Saturday, July 05, 2008

Lose some, Win some

7 Extinction Events ©2006, 7 x 7 x 3 inches. Cover: copper. Pages: Arches watercolor paper, collage, acrylics.

I received a rejection letter earlier this week from the California State Fair Fine Art Competition. I submitted Dream Focusing Device and Tooth Icon. I have won prizes there before, and for some reason felt confident that I would get something in. But jurying is so subjective and there are many unknowns. I do wish they would give you more of an idea when they send the rejection letter. "We juried millions of really good art works, and just couldn't accept them all" is not much of an explanation. It does make me look again to see if I should have sent something different, if the images were bad, if I didn't fill out the form correctly (that has happened before - don't rush through those forms). Maybe the juror thought "teeth!? - eww, that's gross." And it did make me want to get into the studio and make something so much better than I have ever made before.

Then yesterday my copy of Lark's 500 Handmade Books arrived. I knew they had decided to use a detail shot of 7 Extinction Events. But I was thrilled to see that Steve Miller, the juror, also mentioned it in his introductory essay. "When it comes to the whimsical and playful, Judith Hoffman's "7 Extinction Events" brings the house down. A book that pops out of a dinosaur is simply too exciting not to be included in this collection. . . " (p.7) I am so delighted.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 5/5: Death

7 Extinction Events ©2006, 7 x 7 x 3 inches.
This book is about the extinction of the dinosaurs, but also about my own personal extinction. It's the one that matters the most to me.

7 Extinction Events
I have always thought a lot about death. As I get older, it gets more real to me, and makes a bigger appearance in my art. I wonder where we came from before we were born, and where we go when we die. I sometimes envision a starry landscape. I see a vast world, with small houses, or temples, here and there on the hills. The stars wheel slowly overhead. From a distance this world would appear to be one tiny point of light. It is small enough to hold us all as the atoms of one being, yet large enough to hold our spirits, with great spaces between us.

Man Moon-Go ©1989, 4-3/4 x 3 x 3/4 inches. While reading "On Dreams & Death" by Marie-Louise von Franz, I found this quote: "Many people made a doll to serve as a substitute for the corpse. The Chinese made one from a loincloth and called them Moon-Go." A few pages later she quotes Origen: "the spiritual body (which it is believed we reincarnate into) will be of a divine nature - the whole of us will see (will be eyes) the whole hear, the whole will serve as hands, the whole as feet."

Fish Messages, © 1992. 2-1/4 x 5-1/2 x 1 inch.
Fish for me symbolize both birth and death. Sometimes I imagine a giant fish that gives birth to the universe from her mouth. Everything flows from her, and then everything returns to her.

The fish who swims in the sky, ©1993. 3.5 x 6 x 1.5 inches.
I also see fish as creatures who can go places we can't go. They could bring back secret messages or information that would help us, including information about the before-life and the after-life.

The fish who swims in the sky
Inside are guts. The last page is a silver outline of the body. I thought of it as the spirit of the fish.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 4/5: The wish to create tools to aid me in life

Dream Focusing Device, ©2007, 8 x 5.5 x 6 inches

I would love to have tools to solve the problems in life that are so vexing. How can I remember more dreams? How does the moon work anyway? Wouldn't it be nice if there was an instruction manual for all of life? Why are we here? You can look it up in the index.

Instruction Manual for the Moon II, ©2005, 2.75 x 3 x 2.5 inches.

Instruction Manual for the Moon II


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 3/5: Found Phrases

This is part of a series on my sources of inspirations. There is an index here. These posts are greatly expanded from my 8 minute talk for the Conceptually Bound show.

Sometimes the text taken from books and titles of articles will spark the idea for a book. I find it pays to keep a collection of these phrases, both as inspiration and possible book titles.

Comet Found, ©1987, 2-3/8 x 3-1/2 x 1-7/8 inches
The title, and the text inside this book came from an article in the science section of the San Jose Mercury News titled "Comet Found to Have Heart of Darkness." I envisioned space as a river of stars, flowing from the mouth of a fish, the source of all life.

Comet Found
This was a very early book. I lightly scratched the text in the border and stars on the formica pages.

