Sunday, October 5, 2014

NEVER ask an artist this one question.

Its Blog Carnival time again that international festival of intensely personal nonsense and babel brought to you by EtsyMetal.

As artists, we travel around the U.S. and the world a lot. We get to meet many interesting people, many of whom are also interested in what we do. We are sincerely grateful for and appreciate people's interest in our work, particularly when said interest is not instigated by police or tax officials.

Over the many years we have been doing this we have noticed that one question gets asked more often than any other.  Oddly enough, the question is almost never asked by other artists.   The question: "What is your favorite piece."

Asking this of an artist will often elicit a blank stare accompanied by muted stammering as the artist tries to process the unfathomability of the request. If the artist also inserts a finger into any orifice of their body (nose, ear, mouth etc.) while stammering, this is a sign that you have thrust a substantially large stick into the spokes of the artist's mental processing. It is probably best to back away quietly at this point.

Non-artists often find the artists response to this question equally unfathomable. It's a simple enough question. Except that artists don't think this way. At All. The disconnect is one of perspective and relationship. For example, any artist can tell you which is their favorite piece produced by another artist.  They can tell you this because their perspective is external to the object and simply based on personal preference of aesthetics. There are no other considerations or relationship with the object.

Now switch places with the artist who made the object. The relationship and perspective changes radically and is no longer dependent on aesthetics at all.  Intention and execution are often the standards of measure. You can see this at work with many artists by complimenting them on a piece. Many will respond to a compliment by pointing out where they failed with intention or execution.

The other big disconnect is picking a point in time. For example, many artists will say that their "favorite" piece is "the one I just finished."  This comment is far less connected to the aesthetic preferences of the artist as it is about the process of giving birth to a creative expression. For an artist to point to a single item and say, THAT ONE is my "favorite" is to stop time and completely deny their journey as an artist. The foundations of that journey are evolution and discovery. The criteria for intention and execution constantly change. Thus, many artists will express  that items they were satisfied with or found acceptable at one stage of their journey are no longer so because their perspective has shifted with experience.

So, if you must know, "what our favorite piece is?"  It's the one you want to buy.

Monday, August 4, 2014

How to put 10 lbs. of shit in a 5 lb. box

Welcome to another installment of Blog Carnival, the ongoing international blatherings of the artists of EtsyMetal, of which we are one (well two actually, if you want to get all technical like). Every month we pick a topic and each of who so chooses writes about it from their unique and often unfathomable perspective.

You, the reader, are thusly treated to a real time comparison of how one artist’s dysfunction stacks up against another’s on the same point of reference. This is our gift to students of psychology and snoopy people everywhere. You know who you are. Enjoy.

This month we are supposed to be writing about tools, a subject that all metalsmiths are obsessed with. We have “tool envy”. We look at “tool porn”. We compare our tools to the tools of others. And we fuck with our tools incessantly, changing them, modifying, making them bend to our will.  We can’t help ourselves.  Just know that the fastest way to seduce a metalsmith is invite her up to your room to look at your tools.

While we all like to talk about our tools, we don’t talk so much about the dirty little secret we all live with. Namely, where do you put all those tools.  Yes, we are all trying to fit 10lbs of shit into a 5lb box. As much as we all like tools, studio space and storage is the Holy Grail.

For our own part, we have literally built “floor to ceiling” shelves and storage into every square inch of our 4 room studio space. This has not even come close to providing adequate storage, so we built 3 additional outbuildings – and immediately filled those up too. Stick around for the super-nova sale that happens after we kick it. We’re pretty sure we actually DO have the arc of the covenant in there somewhere. Maybe Jimmy Hoffa too.

Here are two photos showing our individual benches. Take your best guess at which one belongs to Pig Pen and Ms. Lucy.

The arrangements have evolved over the years to put the tools we use constantly within arm’s reach.


The area under each bench is also lined with shelves and drawers that pull out to provide easy access and additional work surface.

