Thursday, August 6, 2015

I'll Read You A Story: Children's Book Art

Children's book art may be the most important art in all of the art world. Here's why.

1. It's associated to literature, which is associated to reading. Whether we read to others or read to ourselves, the act of reading in itself is the connective tissue of our modern world. Our earliest experiences with reading can define our relationship to literature - and nonfiction - for the rest of our lives.
"The Coronation", watercolor, Gary Lippincott, from The Prince and The Pauper
2. It's often the first art we experience in our lives. Whether it's Eric Carle's hungry caterpillar or Maurice Sendak's monsters having a rumpus with Max, this is our first foray into western art. Colors, patterns, shapes and images are defined to us through our books, especially picture books. Our favorites tend to stay with us as we grow up and wind up inevitable "classics" as we read these to our own children and grandchildren.
"Let the Wild Rumpus Begin!", Maurice Sendak, from Where the Wild Things Are
3. It's keeping the paper publishing world alive. Okay, I don't know if that's exactly true, but reading to children typically feels more "right" with a physical book, and majority of children's books are in color and hard bound. There's a physicality to a child's book that addresses a child's needs beyond the images and sounds. There's touch, texture, even taste (who hasn't chewed a small corner of a book?) that the child's book fulfills to the child. They are loved and read again and again. I still can't imagine an iPad taking the place of the physical book. They sure don't taste as good.

Whether we care to admit it or not, children's book art has influenced all of us. As a child, I drew on my books, I drew what was in my books, I loved my books, and I still do love them. Illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Maurice Sendak, and Mercer Mayer were huge influences in my art making; my work may not look exactly like theirs but I was in awe of the worlds they created with just a couple of lines and some watercolor.

Mercer Mayer's "Little Critter" character. Wonder why I related to him so much? ;)
In fact, part of the reason I created the "I'll Read You A Story" show had to do with my finding a Jules Feiffer drawing for sale. Jules was the artist behind the chapter book called The Phantom Tollbooth, which was my all-time favorite childhood book. It was about a boy named Milo who is bored with everything until he goes through a mysterious tollbooth (in a toy car) and enters a world that revolves around letters and numbers. The linework was simple, even a little sloppy, but very likeable and perfect for this story, which was written by Norton Juster in the early 1960s.

ToC Page, ink on paper, Jules Feiffer, from The Phantom Tollbooth. This is the actual drawing.
R. Michelson Galleries was selling the aforementioned drawing. I was exceptionally excited about finding it until I contacted them about it, only to find that drawing was well into the five digit price range, which was way too rich for my blood. I did note, however, they represented many living and deceased children's book artists, and after a few email conversations with Mr. Michelson, I managed to work out an exchange that allowed the majority of this show's art to ship to Seattle, which I knew would be a very difficult feat with the individual artists. Most of these illustrators no longer own or sell their published work, and some of them are very hard to contact (I learned that quick).
"Bagheera", watercolor, Jerry Pinkney, from The Jungle Book
For the most part, I chose work representative of picture books for children between the ages 3 - 7 years of age, although some of the book art is for children slightly older (such as Gary Lippincott's two paintings from "The Prince and the Pauper"). All of the art is from published books, and many of the artists have had very long and distinguished careers, such as Jerry Pinkney, Ruth Sanderson, and Scott Gustafson. A few are known not for their children's books per se, but for other projects: Tony DiTerlizzi is best known for his Spyderwick Chronicles illustrations, Marc Brown is known best for Arthur the Aardvark book (and cartoon) series and Barry Moser is an accomplished block print artist.
"Little Jack Horner", oil, Scott Gustafson, from Favorite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose
The work is accomplished, to say the least. Richard Jesse Watson's two pieces are quite large, with one in oil and one in egg tempera paint. "The Waterfall" is in egg tempera: it took him about a day's worth of work to paint approximately a square inch (tempera isn't easy to paint in), and the final result is a rich, complex painting at 19 x 34 inches. Now, just imagine an entire picture book of these! The result was The Waterfall's Gift, a picture book full of textures and colors almost too sophisticated for a child's mind, but he makes it work with his soft palette and strong object placement.
"The Waterfall", egg tempera, Richard Jesse Watson, from The Waterfall's Gift
 In contrast, Marc Brown's and Barbara McClintock's work seems almost painfully simple, but these artists are not catering to 40-somethings, but 4-somethings whose color and object comprehension is far simpler. Marc is Old School - he understands the psychological use of color and shapes and creates his early reader books with hot colored acrylics and mixed media collages, and the kids LOVE it (remember Eric Carle and his hungry caterpillar? That damned thing has been gorging itself for what, 46 years now?).
Image from Eric Carle's A Very Hungry Caterpillar. 46 years of overeating is clearly showing here, but the kids love it, so he keeps eating.

