Breaking The Seal on Challenging Myself – October 2021 Artist Newsletter
Working on the cover for Freaks' Progress Chapter Two – Fresh & Unfettered – in the Amtrak observation car on the way to Minneapolis.
September was dedicated to teaching, working with a new video client, and committing to a new routine so I can finish two comic pages a month for Activator Magazine. I publish those pages simultaneously online at freaksprogress.com, where I also include animated chapter covers. This comic is my magnum opus, and it’s finally coming together into a regular publishing schedule.
The MCBF FallCon in Minneapolis was smallish and intimate. Although Agitator didn’t sell many books, we did make some connections, and enjoyed a little of the city. We got to Minnesota from Chicago on Amtrak, one of my favorite modes of transport. I always spend most of the trip in the observation car, working or reading and watching the country roll by. I didn’t mind wearing my mask at all.
I’m currently preparing for my next weekend bikepacking trek later this month. It will be a relatively easy 50 miles a day, partly over the Robert McClory Bike Path, a lovely trail I’ve ridden before. One great benefit to my hundred mile hot weather blitz in late August was that it makes most other treks look easy by comparison.
Next summer I want to do RAGBRAI, Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It’s a seven day ride across the state, 468 miles over terrain that “is not necessarily flat”. Riders average 67 miles a day. Again, that sounds feasible, if not easy, when you consider I’ve already done 110 miles in 95 degree heat. I feel like I’ve broken some sort of seal on my willingness to challenge myself. In any case, I best get on that training schedule now.
To be honest, I have yearned to do RAGBRAI since I first heard about it as a freshman at University of Iowa. I’m realizing that my headlong dive into cycling comes from decades of dreaming about it.
I hope all of you are pursuing your dreams too. See you next month!
I made it through August. September is going to be even better – September 2021 Artist Newsletter
About 6:30 the morning of the Starved Rock ride. I'm in the pink helmet, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This trek was life changing.
I made it through August, and it was fantastic. September is going to be even better.
First things first: I did the Starved Rock trek! I rode my bike 110 miles in one day. I didn’t know until recently that a 100 mile day is called a “Century,” which is a landmark in a cyclist’s career. It certainly was for me! We started at 5:30 am, and after about fifteen hours of cycling with a full load of gear, through brutal heat and rough trails (but also lots of breaks and time getting to know all the other participants), I rolled into the Starved Rock Lodge at 10 pm, only an hour after the main “fast” group arrived. It was remarkable to walk into the bar, arms raised in triumph, and get so many fist bumps, like… an athlete? I would have never made it without the encouragement of the kind and generous guides at Out Our Front Door. I’ve already signed up for two more (much shorter!) treks with them this year.
Back to art. In August I was selected as the 2021 - 2022 Resident Visual Curator for Elastic Arts, a local organization that has traditionally focused on experimental music and performance. In recent years, Elastic has incorporated visual art into their mission. The Visual Curatorial Resident is responsible for four exhibits, and it is my first paid curatorial position. Mounting events is still uncertain with COVID, but I am looking forward to making restrictions into parameters for a series of innovative shows that challenge the boundaries of “exhibition.”
In the next couple weeks I am finishing up a mural in the basement of the new Underground Art Collective space run by local arts patron Maggie Ledbetter. I’m collaborating with a fellow member of Agitator Gallery, and we are having a great time trying out new techniques and getting paid. We need more patrons like Maggie.
Classes at SXU started a couple weeks ago, masked and in person. This semester I have hit my stride as a teacher, and the students are all eager and happy to be back.
This month I’m looking forward to representing Agitator Comics! at the MCBF FallCon, starting a new chapter of my comic for Activator Magazine, and finally diving into R&D for my robot project. That should keep me busy.
See you next month!
Skills I Can Take Anywhere – August 2021 Artist Newsletter
Figure Study in Cardboard and Hot Glue
August is already packed. All of it’s good, but I need to pay extra close attention to keep everything straight.
In the art-for-hire category, I am making a process video for a local craftsperson. I’ll document a step-by-step presentation in her studio, which is a really fun kind of video to make. Also this month, I am collaborating with another Agitator member to paint a mural in the basement of a patron’s new house. This house is slowly being completely covered with murals, framed paintings and sculptures. The patron’s mission is to turn it into an arts hub to share the work of local artists with a wider audience. Finally, as always, I am working on two pages of my graphic novel Freaks’ Progress for print in Activator Magazine.
Agitator Gallery is taking off again, too. On August 13 we are holding a release party for the first two volumes of Agitator Comics! The party will be outside, at a local co-op called Imaginal Cell. We’re excited to host an event again, but anxious to make sure we follow COVID protocol and keep everyone as safe as possible. The following week, the gallery has a tent at the Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival. Then in late September, Agitator goes on the road to present our comics at Midwest Comic Book Fans one day, outdoor fall convention on the Minnesota County Fairgrounds.
And I can’t forget that I still need to prepare to teach two classes at SXU in the fall. It’s been over a year since I taught in person, and we’ll have new procedures to follow. I’m looking forward to meeting some of my students face to face for the first time.
Somewhere in all this I managed to do a sixty mile bike ride last week, in preparation for my long trek at the end of August. I learned a lot about how to plan, how to conserve energy, and mostly how to just enjoy the process. These are skills I can take anywhere.
See you next month.
Everything Has Changed Hasn't Stopped Yet – July 2021 Artist Newsletter
Agitator Comics! debuts this month.
Agitator Comics! debuts this month. We had so many submissions that I had to make two inaugural compilations of this fantastically broad and varied sampling of comics, which originate from Chicago and beyond. The books are at the printer right now. We’ll start taking orders and mailing them out in a week or so, and there are a couple potential plans brewing to hold an in-person book release party later in July. We’re slowly getting back to what we do best.
We are also gradually uploading our past exhibits to our new website. If you missed the 2019 show about health care in this country, which I curated, you can now see Everything Has Changed: Life Altering Health Care Experiences in 21st Century USA online. It’s powerful work that is still very relevant.
Over the summer, one of my students is finishing up an incomplete from the spring. Their comics work is progressing rapidly, and they’re inspiring me to try new approaches of my own. This mutual benefit is one of my favorite parts of teaching.
This month I’m off to the Southwest to visit a friend, and I’m excited to see new vistas again. I’m even going to do some short bike tours while I’m there. As always, I am grateful. For me, Everything Has Changed hasn’t stopped yet.
I want to make sure I change for the better – June 2021 Artist Newsletter
I know, it's another bike. This one will help me travel hundreds of miles!
Last week I picked up my new touring bike! Riding it is like floating on a cloud. Over the past year I’ve become spoiled by degrees, working my way through a Schwinn Meridian tricycle, a Divvy, a Raleigh Mixte from the 80s, and now a brand new Trek. I still ride all of the earlier bikes for various reasons – even Divvys come in handy in a pinch – but this new one is going to be a favorite for a while. Training for the 300 mile August Trip has started already.
At the end of April I secured a Meal Ticket, which means I finally have a regular gig that pays my bills and even allows me to save money. I’m doing interesting work for good people, I can work remotely, and the hours are flexible enough to allow me ample time for my art practice. I can schedule it around my teaching hours when I start again in the fall. Overall it’s just a huge relief. Honestly, this gig is better than most grants, because it’s sustainable.
That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped applying for grants. In May I applied for two small grants and one residency. Now that I have regular income, any grant money can actually go toward funding specific creative work, rather than desperately plugging income holes. Even if I don’t get the awards, the applications still introduce me and my practice to a new audience. I also have a new commission on the horizon which can serve to fund future creative work, because I don’t need that money to go to bills either. This is progress. Just a small amount of financial security can make a huge difference in anyone’s life.
Later this month I debut Agitator Comics!, the next printed and virtual exhibit from Agitator Gallery. Because I got so many submissions, I’ll print the nineteen stories in two volumes; and the work will also exist online, like all of Agitator’s exhibits from here on out. Our newest member, Alonso Galué, translated my own comic It Is Okay into Spanish. Alonso is helping Agitator figure out how to make our offerings more accessible to a Spanish speaking audience. He took extra care to translate my comic into Cuban Spanish, since it is in part about my partner Camilo’s time in Cuba. Alonso is from Venezuela, and he consulted with his Cuban friends to make sure the language rang true. One of my video students from many years ago submitted a story that includes Mexican Spanish. Those two pieces will have text in both English and Spanish, which makes for a bit of a design challenge; but it’s worth it.
Like probably most of us, I am so ready to restart a life that includes people and pursuits outside of my pod and my laptop. But I am also being very diligent to apply the valuable lessons and skills I have learned during this past year. We haven’t stopped changing. I want to make sure I change for the better.
I Am Developing A Taste for Courage. – May 2021 Artist Newsletter
Dose Number Two
I have focused on writing for the last several months: writing stories, writing applications, writing feedback for students in a writing class. Sequestering has kept my brain deeply engaged in these tasks, and I have re-learned what it means to pay attention.
In the summer I am going places, always cautiously, and with great forethought. This is mainly due to the lingering Pandemic, but also because I value the skills and self-reflection I have gained in the last year. I think I’m becoming better at everything I do.
Agitator Gallery is starting to think about looking at new spaces, which is both exciting and scary. What does it mean to have a gallery now? How can we host events? Our new approach will evolve along with everything else in a reawakening society. I think the phrase “getting back to normal” creates a dangerous and ultimately futile expectation. I want to move beyond normal. Normal is what got us here in the first place.
Later this month I pick up a new touring bike – I now own three bikes, if you’re keeping track – and I start training for the roughly 250 mile trek across Illinois that I will make in late August. Over a long weekend, my small tour group will bike to a state park, camp there a couple nights, and then come back to Chicago. This is different than anything I have ever done. I could have never imagined it before my surgeries in 2018. Maybe I fantasized about something like it, but I don’t know that I ever thought I would feel ready for it. I do now. I feel ready.
I am developing a taste for courage.
See you next month.
The Longest Home Stretch Ever – April 2021 Artist Newsletter
Dose Number One
We are apparently in the home stretch of the virus, but the fact that we still need to remain so vigilant makes this feel like the longest home stretch ever. I got the first dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 29th, and I’ll get the second on April 21st. For my first cautious venture outside of my pod in over a year, I have an appointment with my vaccinated massage therapist in late May. I can hardly wait.
In April, Agitator Gallery marks our third annual collaboration with the Chicago chapter of the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project (SWOP). As with all of our exhibitions since October 2020, this show is virtual, with a printed component. I’m getting pretty good at book and website design, and I may be able to parlay that into some extra income soon. If you want to see some of my most recent work, check out my more user-friendly, freelance-oriented website here.