Astronomers Say, © 1998, 7 x 4 x 1/2 inches (closed).
This book came from an article in the paper titled "Astronomers Say They Saw Space Mirage."

Astronomers Say
I am fascinated by star charts. All the star names were made up by cutting up text from the article and putting words back together. The ones that sounded appropriate became the star names.

The Distance of the Moon, ©1990, 2 x 3-3/4 x 1-3/4 inches.
This book illustrates a story in my all-time favorite book, Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino.

The Distance of the Moon
I used phrases from the book on each pair of pages. This one says "She was the color of the moon." I have read this book 6 or 7 times. The imagery is very spacey, cosmic, and poetic.

My favorite unused quote is from Farok, a character in "Dune Messiah" by Frank Herbert. I'm hugely paraphrasing here: Farok sees the ocean for the first time. He says he went into that water one man, and emerged another one. Then he says "the universe is unfinished, you know." Somehow this quote has been in my head for years, but hasn't become part of anything.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 2/5: Childhood Memories

This is part of a series on my sources of inspirations. There is an index here. These posts are greatly expanded from my 8 minute talk for the Conceptually Bound show.

zero to twelve, ©2007 4 x 2.5 x 3.5 inches (closed).
There are so many things I remember fondly from my childhood. Many of them seem to have informed my art-making urges. I have always treasured things I find, on the street or in creek beds. The penny and old bottle cap above have such nice patinas. You can see a cicada through the window above. There were cicada in Ohio, where I was born, and where my grandparents lived. I remember hearing their buzzing sound, and seeing their exoskeletons attached to trees. They seemed very mysterious to me. At times these early memories rise up in my mind with a force that surprises me. The numbers on the plastic protractor and the dial (below) refer to charts, maps, time and distance.

zero to twelve
Of course I was fascinated by dinosaurs. And we frequently played pretend games like cowboys and Indians, or Daniel Boone, depending on what movie we had seen on t.v. To start a project like this, I get out all the things that seem related and spread them out. They can dictate the size of the book, and whether the general tone is funky or jewelry-neat. I usually start with one or two interior pages and work out from there. I like to react to things as I go along when I'm making a book with lots of found objects. This makes a nice change from the meticulous metalwork, which is mostly planned out in advance. It's also a chance to indulge in some nostalgia. I still miss the landscape of the midwest, the rolling hills, deciduous forests and the fireflies and crickets.

Myself as my grandfather, made of crickets, grass and rain about 5 inches high, ©1987
Although we moved a lot, I have always felt Ohio was home. We visited my grandparents there as often as possible. I often think about the line of people who precede me. Not only as genetic ancestors, but as people who have contributed to my view of life, even if it's just to react against them.

Myself as my grandfather, made of crickets, grass and rain
I am fascinated by the old layered medical diagrams. The second layer here is a large gear, which I used to represent the spirit. I'm thinking of myself as a cog in a much greater mechanism. I am connected to my ancestors by gears and we are also connected to many other people. The whole world is a large mechanism that has many interrelating parts.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dreams as Inspiration 1.1/5

I keep thinking of more I should have included in the last post. How did I compress this into 8 minutes for the original talk? Many of my ideas about creativity come from a class I took years ago with Jacqueline Thurston at San Jose State. She's very good at helping artists find their own personal imagery.

The Findings of the Expedition to an Unknown Land by Ludmilla Paulsdotter ©2005, 8 x 7 x 3 inches.
How do I use the dreams I have recorded? My main goal is to think about them frequently. I hope this will allow me to "see" my ideas in dream imagery. I love the way things change in dreams: a car becomes a bicycle, a baby becomes an adult, night exists in the middle of the day, a wave becomes a dinosaur, which becomes a large hill. I can fly, glide, float and swim through the sky in my dreams.

I watch for recurring symbols, interesting images, and words or phrases that strike a chord. My current list of dream symbols includes: bears, dinosaurs, books, people as trees or books, houses, the stars, cars, boats, a girl made of leaves, a woman with sticks for hair, maps, stars, the moon, other phenomena in the sky, sea creatures including fish, caves, and water in many forms: streams, lakes, the sea.

