got comfortable too and began doing their “normal” behavior.

Ollie likes to sit in a basket that holds magazines. Tony likes to sit on the couch and watch Nature on television.  The cats behavior prompted me to ask which human had the magazine subscriptions (Sue did) and what magazines were favorites. Dean has worked in technological fields…so technological advances (including TV) were discussed..

Later in the evening I floated a general portrait concept: Ollie reading magazines and Tony watching TV…perhaps the basket Ollie likes so much could become a “table” in the artwork, perhaps…   They both seemed to like my concept direction. They verified the size of artwork they wanted. I said I’d send them, via the gallery, a sketch for their approval before I began the finished artwork. We enjoyed a bit more conversation (and wine) – I glanced at my notes and racked my brain to make sure I had all the data I needed – and then we said our good-nights.

In the driveway pulling away from their house about 9:30pm I texted the gallery owner with the gist of what size artwork Sue and Dean wanted etc. Then my wife, Judy, and I discussed the evening in the car as we drove home. I still had my note pad out and was writing notes in the moving car by flashlight. (Judy was driving.)

Occasionally it had happened during the evening that I was talking with Sue in one room while Judy was in another room talking with Dean. So Judy filled me in on what I’d missed.  At this point I am still in “data dump” mode. I have a rough direction for my design. But the details are very fuzzy. (Over the many years I’ve done special commissions this kind of uncertainty is normal and I trust it as a part of the process.)

The next day I went over my notes and began making 4 x 6 inch size thumbnail sketches.  Over several weeks I did this; going over my notes and photos, drawing possible poses of the cats, possible objects, considering composition and colors. I also showed my sketches to Judy discussing the possibilities. At one point Judy said that they had both talked of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Hawaii enough that she was sure that they were important. I agreed and adjusted my drawings so that a reference to those travels was emphasized. Slowly an idea began to come together in the small thumbnail size anyway.  What works visually at a small size doesn’t always work at a larger size but it’s a place to start.

On my easel I put the 12 x 18 inch handmade paper. Then I covered that with tracing paper and drew a grid (you can see it in the photo below). Then I put tracing paper over the grid and drew one of the thumbnail ideas to that scale.  Then another tracing paper was put over that and that drawing tweaked…. And so it went, with multiple tracing paper overlays and re-draws, for a week or more. Tweak, tweak, tweak, until I had something I felt good about.  The “good drawing” I sent to the gallery and to Sue and Dean for their approval. Here is what I sent:

MorehouseCommPreApprove72

They approved the drawing! Yippee! I did a happy dance and then I got serious about colors.

Upon arriving home after the dinner with Sue and Dean I had gotten out one of my interior design color swatch books. Flipping through the pages I found a couple of color spreads that I felt had the “vibe” of Sue and Dean’s house. I showed the pages to Judy to get her input.  With those interior design book pages as a rough guide along with my photographs taken inside their house I began mixing colors and making color notes.  I used my thumbnail drawings to play with color schemes too, painting blobs of color here or there. Anyway, here’s a photo of the interior design book page as well as a few pages of my sketchbook color notes. I did 6 pages of color notes but this one photo will give you the idea.

ColorPaletteBlends

As I decided on the colors I made pencil notes on the approved to-scale drawing where the colors would go. You can see some of this in the photo above.

Then I began on the finished artwork.  The actual painting took about 10 days start to finish. As I say often – the sketching/drawing/planning is where the bulk of creation happens.  I transferred the approved sketch/drawing to the handmade paper I intended to use for the finished artwork.  Then I began to make tiny adjustments to the drawing directly onto the handmade paper in prep for painting. I also discovered gaps in my visual data base.

For example I realized that I didn’t know what the back of a vintage TV set looked like. Not well enough to paint it in detail anyway. Fortunately there are some vintage shops where I live – so a few visits downtown with my sketchbook and the problem was solved!

I also realized that I had an opportunity to make a portrait of Sue and Dean on the front cover of the “magazine” that Ollie, the cat, would be reading in the finished artwork. So I asked for, and got, a picture of the couple that I could use as a reference photo.  From the photo I did several pencil drawings on tracing paper to design the magazine cover and to get the humans to look like themselves. I drew until I had a cover design and human portrait that worked. Here it is:

MagCover

Once I had the magazine “cover” drawing ready (drawn to the scale needed in the artwork) I transferred it to the appropriate spot on the handmade paper.  At another point I realized that I could include the stain glass windows I’d seen in their house as part of the “back cover” of the magazine. But I hadn’t gotten photos of the window when we visited for dinner. And neither Judy nor I could remember the exact details of the windows. So I contacted Amy at the Caplan Art design gallery and she helped fill in the missing data! Whew!