Agitator applied for a grant at the end of March, and we find out whether we got the funding in May. I think we have a good chance. This grant would go a long way toward both paying for a larger space, and decreasing our member dues so we can recruit a more socioeconomically diverse member base. We’re all happy that we’ve remained engaged over the past year, but we are anxious to open our real life doors again as soon as it’s safe to do so.
I’ve continued my focus on writing this last month. I now have a first draft of the next chapter of my graphic novel, and I’m ready to send it out to my reviewers. After I consider their feedback, I’ll get started drawing the new Chapter Two for print in Activator Magazine later this summer. That regular publication deadline is keeping me on task for what could easily be an overwhelming project. It’s also introducing my work to a whole new audience.
As usual, I’ve got a whole list of projects for this year. Somehow I’m pretty much right on schedule for all of them. I’m just going to roll with that.
See you next month.
It's All About Precarity – March 2021 Artist Newsletter
San Precario, the Patron Saint of Precarious Workers and Lives, emerged as an iconographic figure within Italy in 2004. San Precario is dedicated to spreading awareness and critiquing the government’s introduction of casual independent employment contracts.
Last year at this time, I had two sources of income that weren't affected by lockdown; both were seasonal. The stimulus check, along with a small donation from a mutual aid effort for artists, helped me make it through the summer. In fall 2020, I taught two classes, got a substantial tax refund, and worked on several freelance projects. I put away enough money to make it through winter break.
Two months into the 2021 spring semester, money is still pretty tight; but I'm beginning to see a couple easier months ahead. That will change in May, when the spring semester ends and I have to acclimate to whatever income I can set up for the summer. I'm currently updating my promotional materials, and networking with new people for freelance work. As always, I'm also on the lookout for more regular gigs; but that sort of work is increasingly difficult to find.
This is a lot of information about things that aren't art. Actually though, it is very much about art. This is how artists live in the USA. There are grants, sure; but they're very rare and they're not sustainable. Teaching is fairly regular, but it's volatile by nature. Tenured university positions almost don't exist anymore. Building a clientele that collects your work is its own job, which takes time and significant investment. Freelance work is precarious too. It's all precarious.
This has been my way of life for decades, even before the Pandemic. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes it's dire. In recent years I got an inheritance that paid off my student loans, and also provided a cushion that enabled me to get knee surgery without worrying about lost income. Access to healthcare through the ACA, and that inheritance, both changed my life.
I've read many articles about how artists are more prepared for “the new economy" than most. We're part of the ever growing "Precariat" (precarious + proletariat) that is accustomed to instability. This is a fact of life for more and more people of all income levels. In particular, committing to a creative life means committing to precarity. This also means that the creative voices we hear tend to skew towards the groups that can more easily navigate that reality, among them the independently wealthy, the already connected, and those who get inheritances.
I don't want precarity for anyone. Desperation eventually seeps into everyone's lives, and makes the world more unstable for everybody. And though I speak about my own precarity, it's nothing compared to a low wage earner trying to raise a family.
So while I'm grateful for work, and opportunities, and the money my mother left me so I could take care of myself, I'm always thinking about how my choices affect others. That's part of what I'm doing with Agitator Gallery, and other groups I work with. We're all in it for the long haul.I hope for a bright and more sustainable spring for everyone. See you next month.
Cold Weather Can Bear Great Fruit – February 2021 Artist Newsletter
A panel from It Is Okay, a comic I wrote with my partner Camilo
January has been another incredibly productive month. Sometimes cold weather and long term sequestering can bear great fruit.
I completed a six page comic for a class I audited at Saint Xavier University, where I teach. It Is Okay is based on stories I’ve heard from my partner Camilo, who emigrated from Havana, Cuba as a child, and later spent several years in the Chicago punk scene. He was in many bands, but the most popular was Naked Raygun, where he played bass and wrote several songs on the albums Throb Throb and Basement Screams. When we go out, complete strangers still come up to him and tell him how his music changed their lives. They even buy us drinks! I don’t mind the attention. He’s been writing more music lately, too.
It Is Okay weaves together different stories Camilo has told me over the years And you guessed it – even my comics teacher had an extended fanboy moment when he found out Camilo was in Raygun. It never ends. :) I sent out the comic as part of my application for a residency, and it will also be published in Activator Magazine later this year.
Just last week, I finished writing a breathless, quasi-historical ghost story that came to about fifty pages. I wanted to meet the deadline for a competition hosted by a publication in the UK, so I used that as an incentive. The story was great fun to write, but I know it’s still a first draft. I will likely go back and add details about place and history after I let it rest a while. And over the course of writing it, I realized that one of the characters is nonbinary. I tried my best to be respectful of this fact in their character arc, but I know I need some constructive feedback; so I reached out to some NB friends. Now I have at least two readers who are going to give me some valuable input on that character, and I’m very grateful for their time.
I am curating another printed exhibit for Agitator Gallery! This time it will be a comics zine, due to come out in May. I posted the call for entries a couple days ago, and we already have our first submission. I think this is going to be a great new direction.
Basics Are Cornerstones – January 2021 Artist Newsletter
A fine loaf of homemade bread that lasted maybe an hour.
My partner Camilo really stepped up his bread baking game in 2020, and I’ve been the lucky test kitchen assistant. Bread making is a fundamental skill that many of us have returned to during the Pandemic. I have leaned on my writing skills to help me make sense of everything, and writing has become one of my cornerstones.
I’ve written and spoken more about my art and my practice this past year than I ever have before. Some of that is because 2020 provided me more time to do it; some of it is because people are interested in my work and are asking me to talk about it.
This summer, I spoke online to Chicago high school art students about time management. In the fall, I presented my body of work to college students in Washington State, and we talked about the specific discipline required of a multimedia artist. In early December, I recorded two remote video interviews with the Field Museum. We discussed And Then, the exhibit I curated in October for Agitator Gallery. One of the Field's current initiatives is assembling collections of art related to the Pandemic. I’m not sure what format the interviews will eventually take, but I look forward to seeing this collection, and Agitator in general, documented by such a longstanding institution. Things are changing in the world, and we are part of that change.
I’m currently designing a writing course for SXU, and I’m teaching this course in the spring. One thing I love about teaching at SXU is that I can do things like propose a course in the fall, and end up teaching it the next semester. I have never taught anywhere else where I could do this.
The course is called Writing for Artists. I was inspired to design it when I noticed that my students’ writing assignments… well, they needed some help. I’ve always required students to write something about all their pieces, even if it’s just a few sentences. I ask prompt questions to get them started. My purpose is to encourage them to reflect on their choices, and to think about those choices in a more deliberate way. Writing about your art can help you get better at it. It can certainly help you to present yourself and your work more effectively.
That’s what this course addresses, through a combination of expository and creative writing. We’ll work on several drafts of artist statements and bios over the course of the semester. Next we’ll probably do a few mid-level assignments, like verbiage for Patreon or Kickstarter; and final assignments will be things like project proposals and grant applications. Every week, I’ll assign them brief writing exercises. There might be a few descriptive paragraphs, and maybe some haiku to help them get their heads around the idea of loading brief, common language with meaning. I am very excited for this class. It comes directly out of things I have learned myself over the course of 2020.
I hope to share more of what I’ve learned with you in this New Year. Happy 2021!
Comics to the Front – December 2020 Artist Newsletter
My comic, Freaks' Progress, now appears as monthly printed installments in Activator Magazine.
There are only two weeks left in the SXU semester, which means that my students have two more weeks to finish their final projects. It also means that I myself have two more weeks to finish my own final project. I’m auditing an SXU comics class, taught by Beardo author Dan Dougherty.
Auditing this class was a fantastic idea. Dan is a skilled creator and an amazing instructor, and my fellow students all have interesting ideas and good feedback. Taking a class at the school where I teach is also giving me a different perspective on being a student there, and I think it’s making me a better teacher in my own classes.
After the fall semester ends, I’ll focus on another comics project. I will finish writing and drawing The Benevolence of Madmen, the third chapter of my comic Freaks’ Progress. I started writing it in 2017, then took a long break. The SXU comics class has helped me return to that story, and update it with more developed characters and ideas. I have a specific deadline in mind as well. I’m including Benevolence and two other pieces in my application to a really sweet comics residency. I won’t go into details on that unless I actually get it, but send me good vibes if you do that sort of thing.
Freaks’ Progress has been doing well in general lately. In July, Joseph Copley, Creative Director at Activator Magazine in Springfield IL, got in touch with me and asked if they could publish Freaks’ Progress in monthly installments. I said sure! The installments began in September. The print job looks great, I’m expanding my audience, it helps me prep the work for my own print versions, and they even pay me every month.
Speaking of payments – the strange alchemy of making a living as an artist has been a steady ride this year. I continue to make a consistent, if modest, living; and I started saving money last month. I’m never going to stop being amazed and grateful that my 2020 has been relatively secure. I’m constantly aware of how good I have it, and I donate money and amplify progressive messages as much as possible.
I’m still bike riding regularly, even as winter approaches. Over time I’m adding to my cold weather gear, and I’m able to cover more and more mileage due to both a lighter bike and increasing physical stamina. This enormous achievement is one of the best things to come out of the Pandemic for me.
Be safe, and have a great December!
A Sense of Relief and Excitement – November 2020 Artist Newsletter
Fred and Dahlia – from my comic Freaks’ Progress
It’s been a real couple of months. I wanted to wait until the election was over to write the November newsletter.
On Saturday the 7th, I rode my adult tricycle / de facto cargo bike back up to Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, to resume quarantine with my partner Camilo. I had done my due diligence by sequestering for two weeks after my last outside contact. Then I got tested at a free city site, which sent me my results the next day. Saturday was beautiful and unseasonably warm. The late fall golden light was heightened by bright yellow leaves, rustling on trees and scattered throughout the back roads, as we slowly made our way north.
Our ride out of Logan Square, my neighborhood, was accompanied by singing, shouting, and dancing in the streets. People were scattered all over the small hill at the Eagle Monument, and clustered throughout the Boulevard parks in small groups (hopefully COVID pods) having picnics, or just chatting. Everyone looked incredibly relieved.
I believe we have a long way to go to get where we need to be; but for now I’m just relieved too. I’ll spend some time over the next few months connecting with people, and figuring out where I can best direct my energies, to help get us to a place that will benefit everyone.
