Archive for the ‘artist’s tools’ Category

And yes, it is high praise indeed when I come right out and recommend a company. Too many small companies are just subsidiaries of large corporations, and I’m not a big fan of large corporations.  In fact, this situation can get downright depressing at times.

But I am not here to bury small business. I am here, just as I said, to praise it!

Lucky and astute is the person who already patronizes American Science & Surplus, either through the company’s mail order catalogue or at one of its retail locations (in Chicago & Milwaukee). These fortunate customers have access to so many interesting and useful things, things you just don’t see anywhere else (well not at these prices, anyway).

AS&S (I vow that I am not in any way associated with this fine company except as a thrilled customer) is pretty much what it sounds like — surplus items, many of a scientific nature. But such surplus! You should check out their website (where you can also order a catalogue) and see for yourself how varied and rich and CHEAP is their selection, how clever is their commentary, how lovingly they put the whole thing together.

This is the only catalogue I read cover to cover. Yes, even the science section because EVERY section in this catalogue is likely to have something of use to me as an artist, and to open up my imagination in a way that those cookie-cutter magazines and their associated ads mentioned in my previous post can never ever do.

What have I received and put to use from AS&S? Hemostats! Silver paper! Wooden objects such as unpainted dice & round wheely type things! Doll heads! Doll legs! Twine! Cord! Ribbon! Fabric! Tweezers! Scissors! Wire! Chinese Rifflers! Rubber mats for cutting on! Lots of things to cut WITH! Paints! Beautiful glass bottles and jars to store paint and other things in! Cheap brushes for when I don’t need the fancy kind! And, really, so much more!

Let me just say that with AS&S, the possibilities really are endless. It’s icing on the cake that they’re so nice, and friendly, and funny.

I’m always telling people to patronize independent businesses, and AS&S has been chugging along like the Little Engine That Could since 1937 or thereabouts. They are unique and wonderful and you should be inspired by them and their offerings — so inspired you might order something today!

Okay, that’s enough exclamation marks for one post. (And one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to swear off exclamation marks … ah, well, so it goes …)

Anyway, here’s their website – have fun – (I personally have my eye on 2 pantographs for $4.95, you can’t beat that) – http://www.sciplus.com/s/c_2

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Fellow Starvelings,

You’ve seen them. I know you have. They’re usually in strip malls or retail complexes or even in the somewhat grander vertical malls, the ones with escalators and food courts where you can order Pad Thai. I’m talking about arts & crafts chain stores. They all have the same inventory in the same sections so if you’re in a far-away city you’ll still know just where to go for those Very Special non-toxic archival quality sparkly pens, or whatnot.

It should be obvious that I’m not talking here about independent artist supply stores, where the staff  knows something about making art, and tries to provide the highest quality merchandise to their patrons. Yes, these independents can sometimes be over our normal budgets, but sometimes the prices aren’t so  much more than the chains. Not to mention the fact that once in a while one really does need to splurge. (We starving artists especially deserve an occasional splurge, since we’re so tight-fisted otherwise & save our pennies for such eventualities.)

The chain stores are expensive, too, and I’m not just talking price. They sell gimcracky & faddish stuff, meant to fall apart. They sell KITS for heaven’s sake. All well and good for the youngsters, but don’t kid yourself that a finished kit in any way represents an artistic endeavor. They sell a lot of junk, and no  matter what junk is priced at it remains junk and is therefore expensive, wasteful, and time consuming. For the sake of honesty I should add that they do stock some respectable brands as well, often priced about the same as what you’d expect at the independent store (see above); so go for the independent in these cases.  I have nothing against handicraft, by the way, and am fully aware that it takes a lot of time and talent to produce some of the wonderful pieces I see at artisan exhibitions. One of a kind pieces, and again, NOT  made from kits. So this is not about art vs craft. It’s about the declaration that somehow by merely following directions and making something that looks “just like the picture” in the magazine one is making ART.

Personally, I blame the rise of these look-alike chain stores on the concurrent rise of glossy a&c magazines, expensive magazines with delusions of glory. You probably know the ones I mean. They’re big & colorful & full of ads for the very same merchandise to be found in the Big Boxes. It all begins to make sense, doesn’t it? And these very popular magazines are full of what they call “art” — which all looks alike. Boys and girls with angel wings. Ghastly mermaids. “Glamorous” tributes to such artistic cities as Paris and Florence, etc. etc. The magazine will feature articles (in actuality sets of instructions) which, according to them, will inspire the artist to new heights of imagination and skill as long, of course, as the artist uses the list of brand name products (coincidentally their ads appear in the magazine for ease of  acquisition)!

Your imagination will soar! The possibilities are endless! scream these magazines. Well, no. Copying someone else’s design does not require imagination, and the possibilities seem to end with the final bit of instruction.

Honorable craftspeople doing their own thing should be horrified at what these magazines (and shops) are doing to the concept of craft as well.  ART is the goal, even though what is being promoted isn’t ART at all. Craft, on the other hand, is relegated to the children’s department. When I think of the brilliant, original pieces of handicraft that I’ve seen at artisan exhibitions, the dismissal of craft in favor of GARBAGE AKA ART in these magazines makes me weep.

This is so messed up and turned upside down that I’m almost driven to despair. I’m beginning to see “art” pulled straight from the pages of these horrible magazines now hanging in galleries.

Perhaps I’ll be less grumpy next week. After all, the exhibition is going well and I sold one of my favorite pieces today! (or maybe that’s helping to make me grouchy — I’m losing one of my favorite pieces — bye, bye!) Hope to be writing about more unusual sources for materials that really *can* send your imagination into overdrive next week. In the meantime, Find time for art this week!

