Thursday, December 6, 2012

Creative Dry Spell

I'm in an inspirational dry spell at the moment.  A lot of ideas are swimming around in my head, but I haven't been able to commit to any new projects that require real artistic skill.  I keep making sketches, looking at various substrates in the piles, and at the tile/glass selections on hand.  Right now, I have a large drawing of my goat, Gimli, ready to map out and make into a cartoon, and I'm in progress on an oil pastel re-creation of a Jost Ammon woodcut of a woman with a bee skep.  But, in both cases, I want to work bigger than I have been, and I haven't figured out what method to use.  Should I buy mesh to lay over the design, use the contact paper method, or transfer the design to the substrate and work directly?  I'm most comfortable with direct method, but transferring images is complicated.

In the meantime, I've finished installing my stair risers and put in a backsplash in my bathroom.  I also completed an abstract mosaic in monochromatic white.  These projects are more intuitive, less stressful, and require less effort than representational mosaic.  All projects are rewarding, and I like having more and less challenging projects going at all times, so that I can move back and forth between them.
Challenging, stressful, and utterly satisfying.

More like a puzzle, somewhat formulaic, meditative, and fun.

I don't like dry spells.  I feel unfocused.  But, I know they are important.  Creative energy needs to rest and wait sometimes.  Other things need attending, like bills and housekeeping and pet maintenance.  I really should be cleaning my studio.  I think part of my discomfort with down time is a fear that I'm tapped.  I am out of ideas.  I'll forget how to create or lose momentum.  There is also the need to keep working, keep producing, keep selling art.  If I don't, I'm just a homemaker, and that completely devastates me.  I'm not the domestic type.  Thoughts of getting real job start to plague me, and I fantasize about the notion of punching a time clock and getting a reliable paycheck.  Then I remember that my daughter would have to go to after school care, and I have no idea what we would do about her many half days, in-service days, and when she's sick.  I would have to sell my goats and our food growing efforts would be thwarted.  There would be commuting costs, frantic meals, doing laundry at midnight...  Time to get off the laptop and make some mosaic!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thor Fundraiser Change

Thank you to everyone who came to Mixx 96.1 during Arts Walk last weekend!  And extra thanks to everyone who contributed a few dollars to the collection for Thor to attend the SAMA conference.  I raised $75 toward my goal!

But, after talking with Thor a bit more and re-thinking the practicality of my idea, I think I am going to use the money a bit differently.  While Thor was at my show, he asked a lot of questions about how to get his hands on materials, and how he could accomplish certain projects, like making a concrete form in the shape of a pumpkin.  Bill from Mansion Glass took Thor next door to show him his free scrap glass, so that is a good resource, but Thor needs more tools and materials to continue to practice.

In the meantime, Thor is only 4 days away from losing his current housing situation and is desperately searching for another place to live.  While he is concerned about having a roof over his head, it seems almost silly to raise money for the SAMA conference.  I realized that it might not be of enough benefit to him to make it worthwhile.  I had to recognize that the whole idea was mine, and Thor is just good-naturedly going along with it.

So, I asked if he would prefer that I use the money to get him more supplies, tools, and maybe a book of mosaic techniques?  He was enthusiastic about that idea, so I hope no one will mind if I shift gears at this point.  I've already given him a small crate with nippers, glass, some adhesive and wedi.  He would love toyo cutters, groziers and running pliers, so I'll put the money toward those things, and maybe The Mosaic Book, which has some basic starter projects.

I do want to send a special thank you to Toni at Mixx 96 for contributing 1/3 of the money raised.  It was very generous!  If I lived closer to Olympia, I would create a program to provide art opportunities for people without access to them.  Piece by Piece in Los Angeles is an organization that I admire, providing mosaic instruction for homeless folks.  It gives people a safe place to be where they can express themselves and learn a new skill.  They sell the mosaic artwork to support the organization and continue to do outreach.  Yes people need food and housing, but creative work gives people hope and helps them to feel human in the midst of struggle.  It can be a healing and motivating factor in their lives.

Thanks everyone!  As Thor completes projects, I'll post photos.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Get Thor to the Murano!

Olympia's Fall Arts Walk is coming up this Friday, October 5th.  This year, I'm showing my work in the Mixx 96.1 lobby, which is on Washington St., between State and 4th Ave.  In addition to some recent work and a few functional pieces, I'll have a slide show about the Artesian Well Community Mosaic.  The slides document the entire process, beginning to end, and I've been having fun collecting and organizing the photos.

At the show, I also plan to launch a fundraiser for my friend Thor.  I met Thor when I was working on the Artesian Well.  He had been at the local "soup kitchen," Bread and Roses, and someone told him how people were invited to contribute to the artwork at the well.  Once he got started, he was hooked.

As days passed, Thor told his tragic story.  A few years ago, he had recently separated from a woman he loved because she struggled with an addiction, and was enrolled at a graphic design school in Seattle, when he received news that his mother was very ill.  He left school and used all of his assets going to Missouri to care for his mom until she passed away, and then to handle her funeral.  And then a call came in to let him know that his girlfriend had been found dead for unknown reasons.

Since then, Thor has been trying to get graphic design work without a secure home, phone, or professional attire.  His grief has been debilitating.  Thor is clean, sober, articulate, and friendly.  He is also a natural with mosaic!  Not everyone has the patience and spacial skills to work in mosaic, but Thor took to it immediately.  He said that working on the well made him feel happy for the first time since the deaths.  He came back day after day, whenever he could, usually waiting for me in the mornings when I arrived.  By the end of the project, Thor had achieved basic mosaic skills, and he is the person I asked to finish the project at the very end when I ran out of time and had to race home to meet my daughter after school.
Thor regularly lost all sensation in his legs from working on the concrete.

Since then, I've given him some tools and materials to continue to practice mosaic, and had him over for a workshop in glass-on-glass technique.  When his time in a transitional housing facility ran out, he lived and worked at a friend's farm for the summer, and it sounds like some local businesses may be hiring Thor to do some graphic work.  (Thor has a laptop and a vinyl cutter for making banners - his most precious possessions.)
A small mosaic Thor made for a Cougar fan during a workshop.
In 2013, the Society of American Mosaic Artists will be holding their annual conference in Tacoma, WA, at the Murano Hotel, only about 20 miles north of Olympia.  I know Thor would find the conference extremely inspirational, and that it would be a great benefit to him.  Thor has drawing and graphic design skills that, when paired with developing mosaic skills, would lead to more options for art and work.  Therefore, I feel compelled to raise money to make it possible for Thor to attend the conference.  It would take about $300 just to get him in, with some food included.  I'd like to up the goal to $500 to give Thor options for transportation, meals, and possibly even some lodging so that he can enjoy the early morning and late evening activities without having to catch a bus back and forth to Olympia.

I've never held a fundraiser before.  I hope I don't violate any laws.  At this point, I'm going to take up a collection, starting at ArtsWalk.  I'll donate 10% of my art sales at ArtsWalk to the fund.  After ArtsWalk, I'll continue to raise funds until I meet the goal.  If anyone has ideas for a fundraising event, please share.  Thor said he'd be happy to make artwork or create graphic design projects toward the goal as well, so keep him in mind if you have need of these services.  If you email me, I'll make the connection.

See you on Friday!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Redistribution of Honey

Yesterday, I suited up and went out to harvest myself some honey.  We have four hives.  One is established, and had 2 extra honey supers, one is just kicking butt and has one extra super, one has just the right amount, and the new swarm doesn't even have a full set of frames.  So, having read (and absorbed) one whole beekeeping book so far, I had a plan.  The two extra supers would be removed from the established hive (called Drones Club), and I would give one of them to the newest hive.  I read about that, see, and my friend Damian confirmed it.  The other set of frames would be taken as rent payment.