Agitator Gallery has been very busy since leaving our physical space. We moved our website from WordPress to Squarespace, a much easier platform for all of us to navigate. We debuted the new site with the virtual gallery for my October group show, And Then: Stories About What Happens Next, and our new quarterly online gallery magazine. My article for that magazine is a reflection on my curation over the last fifteen years. It really has been that long. Writing that article helped me to understand what a process it’s been, and I’m proud of it.
The October show is also available through the gallery shop, as a hardcover “printed exhibit.” Check out the video preview of the book. I’ve been slowly delivering copies to the participating artists through personal pickup at my home, and over the next month I will be working with a friend to deliver more copies by bike. A few books will need to be mailed, since we have about a dozen artists out of state, and one in Turkey. I am so excited by the breadth of this show.
During the next few months I’m focusing on comics and animation. Both of these disciplines take a lot of introspection and diligent work, perfect for the cold dark months. I’ll keep you updated on my progress, and I hope to greet the spring with some amazing new accomplishments.
Take care of yourselves.
Art Work is Real Work – October 2020 Artist Newsletter
I am a dork about bikes now. This one was free!
Last weekend my partner and I biked from Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, on the far edge of the north side of the city, to Hyde Park, well south of the Loop. That’s roughly forty miles round trip. While forty miles is kinda average for a serious cyclist, we had a strong wind against us all the way south; and I finally began to realize that Divvy bikes are, indeed, really heavy machines. That ride felt like training. My avid cycling friends all told me that yeah, that was training; and one of them took such pity on me that she gave me a bike. So I'm set for the winter.
This week I’m finishing up designing the book and virtual gallery for the And Then exhibit. The book is almost 100 pages long, and it looks fantastic. For the virtual gallery, I asked Andrew Slater, a friend of mine who is a visually impaired musician, what he thought of including audio files of the authors reading their own work. It’s not technically necessary, since most visually impaired people use automated text readers; but a recorded reading has a lot more feeling and immediacy. Andrew loved the idea. I’ve been receiving the audio files for the past several days, and they’re an incredible addition to the exhibit. It makes me think about different ways Agitator can make our exhibits more accessible when we get our new space, and how those efforts at accessibility will enrich the experience for everyone.
One of my various current gigs is an editing job for a local documentary. The film focuses on Tweak, a queer Chicago rapper who is involved with various activist movements. The footage I’m working on right now focuses on the No Cop Academy campaign, which advocated against using $95 million in city money to build a police academy in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. Activists contend that we need to defund the CPD, which has a decades long history of racist violence. Activists also say this building project will only serve to gentrify West Garfield Park and force out current residents, and it would be much better to invest the money in housing, education, and mental health centers, all of which have suffered greatly in Chicago in recent years. AECOM, the company chosen to do the construction, has a long history of failed projects that go way over budget; and it has made many large donations to the campaigns of city officials who voted to give them the contract. The building plans are on hold during the pandemic, so this fight is not over.
Watching the footage from a packed, high energy, activist occupation of City Hall during the Council vote really riles me up for local politics again. I’m riled up for politics generally, and it is getting exhausting. But I am consistently amazed at the energy, intelligence, and impressive strategic planning of the young people organizing to demand a better future. The movement to replace policing with restorative and transformative justice touches me at my core. I am honored to contribute to this video project.
Art work is real work! See you next month.
The Busiest Month – September 2020 Artist Newsletter
My online teaching setup for St. Xavier University
September is shaping up to be my busiest month since the Pandemic began.
Last week I started my fall semester teaching at SXU. I have two evening classes; one is called “The Body As Expression.” I wanted to make that class more than just figure drawing, so I decided to introduce the students to a different figure artist each week. I am focusing on living artists who look at the figure in unexpected ways.
Our first assignment was to watch a TED talk by Riva Lehrer, a local artist with Spina Bifida, who does portraits of people with disabilities. My students’ follow up homework was to make two drawings of people with bodies that do not conform to what we are told is “ideal.” I started class with a discussion of the video; and then I did a short presentation of the body-themed work from my life-changing medical experience exhibit Everything Has Changed, including my personal story that led me to curate the show. I assigned them to do in-class self-portraits where they didn’t try to idealize themselves.
During our critiques of those pieces, one student said that the assignment felt like a body acceptance project, and they all liked that very much. The discussion became more comfortable and honest; students returned to their drawings with a deeper understanding and a renewed sense of purpose. Usually I’m exhausted after evening classes, but that night I was energized. I felt like I really taught them something.
My October exhibit at Agitator, And Then: Stories About What Happens Next, has almost fifty submissions. The artists include students, a civil rights attorney, a graffiti artist, and a Chicago Alderman. It’s going to be very interesting work to put together the book design for this show. The show will only be a book for the time being. In August, Agitator made the difficult decision to leave our current space. We are not closing, but moving online until it is safe for people to gather indoors again. My personal dream is for Agitator to open our next gallery space with the pieces from And Then on the walls.
In my personal life, I have become an avid biker. After riding my big tricycle twice, I decided I wanted to return to two wheels. I signed up for a membership with the bike sharing system Divvy, and it’s become my main form of Pandemic transport. Recently I rode over 100 miles in a five day period. I’m currently saving up for a very sexy touring bike, so I can eventually go on on the road for long camping trips. I got bit hard by the biking bug!
I’m so grateful to have safe, dependable income and resources. I hope we can all work toward a future where everyone can say this. Be well!
Good Changes – August 2020 Artist Newsletter
While designing my fall online classes for SXU, I started using the materials I ordered for my students. This week I did my first figure sketches with Lyra graphite crayons, which are buttery soft and even water soluble.
This month I’m writing from my partner’s condo on the far north side of Chicago. Because of the Pandemic, we had only seen each other once, in passing, since late February. About a month ago we made plans, sequestered for two weeks, and got tested. When we finally knew we were safe, I came up north to spend time with him.
I didn’t want to use public transit or ride share and risk exposure that way, so I rode a used adult tricycle, one with a big basket for luggage, that I had bought from a friend earlier in the summer. I had only ridden it once before, for a very short distance; so I was a little nervous about making the seven mile ride. Because of my bad knees, I haven’t ridden a bike at all in many years.
My partner came down to my place to meet me, and we rode back north together. We had perfect weather, and the trip was so glorious that now I want to get a two wheeler again and ride it everywhere. I am still gradually reclaiming my overall physical confidence as I get used to my knee replacements, but sometimes the change is immediate. I ride bikes now.
In July I was invited to speak to an After School Matters (ASM) class. ASM is an arts and science apprenticeship program for high school students from across the city. My friends Helen and Gerry, both young people themselves, teach an ASM art class online. Helen asked if I would do a presentation on professional practices for working artists. I was nervous about making a presentation that young people could relate to; but I figured hey, a young person asked me to do this, so apparently she thinks I have something to offer, I shouldn’t worry about it.
I’ve been focusing on my project management skills since lockdown started. Even if you have “all the time in the world,” you still need some structure to your creative day, especially if you’re working on multiple projects. So I put together a presentation on time management.
The students and the instructors loved the presentation, and we engaged in a good deal of follow up discussion. Helen invited me back next semester. Hopefully by then I can give a presentation on managing a successful Patreon page!
I continue to be grateful that I am able to follow best practices regarding the virus, and I wish we could make it possible for everyone to do so. That is the only way we are going to make it out of this.
New Habits – July 2020 Artist Newsletter
Eustacia Vye - Acrylic on Wood, 36.5 " x 31.75"
I started working a remote day job with regular hours on June 15, so I have rearranged my schedule accordingly. This doesn’t mean I’m any less dedicated to my art. It does mean that I need to be more efficient in my practice.
This week I finished two new collages and a painting for a local gallery called Fortunate Discoveries, whose owner reached out to me a few months ago. The painting is a portrait of a friend of mine. I used acrylic paint left over from my 2017 mural Resilience, and a frame I scavenged from a garage giveaway last year.
As always, the collages are composed of figure sketches, old paintings, and found objects. They are mounted on two of seven discarded windows that my friend brought over from a construction gig. If I can sell work at this gallery, I'm hoping that it will be a nice addition to my COVID income stream.
I am getting ready to teach online at SXU in the fall. The faculty abruptly stumbled into virtual teaching during the spring semester, but this time around I need to design my courses to be online from the start. I think I have an advantage, because I’m really good at individual written feedback, which is a big part of online teaching. I also know how to make video. This skill will help me to make demos that I can share during class, and then leave online for students’ future reference.
In July I will focus on creating prototypes for my Sleeping Giants robotic figurative installation. Putting that together is going to take a while, but I am eager to start creating sample figures and small scale complete models that could help me get funding and space to work on the actual project. Then in August I will return to my webcomic. I love being able to switch gears between mediums; it keeps my mind limber and my work fresh.
Everything is still weird and unpredictable, but adapting quickly to new situations is what artists do. At least that part of the current crisis feels familiar.
While you’re here, check out this video PSA on mask wearing that I made for Agitator Gallery. I think you'll enjoy it.
No Tether – June 2020 Artist Newsletter
What else can we do and not lash out? – from We Are Fighting You Now
Last night, for a few hours, I forgot we are in a pandemic. During the Chicago protest of May 30, I was at home; but a lot of my friends were in the streets. I was glued to my social media feed off and on for hours. I have activists, journalists, newly elected progressive city officials, and political theorists on my friend list, so I’ll just go ahead and say that my feed might be a better source of news than most. It’s still my bubble, but whatever.
One of my friends posted: What if governments acted as strongly and swiftly to public health crises as they did to broken windows and burning cars?
Art seems simultaneously pointless and absolutely vital right now. I'm still doing it.
The animated music video for We Are Fighting You Now by Ami Saraiya & The Outcome is finished, and it only gets more relevant by the moment. You can see it on YouTube here. The lyrics are in the video description.
Earlier this month I put out a call for entries for a group show at Agitator in the fall. It won't be on the walls in the foreseeable future, because we don’t know when we will be able to do that again. This exhibit is a book we will mail out to the audience. It will be a collection of people’s visions for the future, in the form of art, poetry, fiction and nonfiction. This, also, feels somewhat random and futile. But it’s something. I want to focus on vision, on plans, on alternatives.
The exhibit is called AND THEN: Stories About What Happens Next.
I feel both empowered and weak, floating in space with no tether. I’m not sure exactly what to do, but I am trying very hard to listen to those who have been the most affected by the worst in this country for time immemorial. I’m leaning into that feeling. This is the Learning Place, and I think it’s where I need to be.
