March roared in with a heavy workload and travel-wrecking winds, but that didn't thwart efforts to finish and ship eighteen pieces of original artwork, introduce a new series, and participate in a one-week residency in Germany. Read on for all the details. "Out like a lamb" feels elusive but I'm optimistic!
As 2017 winds down, I am grateful. While it has been the hardest year of my life (one reason I am thankful it is over), it has also been one of unexpected opportunity, growth, and new beginnings.
I am very excited about a new project underway—and while I can't reveal many details (yet), I can start to share the process of creating something brand new. The challenge is to come up with a solution to use a large amount of my work in a cost-effective way. Original artwork is beyond the scope of the budget, yet we want to create something more unique and special than limited edition prints of the same piece.
Enter hand-embellished prints. They sit between original artwork and a straightforward reproduction, such as giclées (fine art digital prints). Using a reproduction print as the base, the work is then added-to or worked-into with techniques such as touches or washes of paint, spots of clear acrylic to create highlights or other mark-making on top of the print.
In the case of my burnt paper series, I have been testing ways to efficiently burn back into the paper print of an original, as well as create satisfying gilding effects that are cost-effective. Bristol Design Forge has been helping figure out how to use laser cutting to create a range of effects, from clean cuts that barely appear to be touched by heat, to heavier edges with a crispy effect (the latter being much to the owner's dismay, I think, as they pride themselves on getting as clean a cut as possible!).
The samples are off to the client next week, and with a little luck, I'll be sharing more on this project in the near future.
My exhibition at Galerie Uhn in Königstein, near Frankfurt, Germany opened with an enthusiastic gathering, highlighted by a classical music trio, reunions with dear friends, and a great response to my new work.
I also gave an artist talk on September 2nd, when I had an opportunity to discuss this work in public for the first time, using a Q&A format led by gallery owner Jimin Leyrer.
A very big thank you to Jimin and her family for lots of generous support and hard work to make this a great show, and to Ann-Katrin Sura for hosting a delightful gathering after the Vernissage.
There's also a brief article about the exhibition here (open the link with Chrome and it can translate for you).
The exhibition runs until 28 September.
A recently completed commission afforded me the opportunity to play with scale, materials and process. The client, a fine art consulting firm, wanted a larger version of a piece they had already placed in another project. I'd not "replicated" my burned paper pieces yet, thinking there was little I could do to control the effects of fire on paper and therefore produce a similar result. Let the challenge begin!
Earlier this year, I developed a technique to help me accurately translate my sketches to scale. It involves using oversized prints of my sketches, which I then slice into pieces and use as templates for re-drawing the layers at the correct size. It worked well for a Connecticut coastline-inspired piece, so why not use the same process using my own work as the original drawing?
The approach worked nicely and helped to expedite an otherwise traditional, yet time-consuming way to scale-up using a grid system to transfer an image. But what I'm particularly pleased about is that, despite an accurate rendering of the original design, the new version is entirely unique and different from the first. There is happily still not much you can do to control the outcome when taking blowtorch to paper, or when working with materials that are 300% larger than the first time around.
There are several challenges when working at a larger size, in this case 72 x 48 inches. First is workspace. My workbench isn't large enough, so I had to improvise by using the floor and a temporary workshop set up in our dining room (not ideal). The other issue is my Burning Shed, an unfinished outbuilding where I do the things that can't otherwise be done indoors (burning, spray paint, etc.). The Burning Shed was maxed out at this size, so for larger projects, I'll have to find another solution.
Materials take on a mind of their own at this size, especially paper. As much as I flattened the rolled watercolor paper, once you hit it with the blowtorch, it curls and warps as the fibers respond to the heat. I'll continue to explore solutions to this effect, or just work with it - which is what materials are teaching me anyway.
Speaking of learning, this is the first project where I used variegated gold leaf for the gilding. Variegated leaf is a metal leaf that has been heat-treated, chemically-treated or both to develop patinas and unique discoloration. In this case, I love how the subtle coppers, blues, reds and greens add interest to veins of gold that would otherwise be too monochrome and flat for a design of this size.
Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome on this project, with clear ideas on how to continue refining the work, especially at larger sizes - which I hope to do more of!
This coming September I'll be debuting my Playing With Fire series in Germany with a solo exhibition at Galerie Uhn in Königstein-im-Taunus. Plans are coming along nicely for a body of work that both showcases work similar to the PWF commissions that I've been doing steadily for the past 18 months, as well as pieces that take the work in some new directions.