I found that one of the extra supers wasn't quite full, so I took 5 frames for us, smoked and brushed most of the bees off, and put them on the porch.  The next super down was REALLY HEAVY, and very full of bees.  I set that on a wagon, smoked it a bunch, and wheeled it a distance from the hive, hoping the bees would evacuated back to the safety of their condo.

Then, I went to check on the other bees.  The thriving hive had barely started filling that extra super, so I left it, wondering if I should remove it so that it will be easier to keep their hive warm as temps cool.  And then I decided I should find the queen of the new hive, which is something I heard beekeepers do regularly.  After all that book learnin', I felt like a dope because I searched every frame without finding her.  As a matter of fact, I have yet to locate a queen in any of our hives.

After that, I had to start making dinner and being a responsible parent, so I left off beekeeping for the night.

This morning, I covered my kitchen in newspaper, because last year, I covered it in honey instead, and our feet made shlupping sounds when we walked for at least a month.  I heated a pot of water to keep my capping knife in and set up three big bowls for separating honey and wax.
Bowl of mostly wax, bowl of mostly honey, naked frames, etc.
Last year, it took me three days to process the honey - though there were more frames because a hive was invaded by yellow jackets and the bees disappeared.  I had honey in my hair, on my face, and covering anything I had touched.  It was on every knob, button, handle, the phone, the toilet...  This year, I managed to remove all of the honey, preserving the frames, in just a few hours.  And I stayed clean!  Most of this is just experience, having everything assembled ahead of time so I don't have to rifle through cupboards with a dripping honey frame in my hand.

One nifty tip I learned from that book is the bees will do a lot of the clean up for me.  I put the empty frames back into the hive and set my honey and wax covered dishes outside, and the bees raced over to gorge themselves.
Bees washing up my dishes
When I went back a couple of hours later, everything was clean!
This bowl was covered in honey just a bit earlier.

Once the wax and honey are removed from the frames, the next step is to separate them from each other.  Some people use cheesecloth, and they probably do a better job, but I used a fine sieve, and found it to be satisfactory.  I don't mind some fine wax particles in my honey.
While I was doing all of this, the bees could smell the honey through my screen door.  They came in droves, buzzing loudly, saying, "Hey you big, doughy human!  Give us back our honey!"  Feeling guilty, I shut the door so that I couldn't hear them.  It's not stealing anyway.  It's redistribution.

Meanwhile, I had the front door open, and the smarter bees found their way around the house and started coming in before I realized what was happening.  They seriously wanted their honey back.  It took some time just to carefully remove each bee and put them back outside, and I'm still finding them here and there.  They were completely peaceful, though.  No stings.
By the end of the day, I had over a gallon and a half of delicious raw honey. Not bad.

Side note: That Damian friend I referred to earlier has a beekeeping/honey business in Portland, OR that is quickly becoming famous.  Watch for him on Bizarre Foods.  The brand is Bee Local Honey, and he keeps hives throughout Portland.  Each neighborhood has its own flavor - a great concept.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Good Friends

Even though I'm generally hermit-like, I have a lot of friends.  Not only do I have a lot of friends, but my friends are amazing people. I check facebook daily, and it is inspiring for me to see the art being made, poetry being written, beer being brewed, gardens flourishing, witticisms exchanged, smart political commentary, and most of all, the adventures being had.  Sometimes I wonder, "How did I collect so many fantastic people?"

The other day, an acquaintance and colleague, Laurel True, posted a simple line: I love my life.

Laurel spends much of her time in Haiti, creating community through mosaic, and fundraising to bring much-needed supplies to this poverty-stricken island.  She has been in Haiti during hurricane Isaac, which hit hard.  Her statement summed up the thing so many of my friends have in common, which is an ability to roll with adversity and to turn it into something powerful.

My friends are doing things like parenting children with autism, going back to college, juggling work with art and family, lacking health insurance, going through divorce, and suffering serious health problems, just like everyone else.  And they get frustrated and angry.  The thing that impresses me is that each of them comes out the other side, every time, better than before.  My recently divorced women friends, now rendered single moms, are taking advantage of their new freedom by learning extreme sports and going on beautiful hikes and blossoming, and their kids are watching (and participating.)  One of my friends is suffering a debilitating and mysterious disease that seems to shut her body down.  Sometimes, she can't use her hands.  When I see her, she has a cane, and has needed a wheelchair.  She can't hold a job right now.  Instead, she is just being downright fabulous - not that she wasn't before.  She was.  But, in the face of this enigmatic illness, she sings in a band and makes art and keeps a blog and has the best sense of humor of anyone I know.

Three of my friends have lost their children.  I can't imagine it.  How does a person go through such a loss and still find beauty in the world?  But these three all radiate goodwill and strength and a sense that life is precious.  They live with their loss every day, they keep smiling, and they give the best hugs.

One of my friends was in a coma for 5 weeks due to a massive stroke suffered during an operation.  He has mostly recovered and is writing a novel based on intense lucid dreams he had while unconscious.  He could feel sorry for himself, but he's utterly grateful for his second chance, and his appreciation for life, family and friends is contagious.

Most of my friends have less dramatic stories, but are just as inspiring, like Damian, who quit his social work job to start a beekeeping company that is quickly becoming very successful.  Or Janice, who creates multi-story felt installations in museums.  At any given time, I have friends hiking to mountain peaks, kayaking in the Puget Sound, organizing for civil rights, traveling to distant countries, growing things, creating things, educating people, and basically making the world a better place.

My friends are creative, proactive, joyful, funny, ethical, political, smart, courageous, and unconventional.  They see the abundance in their lives more than the deficits.  They take opportunities when they come, rather than shrinking from risks.  They follow their passions, even when it is scary.  Being part of such a community is like being on a trampoline.  If you've ever jumped on a trampoline with multiple people, you have experienced the sensation of being lofted much higher when several people synchronize their jumps than when you jump alone.  I feel like all of my friends and I are jumping together, and it's fantastic.

Just a few of my friends:
Janice Arnold
Bee Local Honey
Bat Country
Tune Stranglers
Bil Fleming
Sarah Utter
Laurel True
Seattle Mosaic Arts
Vermont Youth Conservation Corps
Ride for MS
Ruby ReUsable

Monday, August 27, 2012

Drones Club: Closed for Winter

Today, while walking around the garden, I noticed unusual activity at the entrance to one of our hives.  There appeared to be some kind of battle between larger bees and smaller bees, so I put on my bee suit to take a closer look without becoming an unwilling participant.
The ultimate battle of the sexes.

Luckily, I just finished reading "Honeybee; Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper" and I soon realized what was going on.  The larger bees are drones and the smaller are worker bees, and this hive is expelling the poor drones to prepare for winter.  Tragically, the male bees, being nearly useless to the rest of the hive, are kicked out each year to die of cold and starvation.  The females slowly group together in a tight cluster, which they keep at 95 degrees Fahrenheit through the cold weather.

Looking at the ground in front of the hive entrance, I could see that this hive has been driving out their drones for a little while, as it was littered with little male bee corpses.
RIP little drones...
I opened the hive to see if there were any other clues to be found inside.  This hive is doing very well, with far more honey-laden frames than they need to make it through winter.
This hive is in the perennial garden, with a big raspberry patch on one side, lemon balm in front, a large bed full of sea holly, and a huge cottage garden beyond those, including borage, lavender, and calendula.  Ironically, this hive is named "Drones' Club."