"Dinoslide", acrylic, Marc Brown, from Buying, Training, and Caring for Your Dinosaur
Barbara is Old School but in a truer old school way: her work is reminiscent of the great Randolph Caldecott  and his classic nursery rhyme illustrations, utilizing simple subjects and a lot of gesture and humor. Kids call it "funny" and "silly", and we call it "whimsical", our way saying it's both likeable and nostalgic. We all like it, and therefore, books with art like Barbara's is bearable to read over. And over. And over again.
Randolph Caldecott illustration from A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go
"System", watercolor, Barbara McClintock, from A Child's Garden of Verses
This show has 14 illustrators and nearly 30 pieces of art, each from a page in a book, each with a story, each impressing into the minds of literally thousands of little ones (some now Big Ones like me), coloring their sleepy minds with dogs and cats and dinosaurs and rueful little children much like themselves. In a quiet way, this show is probably more important that some of our regular signature shows: this art is shaping our children, and shaped us. This art is the stuff that inspires little artists to grow up into big artists that eventually get big shows at places like Krab Jab Studio. This art gave us our first connection to abstract concepts and to storytelling, and allowed us the green like to go off and create our own stories.
"It Couldn't Be Done", watercolor, Jon J Muth, from Poems to Learn by Heart
So you see, this is very likely the most important show we do all year. It's not sexy, it's not going to blow your mind. In fact, you may just sort of pass it over. But give it another go-over and if you feel like little soap bubbles are blossoming in your chest, just let it happen, that's what this art is meant to do.
Title Page, watercolor, Barry Moser, from Cat Talk
"I'll Read You A Story" features the following artists: Marc Brown, Tony DiTerlizzi, Scott Gustafson, Cory Godbey, Ruth Sanderson, Barbara McClintock, Jon J Muth, Jerry Pinkney, Gary Lippincott, Barry Moser, Diane deGroat, Mordecai Gerstein and Richard Jesse Watson.

Show runs through September 5th, with an art walk opening August 8th, 6 - 9 pm. Richard Jesse Watson will be in attendance!

~Julie Baroh, August 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Immortal Ephemera

I'll be honest with you: I don't know what "ephemera" means. It doesn't really come up in daily conversation for me. In fact, I think Stephanie may be the first person I know that actually used the word in my presence, or rather, in an email sent to me about four or five months ago.

After her wildly successful show in March 2014, I asked her to show again for 2015, and she readily accepted. Neither of us had any idea what she'd do this time around, but I knew she'd stew it over for a while and something would pop up.

Towards the end of January, I shot her a quick email asking if she finally
decided on a theme for her show. She wrote me and said yes, and then dropped the e-bomb on me. "Ephemera".

It means "things that are enjoyed or used for a very short time". It also means things that last no more than a day. In the case of Stephanie's collection of work, she was clearly meditating on the comparatively short life of insects, one of the Earth's most ancient of creatures. Insects are literally everywhere: earth, air, water, fire (well, maybe not fire). Many of them live in complex societies, produce fibers or honey, weave or build geometric homes and often live such short, basic lives. They are so lowly, yet feature so prominently in our myths and legends.
Immortality, Watercolor
Stephanie pulled and stretched and magnified the insect, often to sizes over 200% larger than life (such as in "When Flowers Dream'). Its as if she meditated on her subject's very soul, dipping into the ink of Life and quilling the results in watercolor pinks and blues. Labyrinths and ghostly trees dapple the landscapes, signifying the mysteries surrounding these critters (what signals their rise and retreat? what is their purpose? who guides them?). Elfin figures appear and recede from sight. There is clearly a magical element being expressed within these compositions beyond just the beauty of these insecta subjects. Stephanie teases out the transcendental qualities through color, texture, and intent.
When Flowers Dream, watercolor and gold leaf
True to form, Stephanie did not abandon her fairy world and created a small series of fairies called "The Hidden Ones", painted on birch wood. Her discovery of absorbent ground (a type of medium that allows you to paint watercolor on any surface) opened up a whole world of possibilities, including  painting on wood, metal, pretty much anything she fancied. Additionally, this medium has enough body to create textures, giving her pieces an extra dimension and allows play with light and shadow (such as with "Immortality" - the butterflies are built up in absorbent ground).
Amidst the Brambles, from "The Hidden Ones" series, watercolor on birch
I always say that art must be seen in person - as difficult as that can be for most of us - and Stephanie's work is no exception. Her work changes with the light, when seen close up or far away, and at different angles. It's luminous and vibrant, yet delicate, like porcelain. She adds elements of surprise into her pieces, much like Easter eggs, and each time one observes her paintings, a new object, element, shape will pop up, giving the composition a whole new life and meaning. Much like "ephemera", I suppose!
Cicada, Watercolor and gold leaf
"Immortal Ephemera" will be open until July 3rd, 2015. Work is available to purchase online or direct, and the online catalog is available through July 4th.

-Julie Baroh, June 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summertime, and the Living is...

We're about to hang Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's wonderful "Immortal Ephemera" show today, and as I sit here at the crack of dawn, cup of coffee in my shaking, tired hand (after all, it is literally the crack of dawn), I'm reflecting on the concept of "when does the hard work turn to easy work?".

