Her Own Wings

Not long ago I was approached by Andy MacMillian to be a part of a group show exploring Portlandia — the statue whose namesake television show is far more famous than the statue itself.

Despite the intentions of the people who commissioned the statue, she never took off as an icon of the city — she never became for us what the Statue of Liberty is for New York — in large part, it seems, because of Raymond Kaskey’s vigorous protection of his exclusive rights to the image. Arguably a wise art-business move, but in the end a misguided step in the stingy Northwest, where it was unlikely anybody was actually going to shell out the money to use her ubiquitously on mugs, t-shirts, etc., particularly after the large commission fee, funded in large part by the public.

So there she sits, atop the back of a strange building downtown, off my usual bus lines and therefore for me a completely forgettable thing despite being the second largest copper statue in the country. She is completely unrecognizable to most people, even to locals, if they haven’t managed to take a city tour or walk underneath her on fifth avenue.

Andy had been doing some research on this, and had been incensed that Portland essentially wasted a golden opportunity to personify the city with a strong female character. She is based off the woman on the city seal — itself a complicated and generally uninspiring thing because it is so cluttered up with symbols, to wit:

“… a female figure in the center thereof, representing commerce, and holding in her right hand a trident and pointing with her left to a sheaf of wheat and a forest, with a representation of Mount Hood in the background, and at her feet a cogwheel and hammer, and on her right a steamship coming into port.”

It may have been moving and thrilling in 1878, when this was written in the ordinance, but nowadays the seal just looks clunky. Tepid. All redesigns have faithfully adhered to the ordinance, but for some reason have also always been rendered like an etching, so never ends up looking modern or representative of the city in any way.

Andy wanted a fresh take on all this, so he put out a call to various artists — all women or female-identified — to take a crack at this concept and see what we could do with it.

I found it to be a weirdly difficult concept — encapsulate a whole city in a single, strong female figure. Portland has changed so much over the scant nine years I’ve lived here — and had changed a good deal long before I got here — that it’s a tricky story to speak to. After all, my Portland isn’t Chuck Palahniuk’s Portland, not by a long shot, and the Portland I found when I got here during the Great Recession is worlds away from the Little California it’s becoming now. A city that once revered its history is quickly being consumed by boxy, high-end condos, and many of my cornerstone locals have begun to seek their fortunes elsewhere. (And it so easily could have been us, lest we forget.)

So it’s not exactly a warm and gushing moment to be asked to personify your city. I think a lot more of us would have gone the route Cate Andrews went if we’d had the guts.

On the other hand, calls like this are rarely this meaty and specific. And it was stimulating to try and wrestle the concept into something visually satisfying.

In these angry and divisive times I find myself longing for redemption. For hope. And because I survived our eviction and managed to land within the city limits in a good situation, I am able to cling hard to the idea that Portland is still a good place for artists. Not absolutely everybody I know has moved to Cleveland or Detroit or Butte. There are still a lot of us here. And a robust handful of us were in this show, displaying our courage and hope.

 

 

The show is up until September 3rd at Land Gallery: 3925 N Mississippi.

If you happen to be out of town, no matter: you can still view the digital gallery and buy a print here.

Proceeds from this show go towards Call to Safety (formerly Portland Women’s Crisis Line).

Of owls and podcasts

Oh hey — I’m an illustrator, remember? Sheesh, I scarcely have with all the STUFF that’s been going on. Thanks for listening. (Or ignoring, if that’s your jam. No worries.)

I’ve been working on a project with a friend of mine, who is making a thing that sorely needs to exist and I am super pumped that she is building it.

It’s hard to succinctly explain what it is, exactly, because the thing about new innovations is that the good ones fill a very specific need. And often they are so specific that explanations are clunky and fall short.

It is an aggregate for podcasts. Or rather, for the extra stuff that goes with a podcast.

By way of sideways explanation: there is a podcast, “the Hilarious World of Depression.” It was recommended to me by Meg Hunt while I was working on this project. It — the podcast — is amazing. I feel particularly “hooked” as a long time public radio fan, because the first guest is our heart’s own Peter Sagal.