Occasionally I dream of a completed book or a painting. Sometimes I'm actually making something, but more often I just see it somewhere. This camera-book was a hypnopompic image. Although wikipedia says the hypnopompic state and it's twin, the hypnogogic state, are decidedly different, I find them both great sources of imagery and odd words. I would love to make this book.

I also keep a list of what I have been in my dreams. I'm not sure if this relates to art, except to reflect parts of my mind. I have been a pirate, a troll, a monster, the deposed ruler of a small country, my son, a spy, several nationalities, from outer space, a time traveler, a little boy, a man, a bear, a thief, a fish, a medieval serf, Robin Williams, and a man living around 1800.

I used to have a book by Patricia Garfield called Creative Dreaming. It was very helpful to get me started, but I haven't really kept up with current ideas in this area. I don't pursue lucid dreams, although I have them occasionally. I prefer to have images arise out of my unconscious, and to allow them to have their own meanings. I like the feeling that my mind is a vast unexplored land that I can just wander in. I don't want to chart a path, I might miss something really good.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sources of Inspiration 1/5: Dreams

Sometimes people say to me "I'd like to get inside your head for a day, how do you get your ideas?" My 8 minute talk for Conceptually Bound 3 tried to answer that question. I have greatly expanded it into 5 blog posts. Each post deals with one way I find inspiration. Most of the books I use to illustrate these posts were included in the two CB shows I have participated in. The exceptions are Bear With Me, included in this post, Dream Focusing Device and Instruction Manual for the Moon II, included in post number four. All the books are linked to my website, where you can see them in more detail.

My dreams are my main source of inspiration. I try to write them down every morning. I go through periods of not being able to remember them, and periods of remembering 3 or 4 in a fair amount of detail. Every night before I go to sleep, I say to myself "I want to remember my dreams when I wake." and "I want to write down my dreams when I wake." I use an inexpensive Mead 9.5 x 6 notebook and a ball point pen.

In the morning I write my dreams as soon as I wake, using the first words that come into my head. I also make at least one quick sketch. It helps to keep my eyes closed most of the time, to see the images I'm trying to remember. It's important to honor the dream, by reporting it carefully and not judging the content. I have had a few alarming dreams, where I commit crimes, but I pay more attention to my feelings during the dream than the actions. It's important to keep these dream records private, at least in the beginning. Parts of my dreams are revealed in my artist's books, but there are parts I reserve for me. After a period of having the most mundane dreams you can imagine, a crisis in my life, or a book or movie, will spark dreams that have meaningful content. It's also sometimes possible to remind myself that I want to have interesting dreams, or dreams about a certain subject.

We can see by starlight ©1998, 8 x 8 x 1/2 inches.
This book illustrates an all-time favorite dream. My son and I are riding through the landscape in a car that changes into a bicycle.

Pages 11 and 12 of We can see by starlight.
We see a woman with stick hair, then she turns into a bird. I simplified the image on this page. In the actual dream she was hopping around on a picnic table.

Pages 16 and 17 of We can see by starlight.
In the end of the dream, we ride into the stars, so I used the star background throughout the book. In the case of this dream, I have an idea of what it's about, but have decided not to "reveal all." I feel comfortable showing the world the pictures, but several scenes and the complete meaning of the dream remain private. This helps me to remember more detail in the dreams, and allows the dreams to be a dialog between my waking mind and other parts of me.

The Findings of the Expedition to an Unknown Land by Ludmilla Paulsdotter ©2005, 8 x 7 x 3 inches.
This one was originally sparked by a big box of old photos I bought on ebay. When I had them spread out on my work table I realized I could line them up along the horizon line and make a kind of narrative. The project really became compelling when I started including dreamy imagery. Only a few actual dream images are included in this book, but I used dream-like imagery throughout.

The Findings of the Expedition to an Unknown Land by Ludmilla Paulsdotter ©2005, 8 x 7 x 3 inches.
This spread shows the dream that is the heart of the book. People in my family journey in a boat in the sky.

The Findings of the Expedition to an Unknown Land by Ludmilla Paulsdotter ©2005, 8 x 7 x 3 inches.
I like to balance the seriousness of my thoughts with a touch of humor.

