Tuesday, January 18, 2011

a tedium of footnotes

One of the most interesting things about being an extra in the opera was to get to be around talent that was completely different from my own areas of expertise. It was a wide range of talent, and a wide range of voices, and all of it filled the air we walked through as we went about our evenings. On breaks soloists would be practicing in the bathrooms, piercing their ears with the close-quarter acoustics. They would hum in the halls. They would walk through difficult stanzas with one another in the practice rooms. To say nothing of the children's choir. White noise turned into rainbow noise -- everyone was very liberal with their gifts and all you had to do was be there and absorb the magic.

I recall standing backstage once when we first started rehearsals at the Keller auditorium and listening to someone's aria. I remember feeling an almost opulent sense of exhilaration, thanking my lucky stars that I should be backstage hear such a thing with my own impoverished ears. It surprised me greatly to learn that the soloist was disappointed in her performance, and had a lengthy technical discussion with a fellow soloist about what could have been better. It sounded great to me...

I'm trying to keep that story in mind as I mull over this one, because I feel like this is a terribly imprudent thing to say -- or feel -- but it must be said.

desktop marathon

I've finally finished my Sketchbook Project Sketchbook, by which I mean: I have stopped working on it and will send it in here in an hour, because it must be post marked today and I still need to eat before my house today. We're starting a new client this morning and there's nothing like being well rested and fueled up for a raw house.

That will not be the case for me today however, having spent all of last night in to the wee hours trying to get this thing ready, as well as the night before that and the night before that. It's my own fault for not giving it the attention it deserved ahead of time. It's also my own fault for making the project much more complicated than it needed to be. It is a sketchbook after all, it's not meant to be a little cahier of finished paintings like I was trying to do. I think if I'd been a little more casual about this in general it wouldn't have stressed me out so much.

But then again...the whole idea of setting aside a sketchbook in a sketchbook library, publicizing the event heavily, having the books themselves go on a tour, etc., does mean that a certain amount of people will be looking at it, and will possibly be making a special trip to the gallery to go look at it. Wouldn't want to disappoint all that intent. And it means that the contents must inevitably be much different from my own sketchbook -- often merely squiggles and gestural lines and dots that only mean something to me.

And the shameless part: I don't have regular illustration work, and I want it. So essentially anything that leaves my desk becomes, whether it's supposed to be or not, promotional material for me and what I do. And to give out anything that is less than what I am truly capable of feels like an abdication of my ambitions.

Maybe this just shows how green I am. Wouldn't a seasoned illustrator receive a book like this in September and think, now what I really want to do is paintings. So I better start now. But what about the problems of beginning? It took me so long to figure out how to begin. Initially my ideas were completely overbearing and not at all suited to the medium, and even what I went for in the end turned out to be another angle into the same quagmire. It was honestly an act of desperation to swing it into the completely new direction in the middle of the thing -- from eggheady social criticisms in ink pen to irreverent paint and pencil. But shouldn't I have realized that's what I would have wanted to show the world in the first place? Not shaky second-draft "sketches"* but real paintings with colors and life?

It's not easy being green.

sketch of grocery

*I was forever being teased by Anthony for doing preliminary sketches before sketching in the book, even before the paint took over. What can I say. Blank pages that will certainly be oogled by people intimidate me, in a way that sketching in my regular book, or on bar napkins, or the backs of people's arms does not. The reason the Sketchbook paper never felt as comfortable as my regular sketchbook paper, even though they are THE SAME SORT OF PAPER, was because my sketchbook doesn't have an audience waiting.

I am frustrated with how little I actually finished in the end, and because of this and because this assignment made me at times uncomfortably self-conscious, I at first want to get cynical and say that something like this is just a way to cash in on people's desperation for attention. To recall the sketches and unintelligible notes by now-famous artists and writers and such that get published posthumously for all the world to see. Every thought is worth sharing! Every thing you touch is gold!

But I think that's too simplistic, since it's not like poeple are tricked into this. The terms are very clear. It's a neat sharing-project, and a chance for absolutely anyone to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It's an analog version of blogging, in a way. It is a thing you produce, send to a large open audience. Only in this case people can pick up the thing, feel it, turn the crisp pages. It is longer than most blog entries end up, so the person has the option of dwelling on you and among your thoughts for a long time. It's a reaction against the all-digital world, it is an argument for things that can be done by hand. My own hang-ups about what gives a sketched line life in terms of public vs. private has, probably, more to do with the value I place on true spontaneity and (again) the dissatisfaction of not having finished.


Given the time frame I was actually in production for these paintings it is a fairly good haul. On Jan 4. I began what turned out to be 48 pages of full color stuff -- all double page spreads, so 24 pictures in all. Some where simple, some were complex, but even the simple stuff (especially the simple stuff, actually,) takes time and care to make sure it is executed effectively.

Given that, and given that in a day I generally can only work about 5 hours after I get home from my day job, it's actually pretty incredible that I almost finished.

And though I made it a frustrating project for myself I did learn a lot. There's something very constructive about squeezing the tube of your creative stamina completely dry every once in a while. I took a lot of notes on the way. Little things like how to texture trees differently, where cheeks might stand in relation to a beard, that I REALLY need to workshop what my faces are doing right now.

My next two tasks are not very production-heavy, which is actually a bit of a relief. I need to learn about this huge printer that's been sitting on my shelf for almost two weeks, and I need to sort through and purge a lot of old sketchbooks from college. Take stock, make shelf room, etc. Hopefully that will be a little therapeutic, in that I can think gosh, look how far I've come!