I want to know everything about this show, about the things Sagal talks about in this episode, related blog entires. I want to know what else the people who are listening to this are listening to, and if news related to this podcast pops up I want to know that too.

I got hooked with Serial in the same way. I think a lot of folks did.

It’s like: I want the DVD extras to this podcast. And I’d like them all in one box. And even better if I could combine that all in one place, rather than jumping around between Stitcher, Audible, NPR1, and my (outdated, no longer actively updated) iTunes playlists (which means, for me, jumping between devices as well.) — which is the way I cobble together my podcast consumption.

…Because, if it were all in one place, then I could have a context for the thing I am about to tell you. I maybe wouldn’t even tell you, here, but rather I would just tell it to the in-app social thing, and then have that point back to my own blog entires that explain the events I refer to.

Instead I’m going through this elaborate backstory, otherwise it’s going to seem too vaguebook-y, too disconnected.

Pause.

THIS is the thing that my friend is building. A place where all of this can take place. Where all the STUFF that a podcast builds — tangental interest, blogs that reference the episode, as well as websites and such related to the podcast itself — can just flow into one big basket. Where you can talk to other users — not just an Amazon recommendation algorithm, but actual interaction with other human beings.

I am drawing some owls for it, it is going beta soon, and I hope it really takes off because I am tired of stumbling upon perfect audio illustrations of things that I feel and then having to build an entire world to explain it to someone.

In the meantime, take a breath.

This is the whole reason I am writing all this.

Here’s what struck me:

There is a moment in this episode where Sagal describes how going through a Major Awful Event dulls the other events in his life that seemed awful.

“…It also makes the other problems I’ve had seem really minor…I see all of the things that I used to obsess about and worry about — my place in hierarchies, the number of feathers I had accumulated in my cap from day to day — is utterly meaningless. Completely meaningless and not worth worrying about, because I’ve got something really serious I need to worry about.”

THIS.

THIS is something that I have felt firsthand since the 3 months of cancer, since my brother-in-law’s leg abscess, since my roommate’s heart attacks and subsequent quadruple bypass, since my no-cause eviction.

The truth of this is so real for me. It reminds me of the end of Tig Nataro’s monologue about having cancer. Because what is a bee joke to the (let’s face it) superlative nature of all this tragedy? It is so absurd that one can’t help but laugh — not because “or else we’d cry,” not because “the tears are all used up,” (there’s ALWAYS more,) but because it really is unreal. If I wrote a book right now about how things have lined up since last April an editor would send it back saying, “you are beating a dead horse, this is overkill. Try to pull it back. We’d like to see some subtly.”

I would have too.

And there certainly have been quieter, better things, and that’s what I’m spending a lot of my time doing — rooting around in the debris looking for those things, so that the narrative isn’t JUST overkill. So that the story I eventually tell is nuanced, so that it does have subtly, so that it doesn’t leave a metallic taste in your mouth like the one I’ve got. So you’d come to me for other stories. So people who go through stuff can find it and say, oh, you too? Sweet. Also, I like how that turned out for you. Or, I’m so glad I didn’t have to go through that, too. Or, I like how you managed to find meaning in all mess. Maybe I can too.

Or even just, I like that part where you just walk through the field of golden weeds and feel the wind in your hair.

Often right now when people talk to me my eyes glaze over. Or I seem like I’m on another planet. I am. It is the planet called I Have Something Serious I Need To Worry About, and I can’t be bothered by problems outside that sphere right now. Even big ones like The State Of Our Failing Nation.

Let me live on that planet. For one thing, if you pull me off too soon it isn’t going to go well for either of us. And also, finding lotuses in the manure is tricky business, and it’s something I do want to do. I’m not leaving this cesspool until I find the lotuses, damn it, because otherwise the whole experience will be filed in the THAT WAS TERRIBLE file of my brain, rather than the WOW ISN’T IT INTERESTING HOW ALL THIS LINED UP, or, GOSH I NEVER COULD HAVE IMAGINED THINGS WOULD HAVE TURNED OUT SO WELL files. I’d much rather the story live there.