While I was suited up, I thought I'd check the hives in the veggie garden, though I had just been out there and everything looked normal.  The entrances of those three hives appeared normal, but on closer inspection, I could see that they were also beginning to push out some drones.
You can see a worker bee beating on a drone right at the top of the entrance.
I guess this means it's time to think about harvesting honey, feeding some bee supplements, and keeping an eye on things while they hunker down for the winter months.  And it also means the end of summer for me.  School starts in two days, and I should probably focus on getting my own house in order.  Time to have the chimney cleaned and make sure the generator is working.
Now, if only my tomatoes would ripen.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mosaic Conference Coming to Tacoma in 2013

I joined the Society of American Mosaic Artists sometime around 2007, I think, mainly to affirm for myself that I was a serious mosaic artist, intent on becoming proficient in the medium.  I received a newsletter with tips and articles, and watched with envy as a conference was planned each year and SAMA members in our yahoo group connected to share hotel rooms and got excited about the workshops and presentations.  There was always a lot of excitement around the conference, but with a small child at home and being financially strapped, I couldn't even consider attending.

An example of "crafty" mosaic - the sort of thing I made in 2009.
But, when the conference took place in San Diego in 2009, I was completing a large commission for an elementary school, and my husband's family was in SoCal, so we decided to make it into a family vacation.  The three of us flew to San Diego, stayed at the fancy conference hotel, and I had a mind-blowing experience while our family had a blast in and around the city.

That first year, the only person I knew at the conference was Kelley Knickerbocker, Seattle-based mosaic artist extraordinaire.  I am very shy, so I spent a lot of time alone, writing in my sketchbook, recording all of my new revelations.  There was the Mosaic Arts International exhibit, featuring mosaic made of materials and using techniques I didn't know existed.  I participated in the mosaic marathon, where SAMA members piece together a mosaic mural within only 3 days, and it gets donated to a local non-profit.  By joining the project, I had the opportunity to use smalti for the first time, getting tips from other mosaic artists, along with the thrill of working side-by-side with artists I had admired online.

There were meals shared with other artists, seminars and presentations, and a rocking dance party at the end.  My favorite experience from that conference was a tour to visit the home of James Hubbell, which was amazing and inspiring.  By the time I left San Diego, I was full of new ideas and a renewed commitment to building my mosaic skills.  I swore I wouldn't miss another conference.

I have not managed to go to every conference since then.  It is very expensive to fly to another city, and for the hotel stay.  I learned that it is a lot more fun and convenient to stay at the conference hotel.  By the end of the first conference, I had at least 10 new SAMA friends.  This last year, I felt like I knew everyone, and there were constant choices for after-hours activities.  It has been a great experience to sit down for dinner or drinks with people whose work I greatly admire, and to spend 5 days straight discussing mosaic, mosaic, mosaic.

Because of financial considerations, I have never taken SAMA workshops.  While everyone else is rushing from learning how to use hammer & hardie to how to make concrete forms to how to make polymer clay mosaic, I take shifts on the mosaic marathon and explore the city.  This year, because the conference is close to home, I won't have to pay for a flight, so I'm planning to take at least one workshop.

The only down-side to getting involved with SAMA is that it compelled me to work harder, learn more, and raise the level of my work to a standard that I can feel proud of.  By down-side, I mean that I sometimes miss making crafty mosaic that I can sell cheaply.  More thought goes into each item that I make - but my work has improved by leaps and bounds.  I certainly wouldn't trade my SAMA experiences for making plant pots and Ikea mirror frames.

Granted, I believe there are a lot of hobby mosaic artists who do make simple, functional work, and who go to the conference just to find new material options and to play.  It is a very supportive environment. I just happen to want to take my work to new levels.  If not for SAMA, I would not be doing portraiture or community mosaic.  And I would not know about many of the techniques and materials available.
An example of recent work.

If you are interested in mosaic, consider joining the Society of American Mosaic Artists and attending the conference.  This year's exhibit will be held at the Museum of Glass and the conference will take place at the Murano Hotel in Tacoma.  There will be great tours, and downtown Tacoma is full of art galleries.  If you live in the Pacific NW, it is far more affordable to attend.  Here is the link:

I hope to see you in Tacoma in April 2013!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Post-Artesian Reflections

On Monday morning, I drove to Olympia with an uncontrollable smile on my face.  Last day!  I knew I had 3 pails of grout to apply, and that it would be a rush, but I felt confident that I could finish.  It was drizzly, but plastic had been covering the surface to keep the concrete dry, and I had my canopy.

I set up and got started, and within an hour or so volunteers began to arrive.  I was surprised how many people felt compelled to be there for the last part, even though it was cold and rainy, and I had warned them that we were running out of things for everyone to do.  I think they all just wanted to see it through to the end.  Kim wiped down the epoxy grout while I mixed a new batch and kept on filling all of the grout lines with my spatula.  Susan filed sharp edges and Teasy polished the glass with superfine steel wool.  When Thor came, I had him mix the final batch of grout and he got the chance to try his hand at grouting for the first time.

Suddenly, it was time to pack up, but there was still about a foot-wide section without grout, and a lot of soft grout that still needed to be wiped down!  I knew Anouk was getting on the bus, and I needed to meet her at home.  Just then, Karen came by in her mini-van, and we came up with a plan.  Thor would finish grouting with help from the rest of the volunteers.  I left just the items they would need to finish up.  Karen would put supplies and the canopy in her van to hold onto until I can pick them up.  And I raced home, getting there a little bit late, but Anouk was home alone for no longer than 10 minutes.

It was hard to leave my big project without finishing it myself, but I was impressed that this group of people would jump in and save the day, and I knew they could do it.  The crew became very capable over the weeks they worked on the project.  Now, I realize that I could feasibly manage a community mosaic project without having to be present for the whole process.  Some of these volunteers could co-manage it with me as the lead, and we could take on projects all over Olympia and beyond!.  I've had my eye on that retaining wall right before the 4th Ave. bridge, on the hill - the one constantly being tagged and painted over.
Kim, Me, Karen, Thor, Susan, Teasy, and Robin - ready for the next project!

And the Eagles building.
And the walls of the Japanese Garden.
Just for a start.

On Wednesday, Lisandro and I took advantage of dry weather and did some filing and polishing.  We have a little bit more to go over, but it is essentially completed.  DONE!  I've been back at home and in the studio, trying to catch up on everything that has been neglected during the past 6 weeks.  It is overwhelming.  Floors need mopping, hooves need trimming, gates need fixing, the garden is about to be choked by morning glory, tilled garden beds are waiting to be planted, and my studio is piled so high with mess that it is hard to walk through it.  Meanwhile, I have committed to donations for art auctions and an exhibit, plus Matter Gallery has sold a lot of my work (yay!) so I need to get back to making art, asap.  I have so many ideas, and no ideas.  I'm finding it very hard to re-focus.

For now, I'm trying to just relax, recover, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Approaching the finish line!

I don't know how many of my fellow SAMA members are following this, but I've been feeling as if I am leading a mosaic marathon, except that it is a month long and the people working on it are not SAMA members.  Most have never done mosaic before and are not familiar with terms like "andamento."

But, they are dedicated and enthusiastic, and they have stuck with the project all the way to the end - and we are almost there!

