Here are a few of the artworks I’ve recently sent to Joseph Gierek Fine Art (www.gierek.com) for the upcoming Holiday Art Show. I’m sure you’ll notice my “still life” object practice work now combined with characters. Yes, I’m trying to make every element count toward the visual story. You know, like a writer tries to make every word count.
There was a time when I felt that writing words-in-a-row about visual art was rather like using lemon juice to describe honey. But somewhere along the way I realized that being a professional artist out in the “real world” meant I didn’t have to write as if I were in an academic university. That was a relief. And I realized that writing about visual art was like combining multi-media or like a playwright creating a musical theatre piece about a historical event.
It’s genre bending/blending.
So I began practicing writing about my own visual art in an everyday conversational way. When I’m coming up with my artistic ideas I write by hand what I’m thinking and feeling as I’m drawing in my sketchbooks. Later on I use that hand written data to write more formal “blurbs”, or story-clues, about what inspired each of my artworks. I say “more formal” because the blurbs are type-written, the spelling has been checked and the original hand written data has been neatened/edited/condensed. These “blurbs” are often printed and posted near my artwork in exhibits. In my writings I largely leave off the technical points of artistic technique because the majority of the time I’m talking to the general public. (Of course if I’m asked about art techniques I’ll gladly share details!)
In Sept I’m doing a one-person exhibit titled “Story Stuff” at Caplan Art Designs (I wrote more about that in a post titled Cozy Mystery Story Stuff). Here are a few of the artworks and the “blurbs” (story-clues?) I’ve written that will be alongside the art at my exhibit:
Near Forest Park – I enjoy hiking in a large forest in the middle of an urban city (Portland Or). I love it that I can pop out of the dense forest, get a coffee – or boot laces – and then resume my hike.
A Novel Morning – One of my favorite things to do is to go to Powell’s bookstore, find a new-to-me novel and then get something in the café. The “text” in this painting is re-combined and paraphrased from “Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon.
Good Morning – What constitutes a “good morning”? One of my answers is plenty of coffee and enough leisure time to work the daily newspaper’s crossword puzzle.
During my exhibits I’ll often see people reading the blurbs and then looking more closely at my artwork – and sometimes they’ll approach me and talk about the topic within one of my paintings. It seems that my “multi-media” pictures-plus-words exercise is helpful for starting conversations at least.
What are your thoughts about combining writing and visual art?
I do better now, writing words-in-a-row, than I did once upon a time. Reading text has never been a problem for me – but speaking, and writing. Whew! Lets just say good speech therapists, theatre-acting coaches and writing class instructors are worth their weights in all the precious things in the world combined. As a kid practicing speaking by reading aloud from a comic book or a picture book felt less intimidating than reading aloud from a text-only book.
Even today I enjoy visiting art museums and galleries and looking at the artwork first, reading the labels last. I enjoy looking at coffee-table books with big glorious pictures – forming my own thoughts first – reading the words later.
Nowadays I read plenty of books cover to cover that have text only, no pictures at all. I even give demo’s and talk in front of 200 or more people without as much as a blink. (Wish my 10 year old self, who threw up at the thought of giving an oral book report, could see me now!)
So it has become a philosophical point to ponder with me – when is text important? When is an image important? When to have the words? When to have the pictures? How much of either?
For example I love it that signs for the restrooms are often pictograms. You can “read” them no matter what your language – or your linguistic skill level. Much of our international travel culture utilizes visual maps and non-verbal way-finding signs for things like hospitals, airports and government buildings – using pictograms rather than single language dependent text.
As I’ve worked on a new artist book containing my cat themed fine art I’ve thought a lot about whether or not to have text along with the images. If text – how much? Text located where in the book?
When I did my book “Dogs” I had the text at the end – and didn’t include much of it there either. The majority of the book is images.
On the one hand I spend quite a lot of time coming up with the titles for each of my artworks and it seems almost a shame to not list the titles. But I’ve often noticed – at museums and galleries – that people read the label-wall-text and sometimes forget to look at the pictures.