I think that when we've thrown ourselves into a task that requires everything we've got, we all hit that point when we wonder when we'll get that break. For Krab Jab Studio, I always sort of fantasize that summertime will allow me to slow down a little bit. After all, for the second time this year we have a two month show ("I'll Read You a Story" children's picture book show starts in July) and this year I have an assistant, Kathryn, whose been busily snapping our operations together and turning us into a well oiled machine. We're getting more press now, which is a huge blessing. And sales seem to get better quarter to quarter of the fiscal year. So I should be able to kick back and put up my feet.

But I know I won't.

For example, I just wrote up an article for the blog Muddy Colors based on my workshop at this year's Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention, called "Demystifying the Gallery World". The intention of the article was to elaborate on the bullet points of my lecture (which is available here as well as on our YouTube channel). In my Muddy Colors article, I tacked in a segment called "Finding a Gallery" which wasn't in my lecture but I get a lot of questions about. From there, I concocted a nearly 3k word article, of which I wasn't even halfway through the lecture segments. Clearly this was a two-part article; therefore, I will have to write the second part and turn that in for publication at a later date. Lord knows how long THAT segment is going to be!

Prior to Kathryn coming on board, I was behind in everything, me being only one person and all, running a business on my own. One of our priorities is getting caught up and back on track, whether its editing and releasing older Artist Talks to our YouTube channel, cleaning out our storage, or organizing our back room. We've made huge headway but I know we've got much more to do, much of it on my own head, like cleaning up my messy accounting books (we keep good records but I am living in piles of paper).

Meanwhile, I'm working on curatorial projects outside of our normal show schedule. I work with the crew that runs the Mythic Worlds convention, creating a space within the convention that embodies the heart of what the convention is all about. I'm working on travelling our fantastic "Lennon" show, which just ended this early June but needs to be seen by many more eyes. I have a few more irons in the fire I can't really speak about yet, but will take a good chunk of my energy.

Then there's my home life, which is just as busy. Family weddings are coming up, house needs to be repainted, backyard has a couple of projects, and I have a couple of trips to plan. House is always in need of cleaning and organizing, and our two Boxers need entertainment and exercising on a regular basis. I have my own artwork to make, mostly consisting of finishing a few large paintings which will likely take me all summer. I have an overdue commission to complete.

In all, I know that the hard work won't end. Really, it never does, especially when you're working in a field you really enjoy. It turns into an attitude thing: "hard work" doesn't mean "tiring, unsatisfying work". My plate is full, but it's full of yummy, juicy stuff. Granted there are some dull, not-fun things on my list, but when you run your own business there's always a few things you're not crazy about doing. You just dig in and do them. I am rewarded with a sprinkling of easy days, and when I get one, trust me, I really savor it. But it's okay if the entire summer isn't one big fun vacation. I'd probably get bored anyway. There's only so much sitting around I can do before I get antsy.

-Julie Baroh, June 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lennon: Celebrating the Music of John Lennon

Let's be clear: the Lennon show wasn't really my idea.

In fact, it was already in creation long before I showed up to the scene; several sculptors, headed by Tim Bruckner, collaborated together to create small pieces of resin-cast sculptures of John Lennon, with the intention of travelling overseas with May Pang on her newest book tour through Germany in 2014. Problems arose, however, and the promoter decided it was not prudent to ship and travel the pieces, and the sculpture segment of the tour was dead in the water.
May Pang and John Lennon
Then I got the call... would Krab Jab Studio be interested in hosting a John Lennon-inspired art show?

Had these artists been anyone else, I would have passed. However, I had worked with Tim in the past, and all the sculptors involved were professionals in the toy and entertainment industry, many of which did sculpts for things like DC Comics, Marvel Comics, or character development for movies (like Michael Defeo, for example).  They fulfilled the "publication and entertainment industry" spectrum of the gallery (check!), and all of them were top notch in their field of expertise. Tim Bruckner, a master of sculpture in his own right, also had a strong backstory: he knew May Pang personally, had met John Lennon "back in the day",  and had designed Ringo Starr's first solo album cover (among other things). This wasn't an average, run-of-the-mill tribute show being handed to me.
Designs for Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson, Tim Bruckner
Problem was, as I explained to Tim in our initial conversation, I had already booked out my 2015 year. He kept insisting I double check my calendar, and I finally did....huh! Seemed, strangely, I had booked out everything but skipped the month of May. Would he want that month? He enthusiastically said yes, and went back to his fellow sculptors to give them the news.

I was still on the fence about the show, though. Tribute shows are hard sells to the public, quite frankly. As I wrapped up work for that particular day, I decided that if a John Lennon song came on the radio when I hopped into my car, I would do it. Knowing that was kind of a crap shot, I locked up and jumped into the car to head home.

Imagine was playing on the radio. Done deal.
Imagine, #1/6 resin cast lamp, Tim Bruckner
Tim recruited four more artists (Conny Valentina, Dan Chudzinski and duo Colin and Kristine Poole). We lost a couple folks due to obligation issues, but we had a nice solid eight: Tim, Dan, Conny, Colin and Kristine, Michael Defeo, Alfred Paredes, and James Shoop. Tim looped May Pang in, since she was a photographer and took many photos of John during her time with him (coined "The Lost Weekend"). May was somewhat stand offish, however. After a month of spotty emails, she finally called me to explain to me why she wasn't really feeling the show - she just didn't think she was a good fit. She did the "it's not you, it's me" explanation, which I took fairly well, I think. Except... well, except we actually enjoyed talking. And talking. And talking... and over an hour later, she sighed and said, "okay, I'll send you nine photographs. Nine was his number, you know."