Bear With Me, ©2008, 5.5 x 4.5 x 1.5
To illustrate this one, I used dreams, childhood memories and objects from our house that have powerful memories. They all have a bear in them. I dream about bears occasionally. I know they are important in American Indian thought. And I love the idea that they are powerful spirit figures. But in working on this book, I decided for me they may represent my animus. Of course imagery can simultaneously have many meanings that are equally valid.

Bear With Me
In this dream some friends and I are threatened by a man with a bow and arrows. We become bears and walk down a long white hall. I hope the guy won't shoot us in the back. He doesn't.

Bear With Me
Here I used phrases from a number of my dreams about stars because I wanted to include Ursa Major in the book. Just as I finished this book I dreamed about a huge sleeping bear. I wanted to poke it and make it come after me. I wasn't afraid, and as I woke, I was about to poke it.

April 20: I added more informational titles for the books and a better explanation of the talk.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

the first day of 2008

I like to start the new year by watching the sun come up on the first day. It's a time to reflect and feel connected with the natural world. The sunrise this year was not dramatic. But the sky was clear and peaceful. Let's hope it's a sign. 2007 turned out to be a very tough year for us. It's looking like 2008 might be just as difficult. My only resolution is to try to find more inner peace so I can deal with the stress.

My artmaking time is scattered right now. When I get into the studio, there are times when I can't really focus. I'm doing some eraser carving for fun and working on a book that is destined to be a multiple. I have started it twice and decided last night that I'll need to re-do some pages, again. This all sounds negative, but in the middle of the stress there are some very sweet moments that keep me going. I don't feel my life is about making art right now. It's about the whole process of living, and adjusting to whatever comes.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Pop quiz: What does gardening have to do with art??

What does the picture above have to do with the one below?

I have been spending a lot of time in the garden for the last month. Because of that, progress is slow on the Dream Focusing Device. But I feel so alive and connected to the natural world when I garden. The content of my work mostly is about death or some kind of loss. And nature can teach us a lot about death. I feel comforted to see that the old vegetable plants I throw in the compost bin in October become mulch that nourishes new plants the following spring. Life flows in a cycle that is both sad, because we lose those we love, and reassuring, because life does go on.

Here are the details, if you are also a gardener: In the foreground at the right are raspberries and some perennials. The next bed contains poppies on the left, a tiny tomato plant, and snow peas to the right of the tomato. Further back are two parsley plants, the remnants of our winter garden. And, of course, a lovely orange tree in the background.

Oh, and the other details: The Dream Focusing Device is getting close to being done. I have the hinge ready to attach. Because the Device folds for storage, I had a leg that holds up the back part. But it wasn't working well, so I will have to re-engineer that. And I need a little decorative part for the front. I can see it done in my mind, so I am very excited to work on it.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Dawn, New Year's Day, 2007

Seeing the sun come up on the first day of the year marks the real beginning of the New Year for me. December is a hard time of year. There were December deaths in my family years ago, and many old memories come back. Some are happy and some are sad. I see the first of January as a turning point, both in the winter, and in my state of mind. It doesn't always work, but it's a good place to start. There are more sunrise photos in my flickr set New Years Day.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

What keeps you from making art?

I made this box in Inge Infante's Box Art class. I wouldn't say it's the worst experiment I've ever done, by a long shot. But it doesn't fit with the work I usually "publish." (On my web site or in shows.) I like it, but I'm not satisfied with it. I want to make boxes and don't really know where I'm going with the idea.

I made a few boxes, mostly in my student days. I love boxes, almost as much as books. So why don't I just make some now? I have one on my workbench right now that is two-thirds finished. And abandoned.

I struggle with this. Due to lack of time, my cowardice and some other unknown factors, I can't just dive in and do it. I know I need to make some things that will be failures. I know the only way to start something new is to do it, make mistakes and learn from them. But knowing something is not the same as doing it.

How do you give yourself time to experiment and not be serious? Some very interesting discoveries can be made when you're playing. I can't always do it, so I can't give you an easy answer.

What sometimes works for me is to promise myself I will show it to no one. I plan to make absolute garbage, and then destroy it, or hide it. I have plenty of bad art in my studio. But I can't get rid of it, because there are ideas in it that I love, and will use in the future.