THE ANIMATION IS FINISHED! – May 2020 Artist Newsletter
Analog ink drawing during Online Figure Tuesdays.
My client and I have signed off on the final cut for the animation, and we added all the credits. Now comes the really interesting task of releasing a video in this particular moment. Film festivals seem to be in a holding pattern, or moving online. Since the theme of the video is very timely, we decided to just go ahead and release it now. It will debut on May 9 in an online screening of collage animation hosted by 516 ARTS, a contemporary art museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It will be on youtube thereafter, and we will send it to as many subsequent online screenings and traditional festivals as we can. We hope to see it on the big screen someday!
Agitator Gallery is holding steady. We continue a regular rotation of member art on our social media accounts, and we’re working with an Instagram partner to host events for her COVID-TV DIY broadcasting project. Overall, we are thinking about how to move forward into an uncertain future. What does it look like when a gallery can’t use their own space?
Our online Figure Tuesdays sessions are becoming increasingly popular, and we have raised a few hundred dollars this month just from those donations. Last week we welcomed twenty people to our session. Since we moved online, participants have joined us not only from all over Chicago, but also from Oregon, New Mexico, Michigan and New York. Several of our distant friends have said they hope we continue the online sessions even after the gallery re-opens. We're thinking about it.
Now that the animation is finished, I am moving to my major back burner project: the webcomic. Over the next month, I will focus on redesigning the website, freshening up the script, and putting together the next few pages so I can start posting again in June. I will also bring my personal Patreon account online, so I can begin raising regular donations for my overall art practice.
I miss the people I can’t see right now; but I have income, health, and a sense of purpose. I’m satisfied with that for the time being.
Settling Into A New Normal – April 2020 Artist Newsletter
A recent collage! I’m not only working on animation.
I’ll skip the obligatory COVID introduction; we’re all dealing with it in the best way we can. I hope everyone is sheltering in place to the best of their ability.
I was one of several people interviewed by the Chicago Reader for an article about how various Chicago cultural organizations are weathering the crisis. You can read the article here; scroll down a bit to find my section.
Since my last newsletter, Agitator Gallery was very fortunate to receive over $1500 worth of donations through a locally organized, city-wide mutual aid fund. The funds came from individuals; not the city administration, and not a foundation. This money could be the one of the main reasons we are able to survive this stressful time, especially since members’ own incomes are precarious right now, too. Agitator is applying for aid through more traditional routes as well, but it is very comforting to know that we have this amount to help sustain us for now.
In addition to this chunk of funding, Agitator is gathering donations through various types of digital content, including hosting Figure Tuesdays online. We’ve even been able to welcome some out of state friends into the life drawing sessions. Community is everything.
My income situation, for various reasons, has become fairly stable. It’s not a lot, but it will be enough; and it should hold fine even if we have to stay inside through the month of June. Teaching through Zoom and email is a little goofy at first, but we are all getting used to it. And I am able to spend prolonged, focused time on all my projects.
I hope that my next newsletter sees us all well, safe, and maybe even able to safely start enjoying the spring weather outside with friends. Take care of yourselves!
Now Everything Is Different – March 2020 Artist Newsletter
Agitator Gallery members at our emergency meeting
Thursday night, Agitator Gallery made the difficult decision to close for a week, and then reassess. Saturday we started a series of online content that will focus on the art practice of one gallery member every day. We will start hosting live social media tours of our current exhibits, we’re looking into broadcasting performance pieces, and we’re finally starting to set up our online art marketplace. During all of this, we will be promoting our online donation options. At least one major grant making organization in town is working on relief funding for those in the arts, so we are watching for that as well.
As for my personal income: I am able to pivot to working from home pretty easily, so I’m looking for regular, remote income sources. In addition to my teaching, I have been picking up some hours in a tech office at another local university; but for now this work requires me to be at the office, and I am trying to see if I can change that. I am stocking up on non-perishables; god knows I have a lot of experience making rice and beans. I’m pretty healthy generally, but I’m right on the edge of the age of higher susceptibility, and I have dearly loved ones who are at much higher risk. I am staying away from them for the time being, to prevent possible exposure. It’s very painful for me. The full emotional weight of this has not hit yet, but I see it on the horizon.
The Collage Artist Lab has been postponed, and this is for the best. I doubt anything this year is going to be anywhere near like what I had planned. Today I talked with a local gallery shop owner who loves my collage work, and wants to represent me at her space. We talked about how crazy everything is right now, and decided I would follow up with her in a month or so, when I can present her some new work, since most of my collages are already sold. Well, now I have some time to work on new ones.
There is definitely a part of me that is looking forward to finishing projects, and maybe even getting to some stuff that’s been on the back burner for months. But especially as the days get warmer, it is going to be very difficult to play it safe. I am committed to staying on task.
Good News and Good Plans – February 2020 Artist Newsletter
Still from Animated Music Video for Ami Saraiya & The Outcome
The sun is setting after 5pm now, and even though it’s still a bit early, I’m starting to think about Spring. I’ve already mapped out a general plan for my art career in 2020, one which includes both new pursuits and reboots of longterm projects. I’m not going to subject you to the entire thing right now, but I hope to let you in on it month by month as it all comes into focus.
First: I can’t officially announce it just yet, but I found out a couple weeks ago that I was accepted to a three-day academic workshop in New Orleans this spring. I got funding too! This workshop covers both theory and practice, and requires each participant to leave with a plan for either a book or an exhibition. I think I’ll be planning my exhibit for Agitator in 2021. It’s great to know I always have a venue for my ideas.
Speaking of Agitator, I have started work on my curation for the current year. I wanted to include comics again, but to do it differently this time. I decided to focus on storytelling in general, and its place in shaping how we perceive ourselves, our history, and how we live. Comics and zines will be part of this show; I also want to include an evening of live readings, and one or more live podcast recordings. I’ll develop this idea more fully in the next few months, and put out a call for entries in April for the show in August. I learned so much from my last show; I’m eager to put those lessons into action.
And believe it or not – I am really, honestly, very close to finished with my animated music video for Ami Saraiya & The Outcome. It’s been well over a year, with much learning and many revisions; but both Ami and I are extremely pleased with how this project is turning out. Many of the scenes are simply stunning. I included some clips from this piece in my application for the New Orleans workshop, and I think it really helped me clinch the acceptance.
I’ll see you next month with more news. It’s shaping up to be a great year!
Reflecting On Some Good Surprises – January 2020 Artist Newsletter
Chocolate for breakfast. Don't judge.
It’s the end of the year. Time for reflections, resolutions, and Godiva chocolate for breakfast. Not all of these things are good ideas; but they tend to happen anyway, so I will embrace them.
If you had told me, even in early August, that I would be teaching again, and liking it, I would have laughed you off the sidewalk. I’m still a bit hesitant, because I am very familiar with the fickle nature of adjunct positions. But here I am in late December, working on my syllabi for the spring, and I’m excited about it.
There are a lot of things I need to change for next semester. Toward that end, I am studying Mac Arthur “genius” award winning comic artist Lynda Barry’s books Making Comics and Syllabus: Notes from an accidental professor. The classes I teach, Drawing 1 and Figure Drawing, are as much about ways of seeing the world as they are about skills. Both concepts are important, and I guess you could argue that all classes include both of these approaches, but I want to make sure I am conscious of all that moving forward. This semester was an accidental reintroduction to teaching; I had some definite wins and some definite snags. I abruptly landed, out of nowhere like Alice through the Looking Glass, in a small school with great students, a supportive boss, and no perceptible office politics. So I’m taking the opportunity to grow something meaningful in the time I have there.
RANDOM NOTE: please take three minutes to watch the video in the MacArthur link on Lynda Barry. It will probably make you cry, in a good way. And you might even get off your computer and start drawing.
Other surprises this year included several people reaching out to me for projects. I got an illustration gig for a book, an art listing service is including my work in a mural proposal for a Chicago corporate client, and I am currently putting together ideas for a mural that will live in the basement of a family on the North Side. The woman who contacted me wants to create a magical space for her kids, so they can play while she does laundry and keeps an eye on them. The space she has in mind sounds like a magical place for adults too, and I’m thrilled to be part of that.
And as always, I’m applying to various opportunities that could be fantastic as well; I will report back on those if they pan out. But even if not, my 2020 is shaping up to be transformative in the best of ways. I hope yours is too.
Surprising Potential – December 2019 Artist Newsletter
Funky Composite Photo of My 2017 Mile Of Murals Piece, Resilience
Last week I got a nice surprise in my inbox. It was an email from a national art listing service. They said they saw my work with Mile of Murals, and wanted to include me as part of a major proposal for a Chicago client, to create a mural in their downtown office. There’s no guarantee I will be chosen for the commission, as I will be one among a list of artists they submit, but still - this could be great.
Artists constantly juggle multiple income streams. Even if you have a great month, there’s always next month. I’m very grateful for my teaching assignment, since even though it doesn’t pay all my bills, it is at least one constant in a sea of uncertainty. And speaking of a constant in a sea of uncertainty, I’ll just put in a plug for universal health care too. The ACA is a lot better than what we had before, but that’s a pretty low bar. Truly universal health care would make everyone’s lives a lot easier.
For the remainder of the year, I’m finishing up my illustration commission for For Those About to Rock, my animation for Ami Saraiya, working on my syllabus for Spring 2020, and putting together a grant application for that robotics installation I mentioned last month. It’s always a lot to keep track of, but it’s what I’m passionate about, and it’s what I do best.
Applying skills before I have a chance to get nervous about it – November 2019 Artist Newsletter
A digital figure sketch for Agitator's Figure Tuesdays exhibit in November.
October was full of freelance work, pop up gallery shows and planning. The more serious you get about your art career, the more hats you need to wear. I’m constantly learning new skills and applying them before I have a chance to get nervous about it.
After my spectacular show in September, Agitator Gallery transitioned immediately into a month of three pop ups in a row, all roughly focused on immigration. Our pop ups are short, one or two night exhibits; which means we had three openings in October! For these pop ups, I started making short video interviews with the artists for social media promotion. Instagram allows one minute videos, which is a nice parameter for a concise interview. You can see the interviews here:
These videos have significantly bumped up the gallery’s reach and recognition, and I’m looking forward to doing interviews every month from here on out.
November’s month-long exhibit will be a group show of figurative work by participants in Figure Tuesdays, our weekly figure drawing meetup. It’s turning out to be a show of fairly diverse work – not just sketches – which is exciting. I’m also pretty happy to have a straightforward show as a bit of a break.