Here’s what the finished artwork “Ollie and Tony” looks like. I’ve photographed it as it was on my easel when I finished it, so you can see the four deckled edges of the handmade paper.  I used acrylic, gouache, watercolor and ink.

OllieAndTonywithdeckles72

I sent the photo of the finished art to Amy the gallery owner to let her know it was done.  Then I spray varnished the piece with a removable varnish that has UV protection in it.

When that was dry I contacted Amy and arranged for a time to deliver it to the gallery.  The date was set and the varnish dry so I slipped the artwork into an archival plastic sleeve and into a cardboard portfolio to protect the artwork from being bent on its travels between my studio and the gallery or between the gallery and the framer.  (It rains in the Pacific Northwest – so artwork needs all the protection it can get.)

We delivered the artwork to the gallery and as a nice surprise Sue and Dean were there!  Here we all are looking at the artwork and talking about it:

artdelivery

Amy will take the artwork to the professional framer the gallery works with and have the art floated on a neutral mat, with spacers so the artwork won’t touch the glass.  It will be given a simple black frame.

What a fun project!! I love getting to make highly personal and meaningful visual stories like this! Thank you!! And thank you, Sue and Dean, for letting me share it on my blog!

Happy Holidays Everyone!!

 

self portrait as a wicked book

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, artist book, artistic inspirations, handmade books, handmade papers, public art

Several of my artist books are in a permanent collection at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art and will be in a new exhibit, in March 2018, titled “Artist’s Books – Chapter 13 – Lyricism And Laughter”!

Here are a few photos of one of my books in the exhibit. It’s titled “Self Portrait As A Wicked Book”. I made it with handmade paper, hand-marbled paper, ink… and two original limerick poems.

The poems, on each side, are:

There was a young lady in Linen

who really loved laughter and sinnin’

She made wicked books that if given a look

you’d see that they’re often quite winnin’

——————

The lady in Linen was known,

for the books she is said to have sewn.

But when very hard pressed she began to protest

“Oh come now it’s quite over blown!”

 

When I exhibit my artist books I’m asked to write statements about them

Here, below, is what I wrote about “Self-portrait…”

Artist statement about the work:  By personifying herself as an open book – (or more precisely, as the linen thread binding the books within this book) –  with original limericks and pop-up book elements the artist pokes fun at self-styled “moral” groups who personify inanimate objects; books, movies and other art objects by describing them as “immoral”, “wicked” or “sinful”.  By writing “clean” limericks the artist is poking fun at the idea that a poetic form like a limerick could be defined as a “naughty” art.  An object or art form is just that, an object or technique – what people do with it may have a good, bad or neutral effect. But even the effect depends on the viewer’s perspective.  Thus “Self Portrait as a Wicked Book” is enclosed in a hand-marbled envelope – implying that the contents could be hidden from view, that the viewer has a choice to view it or not. The book is intended to be displayed accordion style so that the viewer can see it from different angles of their own choosing.  The textual reference within the limerick to “overblown” refers to the ways self-styled “moral” groups would ascribe moral qualities to the entire personhood of an author as a result of one written object the author had created.  The content also refers – both textually and by using colorful marbling and pop-ups – to the ways that censorship (or a “wicked” designation) actually increases interest in the object banned.

Artist’s back story for this book: A religious segment of the Oklahoma population has a penchant for banning books and a history of doing so.  To name two dramatic examples;  In 1997 the book “The Tin Drum” by Gunter Grass  and the movie by the same name was banned by Oklahoma City in such a way that the banning received national attention; Oklahoma City police went to the houses of adults, over the age of 21, who had rented the movie and seized it.  In 2005, the year I made “Self Portrait As A Wicked Book”, the Oklahoma House of Representatives banned all books – for children and adults – that had references to gay characters or gay people.  Around that time period I remember noticing that (in Oklahoma) the commercial bookstores “gay book sections” got smaller and were hidden the back corner of the store.  Books that questioned religion, or discussed censorship in anything but a positive light were also few and far between.  There was a general perception – as evidenced by what was offered on library or bookstore shelves and what wasn’t, what books were reviewed in the Oklahoma media and what ones weren’t – that there were “good” books and there were bad, sinful, “wicked” ones – and this one group of self-styled “moral” people would tell you which books were which and few people in Oklahoma dared (or even thought) to question that group.

finished Abyssinian cat with alphabet

A Creative Life, animals in art, art techniques, artistic inspirations, cat portrait, Cats in art, creative thinking, handmade papers, pattern design, visual thinking

Here’s the finished Abyssinian cat portrait with an alphabet pattern background – reflecting my thoughts of multi-lingual book readers, alphabetic “framing” of thoughts and… well, if you look at my last several blog posts you’ll see my thinking as I’ve worked on this one.