After writing this, I think I should go ahead and buy the metal shear I have been longing for. It time to get to work, right?


Thursday, March 23, 2006

How do you deal with criticism?

I went to a critique group last night. They have been meeting monthly on a day I haven't been able to attend, so I haven't been there for a long time. I'm actually not even an official member at this point, my attendance has been that bad. This is a good group of people. Their focus is on helping people improve their art. The criticism is given as "here's an idea." And then you can take it our leave it. I like these people, and trust their opinions in general.

7 Extinction Events

When I showed them 7 Extinction Events I thought they would say "put real footprints where the dinosaur book is supposed to stand." Instead they liked the book, but didn't like the environment. Two people didn't mind, or actually liked the environment. Three others seemed to agree that it didn't work.

Here are some of the comments:
  • It's too crafty - needs to be more artistic
  • It's not enough like my work in general (serious and humorous at the same time)
  • It's too small
And some of their suggestions:
  • Paint the base black or brown so it looks like a silhouette
  • Extend the base and add some fossils
  • Make the base pivot to show fossils
  • Add a road, so the dinosaur is walking into the future
  • Add a lightning bolt to represent a disaster about to overtake him
  • Put scenes from the book, or in that style, around the base
  • Put fossils or something else on the bottom and mount the whole thing over a mirror so people can see the bottom
  • Make my own pedestal (I found out last night that it looks great on a rock slab coffee table - but what wouldn't?)
  • Make some disasters, like a bolt of lightning or a comet, that people can choose and insert into the base.
  • Make the palm trees out of copper
I have to sift through this and make a decision. Unfortunately I have already taken a bunch of photos, so that time may be lost. But I think some of these ideas were in the back of my head somewhere, and I was ignoring them. The point that resonates the most with me is that the base isn't like my work in general. Right now I'm thinking I'll make a copper palm tree to see how I like it. I had originally considered this, and decided it was a crazy idea. And I do like the idea of putting collage around the sides of the base. I do not believe that less is more, when it comes to art.


Saturday, December 31, 2005

How do you stay creative while traveling?

Any time I’m away from the studio for more than a few days, I loose my momentum on projects. It becomes very frustrating. The solution when I’m at home is to try to make art for at least an hour most days of the week. This Christmas, when we went to visit my family, I brought a large envelope of collage materials, some blank postcards, scissors and archival glue sticks. I was hoping to at least keep that inspired feeling over the holiday. There was an added bonus, my niece likes to do art projects. She is talented and I like to encourage her interest in art.

I was able to get in a little time making collages and talking to my niece about her art projects. My goal was to have about 10 postcards that I could mail to friends instead of Christmas cards. I came home with seven and made a few more today in the studio.

I had an hour to pack some art supplies before we left, so I grabbed some interesting papers, scraps from the drawers of collage materials and some blue wrapping paper with silver stars. I tossed the other supplies into a little box. My postcards are 4.25 x 6 inches, the standard postcard size. I should have planned better and bought postcard stamps before leaving.

I usually start collages with a painted background. Since I didn’t want to take paints I had to either use the creamy white background of the postcard, or layer on papers. You can see I mostly layered the papers. I tried to work quickly and make intuitive decisions.

Musical postcard
I love the relationship between the music and the scientific image. This card was boring until I added the thin strip of red wrapping paper at the left.

Plane flies into target postcard
I found lots of interesting stuff in the local newspaper. These comic characters remind me of family gatherings.

Father Christmas and stamps postcard
This is one of my favorites, it's very pretty and I finally found a use for that old Father Christmas.

Wish you a happy new year
This one is a failure. I'll keep it around. It seems to need something, maybe it's just unbalanced. If something doesn't look right I play around until I like it better. Maybe eventually something will come to me. If you have an idea for how to fix this one, I'm all ears.

The final result: I did keep some kind of "flow" going over the holiday. I feel eager to get back to work on my current book project. Next time I travel I'll bring colored pencils plus the other stuff. I didn't need half the paper I brought. I could have used the newspaper and discarded magazines from my sister's recycling bin.