Friday, February 26, 2010

Creative Business Ideas

Snow Snow Snow

It seems like everyone else got snow this winter except us. We were seeing the ground in most places but Tuesday winter announced, in a very loud voice, "I am still here." Majestic and beautiful. Be sure to watch my video at the end of this post.

I want to talk about the Breaking into Business workshop, sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council, that I took Valentine's Day weekend. Led by Maren Brown and Dee Boyle-Clapp, the first day focused on marketing strategies and the second day on writing a business plan. As you know, I have been trying different ways to get my weavings out in the world, and I thought the comment by Neki Desu to my February 12th post, was very apt. One of the things Maren and Dee told us about were online surveys, like the ones offered by SurveyMonkey, where you can query your clients about almost anything. I had an ahha moment when I realized, I can ask you directly, right here, to help me figure some things out. So my first question is:
What can I offer that would get you to pay me money for it?

I am not saying that I will follow all suggestions, after all, I am always teaching my students to take what I say, or anyone else says, put it in a basket, and throw it in the air, like rice being separated from chaff. If it is relevant it will stick, if not, let it blow away. However, I will definitely listen, and try to "put on" all the suggestions. If something fits, I will try it. That was what my silent auction was--an attempt. When it didn't work, I took it away. I learned something--that is not the way.

I will say that in the two weeks since the workshop, and after having such a positive experience with students in Fibers at UMass-Dartmouth, I am thinking that I should increase the number of workshops I am willing to do each year, traveling to schools to do these short, intense lecture/workshop/critiques, and separate any commercial pressure from my studio weaving. This is what I did in the past, when I taught full-time, and it allowed me to create work that was labor-intensive, personal, and creative. I never allowed the thought, "who will buy this?" to enter into the equation. I am enjoying doing functional weaving for my own use--it is a daily thrill to see my own curtains hanging in the living room; the new tablecloth fabric is woven and just waiting to be cut off the loom--but I don't want to divert my art work into this direction.

Another idea that is changing is my offer of tutorial teaching. When I first moved here, it felt fine to share my looms with students for a short time--and I had absolutely fantastic experiences with all the students that have come here. But now that I want to focus on a body of work for my show in January, I don't feel I can interrupt the work on my loom for others to do work on it. In fact, I have had to turn people away for just that reason. Perhaps I can set aside specific time each year and offer tutoring during that time? What do you think?

We all have bills to pay, daily expenses for food, heat, shelter, gas, medical, taxes, and those constant surprising miscellaneous items which never stop coming just when you think you are going to have a cushion. I already have the loom of my dreams. Honestly, my needs are modest. (But modest in the USA is like funding a village in other parts of the world.) So readers, please send me your suggestions, either comment here or send me an email, and help me find ways to keep my studio practice true to itself, and still pay my bills.

I want to mention a few other things.
I broke down and signed up for Facebook. I have two accounts. One is a business page:
Bhakti Ziek - Weaver
You can sign up there and become a "fan." Just to show me some support.
The other is a personal page:
Bhakti Ziek
You can invite me to be your "friend" and I will confirm. We all need all the friends we can get, right?

The other thing is that Kickstarter.com was mentioned in the workshop, and then I heard from Margarita Benitez about her Kickstarter project. For all those who have been interested in jacquard weaving, but feel left out because of the expense of the looms, this project is just for you. Please go to her site and pledge money. She has 64 days left to raise her $10,000 goal. If she raises less than that, she gets nothing; if she raises more, she gets it all. An open source loom is a win for all of us, not just her. Please read more and get the word out to other interested people.

Finally, here is my latest video. I posted one on my Facebook page and nobody commented. Maybe because it had a red background. Try this one--blue.

video
Randolph Snow - Blue by Bhakti Ziek

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trip to New Bedford

Travelling to New Bedford for Lecture and Critiques

I went to New Bedford this week to do a lecture and critiques for the Fibers Department of University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. This was the first time I saw the new studio building since they moved it from the Purchase Street location where Mark did a year of graduate work. They are now located in the center of New Bedford in a renovated department store, and the studios are wonderful. They just hired Deborah Carlson (tenured, full-professor) to head the Fiber Department, which I think was a brilliant decision. Deborah is an inspiring artist and weaver with years of experience teaching and encouraging excellence from her students. If you know someone considering graduate or undergraduate work in Fibers, be sure to have them consider this program.

