Monthly Archives: October 2011

Organized Chaos: Space + Tools

This past Friday we attended the ribbon cutting for the University of Michigan School of Art & Design Graduate studios. Located a couple miles from the School, the space is over 30,000 square feet and has a communal center space with arms of studios extending on lower and upper floors.


Each faculty member and graduate student candidate is designated a space for working on their specialty. It was an exciting evening and I loved being able to explore each little world. Some had panels of thread, others had cabinets of objects and others were covered floor to ceiling with colorful collage. Setting up a studio or work space is incredibly important to me and I can’t work unless it feels “just right.”

We work from home. It’s a very rewarding and at times, challenging, feat. For instance, I have an office but -N- works in the main area which has the distractions of TV, NPR, the kitchen and many times, the dog’s antics. Foregoing the typical use of a living space, ours is more like a studying, dining, library area where we can sprawl out, look at books and draw.

In my office, I incorporate a lot of pretty things to stare at so it’s a mishmosh of professional and personal things.

I’m pretty meticulous about how I keep my tools. 

What does your space look like? Do you work from a home studio or do you have to get away to be productive? Send us some photos if you feel inclined to share. I love seeing how others function. And yes, those are Pixar forever stamps. Go get some.


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That Was Then…

…and for many reasons, I feel unfortunately, that the Now in art objects is lacking. I’m not saying that the heavy use of metal and plastics was the best thing for the environment but things were beautiful and utilitarian. There’s an air of purpose in mid-century and Modern art and objects; it’s no wonder it’s wildly popular today.

I see plenty of well-designed products in the market today but they’re almost too sparse for me. I want the first go-at-it, the sense of urgency the early industrial designers must have felt. Now everything is pared down. I once heard Jerome Witkin say the contemporary art scene was a “…field full of vacuous art,” and I’m afraid he’s right. Our senses have leaned too far that direction. Give me a few clunky knobs and over-reaching arcs. I’d take an Arco over a West Elm any day. I feel lucky that we have access to art and design objects of that era that not only woo our senses but are practical to have around the apartment too.

Before CAD

Before we chose fonts in Adobe

…we had to create them by hand.
Before Adobe Illustrator

Before e-mail

I urge you to think, question, create and chat. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. See you Monday.


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A time for renewal

It’s been a funny month. I had been so anxious to spend a real Autumn in Ann Arbor unlike the hurried ones in the City. I wanted to watch the leaves prepare themselves for slumber, corners tucked in neatly as they descended toward the ground. The smell of near-fermented piles of earth mixed with fresh cut grass lingering before the final mow of the year. And yet, with the start of the company and an endless list of tasks, I feel like a great renewal has recharged the both of us and given us purpose here. I don’t fear the holidays and the lull. Instead, I see it as a challenge to challenge others and their notions about what can be started and when. The end of the year is not a time for relenting and making imaginary resolutions for the upcoming year. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to learn something. Much like every other day of the year. Happy Autumn, everyone.

October 2011

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A picture is worth… another look.

Alfried Felix Alwyn Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, or better known as Alfried Krupp, was a bronze medalist in 8 Meter Class sailing (1936), a Master of Engineering and a World War II criminal for the usage of slave labor in his factories for the purpose of building military equipment for the Nazi regime.

During the early stages of World War II, Alfried’s father, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, created ties with the Nazi regime. He saw the potential in using his steel factories for war time production. Due to his declining health, however, in 1942 Alfried was placed at the head of the business.

For his services in aiding the Nazis as well as aiding the Holocaust via brutal slave labor, Alfried was appointed Minister for Armament and War Production by Adolf Hitler as a gesture of gratitude. The image below shows Alfried Krupp (right) speaking with a politician at an event in 1961.

The photograph is technically well exposed. Most of the people are smiling and it appears to be a fun event. Alfried seems like an ordinary business man.

In 1963, environmental portrait photographer Arnold Newman was assigned to photograph Aflried Krupp. Arnold was Jewish. This link has a brief interview with Arnold regarding his photograph.

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Workshop: You Can Build a Pyramid in a Day

Recently I had the pleasure of styling merchandise on a photo shoot for a catalog. Maybe you haven’t given much thought to it but just every object you see in a magazine has been set in its exact position to trigger an emotional response from the viewer so hopefully they’ll want to run out and buy it. Whether you have an event to arrange or a bunch of knick knacks that don’t have a home, styling objects is an art that can be learned. A triangle or pyramid is not only strong in its physical properties but visually as well. Building levels of varying height stimulates the brain in a way that allows for the eye to wander up and down, back and forth, adding interest to a grouping that works well in reality or in a photograph. Here’s a short tutorial on how objects interact with one another.