We are big on using every square inch of space to compactly store the small tools we use frequently. Such as this modular system for keeping the various flex shaft bits hands.

Revolving trays tucked into dead corners can store a boat-load stuff. Specially if you pimp them out like ours.

 Peg board is simply the most important discovery for artists since the invention of the automatic coffee maker and margaritas.  I would line my refrigerator with this stuff if Corliss would let me. One of the many things we are using peg board for is to store our wire stock. We picked up this remarkably efficient trick many, many years ago on a visit to another artist’s studio. See the pattern here? 

Sheet gets stored in an open filing system and smaller pieces migrate to sorted bins in the drawers.

Any wall surface that does not contain selves is lined with peg board. This one is over a bench and contains frequently used tools.  We have found that stacking the peg boards is far more efficient than having one tool per hook which in our case would require a building approximately the size of Hong Kong International Airport. And, its not for sale. We asked.
As you might imagine the daily workings of a studio creates a powerful swirling tornado of tools, materials and project in varying degrees of progress. This lends itself to an environment of barely controlled chaos. Considering the context, the word “controlled” is itself a variable term, open to a wide range of interpretation. 
By way of example here are two views of our “mini machine room”.  The room itself is most definitely a work in progress, much akin to attempting maintenance on the car while you are driving it. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Patina is a thin layer that forms on the surface of stone, copper, bronze and similar metals (tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes); a sheen on wooden furniture produced by age, wear, and polishing; or any such acquired change of a surface through age and exposure. Patinas can provide a protective covering to materials that would otherwise be damaged by corrosion or weathering. They may also be aesthetically appealing.

This month’s Blog Carnival topic is “patinas”.   While the original intent of the assignment was no doubt the common practice of applying patinas to metal, patination also refers to the accumulated changes in surface texture and colour that result from normal use of an object such as a coin over time.

 Of course all of this can be said of people too. That part about  “may also be aesthetically appealing”, is where things get really interesting where people are concerned.

For instance, Billy Gibby here, who tattooed the web address of several porn sites on his face as part of a breakthrough idea to become a human billboard.  Don’t get us wrong, we love the art of tatau, particularly as practiced by indigenous cultures the world over.  And far be for us to dredge up that old saw “but what will it look like when you get old?!!” 50 years from now we’re all going to look like shit and people will still be watching porn.
The patina people exhibit over the years often goes far below the surface, and the accumulated age, wear, texture and polishing exhibits itself in so many strange and beautiful ways – or not.  In the worst cases, we just end up scared and damaged from years of abuse, frequently self-inflicted. In the best of cases we acquire a glowing inner light and perspective enhanced by accumulated experience and knowledge.

 And then there’s Charlie Manson who, in a supreme twist of irony, looks like someone’s grandpa, except …what’s that on your grandpa’s forehead!?   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Art Versus Craft

This month's Blog Carnival Topic is "Art or Craft, to which we reply...

There once was a kingdom that had two villages. All the subjects of the realm lived in one village or the other.  Much ado was made by the inhabitants of each village that they alone were the favorites of the Gods, and thus obviously superior to the inhabitants of the other village. These frequent declarations led to constant warfare and skirmishes between the two villages.

Despite generations of warfare, neither side was ever able to win a decisive victory in their claim to superiority over the other. This did nothing to dampen the fervor and tenacity to which each side proclaimed its virtue over the other.

Now, as it happened, this warfare between the villages was carried out in full view of all the other kingdoms in the land.  Rather than taking sides, the inhabitants of the other kingdoms were confused and frightened because both villages seemed completely the same to them.  What are they fighting about, they thought, the people in those two villages must all be crazy.  And so, the people of the other kingdoms stayed away from the two villages, not wanting to get dragged into the fighting.

So caught up in the fighting were the people of the two villages that they didn’t notice that no one was minding the crops, and the people of both villages were starving.  Or that the people of the other kingdoms no longer came to trade at their village markets and fairs.  To make matters worse, the generations of warfare had left some villagers so confused that they no longer could tell which village they belonged to.
It was if they were all the same.

