Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Playing from Space


I don't remember how I encountered Chris Hadfield's images of Earth from the Space Station, but I saw a few posted and clicked through to his Twitter feed where hundreds more of his images are posted. They are incredible images for many reasons - the colors, the perspectives, the detail as well as the massive scale...I could go on and on. I saved a few that I liked knowing they would help me in some way in the future. Today I once again had the itch to just draw, to make something out of nothing, to scribble, and so I stared at these images, rotating them around and around, vaguely crossing my eyes like trying to view a Magic Eye and I just played. I think I might do it again, but this time with water color. I might play with watercolor. I apologize if the world just stuttered for a moment there, see, watercolor and I, we don't get along, but I think that it is the correct medium for this experiment. And it is taking a lot for me to admit that, and to also WANT to do it. Grrr watercolor, I will best ye yet!

The Chris Hadfield images and the...things that they inspired:



Monday, February 25, 2013

A Willow Tree

Early in my residency in Altoona, I reached out to a fellow theater artist and educator, looking for a dialogue with a colleague. Greg Romero is an artist, writer, creator, human who challenges me all the time, and I greatly appreciate his honesty and his questions. Greg shared one of his scripts with me, The Babel Project, curious to see what it might spark. This play, this piece of theater, is huge and spectacular and curious and challenging. Developed with Mike Vernusky, it is "electro-theater" and reading it on the page it is amazing how much of the story is sonically transmitted. Now, as a maker of things in fabric, this is interesting, if not a little frustrating.

First the interesting part - What can I learn about this play's structure that I could use to create a new work that focuses on another sense, such as touch? I will admit that only upon writing this blog post has this idea floated to the surface, so it is going to take some more exploring. But I think it is a good and important lesson to take from this script.

Second, finding the visual within the text. And it was there, sprinkled throughout, these beautiful visual moments that I could just sense - in scale, in texture - in the lovely colored amorphous blobs that are my imagination (meaning non specific undefined things that I understand, the way you understand dreams, but there are not words or drawings that can express them, they either are or are not). One specific moment begged to be real. I think that perhaps it could be overlooked in a production, or glossed over because of "technical difficulties" which of course means that I had to figure out a way to make it real. You know, that solving the impossible thing.

The words, from Greg Romero (shared with his permission):

           What are you smiling at?

                                                            WORKER 3

                                                            WORKER 4

                                                            WORKER 3

                                                            They stare at each other for a long moment.

                                                            WORKER 3
           Weeping willow.

                                                            WORKER 4

                                                            WORKER 3

Worker 3 unbuttons his shirt, and turns his back to her, revealing a giant, colorful, weeping willow carved into his back.

She hesitates, then gently traces her finger across the image.

             Who did this?

                                                            WORKER 3
             You did.

A giant weeping willow scar, carved onto someone's back. My mind raced, how old was this scar? How was it carved? What would the scars look like? Or is it still fresh? How would you create it? At first I was hung up on the technical details, I have to go buy liquid latex, and what release should I use? What make-up kit should I order? Should I wear it myself or get someone else to model it? And then I realized I was going too far. This residency has been about play, about doing, about making stuff just to see. And the clay was already in my house. And that was the first step, latex or not. 

My clay is over three years old and I underestimated the amount of elbow grease it was going to take to reanimate it. I am still sore almost a week later. I don't like sculpting. It makes me feel like my hands are made of thumbs and that all my great visions get translated through a preschooler before getting to my hands. Yes I know, practice makes perfect. Yes I also know that I need to remember this humbling bumbling feeling because this is what I am asking my students to do each time I ask them to draw something. Regardless, I pushed myself through, rolled out the clay, built up the spinal cord, smoothed out the surfaces...and then I slashed at it with a steak knife, HARD. That was a moment. Someone did this to another person, deliberately cut open their skin to make these marks. It is easy. It is very very hard. Swallow. Breathe. Ok. Just clay. Not real. What would it feel like with muscles resisting underneath? The bones in the spine? The image was carved and I could release my mind from asking the questions. The "carving" wasn't perfect. I wasn't really going to get a "second chance" on that so I decided to let it go. And then I started playing with the scars. I tried not to get too hung up on details (no excessive visual research online) I just went with my own research, the accidental scars of my youth that I carry and tried to extrapolate onto a larger scale. 
The images are below:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A little bit of context

So, I did some drawings today and yesterday. This in and of itself is a victory, as I never choose to draw. But this time I chose to draw, and you know, it wasn't so bad! However, the drawings are for a show and I haven't really shown them to the director yet, so I feel like I shouldn't share them here first. In lieu of art, I thought I would back up here on the blog a little bit and give some more context to what I have been thinking, dreaming, reading, scheming etc.

