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Sunday, January 24

Daily notes week 4

I've decided on a loose working title for this project, which will be "Daily Notes". i'm not thrilled by it, but the name is helping me organize pictures... I've kept this project going so far for 24 days. The assignment strategy is working to keep me focused and keep my fingers busy. Here is a bit of progress from week 4:

 All week long people were talking about the impending snowstorm to hit the east coast. or me this translated to lots of anticipation and waiting. It's been very cold. My magazine collages for the week seemed very dark, but then the fabrics I chose were rather light. So I overlaid a piece of itajime-dyed navy blue and white organza over the patchwork to tone things down a little.

Monday was filled with friends and family as I enjoyed a day off from school in honor of MLK. A visit with Anne Minich, one of my favorite artist friends helped me feel like this project is worthwhile. Her house reminds me o the descriptions I recently heard of Louise Bourgeois' home where the whole building exists in service of art. It's always inspiring to sit with her among her books and art and shells and driftwood.
Tuesday was long and tiring, but I had an amazing time with my basic design students at Fleisher exploring organic and geometric shapes in balance with each other.
The rest of the week was a rushed blur of end of the quarter grading at school and anticipation for the snowy weekend.
Again, Friday night found me rushing to my scrap pile. Before I emerged from my studio corner to think about dinner, 2 inches of snow had fallen from the sky. It snowed through all of Saturday, and I was in bliss, eating lovely food, stitching, and watching movies.
It's Sunday again, and icicles are dripping from the eaves. We shoveled out, but are in no hurry to go anywhere. This week's stitched strip now hangs with the others, and January is taking form and color on my wall. One more week and I'll have a month's worth complete.


Friday, January 15

New Year, New Project

I've always been exceptionally good at doing school assignments. I always found some way to fulfill the requirements but in a way that also satisfied my own sense of creativity. Having the prompt was what helped- some exterior stimulus to get the ideas flowing. But you only get assignments when you are in school. Although I'm "in school" every day, I'm always the one giving the assignments. I seem to be very good at coming up with assignments and interesting challenges for my students, but for some reason I seem to struggle with challenging myself in the same way.

I've been thinking about how to best arrange my life to allow for more personal creative practice. I don't want to reach the end of 2016 with so little to show for it as I did this past year. So, I've analyzed what works and what doesn't for me. Schedules and deadlines push me. Regular habits keep me consistent in work and exercise. 

I considered an "artwork-a-day" project but realized it would be too much pressure to complete something. Have to be realistic. But once a week might be doable. An every day habit of journaling is sustainable. I noticed I kept that up for 4 months last year. I can top that. Now, last year I made a piece that felt very personal and beautiful and expressive, which was prompted by an assignment in "The Artist's Rule", a book by Christine Paintner that the Cathedral used in a weekly book study last year. It was to make a book of days, marking your hours, finding moments for prayer and creativity. I made a long, narrow embroidered strip with color blocks representing each time period of my everyday schedule. As we are starting to go through the book again, I was reminded of the piece and the simplicity of it.
So assignment part 1: every day, jot down any significant events, feelings, colors, patterns, images, or experiences. Cut out a square of magazine paper colors, patterns, textures, etc. to collage into my sketchbook. By the end of the week I have a color sketch of a piece laid out along with a wealth of images, words, and sketches to draw from for inspiration.

Assignment Part 2: Sunday is art day. I know, I make art every day. But it's Monday-Friday middle school, Saturday community arts, and I'm exhausted helping other people be creative and annoyed to not be creative for myself. So on Sunday I'll use the results of Assignment 1 to gather fabrics that best match the color collage sketches. I iron and cut them into 3 inch squares to be sewn together as a strip.
Once the patches are sewn into a strip, I back it and topstitch it. The machine sewing is quick and gives the piece a finished look from the very start.
 Finally, I can spend most of Sunday afternoon or evening embroidering. But if it takes longer I can continue stitching through the week.
So far I have completed 2 strips. The first one only represents 3 days because January started on a Friday and I began the project on Sunday, January 3rd. For week 2, the longer strip was a challenge. I pieced it on Sunday, January 10th and got some stitching done. However, I stupidly chose seed stitch to fill a significant area, which took forever. I stitched a little through my substitute day, some more Wednesday night, and finally finished it on Thursday evening. Having the deadline of the weekend was good pressure.
I've so far managed to keep up the journaling for 15 days and finished 2 strips. I was so excited to get started this Friday evening, that when I came home from work I dumped out my whole scrap box to find the best pieces for the week so far, cut and sewed them up already. The strip awaits Saturday and  Sunday's colors now. 
This is the first time in months I've felt motivated to spend real consistent time in the studio. I hope I can keep this momentum, and that it won't be just another failed resolution. I think that sharing intentions helps build a sense of accountability. I am not going to stress about "having an idea",and I'm not going to worry too much about how it turns out. I am going to keep the format consistent and then see what happens over time. It will be an interesting experiment to see visually over time how I experience the world emotionally and visually. Happy New Year!!

