The site update project…? It’s now at the Totally Messy stage of things, and it may be like this all summer. I’m merging some of my other art sites with this one.
For the moment, SantaFlamingo.com is offline.
WildArtDolls.com is online for the moment, but I’ve just imported all of its articles. This means some of my categories are duplicated, garbled, or otherwise weird. A few articles may be, as well.
Update: The files have been moved and updated. If you see a broken link on any of my doll-related webpages, let me know in a comment. Thanks!
And, of course, I’m working on this (again) in the middle of major changes in my life… including a move. As of this morning, HT and I aren’t sure if we’re staying in Florida, heading back to New Hampshire, or doing something else altogether. (The marriage is fine. The question is about the best location for our respective careers… at least until winter.)
So, I appreciate your patience as I reorganize, restructure, and generally tweak this site (and others) and make Aisling.net a one-stop resource for mixed media art… and a whole lot more.
The search for the earliest “selfie” (self-portrait, as a photograph) seems to be at full tilt.
One of my favorites is dated around 1900. It’s shown at the right. The largest version I can find, online was posted by Sabine Niedola. (The largest, clear image is usually the first — or one of the first — posted online, and I like to give credit to the person who first found it.)
Frankly, the subject’s features look a lot like my own portraits from the 1980s. I’m also pleased to see her hairstyle. I’ve tried that kind of style — even with ultra-thick hair — and it turned out the same as hers. So, I wasn’t alone with the “pouf” issue. (I know about “rats” — long, sausage-shaped supports hidden under the hair — for better-looking versions of this style. I just wasn’t that committed to the style.)
Note: Since I posted this, my friend David Locicero pointed out authenticity issues. This may be a hoax or a cosplay photo.
Something looks a little like an outlet, on the lower right side of the photo. I’m not certain it’s an outlet, but it might be. I don’t know enough about household hardware from the early 20th century, to be sure.
My bigger question is about the matted photos on the shelves. The double-matted pictures are more consistent with modern-day presentations. In the past, someone who could afford that kind of matting would have framed the photos under glass.
There’s also the question of the light fixture (if that’s what it is) on the ceiling in the reflection. And, the high quality of the mirror reflection.
But, whether it’s an authentic photo or not, it’s not the earliest “selfie.”
One in the running is a self-portrait by photographer Robert Cornelius. He’s the dashing young man in the photo on the left.
The fashions are, of course, post-Regency, but I still see a little Colin Firth / Pride and Prejudice in that photo.
Ah, if time travel were possible…! (If he came through a time portal, like in Kate and Leopold, I’m sure many women would swoon.)
Then there’s the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia’s self-portrait, on the right, dating to 1913 or 1914.
The Daily Mail featured the picture in a really nice article.
I’d always hoped Anastasia had survived the attack on her family. Alas, DNA evidence suggests otherwise.
Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by the white blurry image in back of her. Online, that’s sparked some discussion with no firm conclusions. Very cool.
If you enjoy old self-portraits like these, visit Google or any search engine and look for “oldest selfies” and “earliest selfies.” You’ll find plenty, right now. (I’m not thrilled with the term “selfie,” or that it’s the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013, but if you’re looking for early self-portraits, the term makes online searching much easier.)
Right now, I’m going through a 10′ x 10′ storage unit. It’s everything we put in storage when we moved here in 2008, and — finally! — we had it all shipped from TX to NH.
I’ve found most of my art zine collection. They’re art zines from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Titles include:
Tublegs (Traci Bunkers).
IN(ner) Question (Elizabeth Metz).
Ink & Ruminations (Jane Dickinson).
Through the Door (Michelle Lawhorn).
The Gleaner Zine (Sherylynne Carriveau).
Memory & Dream (LK Ludwig).
In some cases, I have just a few issues. Others… I have lots.
What I’d like to do — with the respective owner’s permissions — is scan some (not all) of them and make them available for free download.
I repeat: With permission! (In other words, if you published an art zine and you don’t want it scanned & made available, don’t hit the ceiling. You don’t have to contact me. If I don’t have your specific, written permission to copy your art zine and share it… nobody will see it.)