I moved to Altoona, PA to work as the Emerging Artist in Theatrical Design at Penn State Altoona. However, I am not designing their Spring show. So...I was sort of left on my own to "do my work" whatever that might be. With little inspiration and no map, I spent a lot of my time reading. Heavy artsy reading. I started with The Dramatic Imagination from Robert Edmund Jones. This man was a theater artist - a designer of all things, not just sets or lights or costumes. And the things he designed, they speak to me with such clarity of intent and style. He was also working at a time when theater was embroiled in Naturalism and struggling to make a change. Some quotes I collected in my journal:

The Seven Princesses. Design by Robert Edmond Jones


The artist should omit the details...and give us only the spirit and the splendor.

That man is playing the part of a beggar. We know he is not a real beggar. When we look at him we recall all beggars we have ever seen or read about. And all our ideas of misery and helplessness and loneliness rush up in our imaginations to touch us and hurt us. The man is in rags. If he wore ordinary rags we wouldn't look at him twice. As he stands there or moves about we are reminded of great paintings - like those of Manet. We are looking at something theatrical; these rags have been arranged - "composed" the painters call it - by the hand of an artist. We feel, rather than see, an indescribable difference. These rags have some how ceased to be rags. They have been transformed into moving sculpture.

Many of the costumes I design are intentionally somewhat indefinite an abstract. A color, a shimmer, a richness, a sweep.

The first entrance of the heroine. It does not say "she wore a taffety petticoat or a point lace ruff"; it says, "she came in like starlight hidden in jewels"
(I cannot tell you the last play I read where things were described as thus! Oh how I miss it! Please share with me if you know of plays/wrights that are so magical - I take that back. Inspired by such words, I asked Philadelphia Playwright Greg Romero if he would share any of his work with me, because my past experiences of his work have been of magic, music and the impossible. He did share some work with me, and I am currently wrestling with it. More to come)

To ask why did that artist do that thing in that particular way instead of some other way? Is to take the first step toward true creation.
(This quote inspired me to take stock of the things that inspire me and to try to discover why those artists do those things in that particular way. This lead me to reading more about how/why Issey Miyake works as he does, why Schaparelli was not content fitting in, why Cappucci created such dynamic shapes)

We must take the little gift we have into the hall of the gods.

I have many many more notes in my journal, but these are the key ones that stuck, that floated about and challenged me into action. Into reading more, asking more, risking more. I will share quotes from the other designers in another post. For now, I leave you with REJ and his words.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Floating Poems

Thumbprint portrait by Cheryl Sorg
Months ago, someone shared this link on Pinterest, and it caught my eye.
 I really liked the colors and the thought that, given enough time, I could recreate something similar.

The Odyssey by Cheryl Sorg

 I followed the link to Cheryl's etsy store, and came across this interesting piece. It is the entire Odyssey swirling across tape. Something started brewing in the back of mind - something about words and stories and fabric and strings.

By Jamie Poole

Today on the Colossal Blog (which is really awesome in its entirety, you should follow it!) they posted Shredded Poetry Portraits by Jamie Poole, and I thought to myself, this is the Universe sending me a message. So, there is something out there, something about strings of words together. Something about fabric and stories. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm work on it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The impossible

Once upon a time, Brian Grace-Duff was in a play writing class taught by P. Seth Bauer. Seth challenged them to write a scene in their current work that was impossible. Impossible to stage, or impossible to create, just..impossible. And Brian wrote that (in paraphrase) the character Til entered the scene and slowly turned to coal. He tried to move, but slowly broke apart until he was only a pile of coal on the floor. And then he started burning. Donnie walked over and pissed on his brother to put it out. Brian has since cut the scene from his play and perhaps it really doesn't have a place in that script (although I maintain that it wasn't that far removed from the story and perhaps the rest of the story just needed to be as impossible as that scene to match, rather than vice versa). My designer brain was immediately set in motion on hearing both the words "impossible" and well, coal. See, I grew up in coal country, or more specifically in an area formerly defined by coal and that has never really recovered. I know about anthracite and bituminous coal. I've held that magical rock in my hands - the strange structure of it, truly black diamond as it is known. I have seen the oily shimmer that plays hide and seek across its surfaces. The way fire burns deep inside it. I said I wanted to design that moment. That I could see it. In earlier "drafts" of the scene, the character was dressed in a shiny black version of his costume, his action slowly hardening and eventually breaking down until he collapsed on the floor. I hadn't really solved the fire/pissing problem. But the slightly unsatisfied smirks of theater friends suggested to me that I hadn't gone quite far enough. So I keep thinking about it, keep dreaming about it, keep imagining it.