I made a tiny squee inside. You see, I actually am a John Lennon fan, I actually knew exactly who May was (I even read her book when it came out in 1983 - a bit inappropriate for a 13 year old, but hey, we all grow up sometime). I was just a wee bit star struck.

The whole group had about 6 months to prepare, and the original four sculptors of James, Alfred, Michael and Tim decided to do another piece for the show. All the artists decided to pick their favorite John Lennon song and run with that, and the results were quite marvelous.
Tomorrow Never Knows, Michael Defeo
Yellow Submarine, Dan Chudzinski
Nothing is Real, Alfred Paredes
The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes, Colin and Kristine Poole 
Two Spirits (verso), James Shoop
A Little Help from My Friends, Conny Valentina
I Am the Walrus, Tim Bruckner
May did come through and sent her nine photographs which depicted a very intimate portrayal of John Lennon. Most of the photos were taken in their house in LA.
Here's Looking at You, May Pang
It was no surprise at this point that the number nine would pop up yet again, as the show was to open May 9th. For the opening, both Tim and May were able to attend, which was an absolute treat to our visitors. We were hooked up with Steve Roseta and the members of the local Beatles tribute band, Apple Jam, and graciously Josh Jones and Rick Lovrovich provided an acoustical set to the evening, which included all the songs that inspired the show. They even got to serenade May to both "#9 Dream" (she provided the original female vocals to the song) and "Surprise, Surprise".

As an addition, we had a memorabilia wall during the opening, which included a set of John's sunglasses (yes, really), a very rare dye transfer print of the Sgt Peppers album cover (only four known in the world - knowing the actual value of it ranged in the six digits, I was sweating all night in fear something might happen to it), a limited edition John Lennon litho, and a lovely Chris Hopkins ink drawing of John.
John Lennon, Chris Hopkins, courtesy Steve Roseta

John Lennon lithograph, courtesy Steve Roseta
Sgt Peppers album cover photo, one of four, courtesy Allen Goldblatt
Need I say that the show was a hit with our opening night visitors? Many of them hung out for nearly the whole night to listen to the music, take in the artwork, and chat with both Tim and May. Interactive pieces were played with: Alfred's little strawberries are magnetic and move about the green field, and James' bronze tree revolves on a base, revealing a sleepy eyed John on one side and a smiling awake John on another. People squealed with delight over the lamp within Tim's "Imagine" piece, which displayed logos of various John songs inside the spectacles. Sunlight played off the gold on Colin and Kristine's figure as the sun set lazily, glinting through our windows and throwing long, sad shadows on the concrete floor, reminding us all that the night would eventually have to end.

It's almost a shame that this show is only a month long - with it being the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles first performance and John's 75th birthday, it's like we have this super secret awesome show of fantastic art and photography devoted to one of the most charismatic songwriters of the 20th century. Those who've seen the show have been wowed and hushed and moved all at once, and to stand among the work, in the room, with "In My Life" quietly playing in the background, you feel a deep, nostalgic ache inside, and you know someone really special was taken away from us way too soon. These artists beautifully narrate the soul of his music with humor, sadness, curiosity, and most of all, respect.

"Lennon" will run through June 6th, 2015.

Demystifying the Gallery World: Things an Artist Should Know

So this last weekend I attended the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention, which is a medium sized convention located in Kansas City, MO. It's about three years old and spun off of the juried annual Spectrum Fantastic Art. I went mostly to lurk around, see some kickass art, meet amazing artists and run a workshop called "Demystifying the Gallery World".

The gallery world isn't all that mystical, really. It's just a business. Granted, it can be volatile, unpredictable, baffling, but it's really not all that much from any other business in that there are protocols, contracts, agreements and mostly, relationships. Curator, artist, visitor, collector...

I only had 30 minutes to cover an insane amount of information, so I tried my best to hit as many points as I could, using simple slide shows to bullet point. As requested, I am going to list my slides here, in all their glory.

(Want to See the Actual Workshop? Here it is!)

Developing a show with your curator

  •  Working relationship (key word: “relationship”)
  • — Size of show, size of work(s)
  • — Theme or series
  • — Curatorial vision
  • — Communication! Keep it open, even if there is a problem

Contracted obligations for You and the Curator/Gallery

  • — Written agreement stating terms of show
  • Average retail gallery commission: 40 – 50%
  • Exclusivity clause?
  • Artist usually pays for shipping fees to/from gallery
  • Amendments must be discussed, written and signed by both parties to be legal
  • — Insurance, security, damage or loss of art
  • Marketing obligations, if any

Managing the workload between Confirmation and Delivery

  • Mindful of deadlines vs your own work ethic
  • “Buffer days”/”work days”/”potential sick days”/”FAIL days”
  • Last month is devoted to press releases, marketing, documentation, cataloging
  • Unlike some publishing scenarios, gallery openings are “hard openings”!