A few zines aren’t on that list, including The Studio and Dog-Eared Zine. That’s because I either didn’t keep copies, or I’m about 99% sure the owners are still using copies of those zines for income, or both. (I still treasure Dog-Eared Zine and actually hand-carried several issues with me when we moved in 2008.)
If you published an art zine that I might have, and it’s okay for me to scan & share it (free), contact me at zines (at) aisling.net.
If you publish (or published) an art zine and you’d like people to know they can download free copies, contact me at that same email address. Tell me the URL where they can find it. If you have a small graphic (250 x 250 pixels, or smaller) that you’d like me to use to link to your free zines, send it via email and I’ll use it.
Stage fright has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s very selective. I’m fine in front of a crowd of thousands, especially in halls where the lights are on me and I can’t see the faces of anyone past the first row or two… and even they are too dark to see clearly.
Put me in front of an audience of 20 or 30 people, where I can see every face and every micro-reaction to what I’m saying…? Panic. Total panic. I have to steel myself to even think about that kind of public speaking.
That’s why, when I teach, I have a firm rule: I need access to the classroom, in solitude, for at least 30 minutes before the students arrive. (Otherwise, I’m likely to blurt all kinds of things… usually extreme and unexpected, if you’re not ready for the panalopy of creative ideas that rush through my mind like high schoolers rushing to class before the “late” bell rings.)
During my personal pre-class time, I give myself a “pep talk,” and use breathing techniques that would make Dr. Lamaze proud, to relax myself enough to teach. With the right mindset — or at least mental distance from “not good enough” self-talk — I can teach a great class with lots of student involvement.
(Without exception, every class I’ve taught that fell flat… it’s because I wasn’t given that 30 minutes to prepare.)
Creating art can be a similar issue for me and many other people. We may not have that visible audience, but when the initial spark of inspiration fades, the voice of the inner critic can be worse than any heckler in the classroom.
(You know that student. She’s the one who sighs loudly and repeatedly. And, at the end of the class — when it’s too late to do anything about it — she tells you how deeply you’ve disappointed her, and how you really shouldn’t be teaching. Or making art. Or both.)
Regardless of where the message comes from, we’re often striving for impossible perfection… as artists and as teachers. The slightest shortfall or flaw seems magnified on a big screen and in HD, and every metaphorical pore and blemish is the size of the Grand Canyon.
In fact, we’re often our very worst critics. We hold ourselves up to impossible standards, and we’re usually using the wrong measuring stick.
Last night, I was disgruntled. I’ve been working on a series of small (5″ x 7″) oil paintings, based on memory and photos I’ve taken.
Unfortunately, the results are — so far — uninspired. (I’ll get back to that in a minute.)
So, I took out my pen and paper, and started doodling one of my Pandorica-inspired pieces. (The Pandorica is a Dr. Who story element.)
I was so caught up in it, I let it run to the edge of the page. And then, I felt so disappointed, because that meant the piece would require an additional, larger support, just to be matted.
This morning, my husband pointed out that it’s a perfectly good work of art, as it is, and there are worse things than needing something in back of the work so it mats well.
He also reminded me that art is about the inspiration.
That gets me back to my paintings… the ones that aren’t turning out. I said that they aren’t inspired, and I mean exactly that: I’m working on them, production-style. By definition, that’s an industrial approach. (Yes, I am reading Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception. It’s brilliant, inspiring, and terrifying, all at the same time.)
So, I went back to my Pandorica doodles. I’m waiting for this evening’s sunset, hoping the colors will be inspiring enough to spark (and complete) some or all of the six little paintings currently on my easel.
I want to take them with me to M.I.T. next week, when we’re hearing Seth Godin speak and participating in whatever’s going on at that event. I’d like to hand out art, at random, in kind of a random acts of kindness gesture. In other words, just for fun.
But… I feel a little stuck. And, I’ve been trying to work with a deadline more than inspiration. Bad idea.
