Art And The Engineering Student

So, once upon a time, I had a boyfriend.

(Shut up.)

And somehow… (you’ve gotta supervise those devils every moment) …he wound up finding my art portfolios. I had two of those at the time, enormous, Weimaraner sized manila envelopes that held vast sheets of newsprint on which I’d drawn various and sundry highly educational subjects.

One of them was labeled “Clean.”

And the other was labeled “Dirty.”

As in…

Boyfriend dove head first into an assortment of charcoal drawings of landscapes and vases.

(Did I mention they have to be supervised constantly?)

These were charcoal drawings… I know I said that, but what I mean is, they were intended to make the student (in this case, me) look at both light and shadow with intent and purpose. You start out with a blank sheet of paper. Then, you cover every last inch in charcoal to make the whole thing a smooth middle gray. (Read “mess.”) And after that, if you want something to be white, you have to use your eraser. If you want things to be black, you have to use your charcoal. You can’t ignore light, shadow, or line.

And no matter how much fixative you spray on them, the charcoal comes off. On your hands… your clothes… your carpet.

In the sense of… for one semester, I had “art clothes.” The charcoal never really came out of them, although, after a while, they did get back to where you could sorta tell what color they used to be.

Well, you know we weren’t going out that night.

Well, he wasn’t, anyway. No place nice was going to let him in looking like that. (We do not open our girlfriend’s “dirty” portfolio while wearing a white shirt.)

The look of horror was still fresh on his face when I came up behind him and said, “So what do you think?”

Chihuly Sanctuary in Omaha

One of my all-time favorite artists is Dale Chihuly, who creates large-scale, blown-glass installations which are light, and colorful, and soaring, hopeful things. Even if you haven’t heard the name, I’m sure you’ve seen the work.

And last week, the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center opened in Omaha, bringing with it the Chihuly Sanctuary and the Chihuly Atrium. I’ve been waiting for this for a couple of years. I’ve been waiting for this since I first heard there was going to be a Chihuly installation, and since I first saw bulldozers leveling the ground for the building.

Because, of course, when you hear there’s going to be a new blown-glass installation, you have to go watch the bulldozers. It’s just one of those things. So, I did that.

I didn’t take any pictures of the bulldozers, but I did take pictures of the Chihuly art. Today, they let me inside the building.

Honest, I am capable of taking a better picture than this, but this  first one was through a plate glass window.

It’s a little hard to be sure, but I think these are about two storeys tall. You can see the tops about even with fourth floor, and I took these pictures on second floor.

The comment from the nurse we happened to run into on the elevator? “I like the picture of the cows. That one’s really my favorite.”  (I did not take a picture of the picture of the cows.)

It could be that I’m in the middle of writing a query letter, and a lot of my friends are out there querying or facing some other form of rejection, but that seems relevant, somehow.

Rejection: You can be a world renown artist, making $11.2 million dollars worth of blown glass in a building that was designed for it, and some days… well, the nurse just likes the picture of the cows.

I did take a picture of my sandwich, though. Just in case you happen to be hungry or something. Different kind of art here.

That’s a real-live King Kong gyro, or at least, it was, until it met its untimely demise in my stomach. King Kong is a local business that was started by a Greek immigrant (probably before I was born) and they hire mostly other immigrants (not just Greeks) I think as a matter of principle. So, you get your sandwich, you get your salad, you get your fresh baklava… and you get the sheer joy of watching the nice Georgian (The Georgia in Europe, BTW) boy ask your somewhat squeamish mother if she wants her steak “wit blud.”

He means rare, of course, and as it turns out, she does. King Kong apparently makes a very good, very, very rare steak. **keeps eyes on fully cooked gyro.**

The Business End of Art

They’re selling the local art gallery that fought so bravely. It clung to life for as long as it could, but today, the only words on the sign are “For Sale.” The various sculptures that once filled the yard are gone, and there’s no doubt the sign means the building, itself.

We’re not quite big enough–not quite enough traffic, either–to support an art gallery. I suppose you knew that, if you paid enough attention to know that the sculptures on display in the yard were always the same sculptures.

I don’t know how the gallery’s finances worked, exactly. If I had to guess, I’d say something along the lines of a co-op. A group of artists getting together to fund the space, and sell their work together. Now, I’ll have to give it a decent mourning period before I ask.

The closest I ever got to going there was that time I called to see if they knew of a writers’ group in town. I feel just a little guilty about that. Some tremor on the “supporting creative communities” thread.  I honestly don’t even know if they would have taken my help. Maybe. Maybe not.

More and more, I’ve started looking at the business end of things. If you’re going to make a living making art… how do you do that?

I remember being told that what you should do, if you wanted to make money from art, was to make lamps and clocks. Because, look around you. How many people do you know who own paintings? Sculptures? Okay. Now, how many people own lamps?

Of course, that sounded cynical when I was just out of high school. In the first place, I do know a disproportionate number of people who own paintings. And in the second place…Lamps? Really?