Preparing to document your work: Photography, Statement

  • WIP photos are great, especially for a unique process 
  • Traditional 2D: good lighting, clear images, true colors (ie, get a professional if you need to) 
  • 3D: multiple angles, detail shots (video is okay too) 
  • DON’T: use cell phone, photograph a piece under glass (unless you have no choice), or overly Photoshop an image 
  • OIL, metallics, and high gloss mediums: mindful of reflections, blowout, moiré 
  • Statement: reflect the theme of your piece/show. Be heartfelt (visitors can read through bullcrap). First person statements are best. If your medium is unique, you may need to explain what it is or why you used it 
  • DON’T: copy from your website

Framing and Display

  • Ask about weight/size limitations, as well as wall hanging options and amount of wall space 
  • Wall space: ask about “usable” vs “total” wall space 
  • 3D: Ask about types displays, surface type, if pieces can be anchored, height of displays 
  • Use framing material that is archival – if it is not, alert gallery owner 
  • Ask about frame options on the gallery end, if you are shipping. Many galleries have inhouse framing or framers that are economical. 
  • Use chipped, broken, scuffed frames 
  • Use glass if you plan to ship the piece. Use plexi or matte acrylic 
  • Use a cheap frame (that clearly looks cheap) for expensive pieces. Customers complain about that. 
  • Use odd colors for mats or frames, they’re a harder sell. Use neutral colors such as white, cream, gray, black, beige. 
  • Use toothed hardware. It tends to come out. Use appropriate d-rings, wire.

Shipping your work

When packing 2D art:
  • Ask gallery if they have packing material requirements (such as “no peanuts”) 
  • Don’t pack glass if at all possible 
  • Use foamcore, hardboard or rigid material to protect front of piece 
  • Don’t tape anything directly to your piece or frame 
  • Paper corners, bubble wrap, paper on corners 
  • Don’t overpack a box. Also, make sure pieces will not shift in transit 
  • Don’t use packing tubes for original art 
  • Insure your package! 
When packing 3D art:
  • Crate larger pieces (have one built or buy one at places like Uline
  • “box in a box”, floated 
  • Complex pieces should be broken down into smaller pieces, boxed individually 
  • Send along assembly information and images, including a repair kit 
  • Insure your package!

Pricing your work

  • Materials, time as a factor (adjust if you tend to work slow or fast) 
  • Take in consideration commission rate 
  • Market value: speak to gallery owner about local retail averages vs global averages (example: Grand Rapids may have a higher price point than Anchorage for art) 
  • You may need to make some adjustment to your pricing (or piece choice) to reflect your new locale 
  • Don’t undervalue: your humble $300 price point for your detailed oil painting may say “there is something wrong with this” or “I’m not worth collecting” to a collector. You don’t want to brand yourself as naïve or desperate. 
  • Don’t flux: Collectors get very frustrated with art that’s re-priced from show to show or month to month. If a piece isn’t moving at a current price, RESEARCH WHY. The results may surprise you. Never drop a price…

Market your show: marketing, opening receptions, and review

  • Branding the Art and Show: from Objects to Experience 
  • Social media/Mailing Lists/Preview Lists 
  • Press Releases and advertising 
  • Opening and Closing receptions 
  • Press and collector parties 
  • Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Nothing At All

Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Marriage is a Work of Art"

So what does the average person think of when they think of a married artist? Most of us think of stormy rivalries, deceptions, jealousy, a la Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Or we think of one of the artists (usually the wife) putting away her brushes to raise the kids and do the taxes, so selfless, while her partner works tirelessly on his craft.

I know that when I was in art school back in the olden days, I was terribly allergic to the concept of dating, much less marrying, another artist. I was self-aware enough to know my competitiveness would ultimately thwart the relationship, plus, if you've gone to a classic art school (especially 20+ years back), the odds of getting hooked up with a self-absorbed prig was pretty high. No, a regular Joe was the only option for me, and I did in fact marry 20 years ago to, of all people, a boy from my high school crowd I bumped into while in college and reacquainted myself with. None of my artsy couple friends lasted more than a year or so, much less married.

So, can love and art survive together in wedded bliss? And if so, how?

I've met some lovely couples in the art world, and it apparently seemed that marriage can work, and in many ways, bolster the creative works of both people in the marriage. In talking with many of these couples, it occurred to me that this would make a really interesting exhibit. I invited seven couples and gave each of them free reign to use a wall space however they choose.

A few of these couples are barely out of newlywed status, such as Mark and Sara (nee Betsy) Winters and Justin and Annie Stegg Gerard. A few of them span decades, such as Norman and Tory Taber and Brian and Wendy Froud. But no matter how new or established the relationship, it's abundantly clear that something was worked out between them, and the result is very special.