It’s compounded by my fear of disapproval, or — worse — no reaction at all. Boredom. Kind of a “What, you think you’re an artist…?” reaction, as they drop the art in the trash. (Have I mentioned how well I can awfulize when I’m in this mode…? *chuckle and sigh*)
Okay. I’m not sure if this is more stage fright or the visual equivalent of writer’s block.
Either way, it’s putting the emphasis on the finished work and others’ opinions — even their potential opinions, if it’s work I haven’t shown anyone — instead of where it belongs, on the inspiration, and the creative expression that results.
But, what I’m describing in angst-laden terms is how we, as artists, make ourselves tiny and insignificant. And, it’s why we often stall and lose precious time in which we might be making art.
It’s a toxic, all-or-nothing approach. It’s so far from being in flow — in the creative process where we’re in touch with the sublime — we couldn’t find it with a road map, a compass, and a laser-tuned GPS.
The teaching…? I quit, years ago. Yes, that’s letting small-minded people win, but that’s okay with me. It’s a battle I never wanted to fight. I’m happy to leave those political games to others who savor them.
The art…? That’s another matter. Recovering my willingness to be creative, out loud… thats why I changed this website back into the blog it was in the first place, back in 1995 or 1996, when I began it.
And, it’s why I’m staring down virtual stage fright, posting last night’s Pandorica piece here, as a graphic and as an ATC you can download (and print at 300 dpi). Click on the illustration, above and on the left, to print your own copy.
When I’m not working on art, I’m usually researching and writing books. Well, that or baking bread or cookies… or indulging in a movie or a TV series like Downton Abbey.
Anyway, as I was cruising through some Google+ communities I’m in, I saw a link to journaling as a way to build a book. (Specifically, she’s talking about a novel, but I’m sure this could be adapted to nonfiction, as well.)
If this idea interests you, the best place to start is here:
“Writing a novel isn’t easy. Tracking your world, your characters, and other important events can save you time and save you from plot holes before you even write them into existence.” …click here to read more at that website.
I’m experimenting with writing-related software that will catalogue details similar to what she describes in that journaling approach.
However, there’s something rich and juicy about using pen-and-paper as much as possible, when writing.
Oh, I’m still using my keyboard to compile my books. The ease of working with voice recognition software — so I don’t have to type anything, if I don’t want to — is a time-saver and avoids ye olde carpal tunnel issues.
But, anyway, I’m always interested in diverse ways to use journals for creative purposes. And, this might be a great starting point for a journal about an imaginary realm for artistamps.
This year, we chose some real, alternative Christmas tree options. We had two trees in our living room. (I’ve always preferred to have more than one tree for the holiday season.)
One “tree” was actually a bunch of small branches, arranged in a large glass jar, so they looked like a small Christmas tree. I picked up those branches at a nearby Christmas tree lot, where they had a stack of extra, odd-shaped branches in a pile to go to the trash.
We decorated that arrangement with all the normal Christmas-y things, including a lot of small, sparkly, multicolored ball-type ornaments. The size suited the small scale of the tree design.
To visitors, it looked like a normal, small (2 – 3 foot tall) Christmas tree. We liked re-purposing discarded branches to create it. It felt very “green,” on several levels.
Our other tree involved some serendipity.
I was out for a walk, and noticed a wonderful, large branch by the side of the road. It was about four feet tall, and I think it had been pruned from someone’s pine tree.
I brought it home and found a really large, gold, globe-type ornament to hang on it.
(It drooped, naturally. It’s the way the branch had curved on the original tree… it’s not sagging or anything.)
The effect was almost exactly like the little tree in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.
I propped it against the wall, in a shallow bowl of water. It lost absolutely no needles during the holidays, and it’s still pretty soft & flexible, now.
This afternoon, I’m taking this little tree and our jar of branches to the nearby woods, so the branches return to nature.
These were among my favorite Christmas trees ever, and no trees were killed (or money spent) to enjoy them in our home.
I think this is the beginning of a tradition in our home, and it just sort of happened this year, because I wanted a couple of small trees that fit the size of our apartment.
