Friday, 20 July 2012

Ad Gloriam Dei vs Instagram

This week Wonder got a little moment of her own to make up for the post-op trip to the hospital Reason had just had to make. On the way back to work I passed the Freemasons' Lodge. It was a perfectly sunny Cairns mid-Winter day and this amazing building was looking, well, glorious. I had to stop.

The Freemasons' Lodge is a couple of streets off the tourist trail, so it doesn't get admired as much as it should, so here are some snaps for you. I'm still mastering Instagram (yes, I still prefer Hipstamatic, but what's an Android user to do), and the sun was so bright I couldn't see the screen to tell what the editing effects were doing, so this is the pick of the pot luck!


Save the dates = Save your ass

Sometimes DIY should be rephrased DIYH, as in Do In Your Head. Amirite?

Last weekend, already a little panicked at the lateness of it all, I settled in to begin what I believed would be the final assault on my mountain of wedding invitations. All I had to do was print the black text on the inside and whack 'em through the sewing machine, right? Pfft!

Was it because it was the first day of Mercury retrograde? Was it Murphy's Law? Was I over-confident and needed to be taken down a peg or two? Whatever the reason, my beloved printer refused to cooperate. In fact it just plain wouldn't even turn on. Look at that, it's just turned two years old. Look at me, cocking a suspicious eyebrow in the direction of planned obsolescence again (you cheeky minx, you!) A quick Google revealed no new Canon printer available on the market took the type of ink I had just spent $124 on. Sigh! So I dashed into work and printed the text off there, only to realise too late that I had used a custom font that was not installed on my work computer. Cue a brief Bridezilla moment since I'd just 'ruined' all 50 of my coloured invite templates. Whose stoopid idea was it to hand make the stoopid wedding invitations anyway!? *kick dirt*

But today, thanks to some mid-week after work stealth printing raids on the office printer (using my own stash of aforementioned ink, I might add), the appropriation of a guillotine and a public holiday Friday, I'm back on track. Just as well, because the six week mark was clearly the week when the out of towners figured that if they hadn't heard from me again they were uninvited, I have fielded a few queries and allayed some fears.

The moral dear DIY(H) brides? No, it's not start the invites earlier! Don't be ridiculous! (cough! this may not be sound advice, cough!) You are a real person and you are far too busy! No, it is communicate and don't stress too much. Save the date notifications just saved my ass. Imagine if I was relying on the invites to be people's first indication there was a wedding on! And while I would be lying if I said I wasn't anxious about finishing the invites this week, I'm pretty sure I didn't let it get the better of me. There were no teary scenes at least. And really, with only three months to pull this thing off I think we are doing pretty well on the lack-of-drama front.

And so, with Exhibits A, B, C & D before you, I hope to even get some of these babies in the Saturday post tomorrow after a bit of hand finishing. Next up: the decorations. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Saving things for best

I've had a couple of conversations in the last week or so about the notion of 'saving things for best' and whether people live with and use their treasures every day, or if they keep them shut away in a cupboard waiting for special occasions.

One dear friend was discussing the cutlery set she got as a wedding gift—very ex-y, very lovely—and how her mum freaked when she found out she was using it every day. As it was a wedding gift, apparently she wasn't meant to use it much. My friend conceded that she was probably going too far when she occasionally used the knives as makeshift screwdrivers, but she loved the cutlery—it added special to the everyday, was a bit of luxury in her otherwise 'starving-artist' life, and it pleased her to use it. Also, because it was such good quality, it was standing up to daily use.

I collect vintage glasses. I've used them for years, but I've really gone into overdrive hoarding them for my wedding reception. If you go 'down the oppy', on a good day you can really score and in the end, apart from my time, it is actually going to be cheaper to buy them this way than hire ugly ones. However, I always feel a great sense of responsibility with vintage items. I get really upset if I break a vintage glass or stain a vintage dress soon after I have purchased it. Sure, I can talk myself through it, but my grief is over the fact that something beautiful and delicate has had a long life, sometimes 50 or 60 years, and then—bam!—two weeks with me and it's cactus! Yikes!

