Monday, November 24, 2008

IMO - ProPanels

Occasionally I run across a product or item that just really wows the funky-colored socks off me. This time, it was a group of display panels by ProPanel.

As you may have read, I was director for a local Christmas art exhibit. I had organized an exhibit at this venue earlier in the year and as part of the set-up personally hauled and covered enough easels to display over 100 pieces of art. Whew! I was not looking forward to having to do that again.

Because of a very generous donation, we were able to purchase a small set of display panels and on the recommendation of several fellow artists and mentors, we chose to go with ProPanels. Plus, as part of this particular exhibit, a friend loaned us her booth-sized ProPanel set up along with lights and extension cords.

I cannot say enough good things about these panels! The company was helpful with questions I had, and other than shipping being a full quarter of our budget, the panels are wonderful! Because they are so lightweight, I managed quite easily to set up the entire panel structure myself, and the braces and supports all slid easily into place for a very sturdy unit to hang the artwork on. The simple Velcro fasteners held legs together, cords in place and were a snap to use (I mean really - its Velcro). Take down was just as easy with two people disassembling the entire set of panels in about 35 minutes, including removing the artwork and lighting.

If you're planning a purchase, make sure to invest in a few extra braces or support bars to maximize your options when you have room to be flexible. And what I didn't realize, too, is that the anchor hangers can be extended on either side of the panel so you can hang artwork on two sides without requiring a second anchor hanger (you will want to have plenty of hanger extenders though - it took two extensions plus the length of the anchor hangar to hang two smaller paintings). For short extensions, you can also link together the "s" hooks to form a chain extension if you haven't got enough straight bar extensions.

I had hemmed and hawed over the new cable system vs. the traditional straight rod system but am perfectly happy with the versatility of the traditional system and would actually recommend them over the cables. I work regularly with a cable studio system but for this venue prefer the traditional flat hangars.

They also offer a range of imaginative and useful accessories for those that want a variety of display options. If you do booths, displays or trade shows, I would HIGHLY recommend these panels for their versatility and functionality.

This review was neither requested nor sponsored by anyone. I did not receive any product or other recompense. I wrote it because I tried this product and wanted to share my impression(s) of it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

An art exhibit opens today

If you're in the area, you are welcome to join us!

Val (Exhibit director)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Choosing the right title

They say the title is one of the most important things you will ever write for your new manuscript - though probably the query letter still ranks a little higher. There are definitely some titles that catch the imagination or pique the curiosity. Some of my favorites include: How Are You Peeling?, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, A Bag Full of Nothing, Mr. Pinkerton Finds A Body, No More Dead Dogs, And God Created Squash, and the list goes on...

We'd been talking about titles in the residency I'm currently teaching (I'm done at the end of the week so will stop talking about it eventually) and doing some brainstorming about what should and shouldn't be in a title. Some kids had a snappy option right off the cuff, others just stared and shrugged. (I think I could tell which ones have more AR points.)

I got home with a head full of titles and then saw this sitting on my kitchen table:

Maybe it's just because I was hanging around with 9-year-olds but doesn't this strike you as possibly being an unfortunate choice? I can't imagine a parent walking into a book store and asking for the book "Things to Do with Pooh."

(Okay, actually I can. And I can also imagine the look on the staff member's face when they hear the request. I mean, if you didn't know it was connected to Disney's version of A.A. Milne's classic bear, what shelf would you start looking on?)

Needless to say, it's gotten some mileage around our house, and it's served as a caution to me too. Our titles need careful attention. Do you want to see if your title measures up? You can put it to the test at the Lulu Titlescorer or, for the more sports minded, put two titles to the test at the new Lulu Titlefight!

Friday, November 14, 2008

"I can't draw"

Today in the art residency I am teaching, we did self-portraits. These are intended to be Christmas presents for the 4th-graders' parents (act surprised if your child is in this class, okay?) and were also an exercise to get them a little more confident with planning and painting in watercolors before we illustrate the stories we've written as part of the residency.

Now let me say right off the bat that this would be a daunting challenge for most adults - and for a 9-year-old to tackle it, no one was expecting perfection. But one boy in particular was in tears from about 4 minutes into the lesson. "I can't draw," he sobbed. "I never could."

To my knowledge, no one in the class had told him he couldn't draw. In fact, his table group were surprisingly supportive of his drawing. And considering they'd had two hours practice so far, the portraits were turning out surprisingly well. But at each step - eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair - he'd start to cry and drop his pencil until someone came and walked him through it. It really broke my heart to see someone so young finished already. He had shut the door firmly on art for reasons that I obviously didn't understand.

How many other kids have already shut the door on something because they "can't"? How many grown-ups are no longer even aware they have hidden talents as writers or artists or some other skill because they made up their mind when they were 9 years old that they couldn't?

Three years ago, I also sat down in a class and said "I can't draw." But because it was so important to me, and with the encouragement of my own classmates, I can call myself an artist today. I know I still have a lot to learn but I discovered something that thrills me in both the product and the process and I can't imagine life without it.

I have just over four hours over the next week to try to light that fire in these students.

Wish me luck...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Embroidered jeans and funky socks

I discovered fairly early on as a childrens' writer that when you're invited to a school to do presentations with the students, 99 times out of 100, the kids will be sitting on the floor. And while I take along lots of props and visuals to try to keep all types of learners focused, you still know they are staring at your knees half the time.

