Well this is a bit special. I’ve been featured as Pick of the Week for Illustration Friday–and on the new website and all!
Last Sunday I made my debut into the world of illustration with my first solo show at Kichi-Ba Tea House in Brisbane. Gouache paintings dangled from the rafters by silver art clips and twine, tea-light candles twinkled in old jars on eucalypt tree stumps, the chilled, wet winter air smelt of jonquils, the Veuve D’Argent flowed into tiny mismatched thrifted glasses. Acoustic guitar hummed softly in the corner and my charming guests pored curiously over their pocket guides handed out upon arrival. The promised forest of paintings materialised.
Besides being an outrageously fun evening, it was quite the opportunity to learn a thing or two about myself, others, art and illustration.
Perhaps the most striking revelation was that people need to be led. In every way.
Since the show, I’ve run into numerous apologetic would-be attendees, who are sorry that they forgot all about it. This is not something an artist can do anything about, since I sent out many reminders in many different media, including face-to-face, text messages, personal emails and facebook reminders. No matter how conscientious your campaign, there will always be some people who simply forget.
Some guests are rumoured to have said, ‘It’s not as if I’m going to buy a picture of Sam to hang on my wall.’ This is a symptom of how difficult it is to convey to people what it is an illustrator does. Yes, my paintings were for sale. But these paintings are personal works, created to demonstrate what I am capable of. Some demonstrate my take on portraiture. Some demonstrate my ability to conceptualise. Some demonstrate applications for illustration, such as menus or product illustration. It seems this point was lost on many people, and could be emphasised more firmly.
My self-portraits, in particular, are an interesting point. To me, they are not self-portraits. I consider them narratives or depictions of knitted garments, in which I happen to be the model since this is the most convenient way for me to work. I hardly see myself in them, and should note that others in fact do, and that perhaps I should go to greater efforts to source other willing models. I don’t think they are a wasted exercise, though—at least those present could see the likeness and judge for themselves my portraiture ability. One guest was particularly taken by how I conveyed so many different aspects of my personality in the various portraits, which is an interesting thing to know about my work.
Showing people everything all at once and speaking with them individually is an amazing way to gather feedback about your work. There is no predicting who will like what, and everyone has a favourite, and it’s just lovely when they tell you about it. It’s not only revealing for the artist to display so many facets of herself for everyone to see. It’s revealing to learn who is attracted to the homely warmth of Ugly lamp 2, and to learn that little girls are enamoured of Death is dead. Never assume anything. Even your favourite little piece that most people overlook is somebody else’s favourite. Your niche is out there.
People love stories. I printed out little business card sized show guides, with a sentence or two on each painting. Everyone loves a little thing to touch and to keep, and they love to hear a little about the painting and feel like an insider. I spent a while talking about my Christmas in Paris to purchasers of some greeting cards of Sacré Coeur. Divulging little secrets to people draws them into your world.
Speeches: totally not mandatory. Michelle, the owner of the tea shop, and I talked this over. I thought it should be simple, to the point, and only include one thank you. Nothing worse than a sixteen-thank-you speech. Michelle preferred not to speak at all. We’re both more into personal one-on-one interactions, and don’t mind explaining the same thing several times over. We played it by ear, and in the end felt a speech would have interrupted the natural unfolding of the night.
You don’t need to martyr yourself financially. A wise businessman suggested that we charge entry. Michelle and I weren’t so taken with this idea, as we can be far too generous. On further consideration, we acknowledged we’d gladly pay entry to an art show with live music, French champagne, fancy snacks and a beautiful, secretive setting. If charging a little money can help you make a really memorable event, do it. It’s crucial to make your first event a true spectacle—word spreads, and people look forward to the next event.
While it’s more exciting for me to see my own paintings in print, as greeting cards and tea towels and the like, it’s more exciting for other people to see the originals. My no-bullshit Russian friend assured me she wasn’t so impressed by my paintings online, preferring the linework in my sketchbooks, but seeing them in person reversed her position completely. Allowing people to experience your work in more tangible ways can win you more fans. And you have my Russian friend’s word for it that the digital representations of my work do the real things ten percent justice. The ‘merch,’ of course, was a necessity, because while original art is beyond the reach of many people, it can be made accessible in more exciting forms than simple prints, and I know how hard it is to turn down cute stationery.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who made this show possible, and to all who came and enjoyed themselves. x
In Edinburgh, I taught my friend Elizabeth to knit. We spent bright, sunny, ten degree Scottish summer days in The Meadows weaving wondrous creations. Elizabeth, ever ambitious, made her first project a dress–a clever amalgam of grey and white scarf-like rectangles.