Some of my most treasured possessions are my nana's and my grandma's tea sets. They're all mixed in together now and I generally can't remember which was whose, but it is really important for me to know I have them, even though I only lay eyes on them once a month or so because, yes, I keep them in a cupboard. I have lived in my house for over three and a half years and I only remember using them once in that whole time. In fact, I think it was a house guest who took them out to use, not knowing. However, I have decided to bring them out to use at the wedding and I was discussing this with my fiancé the other day. Yes, they may get broken (alright, maybe I'll leave my favourite set at home, it's the blue one, pictured above), but really, if I can't find a better reason to use something that I save for best than to use it at our wedding, then what am I waiting for? By having them there, in use, it will be a little like having Nana and Grandma there, too. That's a thought that makes me very happy. If any of them get broken, well, it was for a good cause, and surely that is a better way for them to meet their demise than if I break one dusting it for the fifteenth time since I last used it?

Blathering on about this notion over Skype last weekend, my beloved piped up with, "There's a blog post for you!" Given that I've just turned 42 and have never been married before, it's moments like that that make me realise I have been saving myself for best, too.

But tell me, do you use your precious things, do you squirrel them away, or are you, like me, trying to overcome your tendencies?

PS On a related topic, one of my favourite posts on Bek Misic's beautiful blog, Traces, deals with a Buddhist teacher's notion of a glass already being broken and being able to appreciate things when you are with them and not holding attachment when they are gone. It's a great post—go check it out!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Can too much freedom be a bad thing?

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it yet, but I work for an art gallery. Last night we had an opening and it was gooood—one of those that feels more like a big party than a formal event. I prefer to keep my working life and personal life separate these days, which is hard in a regional centre when you can't help but make friends with artists because they are hands-down the most interesting people around, but this post blurs that line a little—it's a rare occasion.

Of all the many conversations I had last night, one of the most interesting was with Mark, of The Stylus, but then that's pretty much business-as-usual for a conversation with him, they're always interesting. Apart from being a kick-arse artist, Mark is also a teacher at a school that partners with us on a project that is one of the things I have been most proud of in my seven years working for the gallery (we do more than just put pictures on the wall, obvs!) That's all I'll say about Mark, because he likes to compartmentalise like me, too, but the gist of the conversation was this: do boundaries and limitations make for better creative outcomes?

Talking about this blog got us started: I referred to it as a discipline. I knew that I wanted to write from a more personal perspective than the writing I do for work, but I just wasn't getting my thoughts digitised (no point in kidding anyone and saying "on paper"). I knew that setting up a blog would give me a sense of...obligation, in a way: if you start putting it out there you have to keep putting it out there. But still, it took being confined to my house for seven weeks to, perversely, give me the freedom to set up my template and really give thought to the focus of this blog. Not only is a blog a discipline in terms of regularly contributing to it, but it also a discipline in focus so your blog has some sense of cohesion for you and your audience if you are lucky enough to attract one. Even apparently random brain farts can have some sense of order to them.

As an arts administrator, I have seen time and time again that better creative outcomes seem to be achieved when the artist has some boundaries. The boundaries may be self-imposed, thematic, temporal or site-related. Having to problem solve leads to creative solutions, whereas open slather can waffle on forever because there is no sense of point of completion. Examples?

I have seen an artist with an international career not be given a due date for delivering work and as a result just not know when to stop adding to his sculptures. When they eventually turned up they were massive to the point of impracticality for clients and the exhibition space, so thick with paint and varnish I don't think those suckers are dry yet four years later and, of course, he could never put a price on them that would reflect the true amount of time he put into them. I think he only stopped because he ran out of room at home: a site-related limitation, too, I guess.

Our most recent installation was fraught with mini-disasters—work was sent from an overseas gallery, but that gallery didn't include all the connector parts of the slot-together sculpture, there was a communication mix up and one whole piece didn't get freighted from Melbourne, the video work had all sorts of technical issues and the artist wasn't sure how to fix them. The outcomes were: the artist got much more physically connected to his work, which he hadn't laid eyes on for well over a year, because he had to quickly re-fabricate the missing pieces; our curator and the artist got to learn a whole lot more about the technical aspects of the video in order to get it to function and that is going to serve them both so well in their future work; and the exhibition looks much better for the extra breathing space created by missing a piece—it would have been too much if it had arrived and gone in the show. Our beautiful curator, after two weeks of intense stress, commented last night on how much she had learned through the process and how much better she felt she had become at her job as a result. The exhibition looks perfect, too. Wins all round!

