Art & Soul

Back from Art & Soul, an arts retreat in Hampton, Virginia at which I spent four days painting, collaging, making books, and generally having a good time with art and artists. My favorites were full-day workshops in paint and collage, one each with Ann Baldwin and Traci Bautista (see pix of them in action, along with some inside pages from one of Traci's journals). Ann's and Traci's approaches and styles are very different, but each class was a terrific learning experience. Ann, in particular, is an excellent teacher, and for someone like me, who has very little experience with painting and acrylics, her class was a revelation. Although each student emerged with two "completed" pieces at the end of the day, for me, the class was all about technique and advice and an opportunity to use both. I left the workshop eager to practice Ann's process at home. I suppose that I've known it subsconsciously all along, but I love layers and texture. For me, texture in paint is the visual equivalent of touch, and it's tremendously satisfying to create it.

As to Traci's work, while her results (and process) are very spontaneous and playful, in fact she has degrees and solid experience in graphic design and typography (and high-tech marketing to boot). We painted some wild papers -- including paper towels -- to use for backgrounds and to tear up for collage, and I'll want to use her techniques again too.

The book I made, in a class with Doris Arndt (see last pix), looks to have metal covers, but in fact, it's book board covered with (silver) metallic duct tape (who knew there was such a thing?), and splashed with alcohol inks. It was the first time I'd used these, and I liked the effects. The stitch itself wasn't difficult, but needle and thread have to go through each piece of copper tubing on the spine twice -- one on the way up and once on the way down -- and that was a little thorny. I'd like to make a second book with this type of spine, substituting some other material for the copper tubing.

In a setting such as this one, the instructors make all the difference, and I was fortunate to have three whose lessons I'll take to heart and experiment with. Three out of four's not bad. I'm less focused on the social aspect of these events, which I appreciate is very important to many of the participants (and puts me in the minority), which makes doing advance homework about the instructors all the more important.

Throughout the days, I kept focusing on Ann's comment that she always does her worst work in workshops and just forged ahead. And I tried -- with limited success, but at least I was consciously aware of this when I was doing it -- to avoid the "comparison thing." It wasn't easy. There was some wonderful work being done, not just in my classes, but everywhere, and it was hard to go straight to my classroom when there was so much enticement on the way there.

So now I've gotten the "newbie" thing out of the way, and I expect I'll go back, if not to this specific event, then to the ones on the west coast, or to the several other retreats that have cropped up in the past five years or so. These programs are, at their core, craft-oriented, and I'm convinced that the main reason for their rise is -- isn't it always these days? -- baby boomers. BBs are finding themselves with more time to play: either they're retired or their kids have gone off (to college or altogether) or both. The amount of money being spent on art supplies, in comparison to, say, 10 years ago, must be astronomical, if the cases being wheeled around the convention center were any indication. And the Internet has made it possible for aspiring crafters and artists in even the most remote locations to get their fix, not to mention that it's opened up a whole world for those former full-time workers and former full-time moms who want to sell to them from the comfort of their homes.

Got back from Virginia-- a 7 1/2-hour not unplesant drive -- just in time to head off to the first of my three sessions on the Secret Belgian Binding at BookWorks. News at 11.

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