My freelance work this month was all over the board; but my favorite gig was creating sketches for For Those About to Rock, a rock and roll history book aimed at young people. I whipped out some preliminary sketches in pencil on regular paper, which is really refreshing in context of all the electronic work I’m doing lately.
In both my classes at SXU this month, we focused on portraits. I did some sketches myself, and got some more regular pencil sketch time in - it’s very soothing and rewarding, and I need to do more of it!
November and December is time for me to focus on my own work. I’m finishing up the animated music video, working on the relaunch of my webcomic, and I have just entered the planning phase for an installation that will involve figure sculpture and robotics! 2020 is going to be full of firsts for me.
Happy Thanksgiving, and see you next month!
A Stunning Success – October 2019 Newsletter
Everything Has Changed, my September curation at Agitator Gallery.
Everything Has Changed, the show I curated for Agitator in September, is a stunning success. The opening was packed, and the gallery was filled with urgent conversations about health care.
Visitors picked up the show catalogs, which detailed the artists’ stories in their own words, and referred to the catalogs as they looked at each art piece, studying the work. I have never before seen this happen at an opening. We ran out of catalogs halfway through the event; I attached a gallery copy to a plinth in the front room so people could still read it.
The video and performance night was packed as well, and I am looking forward to a packed artist talk closing event.
During the run of the show, I’ve printed almost 200 copies of the catalog, and we keep running out of them. I have printed almost 100 copies of my own story in my curatorial statement, and we keep running out of those too. Two of my physicians attended events. Both of them said: "Doctors need to see this, staff needs to see this. Sometimes things get so routine and we forget we're dealing with people. This is very powerful." People relate to these stories, and they are eager to discuss them.
The show keeps resonating. I just got an email from a young friend who might be in the beginning stages of the condition I have. She read my curatorial statement and said it was oddly comforting to her. She has no insurance, like I didn’t for years. I hope she can get the care she needs. We should all fight so that nobody needs to worry about whether they can get health care, ever again.
I am incredibly proud of this show, and very honored to have worked with all of the artists. I’m talking with my doctors about possibilities for sharing the work and the stories in the medical community. Art can take so many shapes, and it can reach people in so many ways. I want to keep momentum going with these conversations.
The Income is Coming In – September 2019 Newsletter
My classroom at St Xavier University.
August wrapped up with a welcome turn of events, and September is starting off even more energetic than usual.
Making a living as a working artist is hard. Even if you have a good month, the next month tends to be a toss up until you’re halfway through it. I’m always looking for regular work, with a predictable salary, that is hopefully art-relevant and also allows me time and brain space to continue a creative discipline. In the past, I’ve had a good situation with regular video clients; but freelance hasn’t been very dependable lately.
That changed last week. I accepted a teaching position at St. Xavier University, a small school on Chicago’s far south side, teaching Drawing 1 for non art majors and Figure Drawing for art majors. Both classes are refreshingly free of technology; I get to just draw and teach drawing. I’m also responsible for finding and scheduling models, so I am bringing on many of the models I schedule for Figure Tuesdays. They’re all very happy for more work and a new school to put on their resumes.
The income from this position isn’t going to cover everything, but it will be a welcome slice of stability. Combined with some motion graphics work I also picked up recently, and some illustration gigs, I should be good through October. That’s a long time in my book!
Speaking of illustration, the Coñata drawings are getting a lot of attention. Invented by my friend Scott Montgomery, the Coñata baking pan allows you to make 3D edible packages for sweet and savory goodies.There are currently four drawings in the illustrated "origin story," with five more yet to come. You can see more of them, and learn more about the Coñata itself, here.
I also got back to some drawing and painting basics with a series of three character portraits, done in acrylic washes on wood panels, for State of the Art Chicago (SOTA). SOTA is an Art Subscription Service, co-owned and operated by Michelle Graves, one of my colleagues at Agitator Cooperative Gallery. These portraits of characters from my webcomic Freaks’ Progress are hanging in a group show at Chicago’s Tradition Gastro Pub through November 19.
The Glenwood Avenue Art Festival had to contend with a lot of rain this year, but Agitator still spread the good word about our gallery and our programming. I sold a piece, too! I am now offering prints of my digital figure drawings, and people dig them. You can find the full selection of figure images for sale as prints on my website.
And finally, it’s all coming together for my September exhibit, Everything has Changed: Life Altering Health Care Experiences in 21st Century USA. This weekend I am finishing up my curatorial statement, which is a ‘zine (a booklet) about my personal journey through pain, surgery and recovery. I’ve included images of my art, and, thanks to my orthopedic surgeon, also images of my surgery. It’s going to be a pretty intense thing to share. If you are interested in receiving a copy, let me know and I’ll send you one - only asking the cost of postage.
That’s a lot! It’s always a lot, and that’s how I like it. More to come next month.
Preparing for An Amazing Show – August 2019 Artist Newsletter
Promotion for Everything Has Changed: Life Altering Health Care Experiences in 21st Century USA, the show I'm curating in September at Agitator Cooperative Gallery. Artwork is "Heartstrings" by artist Perry Danis.
Although I wasn’t able to present my animation at Kolaj Fest because of Hurricane Barry, I did meet my goal of completing a first draft of this daunting and complex project. I met with my client Ami Saraiya, we reviewed the project, and planned the next round of revisions. It’s fantastic to work with another creative when tackling something this big. Ami understands the process, knows what she wants, and also sees my own vision. I’m psyched to get back to work.
I’ve been working nonstop on my September show for Agitator Gallery. Everything Has Changed: Life Altering Health Care Experiences in 21st Century USA will include a total of 21 artists, and it’s shaping up to be an amazing exhibit. Yesterday I spent fourteen hours putting together the press release, creating social media imagery, and organizing preliminary details for a two hour evening of performance we will present a week after the opening. It also looks like my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gregory Primus, will speak at the gallery’s monthly Art of Science event in September. This is the first time that Art of Science will have a theme directly related to the exhibit, and I’m proud to be the one to make that happen. I’m also excited to see Dr. Primus speak!
In smaller but also important news, I am helping a friend with the rollout of a product he’s been developing for years. Scott Montgomery created a concept called coñata, a way to easily create a 3D shell for ice cream or whatever kind of filling you want. He designed the baking pans, and he’s testing them out over the next few months. He hired me to create coloring book illustrations for an Instagram campaign around a cute story he wrote about the process. I’m finding that doing these straightforward drawings on my tablet is refreshingly quick and satisfying. I sometimes forget that not every project needs to be an earth shattering, all encompassing creative juggernaut. Although let’s be honest, that is my default. :)
Speaking of which, I need to get back to work! See you next month.
More Work, More Fun – July 2019 Artist Newsletter
A clip from the music video I'm making for Ami Saraiya & the Outcome.
UPDATE: Since I originally posted this entry, Tropical Storm Barry started forming in the Gulf, and Kolaj Fest was canceled after a day of assessing the situation. I left before the storm and headed to Memphis for a few days.
Kolaj Fest in New Orleans is coming up in a little over a week, and I’m putting in overtime to complete a rough cut of my collage animation music video for Ami Saraiya & the Outcome, so I can screen it at the fest. This music video project is a lot more than just a gig; I’m developing an animation style that I plan to develop into an integral part of how I approach my future video work. It takes time to create something new.
Plus, word gets around. Last week I was contacted by another local musician to work on a music video for her brand new band, starting in August! This one is a quick turnaround; we’ll shoot performance footage against a green screen, with costume changes and trippy background elements added in post. I’m looking forward to working with new people, both behind and in front of the camera. The project is not quite a lock yet, but if we get everything together for next month you can look forward to some great photos from the set.
And just a few days ago another project landed in my lap, to create illustrations for a new book introducing young people to seminal musicians throughout the history of rock and roll. The book, titled For Those About to Rock, includes 50 music artists, and will feature multiple illustrators. Not only is this a fun, paying project; the popularity the book has garnered already means that my work will have a huge new platform. I’m psyched to get started.
I’ll provide more details on these new projects as they develop. Stay tuned!
Chicago Summer Begins – June 2019 Artist Newsletter
Digital Sketch from Figure Tuesdays at Agitator Cooperative Gallery
Chicago is finally warming up, and I’m slowly re-acquainting myself with the outdoors. A lot of my work depends on video and photographs I gather when I’m wandering around, both at home and away. I collage those images into my comics and videos, so this outdoor time is crucial to both my work and my well being.
I also depend on continuing figure studies to keep my drawing skills sharp. Over the last month, I’ve worked exclusively on my tablet during our weekly Figure Tuesdays meetup at Agitator Gallery. I always post my best pieces on social media, and these latest digital studies have brought a very strong response. I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m very pleased. I plan to make high quality, archival printouts of these studies to sell at the upcoming Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival, where Agitator will have a booth. It will be a way to raise money, and promote both the gallery and Figure Tuesdays. The Glenwood is always a fantastic weekend, but I think this one will be the best yet.
Speaking of collage, I co-facilitated an animation workshop for World Collage Day at Agitator on May 11. It was very well attended, and a lot of fun. We brought new people to the gallery, and they got to make art and enjoy our May exhibit, a retrospective of work by the late Chicago painter Steve Ediger. This event made me even more excited about Kolaj Fest in New Orleans this July!
Before I go, let me leave you with this interview I did with Kilter Magazine last year, where I talk about the origins and focus of my webcomic, Freaks’ Progress. I took a long break from working on it, but I return to it this summer by incorporating a comics journalism-style interview I am working on for Sixty Inches From Center. Enjoy!
So Many Grand Things are Taking Shape this Month – May 2019 Artist Newsletter
Figure Study from Figure Tuesdays at Agitator Gallery
So many grand things are taking shape this month.
After much curatorial reflection and wordsmithing, I completed the call for entries for my September group show at Agitator Gallery: Everything Has Changed: Life Altering Medical Experiences in 21st Century USA. In addition to featuring 2D and 3D work, I hope to program an evening of video and sound pieces, an evening of performance, two evenings of presentations by practicing surgeons, and at least one evening of artist talks. I want this show to be overwhelming, because the issues it addresses are overwhelming.
This past week at Figure Tuesdays, one of the participants, a resident in Family Medicine, said she would love to have her resident class engage with the September exhibit as part of their sensitivity training. This is one example of how I hope to involve different groups with this show. It is just the beginning.