Note: If that video is missing, here’s one other locations for it: youtu.be/tmY4-RMB0YY (It’s not a clickable link. If it were, the video would auto-embed at this site.) Or, check “John Cleese on Creativity video” at any search engine; that should point you to other copies of it.
OR… if you don’t have 36 minutes for that video, some of the highlights are in the edited version at the foot of this page.
“To be creative we need five conditions,” Cleese says. “Space, Time, Time, Confidence and Humour.” Yep, “Time” comes twice.
That’s something I like in this video: Cleese stresses the importance of time… not just productive time, but time that’s necessary to get that open space in your mind. To someone else, it might look like you’re doing nothing, or nothing of importance. However, it’s one of the most essential parts of being creative, and allows you to cast off the limiting and distracting thoughts that stand between you and that necessary, open space.
Here’s a shorter, edited version of that same video:
… Among Diffee’s pieces of advice for aspiring creative people is this aphorism: “Be like a mother sea turtle.” By that he means lay a hundred conceptual eggs in the sand, then swim off and don’t fret over what becomes of them. Most of them will never hatch; most of the hatchlings will get eaten by predators. That’s not your problem. Your task is just to keep laying eggs. …
In a way, when he says, “Your task is just to keep laying eggs,” I’m reminded of the Cult of Done Manifesto, where Bre Pettis says, “There is no editing stage,” and “Once you are done you can throw it away.”
As artists, I think we can be held back by fear of failure. In our heads, we’ve already become critics, even before picking up the pen, pencil, or glue stick.
It’s important to just go for it, and allow serendipity to play a part in the dance we call creativity.
a lot of people have been summarizing Matthew Diffee’s SXSW 2012 talk. (It must have been tremendous. If anything could make me think about braving the crowds — and heat — of Austin for SXSW, the comments about Diffee’s talk might be it.)
And finally, here’s one summary that I like a lot. Click on the link and scroll down to the section that starts “Best sesh.” I think the summary at the very end of the article is the important part.
SXSW Day 3: It’s all about Bob (Marley) and creativity. Matthew Diffee, a cartoonist whose work appears in the New Yorker, defined his YEP! approach to idea generation at “How to be an idea factory” session at SXSW.
… Caffeine kicks starts the “Process”, so he sits down with an empty sheet of paper and doesn’t stop the free flow of ideas until the paper is full and the pot of coffee is empty.
How he does it: He simply starts with a word or phrases and then applies the following: Add things to one of the ideas…
And, speaking of Bre Pettis, if you’ve never made an art shrine in a book, here’s his video showing one way to start the project:
About 10 years ago, I taught a class like that at Artfest. I have no idea how Pettis took only 20 minutes to cut the pages; some of my students spent the entire day cutting. (Yes, that was the last time I tried to teach that as a one-day class.) Usually, the cutting took me about an hour and a half, with breaks to keep my hand from cramping as I held the cutting blade.
During those breaks, I’d work on elements that would go inside the art shrine. I’ve always liked tooled metal, similar to the journals Tracy Moore created, so I found ways to include some sheet metal (doesn’t have to be very thick) in some of my altered books and art shrines. To stamp the words into the metal, I like a good, heavy tooling set like this one. (Some of the lightweight sets sold at arts & crafts stores… they just aren’t sturdy enough to hold up for very long.)
And then, I’d go back to cutting more pages in the book. It was tedious, but the finished altered books made it worthwhile.
Today, I’d probably do a lot of the cutting with a Dremel tool or something. Yes, it could accidentally gouge some of the back cover, but if you use Pettis’ idea of putting a felt liner there, nobody will know if the Dremel got a little out of control.
I’d also consider using a wood burning tool here & there, along the inside edges of the opening. That could look cool and antique-ish, and cover any raw or weird areas, as well.
Tea staining could work, but it won’t be as good at disguising “oops” areas where the blade may have been sloppy. And, in a single-day workshop, the tea won’t dry quickly enough to move to the next step — sealing the edges — unless you use something like an embossing tool (heater) to dry the pages.