It’s titled “Alpha Betty” and is 20 x 24 inches.

AlphaBetty72

I’m particularly pleased with how the alphabet “shows through” subtly all over this piece with varying degrees of transparency or opacity – like our varying degrees of awareness of the linguistic framing of our thoughts.

You can see more of my cat-related thoughts in my ebook “Various Cat Sketches” here: https://sueclancy.com/shop/

 

Abyssinian cat portrait with alphabet

A Creative Life, animals in art, art techniques, artistic inspirations, cat portrait, Cats in art, fine art, handmade papers, pattern design

Having been inspired by all the multi-lingual book readers I see in the Pacific Northwest – combined with the alphabet-as-frame-of-reference thoughts I’d shared in my last blog post, and my on-going collection of cat-related thoughts – I’ve been working on a portrait of an Abyssinian cat. The cat will be reading a  mystery called “M is for Mice”. (What else would a mouse obsessed cat read?) I’ll probably title my painting “Alpha Betty” when I’m done.  Below you can see my progress along side my to-scale drawing. I’ve still more work to do. Especially on the mouth area on the cat – and of course on the book.  This work is 20 inches tall by 24 inches wide.

AlphaBettyProgressWSketch72

You can see more of my cat-related thoughts in my ebook “Various Cat Sketches” here: https://sueclancy.com/shop/

 

cat thoughts with alphabets

A Creative Life, artistic inspirations, creative thinking, handmade papers, pattern design

I’ve been thinking a lot about cats; how they have their own “spaces” or territories. How each has its own frame of reference. My cat Hawkeye, for example, thinks that fleece throw blankets are unreasonable objects and seems offended when a fleece throw is on my lap. But a woven, cotton blanket is a thing of sense and reason in his opinion.

This got me to thinking about the alphabet. Each language has its own – and when we say “the alphabet” we immediately think of our native tongue. Sometimes this presumption can be dismissive of other languages and alphabets. But when we’re aware of bi-lingual people and have a general awareness of the multiplicity of this world – perhaps we are better able to remember that these frames of reference are just that, frames. And that frames can be adjusted.

I’m imagining a mouse-obsessed cat and her frame-of-reference, her possible reading preferences… and creating an all-over alphabet pattern on handmade paper. I speak both English and American Sign Language. I’m more fluent in English so I’m using the English alphabet to make my pattern.

StencilForAlphaBetty272

Now this paper will have to dry a while. So I’ll work on a to-scale drawing of my thoughts for the next several days. And I’ll practice drawing cats. You can see more of my cat-related thoughts in my ebook “Various Cat Sketches” here: https://sueclancy.com/shop/

 

the rough bark of culture

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, Authors, books, creative thinking, dog portrait, Dogs in Art, fine art, handmade books, handmade papers, mental health, visual thinking, words and pictures

This coming Friday at the Joseph Gierek Fine Art Gallery (www.gierek.com) an experimental art exhibit of mine titled “The Rough Bark Of Culture” opens!

Yes, there are dogs. Lots of dogs. About 24 of them. Dog art that is. Clancy style.

The experimental part of this exhibit is that instead of being 24 works framed and hanging on the wall like a typical art installation – I’ve added my artist book thinking to my fine-art exhibit idea.  Which means my entire exhibit is intended to be an intimate experience.  Think curling up with a book. Or playing with a deck of cards.

Lucky for artist-me the gallery owner is willing to be playful.

Here’s what gallery-visitors will find: a box that looks like a leather bound book. I made the box and covered it with my hand dyed paper, paper that I’ve given a rough physical and visual texture. I designed the cover and the spine and various elements so that it appears like a book.  When closed this book-box measures 9 inches tall 7 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep. When you open the top “cover” it opens out to be 14 inches wide.