Saturday, January 2

Looking Back on 2015

 Last year I made this piece, above.. "Thaw". We had a deep winter that never seemed to end. It matched my feelings and set the tone for the year, I think. All year I tried to thaw out.
In the Spring I took a woodblock printing class, and made the print, above, "Sawtooth Thorn". It still seems spiky, but there's a warmer tone in it and a circle like a sun rising.
In the summer I got an opportunity to design a piece for a future book. It was good to have an assignment. Sometimes I miss being a student and having teachers set a problem for me. I made a good design that I am proud of, but design work isn't fulfilling like one's own creative pursuits.
At the end of summer another design opportunity sprang up to compete in a mural contest in my neighborhood with the Mural Arts Program. I researched, designed, and painted for over a month. Again I made something I'm proud of, but popular vote didn't go my way. Sadly, I won't get to paint this mural after all. I feel sorry for designers who have to do this all the time- competing for work, going through the whole design process, but not getting to the final stage of production. Guess that's why I'm not a full time designer!

 My website host, Heavy Bubble, put a call out for one-fold books for a small winter show called "Ritual". So in November I completed two little books with painting, stitching, and drawing. They are melancholy pieces- one is titled "Tache" (Stain in French), and the other is "Anxiety". The show is up through the rest of January at the studios at 12th and Carpenter in Philadelphia.
I'm sad to look into my 2015 file of artwork pictures, because there seems to be so little completed. The Queen Wyeth piece, above, is nearing completion (oh thousands and thousands of French Knots!) but it has taken me all year to do. My artistic practice has been slow this past year, but other things have been happening instead.

Family has been very important this past year. I'm an aunt (and godmother!) once more. I've been coccooning with my daughter and husband. I've been reconnecting with my sisters. I've been trying to be more present and available for my parents.
Teaching has demanded a lot of creative energy, but beautiful things emerge out of it. I have amazing middle school artists and wonderful experiences with adults and teens in community arts.
 Basic Design and color theory continue to be tuition-free classes at Fleisher. Working in these foundation areas keeps my eyes always fresh.

 Printmaking with adult classes allows me time to experiment and be playful in one of my favorite mediums as I teach. I really enjoy encouraging adults to enter into material play and collaborative work. It's so different from what adults typically engage in.

 My teens at Fleisher always amaze me with their creativity. This past year I did a lot of screenprinting with teens, but also led a watercolor workshop and a drawing workshop in the summer.
Middle School teaching is an adventure every day. But I'm in the right place for sure. I know it in the enthusiasm and trust and playfulness I share with my 300 5th to 8th graders every week.
 This Fall I even started a fashion design club after school, where I get to indulge my Project Runway-inspired fantasies with a great bunch of fashionistas.
How do you measure a creative year? If I look at what has come out of my own studio, it looks like it was a bad year. It was a year of slow process and even pain. If I look at my family, it was a year of love and growth and reconnection.  If I look at my classroom and community work, it was a year of creative explosion, with hundreds of works of art made with my gentle encouragement. 

I just wish my selfish inner artist could accept the sum total of creative acts of love, care, and teaching as equal if not even more valuable than the works of my hands. Truly, the creative energy I put into my family, friends, students, and community will have more impact than any picture, print, or sculpture I could ever make. But, oh, my poor, neglected, selfish artist.... maybe in 2016.

Sunday, October 4

PFCU Mural Contest

In August I received the exciting news that I was selected as a finalist for the PFCU Fishtown Mural contest! Ispent the next month meeting with community members, researching, designing, and painting to develop a design for a building on the corner of Dauphin and Frankford Avenues in Fishtown. I decided 2 of the walls on the building really needed to be considered for the greatest visual impact. My design resembles a woven fabric filled with patterns inspired by the history of our neighborhood.