After whatever edge treatment I chose (if any), I’d cover the edges with clear, matte finish acrylic gel medium, so the pages would hold together, but it wouldn’t look too obviously glued. (For some projects, I might mix in some small, dried leaves or glitter, depending on the effect I wanted to create.)
This next video starts with some altered book ideas, but he’s using a board book and cutting out part of each page. Then, he wanders into some interesting mixed media techniques that might work well with the first (shrine-style) altered book, above.
I hope those give you some creative ideas!
With thanks to David Locicero for telling me
about Matthew Diffee’s interview.
Journaling is included in this TED talk about the “happy secret” approach to living a more fun, productive, rewarding life.
It starts with how you feel, and how positive you are. Your emotional level — how happy you are — determines how happy your life events are.
Click the Play arrow to watch it. The video is about 12 minutes long, and very worthwhile.
If you’re in a hurry (though I hope you’re not), the screenshot below shows you the point to fast-forward to. Start at about the 11 minute marker. (The graphic, below, is a screenshot… click on the video above, to watch it.)
All of those suggestions can help. Of course, “meditation” will mean different things to different people, from prayer to conscious meditation, and from time spent admiring art in a museum, gallery or studio, to the simple act of “being there”… being in the moment. However, I believe that the more of these elements you can include in your life, the happier you’ll feel.
In the context of this website, the idea of journaling each day — making notes (words, images, a recording, etc.) about one happy event of that day — can make a big difference in your happiness.
Of course, the studies were based on a 21-day practice of… well, whichever of those choices seem most appealing to you.
In some cases, people will become happier the first day. Others will need to acquire or develop the habit, and — somewhere around day 21 — the person will pause and realize that she (or he) is feeling happier. Colors seem brighter. There seem to be more opportunities, more fun, and more whimsy in daily life. Serendipity is in your favor, and life is better.
I’ve always been an enthusiast of journaling or keeping a diary. Now, there’s evidence that it can improve your happiness, as well.
Here’s how I made my sock dolls for the Wild Art Dolls swap in July 2010.
You will need one sock, some batting or stuffing, Fray-Check, and your basic sewing supplies. (Needle, thread, scissors, and a thimble if you use one.) You’ll also want something for eyes, nose, and other embellishments. At the very least, that will be embroidery thread, yarn, or a contrasting color of regular thread.
First, I started with a large, children’s sock. I’d already washed it in the laundry so, if it was going to shrink, it had already done so. (If the sock dolly needs a bath later, we don’t have to worry about him or her shrinking, puckering, or losing color.)
You should do the same.
Then, stretch it out so the heel is exactly centered, horizontally. Then, the finished doll won’t look too off-center.
Next, you’ll cut off the toe part of the sock. You’ll be removing somewhere between 1/2 and 1/3 of the sock above the heel. That will vary with the size of the sock and your plans for the doll.
If you remove a smaller amount, the doll will have longer ears and shorter arms. If you remove more, there will be shorter ears and longer arms.
Remember: If something goes terribly wrong, you still have another sock. You can use that to supplement the pieces you cut from this sock, or you can start all over again.
The next step is to cut the cuff of the sock, perpendicular to the cuff. What you’re doing is cutting the seam area for the legs. For shorter legs, leave more uncut. For long legs, cut closer to the heel.
Above all — unless you have an octopus kind of doll in mind — don’t cut all the way up to the heel.
The next step is to cut a notch where the ears will extend. Once again, the deeper the cut, the longer the ears. Avoid cutting all the way down to the heel, unless you want a really deranged-looking doll with a strange, short face.
Finally, you’re going to use the toe part that you cut off at the beginning. Lay it flat and snip in into two equal parts. These will be the arms.
Now, it’s time to seal the edges of the sock so they don’t unravel as you’re working. You’ll use a product called Fray-Check for that. You can find it in many sewing supply stores, or order it from Amazon.com. If you’re making a lot of sock dolls (like for holiday gifts), pick up a couple of bottles of Fray-Check. You will go through it pretty quickly. (Plus that, it can dry out in the bottle, after a few months.)