Last week, I felt very frustrated.  I mentioned it in a post on facebook, and was surprised how many people were incensed to learn that damage had been done to the work.  The information went a little bit viral, and I was concerned that I had inadvertently created more controversy.  But, I realize now that the result was very positive.  More people came by during this past week just to say thank you, and to express their commitment to protecting the mosaic.  One friend brought a bag of snacks last weekend, and I'm convinced that my volunteers would have run out of steam without that extra boost.  They all stayed until 6:30pm both Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
It was a party!
Best of all, no one has removed our plastic coverings at night and there has been no tampering at all.  In less than a week, we have nearly finished adhering mosaic on the biggest and last part of the project.

There is nothing particularly innovative or fantastic about this mosaic, as mosaic goes.  It is a simple design: cartoon-like fish and completely random opus-palladianum mishmash background.  It is an onslaught of color and texture, interspersed with found objects and little surprises.  But, it has been the most meaningful project I've ever done.  I had no idea, starting out, how important this would be to the community.  First, I was very moved by the reactions of people at the fish-making event when they learned that they were invited to contribute to something that would become a permanent fixture in the City.  It was surprisingly emotional.

Never before have I allowed anyone else to work on a paid commission with me.  The first day that two volunteers showed up to help, I was scheduled for a photo shoot for a local magazine.  I had to hurry and mix thinset and give basic instructions.  I left Lisandro in charge of supervising and took off with the photographer.  Driving away felt so strange!

Slowly, more people were showing up, and anyone passing by could join us to put on one piece, or work for half the day, as they chose.  There has been so much surprise and delight in this mosaic.

One of the most dedicated volunteers is recovering from very tragic losses in his life.  He is struggling to find work as a graphic designer, but is living on the edge of homelessness.  He says working on this mosaic calms his mind, and he is often waiting in the morning when I arrive.  He mixed some of his girlfriend's ashes into the thinset one day to commemorate her in a permanent way.

Over the next few days, we'll be finishing up the background on the last pillar, and I'll do the last of the grouting.  It will be a huge relief to get back to my studio and garden, but I will also miss working with my lovely volunteers, plus all of the colorful characters who keep me company while I work.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bouncing Back

I hit a wall this week.

Since the beginning of the month, I've been getting up every day at 6am to get my family off to school, then taking care of the farm animals, then driving 40 minutes to Olympia.  Then I set up my canopy, which is not a wimpy job, then unload a few hundred pounds of materials from my car.  I spend the day crouching on concrete, using my hand to nip and grout until it burns with pain, through lunch until my time runs out, then load it all back in the car, take the canopy down, and race back to my job as Farmer Mom.
*Excuse me for bragging, but I would like to mention that the car is a 1988 Toyota Corolla wagon with 342,000 miles on it - and counting.*

Monday and Thursday, I get an extra hour to work before racing home to meet the bus.  Fridays and Saturdays, I work up to 9 hours straight.  Even my volunteers, who work 2-3 days each week for shorter stretches are suffering severe aches and pains.

So, wouldn't you know it, this weekend I could feel a cold coming on.  I was dragging, so I took Monday off and got some rest.  On Tuesday, I wasn't quite recovered, but I was anxious because I had left two forms unfinished, wrapped in plastic.  I planned to do some grouting and to finish filling in one area.

I was frustrated to find that the forms had been unwrapped, and once again, pieces had been pried off.  I'm not sure I wrote last time, when someone bashed some of the stained glass and chipped pieces out.  And I think I just rolled my eyes every time I went to unwrap some earlier work, to find that someone stuck gum in the ungrouted section of the mosaic.  But this time, the pieces had been chipped off and scattered around the parking lot, and I felt so defeated I wanted to cry.

Just one example of damage done to the mosaic after hours.  There was a little glass foot on this fish tail.
Every time pieces are chipped off, I have to carve and scrape the thinset out to fit new pieces in.  Then, I can't grout until those are cured, so it can delay the project a couple of days.

I don't know who would do such a thing.  Most of the people who spend their days in that area are homeless, or living on the fringes, but they are not mean-spirited and I am on friendly terms with most of them.  There is a group of youth who band together and are not friendly toward me.  They occasionally send a messenger over to ask a pointed question such as, "So, who paid for this project?"  When I explain that it was funded by downtown businesses and commissioned by the City, they look very satisfied, but angry, and report back to the group.  In the mornings after damage has taken place, the City's signs asking people to respect the artwork will be torn off and flung to the side, and messages will be scrawled on the walls and the well saying, "Take back the well" and references to "anarchy."  Some of them have mentioned that they think improvements to the well amount to "gentrification."

These are the only clues I have.  It could just be kids on meth attracted to shiny things, in a destructive frame of mind.  But, it was pouring rain, blowing in sideways despite my canopy.  Lisandro and I were on a tarp that had started out dry, but eventually just gathered pools of water.  I was shaking so much from cold I kept dropping my pieces, and everything was sliding and dripping and drooping, including my stamina.

We actually got a lot done that day, but I couldn't bring myself to go back on Wednesday.  And I really had to pull myself up by my bootstraps to go in today, especially since it was raining again.

Lisandro has just finished wrapping the plastic with duck tape, and is ready to go home and drink hot tea.
But, Lisandro had brought duck tape on Tuesday, and the plastic stayed put.  So I put up the canopy and grouted the top of the bench - the part that had received the most abuse.  Once it is grouted, it is less vulnerable and people can comfortably sit on it.  As I worked, the sun came out.  There's a guy who plays guitar and sings a song about the well ("Come to the well and drink freely,  Come to the well, and be free.  Come to the well, and drink freely.  Come to the well and have a nice day!")  He played and sang.  A lot of people came by to thank me and express concern because they had heard about the damage.  Several more people said they would volunteer this weekend.  My cold symptoms disappeared.  Once again, I was excited about the project.

Tomorrow, we will start the final concrete structure - the biggest one.  I'm in the home stretch!  It's going to be a mild, sunny weekend and quite a few people have said they'll be joining me.  I guess I really just needed a couple of days off to get my groove back.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Art, Mosaic, Water and Community

As you know, I've been in progress on the Artesian Well Community Mosaic project for several weeks now.  I spend day after day residing at this amazing natural resource, slowly adhering mosaic fish made during a community mosaic weekend, and filling in around them with a variety of tile, glass, shells, mirror, and found objects donated by local people.

(Product placement: Laticrete donated the very high-quality thinset being used for this project.  Thank you, Laticrete!)

Originally, I planned to fill in the background on my own, to ensure a consistent design and quality application of materials.  However, a tight deadline and experience spending time at the well lead to a change-of-heart.  I began inviting people to sit and apply pieces to the concrete forms and found that it felt more inclusive.  Soon, many more people began to join me on a daily basis, so the project has been moving along at a stronger pace, and the whole aesthetic has changed.  Karen comes almost every day to take her mind off of her ongoing lack of employment after losing a State job.  Thor has become an invaluable member of the "team" as he is also seeking work, along with processing the death of a loved one.  He says the meditation of mosaic is very therapeutic, and he is even smoking less.

Other volunteers include Darla Lynn, from South of Portland, OR - over 2 hours away!  Also Teasy, Robin, Jessie, Kaytrin, and more and more.  Today, a whole family sat down and created a little seascape at one end of a concrete bench.

Meanwhile, I am a sympathetic ear for many of the folks who visit the well.  They tell me how important this untreated water is for them.  Most of these people feel possessive of the space.  Some come from places like Seattle and Tacoma on a weekly or monthly basis, filling enough 5-gallon jugs to last until the next trip.
Carol and Donna discuss the essence of water after a Native American blessing, which takes place on the 11th of each month at noon.
But, every day, homeless youth come to the well to brush their teeth, wash their hair, and sometimes to rinse their clothes, laying them out in the sun to dry.  These folks also feel a sense of propriety, but often, you can feel the disdain when someone of privilege comes to fill jugs, to find a band of young people using the place to clean up.  On one hand, many people of all class levels come to this one place, and most are kind and friendly to each other.  On the other hand, I constantly hear animosity and misinformation in the things people say to each other at the well.

