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.
Bonnie Harmston works side by side with her husband Steve and travels the art show circuit with him.