Apply a moderate amount of Fray Check to every raw edge on the doll. Be especially generous where there are angles, indicated by the blue arrows. Those points will get the most stress as the doll is being finished.
Let the Fray-Check dry completely. This can take an hour or two. Don’t sew while the fabric is damp, or it can stretch and bubble.
Next, sew the top of the head. That’s where you cut the rectangle out, and it’s on the right side of the sock in the photo above.
Sometimes I sew along the wrong side of the fabric, and then turn the doll right-side out. At other times, I sew the whole thing from the outside, using an overcast-type stitch.
Then, turn the doll right-side out, so you can start stuffing it.
When you’re stuffing the ears, it’s a good idea to make them fairly solid. I use a chopstick or a stuffing tool for this purpose.
If the ears are really long, you may want to insert a wire after the ears are stuffed. You can use a pipe cleaner or any firm but flexible wire for this. Then, you can bend the ears in zany angles.
Now, you’re ready to sew the legs, stuff them, and then sew the edges of the feet.
Sew the leg seams, but not the feet. Stuff the legs. (A chopstick, smooth end of a pencil, or stuffing tool is ideal.)
Finally, when the doll is how you want it to look, stitch along the bottom edges of the feet.
At this point, I like to add the beads or buttons for eyes, and a nose. I usually use embroidery floss for the nose.
The doll is beginning to have character. I think that’s important, before attaching the arms. Arms can make a remarkable difference in the attitude of the doll.
For the arms, you’ll sew the seams on the toe pieces you cut at the beginning.
Sew just the longest side of each one and stuff it. Depending on how hard it is to hold the shoulder part together, you may want to baste it closed after the arms are fully stuffed.
If they’re only loosely stuffed, you can skip the basting step and attach the arms directly to the doll.
After that, you can add wings, hair, a pom-pom tail, or any other embellishments you like.
Here are a couple of other sock dolls I’ve made. They were propped up in Rubbermaid sandwich containers, so you can see them better. That also gives you an idea of the scale of them.
Here’s the same doll in profile. He has a yarn pom-pom tail.
Another doll, shown below, is made from an adult’s pink sock. The top of the head looks like the doll is wearing a cap. I made the cap from a second, different pink sock. I let the lower edges roll up, like the brim of a knit cap.
I also embroidered a heart on her, and gave her faerie wings.
Once you get used to making these dolls, you’ll find ways to mix n’ match pieces from different socks for different effects.
I can usually make one doll in an evening (about three or four hours), while I’m watching TV or talking with my family.
More Sock Doll Tips
Use children’s socks for the best colors and patterns. For larger, colorful socks, I find good patterns & prices at places like TJ Maxx, especially in their sale sections. If you’re interested in tiny socks for the dolls or to add as ears, arms, or a tail, check the $1 section of Michael’s Arts & Crafts. Some of their Mary Engelbreit-type socks can be wonderful for sock dolls!
Use Fray-Check by Dritz. Amazon carries it, or you can usually find it at a sewing supply store like JoAnn Fabric. I seal all edges before I sew them. (Usually, it takes a couple of hours for the Fray-Check to dry thoroughly. If you sew the edges while the Fray-Check is damp, the fabric can stretch too much.)
If your doll might get soiled easily, use any waterproofing spray on stain-resisting spray, after you complete the sewing but before you add any beads or buttons.
If you’re making a doll that you’ll turn inside-out, after sewing, always try to make the final seam (the one you’ll sew on the outside) where the doll sits down. That way, the seam isn’t so noticeable.
If your doll should sit and not fall over easily, make a small bean bag that will fit inside the “rear end” of the doll. Fill that bean bag with something heavy. I use anything like poly-pellets, or well-rinsed gravel intended for fish tanks, or even unscented kitty litter. (The latter, being clay, can deteriorate and turn to messy dust if handled too often.)
If your dolls are small enough, check the dollhouse furnishings aisle (at Michael’s, etc.) for accessories you can use with (or glue to) your sock dolls.