One such direction is Phases, a small series of six pieces that attempt to categorize and put order to an otherwise uncontrollable, ephemeral combination: paper and fire. Oh, the metaphors! The fact that these works emerged during a particularly stressful time in my personal life is no surprise.
Deep meaning aside, I'm particularly pleased with the experiments using subtle color. Viewed straight-on, the color is a faint glow of pink, orange or green. From an angle, the color becomes more noticable, a reward for looking at things differently.
Playing With Fire | Galerie Uhn | 25 August – September 28, 2017 | Vernissage: Friday, 25 August, 19:00
All images are by Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre, Bath
Are you a cow person? Sheep person? Maybe chickens, ducks or pigs? A paper garland of tiny farm animals is just what you need!
They are 100% unique on the planet (for now) and you won't find them anywhere else. I've had the idea to do these for awhile, but couldn't find the right die cuts for the job. In my studio, I have a professional hand-cutter for steel dies, through which thousands of paper flower pieces have been passed for various paper sculpture installations.
When I was in the US over the holidays, I had a custom steel die fabricated to cut the animal shapes. Each shape is approximately 2.5 inches high, so they're fairly small. I kept going back and forth with the designers on details so that they looked authentic, especially the sheep. It took three tries to get enough fluffy wool lines for it to look right. Tiny details like the pig's tail and the chicken's feet were elusive too. It turns out you can only get the steel blades to render so much detail.
I recently added these little lovelies to my online shops. They are made from high-quality art papers in soft, heathery hues. You can choose from a barnyard mix, or an entire garland of your favorite animal. It's amazing what joy tiny paper farm animals sewn into a festive garland can bring.
This new commission for Norwegian Cruise Lines recently shipped out for framing, once again through the capable hands of the fine art consultants at Soho Myriad. This is our third custom project together (and nine total pieces) since September and it feels like we're starting to get it down to a system. I really appreciate Soho Myriad's experience in the business of commissioned commercial art—and am happy that I tend to be a quick study!
The two pieces we're creating for NCL will go on their Hawaiian cruise ship, Pride of America, in dry dock for refurbishment through mid-March. They were originally to hang in the revamped Mandara Spa, but once they were finished, we realized that their depth might require them to be placed elsewhere.
With these pieces under my belt, I am itching to try some new ideas for this series. We have another commission in the pipeline, so it might be an opportunity to play with fire even more.
I'm very pleased to share that I just completed two commissioned pieces for the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Franklin, Tennessee. They are larger versions of the Playing With Fire work that I did in 2013 to exhibit as part of Marseille-Provence Culture Capital 2013 programming.
The two commissioned pieces are much larger (30 x 24 inches) and will be matted and mounted in 3-inch deep box frames to become 72 x 54 inches. They will hang on opposite walls in a corridor at the conference center. I'm very eager to see final installation photos!
Scaling up to the larger size was a challenge. Not only are the materials trickier to work with, but there's a lot of smoke involved. Because the work is created by burning the paper, I couldn't do it in my studio indoors. We have an semi-finished stone outbuilding on our property that I converted to a temporary studio. It's dry and clean enough, after some elbow grease, to be suitable for this paradoxically messy yet pristine kind of work.
Playing With Fire explores the tension between control and letting go. Fire as a medium forces me to let go – it is unpredictable, and simultaneously destructive and creative in how it interacts with paper. Fire also represents a fine line that fascinates me about what we allow ourselves to have in life. How can we have light, heat, spark and glow without self-destructing? As black and white as this work appears, for me it's all about finding a happy medium.
As I entrusted the carefully packaged work to the nice FedEx International shipping men yesterday, I said a silent prayer to Hermes that they arrive in good shape to the framers in Atlanta before their final journey to Nashville. Special thanks to Shannon Douglas at Soho Myriad, the fine art consulting firm who brokered the project. I look forward to doing more!
Just installed a new commission in the lovely home of a friend here in Germany. She'd seen a similar piece I'd done in our own home last year and asked if I could do something similar for her living room. Of course!
The original for our home was installed directly onto a wall. Lovely to behold, but ultimately ephemeral - when we leave this house it either gets torn down or bequeathed to the next inhabitants.
What I love about Monica's piece is that we were able to transfer the sense of delicacy, movement and glow to her home in a way that's a bit more practical than my original design.