People say that the City only purchased the well to take possession of the parking lot so they could generate more revenue.  Others say they did it so they can police the space and control behavior.  They tell each other that the City painted over the murals.  If I ask where they heard the information, they can't answer.  One man asked me, "Isn't it obvious?"

I understand that disenfranchised people feel a reasonable distrust of authority, but these attitudes are not based on any real information, and they are polarizing.  It is sad to see so many people coming to this place for the same purpose, but looking at each other with suspicion and fear, and spreading paranoid rumors.

I hear people complain that "they took the Olympia out of the well" when they took steps to improve the space, turning it into a mini-park.  I hear others complain that the improvements are so industrial looking that they are an insult to the spirit of the Artesian Well.

As the mosaic has come together, people have been very supportive.  For those who felt the concrete forms were ugly, they are excited to see them covered in sparkling color and design.  For those who felt it was too "yuppified", the inclusivity of the process has made them feel that it is by and for the community, and everyone who has worked on it brings people by to show off their contribution.  So, my hope is that by facilitating this process, I will create a convergence point.  The well is an incredible natural resource, accessible to everyone.  It is a gathering point; a crossroad for people from all stations of life and for all opinions.  Here the twain shall meet: at the well.
It took 2 weeks to complete this section of the project.  I expect to work at least 2 more weeks to cover all of the concrete forms.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Putting the Art in the Artesian Well

That's me in the silly hat, with Darla, who drove from South of Portland to help out.
On Friday, I got to the well early and set up my canopy.  It didn't rain as hard as on Thursday, but the canopy really helped to keep the area dry.  My first visitor that day was a man who was convinced that all of the small mirror pieces contained video surveillance units.  He accused the next visitor of following him, then asked me a lot of questions about my religious beliefs before commenting that I was wielding a sharp implement and moving on.  In fact, I was using a carving tool to get thinset from between tesserae.  This process is pretty easy the morning after I adhere the fish, but I have learned the hard way that it is nearly impossible by the next afternoon.

It was cold on Friday, though not as nippy as Wednesday and not as wet as Thursday.  Darla Lynn arrived at about 10am and it was great to have company all day, and the extra help filling in the space between fish.  At one point, a very sweet woman came along and asked if she could put some pieces on.  Darla helped butter the backs and let her place them.  She put a cluster of green glass tiles on, with some backwards, but she was so happy it made me want to open the whole process up and make it more participatory.  Considering I have only a few weeks to complete the project, inviting the community could help me to meet the deadline.  What I lose in consistent spacing, I gain in speed and connection to the people who use the well.  I told her she can help me again when she finds me there.

The sun came out in the afternoon, so I kept working until 6:45.  I had worked over 9 hours.  I was incredibly sore and drained from interacting with people all day.  I took Saturday off to be with my family, but I returned to the well on Sunday because I was worried about the thinset that had squished up between the fish on Friday.  This is when I discovered that it is vital that I do not apply new fish unless I am able to return the following morning.  (I also discovered that someone had urinated on the plastic covering over the pillar.)  I spent 2 hours carving out very hard thinset, until my hands were aching and a little bit bloody.  By the last fish, the thinset was like concrete and I gave up.  I'm thinking of using a lighter shade of grout so that it won't be too obvious.

Today (Monday), Alan came down to do some filming.  He has been documenting the whole process.  Later, I had two volunteers show up to help fill in the background, plus Lisandro!  We didn't have quite enough tools and containers for everyone to work at once, but I was being whisked away by a photographer from a local magazine, so it was wonderful that I had helpers to continue working in my absence.  I think, with planning, I could accommodate more volunteers and that we could get this project finished very quickly.  Today, it felt like all I could do to keep people supplied with thinset, tools, and materials.  From now on, I'll apply new fish first and start the grouting process while others fill in the negative space.  It is wonderful to have help, and it really increases the fun factor.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Artesian Well Mosaic installation day 2

I returned to the well yesterday with renewed enthusiasm and a thick, wool coat, hat and hooded rain slicker.  It was pouring rain, but at least I was warm to the core.  I assembled a tarp over my work space, unwrapped the post I'm working on, and got started.

Lisandro came down to help, and it was very nice to have two of us digging out yesterday's thinset, making the work faster and less tedious.  Here is a photo of the thinset squished up between tesserae:
The flat spots are where it pushed against the tile tape that held the fish together until they could be set into mortar.
Here is Lisandro, scraping away at thinset with one of my carving tools:
Luckily, the thinset came out very easily.  The gloves were a good idea.  I realized that scraping thinset is just going to be how I start each work day until this is over.  Since the tess are all different sizes, some with slight curvature, in order to ensure full adhesion, I have to put the mortar on in a thick bed, and it is going to squish through.
So, here is the first fish with thinset carved out, so that grout can be applied later.  Ain't it cute?
The rain was incessant yesterday.  Poor Lisandro was soaked and left after lunch to avoid being miserable and getting sick (smart.)  Thanks to our friend Tara, who went to meet Anouk getting home from school, I was able to work until 3pm.  Since the rain blew in at an angle, I worked under the kiosk, on the surface facing the camera.  An overhang and the tarp kept that spot dry, but I had to dry each piece with a towel before putting it into thinset, and rain was getting into everything.  It was a slippery mess.  (But at least my thinset wasn't setting up super fast like the previous day.)

With a brimmed hat and big hood on my head, every single time I went to stand up, I forgot about the metal bar over my head.  Whack!
Furthermore, several times, I walked right into the door of my wagon when I went to get supplies.  I felt like an idiot, and I have multiple bumps on my head today.

Today, a mosaic artist from Oregon is driving up to assist me.  It is pouring rain again, so I'm taking my big canopy.  I find that having an assistant really makes the work go faster, plus it helps to have a buffer from the public.  Most of the steady flow of people filling containers are perfectly sane and sober, offering a jaunty "Good Job!"  or whatever friendly encouragement comes to mind.  But there are also a lot of colorful characters, staggering and slurring, announcing, "I'm here to help with the mosaic!"  When I try to explain that we are all set, thanks, they are offended and either tell me about their bid for City Council or attempt to ride off on their bike in a huff, only to have a shoe come off, fall on the concrete, and complain that I'm not helping.

So, I very much welcome company, if only to explain the project to everyone and help me keep on task.  With only a few hours each day to make progress, every conversation sets me back.  I wouldn't say no to a soy latte, either.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Artesian Well mosaic installation, Day One

I had a late start this morning.  The car needed to be packed with buckets, mixer, thinset, materials, tools, dropcloths, etc.  Then a business matter came up that I needed to take care of, and by the time I got to town, it was 10am.

Luckily, there is a water source right there at the job site.  And I cleared with LOTT (our water treatment center) where I could rinse my buckets, so that is all kosher.

I had this plan: to smear dry grout into the grout lines of the taped fish before applying them to the thinset, so that the thinset would be prevented from squishing up between the tesserae.  This did not work out.  The powder fell out all over as I tipped the fish into the thinset bed, and mixing grout and thinset together just made a mess out of the process.

So, I abandoned that idea right away.  When I used my notched trowel to even out the mortar, it didn't fill some of the odd, curved shapes (like sea glass), so I began laying the mortar on with a spatula.  Thinset is squished all into the grout-lines, quite visible through the clear tile tape.  I have no choice but to go back later and carve it all out.