Listening to: The Rolling Stones.
My show is on Sunday, and I have been very busy getting ready. It’s the perfect excuse for getting my craft on.
I had a limited number of Mr Infernal Dishes tea towels printed, which will be for sale on the night. He’ll stare down those dishes in the sink for you, while you get on with less passive-aggressive pastimes.
I’ve been getting the paintings ready to hang. They’ll be swaying from the rafters like a magical forest of tiny paintings.
My obsessive collecting of jars is finally validated.
I’ve amassed a sizable collection of 50c treasures from Annerley, Indooroopilly and Sherwood.
And these babies are to lure bewildered passers-by into the festivities on the night, as they will soon be an explanatory sign.
Can’t wait to see you!
My shiny French watch, glinting in the sun. (Illustration Friday).
Listening to: Regina Spektor.
It is true that I have a lot of interests. Yesterday I indulged my impulse to bike around and explore foreign parts of Brisbane. I painted a little, and knitted a little, and read a lot. I picked up some sewing supplies for pending projects.
In 1939, an advertising man by the name of James Webb Young* put out a little pamphlet on generating ideas, and the crucial beginning of his five-step method is to gather raw materials—as broad a collection as possible, to supply yourself with a very deep reservoir of old things to combine in new ways.
For this is what an idea is, according to Young (p. 19): ‘an idea is a new combination.’ This is what is at the heart of Maria Popova’s brain-titillating site Brain Pickings, on which she argues (and demonstrates daily) that ‘creativity, after all, is a combinatorial force. It’s our ability to tap into the mental pool of resources—ideas, insights, knowledge, inspiration—that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these ideas and build new ideas—like LEGOs.’
While Young (p. 26) recommends an index-card filing method of collecting one’s ideas, a recent Design Matters interview with Ken Carbone reveals another method. Carbone’s journals have become somewhat legendary—he has been keeping them for fifteen years after having had the privilege to see Paul Gauguin’s journals in a museum’s archives. In his journals, Carbone documents his life, takes sketch-breaks at museums on his lunch breaks, records noteworthy events and writes mini book reviews, obsessively recording details chronologically that he refers to years later to mine for ideas.
‘Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics,’ Young (p. 24) insists. ‘First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested… Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information.’
Young’s ideation method is as follows (p. 40):
First, the gathering of raw materials—both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.
Second, the working over of these materials in your mind.
Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis.
Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea—the ‘Eureka! I have it!’ stage.
And fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.
I have three types of books in which I record various stages of my ideation process. Most ideas get their start in something completely foreign: usually they strike me when I am knitting. Knitting lulls me into a concentrated meditative state, and my thoughts usually concentrate on a creative problem. When they arrive, I note them down in my Ideas Book, whatever my first impressions of them. They can be sifted and developed later—what matters initially is that they are captured. Rarely can I move directly to producing the idea, however.
My ideas graduate to a funny little sketchbook full of thumbnails, layouts, hand-lettering tests and border developments. I need a secret place to try my idea out, see what it might really look like when it takes form, work through the details of it. Sometimes I rush this stage, but I am beginning to enjoy it. I can take this book out for coffee or tea, and draw and draw until I can’t represent the idea any more, or make lists that extend a previous idea.
My most polished books, my ‘real’ sketchbooks, are full of life drawings and field sketches. Curiously enough, these books represent the beginning of the path to an idea: they accompany me on adventures through Europe and around Brisbane. They are a way for me to consciously explore what I see, because I carefully note down structures and colours. These sketches, more broadly, are representative of my interests—of taking time out from the solid work of painting to refresh myself and immerse myself in new experiences, to learn new things and incorporate this new knowledge into my reservoirs. Ready to be connected in new ways with other knowledge, later.
‘Part of it, you will see, is a current job, and part of it is a life-long job,’ (Young, p. 26).
Do you know Kate Davies? She’s a formidable academic knitter living in my erstwhile home of Edinburgh, and the talent behind the above O w l s jumper. Her blog was the first I started following, and it set the bar decidedly high. You can find my Owls on Ravelry.
* Young, James Webb. 2003 . A technique for producing ideas. McGraw-Hill: New York. (↬ Maria Popova’s article led me to spending a fiver on this little book.)
It was only within the last year that I realised what tea was all about–slowing down, taking one’s time, enjoying the sunshine and the company of someone you like, reading and thinking slowly. Coffee–love it as I do–is thoroughly utilitarian, getting one from A to B, and generally as quickly as possible. (Illustration Friday)
Media: Pen, ink and gouache.
Listening to: The Kill Devil Hills.