There are a lot of technical things that trouble me - what material do I use for this coal? It needs to have that shimmer and shine. It needs to compact to almost nothing yet expand into a rocky form. How do I cover this person? How does he fall apart? Today I took the first step, trying to figure it out on paper. I'm thinking some sort of strings, perhaps chiffon imitating smoke that would pull this mystery material out from various places of the Til costume, up from under his jeans, out from the waist, through his sleeves, and over his head. But for the effect to work the way I have drawn it, I believe the "strings" need to be on the outside, visible, which doesn't entirely jive with the way the scene has been set. I may also be interpreting the words incredibly literally, as I am wont to do, but until I get myself totally stuck, I want to believe that there is a way to really do this, magically, in a theater, not on a screen. My first drawings are below. Til, as he usually is - ripped jeans, worn in flannel shirt all sloppy, barefoot after the killer party. Drawing two is trying to imagine where the "coal" can come from and how it could move to cover him and all the strings. I realize that I will just need to get some clothing, a dress form (or person) and maybe some trash bags and start making magic because, let me tell you, this thinking it out on paper thing is really not working for me! But I took a step, and forward motion is important. It leads to momentum.

Til - after the party

Til - turning into Coal

Monday, February 18, 2013

2 more sketches

I had seen these images on Pinterest before and they were clearly costumes in my head. As I was jsut playing with sketching today, I added them to the done pile, at least in draft form.
Photographer: Trey Ratcliff
Photographer: Vitek Ludvik

Play Time Again

Life interrupted, as it is wont to do. All good things, so I am not complaining. So, onto today's play time. One of the design suggestions I received was the idea of using the language of another form of design to create in my form of design. In more specific terms, to use the language of Lighting Design to create costume designs.
Composition, Visibility, Modeling, Information, Mood, Focus, Intensity, Color, Direction, Distribution, Texture, and Movement.

I've been pondering the idea of costumes with direction. Wondering what that could be. I had some ideas, but they weren't really inspiring me, so today I decided to sketch them out, see what happened when I could really see them. It led to an interesting place.

Dress pinned to a wall, Up dress, 2 Down Dresses
More Up dresses, 2 Left ensembles

Sideways Ensembles
Using other ensemble members to create shape/direction

Attaching stretchy fabric costumes to pins on a  wall with a performer inside. Creates Shapes.
What if it were strings rather than solid pieces of fabric?

I like a lot of these ideas and images. I think the down dresses are very evocative. I think the up dresses with string are really dynamic. I think the bodies attached to walls making shapes could be really interesting, if a little disconcerting for the performers. Do the shapes change? Do they tell stories and interact?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Jellyfish and Feet

Recently I discovered an interesting blog: It is full over really interesting daring challenging inspiring work that crosses art boundaries of visual, theatrical, etc. art. I love it. Everyday is something new and different to charge my neurons. Sure, a lot of it may be things I can't use directly, but it reminds me that "art" can be so much more than I ever thought. And that my ideas can be a part of that world. So that is always exciting.

Today there was a post about photographer Alexander Semenov who takes these amazing underwater shots. The post was specifically about starfish, but it linked to older posts about the same artist and I came across his jellyfish pictures. Jellyfish are one of those morbid fascination things for me. These beautiful flowing colorful creatures that can sting and lacerate you into oblivion. I want to just watch them move in the water; their movement is so different and ...alien I guess. But I know they are sooo sooo dangerous. But they don't creep me out in the same way spiders and bugs do, and I feel safe watching them in an aquarium. (Well most of the time. Until I start to get really paranoid about gallons of water and the pressure on the glass...then I have to leave really quickly.)

I pinned several images to Pinterest just for reference, but there was one I was just itching to play with and, as the past few days have really handcuffed me, I knew I HAD to let myself do something artsy today or I was going to be cranky beyond all crankiness!

Jellyfish by Alexander Semenov

 And my drawings. I really just tried to let myself play with the shape and how it might react on different places on the body.