 The project has had some great press: Phillyvoice & Fishtown Spirit

So now it's time to vote: Please vote for my mural!

Saturday, February 28

Fleisher happenings

I feel so lax in posting. Part of my problem is technology. Ever since I switched over to using my camera phone rather than my actual phone I feel I'm far less likely to post on my blog(s). Has blogging become passe? Well instead of letting things languish on my cell phone, here is a glimpse of some things that have been happening in the courses I teach at Fleisher Art Memorial.
 On Tuesday nights I teach Color Theory, a free class of about 15 students. We develop exercises in a sketchbook to become a color manual for future personal use. We've decided to have each semester switch off between color theory and basic 2D design. It was nice to come back to Color Theory this semester after not teaching it since last Spring. The new availability of projectors at Fleisher has made a big difference in how I teach there too. Above is a color matching exercise from the beginning of the semester, and below is a group color wheel, value scale, and chroma scale we taped to the wall.
 One of the value exercises we do is to paint a small still life of one white object.
 On Saturday mornings I've been teaching a fabric printing class for adults. Here is a found object print from early on:
 And here is a woodblock print one student completed over 2 yards of 45 inch wide fabric with a color gradation!
In the afternoons on Saturday I have 11-12 year olds come to learn silkscreen also. We completed a group tiling project and installation. Everyone started with a simple 4 square layer in one color (3 teams, each picked a different background color). Then each student made a geometric shape collage which we scanned and turned into a rotational symmetry design in photoshop to superimpose on the squares. Finally we took their addition of 6 and installed it in a hallway as a group. I love having the multiples have a purpose, either to create a group thing or a book. Most kids don't know what to do with an edition.
 Our first project was inspired by patterns in Islamic tiles, and we then went into the sanctuary at Fleisher to look at patterns in Christian Icons for inspiration for our second project. I ha the kids draw a pattern or border, design an image for the center, and paint a board with a background color. they printed everything on paper first and then on their board. Only the Katniss Everdeen image really seems to capture the icon idea, but no problem, they're 11 years old!
Registration is open over at Fleisher for the Spring semester. I'm teaching Basic Design and teen screenprinting next session. 

Monday, February 23

Patterny

For my recent birthday I asked all my facebook friends to send me a pattern as a present. I hate all the monotony of 50 people just saying Happy Birthday on my wall. It was fun seeing what people sent me. And more fun playing with the images to transform them.
 I mostly worked on abstracting and thresholding the images to get a graphic that I could turn into a silkscreen positive. I'm currently teaching a fabric printmaking course at Fleisher, and it was nice to have some examples to bring in of how to make a positive for photo process.
 I don't know where these will lead, but it feels good to be producing something. The exercises in the creativity books I've been working through the last 2 months keep pointing out my obsession with pattern as a way of imposing my personal order on perceived chaos. Life is messy. Art doesn't have to be.
 I also played with digitally collaging all the images that were gifted to me together. There were 2 waves of offerings resulting in 2 images.
 Do they say more about me and my own aesthetic or about my friends' perception of me? Or my friends' sense of aesthetics? I think of the 2 I prefer the one below... less cluttered, more landscapy.
 Once I got started I couldn't stop. So I played some more with the patterns I'd extracted and superimposed them on some photos that have been waiting for me.
 They are both evocative of winter. Cold and dark and snowy. My body is ready for Spring and flowers, but my eyes do love Winter contrast. In Winter you see the bones of everything.
I've been trying to be more creative and productive. All this digital play is fodder for my needle and thread eventually. I'm spending more time in my studio corner than I had been. I also finally got up the drive to launch my own website. It is a start. Check it out www.marieelcin.com (I so love being really the only person in the world with this name....) Thanks to the people at Heavy Bubble for hosting and making it so easy.

Sunday, January 18

Happy New Year


I've started this New Year with 2 synchronistic opportunities. A group of art teachers I'm in has decided to work through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and one of the ministers at the Philadelphia Cathedral decided to lead a group through The Artist's Rule by Christine Paintner. It may be overkill doing both at the same time, but they are VERY similar in nature, and are intended to help lead people back into their creative selves and practice.
In the past 3 weeks I have nearly filled an entire sketchbook with writing and drawing and collaging and painting, because the Way recommends doing 3 pages of emptying the brain onto paper a day. The image above is response to a challenge in the Rule to write oneself a blessing for creative work. I wrote 3 pages of blessings, and this one was the most succinct.
I just sold 2 artworks from a show that I was invited to be a part of. I need to say YES to opportunities more often. I was just invited for another show. YES.
YES to making art.
YES to showing art.
YES to sharing with friends and students.
YES to loving my family.
YES to being myself.
YES.