Students in Fibers working with Deborah Carlson (l), Kristin Crane in center, Paula Becker in front of student display (r)

The program at UMass-Dartmouth has been strong in both art and industrial applications for fiber. Besides Deborah, students are also working with Paula Becker. I first met Paula in Philadelphia, when I was teaching in an industrial textile program and she was a designer for Craftex. Later she went to Cranbrook for an MFA, had a child, did part-time college teaching, and worked for very high-end mills. Currently she has been able to conduct a project with students working with Swarovski and I saw some interesting results using crystals in the critiques. Her students are also getting the opportunity to design and have fabric woven through a local mill, Victor. I was quite impressed with how Deborah and Paula are envisioning the future for their students, recognizing that most mills have closed in the USA, and that small production, like the work shown on Etsy, is a viable model for handwork and art.

Deborah Carlson at the loom and detail of work at right

I did a talk on my work the first morning, and then had individual meetings with graduate students that afternoon. The next day I participated in a critique for the seniors, then had individual meetings with each of them. I was particularly impressed with the work of Dayna Day, shown below. She showed a machine embroidered work that had such flow and energy that it immediately captivated me. At first I saw it as organic abstraction and then realized she had embedded images from her life. Since baking is always a sub-text in my blog, I naturally took an image that shows her mixer.

Dayna Day with her embroidered narrative

The lobby of the art building is an open gallery with display cases used by students (see image of Paula Becker above in front of them), as well as entry to a gallery space, run by Lasse Antonsen. Exhibits vary, but I happened to catch the Merkin exhibit that originated at the last Surface Design Conference. Below are images of works by Elin Noble and Emily DuBois that were in the exhibit. I included the definition of merkin, in case you didn't know the word.

Merkin by Elin Noble (l) and Emily DuBois (r)

Elin and I became good friends when I lived in New Bedford in 1989-90. A few years ago, Elin, Tabbetha McCale, and I travelled through Turkey together. It was terrific to have time to catch up with all the wonderful changes in Elin's life, including a new home and studio with her husband, Lasse Antonsen. I was in extreme envy when we visited their studio Saturday morning. They share a magnificent space, which has allowed Elin to create new work that ranges from large to small. She also has a new free arm sewing machine that she is using on her work. The piece behind Elin and Lasse in the photo below is about 20 feet high. It immediately grabs you by its bold color and patterning, then you approach and you are awed by the intricate quilting that covers the work.

Elin Noble & Lasse Antonsen, details of work by Elin Noble

Elin Noble at her free arm sewing machine

Two marblized pieces by Elin Noble

Elin has always done her own art work, but she also has helped thousands of others through her former work at ProChemical, through the book she has written, and through the workshops she gives internationally. I felt so pleased to see the leap in her own work now, exemplified by the large quilted pieces and these amazing marbleized silk pieces, two of which are shown above. It is so encouraging for me, for everyone in fact, to see another artist find their voice. It affirms the fact that art is a process, that it does ebb and flow, and that perseverance furthers. Not everyone ends up with glorious results, but Elin Noble certainly is in a period of grace and beauty.

Lasse Antonsen in his studio

Lasse is also a case of encouragement for artist and art making. He is an art historian and curator, but has been focusing on his own work in recent years with a kind of joy that comes from, in the words of Joseph Campbell, "Following your bliss." It was apparent to me that these two artists are encouraging each other to do their work, get it out in the world, and share with others. They are great role models, and I really enjoyed seeing how New Bedford has changed through their eyes, which included a trip to The Gourmet Outlet, where we grazed for lunch. They put out recipe cards next to the food they served (Yuzu Salmon Salad, Italian Cous Cous Salad with Dried Fruit, and Jansal Valley Salmon Tartar were among the dishes I tasted) and on their website they also list recipes.

Grazing at The Gourmet Outlet

So I got home in time to host a Power of the Myth potluck dinner last night. My friends outdid themselves with the delicious food we shared, as well as the great conversation engendered by watching the first part of the six part series. Most people felt it was dated, and had some criticism of the first part, but everyone seems to want to keep going and see more. For my part, I still find his thinking and making connections between cultures from vastly different times and parts of the world, totally inspiring. Even more inspiring were our neighbors, Kelly Green and Forest McGregor, shown below. Kelly's stuffed baked potatoes were superb (we had some for lunch today) and so was her outfit. I especially love her gloves.