While it was pretty darn balmy out here in my neck of the woods, it turned out to be cold and windy in Olympia.  I was shaking like a scared rabbit out there, hunched over, dropping my pieces every which way (usually into my thinset bucket.)  The mortar was setting up much faster than usual, probably because of the wind, so I tried to work as fast as possible.  It was a mess.  The lay of the tesserae is much more rudimentary than I would prefer, and there is thinset stuck to all of the surfaces.

My phone alarm was set for 1:30 so that I would have time to clean up and race back to Elma to pick up 3 girl scouts and get them to their meeting on time.  That is a very short, frantic work day.

So, I expect to have quite a fix-it job tomorrow, but I will also be more prepared.  I'll take layers of clothing to be prepared for any weather.  I'll be sure to get a caffeine fix before arriving - something I did not do today.  I'll get an earlier start.  I'll take my knee pads so that I am not in extreme discomfort the whole time.  I'll slow down and take more care with the layout.

I only managed to cover about 2/3 of one side of one pillar, so there is still time and room to turn this around.  On Friday, a mosaic artist from south of Portland is going to drive all the way to Olympia to work along-side me!  It will be very nice to have the help and the company.

Not that I didn't have company; the stream of visitors filling water jugs was nonstop today, and most people wanted to talk.  Predominately, they wanted to know what the heck I was doing to the well?  Some felt compelled to share the history of the well, and one person relayed a detailed description of a new kind of building material he wanted to invent, along with a method of creating free housing for people in need.  If I understood correctly, the structures would be made of corrugated cardboard and the exteriors would be mosaic.

So, it was a day of reckoning of sorts.  I've worked really hard on this project for the past 6 weeks, but it is clear that I am just beginning.  But, when it is done, it will be a really fun place to fill up your jugs.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Oh, and there's the homesteading thing...

I know it has been forever since I've written anything about how things are going on the farm.  The public art project has taken over my brain lately.  But, we still have to attend to animals, bees, and the massive garden.

So, just a quick summary:
We have 3 ducklings and 2 chicks.  They are in a rabbit cage in the barn with the goats, kept warm with a heat lamp.  But, they are growing fast and I need to figure out a safe way to give them some room very soon.  Unfortunately, the one duckling that I suspect is female has a deformed leg (or more likely, suffered a fracture early on and it healed wrong.)  I tried to create a splint to support her foot and leg, but she pulls it off every day.  She is still eating and drinking and growing, and the other ducks seem to protect her, so I am hoping she will be able to live a decent life with only one good leg.  We have tried to hold her a lot so that she will be more comfortable with us when she needs our help later, but all of the ducks are skittish.

We have a tractor-mower now, for keeping the lower pasture tended, and it has a system where we can catch the trimmings in big bins, easy to dump into the goat yard.  This provides fresh food for them and saves having to buy hay.  The tractor also has a little trailer that will help us haul wood, mulch, weeds, compost, etc.

Another new acquisition is a pick-up truck.  This is essential out here.  I had been carrying hay in the trunk, which is messy and inefficient.  The truck is only for hauling, not regular driving, and it makes life a whole lot easier.

We picked up two new hives of live bees in mid-April.  They are happily installed in their fancy new hives that Mike worked on throughout the winter.  We think the hives we lost this past year succumbed to mold, a common problem in this area.  But the new hives should help keep moisture out.

This time of year, it is important that we till, fertilize, weed and plant in a timely manner.  Having two big projects going right now makes it very hard for me to focus on the farm.  I manage to keep up with slug hunting and some weeding, but Mike has had to do the rest on his own.  He spends all of his time off work mulching, turning soil, amending, fixing and building new beds and structures.  Yesterday, he created a table for starting seeds in the sunroom, with a grow-light attached.  All of the beds are ready for planting, so I need to find time in the coming weeks to help with that.  If I don't, his hard work is for nothing and we don't have food in the coming year (or we spend a lot more buying things we could grow.)

Right now, I'm still making our morning smoothies with ingredients we harvested last summer.  We still have winter squash to eat and a lot of canned peaches and jam, plus many jars of honey.  There is so much summer squash in the freezer still, I will probably start feeding it to the goats and chickens.

So, while I have been writing more about the Artesian Well mosaic project, the little farm is still in progress and going well. 

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish!

The community-participation aspect of the Artesian Well mosaic project took place this past weekend, in partial conjunction with Olympia's Spring Arts Walk Festival.  I anticipated a good turnout on Saturday, because it coincided with the festivities, where many downtown streets become pedestrian-only, filling with jugglers, musicians, and citizens interested in enjoying the art and fun atmosphere.  I wasn't sure what to expect on Sunday.
We were not disappointed!  We managed to set everything up early, and we had participants coming by already, so we had several people already in progress on their fish well before the official noon start time.  From there, it was a full house all day, with people always waiting for a spot to open up.  We had to improvise and set up extra spots.  Volunteers found extra chairs and we accommodated as many people as possible.

I was very impressed that so many volunteers showed up and jumped right in to help.  Alan Rodgers was there when I arrived, and helped Lisandro and I with the whole set-up, both days.  After that, Jamie, Karen, Tina, and Bryn jumped in, helping new participants find spots, cutting and laying down contact paper, explaining the process, nipping when necessary, and wrapping and stacking the completed fish.  Frank Lynam helped with clean-up both days.

We had snacks and beverages provided by Grocery Outlet, and Vic's actually delivered pizzas for the volunteers both days!  It was most appreciated, since we really didn't have time to take breaks.  We just took it in turns to go off to the side and wolf down a slice.

As busy as it was, it all went off without a hitch.  We had plenty of materials, we managed to rotate people through at a good pace, getting new people set up quickly.  Two sets of wheeled nippers walked away on Saturday, which was disappointing, but that is the worst thing that happened, and it is quite minor.
Many people worked in groups, often teaming up on one fish.

Pizza delivery accomplished, time to make a fish.

Getting started.

Beautiful fish!

Dad and daughter working side-by-side.

The crowd rotated through, changing throughout the day.
I think it took, on average, about an hour for each person to complete a fish.  A few people spent half the day, using smaller pieces and putting careful effort into their creation.  Some people went with larger pieces and more abstracted fish.  We gave them some simple guidelines (take care with sharp edges, leave space between pieces, try not to mix up all of the colors, have fun) but it was impossible to really exercise quality control.  I will spend today and tomorrow adjusting each fish and covering the surfaces with tile tape.

This weekend was both exhausting and invigorating at the same time.  The fish-makers were all so excited, they expressed over and over that this was one of the most fun experiences they'd had in a long time, that they loved how the design incorporated the community, and they each took photos of their fish so they can find it easily when the whole project is finished.  People working on mosaic under that canopy over the weekend included a wide cross-section of the community, from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.  We had fish made by toddlers and elderly people.  Whole families worked on one fish, and a couple of adults came by both days because they had so much fun the first time.  At the end of Saturday, we had made 82 fish.  (I haven't counted Sunday's yet.)
Vince Brown and Monica Peabody came by and played music for us on Sunday!
So, the community mosaic project was a great success.  Now for the serious work of transferring all of that hard work onto the concrete forms around the well, filling in the space between them, and getting it grouted.  My biggest fear is that there are some people who will sabotage the work while it is in progress.  I will have to leave ungrouted mosaic untended, and it might be tempting for some people to pry the pieces off and ruin the work before it is finished.  I certainly hope that will not be the case.