Take Greg Spalenka and Roxana Villa, for example. This couple married later in life and although Roxana has an art background and can hold her own with illustration, she became enamored of the world of scents and perfume. Sensitive to chemicals, she strove to create all natural, unusual scents first for herself, then to sell as Illuminated Perfumes. Greg and Roxana worked together on her product, with him creating art for her packaging and marketing endeavors. The result is sensuous and reflective of her vision (and his as well). These two enjoy working together despite having very different directions in work (he is a graphic artist and workshop instructor with his Artist as Brand).
 #5 Bois, Banner image for Roxana Illuminated Perfumes, Greg Spalenka
 Vinod Rams and Emily Fiegenschuh tend to work differently on a daily basis, with him working in the video game business and Emily working from home on illustration projects. They met and bonded over drawing, and it's clear that this lively couple enjoy each others company. Although they seem to think their work is totally different, it's pretty easy to see they influence each other heavily in their work. Both enjoy working in gouache (which is a type of opaque watercolor) and one can guess these two probably sit up late at night together eating Emily's delicious brownies (she bakes) and chatting and laughing while painting away at their respective drafting tables.
Children of the Forest, gouache, Emily Fiegenschuh
The Green Man, gouache, Vinod Rams
Norman and Tory Taber have been working together on children's books for ages (see Rufus at Work), and both know how to collaborate together without killing each other. Norm works as an art instructor at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Tory works from home on her illustrations while raising their two daughters. Both of them work in separate studios, and Norm has been developing his assemblage work of found architectural objects as well as antiquated and quirky photography. Tory has stuck to the tradition of illustration, creating art for ballet and theater posters among other things. Despite having very different styles and modes of working, there is a very clear connection between the two, especially in the love of nature, the fairy realms and their children (which feature regularly in both their work).
Are You Still Cold?, Acrylic and gouache, Tory Taber
Cut the Clouds Full, Assemblage, Norman Taber
Omar and Sheila Rayyan have been together a very long time and have worked side by side supporting each other over the years. She's done the "regular job" thing (often artists have to have at least one of the two work a job to make ends meet while they work on their careers) while he's toiled away at his illustrations, creating an impressive body of work in the last few years. Sheila hasn't been too far behind, working in pencil illustrations but also creating lovely stoneware and pyrography pieces (a burning technique to create designs on wood) through her Mother Spoon Studio. They have very different styles of working, but both share a sense of humor in their work and relationship that no doubt keeps the creative fires burning.
Princess' New Pony, Oil, Omar Rayyan
Sun, Stoneware, Sheila Rayyan
Mark and Sara Winters are very recently married, but with Sara's old soul (she's 25 years old) and their clear respect for each other, it's like they've been together much much longer. When they work together at home, they often critique each other's work ("brutally honest" is how Sara puts it) and help each other stick to their deadlines, as both work in the game industry as illustrators. This is a very competitive industry and it's easy to get hung up on how many contracts one pulls in versus the other, but these two can hold their own and more importantly, they see the bigger picture.
Medusa, canvas print of oil painting, Mark Winters
Serra, Digital painting with gold leaf on canvas, Sara Winters
Justin Gerard and Annie Stegg Gerard are another newlywed couple, and easily the darlings in the imaginative realism circuit. Funny, bubbly, attractive and incredibly friendly, it's hard to not like this current Power Couple, as they both have been burning up the publication industry as of late, winning awards and accolades all over the continental US. But they keep it real: Annie just wants to raise chickens in the backyard of their Georgia home, and both love painting together. Iconic and mythic imagery arises from their brushes and pencils: Justin's work has a strong nod to classic illustration, while Annie is clearly following the path of the PreRaphaelite. I have a feeling this relationship has a long, successful road: they simply adore each other.
Limnaee of the Lake, Oil, Annie Stegg Gerard
The Last of His Kind, Oil, Justin Gerard
And finally, we have Brian and Wendy Froud, married 35 years and counting. They met while "The Dark Crystal" was in production (she worked for Jim Henson, he was the concept designer for the movie). Both collaborated for "Labyrinth" (including using their own baby Toby for "baby Toby" in the movie) and she's popped up as his fairy model from time to time over the years. While they both have very clear, defined styles (she's stayed true to her sculptural roots, and he continues to draw and paint the fairy world) they have collaborated together many times, producing several books together. Brian has his head in the clouds and Wendy has her feet planted in the ground, making for a balance that has fueled their relationship all these years.
Kneeling Faery, Watercolor, pencil, color pencil, Brian Froud
Faery Woman, Mixed media polymer clay, Wendy Froud
So okay, you can have it all: a career in the arts and a partner to share it with who understands your passion and drive without it blowing up all over the place. Things don't need to smash, mad screaming doesn't need to occur, and nobody needs to be left behind in the dust. Kids can be raised successfully, families are fed and shod, and you can even have egg laying chickens (if your husband agrees to it). These couples prove that marriage really is a work of art and love can mold and enhance each person to reach his or her greatest potential. I'm definitely sold, and I think anyone visiting this exhibit will surely agree.

"Marriage is a Work of Art" will open April 11th and runs through May 2nd. Online catalog goes live April 12th.