For Monica, I created something to work in a large, high-ceilinged space - yet light enough (and flexible in size and shape) to move or morph for future homes.
The title Golden is Monica's inspiration, her subject line of recent emails:
Sitting here, with a glass of wine, enjoying the view! Thanks for such a beautiful creation. The changing light on the papers last night was stunning!
Big thanks to Monica for the opportunity, and I'm happy to know that my work has found a good home.
In my last post, I mentioned three exhibitions in the Marseille-Provence region that my work will be in this spring. Playing With Fire is new work for an exhibition at The Red Door Gallery in Aix-en-Provence.
The task was to use French poetry as inspiration for paper art. I found Silvia Baron Supervielle’s poem, A l’Encre, in Elles, an anthology of modern French poetry by women. You can read the full poem in English at the end of this post.
This project was full of surprises from the start. The original idea that was accepted by the jurors was a life-sized paper sculpture installation—inspired by another poem—that became unwieldy to transport and install. I had to shift gears from large to small, 3-D to 2-D, and find a new poem that inspired. Quickly.
For A l’Encre, my initial focus was on ink—shades of ink washes, splatters, lines, an inky ombré grid. It felt obvious and safe, since everything else was out of my comfort zone. Out of many tests and samples, one tiny detail emerged that excited me: a delicate, organic edge of ink that seemed impossibly thin to recreate or predict.
The more times I read Supervielle's poem, the more it became about fire for me. Here's where it took me:
Paper, ink, pencil, cut, engrave, crumple – a kindred obsession with shared materials of our different crafts. Silvia Baron Supervielle’s poem, A l’Encre, deploys rich visual metaphor to evoke her process for getting poems down on paper, using words and images that I covet.
As it sinks into me, the power of this poem is in the physicality of Supervielle’s process. She seems to interact with her work viscerally, physically. Like a dancer, she allows words to flow through her, musically, and drip out onto the page. There is struggle, but also grace.
Shared materials, shared struggle. I circle around the materials again and again. Trying too hard to find an elusive answer. Only when I give over to faith do possibilities emerge.Repetition, movement, rhythm, a light touch. These are calming, clarifying actions, just as paper and ink ground me in their simplicity. Fire? Fire is a different story. Dangerous, unpredictable, mesmerizing. Fire is Supervielle’s outcome, what she waits for, the reward, a beginning. As I burn delicate paper edges, I wonder if I can have that too, without bursting into flames.
What most excites me about this project is the challenge of working smaller, quasi-2D (the work hangs on the wall, but is still sculptural), and in the abstract. It's a direction I plan to investigate further.
In Ink by Silvia Baron Supervielle
when i pore
there falls to the
depth a medal
breathes into life
of the balcony
night and day
in the lateral
retable of gold
in the image of word-sound
stripped of expression
whole lucid profile
might inflame the pilgrim’s
and whose mute utterance
thrown back over water
modulates a destiny
between path and step
in the hearth
voice and void
word and wind
of the echo
shaped like diamonds
the garden’s silence
there was distance
the pen copy out
the very edge of words
in consenting or matching
the air-borne sand
day after day
on the page
as much as
draws its cut
from this bit by
I have seen this hand
move fast and the word
i have seen this word
see me fly
from my eyes
and find again in
the solitary hand
on the reverse of
One of the opportunities I am taking advantage of while living overseas is to get my work seen outside of the United States. My first experience was really positive with A House With Four Rooms in Frankfurt. Coming up: southern France in conjunction with Marseille-Provence 2013. Each year, two cities are selected to represent Europe as Culture Capitals. Tons of arts programming revolves around this honor in the Marseille-Provence region, including the PAPer'Art Project, a year's worth of paper art exhibitions.
My work is in three exhibitions, the first of which I highlight here.
Love Letters From Germany is inspired by Albert Camus’ essays, Four Letters to a German Friend, a set of letters that Camus wrote to a German friend who had joined the Nazi party. Camus wrote the letters to explain why he was ending their friendship.
I have written four letters to real people, exploring my experience of living as an American expat in Germany with lifelong ties to France. This work is a continuation of my use of wearable paper objects to explore memory, story, and personal experiences.
Each object in this set is a complete letter. A hat, scarf and mittens are indispensible items I have added to my wardrobe since moving to Germany. Wrapping myself in this experience, I am trying on and wearing the expat life for now.