TRBOCCover72

Below are a couple of different angle-views of the cover so you can see the spine has the typical book-markings and that the edges of the box are painted to look like book text block “pages”.

Inside the book-box cover is a handwritten statement that puts my art-object-exhibit in a context.

TRBOCopen172

Then further inside there are 24 individual hand created dog art pieces done in my ink on handmade paper style. Each artwork is in an archival sleeve so that a viewer can flip through the box-contents like a book. (there’s even a ribbon to help people lift out the ‘pages’) Or the viewer can take out the pages and lay them out on a table and re-sort them.

TRBOCopenspread72

Below is some of my thinking behind the exhibit – including my resource book list. I referred to some of this book-research-resource mining in an early blog post here.

General exhibit thoughts for “The Rough Bark of Culture” by Sue Clancy

It is said that humans are the only animal that laughs, cooks (using heat and spices/herbs), develops music, creates art, writes/collects/organizes/shares information across time and space, sorts things numerically and devises elaborate rules for playing games simply for amusement. The ability to read and absorb information via symbols in pictorial and written form is also a uniquely human ability.

Humans are curious, they experiment, seeking novelty and creativity. Wanting enthusiasm – not boredom – they play. Play is part of being human. Play is also an essential component of being creative.

Creativity, communication and organization are attributes of being human. But in modern times it can be hard (rough) to carve out time to play, to be creative, to sort and organize information – to do those very things that make us human.

This exhibit is about what makes us human.

Why dogs? Dogs are enthusiastic about being alive – that’s why I’ve chosen them as my character “actors” in my artwork.  It’s a way of remembering that humans have the ability to create the world around them in ways that make life more comfortable, more fun – so that we can be more enthusiastic about being alive.

Reference material:

“Wonderland: How play made the modern world” by Steven Johnson

“The Creative Spark: How imagination made humans exceptional” by Agustin Fuentes

A quote I used as a guiding light – so to speak:

“To imagine is everything. To know is nothing at all.” Anatole France

Exhibit statement (which means I neatened up for handwritten inclusion in my book-box the thoughts outlined above):

It is said that humans are the only animal that; laughs, cooks (using heat and spices/herbs), specially crafts beverages, develops music, creates art, writes/collects/shares information across time and space, sorts things numerically, reads books/information in order to learn and devises elaborate rules for playing games simply for amusement. Humans sometimes share with dogs an enthusiasm at being alive – seeking novelty and creativity rather than boredom.  Unlike a dog, humans are able to plan and organize our time. We can defer gratification. Yet modern life sometimes makes it hard to carve out time to be creative – rough to do the very things that make us human; play.  This exhibit is about remembering to be human and enjoy life.

TRBOCspread72

If you want a flavor, a hint, of what this exhibit is like there’s my conventionally printed and bound book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” – https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Dogs-By-Sue-Clancy

Creating a conventional book on this exhibit topic helped cement my idea that I also wanted my viewers to be able to physically “play” with my artwork. Even so – I’m proud of the printed and bound book too. It’s playfulness of a different sort. And able to be more widely available than a one-of-a-kind-art-exhibit in a gallery can be. Having both kinds of play available – the team kind or the individual kind – are important to me.

And speaking of teams; it’s almost time for me to go meet up with friends for a book-store browse and then to go to happy hour! Adult team play! Yippeeee!!

finished constellation

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, artistic inspirations, fine art, handmade papers

I’ve finished the artwork I was working on in my last blog post! This one is destined for exhibit by Caplan Art Designs in October. See the events page www.caplanartdesigns.com for details. Here’s the nitty-gritty about my just-completed artwork titled “If It’s Any Constellation”.

ifitsanyconstellation72

If It’s Any Constellation By Sue Clancy 12 x 12 x 1.5 inches Hand dyed paper, handmade paste paper, found paper and acrylic on cradled board

In my last blog post I wrote that recently I was taking out the trash and it seemed the stars were larger than usual… and that that had inspired a pattern design. All true… and here’s the “official blurb” aka what the gallery is likely to post beside this piece as an explanation of my inspiration:

If It’s Any Constellation  by Sue Clancy

The stars seemed larger and clearer one summer Pacific NW evening just before autumn. That same evening I watched a cat playing with a toy; grabbing it, running with it, enjoying it and I thought of how we all have to “pick something” from the many possibilities within our personal galaxy to focus on and enjoy.

So that above is the official blurb and I’m sticking with it.