~Julie Baroh, April 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ten Questions for Tim Bruckner

Ahh, Tim Bruckner. He snuck up on me like a Seinfeld sideler, sending me an innocuous email a few years back saying he was a sculptor and was hoping I'd check out his work. I get a lot of emails like this, so of course I took a big swig of bad coffee and dug in for another 5 minutes of art perusing I knew would never get back, I clicked the link to his URL and...

...queue the angelic choir.

Uh, this wasn't a pimply 14 year old sending me off to his deviantart account full of misshapen ashtrays from  ceramics class. This was THE Tim Bruckner, the guy that was so masterful a sculptor that his work "looks unreal, like a machine made it," as one of my visitors remarked. His work is seen on the set of The Big Bang Theory, it's in the Smithsonian, and most importantly, his work takes us back to a time when quality art in the public eye was about as American as, uh, pie. Humor, ruggedness, femininity, mystery, it's all there in a Bruckner piece, flawless, perfect.
So I was a little surprised, to say the least. From that email, the Masters of Sculpture show from 2013 was devised to expose Seattle to masterful work so very few of us get to see. Since then, we've taken Tim on board to represent as our newest Krab Jabber. As part of the rites of passage, I've asked Tim ten questions, and without further ado, this is Tim in his own words.

1. What brought you into sculpting? Were you always a sculptor?

I started sculpting when I was seven. I don’t know why. When I was a kid they had these wax tubes filled with a colored liquid so sweet you could go into insulin shock. One afternoon, after finishing a few tubes, I started sculpting the wax into the heads of a couple of the Seven Dwarves.  I thought they were perfect. In hindsight, they probably looked more like somebody’s thumb than Grumpy or Doc. But something clicked that day. I persuaded my mom to take me to buy some clay. And they rest, as they say, is stuff that happened.

2. Do you have a sculptor you admire (both currently and in the past)? How have they inspired your work?

When I was growing up my sculpting heroes were a bunch of old dead guys:  Michelangelo, Bernini, Cellini, St. Gaudens, Gilbert. Nobody in my family was into art. I didn’t know anyone who was. I stumbled upon pix of their work and didn’t get how they did what they did, but I did have a sense of why they did what they did. I was oddly attuned to compositional story telling. So, they inspired me to improve my technical skills to become a better story teller. Its something I’m still working on.  As far as sculptors working today? There are some amazingly talented sculptors. It’s a long list. Many are, I’m lucky to say, my friends. They inspire me daily. First, there’s that little pinch of envy. And then, you feel the challenge. Its not competitive. Its creative curiosity. Why did they make the choices they made. How did they make it happen. And it gets you thinking about your own process, both from a design viewpoint and an execution viewpoint. And ain’t that what art is? Trying to translate the unknown.

3. What was your favorite piece of yours and why?

I have favorites for different reasons. Mostly, I like pieces that worked in spite of myself. Pieces where I was smart enough to get out of my own way and let the piece decide where it wanted to go. That’s not an easy thing to do. With any artist who appreciates the power of technique, its hard to not play into it. When you know what it is you want to say, it’s important  to not oversell it with an artistic sleight of hand. Currently, I like, Belle et la Bete, SHE, He Who Laughs Last, ONE, Something to Consider, Eve Decides and IMAGINE. In a couple of months, the list will change.
Imagine, showing it illuminated from the inside
4. How do you start your sculptures? Do you do drawings first?

With personal work, I very, very rarely do any prep work. As a hands-for-hire sculptor for over forty-six years, working from 2D feels a lot like a job. I have an armature, some clay and some free time. And whatever happens, happens. Like I said earlier, the trick is not to get in the way. But with a piece like I am the Walrus, its such a complex piece, with so many elements, I needed a guide or sorts. And even with the design, I’m discovering things I could not have anticipated in its execution. But Walrus in an exception.
I Am the Walrus, work in progress
5. Has your industry changed a lot since you started? How so? Is it easier/harder?

The industry is significantly different. I’d been a professional for twenty years before I got my first sculpting credit. That meant I had the opportunity to get better. I got to learn. I got to learn how to be a better sculptor and learn what it meant to be a professional. 

Both of those opportunities are almost not available. These days, good, bad or adequate, you get credit. And it follows you. That’s not always a good thing. And there’s almost no place where you get to learn what it is to be a professional. How to understand what the job is and do the job. 

When I started, you either made your own molds, cast your own resins, produced your own paint masters, or you passed it off to someone else, to accommodate some else’s schedule. If I have a three week deadline and I have to budget my time getting my stuff to a mold maker, a caster and a painter, I’ve lost a week, at least, and a week I could be sculpting. The more time with the piece, the chances are you get a better piece. When you do it all yourself, you have total control. Client likes your work, it all on you. If they don’t, the same. You deliver what you mean to deliver, not what someone else thinks you mean. And, all the service costs go into your pocket. But most importantly, when you know each step, all the way to finish, and you understand what you can and can’t do, you are much more likely to produce work that pushes the boundaries of what is possible. 

And that makes you a better designer and a better engineer.