This July, I will attend Kolaj Fest in New Orleans. Kolaj Magazine, the sponsoring organization, is “a quarterly, printed magazine about contemporary collage.” Much of my work, including my animation and video, is based on collage practices. A couple of my animator / collagist friends are curating an animation screening at the festival, and I plan to include the music video I am creating for Ami Saraiya and the Outcome. It will be fantastic to get feedback on this project from a practicing collagist audience.
A few days ago, I attended my first working editorial meeting for Sixty Inches from Center. I pitched two comics journalism ideas, both of which were very well received. I will also be working as an illustrator for a longterm research-based story pitched by another member. That story will focus on art community developments in a neighborhood which has been crucial to my own creative growth, and I’m honored to be part of the research process.
As spring finally decides to stay put in Chicago, I am warming up to the many exciting tasks I have set for myself. This will be a fantastic summer.
I Am In No Mood For Small Plans – April 2019 Artist Newsletter
Work in progress scene from my music video for We Are Fighting You Now, by Ami Saraiya & the Outcome.
Spring Is (Almost) Here!
Over the last few months, I have become increasingly accustomed to my new mobility, brought to me courtesy of a double knee replacement. I challenge myself a little more each day, and each day I also surprise myself a little more. Even though I’m well aware that pain has dictated increasingly severe limitations on my life, I am amazed as I gradually realize just how extensive those limitations were. I feel like I am emerging from a damp cave into bright sunlight. I’m stiff, somewhat hesitant, and a bit blinded by all the possibilities, but I’m not going back in there. I’m out in the sun to stay.
The music video for Ami Saraiya & the Outcome is progressing very nicely. Since we don’t have a tight deadline, I am taking time to develop a new animation style that is consistent with my comics work. I am very influenced by the look of The Yellow Submarine, but I am making this approach entirely my own. It’s wonderful to have the time and artistic freedom to create a style while working with a client. I’m very fortunate to have this project.
Starting in April, I’ll be doing comics and other illustration for Sixty Inches from Center, “a non-profit online arts publication and archiving initiative that supports and promotes art and writing that thrives primarily outside of mainstream historical narratives.” I’ll attend my first editorial meeting with them in about a week, and I am really looking forward to it. This opportunity will get my comics work in front of a larger public, and also help me and Agitator learn more about the Chicago art scene.
I am also in the very beginning stages of creating something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. For years, I have been involved one way or another with independent creative spaces; Agitator is the most recent one. These spaces create real value both socially and economically for whatever neighborhood they exist in, and beyond. But they always face the same challenges, and are never adequately supported by the city at large.
I want to build a city-wide network of independent spaces, for moral support, skill share, creative collaboration, and eventually advocacy for policies that better support the community of independent spaces, and by extension, the communities they serve. A couple weeks ago I met with representatives from two other local independent spaces, Hostel Earphoria and P.O. Box Collective, to put together some basic ideas that we can present to others as we grow our group. We’re all quite excited about it.
I know this is a tall order, but I am in no mood for small plans. My energy is only growing.
I Am Proud To Do This Work – March 2019 Artist Newsletter
Getting reference footage of Marc Piane, bassist for Ami Saraiya and the Outcome.
February was its own unique kind of busy, as each month of a working artist’s life always is. I’m constantly amazed at the variety of skills I get to acquire while making this independent creative life work.
I’m fully engrossed in my work for the music video for Ami Saraiya and the Outcome. Last month I captured footage from almost all the band members. I say “almost” because one of them is currently in Bulgaria, and will send me his own footage presently. I’ll use this footage as either reference for animation, or as a video component I can manipulate to fit into the fantasy world I am creating for this piece. I love starting with an idea, learning from the process, and ending up with something even better. I’m so lucky to work with people who understand this!
On March 3, International Sex Worker Rights Day, Agitator Gallery opened our benefit show for SWOP, the Sex Worker’s Outreach Project. We put out the call for entries less than a month ago, but we still got more than enough submissions to put together what I think is a really intriguing exhibit of work made by former or current sex workers. Part of our mission at Agitator is to support and amplify organizations representing groups of people who are generally overlooked or ignored. Last March we held a benefit for the Chicago Recovery Alliance, and we all learned so much from that exhibit as well. I am proud to do this work.
I have begun to gather artists for my Life Changing Medical Experiences show at Agitator in September. One artist, who is living with cancer, got a very late diagnosis because of a lack of insurance. He now makes beautiful, delicate drawings and animations of the medical equipment and chemo materials that are part of his daily life. I know this show will humble me. I hope it will also inspire me and others to commit to the work we need to do to get this country to take care of all its people.
I’m excited to start my cinematography class at Chicago Filmmakers this month. I’ve been doing video for years, but sometimes it’s a good idea to reset your skills and learn from others who have a fresh take on the medium. I am also looking forward to meeting a lot of new friends!
Working On Exciting Projects – February 2019 Artist Newsletter
I’m having a lot of fun developing animation for the Ami Saraiya music video. These are my own lips singing a line from the song; I videotaped them, made them into an image sequence, and then traced them (a technique called rotoscoping) on my tablet. I’ll include them as part of a scene in the opening of the video.
This week I’m traveling to Milwaukee to meet with a friend who works in glitch video, among other things, and we’re going to brainstorm ideas for my life changing medical experiences show at Agitator Gallery in September. My ideas for the show are pretty fluid at this point, but I think I want to explore the possibility of an exhibit that grows and changes over the course of the month - much like one grows and changes while recovering from surgery - so the opening and closing events will be different iterations of the same show. It’s exciting to challenge my ideas of curation like this!
Agitator mounts a new show every month. That’s an intense schedule, but since we are a cooperative gallery with multiple talented members, we can keep up with it. In March, we will present a show with SWOP-Chicago. SWOP, or the Sex Workers Outreach Project, is a “a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of current and former sex workers in the Chicago area, on and off of the job.” The exhibit will open on March 3, which is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. We’re very excited for this exhibit; it’s a potentially challenging subject for some, but that’s what makes the effort worth it.
You’ll be happy to know that my knee surgery recovery is going great. It’s been interesting to re-learn how to walk properly, now that my gait is correctly aligned for the first time in many years. People who haven’t seen me for a while always say the same thing: “You look amazing! It’s like you’re taller?” Ha! That’s what standing up straight will do for you, I guess. I can hardly wait for summer.
Artists Depend on Each Other – January 2019 Artist Newsletter
My second fired figure sculpture from the Lill Street class, June 2018.
I’m late in sharing a photo of my second figure sculpture because I thought I’d lost the piece. I couldn’t pick it up right away after my class ended and it was put in the kiln. Lill Street has a policy of discarding unclaimed work after about a month or so – a completely reasonable policy, considering the amount of work produced there – but I lost track of time and assumed I was out of luck. Not so! My instructor and another student kept the piece for me for months, until I could finally retrieve it a couple weeks ago. I’m so grateful they did.
Artists depend on each other a lot. For gigs, for studio space, for opportunities. Sometimes people get competitive, but I find that just becomes lonely and isolating. Sharing increases good energy and good outcomes. That’s part of what we’re working to accomplish with Agitator Gallery.
I reached many milestones in 2018, and one of them is the fact that I have sold very nearly all of my existing art pieces. My current inventory includes a few small figure works on masonite, two 11 foot high banners, and that’s about it. This is due, in part, to the fact that I now have a platform through the gallery. Also it’s because much of my recent work is either digital or it exists on a public wall somewhere. But still, reaching this place is a milestone and an accomplishment. And now I need to make a lot more work.
As I consider the new year ahead, I look forward to my annual reassessment of where I’m at and where I’m going. Over the next month, I’ll be giving my website a major upgrade: retiring, adding or revitalizing different sections to more accurately reflect my current practice. I will start working at a new studio space, and I will keep pushing myself in new directions that I am not yet entirely comfortable with. And I’ll continue with my knee recovery.
Agitator Gallery continues to be a great part of my growth as an artist, and not just in terms of selling work. I am expanding my platform and recognition, learning more about what it means to run a community oriented space, and of course always adding to my fundraising skills.
As always, I deeply appreciate your support, however you express it. Here’s hoping for a stellar New Year for all of us.
Reflective, Thankful and Energized – December 2018 Artist Newsletter
Storytime Triptych, 18' w x 6' h, Acrylic on Canvas, 2017. This piece embodies a lot of what I want to work on in 2019.
Though I’ve achieved many art milestones in 2018, this year has been largely dedicated to getting my health in order. Back in January, I knew that’s how it was going to be, and I resolved myself to it. Now I’m well into my recovery, and ready to get back to work with renewed vigor for 2019.
Agitator Gallery has a lot of renewed vigor, thanks in large part to our four new members! In November we welcomed Danielle Owensby, Jen Lau and Sarah Bell; in December we’ll be welcoming Jeff Horwat. All of them bring great skills, ideas and energy to Agitator - and we know our 2019 is going to be phenomenal.
As for my own practice, here is what I’m planning for the coming year:
I’ve already mentioned my animated music video for Ami Suraiya, and my collaborative gallery installation that will explore life changing medical experiences. These are both ambitious projects, and I know I’m going to stretch myself for both of them in ways that I can’t even yet anticipate.
Developing Ongoing Projects
I took a break from murals this year, but I’m already putting out feelers for a new project, with a new style, sometime in the spring. I’m looking for an indoor project to start - because let’s be honest, my knees are going to want at least a little pampering for a while.
My webcomic, Freaks’ Progress, will also see a revamp in early 2019. I’m developing new storylines, and adding new characters. I’m very eager to share it all with you.
Earlier this year, I took an online science fiction writing course. I loved it. I created new characters and a storyline that I want to continue exploring, and I also just remembered how much I love writing. You will see more from me in this medium as 2019 gets underway.
For the past several years, I have finally been able to travel regularly; and since 2016, I have focused on travel within the US. This country is enormous, and so far I haven’t seen most of it. So, every year I choose a region and take Amtrak to go visit a friend who lives there. In 2019 I plan to take the Southwest Chief to visit my friend in Albuquerque. A couple years ago I wrote a blog entry on why I love the train; you might enjoy it.
As we enter the last month of 2018, I am reflective, thankful and energized. This year I did something that I have both deeply desired and feared for years. And now, onward.
Full Steam Ahead – November 2018 Artist Newsletter
Ballot Ready Voters Guide I designed and illustrated for State Matters and Ballot Ready.
To answer your first question: yes! I have had my second knee replacement operation. The procedure was on November 5, so I made sure to vote early, cane in hand. I am now full steam ahead on recovery, and very much looking forward to painting more murals, installing more shows, and dancing with joy!