Thank you to everyone who came to help, both volunteers and fish-making Olympians!  I could not create this project without you!  And extra special thanks to Lisandro for organizing the donations, helping to keep track of materials, and volunteer recruitment and scheduling.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Artesian Well Community Mosaic - Next Week!

I meant to keep updating this blog about the progress of the community mosaic project, but I've been pretty overwhelmed with getting ready, and documenting the process hasn't been a priority.  I feel utterly grateful to have an intern, Lisandro Perez, who has taken on donations acquisition, volunteer organizing, and keeping track of the pallet at Furniture Works.  Meanwhile, I've been trying to get the word out to all event calendars and print media, going through all of my own materials to contribute as much as I can, and going to community groups to do the project the way it will be done next weekend so that I work out the kinks ahead of time.

Luckily, every group has done a great job making mosaic fish, it has been fairly simple to explain and execute, and only one person has cut themselves on a piece of glass.  Fish have been made by students at Choice High School, a McCleary girl scout troop, and the Olympia Senior Center.  We have 40 fish made already!  Meanwhile, Seattle Mosaic Arts graciously offered to create some fish to contribute.  Claire, the owner of SMA, originally convinced me to try her contact paper-tile tape method, and I can't tell you how helpful that is.
We were becoming anxious when we had only 2 weeks to go and only a fraction of the materials we would need to cover the surfaces of the concrete forms.  But then, Advance Glass and Spectrum Glass both pledged donations of surplus stained glass!  I will drive to Spectrum Glass in Woodinville tomorrow to pick up 150 lbs of glass, which is a huge relief.

So, everything is coming together.  I hope we have an enthusiastic turnout to ensure as much community participation in this project as possible.  Don't forget: noon to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday April 28th and 29th at the Artesian Well on 4th and Jefferson in downtown Olympia.  Also, we could still use a couple more volunteers.  If you are interested, email Lisandro:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Olympia Artesian Well mosaic beginnings

I will be honest; I'm a little bit nervous.  Last weekend, I attended Laurel True's slideshow presentation about her most recent project in Haiti.  It is a 140 s.f. mural that took 3 months to complete, with a dedicated crew working long days, 6 days per week.  The surface area of the Artesian Well project is also about 140 s.f.  I will begin adhering the design at the end of April and it is supposed to be completed by mid-May.  The original time frame was not to exceed 2 weeks, but the City is giving me a bit of leeway to make sure it is done with integrity.  Laurel also had a large budget and a giant pallet of colorful tiles to work with.  I have no idea what I will have at this point.

But, mine is a very different kind of project and I think everyone understands that.  The design will be guided by what I am able to get from the community, both in materials and labor.  It will be fun, full of texture and different materials, so that people visiting will find little surprises throughout. 

I feel extremely lucky that an Evergreen student happened to request an internship for this quarter, and he happens to have a background in community organizing, so he will be my Olympia liason, helping with materials acquisition and many other aspects of the project.  What a great gift!  An assistant!  I can't tell you how happy it makes me.  So, you will hear more about Lisandro as I continue to document this process.

Here is how it will work:  I will provide simple fish templates and clear contact paper.  The contact paper will be placed, sticky-side up, over the design.  Participants will stick pre-nipped pieces of similar colors onto the design.  We then use one of two different methods to hold those pieces in place; one is tile tape (for relatively flat mosaic) and the other is cheesecloth soaked in a flour paste (for mosaic with different thicknesses.)  Once the fish are sandwiched, they can be stacked and stored until I am ready to place them into mortar.  At that time, I can easily peel the contact paper off of the bottom and lay the fish right into a bed of thinset.  After that, I'll work on the blue/green background, putting it directly onto the concrete, and after curing time, it will be ready to grout. 
My daughter made this fish from glass scraps.  It is sandwiched between contact paper and tile tape.
I hope to have a lot of warm colored tile, glass, broken dishes and other solid materials to incorporate.  Glass gems are great for bubbles and eyes, big beads can be mixed in, fused glass would be a great addition.  I encourage any artists working in high-fired pottery or fused glass to make some smaller (say 6" and under) fish to place between the larger ones.  If you have big fish beads, or want to buy things like this to contribute, I would really appreciate it. 
I've been fusing little fish out of my scraps. I'm totally new at fusing, so I'm winging it.

The complete budget for this project amounts to $13 per square foot, which is not nearly enough to cover materials, let alone all of the incremental expenses.  So, I am keeping my fingers crossed that people will help out by donating to this project.  Just imagine the pleasure of stopping by the Artesian Well to fill your jugs, and spotting that Fiestaware that you never did glue back together or the tile that was part of your shower before the remodel.  Also, if anyone has connections to a flooring or glass supply company, please bring any colorful overstock to Furniture Works.  If you don't have materials, just stop by the Well during Arts Walk weekend and help piece some fish together.  It's going to be fun!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Navigating the Public Art Process

This exterior panel was made to commemorate the new Food Bank, which is supplied in part by the organic garden at the Senior Center.  They rock.
Having completed a handful of very modest public art projects, the largest being a 4' x 2.5' mosaic panel for the Federal Way Senior Center, I didn't think this project could be much more complicated.  The budget is very, very small, barely more than I've been allotted for much smaller projects.  But, it is more formal and complicated.

For one, this is permanent.  It is going directly onto concrete forms, and is designed to last a lifetime.  Next, I have to do the work on site.  In the past, I've done most of the work in my studio, then had it installed, usually by -or in collaboration with- a contractor.  And finally, it involves community participation, which not only brings up liability issues, it also ensures unpredictability.  I don't know what the materials will be.  I don't know who will be helping me.  Anything can happen, and probably will.

So far, Ken, the owner of FurnitureWorks has graciously agreed to accept and hold the materials as they come in.  He is located right downtown, easy for everyone to get to, and it will be a short trip when the time comes to move it all to the project site.  So that is awesome.

I had to purchase a City of Olympia business license, which is technically required every time an artist operates business within the city limits.  I do exhibits and events several times per year in Olympia, but it has always been too painful to pay the $95 for the license, considering how small my annual budget is.  This time, there is no getting around it.  So, I'm legal now, and $95 poorer.

Next, I am required to carry liability insurance to do this project.  So far, one agent has estimated that it will cost me about $500.  This is far more than I had expected, and I'm still researching my options.  Some of my friends have business insurance for closer to $300/year, but I don't know if that covers general liability in a situation like this.  While researching, I am realizing that I really should carry insurance for times when I'm delivering artwork, installing the mosaic on scaffolding or mechanical lifts, and teaching workshops.  I'm a little bit embarrassed that I don't have this in place, but, in my defense, I mainly manufacture the work in my studio or work as a contracted employee of the contractor in charge.  Besides, my business is so sporadic, this (and the stair risers I'm currently finishing) could easily be the only installation I do this year.  And next, for that matter.  So, it's a huge investment when I earn so little.  Most of my budget goes right back into the business, and I have had to claim a loss almost every year.

All of this, and I haven't even seen the contract yet.  I was told to send an invoice for an initial payment so that I can start purchasing tools and materials, so I concocted my usual written invoice in the word processor program that came with my computer.  Right away, I was asked to submit an actual "Invoice" with my UBI number and correct format.  That's a bit embarrassing.  I googled how to create a real invoice, and found this site:  I was able to make a nice, professional invoice and email it directly to my contact.  You can print, save, download, whatever.  So easy, and FREE. 