In other news, I taught my students how to draw feet and shoes today in my Fundamentals of Design Class. I honestly did not know if I could do it. I hadn't the faintest idea how to go about it. But I found some tutorials online that seemed to match the way I draw feet/shoes and made handouts for the class. Then I took off my shoes and started explaining the geometry of the foot while they started drawing. Then I started doing a demo of the drawing myself on my own sketchpad, upside down. (I drew in front of people! Something I am terrified of doing! And I did it, without THINKING about it!) Several of the students went off into their own corners with their feet/handouts and worked on their own, while I had others right in front of me watching my every move. I helped the front group out and then checked in with the corner people, made suggestions and corrections, then we moved onto feet profiles. In less than an hour, I saw such an incredible improvement in all of their drawings. It was so inspiring! I know when I learned some simple foot geometry and a few tricks on shoe drawing, it improved my renderings so much and in a very short time. The class has requested Hands next. Deep breath. Hands are trickier than feet, we don't usually just cover them with shoes! But I am encouraged by the Feet/shoes experience and inspired to try again!

Monday, February 4, 2013

What jumps make your horse skittish?

Whenever I get stuck as an artist, person, maker of things, whatever, I always turn back to The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I can't recommend this book enough, for any kind of artist, like even if you are an artist of Bank Statements. This book is for anyone and everyone. Julia taught me that an artist can be successful and be healthy, have money and a family. That an artist can be groundbreaking and safe. She helps me believe in myself and to get me to work again instead of dreaming. So, with months ahead of me and no work to fill them, I turned back to The Way. I decided this time to start in the middle because I ALWAYS start at the beginning, and I have read those pages hundreds of times, written and rewritten those exercises. And while they are useful, I wanted something new and different and challenging. So I jumped in around week 6 or 7 (depending on which way I flipped the pages, because I ACTUALLY started at week 7, but it referenced something in week 6 so I went back a little before going forward again) I am doing it a little more informally than usual - not doing the 3 pages of prescribed journaling, but still trying to stick to a weeks worth of exercises before moving to the next week. Trying to listen to my internal monologue - Hmm, I see you are resisting doing that exercise, well that must mean we NEED to do it. So there!
      Last night I was reading and a paragraph jumped out at me. It was a chapter about breaking through creative blocks and getting started on work. Julia says we need to call procrastination Fear and we need to acknowledge that fear to start using it. Ok, that matches up with a lot of things I have learned in therapy - my anxiety has something to tell me, and I need to listen. But all I can see is the fear.
        Julia says, "Think of your talent as a young and skittish horse. This horse is very talented but it is also young, nervous, and inexperienced. It will make mistakes, be frightened by obstacles it hasn't seen before. Your job, as the creative jockey, is the keep your horse moving forward to coax it to finish the course. First of all, take a look at what jumps make your horse so skittish. You may find that certain obstacles or far more scary than others. Remember that in a horse race, there are other horses in the field. One trick a seasoned jockey uses is to place a green horse in the slipstream of an older, steadier and more seasoned horse."
      And suddenly I could feel my heart beating in my chest, because I know what scares me the most about some of the new work I want to do - I have to go into a rehearsal room, and I have to lead it. Something I have never, EVER done. Sure, I have lead classrooms, but I was putting people through motions I have done countless times. I am going to have to walk into a rehearsal room, own that room and guide people through things I am not even sure I am capable of. While I can run, I do not think of myself in terms of my body in motion. I think of myself as almost a wind up mechanical doll - all angles and awkward whirring and clunking around. These two things combined: my fear of leading a rehearsal room and my awkward association with body movement terrify me and make me afraid to take the leap that seems like it should come next.
      A little voice said so clearly then, Hello!? You have many director friends (Julia would have me note that as well - she calls them shadow artists, artists who do an art form that is NEAR another art form, but have lots of associations with others, such as me being a costume designer but hanging out with Playwrights and Directors - you know, people who INITIATE work) and I bet those director friends would welcome you into their rehearsal rooms, maybe even let you assistant direct (I don't really know what that even means, and it is such a terrifying idea to me I deleted it 3 times before actually typing it!). Ok. Deep breath. Ok. That seems like a good plan. Even a doable plan. However, I am in Altoona right now and I don't want to wait for months until I am back in Philly to start doing work. So I need to find other things, more In Altoona Doable things. BUT, this was a breakthrough and an important one. So Philly directors/friends, be looking for my call in May. Because I am coming to you!