Hell, I’d settle for: THAT WAS A CONSTRUCTIVE TIME IN OUR LIFE.

Anyway. 

The app is called Knolo, and I drew a bunch of owls for it. I will be hanging them up prettily in the galleries here soon, but she is currently, as of press time, best displayed on the Facebook page, which is also where you can sign up to be a beta tester.

Magnetic North

Back in mid-November I was invited by Meg Hunt — my friend and longtime secret illustrator crush — to move out of my undisclosed location in the warehouse district to Magnetic North. Leaving my artist’s hermitage was something this introvert slightly nervous about at first, but to say yes to this would meaning being in the company of delightful like-minded people, and having access to the building’s many perks, not least of which include a screen-printing apparatus (and, uh, people who know how to use that,) and possibly even a letterpress thing sometime next year.

Yes please.

The room was gunmetal grey when we signed the lease, but of course we are Meg Hunt and Maggie Wauklyn.

So that wouldn’t do.

I can’t remember when exactly we lost our delightful Hugh, succumbing as he did to a failure of both the clutch and the carborator, (lay off a little, would you, 2016?) but I know it was not long before Meg emailed me about this move. I didn’t *specifically* get a Toyota wagon because it would be ideal for moving, but that is indeed how it worked out. I moved everything in my studio in this car, in just about 3 trips. My desktop laid flat in the back, perfectly flat. It was something like a miracle.

This building will hopefully also be something like a miracle — it sure feels that way to me right now, bright and punchy as it is in a seemingly unpromising corner. It is so close to my first apartment in Portland that it is almost spooky.

Solo Art Show: Tiny’s Coffee SE

For those of you in Portland, listen up: for the whole month of August I will have pictures up on the walls at Tiny’s Coffee SE.

I was trying to remember if I’ve ever had a show of JUST my illustrations. I’ve shown my canvas work here and there, and illustrations have popped up in group shows, but I think this is the first time they’ve taken over an entire public place.

The last show here was a photography show with uniform enlargements that could easily be seen across the room. My work — painted by hand on paper — is not large, so I’ve tried to group them invitingly to make people yearn for a closer look. In some areas this worked fairly well.

In others, well…better luck next time.

Remember though that most homes do not have vast empty walls but rather have a menagerie of existing features to work around. And the nice thing about small pictures is you can tuck them into almost any space.

These two didn't make it into the show, though they are available. These two didn’t make it into the show, though they are available.

This show is a culmination of about six years’ worth of work. It features pictures from all sorts of different adventures I’ve had during that time: working the recycle crew at the Oregon Country Fair, my trip to Los Angeles for the Manifest:JUSTICE show, volunteering with the Portland Opera,  and several Cyborg Anthropology pictures are available as well. One of the fennel pictures is even there. All sorts of good stuff.

The show is up through the month of August. Come by and see it, won’t you?

Monster Drawing Rally 2016

All photos in this entry were taken for the Portland Art Museum by Cody Maxwell, and are used here with permission. There are many more pictures to admire here. 

All photos in this entry were taken for the Portland Art Museum by Cody Maxwell, and are used here with permission. There are many more pictures to admire here.

I read on someone’s Facebook page that “MDR” is the French version of “LOL” (mort de rire: dying of laughter), which is a great way to look at it really. The Portland Art Museum‘s Monster Drawing Rally is a big fun time.

This was the second of such events, designed to raise money for free youth programming at the Art Museum. It’s a pretty good deal for the artists as well. In exchange for rubbing elbows with one’s colleagues and drawing before an admiring crowd, one receives a FREE membership to the art museum for a year (!). I have loved being able to just drop into the museum for an hour or two to see a certain painting or visiting exhibition without having to make a big THING about it, so of course I was thrilled to be asked to participate again.

I was in the final session this year, and I arrived right at the beginning of the event so I’d have a chance to look around. It was because of this I met Linda Hutchins.