So I decided to give them something to look at. I have started building a collection of funny socks and embroidered jeans. Fortunately, the jeans still manage to maintain a semi-professional look (since I'm not sure clown pants would have the same effect). But apparently there is no limit to the bad taste (or sense of humor - sometimes it's hard to tell them apart) people will exhibit when designing socks.

(Note: These are not my feet. Or my socks. But they illustrate my point.)

I have fuzzy socks with googly eyes, pig socks, striped knee socks, socks with cow ears and socks with toes. Socks with paw prints, lip prints and polka-dot prints. Frog socks, cow socks and flower socks. Sometimes just that peep of color keeps the youngest ones fascinated.

Sure, my socks often don't match my shoes (much to the chagrin of my fashion-guru friends), but I still call it dressing for success. Back are the days when catching a glimpse of my ankle can be a fascinating thing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Standing in the rain

You know the old expression "It never rains but it pours"?

The life of a freelancer is a funny one. Sure, you get to choose your hours and focus your markets and have a load of other perks. But you're also bound to have some dry spells. And now and then you get caught in a deluge.

Part of the juggle is knowing how to manage the deluge when it happens. I have some wonderful and consistent markets that I've been privileged to work with for years. And I never turn them down unless I simply won't be around to write the assignment but - whew! - this month there seems to be some sort of conspiracy to swamp me with work. I'm learning time management in ways I've never fully appreciated before.

Of course, I'm grateful. It's still ironic though that while I'm hearing about tough economic times I'm only listening with half an ear as I'm typing towards yet another deadline. I've had some of my best financial months since the stock market started its slide. Oh, I'm sure I'll have dry spells again. And like most writers and artists, I've got plenty of projects waiting to keep me busy when it happens but for now it's back to work.

I hope your writing is rewarding this month, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

IMO - EcoDrop cloths

I'm going to be painting sets for the next few weeks.

Actually, I'm painting a set for the next few weeks but it's made up of 8-4 x 10-foot canvases & 5-double-sided, 4 x 8-foot canvases. They are stretched onto wooden frames and then mounted in metal braces that have castors so they can be turned and rolled into position during scene changes in this part-Dickens/part-modern musical drama.

What it really means is that I have to cover a lot of carpet before I start painting. We don't have the luxury of a spill-proof room to work in. So I went hunting for drop clothes.

I ended up with an assortment - some canvas (reusable but pricey), some 3-mil plastic (guarantees my less experienced crew won't soak through the canvas ones if paint spills or they start dropping blobs), and some "EcoDrop: Biodegradable Plastic Drop Cloth"s. I'm always on the lookout for greener alternatives to plastic and this one caught my eye.

It's a relatively inexpensive, 2-mil, green-tinted, 9ft x 12ft drop cloth by Trimaco that claims to be leakproof and good for indoor/outdoor use. It's also supposed to break down in a landfill within 12-24 months and return to "simple materials found in nature" according to an ASTM standard. Of course, the manufacturer also cautions against storing it or using it in direct sunlight because it will break down more quickly.

What I like about it so far is that it's smoother on one side but slightly textured on the other which gives us better traction over the carpet. The color does help paint drips show up a little better and are thus easier to avoid stepping in. I have two that I'm using alongside the canvas and the 3-mil plastic for comparison over the next three weeks.

I'll have to keep you posted but my only complaint so far is that it comes in - you guessed it - a plastic bag.

This review was neither requested nor sponsored by anyone. I did not receive any product or other recompense. I wrote it because I tried this product and wanted to share my impression(s) of it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A tiny commission

It's really satisfying to finish something that's been waiting for you.

This tiny little painting is 2" x 3" and was commissioned by a designer that fell in love with the frame. Which I totally understand, by the way - I used to design clothing around buttons or a great zipper pull. And it's a beautiful frame in weight and construction as well as design.

She gave me no guidelines which can be a little unnerving, but in this case was very freeing. It's painted on canvas in four Liquitex acrylic colors - black, white, silver and a custom green blend background that was "distressed" with the tip of an Exacto knife and shot with black.

I've been accused before of painting with a brush with only one hair because I love working details into small spaces. But I always prefer when a painting continues to fascinate as you get closer instead of just losing its form to the canvas texture.

I'm pleased with it. Let's see if she is too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

In for a penny...

I can't believe I'm starting another one...

My hope for this blog is to keep it focused on writing and illustrating. And possibly editing. And maybe publishing. Or songwriting. Or writing articles. Maybe even marketing if I'm really in the mood.

To start things off though, here's a little picture I started during a lunch break at my current Artists-In-Schools residency...we'd been talking a lot about fiction vs. non-fiction and the things that are possible when we use our imagination.

As we were talking, I told them a story about a turtle we kept one summer that had a hot pink stripe across its back. (It was superglue. This particular turtle was an escape artist and had been run over by a truck while crossing the street. Not while it was with us though. A raccoon got at it while we had it.)

Anyways, when I remembered this little tortoise I met last summer at West Ed, I decided he should be easy to find if he ever got away!!

Illustration done in Prismacolor art markers & colored pencils.

I'll be drawing him again someday soon. Some of the students in this group are definitely non-fiction sorts of thinkers so I'll find the right color scheme for him. Just for them. And because I have a new set of pencils to test drive.