I dedicated a lot of 2018 to preparing logistically, psychologically and physically for these major surgeries. In 2019, I want to explore that experience through a new project. For my next exhibit at Agitator Gallery, in the fall of next year, I will collaborate with other artists to mount a gallery-wide installation dedicated to life-changing medical experiences. I hope to bring in physicians, patients, and people who are working to finally realize true universal health care in this country. It’s a tall order, but I am inspired and driven. I am extremely fortunate to have had access to excellent care, and all human beings deserve the same. It shouldn’t be about luck or about working the system; we all owe this to each other.
Speaking of voting and Agitator - in October, the gallery collaborated with State Matters and Ballot Ready to host a Ballot Party voter education event right before the election. State Matters is a nonpartisan political organization that educates voters about state level politics through video and art, and Ballot Ready is an online tool that allows voters to view their entire ballot, research the candidates and referendums, and save their choices to bring into the booth on election day. I’m proud to say that both of these innovative ideas were hatched right here in Chicago, and Agitator is excited to be in on the ground floor of the Ballot Party collaboration, which brings these online tools into live community spaces where people can discuss important issues with their neighbors.
For this inaugural Ballot Party, I designed and illustrated a placemat guide – reminiscent of the Chutes and Ladders game – that was written by the folks at State Matters. The placemat helped guide people through the process of researching their ballots at Ballot Parties all over Illinois, and I know that many people forwarded it electronically to their networks as well. I’m honored to have been part of this initiative - and I hope to continue working with State Matters in the future!
Finally, I am beginning work on the music video for Ami Saraiya and the Outcome. To ease back into animation, I’m using photographic motion studies created by Eadweard Muybridge in the 1800s. Regular motions from two hundred years ago resonate in a very different way in a contemporary context, and I’m intrigued to see where this project leads me.
It's always exciting to share my plans and ideas with you. See you next month!
Recovery Underway – October 2018 Artist Newsletter
One Down, One to Go!
Knee Replacement Update
I’m out of the hospital and recovering from my first knee replacement surgery at home. Possibly, I’ll have my second surgery before the end of the month. I planned to dedicate the rest of 2018 to the most difficult stages of recovery, and it looks like that was a good idea. My extended network of friends have been helping me with chores, cooking, transport, problem solving, and just keeping me company. I am a very fortunate woman.
I love my surgeon, Dr. Gregory Primus. Dr. Primus initially came to Chicago to play for the Chicago Bears, and then went to medical school at the University of Chicago. He does a lot of work with his south side community, and he is building an orthopedic center there. In my experience with him he has been thoroughly patient centered, confident yet humble, and goofy when necessary. He is a great surgeon and a good man.
Double knee replacement recovery will be a several month process. The physical challenges are clear from the beginning, but I'm also already starting to sense the deep psychological shifts that are coming.
I've become accustomed to pain that has increased and persisted over a period of decades. It's been part of me since before I graduated from high school. I'm used to my efforts at pain relief being a temporary fix. I must now recognize that I am working toward the pain being gone.
That's shocking. It's euphoric. It's almost frightening. And I'm ready for it.
I’m also thinking about all the people I know who have chronic pain that, at this point, can’t be treated effectively. That’s a real issue for millions. I’m ecstatic that I have the options that I do, and I want to let people know about how I got here. I want to let them know that it’s crucial we have a strong and vibrant public health system.
But realize that some pain is not really treatable, and people who suffer from it live their lives anyway. They make it through their bad times with support from loved ones, and sometimes with drugs that aren’t great but are the only option.
Be one of those loved ones. And work like hell for a health system that serves everyone.
On to the Art
It’s been just over a week since my surgery (it seems like a month), and I’m still getting used to changes in mobility and energy level. No matter how anxious I am to get back to work, I need to prioritize my recovery. And then there’s the second surgery...
I know that everything will improve gradually, but it will take me a while to get back to my accustomed level of activity. That might be one of my most difficult adjustments. But I still have a lot planned!
A couple months ago I was approached by award-winning musician Ami Saraiya to create a music video for her newest song, a piece about resilience, hope and action in midst of all the urgent crises we share as a global community. The uplifting tune has an edge of sorrow and righteous anger, and the lyrics bring happy tears to my eyes. It’s very much in line with my own vision. Ami was especially interested in having me create some animation for the video, which will be the perfect project for me as I recover at home throughout the fall and winter. I plan to explore ideas and techniques that have been in the back of my mind for some time, and then shoot some video next spring when the weather and my knees are more amenable. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the project through this newsletter.
In other art news, I am even now uploading the final cut of the Kelton House video to dropbox, so the duplication house in Columbus Ohio can start making DVDs. The Kelton House is showing a premiere on October 18, and I wish I could be there! I know that all of the players are very satisfied with the final product, and I hope that the video helps educate people everywhere about this story in the history of Abolition.
And I am starting to think about my next show for Agitator Gallery. I know I want it to be about life changing medical experiences - from the viewpoint of both the patient and the doctor. I will keep you posted as that one progresses as well.
See you next month!
Exhibit Success and Big Things Brewing – September 2018 Artist Newsletter
Drummer in the ChiArts jazz band that played live music for A Story I Need to Tell: 3 Comics Artists in Chicago at Agitator Gallery.
We’re learning that live music helps turn art openings into events that people want to spend time at, so I personally have made a commitment to featuring live music at all of my shows. For this exhibit, since Ash is influenced so much by Miles Davis, I wanted to find a jazz combo. We were honored to have a trio from Chi Arts, a local arts- focused high school, play for us all evening. Their music really elevated the show into something special.
The month of September is going to be really busy too, but partly for a new reason: I am getting both of my knees replaced, and the first surgery is October 1st. September will be a month of preliminary doctor appointments, setting up my recovery environment, and finishing up outstanding projects so I can focus on rehab for a good month or two.
I have been living with pain and limited mobility since I was a teenager. I don’t want to go too deep into personal health in this forum, but know this: as an independent artist who works as a freelancer, I am able to get this incredibly important surgery because of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). As more and more people in all fields depend on contract work, insurance through an employer is becoming less and less the norm. And for a large segment of the population, it was never an option anyway.
This surgery will change everything; I will be so much more able to work and contribute and live my life to the fullest. But my productivity isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is that we all support each other so that we can all move forward together. That’s what civilized society means.
Although the ACA is a flawed system, it is far better than what we have had in the past. We can build on it and do a lot better, but we need to be willing to work together to make sure everyone has access to quality, comprehensive, affordable health care. Please remember this in November.
I won’t be taking any breaks from art over the next couple months, but the October and November newsletters might be more about research and reflection than running around doing everything I can possibly manage. We’ll see...
Getting Ready and Keeping Going – August 2018 Artist Newsletter
Completed Figure Sculpture
I just realized that I never showed you the final result of my first figure sculpture. Here he is, fully glazed and intact! I love how he looks like a bronze with a patina. He’s small, about 8 inches high - but you know a whole lot of work went into him. He currently lives on our snack table at the gallery, and he is inspiring me to keep going with sculpture in the fall.
As I write this, I am preparing for next week’s opening of A Story I Need to Tell: 3 Comics Artists in Chicago. I’m not only curating this show, I’m showing some of my own comics work from over several years. It’s a little overwhelming going through so much of your own past.
The show will feature close to fifty pieces of oddly sized, roughly executed drawings. Comics are made to be reproduced, and the originals aren’t usually displayed. Paper originals are also becoming more rare, as more and more people work on tablets (I’ve moved to this method myself). For this show, I wanted to focus on those raw drawings – which presented an installation challenge. A fellow gallery member and I just finalized a fantastic installation idea that is perfect; it’s relatively easy considering how many pieces we have to install, cheap, and completely within the aesthetic of the show. You’ll get to see it in the next newsletter!
In other Agitator Gallery news, we are enjoying a brilliant success with the Art of Science series, curated by Yoav Kashiv. A scientist himself, Yoav brings research scientists to art galleries, to present their research to the public in an engaging way. So far we’ve hosted two of these events, and the gallery is always packed to capacity with a great cross-section of young and old, scientist and layperson. To me, this series embodies one of the main reasons that Agitator exists - to provide a public forum for ideas. We are honored beyond measure to host and learn from these events.
Chicago Is Pretty Hot Right Now – July 2018 Artist Newsletter
Promotion for the August show at Agitator Gallery.
Chicago is pretty hot right now, both in terms of temperature and political dissent. Saturday, July 30, an estimated 60,000 Chicagoans joined protests around the country against the current administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies.
I wasn’t able to attend the massive march on the 30th, but I did document a smaller protest in front of Chicago’s ICE Field Office earlier in the week. Also joining similar protests across the country, a group of parents brought their children to a sit-in in front of the ICE offices at 101 West Congress Parkway. This particular protest had support from Hand in Hand Domestic Employers Network and Credo Mobile – just to give credit where credit is due. Protests take a lot of coordination; sometimes the support is hyper-local, and sometimes it’s more national.
I live-streamed the Chicago protest on Facebook, and then edited the footage into a short clip, which you can see here. I discovered that livestream footage does not default to HD, so please forgive the resolution. But it’s still clear what’s going on!
In other news: I am curating a comics show at Agitator Gallery in August, and it will include my own work. I did not initially want to exhibit myself; it felt a little weird. But when I met with Ash HG to plan his contribution to the show, he convinced me to do it. I will be joining with Ash and comics veteran Gene Ha to present A Story I Need to Tell: 3 Comics Artists in Chicago.
I am really looking forward to it!
Learning New Stuff and Brushing Off Old Skills – June 2018 Artist Newsletter
Left: Instructor Robin Power blows the Josh Green glaze onto the sculpture. Middle: Sculpture on the rack awaiting the second firing. Right: This is the finish I'm going for; I want it to resemble a bronze with a patina.
In May I learned how to fire and glaze ceramics. I’ve done figure sculpture before, including some fairly monumental figurative puppets made of chicken wire and papier-mâché, but I have never properly finished up a clay figure. That is a long and involved process: you fire the piece once for the “bisque,” then add under and over glazes, and then fire again. All this is after you hollow out the figure and let it dry completely for a week or two. I am almost done with the first figure I made at my Lill Street class, and this coming week I will start drying my second piece. I’m anxious to see how I can incorporate figure sculpture into collage-like pieces, similar to what I do with figure drawings.
My Story Studio writing class is also teaching me through doing – my favorite way to learn. Every week we write 1000 words on a specific aspect of the science fiction / fantasy genre. I think that is just long enough to both create something interesting, and also introduce enough discipline to ensure we don’t meander off into our own Never Ending Stories. My very first creative inclination was writing; I wrote stories long before I ever started to draw, and writing has always been what I consider one of my base skills. Yet I haven’t focused on it specifically in quite some time. This class has been fantastic for developing that skill further.
