Every winter we return to our studio to create new work for the following show season. The two of us sit together and look through all the photos we have taken throughout the year and we talk about the places we spent time at and whatever adventures we may have had that have led us to this point in the creative process. We can usually only make about 7 - 8 new pieces so we also need to decide if we will spend our time on large pieces this year or small ones or a mixture of both.
As we have started to spend more and more time traveling all over the country we also have begun to look at making work that speaks more universally. It has always been interesting to us that as we talk to people at shows that sometimes people struggle to find commonality with our images in certain locations. Either they love the work because it reminds them of a place they have been or it looks like somewhere they would like to go. So the challenge has always been to create work that speaks to us creatively yet still resonates with the viewer on some level. Sometimes that is easy and sometimes it's not.
Recently we decided to share one of our newest pieces online in a contest. We offered to give one away to anyone who could guess it's location. The results were very interesting. Most people instantly guessed a location near where they were located. When that was not correct, they guessed locations either near where they spent time or where they knew we spent time. A good approach since all of our work is reflective of our experiences on the road. However, since we have expanded our distances this threw a curve ball for many since the image was in a new part of the country for us.
What it showed us though is that regardless of the location, an image will generate a feeling for people about what they feel when they see it. It felt good to see so many different responses because that meant that it really could be anywhere. It's still a beautiful walk along a peaceful river.
So where was it?
It's in Knoxville, Tennessee. In a beautiful Nature Park where we stopped for the day to talk a lovely walk.
But thanks to our contest, it can be anywhere you want it to be....
Every year we spend close to eight months traveling together in our van all over the country to shows. We spend a lot of time together during these months. In between the days of setting up a booth, selling at the booth and then tearing down the booth we have a chance to drive very long distances together. Something begins to happen during those trips. We get an opportunity to look at the sights outside and start to formulate ideas together about what a place would look like as a piece of art. It really is the best part of our journey together.
When we finally are home in the winter our lives really shift and we become hermits. For several months we stay close to the house and the studio as we begin to work on all those ideas we had talked about all year. When you are collaborating with someone though it isn't always easy to know if what is in your head is what is in theirs. This winter we found that out as we began on a piece that tested us both.
When we are at home we spend a lot of time out in the desert and we are always taking pictures. I had taken this picture and it just kept sticking in my head to do a really large piece that would be very contemporary and not so literal about the desert. We had a show coming up in the Spring that always features artists with huge pieces of art and I wanted one large piece in our booth. Due to the nature of what we make and where we make it (the world's tiniest workshop) we just can't make one large piece so we would have to do something in pieces.
My inclination is always towards the pop art side and Steve who is doing the cutting of the stencils loves more detail than me and this is always the struggle. I had this vision in my head all along and as we started working on it I just kept staying "less is more" and "think pop art". I drove him crazy.
The challenge became how to keep the piece interesting enough for Steve to work on with his aesthetic but retain the look I wanted that would be bold and different enough that it would not be a direct interpretation of the image I took. The goal was that whatever we ended up with would be a piece that would be graphic enough that people wouldn't even really know what it was. So as we talked it through we decided to make it twice as big first. Then as the background printing began the whole piece took a drastic and for us a risky turn. What if we made three different pieces with different backgrounds? Since we only had enough paper for six individual panels that meant there would only be two full sets when we were done. That's if nothing went wrong! So we moved forward and kept cutting.
We never start a piece and work on nothing else until it's done. Over the months this piece kept getting put away for other projects and we were second guessing it all along the way. It felt all the way like it could end up being great after months of work or it could be a colossal failure. As Steve cut each layer and we talked about colors to add, I don't think either of us felt excitement as much as trepidation about the final outcome. In addition we encountered rainy weather in Arizona which wrecked havoc with our paper and our ink and made for more challenges as we dealt with issues of the paper shrinking and expanding with the humidity. The days sped by and suddenly we saw only a few weeks left to finish and we put our heads down just went for it.