And about a week ago, I went out to eat and noticed the paintings were for sale. I asked how much they were renting the wall space for, and after I finally made them understand the question (as opposed to how much the paintings cost) it turns out that they aren’t charging anything for the wall space. I didn’t push further, because I think I’d hit the end of the knowledge train, but if someone with a little more authority had been there, I’d also have asked how they chose which paintings to hang, and so forth. (The waitress informs me that her boss should pay me, because the place is falling apart.)

There’s a range. From the gallery sells my stuff on commission, to I rent the space, to the restaurant gives me the space for free, (I will add, by the way that actually buying one of the paintings seemed like it would be a little bit of a mess, since no one actually had any information beyond the artist’s business card.) to “this is my mother’s business, and she gives me space for free. You are on your own.

Some of them are work space, in addition to sales space.

Quite a few of them also offer classes, and that sounds like a good way to supplement the venue’s income.

And then, there’s the reaching out to other kinds of creatives thing. Letting the writers use space, in exchange for money or copy writing. That kind of thing.

I suppose–as always–the moral of the story is to know your options, and make a well-considered choice.

Doodles and Scribbles

I said a while back that I wanted to pull more of the creative parts of my life together in this blog. Well, I guess now’s as good a time as any.

Today, I have some doodles. Nothing too serious, just a little sketching to pass the time and clear my mind.


Mmmm… ink on spiral bound.


Pencil on paper… Yeah. It’s a tree.


Colored pencil on scrap manila folder.


Is that the right way up? I don’t even remember, anymore.

If I didn’t Want You To Be Happy, I Would Have Married You.

So, today is one of my ex’s birthdays.

I haven’t seen him in years, but he was my first real, serious, this-could-end-in-actual-marriage-and-eventual-death boyfriend. Obviously, I was terrified.

He, on the other hand, was not terrified. He was full-speed ahead, I have a schedule to keep, and it is time to get married ready.

He’s the perfect person to think of once or twice a year… uhm… From another state.  He deserves to be happy, and that’s the way I picture him. Wife and kids. A dog, maybe two. Baseball games and camping.

Apart from the kids, the dogs, the baseball, and the camping, it’s not a bad life.

I had the chance to ask a while back. Ran into his father.

I didn’t ask.

I think I know. There’s just enough overlap in our social groups that now and then, I get a whiff of something through a friend, or a newsletter from a shared organization. The most recent update said North Dakota. And a career. It didn’t mention the wife or kids. And it probably would have, if they were there.

He was not cut out to be in a relationship with a creative.

He found my art-folders, once. You know, those big manila things with the plastic handles? No, not really polished enough to call a portfolio. I had two, and naturally, he had to see the one that was labeled “dirty.”

Charcoal dust everywhere.

I’m smiling, but I’m not going back.

And I’m wondering… If he saw me, now. Neck-deep in a day-job, still chasing dreams I’m not even I ever told him I had… revising the novel, collecting the rejections… You know… Would he perceive me as happy?

Light Bulbs and Bicycles and Beavers… Oh, my!

So, that’s a community art project. They had it out on tables where everybody could add a bit of glass, as they went by.  I think. It was a lot less finished the last time I saw it. I’m actually impressed by how well it turned out, and by the fact that nobody swallowed anything.

(Look, I took a snapshot! ’cause, spare time.)

I like this better than the kind of community art project where individuals design a giant light bulb, a sculptural bicycle, or… in one lamentable circumstance… a beaver statue. Probably because there’s just one of it, and it doesn’t leave the town covered in “might as well” style art. (Because, really, when are eighty artists ever going to independently decide to decorate giant fiberglass beavers?)

We do community art projects all the time around here.

First, you talk the local businesses into “sponsoring” a piece. (Buy me a beaver, anyone? Anyone? Awww, come on!) Then, you auction the piece off. And sure enough, the same business that sponsored it in the first place usually winds up buying it again the second time around.

We’re running out of businesses.

And I’ve never understood what’s in it for the artists. I suspect it’s one of those Do it for the exposure things we all despise, although the details vary. Seems to me someone I knew did a rocking chair, once… and had to pay for the chair and the materials.

Something like this mosaic actually seems a lot more sensible. There’s community participation. And there’s an artist at the center of it. I’d love to see more of this. They do murals that way, too. One artist does the heavy lifting and skills part, and then everybody picks up a brush to fill in the colors.

What do you think? Would a community art project that’s a little less rigid than bicycles or light bulbs do well? Something where you give the artists dimensions and let them do what they want?

Or would that just make the whole thing incoherent and random?

Steel Cranes

Since nothing was familiar enough to photograph on my trip back to my childhood home, I wound up taking a couple pictures on the way back.
Yup. More rest area art.


Central Nebraska is one of the places the cranes stop to rest on their annual migration. And this…  Well, this would be a 100% all American origami steel crane. Mostly. Rumor hath it that if you fold enough of them (About two. We really don’t have the Japanese attention span, and besides… STEEL!) Your wish will come true.