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Was perusing Facebook last night and came across a shared post. Apparently an artist friend was doing a face exercise and wanted others to join in. I hopped over to his site, grabbed the template and drew some faces. I played a little with making some more realistic and others more loosey goosey, the way I draw when I just want to get an idea of something down. (The way I started drawing in fashion school.) This morning I traced some over and played some more with the markers. I didn't get to do as much exploration as I wanted because while Eilir was content playing with play doh while I washed dishes, it was not possible for me to be in the same room as her and NOT share the markers. At least in her opinion. So I had to quick dash off a few strokes of color before hiding the box.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Marked up

So all day today, I pretended that I wasn't going to color my drawings with markers. I made all kinds of excuses: I like the originals and I don't want to mess them up, the markers could be terrible, the new drawings are going to be even farther removed from the original line sketches. "Umm, what does any of this matter," my artist self seemed to say. Copy the originals so you don't "mess" them up. Who cares if they are "more removed"? We are just playing!!! So, before I allowed myself to wallow in Netflix, I had to color the sketches with markers. What is interesting is that they look much better in photo form than they do up close in person.

Words I am Pondering

Today has been a quiet day at home. I did not have any gut pulling directions for my work today, so instead I have chosen a day of rest for my brain. I have done some body work allowing my brain to marinate and ponder the many things I have been reading lately, suggestions people have given me etc. allowing myself to think unconsciously while I did things like sew doll clothes and the dishes. I will share the things swimming in my brain:

Once upon a time I was introduced to Viewpoints by director Lane Savadove. Lane is an interesting and challenging director who has always pushed me to do work I might not otherwise have done. I sat in a few rehearsals while Lane led the group in Viewpoints exercises. Coming from a fashion background, this theatrical technique was completely foreign to me. It was described to me in fragments and over time I was able to see how it could be used to unify a group, to create unique and dynamic combinations on stage etc. However, I was left feeling that it was purely an actor/director tool.
Fast forward to Graduate School at Temple University, modern theater/design class and yet another influential Director, Jill Harrison. Jill presented Viewpoints to the class, even let us try out a few techniques in the lobby. Jill described the many different tools in the Viewpoints kit: yes tempo and direction, but also Architecture - how might an actor respond different to the different shapes and textures they were surrounded with on stage? Color - how does a person respond to color, to their color, to the colors around them? In five minutes, Jill literally "fixed" Viewpoints for me and opened my eyes to a whole new world of design and design collaboration opportunities.

Lighting Design
Lighting design is so much more ethereal that the other parts of design, at least in my estimation. We are talking about light, not exactly something concrete you can pin down. For years I have struggled to "see" lighting design, but I had no vocabulary for it. I want to thank fellow Temple Grad Christopher Hallenbeck for sharing his terminology. Composition, Visibility, Modeling, Information, Mood, Focus and also Intensity, Color, Direction, Distribution, Texture, Movement. Int he words of designer Howard Binkley "Lighting is creating the scenery and the whole foot print for the choreography...give it an environment."

Here is where things start to overlap - composition is also a viewpoints technique, tempo/duration - both in viewpoints and lighting and both affect the overall movement of a theatrical piece. Direction, focus.

Struggling with a way of approaching design outside the context of a specific script, Brian Grace-Duff has suggested I try to use the vocabulary of Lighting Design to create costumes (in the broad sense of that word). I think this is interesting. A costume with direction or focus. Brian also suggested a costume to give a sense of time of day or time of year - and not in the literal sense of a full length dress means evening, a puffy vest means fall, something more. I am also considering the ideas from viewpoints - what do actors do in satin dresses vs velvet dresses or shaggy dresses? How do they interact with one another in a space, how do they interact WITH that space also. Dynamic relationships. Viewpoints states that we always space ourselves about 2-5 feet apart, and changing that spacing creates relationships. Can I do the same with clothing? If I remove the sleeve of a jacket and place it on the other side of the room, does that force my audience to create a story? A suggested Viewpoints exercise is to choose a color and move and respond to it throughout a room. Can I make an audience do the same? Is that interesting? What about scale/duration? How long does a dress go on for as she walks across stage, the dress trailing and trailing and trailing. What if the dress was too big for the room? Can architecture tell me what kinds of clothing to make?

Shape is "quite simply the art of depression and protuberance" - Rodin Tension, expansion and contraction, In and out, open and close. Respond to shape in shape, let the shapes take you on a journey. There is something here. A kernel, a something. I am trying really hard not to grab at it because I fear it will skitter and hide. It will come out when it is ready I hope!