So sometimes I deliberately create text for use in my fine art gallery exhibits… just to be contrary. I’ve even created whole artist books with text and sketches to accompany my fine art exhibits. But sometimes I omit text completely and rely on my art images alone, the curious can ask the person running the gallery for more info. In this way I purposefully encourage people to verbally-talk with each other. Which way I go – words and/or pictures – often depends on the exhibit.
Like I say for me the words and pictures question is an ongoing, almost daily, one.
People seem to enjoy my Dogs book as it is – largely without text. And I’ve noticed that I’ve sold that book fairly well in non-English speaking countries. People of all ages seem to like it. So….
“Cats by Sue Clancy” will be largely wordless too. Here’s what the cover will look like:
The book is square, 7×7 in, 18×18 cm and 22 pages – full color. Here’s an early-reader link to the book http://www.blurb.com/b/8837851-cats In fact “Cats” has even fewer words than “Dogs” does – but more pictures in full color.
I’m sure I’ll continue to have this words and pictures discussion with myself in every book and every art exhibit I create. But I’m curious about your thoughts: do you look at words first? Or pictures first? What are your thoughts about wordless books?
Earlier today I did a blog post called “Friday Fun In Progress” about a short narrative poem I was in the process of writing and illustrating. Then I took a lunch break. Thanks for waiting so patiently…. and without further ado here’s what I came up with:
The Fudge Judge – By Sue Clancy
A strict, stiff, sober Judge
was asked to jury some fudge.
With unusual glee
he shouted “For me?”
then ran off with the very best fudge.
I’m working on my short narrative practice again; aka writing a quickie poem/story plus creating an illustration for it. I’m thinking of fudge, fudge competitions, and the process of asking people to judge something so subjective as what something tastes like… and what could happen.
Anyway, here’s what my desk looks like right now… more progress to come later, after lunch. All this thinking about fudge and I’ve realized that I’m hungry. Back in a bit…
Practicing “narrative” additions to my “visual story” thing – and this time I illustrated a short short-poem-story-like-substance. Please wash your hands after handling (ahem, wink) this one titled:
Haste Accounting by Sue Clancy
An accountant was working in Haste
who added his numbers with paste
saying “If these sums are wrong
then I’ll sing you a song
but there’s simply no accounting for taste.”
I’ve decided I’m going to practice adding more “narrative” information on occasion to the “visual story” thing I do. Particularly when I’m doing my artist books. So, lucky you, you’ll get to watch me practice in public! Here’s a short, short bit of flash-fiction-y nonsense to start with:
Scary Spider Story by Sue Clancy
During my art exhibit opening Oct 1st I’m giving a 5 minute talk about my artwork. If you had told me when I was 9 years old that one day I would, fairly regularly, give short public speeches about my artwork during gallery openings I would not have believed you. At the time I was in speech therapy daily and the thought of talking in class terrified me. I had only worn hearing aids for a year or so and had been deaf for far longer. Hearing sounds was still new and scary.
I spent lots of school and recess time sitting with my speech therapist in a tiny area partitioned off by a curtain from the school’s boiler/heater/janitor’s office, wearing my new hearing aids, trying to understand in that noisy space what the therapist was saying and then accurately repeat out loud what she’d said… well, let’s just say it was a stressful time.
After a year or so of that my therapist and I were good friends – and I’m now 10- but still when it came to answering a teacher aloud during class I’d sweat and my heart would pound and my voice would shake. So my therapist suggested that I take acting classes. I did! And over a long time, and lots of acting classes, I became a regular ham, okay, a ham and cheese on wry, and talking in class or anywhere else became relatively easy.
Eventually the only people who said anything about the quality of my speech, like “you talk funny”, were under the age of 6. The kid’s parents usually gasp in embarrassment and try to un-do their kids comment. I typically ignore the grown-ups and talk directly with the kid, explaining that “I don’t hear like you do” and pull off one of my hearing-aids to show the kid and answer questions. After such a conversation I usually have a friend-for-life in the kid (and profoundly relieved grown-ups).
Fast forward lots of writing classes, lots of practice writing and speaking, lots of reading books on writing, books on giving speeches etc. – and here’s what I’ve learned about writing talking about ones artwork:
When writing a speech: write like you talk, avoid jargon (it is usually hard to say anyway), in simple brief terms describe what kind of art you do, how you do it, a short bit about why you do it – ideally revealing a bit of who you are in the process – then sum up with “what people enjoy about your work”/ “how they benefit” from your work.