I used to have a friend who was an artist, and oh, how he railed against exhibition thematics. "Why do I have to have a theme for my show? I just want to paint whatever I want to paint and put my work up on the wall." Y'know what, I don't know why he bothered to complain about this because he didn't start a show the whole seven-plus years I knew him. His choices were just so vast because he wouldn't set a theme, he didn't know where to start, let alone stop.

Even my work writing I view as improving my writing style. I write a lot of grants and acquittals and inevitably they have a word or character count. Get the crux of your project across in a 40 word project description—go on, I dare you! Think about it real hard now so you cut right down to the marrow of it. It's difficult, but it makes you more succinct. Four hundred words to explain the purpose of your organisation when you do a gazillion things? Again, what is most important? What's your message? Do seemingly disparate projects actually relate to each other somehow and can be summarised together? I'm such a nerd I find it fun.

Artists, writers, and creative types in general will always have boundaries imposed upon them. Whether this is lack of money to fabricate their vision, the cost of basic materials, the need to keep a day job to support their personal responsibilities, people just not 'getting' them, no gallery space to exhibit in, or no time for creative expression. However, I really believe it is the pushing against those boundaries that leads to better creative outcomes. Problem-solving leads to growth and improves your practice. Fighting against the limitation, or working with it or around it, sharpens your focus and helps you know when 'it is done'.

Anyway, that's my two bobs' worth. (Speaking of keeping it succinct, oops!) Do you enjoy the challenge of finding a creative solution? Or are you sure that total freedom would be better for your practice?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Is there a 12-step program for Etsy addiction?

My name is Beverley Mitchell and I am an Etsy addict.

There. I've said it. The whole world knows (well, the three of you who are reading, but y'know, anyone could know if they bothered to check ...)

It started out with just a few gifts for friends and family, here, there. Then, frustrated with missing out on things I really wanted in eBay auctions, I started to prefer the surety of an outright purchase rather than bidding for vintage items, even if it did mean paying a slight premium: if I paid, I got it, end of story. Instant gratification plus postage delay.

Then things got kinda crazy. Obsession set in. It doesn't help that I live in a regional centre where, if your proclivities run to the slightly eccentric like mine, you can't just walk into the shopping mall and get that perfect thang for an upcoming event. Yes, I shop for vintage on a pretty regular basis around town, but it's a lottery. Etsy gives a better chance of success in the search.

And then the killer blow: I got engaged. I would love to know what percentage of Etsy's turnover is wedding related. Hell, even the search stats would be mind-blowing I'm sure. Plus, once married, I will apply for permanent residency in my beloved's home country - Canada. Cue the hunt for a whole new wardrobe to guard against the cold. My vintage tropical sun dresses that are so perfect for Cairns just won't cut it in a Montreal winter, so it's lucky I am stockpiling a substantial wardrobe there already even though it is probably about 15 months until I am likely to move. I have also purchased all our wedding decorations, my wedding dress and a vintage map pdf to use on our invitations on Etsy. Ob.Sessed!

And then to crank it up one notch further, I opened a shop. This has actually been a blessing in disguise. Now, instead of spending hours a night trawling favourite shops or searching for knee-length 50s skirts with a 26-27 inch waist, I am sneaking a peek at my shop stats - visits, favourites, listing views, watching the difference it makes when I list new things or someone else puts one of my items in a treasury. This is good because it stops me spending money. I also have an excuse now to buy the great things I see in op shops that don't fit or suit me: "Oh, I'll just get it for the shop," is my new enabling phrase.

Not everyone loves Etsy, though. I did peek at the dark netherworlds of the rather bitter sites such as Regretsy, but ya know what? While I concede some points about crappy or inappropriate handmade items, the market will deal with those, and I think I'd rather hang out with the happy people, thanks. There's lots of natural lighting and everyone I've met has been really lovely. Ah, Etsy! It's fun, it's pretty and it's not hurting anything but my PayPal balance. Favourite!