Kelly Green and Forest McGregor at the end of a great gathering

Friday, February 12, 2010

Damask Blocks

Weaving block damask tablecloth

My tablecloth fabric is coming along nicely, as you can see above. I love the image that contrasts the simple block pattern on the loom with the Uzbekistan ikat on the pillow I am sitting on while weaving. Isn't cloth amazing--the most inspiring visual media in the world and it can be functional too! I am using Borgs Bomullin (50% cotton and 50% flax) for both warp and weft--the warp is natural and the weft is bleached. It never fails to amaze me that a weaving builds, line by line, from bottom to top, and that all these individual elements become a strong, and sometimes beautiful, plane.

Personal shrine with Poppies

You may have noticed that I removed my silent auction weaving. It was a disappointment--not one bid. I am left wondering if my weavings are truly awful. Since my ego doesn't like that thought, I have decided that people like my ideas and writing (I do have almost 9000 hits on this blog), that I am respected as a teacher, and well, yes, my work is appreciated because I am invited into lots of exhibits. Apparently my blog is reaching this audience (which I appreciate, believe me, I love seeing the number of readers increase), but you must be different than the collectors' group. I am going to take a workshop this weekend, sponsored by The Vermont Council of the Arts, called Breaking into Business. Hopefully I will learn how to reach the collectors, as well as you, so I can continue to go grocery shopping and do my weaving. In the meantime, since I liked having an image of my work in the top right hand corner of the blog, I have decided to post a monthly detail from one of my weavings. Poppies, which was a generic version of the birthday weaving I made for Liz Billings, says "Poppies gently swaying, whispering happy birthday 2U." Right now it is hanging in our kitchen (personal shrine area) reminding us that spring is just around the corner.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Modifying Plans

I had this plan to weave a tablecloth with an excerpt from an online I Ching advice site that i got last week. It said:
"You have passed this way before but you are not regressing. This is progress, for the cycle now repeats itself, and this time you are aware that it truly is a cycle."

So I spent time doing it in various methods, including the diagonal word method described in Alice Schlein's new book, and finally decided on my own handwriting in a vertical column, with some circles at the bottom to represent cycles. My total pegplan was 2160 picks. I was assuming 20 ppi when I made the design, with 24 epi in the warp, so I designed it at a pixel aspect ratio of .833. Everything was going along fine--I finalized my image, saved it to my USB jump drive, and turned on my old macintosh, which has a driver for my AVL dobby loom. Then I realized that the computer was from an era before USB and I couldn't transfer the design that way. So I made a CD and saved the image as a pict file, since my old software uses that format, and discovered the old computer can not read the new disks. Uuuugghhhh....urrrrr....hmmmmmm.

I opened up the software and clicked in a simple 8-shaft satin/sateen block design and saved it. Probably it is a better image for a tablecloth anyway. Then I decided, why waste the electricity on such a simple design--so I hand pegged a chain of 24 dobby bars, and put it on the loom. Tomorrow I am going to put some floating selvedges on the loom and get started weaving. This is going to be my last weaving on the AVL, since the loom has found a new owner and will be moving to Maine. I have offered the old computer with the loom, but after my experience tonight, I have also suggested she rethink that offer and go with a new model and current software.

I am not giving up on that saying though--it is too good--and will weave it on my TC-1 as soon as I get back to that loom, which will be soon.

Table by John Parker

Detail of table showing some math

This weekend we went to the annual sale at the East Barre Antique Mall and saw some wonderful things in the booth that John Parker has, including the table shown above. The math on the table has a date from 1929 (or something like that) and it really reminded Mark and me of a weaving I did where I scanned the page of mathematical calculations for a jacquard as the background of that jacquard, and then imposed sketches I drew in Italian museums on top of the math. It was called Lucca Math. It was made and sold in the era of slides, so I don't have a digital image that I can post here. You will just have to take my word that this table and my weaving are first cousins.

Last summer temporary entrance to SAIC

I am posting an image of the temporary entrance to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that I took last summer, as a way to announce that I am going to be teaching a three week intensive summer course there again this summer--June 1 to June 18, 2010. You can see a slideshow of the work produced last summer by clicking on the notice in the sidebar to the right of this post. When registration begins, full-time students at SAIC get to sign up first, but usually there is room for other students. Last summer about one-quarter of the students were non-traditional or attending other programs. It was a fantastic mix of people, all levels of experience, and I look forward to the upcoming class.