After a few color adjustments it was done and we began to mount the pieces. Due to the humidity issues we lost a piece so in the end we have one full set and two single color panels. As I look at it I feel so much of both of us in it. We spent a lot of time together on this. Disagreeing, agreeing, challenging each other and in the end collaborating.
After months of discussion, planning and hours of work in the studio "The Falls" is finally completed! In the end it took 30 different screens to get the end results. Now we have to mount it on cradleboard and then it will be ready to take it out to shows. This piece of art was madeto raise money for our son and his future bride so we hope that it will quickly find a home
Finally back in the studio after almost 6 weeks on the road. It feels good getting back to work on this special piece. I felt like we were slipping into a rut by the time we left for Texas, efforts seemed rushed and directionless. The time away actually was good, a little excitement in the process is back. So here we go, starting earlier in the morning each day to avoid the triple digit days trying to coax an cohesive image from ruby film and ink. We are working with a slightly different style focusing on simple shapes, patterns and new colors...resisting the urge to dive into minute detail. Hopefully this new piece will finished by months end and will be with us on our next show.
We added three more colors today and while its subtle to most viewers we are slowly adding depth to the picture. If you look closely you can see changes in the ground and the clouds.
It's been a while since either of us have managed to look at the blog page. We have been working in the studio all winter trying to make as much work as we can before we head out on the road for our show season. It's been tricky this year trying to decide what images to make as well as what sizes to make as well. The success of "Attitude" (the Rooster) had us looking at more large scale pieces but we still wanted to keep working on smaller more detailed works as well. We ended up with quite a bit of new work in the end to take out on the road that we are pretty proud of.
Sometimes though we decide to make something for other reasons altogether and this year is special for us. We are going to have a wedding in our family! So we wanted to see how we could best help the wonderful couple who have decided to do it all themselves. My son and his lovely Katie live outside of Seattle and we figured what better way to pay tribute to them than a piece of art that means something to them and us. A portion of each sale will go into a savings account for them to use for the wedding. So we have started working on " Snoqualmie Falls II". We are updating it as we go on our Instagram page and our Facebook page and we are hoping when its done it will be a fitting piece of art for them that represents the beautiful part of the country where they met and fell in love.
"So where do you find your inspiration?" I think that might be the question we hear the most often in our booth. When you have a booth full of landscapes and wildlife, I have always joked that it looks like a version of "Travelrama" a game we played with our kids when they were little. Actually for eight months of the year we are traveling in our van across the country and all that time both of us are taking pictures. We are also talking with each other A LOT about what we see, what conversations we have with people in the booth and what we think will get us excited once we get back into the studio. If we had the luxury of just staying home and making new work then it would be easy but we have limitations. Each year we only have the ability to produce maybe 5 new pieces due to the laborious process of screenprinting. So there is always the struggle to decide what to make that both satisfies us artistically and still is something someone wants to put in their home. We each bring different ideas to the table and then we talk through them during the year. Sometimes a certain image we see though sparks something and we know automatically that it is the direction we want to go. This year we have really been drawn to the incredible cloud formations we have been seeing so we know that this will be playing a role in our new work. The other thing that has us both excited is this feel of the open road. We hear from so many people that our work encourages them to get out and go on a road trip and we really like that. Things will continue to evolve throughout the year and who knows what we will end up with?
It's a new year and as we work on new pieces we also are in the middle of our most stressful time of the year for artists who sell on the road. It's application time when we begin to determine where our fortunes will take us in 2015. Will we get to return once again to the shows that we visited for the first time last year and were successful for us? Will our favorites want us back again? We apply to shows knowing that our fate is determined by what shows we get accepted to and which ones decide to accept other artists for this year. Last year we were so fortunate to get into shows where we had applied for many years and we know our chances are slim to get to return. So now we wait to hear the news and we already know we will not be returning to some favorites.