When delivering the speech: remember to breathe, talk slowly enough so as to pronounce everything, and keep going even if you mangle a word (most people over the age of 6 are not likely to point out the error). Practice your speech out loud. Practice speaking confidently. Practice smiling at your audience. Practice thanking everyone for listening.
It helps to have a sympathetic supporter listening to you while you do all this practice.
Here is a photo of my speech practice partner – Rusty – who has kindly listened – for days now – as I have practiced the short talk I’m to give Oct 1st. If only my 9 year old self could see me now! Oh wait…
About a year ago I began working towards my upcoming October exhibit at Caplan Art Designs. From a book I’d created years ago with Dr. Bob Hoke titled “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” (aka The First Aid Kit) I selected a ‘living well’ aspect to explore via fine art. Then I spent the next year making art.
The aspect I’d selected from The First Aid Kit was: (and I’m paraphrasing) “happiness is not about getting what you want from the external world – it’s how you interpret the things you perceive in the external world”. (You can see some sample pages from The First Aid Kit here: https://sueclancy.com/artist-books/ – and you can see links for getting either an ebook copy or a print copy of it there too. )
So fast forwarding to now: a year’s worth of artwork has been created and/or selected by the gallery and I’m working on the paperwork for my exhibit. The gallery likes to have an “exhibit statement” i.e. they want me to create some text based handle by which people visiting my exhibit could have a framework, a context, for understanding my work. I came up with this:
By Sue Clancy
(exhibit statement for exhibit at The Daily in the Pearl October 2016 via Caplan Art Designs)
I read somewhere that “Happiness is a skill to be practiced like the violin” and I asked myself “How do I practice happiness?” Then after attending a friend’s mother’s 90th birthday party I began thinking about how our lives are made up of patterns; patterns in nature, patterns in culture, as well as our own mental patterns or habits of mind. So I began to collect, from my daily life, “pleasant patterns” of happiness and have recreated those moments for you.
In addition to getting ready for a new one woman art exhibit scheduled for October 2016 via Caplan Art Designs I’ve been working on a new Oregon Coast article. The August 2016 issue of Oregon Coast Magazine currently has an article of mine – and it was such fun to do that I’ve started immediately on a new article!
Which means that when “fine art stuff” and “pattern design stuff” needed to dry recently my wife and I took off for a day along the Oregon Coast. On the coast I used my on-location sketching kit pictured below and sketched what I saw and experienced as it happened.
In my kit: mechanical pencil, eraser, ink pens, paper, a small watercolor set and a clip to keep my pages from blowing in the wind. It all fits in a small bag and can be held in my hand or balanced on my knee at my sketching location. When something catches my eye during my travels I do quick sketches with my pencil. Then I ink in what lines I want to keep. After that I’ll do some watercolor washes. Generally speaking it takes me about 20 minutes to do a page start to finish – I often work on more than one page at a time. On this sketching trip I did 15 pages total – as well as wrote notes, in longhand, in my sketchbook.
Then once I’m back at the studio sometimes I make an adjustment or two to the pages, and neaten them up (aka, erase pencil lines). My on-the-go kit doesn’t have a lot of greens and blues. So at my studio, for example, I’ll add a few more blue or green colors, if necessary, from my larger studio watercolor set. Here below is a photo of a few of my new Oregon Coast article pages being touched up. I do this immediately upon getting home from a trip while everything I experienced is still fresh in my mind.
Next comes the paperwork for my submission to the Oregon Coast magazine editors: photographing my sketchbook pages, creating the digital files, sorting out which pages work best as illustrations, sorting the pages so they tell the best story, writing a cover letter… etc.
And yes, I am likely to create a new artist book from these sketches! I’m also likely to make some new pattern designs based on what I saw on this trip. Which means there will also be some new fine art….
Basically I’m going to be a very busy camper! What fun!
If you’re curious about the current article I have in the August 2016 issue of Oregon Coast Magazine here is a link to a blog post about that: https://sueclancy.com/2016/08/04/sketching-the-oregon-coast/