Of course, this could never be. For the wise men of each village had prophesied, in tongues no less, the certainty of their differences. More sacrifices were needed, said the wise men, so that we may prove once and for all throughout the realm, which village is indeed the best.

And so the villagers continued to fight and starve and sacrifice their children in a battle that no one outside the villages cared about and those in each village no longer understood.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How does your ethnicity impact your art

This months Blog Carnival asks “What’s your ethnicity” and how has it impacted your artwork. Easy, we thought! Then again, what exactly does “ethnicity” mean? We looked it up. Turns out it covers a lot of ground.

Ethnicity or ethnic group is defined as social group of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experience.

Membership of an ethnic group tends to be associated with shared cultural heritage, ancestry, history, homeland, language (dialect), or ideology, and with symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, physical appearance, etc.

Larger ethnic groups will tend to form smaller sub-ethnic groups (historically also known as tribes), which over time may become separate ethnic groups themselves through the process of ethnogenesis.

Not so easy after all. Particularly if we are trying to draw meaning or particular influence on a lifetime of art work.

The Ancestors
John come from a very long line of seafarers. Norwegian Vikings as the parents pointedly reminded us as children. This was the way of the father and grandfather and great grandfather, etc., and was certainly the path proscribed for John from an early age.

Travel, looting and pillaging certainly had its appeal for a while, but participation in other groups of artists and intellectuals offered perspectives on life paths that were considerably different – and safer.

Corliss’ parents also had plans for her life. She was being groomed to take over the family floral business. Under the tutelage of her father, Corliss developed a strong creative voice as a designer.

Then John happened.

This had pretty much the same effect on the family plans as any standard Viking invasion. The odd twist of fate being that Corliss’ family tree stems from Germany, Ireland and France. An ancestral appreciation for drinking and brawling set the basis for an instant love match with John.
Oh yeah, and there was this art thing we shared too.

Cultural Experience
Hippies. Joining this tribe was a game-changer for both of us. By now all the parents were getting the idea that John & Corliss were straying from the chosen paths. This was a period of intense political activity made more intense by a massive quantities of sex drugs and rock&roll. As it turns out sex, drugs and rock&roll are just fine with everyone. Put politics into the mix and things can get violent quickly. Extensive travel during this period offered perspectives on other life paths that were considerably different – and safer.

National Experience
Duty called. Military service sort of summed up John’s life experience to date. It had it all. Travel, politics, looting, sex, drugs, rock&roll, and violence on government sanctioned scale that cannot be imagined until it is experienced. Being part of an invading army is a transcendent experience. Whatever ideas John had that there were any rules for anything, pretty much evaporated during this period. Moral ambivalence turned out to be just what the military was looking for however, and special assignments followed. Corliss became part of the military lifestyle in wartime – which is to say bat shit crazy became the new normal. By this time it was abundantly clear that just about any other path would be considerably safer than the one we were on.

Religion, Mythology and Ritual
Catholicism and the Mob. Both John and Corliss were raised Catholic- old school Catholic. In John’s case the parents were mobbed up AND staunch Catholic. Two groups that share a lot of similarities in an many odd ways. The kinder softer church was still half a century away, and corporal punishment was accepted, encouraged. The mob never did make the transition.

Both the mob and the church were a big part of growing up and each organization had a very dense mythology and ritual. Sometimes they overlapped. This all seemed like the natural order of things growing up, even if it led to some truly bizarre nuggets of parental advice and guidance. Strange and beautiful advice it turned out, that provided a perspective on how to survive in an unsafe world. God works in mysterious ways.

Art - Our tribe through all of the above. Art embraces everything, expresses everything. Art has been a shield and a weapon, sometimes both at the same time. Art is our way of seeing, our way of doing and our way of being. Everything we have ever been and want to be comes out in the art. It has always been safest path – even when it’s not.