AND her incredible ink-nib-fingers.

I stood for a long time before her, dazzled by her little invention.

I told her I was dazzled, and she beamed and said she had been attending a metal workshops for a while. This event was the ink-nib-fingers’ debut! They make tiny little scribble beasts that look like something Paul Klee would have done if he’d had the luck to play with such interesting things. It looked SO FUN.

I also met a PNCA student named Jessica who was doing a paper-cut collage.

She cleverly had her sketchbook out for folks to flip through – which is a great idea that I may borrow for future events. It made me want to see more of her work, though I haven’t yet found a website for her.

Of course I also saw a bunch of people I know. Like Kinoko Evans.

And Lisa Congdon.

And Anisa Makhoul. (Apparently giving the volunteers a hard time. When I saw her she was drawing.)

I also saw pals of mine who I don’t have photos of, like Adrienne Vita, Phillip Stewart, Carson Ellis and pretty sure I saw my Lena Podesta as well.

I saw people I don’t actually know but kind of drool over too, like the little family behind Apak Studio.

It’s an interesting exercise to put a bunch of introverts in front of a live audience and have them draw for an hour. Some people find it trying. “How was your session?” I asked Rilla Alexander, when I bumped into her after her session. She said, “I learned I really need a steady table.”

Some people really clam up. I saw several artists this year with a stash of pictures already half done, which they would sort of finesse into finished and then hand off to the volunteers. I suppose it does make for a more polished product, though to me it is not in the spirit of the event — the joy of watching something get created, from scratch, before your very eyes.

Then again, I draw out in the world quite a bit and have a separate painting kit to do so, so it is easy for me to click into an informal mode. I don’t find it difficult to just sit back and draw monsters. I am not daunted by people looking over my shoulder and I am not afraid to do a bunch of potentially terrible drawings in front of people.

I have an “always be closing” attitude towards this event. Rather than spend a long time on one or two pictures I like to make a whole bunch of quick ones. Some I like very much, some end up being not to my taste, (i.e. I think they’re awful,) but maybe they would be someone else’s taste. Because who cares in the end. Some of them sold right away, some are still probably at the art museum’s shop and may or may not sell in the coming weeks.

Once a picture is finished, you raise your hand to alert a volunteer in a blaze orange lei. They take the picture to a drying rack, slip it into a plastic sheet, label it with one of your stickers, and then it goes off to the bidding wall.

This is where the funds are raised.

I like having other people take care of all that, because again it lets me focus more on the process itself. And the result of that process. The look in people’s eyes when they see something getting made.

And the feeling you get when people stop before what you’re doing.

Finally meeting artists you’ve admired for a long time.

And the inspiration — and opportunity! — to make a little magic of your own at one of the many tables available near the concessions.

It’s all just a very cool thing to be a part of. I hope I get to do it again next year.

ICON:8

ICON is over and I’m sorry to see it go. But I’m also glad to have my life back. It’s lovely to be in a room full of illustrators, because you know that by and large you are in a room with somewhat awkward introverts who excel at being outgoing and friendly when the need arises (how else would they get work?) but who would really on the whole prefer to be left alone.

I’m still on the high of being with so many like-minded people. I have a pile of postcards and business cards on either side of my laptop that I am going through, slowly, as I get lost in people’s websites, blown away at the level of excellence everyone is nonchalantly making under my very nose.

UNSORTED ICON:8 THOUGHTS

– Lovely to hear from the different disciplines of illustration. We had the obvious rockstars: Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, but we also had surface designers, editorial heavyweights, picture book makers, and war correspondents. We had borderliners who work more with fine art these days. We had people who have been in the business for over thirty years, and we had folks that have just got started. We had art directors, art directors who used to be illustrators, curators, and above all, fans. I think everyone in the room was just jazzed to be with other creatives.

– In future I need to bring a skinny sharpie and make notes on people’s cards to remind myself what we talked about, or even make a quick sketch of what their face looked like. Certain key players were not a problem, but I have a whole pile of things that were given to me that I want to honor, but some of them I just can’t quite place. Did we meet at the Roadshow? Were they at lunch with that huge group?