The biggest change, of course, is digital modeling. Almost every major gift, toy or collectible company relies more and more on digital modeling. From their perspective, it’s more efficient. And maybe in some instances, it is. But it’s shifted the production of product from a collaboration between the sculptor and their AD, to solely the discretion and direction of the product manager. And a good many PM’s, have almost no actual 3D experience. And, from my perceptive, the best 3D work is created by someone who knows what works in real space, under real lighting conditions, in a real environment. 
Something to Consider
There is no substitute for creating a physical reality in a physical reality.

Easier/harder? Depends on who you are, where you are in your career and what you want out of it. 

6. If there was one thing you could tell your younger self, what would it be?

Anything I would have told myself wouldn’t or couldn’t apply. You took every job you could. Ever sculpt a one legged pirate kitten?  You bet!  I’m looking for someone to sculpt a set a chimpanzee Siamese twins. Interesting, I did that this morning. By the time I hit my thirties I’d sculpted perfume bottles, puppet heads, a life size alligator suit, action figures, comic heroes, I’d done album covers, editorial illustration,  written, recorded and produced three children’s albums, produced limited edition bronzes and had worked for virtually every major gift, collectible and toy company in America. And none of that could happen today. I guess, if I could tell my younger self anything it would be, take a moment to pull your head out of your ass and have a look at the bigger picture. But when I came up, there was no bigger picture. You were lucky to connect the dots.
Afternoon Delight
7. So many folks don't seem to know how to display or live with sculpture. Do you have thoughts on that?

Displaying sculpture is different than hanging something on the wall. With something 2D, you find a place, drive in a nail, hang the sucker, and there it is. And the longer it is where it is, the less you see it. It becomes like a lamp or a wall clock. Rarely do lighting conditions affect it. But with something 3D, it has to occupy a different physical space. Its on a table, or a shelf, a mantle or in a display case. The changes of light during the day, and night lighting alters its character. Even the shadow it casts can change our perception of it. But just like something 2D, we stop really seeing it after a time. It becomes part of our décor. I strongly urge people to move their 3D stuff around.  Move it off the shelf in the den into the bedroom or the kitchen. Take it out of the display unit and put it on top of the TV cabinet or the mantle and see how changing its place in your day to day, changes your relationship to it. A sculpture seen in morning light will change character at dusk. 
DC Wonder Woman, based on a Brian Bolland design
8. What is the next step in your career? You are semi-retired, so you must be up to something!

One of the things that being off deadline has given me is the ability is to think things through. When I was pulling a full free-lance schedule, I like most free lancers, sandwiched personal work in between deadlines. You got done what you had time to get done. Its not that you didn’t have time to think about it, you just didn’t have time to change your mind. Now that I have the time, I’m surprised at how my work has been able to evolve. The first piece I experienced that with was SHE. I started off thinking one thing, and the more I thought about it, the more it evolved and, I think, for the better. 

Same with Eve Decides, most certainly with I am the Walrus. I think that’s the biggest difference, the chance to change my mind to make something better.

9. Do you have a favorite hobby outside of your work?

I write. I’ve always written. I became a little more serious about it when I started writing Christmas stories. When our kids were young, I’d write a Christmas story with them in it and read it to them over the Holidays.  As they got older, and were less inclined to listen to their old man drone on, I started expanding. Over the past twenty or so years I’ve written Christmas themed stories that have run the gambit from hardboiled detective to Renaissance mystery. Then I got kind of more serious. I had my first book of fiction, Sensible Redhorn, published by Pro Se in 2013. And my second, The Adventure of the Pearl le Fong, published last year. I have another ready to go this year with Pro Se and several ready to be published through Airship 27.  I enjoy the hell out of writing. And the same thing holds true with writing as it does for sculpture, my job is to just stay out of the way. I’m just here to take notes. Oh, and I like feeding the birds. And they like me doing it.

10. Is there any advice you would give to an artist interested in sculpting?

Focus. There is so much more competition these days. You might be a multi-dimensional talent but Art Directors are looking for someone to do a specific job. When you show your portfolio and it’s got everything from super heroes to baby gorillas, its difficult for them to see what it is you do. So, starting off, pick something you like doing and are good at doing. Once you start getting work you can reveal more of who you are. Starting out, variety confuses people. Your AD and your audience are more comfortable putting you in a box. Once they know and understand you and your work, the box can get bigger and can have other boxes inside it. 

There are so many different ways to apply your talent, don’t get stuck thinking your future is in doing action figures or art dolls. Be open to any opportunity that presents itself. You never know where things might lead. A variety of professional experiences can only make you better.

Learn the business of art. It’s a business and you need to know how it works.

Hit your deadline. If you don’t there’s someone just as good as you are who will. Don’t take front money until you’ve done something for it. I’ve known too many artists who have taken front money for a bunch of jobs only to be squeezed by due dates and nothing to show for it. When you get screwed, and you will, move on. Learn how it happened and why it happened and don’t’ let it happen again. 

Most of all, be kind and supportive. And be generous. When you give freely and openly of your time and experience its makes for better artists and better art. And isn’t that something we all want?
A Little Mischief

Tim's work is featured regularly on his own Krab Jab page, as well as one of the featured artists in our May 2015 show, entitled Lennon, opening May 9th (Tim will be there!).