The letters explore the following topics:
Hat: to my German friend and fellow-artist, Anna, thanking her for her friendship. I also express my surprise at being warmly welcomed by Germans in general, a reflection of latent prejudices against Germany that I didn’t realize I held.
Scarf: to Jacques & Ginette, my French host-parents who live near Montpellier, and who have been like family to me since the 1980s. I ask them about their long relationship with German friends through the twin-city rapport between Montpellier and Heidelberg. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German Élysée friendship treaty signed in 1963 by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. A recent survey exploring public sentiment in France and Germany about each other is reflected in this letter as well.
Mitten 1: to Friederich, an 85-year old German man who was in the German military and a prisoner of war. I ask him about this experience and what he knew, thought or did related to the Holocaust. The letter also addresses his post-war life, including a move to Peru to study art, and a distinguished career as a sculptor living in a town near my home in Germany.
Mitten 2: to a 19-year old girl, Martina, asking her about what it’s like to be a young person in Germany today. I’m curious about what makes young people in Germany tick, and how it might be similar or different from youth in France or the United States. Recent polls on this topic reflect that young Germans are generally a practical generation, focused on making good choices and gaining a solid education, but that there are vast discrepancies between opportunity for middle-class and poorer or immigrant youth. I ask Martina how it feels to come of age in a country with a bright future, but pressure to successfully lead the way for many others who struggle.
Through researching and writing these letters, my perspective on Germany has been updated, expanded, and become more nuanced. These are letters of affection and gratitude to the people I have met or known, as well as a reflection of a budding affection for my adopted country.
Love Letters From Germany will be on exhibit at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques d'Aix-en-Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France, March 7 - April 7, 2013.
Since returning from ArtPrize, I've been head-down creating new work for my first exhibition here in Germany. This opportunity came about as the result of a small, informal working artists' group that I formed earlier this year. We've been meeting more or less monthly as a way to keep our work moving forward and grounded.
There are three of us - Astrid Haas, Astrid Blasberg, and myself - in this show. Thanks to Astrid B's relationship with her former employer, Fachhochschule Frankfurt am Main (Frankfurt's University of Applied Sciences), our exhibition is part of the university's culture programming which brings arts onto campus through a series of monthly events.
Our theme is inspired by the title of Rumer Godden's autobiography, A House With Four Rooms:
There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person. -Rumer Godden, A House with Four Rooms
The exhibition, sponsored by the master's degree program in Healthcare Administration & Contracting, will explore the notion of what it means to be a "whole person" through a range of media: artist books, painting, printmaking, and paper sculpture. I am working on four paper dress sculptures, each dress representing one of the four "rooms."
House With Four Rooms
November 14 - December 12, 2012
Opening reception: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 1:00 pm
Fachhochschule Frankfurt am Main
University of Applied Sciences
D-60318 Frankfurt am Main
With only days to go until I ship my work from Frankfurt to Grand Rapids, things feel on track. Thanks to a flurry of recent activity, we are in the homestretch on two major fronts: funding and my sculpture.
Contributions came in this week from long-time friends and new supporters. Thank you VERY much to: Merike VanZanten, Diane Wirono, Mary Cook, Sandra Barnett-White, Joe Kopanski, and Arlene & Allen Hatton. With only eight days left to meet my fundraising goal, your support gets us 81% of the way there!
Earlier today, I finished the work that will be installed for ArtPrize (a tiny studio celebration ensued, and now I'm back to work). The past few days have been a blur of flower-making to hit my goal of wrapping things up this weekend. There will be finished touches on the other end, but for now, it's ready to go.
I learned on Friday that international art shipping is a lot more involved than I realized. Not only do I need to have custom shipping crates constructed, I must use an airfreight forwarding company because the dimensions of the boxed work are too large for FedEx or UPS to handle the usual way. The good news is that it looks like the combined expenses will be comparable to what is budgeted.
Speaking of budget, if you're considering a contribution, now is the time to do it! To hit my minimum funding goal, I need $550 more by no later than this coming Saturday, September 8. I'm grateful for any amount - so please, support the arts and get a little thank-you gift in return.
A number of contributions have come in through friends of friends, which means that sharing the campaign with your network through Facebook, Twitter and email does work. If you copy and post this link: http://goo.gl/OGJuY, the rest takes care of itself.
Shades of Gray at ArtPrize©, Grand Rapids, MI, USA. September 19 – October 7, 2012.