The Central Nebraska Visitors’ Bureau wished for more tourists and more attention from the press.
They got me on both counts, so obviously, the legend is absolutely true.

Art For The Few… and me

Art for the Few is a hashtag I found on Twitter today. The tweeter was thinking of a painting. Of Frida Kahlo’s What the Water Gave Me, to be precise. The tweet described the heartbreak of realizing that the painting you’re thinking of is in a private collection. #ArtForTheFew

The thing about visual art–paintings, sculptures, etc.–is that there’s only ONE original.

Writing is a more democratic art form. I write something, and make copies, and then one person or one million people all get to read the very same words. There might be some collectibles–hand bound, first-edition-y, autographed things–but the art, itself, is the same, whether you’re wearing kid gloves and reading a first edition, or flipping through a garage-sale paperback.

I write, but I also paint. I also draw. I also–when time and money and space allow-sculpt.

I don’t claim to be great art. I’m well and truly on the starving-artist end of the spectrum. I sell art, when I can, to friends, and along side the Beanie Babies at garage sales. Sometimes, I give it away. Most of the time, actually. Something to say Thank you, or I love you, or let’s be friends. Big pieces, sometimes, but I also make Artist Trading Cards specifically for the purpose of sharing.

Right now, ALL of my art is in private collections.

By which, what I mean, is in albums under beds, and boxes in closets, and on walls I’ve leaned against, while talking to friends.

An ex-boyfriend has one of my favorite paintings. I did a drawing of a train (More realistic, than my usual) for my friend’s grandfather.

And, round about 1938, Frida Kahlo had the same kind of stories. She gave What the Water Gave Me to an ex-lover to pay off a debt.

On the flip-side, I own a private collection. My friends have to send their work somewhere. And you know those starving artists? Yeah. They sell stuff. Some of it’s pretty good. (And, I encourage you to start your own private collection.)

So, something about #ArtForTheFew that bothers me is the disconnect between my art, the way I lived it, and the endgame, at which point, my art is some monumental, public thing that cannot–or at least, should notbe owned by one person. Because, obviously, I gave a lot of art to one-person type people.

I don’t know where that point is. When does art transform from the artist’s to his friend’s to his community’s to belonging to the universe? When does it become sacrosanct? When do you lose the right to sell it, to buy it, to own it?

It bothers me because it emphasizes the cost of art, instead of the value. As if the fact that one man owns one painting means there’s nothing left for anyone else. As if a few select things are art, and everything else–no matter how much you love it–is a pathetic second-best.

I believe that art is out there. I believe that good art is out there.

I believe there’s enough to go around, even if a few well-known or popular pieces are in private collections.

But is It Art?

I work with one of those creative types. Always fidgeting with something crafty. Suzy Home-maker putting flowers and bees on chairs and bookshelves. I keep running into that question: What is art? And it bounces around in my mind. There’s a part of me that thinks it’s wholly a matter of taste. Whatever makes you happy, Baby.

And there’s a part of me that rebels against the idea that the flowers she paints on her kids’ toy boxes are in the same category as the Sistine Chapel.

Seriously? Bees wearing sunglasses? Next, you’ll be telling me your grocery list is literature. You know. Just like Dante.

Deer Skull, shadowed

Bambi Contemplates Death


Here is my latest project, or at least, one that’s currently running. This is a deer skull. And for those of you who are wondering, it’s a humanely sourced deer skull.

For those of you who are wondering, now, that means she looked more or less exactly like this when I found her.

She’s been hanging out by my shed, trying to lose those last few pesky ounces of soft tissue.

In the end, I think I’ll probably wind up incising the skull, maybe doing something to make the designs pop, and then sell the product. In the meantime, we have photography. Personally, I think the photography comes closer to “art” than the arts and crafts end of it, but the arts and crafts will probably pay better.

deer skull, sunlight

Slightly more cheerful version. Perhaps she has hope for the future?


wind-energy windmill. White.

Windmill in Iowa

Here is a picture of a windmill. I’m actually nearly as much in love with these windmills–and more specifically, the blades, which you can’t get a good look at in this picture–as I am with inter-modal shipping. The blades are so sleek, and elegant, and beautiful, it’s hard to believe they aren’t art.


Evil bug looking thing

Coincidental Supervillain

Here is a villainous bug-man primed to take over the universe. I like him. I like him enough that I took a picture of him, as soon as I found him. But there’s no volition behind him. No purpose. He’s just an ink-blot in sugar glaze that fell on my trouser leg while I was working.

But if he isn’t art…

And I don’t see how he could be…

Can the photograph of him be art?




klynnextra And then, here’s an old one… something that got labeled “Christmas Tree” when I used it in last year’s Advent Calendar, but which was actually painted in the summer, without a thought of Christmas in mind.

One of my paintings. Something that happens to be in my media library, anyway.

Something I like. It suits my tastes. I enjoyed painting it.

But I still look at it and wonder, how good does it have to be to be art?