When we visit any show and people look at our work and we hear them say, "well maybe next year" and we know they don't understand that for us there may not be a next year. That has now happened with a show in Texas that we waited 8 years to get into. It is so hard to be accepted because every artist wants to participate and last year was our year. It was so wonderful, truly everything everyone said it would be. Then this year we received our "decline" letter and we were brought back to earth. For those artists who get to participate in consecutive years, it is a real blessing and maybe sometime it will happen for us. We did get invited back though to several fantastic shows this year and we are very excited to know that we will be returning without worrying already. Not everyone gets that reassurance.
So for today we wait to see what happens, who will say yes this year and who will decide that this is the year for work that is different than ours. If we aren't coming back to your city it is not always our call. We are looking at lots of new venues as well this year so it might just be a really exciting 2015.
Buying original art these days must be so confusing. It has become so difficult to know if what you want to purchase is truly original or a reproduction anymore. Names that once meant one thing now mean another. Digital photographs can now be stretched on to canvas, add a little paint and suddenly they are sold as original paintings. How does anyone trust what they are buying? As artists how do we also convey the importance of buying original when there is so much noise and confusion out there? We watch not only artists but galleries convey so much misinformation to the public that it is no wonder that so many people now decide not to invest in real art anymore.
For us we have finally had to make a serious decision about our work. As fine art printmakers in a medium that is not seen in the public much anymore we now need to change our branding entirely. We have spent years explaining to people what a Serigraph is. The term always stood for a fine art piece of silkscreen printmaking. Yet recently it has become the process du jour for painters to take their work to large commercial print shops to have their reproductions made. The work is scanned at the print shop, color separations are made on a computer and the work is reproduced on large presses which are operated by machine. The artists only involvement is to oversee the final outcome. These pieces are REPRODUCTIONS. They are nothing like our work in any way. Galleries which sell serigraphs are selling reproductions of a painters work for fees in excess of our prices.
So we need to go back to the basics. We have decided to remove the term Serigraph from our work. We are printmakers who create hand cut and hand pulled SILKSCREEN PRINTS. We do them in a tiny little space in our garage. All original, all by ourselves.
There are times when you wonder if there is just not a better way to go about this. When you are standing outside somewhere and people come to see you and the magic is just not there. The work you have to share is the same but it doesn't seem to get received in the same way. You begin to question if you should have brought something different this time. Did we set up the booth wrong? So they want metal at this show and not two dimensional wall art? The glass booth is selling why aren't we? The questions begin to eat at you almost from the start. How can you do one show on one weekend and everyone loves your work and the next weekend not sell a thing?
Standing in public and having to talk about the work you made with your own two hands is overwhelming at times. What do people really think? Do they realize that when they see you that each and every sale is important? That this is not a hobby to fill the hours between your "real" job somewhere? So many times when people look at the work and then ask if they can buy something on your website I often wonder, do you really want to buy something or are you politely telling us that you want to leave now. For every artist at the art shows that we do, the time that an artist wants to sell their work is NOW. Now when they have just spent money on gas, hotels, food, and booth fees. The promise of a sale in the future may be made with the best of intentions but it won't easily get us home to pay our bills.
We recently completed a run of four shows and there was one show in the run that simply confounded us. The entire weekend all we heard was the dreaded "Do you have a card?". This is every artists common complaint. We have just traveled all the way to your town to show you our work. We don't know if we will ever have another opportunity to come again (since all shows are juried each year) and you want to know if you can buy it later online. Here it is for you to look at in person, to talk to us in person and yet the entire weekend all anyone wanted to know was if they could look at it online. They loved the work, at least that what they said. It just drives you crazy.
Then we move a few hundred miles away and the next show people seemingly have the same response to the work but suddenly they can't wait to see you to take something home! It all begins to feel like an endless job interview or an audition for a part. They love me! They hate me! We never should have brought this, no next time we should only show that....
In the end all we can do is continue making the art that reflects the world we love and see around us and hope for the best. And continue smiling...
Bonnie Harmston works side by side with her husband Steve and travels the art show circuit with him.