With two weeks until my work ships from Frankfurt to Grand Rapids for ArtPrize, we're making steady progress on several fronts:
First, a BIG THANK YOU to recent funding campaign contributors for taking us over the $2,000 mark! They are: Alison Sigethy, Susan Trivers, Kenneth O'Brien, Mary Ann Rudy, Laura Rozenberg, and Moira McCauley. Your contributions will go to fund onsite marketing materials and travel expenses for one volunteer.
The dancer's vellum tutu is finished. I'm pleasantly surprised by how sturdy the vellum becomes once pleated and stacked. The costume is now resting upright on a pillow for me to work on the top surface, and the tutu remains uncrushed.
I've started laying out the design for the costume, using hundreds of paper flowers for the pattern. This phase tends to progress intuitively and quickly, once a general direction emerges.
Work on a metal stand for the dancer has begun, too. Pennsylvania craftsman Gary Rider is creating a minimalist black metal frame with graceful "legs" to support the costume and head. More later on Gary with photos of his work, as things progress.
It feels great to have family, friends, and new acquaintances involved in this project. The moral and financial support really make a difference. At 57% of the way in, the campaign is 66% funded through IndieGoGo, plus another $225 directly. If you are in a position to contribute to Shades of Gray, please do. Every little bit signals your support, boosting me through the day as I work in the studio.
Shades of Gray at ArtPrize©, Grand Rapids, MI, USA. September 19 – October 7, 2012.
Exactly one month from today, ArtPrize 2012 in Grand Rapids officially opens! If everything goes smoothly, we'll be putting the finishing touches on my piece, Shades of Gray, in the Amway Grand's lobby.
The work is coming along nicely now. I am currently screenprinting and hand-folding hundreds of sheets of vellum into tiny fans to build the tutu of my dancer's costume. A professional dancer's tutu is typically made with thirteen layers of tulle, which is my design for the paper version.
Generous contributions to the cause have also continued to roll in. At 37% of the way in, the campaign is 55% funded through IndieGoGo, plus another $225 directly. Thank you so much for your generous donations to Elizabeth Smiley, Emily Ryan, Sas Colby, and Donna O'Brien. Your funds mean that I can now cover expenses related to materials for the metal fabricator who is welding a frame for Shades of Gray, and important marketing materials to create visibility in Grand Rapids during the three-week exhibition.
One thing that I've been asked is what I would do if I won an award at ArtPrize (I'm thinking positively!). An important priority for me is giving back. One of my favorite causes is animal welfare.
Several years ago, we rescued our dog Astro from a no-kill shelter, Friends of Homeless Animals. They keep animals alive, no matter how long placement takes. They also "sweep" high-kill centers (such as Prince George's County, where Astro was), and move the most promising animals to FoHA in Northern Va.
Two other organizations are the Animal Rescue Fund and Second Chance Wildlife Center. Both fill important voids. ARF raises funding for shelters that don't receive government funding, and SCWC rehabilitates injured or sick wildlife before releasing them back to nature.
I have happily received several "I'm back in the woods!" postcards from injured squirrels and birds that I'd taken to SCWC for treatment.
If you are in a position to contribute to Shades of Gray, even just a little, please do. Every dollar and euro help defray project and volunteer costs, while getting the team one step closer to having a shot at an award with funds to give back.
Thank you to those of you who are spreading the word, as well!
Shades of Gray at ArtPrize©, Grand Rapids, MI, USA. September 19 – October 7, 2012.
This September, I'll be exhibiting my work at the world's biggest art competition, ArtPrize©, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's an exciting opportunity, to say the least. I've been working for months on my entry, Shades of Gray.
Along with this opportunity comes investment, most of which I am covering myself. So while I'm asking for a little help from family and friends, there's something in it for you: original art.
In exchange for a small donation, I'm offering thank you gifts:
If you'd like to join in the fun (and get a little something for yourself), please make a quick visit to my ArtPrize funding page. I'm using a secure micro-funding platform called IndieGoGo, available to private and non-profit fundraising efforts worldwide.
Shades of Gray at ArtPrize©, Grand Rapids, MI, USA. September 19 – October 7, 2012.
This is what I'm up to, these days. One petal at a time, I am hand-cutting, hand-painting, hand-assembling, hand sewing, and hand-gluing many, many paper flowers for my ArtPrize paper sculpture installation. It is aMAZing how long this all takes.
It's forcing me to slow down. To focus on the next task at hand, instead of racing (mentally and actually) to the million other things that I think I should be doing.