I have been applying for public art projects for years, frustrated that I never have the required experience to land anything that could make my business solvent.  This project seems like a nice introduction to a real public art project, with contracts and coordination with several City departments.  I am getting a lot of enthusiastic support from every direction, and I know that, while I've never done something quite like this before, it is well within my ability.  With luck, this will be a foot in the door to some bigger projects in the future.

P.S. Over the next couple of weeks, I get to finally meet and learn from Laurel True, one of my heroes in the world of mosaic.  For many years, she has been helping communities to rebuild and recover with mosaic.  Check out her work:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Olympia Artesian Well Community Mosaic Project

Before leaving for that long stretch of travel and adventure last month, I received a phone call to let me know that I had been chosen as the artist for a new public space in Downtown Olympia.  As long as I can remember, there has been an Artesian spring bubbling out of an old pipe with some concrete pieces stacked around it in a decrepit parking lot downtown.  As I understand it, it is one of the last of some 95 Artesian springs that once gurgled happily throughout town.  Olympia's motto is "It's the Water," and it has been considered a great resource for the City.  There is a constant flow of people filling containers from the well, so you would think it would have been graced with a more fitting environment before now.

But, there is finally a little "park" installed around the well, honoring the fresh spring water that constantly flows up from deep underground.
Olympia's Artesian Well
My proposal is to collect scrap tile, stained glass, found objects, broken dishes, etc. and, during the Spring Arts Walk weekend, the community will be able to create mosaic fish on contact paper that I will later incorporate into a design that will become a permanent surface treatment for the concrete forms.  They don't look like much, but they measure out to about 140 square feet of surface that needs to be covered.

I am very excited to be a part of this project.  I moved to Olympia in 1988 and I love the city and the community.  The people who collect water from this well feel innately connected to it, and they have a protective attitude toward it.  I think involving the community in the project will support that sense of ownership, and I hope people will enjoy returning to the well again and again, seeing something new in the mosaic each time, and always feeling proud to know they had some part in the creation of the artwork, whether they recognize shards from that broken dish they donated, or they see the fish they pieced together out of bits of tile and stained glass.

Friday, March 16, 2012

February travels part four; Joy, Mosaic, and Tornados in Kentucky

After riding through 7 states (and back one) on a series of Greyhound buses to get to Lexington, I arrived at the conference hotel at about 9:30am in clothes I had been wearing for 3 days straight and in an altered state due to sleep deprivation.  I slept for 2 hours straight, dreaming of missed stops and rude bus drivers.  When I woke up, Krystie Rose (my roommate) was off cavorting with mosaic artist friends, so I was able to enjoy space alone, something I need a lot of in order to maintain my sanity.  I showered and felt all of the stress of the trip wash away.  When I looked out our window, we had a great view of downtown Lexington, which was surprisingly charming.  Best of all, I could see a Starbucks just across from the hotel.

So, I bought a bagel and coffee and used my Nook to access their free wi-fi.  Every sip of quality (not bus station) coffee was more delicious than any I had ever had.  That was the BEST bagel I've ever had.  I could hardly contain my euphoria, having arrived, being comfortable, knowing I could look forward to a week of mosaic immersion.  There was something else, too; a sense of triumph.  I felt like I had come through a rite of passage, stepping out of my comfort zone, facing adversity, and I was just fine.

Granted, when I think about it now, it seems a bit overblown.  I wasn't in mortal danger, I did not witness a tragedy, I didn't survive anything all that serious.  If I had, I would have been traumatized.  But, as a very quiet person who avoids social situations and prefers solitude and home to raucous fun and adventure, it was a transformative experience.  I felt changed.

I used my internet to find a coin-op that claimed to be a very short walk from my location, so I collected the clothes I had been wearing through tropical areas the previous week (stinky!) and started walking.  I had to stop several times to ask strangers directions.  I finally found it in a rougher section of town.  And, once my clothes were clean, I was even more filled with gratitude.  Clean clothes!  Whoo hoo!  I spent the day getting some much needed exercise and made it back in time to have dinner with Krystie Rose.

I had to rush back to a volunteer spot at registration where I learned that my Greyhound story was spreading like wildfire.  People said, "That was YOU?"  It was a great conversation starter, and I was feeling about 10 times more outgoing than usual, so by the end of this year's conference, I had about 10 times more mosaic friends than before, and it was a great experience.

For those who don't know, the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) holds a summit each year in a different city.  About 400-600 mosaic artists attend from the U.S. and abroad.  By attending these conferences, I have been exposed to innovative techniques, a wider variety of materials, different applications, and motivation to find my unique voice and seek to execute the highest quality mosaic art that I can muster.  To be honest, I sometimes regret it.  I wish I could just go back to blissfully making crafty, fun mosaic with no sense of how much I need to improve.  Opus what?  Mosaic grammar who cares?  Hammer and hardie, who needs it?

Ali Mirsky & Bonnie Fitzgerald
I never take the workshops.  The cost of getting myself there and staying in the conference hotel is already more than my business can absorb.  But, I always glean good information and inspiration from the seminars and presentations, and those impressions have guided me in my work.  I would not be doing what I do now if not for SAMA.  This year, I enjoyed a presentation by Rachel Sager about using hammer and hardie to break open rocks and stones for use in mosaic. Another by Laurie Mika and Jeannie Houston Antes addressed the topic of narrative mosaic, which I found very timely, considering I've been making a series and teaching workshops on commemorative mosaic panels, which are essentially narrative.  Another presentation by Bonnie Fitzgerald and Ali Mirsky described the collaborative process in public art, detailing the process of completing this gorgeous project: (Well, I seem to have no control over where the image goes.  It should appear somewhere on the page.)

Every SAMA conference is accompanied by an international exhibit featuring juried mosaic art from all over the world.  The exhibit is open to the public, and helps to inform the public that mosaic is more than an ancient art form and more than a fun craft activity.  The possibilities are infinite and every exhibit is more amazing than the last.

I was pleased to be able to volunteer as an assistant in Carol Shelkin's workshop.  I took her workshop last summer and I'm still practicing with using color and value to create dimension in mosaic, so it was good to have a review of the information.  Besides, Carol is a delightful person and it is a joy to spend time with her.
This is my practice piece from Carol Shelkin's workshop.
Another conference activity is a mini-salon, where participants pay a small fee to display their own small mosaic, and everyone comes to check it out, and many bid on and purchase the artwork.  My piece "Second Thought" sold, which is great because it helps offset the cost of my trip.
Another activity that takes place at each conference is the Mosaic Marathon.  One person designs and leads in the creation of a mosaic that is completed by SAMA members in shifts throughout the conference, and donated to a local nonprofit organization.  This year, the mosaic was designed and managed by the intrepid Christine Brallier (see her blog about the conference here  I love sitting side-by-side with other mosaic artists, working with materials I am not accustomed to.  I always get to meet people I've heard of and whose work I've admired, so it is a great experience.

There is so much that I'm missing, if any mosaic artists are trying to live vicariously.  But I especially enjoyed the keynote address, which was the director of the movie "Who Does She Think She Is?" which follows a group of women artists who are trying to juggle career and family.  It was an emotional day for the predominantly female SAMA members, and I left with a new sense of resolve.

The most exciting part of the conference, however, had to be Friday afternoon, when we were all ushered into the storm shelter of the Lexington Center while a tornado passed nearby.  It didn't touch down, but a friend caught some of it on video on her iphone, and it was pretty scary.  It made this conference one that none of us will soon forget (except Martin Cheek, who told me that, when alerted that a tornado was imminent, he thought it best to take a shower.  By the time he was finished, it was over.)

Well, I'm told that I've been hogging the computer, so let's just say I was happy to come home and start catching up on all of my normal household duties.