We have a beautiful art museum here in Milwaukee. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Quadracci Pavilion, designed by Santiago Calatrava. It was an expansion of the art museum, an addition to the already existing Saarinen building. The “wings” of the Burke Brise Soleil that you see in this picture actually open and close. Weather permitting, this happens on a daily basis. A world renowned and revered architect, this was Calatrava’s first building in the United States. It is a source of great pride for us Milwaukeans to have such a structure in our city. We don’t have a lot of tall buildings downtown. There’s an ordinance about just how tall a building can be, so we have no skyscrapers. If you’re in downtown Milwaukee, this lack gives you the impression that Milwaukee isn’t a very big or interesting city. But if you’re standing or driving along Wisconsin Avenue and facing east towards the lake, this building is an awe-inspiring sight.

Santiago Calatrava designs buildings and bridges with concrete, steel, and glass that look structurally impossible. His waves, wings, skeletons, and ribs seem to defy gravity. He’s not only an architect, but also has a Ph.D. in civil engineering, so he knows how to design buildings that are actually meant to move. When you’re standing in Windhover Hall (pictured to the right), you see no pillars, no obvious means of support. And yet there are 200 tons of moving concrete and steel above you! Walking into the MAM just makes me happy, no matter what exhibits are there, no matter what part of the museum I’ve decided to see on that visit. I think it’s great that a building that houses art is such a beautiful work of art.

I’ve often felt that to make jewelry one has to be an engineer as well as an artist. You have to know how a piece works, how it will open and close, how the elements fit together, how it will look on the person that wears it, whether or not it will be comfortable to wear. All of these concerns have to be engineered into the finished piece. With some things it comes easily. For a simple pendant on a chain you may only have to determine the length of the chain. But some pieces have moving parts. A brooch, for example – where will the pin back go? What direction should it face, should it go across the back vertically or horizontally and open to the left or to the right? How long should it be? Jewelry artists have lots of engineering decisions to make. And beyond all that, will the person who owns the piece of jewelry be happy with it? Will they enjoy owning it, looking at it, wearing it?

So, here’s to the artists who are also engineers among us. May we inspire one another. And here’s to the Milwaukee Art Museum as they celebrate the 10th anniversary of their beautiful Calatrava.

thoughts on process

Here’s what’s on my worktable right now. The two sets of earrings at the top of the picture are made of sculpey ultralight. The reason for making them with this clay is that they keep my earrings as light as possible. No one likes heavy earrings. They are armatures that will be covered with a thin layer of other clay and with a pattern, probably dots. The little fan shapes at the top may be cabochons that I’ll set in silver after I’ve covered them.

On the bottom row are pendants. Wherever you see holes will be bead mosaic. All of them have been wet sanded with 220 grit sandpaper. That’s just the first sanding step. To get a nice high gloss shine, I’ll go up in steps to a 1500 or even 2000 grit. I find those grits at automotive supply stores. The sanding will all be done before I do the mosaic work.

All of what you see here represents hours and hours of work, which leads me to the point of this post. Speaking as a business person, I naturally want to make the most amount of money for the least amount of time, right? That’s just economics 101. As an artist, however, what can I sacrifice in quality to gain quantity? My biggest issue right now is my production time. It’s something that I struggle with daily. I think I’ve worked out that I’m making about $2.00 or $3.00 an hour, and I’m working about 10 hours a day. Am I happy? Yes. I’m absolutely ecstatic doing what I’m doing! It beats the heck out of selling bras! Will it pay the bills? The jury’s still out on that one. My guess is that, unless I can increase production, the answer is no, even if I teach myself how to live and be happy with the barest minimum. (That’s another struggle!)

I’m a very detail oriented person. I know what I want the finished product to look like and I’m willing to work for hours and hours until I’m satisfied with the results. I can’t seem to work any faster. If I did, I wouldn’t be happy with the product. I’d like to come up with a design that I’m happy with that doesn’t involve so much sanding (the bane of my existence!) or several – sometimes ten to twelve – steps of curing. I like what I make or I wouldn’t make it. I like the finished product. But I don’t like how long it takes me to get there. That’s not good for business.

So, I’ll keep struggling. I’ll keep trying to develop a design that I can churn out like hotcakes (that sells like hotcakes too!). Or I’ll just wait until I become so famous that people are willing to pay what I’d like to be charging for my work – which would pay for the materials and for my time. As someone I know once told me, “If you charge a million dollars apiece for what you sell, you only have to sell ONE!”

just call me “flower face”

Something I’ve discovered in recent years is that the older you get, the less you care about what you look like or what people think. When I asked Larry for a head shot and he said, and I quote, “Now, don’t faint, but what if you covered your face in polymer clay?”, at first I told him he was nuts. I still think he’s nuts, but then I decided to go with it, just for fun. I thought about mehndi, bindi and tribal face painting, and thought, why not? Some of that can be really beautiful and the whole process just may be a lot of fun. I also thought that it might be a photo I never wanted anyone to see – EVER, but I might as well go for it and see what happens. For people who were already convinced that I’m crazy (like my entire family), this just confirms it. But, even though I spent about four and a half hours at Larry’s studio (it took over an hour just to get all this stuff glued to my face), it was a lot of fun. The artist as her own canvas, so to speak.

I used “water soluble facial adhesive” (probably just your basic white glue in a different tube), and things slid a bit before the glue dried. But after it dried they stayed put, for the most part. Wherever I sweat the most on my face, like my upper lip, those things fell off right after the photos were taken.  I actually drove home from the studio with all this on my face!  I’m really glad I didn’t run out of gas or have to stop at the grocery store!!

This is the tray full of the bits and pieces after I’d removed them from my face (which is why some of them are stuck together). I made sure I brought enough with me so that I had some extra (in the plastic containers) just in case. The tiniest components had to be applied with a tweezers! I cut some components from some of my canes just for this photo since I knew I’d probably not be able to reuse them. I’m glad Larry was so patient (hey, it was his idea after all!) and is also such a good photographer. I think I look only mildly insane.

P.S. Just so you know, Larry also took a “normal” photo of me.