You may have noticed in last week’s post that while I was talking about organization, I didn’t dwell on tossing things away. In fact, I am not entirely in favor of the anti-hoarding movement of the past few years. You know what I’m talking about; you’ve seen the shows on TV. Tiny houses filled to overflowing: some with actual, disgusting garbage (ugh, yuck), but some with a mixture of the usable and the unusable.  Enter “hoarding experts” (who are these people, by the way, and where do they get their certification?) who proceed to convince the owners to throw away most of their possessions, until the houses are left as bare as one of Jack Webb’s old Dragnet sets or a vacant motel room.  Guilt is used as leverage, i.e., if you don’t throw out your stash of beloved objects, it means you love them more than you love your family. Now, in some cases that may be true, but to act as though this bit of psychobabble applies in every case is just plain silly.

J at worktable

Here I am, happily working on a few small pieces in the small allotted work space at my work table. I’m using some of the chipboard that I’d acquired for cheap a few years back — hundreds of pieces of it, which I kept stored in a box, waiting for their time to shine.

I’d hung on to them because I was sure I’d eventually find a use for them. And I did. They’re great as miniature book-casings and as the foundation for the small purses I’m making here. The “hoarding experts” would without a doubt have torn these seemingly useless pieces of board from my hands, insisting that unless I threw them away I’d be proving myself to be both crazy and selfish.

To tell you the truth, I’m perfectly capable of loving both my husband *and* the chipboard, just in very different ways. My husband understands and does not feel threatened by the chipboard or any other materials I keep on hand.

At any rate, my point is simply that if you see a bargain and you are absolutely positive that you will have a real use for it even though the project might not start today, tomorrow, or even next week, go for it. Remember those swell vintage ties I mentioned last week? I have  now stored them neatly in a stackable bin with the rest of my fabric. I know I’ll use them; I even have a few ideas roiling around in the back of my head already. Those hoarding experts may consider this an affront to their calling, but I’m keeping them just the same.

PS  My husband, naturally, has been given first choice of any ties he might want to keep for himself.

To begin, sorry about taking so long between posts. The world, myself included, was overtaken with sad, bad news and the writing of a semi-facetious blog for artists, even struggling ones, didn’t seem all that important for a while.

But when I thought the thing through, I realized that  no matter how sad or bad the world is, we must respond with our art — our smart, heart-felt art.

So here we go and I hope not to get sidetracked again.

I am not including a photo in this post because it would be just too disheartening. The topic  of the post is organization, and I am in the middle of my semi-annual attempt to practice what I preach on the subject. At the moment, however, it seems as though everything is on its way to somewhere else and my worktable is harum-scarum with no place to actually work. Organization, as you may guess, does not come naturally to me.

Still, as we budget our money, we must also budget our time and I am fed up with spending hours surveying the wreckage that is my living room in order to find the right brush, or my clear gesso, or anything else that I desperately need at the crucial stage of a project (I make collages, in case you were wondering, and John Heartfield and Max Ernst and Lou Beach are my heroes even though my work doesn’t look much like any of theirs). Also, it is so much more pleasant to work in a place that is not junked up and just plain dangerous looking. Part of the problem, of course, is the fact that we accumulate supplies and materials somehow as if by magic and it’s easier to put them on the nearest flat surface than where they belong. Sometimes you might even acquire something you’ve never had before (I am now the proud owner of over 200 vintage ties) and they tend to sit for months in the same paper bag you brought them home in. This sort of behavior is heading into Hoarders territory and I do NOT want an Intervention wherein earnest friends and family urge me to throw away my precious stuff. I just need to organize it, that’s all.

At any rate, my self-imposed job for the week is to put like-with-like. All paints together, all fabrics together, all brushes together, all colored pencils and pens and markers in their separate bins. This can be done on the cheap, by the way. You do not have to buy the special “artist’s organizers” found in Michael’s. Although I support locally owned artist’s supply stores, and go to them when only the best will do, containers do not fall into that category.

Organization allows you to find what you’re looking for when you need it. This sounds simple and obvious, I know, but it’s not that easy when you’re working in a cramped space, as I’m sure many of us starving artists are. I’ve used clean cardboard boxes large and small; shoe boxes (good for organizing samples & card-size paper), stackable in-boxes and trays, even magazine racks and laundry bins. Scout out your local thrift store and you’ll find a lot of stuff that can be put to use as storage. You may even find a sturdy office supply cabinet or two.  Think vertical, because otherwise your stored stuff will wind up in a sprawl all over what should be your working area (otherwise known at least in my case as my living room). But you also have to think accessible; in other words, if you stack a lot of cardboard boxes on top of each other it will be a drag to have to take apart the stack to get to the bottom box, no matter whether the boxes are labeled or not. Labels, by the way, are a good idea. If you have to stack boxes, at least put the least used items in the bottom box and don’t make the stacks too high. Three or four boxes should be the limit. Use stackable trays, etc., whenever possible, or furniture with drawers. Drawers are good.

The thrift shop is always my first stop. Big Lots and Costco also have some affordable storage containers. Myself, I don’t shop at Walmart for a number of reasons but that’s up to you.

Use your imagination and you’ll come up with a workable system of organization, no matter what the size of your home or apartment. (If you have your own dedicated studio space, you are probably reading the wrong blog). For little cost on your part, you can get your stuff together (literally), and thereby give yourself both more time to make art and less time for hair-pulling frustration.

A word of warning: One thing you do not want is to find your materials ruined by water damage, mold, varmints, or other damage. NEVER store anything in a damp basement. Cedar chips are good for keeping insects away from fabric so toss a few in, even though the container appears to be airtight. Wood cabinets with drawers are sturdier and nicer looking than cardboard boxes, so keep your eyes open in the thrift store and replace the cardboard when you find something better. Ditto for plastic racks. They’re fine in the short run but over time start to sag.