– Speaking of the Roadshow: should I table in the future, a reminder: bring about 75% less stock and about 200% more business cards. Because it does not look good to run out of business cards with an hour and a half to go of an event whose entire purpose is to give away business cards.

– I wowed the socks off a gentleman with my little homemade painting kit. Don Kilpatrick, if you’re out there: I was’t kidding, please steal that idea. It’s very easy and beats paying money for a kit filled with colors you don’t need.

– I danced so hard at the final party I got blisters on my feet.

– I met almost everyone on my “best case scenario” list. I met lots and lots of other amazing people to boot. And I have more connecting to do, if these piles of cards are any indication.

The second weekend of July

I’m missing my usual gig as volunteer recycler Oregon Country Fair (a hippie fair, not a farm show) to come to ICON:8 this year, and while it is the obvious professional choice it was not a choice made lightly. I love those silly muppets, and you can’t beat camping in the woods for a week. Happily, there are a lot of unexpected similarities I have been noticing.

WAYS IN WHICH ICON:8 IS LIKE THE OREGON COUNTRY FAIR

– The stunning, unannounced appearance of a wildly costumed marching band. (We got LoveBomb Go-Go, as the Marching Forth Marching Band was doubtless tied up at the ‘Fair. Also, I don’t think they would have fit in the room.)

– People dressed their best, their tip-top to impress. And also a lot of regular people dressed normally. 

– Meeting tons of fascinating, incredible people whose names I have immediately forgotten, so that I will have to go and re-introduce myself here in the coming days. (The difference here is that I have a stack of promo swag to sift through.)

– Experiencing obnoxious, unstoppable allergies.

– Reconnecting with people I sort of know through the internet, getting to REALLY know them. And meeting their friends and pretending like we are already friends.

There was a great moment last night when Laura Bifano, me, and Meg Hunt were furiously taking sketch-notes at the opening ceremonies, each in our different ways.
There was a great moment last night when Laura Bifano, me, and Meg Hunt were furiously taking sketch-notes at the opening ceremonies, each in our different ways.

– I’ve had more to drink in the last few days than I think have all month. 

– Understanding that the point of the whole event is to be open, outgoing and social, yet craving solitude.

– Being completely exhausted, sore and drained, yet eager each day to go back for more. 

New studio

After those last two entries I feel we need a bit of a pallet cleanser. So let’s take a tour of the new studio, shall we?

Welcome! From behind a tree on the north face of a residential building to the obstruction-free east-facing window of a building in the industrial district. None of these photos had to be edited for light. I have to pinch myself. This is what it looks like on a cloudy day. 

Modifications to new studio include: new desk lights, a real kneeling stool for when I decide to stop standing, and things that were on (and next to) the desk are now underneath it. I am trying to keep the desk as clear as possible: only art work or current sketches are allowed up there. (Well, and the radio, until I can mount it up on the wall somehow.) (And the tea cup. And…)

Additional modification: the addition of a computer lab. 

Before, whenever it was time to upload some pictures or edit something in photoshop I had to scoot all the paint and paper around to clear a space for the laptop. I really, really like everything to have a HOME, it lends calm to the chaos. Now the computer has a home. This space will also double as a mailer-prep station. 

Here’s a better sense of what 8×8 means. It’s a small space that can look deceptively large on camera, when you’re only looking at parts of it at one time. It doesn’t feel that small, partly because once I’m there I just see my desk and get right to work. But also, I think, because of the ceiling.

I am not sure how tall it is at its peak, but I know that this plant is about as tall as I am. Maybe taller. And the green thing is taller than I am, so the vaulted ceiling have to be at least over twelve feet. It gives a nice spacious quality to the space, despite my cramming furniture in here. Feels nice and airy. Feels NICE. It’s the only place I want to be right now, which is exactly how its supposed to feel. In fact, I oughta get back there right now.