Monday, October 31, 2011

Peace in the Valley--Another Trip to the Mecca Called Valley Ridge Art Studio

It has been way, way, way too long since I have made a pilgrimage to the mecca of art studios--Valley Ridge Art Studio.  Valley Ridge is owned and operated by the absolutely wonderful fairy--Katherine Engen. She is both the good and bad witch rolled into one and an Earth Mother (OK--I am out of words to describe this unique individual).  She has created a magical spot in the world and anyone seeking an art workshop should check it out.  I owe a lot to Katherine and love reconnecting in person with her on the farm. 

I have been going to Valley Ridge since 2007 and it is there that I met my favorite art instructor--Michael de Meng.  This time around I was taking my thirteenth and fourteenth class from Michael but this time it was a going to be a little different.  I was determined to acutally learn something.  I had the secret to this:  I was going to listen. 

Seriously, Michael de Meng is a caring instructor who also puts on a great show every time the lights come up.  I consider him a friend as much as a teacher because he involves everyone in the room for the entire workshop.  Plus, he is a really cool artist.  I have a number of de Mengs in my house and add one each year at the workshops. 

I drove from Milwaukee to Muscoda, WI, on Tuesday.  I was lucky enough to be one of four who could stay in the farmhouse on the property.  Check out the accommodations at the accommodation's web page.   I was in the Gold Finch room with the rest of my roomies consisting of Marcella, Kelley and Brenda. 

Wednesday and Thursday were play dates with Michael de Meng called Trash to Treasure.  The basic idea here is that folks who already had a few de Mengs under their belt could take a master's class in which we would be able to make anything we felt like.

Kelley, Christine and I had this idea to get Michael to teach us the Navigator's Journal which he had created for his Portugal workshop.  While Kelley and Christine stayed the course, I had brought a cheap shelving unit with me with the idea of creating something else and that is the way I went.

After two days, I had managed to glue on the polymer clay tiles, grout them up, paint the box and add fancy handles to the drawer.  I also intended to make human figures with animal heads and vice versa until Kelley pointed out the box of deer bones that were up for grabs.  Once I figured out that the spine bones were perfect Kachina doll heads, I decided to change the focus of my project.

Michael does critiques at the end of each workshop and today this was what I had to show.

When my friend (?) Jean Brown saw the above photo on the internet, she morphed it into this. 

Friday, Saturday and Sunday we pushed on to the Grey Matter Meddling workshop with Michael and Jane Ann Wynne.  Jane is a little wild but I was prepared to meet her having seen this photo on the internet:

Jane's job was to make us slice the top off a head and fasten it back on so it hinges.  Then she encouraged us to put some kind of movement into the structure using things such as music boxes, clock parts, egg beaters or (in my case) a big giant fifty pound drill. 

At Valley Ridge, the classes run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. including a lunch by the wonderfully talented chef Bonnie.  At 5:30 p.m. their is a wine and cheese reception each day.  Students have the option to stay in the studio and pretty much I was the last guy out each night with the record being 12:15 a.m. with Brenda one night. 

On Friday, we took some time off to go to the Tower Junction to bowl.  Here is the boy's team consisting of me, Michael and Tom Wynn: 

Saturday night Katherine, Michael, Jane and her husband Tom worked very hard to put on a Halloween party in the lunch building and in the lower level of Katherine's beautiful home.

My costume has a little altar on the front pocket with my ego hanging on my back.  It is called I Wish My Altar Ego Would Get Off My Back. 

Everyone one else was decked out in full Halloween regalia.  Here are Brenda and Kelley.

This is Katherine, Michael and Jane.

Yes, we even played pin the tail on Gary:

We had to bring a gift to exchange that was demented.  I chose to make a little jar with some yellowish liquid inside that was labeled on the de Menged cover,  "G WIZ." 

OK, back to the workshop.  After the Grey Matter Meddling three days, we ended Sunday with a critique.  I only had this much finished but could not resist playing with my project during the critique.

Admittedly, I spent more time on my box attaching a skull to the top of it and not enough time on my drill.  However, I will finish the drill at home (I promise).  Here are the photos of my kachina project I made from the Sunday critique.  I promise to post more when it is done.

I cannot tell you what this experience is like.  You need to sample this yourself so watch the Valley Ridge website for next year's list of classes which should be posted sometime after December 1st.  If you really want to have some fun, you can join me and some of the same cast of characters as we do a remote Valley Ridge experience on the streets of New Orleans in January.  Check out the website for that trip at

Friday, October 14, 2011

Him Null

I took a workshop with Lynne Larkin at a recent Milwaukee ATC Live Trade .  Lynne was an excellent teacher and taught a background making technique that for some reason was very freeing for me.  I struggle with collage and the idea of just attacking a blank canvas with images and paint without much of a plan really helped me get going.  It reminded me of a workshop I took with bookmaker Clarissa Sligh and evidently forgot because she also tried to free me up and it must not have stuck.

Well, you can't fool me twice.

I decided to combine Lynne and Clarissa's technique plus get back to coptic sewing which is the book making technique I love the most. 

I began be taking some hand made Indian paper called Jaipur that I bought in Madison, WI, and layering on top of that pages from an old Lutheran hymnal, other paper, paint and stamps.  While I was free with all the other elements, the hymnal pages pretty much were lined up to still give a book-like feel to the construction. 

Then I had some male images from an old book and I cut those up and added some painted enhancements to them to make them look--well--dead, yet angelic. 

Then I put wash after wash after wash onto the pages to give them a grungy moldy worn patina.

For the covers, I decided to use two pieces of light corrugated cardboard.  I applied the same collage techniques to them, then applied the wash as well.

Next up--coptic stitch.  I have no idea what is wrong with me but the first thing I realized is that I had completely forgotten how to start.  Cranking up the lap top, I found where I had saved some instructions and took to the needle.  The reality is that this book is not sewn all that well.  I think it is too loose and I believe somewhere in the sewing I drop a loop here and there.  You might think this would frustrate me but instead I consider it a lesson in the value of practice, practice, practice.  Now I really want to sew some more books.

Thinking the book was done, I took a look and decided that it was not.  Digging around in my collection of flea market religious objects, I added a plastic crucifix to the cover and painted that in.

Done.  After 26 hours of work.  Yikes!

What does it mean?  I am not a religious person but there is something about organized religion I like as theme in my art.  I think that if you read this book from cover to cover the titles of the old hymns begin to tell a story.  I especially like that the first one is titled "The Old Book and The Old Faith" while the last is "Go Ye Into All the World."

What do the men represent and why is it called Him Null?  The question of faith is confusing to me.  Do you believe in what you do here on earth or do you wait for the glorious kingdom to come to realize who you are?  Were the good things these men did a contribution to life on earth or is all meaningless? 

I have no clue.  All I know is that I have finally conquered another one of my own artistic shortfalls:  pretty books with no content.  I can say the workshop got me out of a box, allowed me to create content in a freer space, and finish a book that I actually like.  Thanks, Lynne and Clarissa.