Notice how the print on the right and birdcage on the left balance the sides of the grouping even though they aren’t the exact same height and are not similar objects. To bring the eye forward, the stack of books ground the area with a horizontal line to break the multiple verticals. The candle is yet another grounding shape that’s lower than all others. I’ve also deliberately brought in various textures and patterns to stimulate the viewer with the lines of the cage against the scrolls of the mirror. The spotted fur is yet another contrast against the smoothness of the books. Keep these things in mind when curating your set up but be careful to not go overboard with colors and patterns. While the objects are different, the color family they belong to are somewhat subdued and neutral.

Even if you don’t have objects of different heights, here’s an example of how things work in threes. Even though it’s not a definitive pyramid, there are still elements that draw the eye back and forth.

Many people think of a coffee table as something that only has flat books or objects but building a vertical space for it breaks up the static quality of horizontal lines. The Nambe platter in the foreground replicates the triangular shape in a subliminal and unexpected way.

This last example is how to build a triangle in a photograph. Notice how the dog is not very high but still acts as a point in the hierarchy because I’ve lowered the camera to table height. The model train is a strong horizontal reference which juxtaposes the angle of the books behind it. Next time you decide to just toss things on the table, take a moment to play around with their placement and engage your guests with your thoughtful styling. Good luck!


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The beginning of the end.

There are two good friends: one is a photographer, the other a chef. The photographer wants to get together with his friend and share his most recent work. The two decide on a cafe and meet shortly after. Upon arriving their conversation begins immediately. Somewhere in the middle, the photographer removes a freshly printed portfolio from his dark leather messenger bag and hands it to the chef.


The chef is so wrapped up in the images that he manages to remain silent for a full ten minutes.

“These are amazing!” The silence is finally broken. “Where did you take these?” the chef asks.

“Some were shot outdoors, but most were shot in studio,” replies the photographer.

“You must have an amazing camera,” the chef adds.

The conversation shifts several times before the two decide to leave. Before they do, however, the chef insists on preparing dinner for the photographer the following evening.

“So long as I don’t miss Wheel Of Fortune,” the photographer jokes.

They depart in agreement.

The next night, the chef prepares a full spread and when the photographer arrives they waste no time. They begin with soup, bread and wine. A light pasta dish is next, followed a heavier, yet fair plate of roasted chicken. For dessert: homemade limoncello.

Needless to say, there wasn’t an abnormal amount of conversation being had during this feast. However, as the two sit fully satisfied, the photographer voices how much he enjoyed the meal.

“That was amazing!” the photographer said with his arms spread wide. “Are these your recipes?”

“Mostly, although I had to borrow one for the penne arrabiata,” the chef replied.

“Well, you must have amazing pots!”


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Who You Know

How much of it is who you know?

I’d say…80%. It seemed too cynical to say more and I couldn’t wholeheartedly say it’s less. There are an innumerable amount of artists out there that have and never will make a career out of doing what they love and what they’re good at. Then there are the artists who you see over and over again in the media. You could argue that the artists of the former group don’t get “out there” enough and that perhaps the latter group are much more marketable. Believe it or not, there are things that you do have control of and a big portion of that as an artist is your public persona. Be professional, punctual and follow-through on promises.

If you feel you don’t know the “right people”, how do you put yourself out there? Here are a few Dos:

  1. Go to gallery and museum openings. Get more out of it than some free wine and hors d’oeuvres. It’s a free education in social behavior of collector-types if nothing else.
  2. Meet the artist* if you can. Ask them about their current work and if it seems appropriate, how they they secured the exhibit. *I would suggest doing research on the artist prior to going.
  3. Make a list of galleries with addresses that suit your work and would be a potential match. Fully qualify galleries and dealers before you send them examples of your work. See #4 below.
  4. If you’re a painter/printmaker/whatever and you don’t feel confident in your graphic design skills (be honest), hire or do a trade with a graphic designer to have them do it for you. Most importantly, carry cards on you at all times. 
  5. If you’re an introvert (there’s nothing wrong with that) rally a group of friends and family that will market the hell out of you and your work.
  6. Find a mentor in the field you want to pursue and stay in regular contact with them.
I used to interview and hire interns at the gallery and unfortunately, my list of Don’ts are a bit too real (and comical):
  1. Don’t go to interviews dressed inappropriately. For instance, a skintight see-through white waffle t-shirt is not appropriate to work in a gallery much less interview for a position – especially if you have a large rack. Neither is coming to an interview fifteen minutes late with a rat’s nest on the back of your head – brush your hair.
  2. Don’t show up late.
  3. Don’t show up unannounced and solicit a show during a normal work day, gallery opening and/or any other function looking for a job or show.
  4. Don’t send your work to galleries that will never exhibit it. Meaning, the gallery down the street that shows marine paintings is never going to represent you no matter how many times you email or send them your portfolio. This may seem like common sense but I got so many solicitations for work that I couldn’t show (I dealt American Impressionism <more specifically the era 1890-1940> and market established contemporary). I felt bad for the hundreds of dollars worth of wasted mail I got over the years.
  5. Don’t downplay or bad mouth your work. Ever.
Those are my most basic Dos and Don’ts of the industry. There are tons more specifics that go into areas of dealing, curating, researching and creating fine art but those are meant for one on one conversations. I take questions – preferably over hot chocolate.
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Let’s see a show of hands. How many out there have been to an art museum or gallery and seen a piece of work and said or heard someone say, “I could’ve made that!”? Be honest. I’ve heard it… and said it… dozens of times. Now I rarely say it anymore. Almost never, unless I’m on Etsy. When I would say it, though, I was at a point in my life when I knew everything and could do everything and anybody that told me otherwise could…  I was young, and lacked experience and appreciation. “That’s just a few brush strokes!” or “Come on! It’s just a solid square on a canvas!”.

Starlight (1963) by Agnes Martin












I wonder if it’s possible for somebody to learn to appreciate without experience. Would that make them a genius? Art is too often a victim. Unfortunately by the time one may understand and appreciate the work, the moment has passed. Although, art is awfully demanding. Art expects you to know not only about it’s creator, but also of the environment in which it was created, the political climate and what other artists were doing at that time. That’s a full plate.

The Monument to the Third International (1919) by Vladimir Tatlin
















Is it important to know that Constructivism was born in 1919, Russia, and was the promotion of art for more than just social purposes? Yes. It produced new ways of thinking about architecture, graphic and industrial design, film, and so on. It might also make you ask why that is. That would require further reading and learning about what was going on during that time. The achievements, the mistakes. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

So,the next time you see something that “you could’ve done”, I urge you to do so, you may better society.


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Art + School = Career (?)

Last night Nick and I had a another talk about art as a career. And money. And whether those two concepts go hand in hand.

I wonder how much I thought about it when I was an art student. I just figured I would work at a gallery, possibly run one down the road. (Turns out I did both but I’ll get to that later). I graduated in 2003 and immediately set out for jobs in the artworld. There were few and far in between so I immediately opened up my search to anything administrative, education or non-profit. Somehow, after enduring (and enjoying) five years of art school, I had already settled. That’s like going to a burger joint, ordering a burger and being told there are no burgers left. And the fact that we accept this is ridiculous.

A well-respected art critic once told me that Chicago has an over-saturated art scene. The rare art positions available will be filled immediately by graduates and the rest will have to head East or West. That made me sad because art should be an integral aspect of every community but sometimes it’s just overlooked due to lack of funding, interest or initiative. In a city the size of Chicago, you’d think that positions in curatorial, art admin or art education would be more readily available. But they aren’t.

My dear friend Megan Williamson, is a painter (below: Still Life with Rabbits, 24 x 18 inches) and says very matter-of-factly that she just wants to make what a bus driver makes. I couldn’t agree more. Not every artist is as active as Megan but she volunteers, teaches art to children,  dutifully practices painting en plein aire and meets with politicians as a voice for the working artist. Artists serve a public service but can’t get medical benefits or a fair wage to do what they do best.

So you’re probably asking, “Why then, did you leave a cushy gallery position to make a go of it on your own?” My answer is simply “Why not?” I had achieved my goals of running a gallery where I got to curate shows, meet clients and see extraordinary private collections. I had handled major paintings and traveled. But for us, the biggest goal in our careers was to ultimately work for ourselves. And since the stock market plummeted in 2008, the industry and particularly commercial photography has changed drastically. (This is also largely due to the onslaught of digital imagery in the arena but you should ask Nick more about that). This was as good of a time as any to make our own way since our positions could be or would be precarious in the near future.

Create that non-profit art organization, make your own opportunities, start an Etsy site, create jobs for yourself and others, even if it’s unpaid at first. What I’m telling you is that you can wait tables, usher, paint houses – whatever it takes to pay the bills – but don’t give up chasing the art dream. As few opportunities as there are out there, one day your number will be drawn and it’ll be even more incredible that you made it happen. You may not make a boatload but you might just be happy doing it. So don’t pass up that burger so easily. Especially since you waited long and patiently for it.


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