Just in case you didn’t see it: here is a Youtube video of me making a star pattern paper that you see in “If It’s Any Constellation”: https://youtu.be/cAx88mwARqo

Now I’ll  do the varnish, paperwork and other stuff that needs to be done before I deliver this new artwork to the gallery. After that I’ll also work on some art apparel designs – and on an artist book page – that also applies my “star paper” design pattern thinking – more on all of that later.

pug a cherry

A Creative Life, animals in art, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, artistic inspirations, collage, fine art, handmade papers, psychogeography

In a recent blog post titled “art inspired by ice cream” I wrote about the unusually hot weather here in WA and posted pictures of some in-progress-artwork, describing my working process and that it was inspired by (ahem) ice cream. Well, here is the rest of that story:

After thinking of the cool pattern of the marble walls in my local post office in Vancouver on the aforementioned hot day I went for an ice cream cone. My ice cream was ‘marbled’ creamy vanilla with dark chocolate swirls.  While walking around with my dripping cone, thinking of snow covered mountains, snow falling, skiing – you know, cool thoughts – a cute pug dog and his friendly person passed by – they were a “cherry” capstone to a very good – tho hot – day out and about.

That’s the full description of the inspiration behind this piece that I’ve just finished and titled “Pug A Cherry On Top”.  I’m sure you can see why I titled it that.  Anyway, it’s destined for my upcoming one-person exhibit in October (2016) at Caplan Art Designs (see the events page at www.caplanartdesigns.com).

I created it with my cut hand dyed, hand marbled papers and… the full description is below if you want it… here’s the art.

PugACherryOnTop72

Pug A Cherry On Top By Sue Clancy 7 x 5 x 1.5 inches Hand dyed paper, hand marbled paper, ink and acrylic on cradled board

art inspired by ice cream

A Creative Life, animals in art, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, collage, fine art, handmade papers, psychogeography, sketchbook

As I mentioned in my last blog post – there’s been a rare hot day or two here in Washington. In addition to drinking ice tea and thinking cool thoughts I’ve also eaten ice cream. You are shocked I can tell. But wait – there’s more! The two flavors I had were swirled together in a marble-like pattern – and there were candy sprinkles on top! So guess what I did… yep, before the ice cream melted I sketched the two patterns in my sketchbook.

Back at my art studio I marbled a piece of paper using the Suminagashi Japanese paper marbling technique. When the paper was dry I cut it in the shape of a mound of ice cream. You can see a bit of that paper in the edge of the photo to the left – and then the same paper glued on the board on the right. Then I cut other shapes out of other papers I’d made into a pug (a patron saint of ice cream… right?)… and in the photo to the right you can see me gluing on the sprinkles in a pattern.

I’m loving the contrast of the two random patterns; one swirled and one dotted! The glue will have to dry, more layers glued on… basically lots of work to be done before this fine art collage is finished. So my next blog post or two will probably be about something else – then I’ll post again about this project…anyway, whenever this ice cream piece is done I’ll come up with a fun title, photograph it, do the paperwork – and then it will likely go to Caplan Art Designs for my exhibit October 2016 (see the events page at Caplan Art Designs  www.caplanartdesigns.com)

CompositeIcecream

Sue Clancy working on a fine art collage inspired by ice cream – and cherries and sprinkles…

 

 

 

Upick Book Farm Art

A Creative Life, animals in art, art exhibit, art gallery, books, fine art, handmade papers

Finished a new art piece destined for the Caplan Art Designs gallery one-person exhibit I’ll be having in October!  The opening party will be a 3 course wine dinner party at The Daily in The Pearl. You can get more info about that on the Caplan Art Designs events page  – look at “Cooks, Corks and Co-conspirators”. Yep, I’d be a considered a co-conspirator. Anyway, here’s the info about this newbie art piece:

U-Pick Book Farm

By Sue Clancy

12 x 9 x 1.5 inches

Hand dyed paper, handmade paste paper, hand woven paper, found paper, acrylic on cradled board

And, if you missed my prior blog post where I told and showed about this artwork in progress here’s a bit about my thinking behind it:

U-Pick Book Farm by Sue Clancy

Combining the concepts of local u-pick fruit and vegetable farms with local libraries that have baskets for a patron’s book harvest and adding the burrowing, digging instinct of a dachshund.

UpickBookFarm72

U-Pick Book Farm By Sue Clancy 12 x 9 x 1.5 inches Hand dyed paper, handmade paste paper, hand woven paper, found paper, acrylic on cradled board