Monday, November 3

In Memory

Happy All Saint's and All Soul's Day.
There's something particularly poignant to me about this season. I'm not big on the costumes and candy of Halloween, but I love the change of weather towards cold, the changing and falling of leaves, and how we remember our ancestors as Summer dies into Winter.
 Yesterday, November 1st, we celebrated Dia de Los Muertos in the sanctuary at Fleisher. The medieval saint statues were bedecked in marigolds and looked more lifelike than usual. The altar became a huge ofrenda.
 Aztec-style dancers did a ritual dance with drums beating and incense offered to the cardinal directions and Mother Earth in honor of our ancestors.
 It was breath-taking. In the face of death, we celebrate life vibrantly with color, flowers, dance, music, and food. It is life-affirming to be surrounded by community gathered in remembrance, in honor of ancestors.
This morning at the Philadelphia Cathedral, we also gathered to remember. The cloth I started two years ago was brought out and encircled those present while we prayed the Litany of the Dead. It is not long enough for our growing community, so I will be adding more before next year.

In speaking with my family about these two events, it made me think about the blur between culture and religion. Did we attend a religious event or a cultural event last night? this morning? Does it matter? In modern society we are sorely lacking in ritual and cultural traditions. They become overpowered by commercial purposes and consumerism. So striving to continue authentic ritual and cultural practices that connect us as community is worth it. Sharing with and supporting a cultural practice that does not reflect my personal ethnic background does not detract from my sense of self, but enriches my understanding of humanity. We honor our ancestors in different ways but at the root is that we are honoring our ancestors. If we seek the commonalities across cultures and religions we will recognize ourselves in each other. To me, this is the way toward peace.

May the souls of the departed rest in peace.

Saturday, October 18

Balance

I'm happy. Work is good. Life is good. Lately I'm noticing how important it is to feel connected to people. Here are some pretty awesome people I'm glad to have in my circle:
 We're a group of early-career art teachers who meet up at Tyler once a month to share ideas and stories. It's good to share with people who understand your challenges...

I miss another group that had come to be valuable to me... Last year I went to a yoga class every week at the YMCA. But now that I'm working 5 days a week at school, it conflicts. However, my teacher has been hosting a Flash Mob Yoga event at Love Park once a month. It as nice to see some of the crew and my wonderful teacher, Joy. She had a friend photographing the event, and shared this one with me:
I think it is the best picture I've ever seen of myself! I'm in balance. Exercise is a relatively new thing in my life. I always hated gym class, I couldn't run and move like other kids. But all the yoga last year started me off. Since school began in August I've been riding my bike to work almost every day- 10 miles a day!!! It has made a huge difference in how I feel. I have more energy and a way to relieve stress, and my inner self and outer self are starting to feel more unified. To have a body that can do what you want to do is a blessing.
Now if I can only find more time to make art I'll really feel in balance...

Monday, September 22

Shifting

This picture is from a waterfall at Ringing Rock Park in Northeast PA. My family went out a few weeks ago to explore. It's a place of incredible geology, with obvious evidence of how old and changing the earth is. A field of odd boulders sits in the middle of a forest. They are evidence of the passage of glaciers in an ice age thousands and thousands of years ago. This waterfall runs over a striated cliff. You can see the folds of the earth and the shifting of plates.
It seemed appropriate to visit this place right before the school year. The tectonics of my life have shifted a bit. I have been moved into a full-time position as a middle school art teacher at my school. My daughter has just started high school. At Fleisher I've begun teaching a new course on Basic Design. And with all this busy-ness, I've had no time for my own work. I've given up the studio at the Papermill, and moved everything back home, reclaiming my former bedroom spaces. It was painful to leave my beautiful space. The room of my own. I will miss it terribly. I do not know how this bodes for my art work. My creative energies are being tapped planning new curriculum and lessons (having to start from scratch for the middle school). I no longer have my free Mondays to work on my own endeavors. I feel like my artist self is hibernating at the moment. It's an unsatisfying feeling. However, it is balanced out with wonderful feelings of FIT in my new work situation.
I suppose a certain amount of dissatisfaction is what keeps us striving..