Adding to My Skillset – May 2018 Artist Newsletter
Hollowing out my first figure sculpture in preparation for firing.
I started my figure sculpture class at Lill Street in April!
I have so far completed one clay figure that stands about 10 inches tall. At our last class, we hollowed out the sculptures to allow them to dry more quickly, so that they don’t explode when we fire them. This is a real concern. Who knew? As class goes on, we’ll learn more about slips and glazes and types of clay.
I also started attending an online course in science fiction and fantasy writing with the Story Studio in Chicago. I want to improve my writing and tighten my plot development for the comic, and just get overall feedback from other writers. I wasn’t sure I’d like an online course, but so far I love it. All of our class discussion is done through writing, which seems really appropriate for a writing course; so I’m improving before I even get to my first assignment.
With these classes, I’m reaching further into my skillset to broaden what my work can be. Later this year, I might even start looking into coding. Don’t quote me on that, but I’m thinking about it.
And summer has finally started in Chicago!
Keeping On Keeping On – April 2018 Artist Newsletter
Much of the work I put into my practice looks a lot like this. Sadly, not always with cake.
Prep work isn’t all that thrilling to report on, but nothing happens without it.
In March, I applied to several residencies, and sent in my bid for another public mural. I do this kind of work every month; it’s part of the job. I’ll certainly report back if any of it comes to fruition, but for now just know that I am constantly plugging away on all sorts of opportunities.
Agitator Gallery continues to teach me about being a working artist and an active, contributing member of the community. Our show You Can Tell Me Anything: The Visual Art of Harm Reduction wrapped up on March 31 with an artist talk by Dr. Suzanne Carlberg-Racich. She discussed her project with Nicole Pallas and participants of the Chicago Recovery Alliance community. The photo project was done through PhotoVoice, an organization that promotes the "ethical use of photography for positive social change, through delivering innovative participatory photography projects."
Dr. Carlberg-Racich worked with a community of opiate users to create documentation of their experiences of stigma, support, and life in general. The study was both framed and executed by the community; and Dr. Carlberg-Racich continues to work with them to ensure that the work is used ethically, and that it is used with the ongoing consent of the participants. I was really impressed with the respect and deference to the participants’ voice that Dr. Carlberg-Racich described in her talk.
As April begins, I am really looking forward to my first figure sculpture class at Lill Street Art Center. Watch for photos of me with handfuls of clay and a big smile on my face, because this is gonna be fun.
Building Energy – March 2018 Artist Newsletter
The Generals play at Agitator Gallery after Eleftheria Lialios' artist talk
The warmer weather means that we’re all getting more energy, and it’s a good thing because my plate, as always, is pretty full!
Detroit 1978-1983: Photographs and Prints by Eleftheria Lialios, the show I curated for Agitator Gallery in January, wrapped up the second week in February with a very engaging artist talk. The gallery was packed. I want to mention here that artist talks are not usually packed, so it is a mark of great distinction that Freedom (that's what her friends call her) had so many people come out to support her. Freedom is a phenomenal artist with a rich and interesting history, and you should check out her work.
We followed the talk with a live music performance by The Generals, a local six piece band. I KNOW - yes, a six piece band in that small space was maybe a little nuts, but it worked! The talk and the music performance drew two entirely different crowds, and there was a lot of mingling and conversation going on. This is part of our mission at the gallery, and I’m so proud to see it happening.
In my own practice, I am really looking forward to taking a figure sculpture class at Lill Street Art Center this spring. My murals have inspired me to further explore public art, and I want to expand my figure work into large outdoor installations. I have some basic ideas of what I want to do, but this is really going to be a see-what-happens kind of project. I’ll keep you updated with photos as my new sculptural work develops.
The Good Year Ahead – February 2018 Artist Newsletter
Eleftheria Lialios at Agitator Gallery
This year is proving to be full of promise in both large and small ways.
I’m applying for more mural commissions, continuing the webcomic, and working on some new projects that I will debut later this year. And yes – the gallery is going strong!
Detroit 1978-1983: Photographs and Prints by Eleftheria Lialios, the show I curated for Agitator Gallery in January, was a rousing success, and we are following it up with an artist talk on February 3.
Detroit was our most well-attended event so far, and that is saying something! We brought in new people to see the gallery, including the proprietor of a neighboring, more established gallery, who was really impressed with our progress. We’re looking forward to increasing this momentum over our first full year of exhibits in 2018.
We’re also starting to populate the gallery calendar with programming. On January 30, we hosted Figure Tuesdays for the first time. It was warm and inviting, and we had the welcome challenge of needing to rearrange the room a few times just to fit everyone in.
Over the next few weeks we’ll start critique sessions, silent movie nights, classes and workshops.
In August, I will curate another exhibit, one very close to my heart. I’ll be showing several comic book artists from Chicago – some very famous, some not as famous as they should be. I’m still developing the theme and content, but I have the main participants set, and I know it’s going to be amazing!
Hitting the Ground Running – January 2018 Newsletter
Postcard for Detroit 1978-1983 Photographs and Prints by Eleftheria Lialios, the first show I am curating at Agitator Gallery.
In 2017, I opened a lot of new doors. I finished up my residency with the inaugural cohort of Field / Work at Chicago Artists’ Coalition, helped found a cooperative art gallery in Chicago, created a video for an ambitious and timely historical piece put on by the Kelton House in Ohio, and designed, painted and managed a crew for my first major mural commission with the Mile of Murals. I’m ready for even more in 2018.
Here are a couple great things coming up in January:
I am a brand new board member for the Chicago Women’s Health Center! CWHC “facilitates the empowerment of women and trans* people by providing access to health care and health education in a respectful environment where people pay what they can afford.” My term starts in January, and I can hardly wait to help spread the word through promotional videos and much more.
January also marks my first show as a curator at Agitator Gallery. Photographer Eleftheria Lialios will show some of her earliest work, street documentary photography and studio setups from Detroit, 1978 – 1983. For the opening, we will also feature some live acoustic guitar music by Miguel Amur Mar.
I was a teaching assistant for Eleftheria when I was a grad student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I was always floored by her dedication to both her craft and to the art of teaching. She had a permanent impact on my life as an artist, and I am honored to present this show.
Thank you, as always, for your interest in my work. May everyone have an amazing New Year!
What a Great Year – December 2017 Newsletter
Choosing work to display at the Figure Tuesdays Showcase.
December is a time for reflecting on all that I have accomplished this year. That doesn’t mean that I’m taking a break, though! This month I’m part of two local art shows, and I’m also wrapping up some very important videos.
Sunday December 3 opens the Figure Tuesdays Showcase. Tracy Kostenbader from AnySquared has organized regular art shows at Cole’s Bar, a Logan Square neighborhood favorite, for years. This show will feature sketches of participating artists from the Figure Tuesdays drawing sessions, and and will be on display through mid-February.
Agitator Gallery is hosting its first holiday fundraiser. On December 9, we will hold a silent auction of work by members and friends. I’ll be creating a new series of collages for this event. Agitator has been developing different strategies to bring in operating funds, both event-based and more sustainable, longterm ideas. It’s important to us that all of these methods involve building our community presence as well. If there is one thing we know by now, it’s that we can throw a great event that people want to attend. So we are all looking forward to making new friends at this holiday bash!
In late October, my team and I finished “Resilience”, my piece for the Mile of Murals, in Rogers Park. I hired Tom Callahan from Sensitive Visuals to document the piece with his excellent drone videography. Old school Chicago punk band Silver Abuse provided the music. I’m really proud of the resulting video, which you can see here.
This month I will also finish the edit of Not On My Watch: The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858, the video document of a presentation put on by historical re-enactors at the Kelton House Museum and Gardens in Columbus, Ohio. This theater piece tells the story of John Price, a fugitive slave living in Oberlin, who was captured by federal marshals intending to return him to slavery. Oberlin anti-slavery students and townspeople freed the runaway from his jail, and the subsequent trial brought the country to the brink of war.
Here is a short clip from the rough cut of a very spirited part of the play.
I am so grateful for these opportunities to show my work, and also contribute to the community. This is what I was born to do.
I hope everyone has a great holiday season.
A Brief Calm Before the Next Storm of Activity – November 2017 Newsletter
Mural Crew, L to R: Dalia Carrillo, Cesar Moyorido, Jason Schroeder, Gretchen Hasse.
Things have calmed down a little bit lately – but that really only means that I finally have time to breathe a little after several months of nonstop action.
We finished the Rogers Park mural a week ago, just in time for inclement weather. Check out more photographs of both the process and the final project here.
Next week we’re making a video document of the wall and how it fits into the neighborhood, as it’s very difficult to communicate the scale and the context through still photos. I’m hiring my friend Tom Callahan, who does drone footage, and it’s going to look amazing. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone who can’t come to the mural in person (yet)!
The mural has already led to other opportunities: this afternoon I met with someone who wants a mural in his home. It will be a different challenge, but it will sure be nice to be inside! The excellent crew that worked on the Rogers Park mural will be together for this one as well. This time I hope that everyone can have some input on the design.
Agitator Gallery is going strong, and this week I sold two of my pieces! This is the biggest sale I have made to date; I guess it pays to have work hanging on a gallery wall.
I’m on a roll, and I’m just going with it. See you next month!
Incredibly Busy Month – October 2017 Newsletter
Agitator Gallery's first show features work by the founding members.
Honestly I’ve had a lot of busy months lately, but September was exceptional.
September 12 marked the return of Figure Tuesdays after our two month summer break. We’ve got new people attending, and we never have to look for models because they come looking for us. Figure Tuesdays has a good rep all around.
On September 16 Agitator Gallery had our soft opening, which was well attended and created quite a buzz. We brought three new members in last week, and we will include their work in our grand opening on October 14. We are still hashing out regular gallery hours, storage and other logistics; but the quality of our art and the extent of our high level network of connections is almost overwhelming. This coming year is going to be a wild ride of growth for us, I just know it.
Last week I finished the rough cut of Not On My Watch, the video document of the story of the rescue of fugitive slave John Price in Oberlin, Ohio. It was a long, complicated edit, but the result is well worth it. The fine people at The Kelton House are really pleased, and we’re looking forward to debuting it in Columbus later this year.
The Mile of Murals project continues! We work on it during the weekends, and the residents of Rogers Park constantly let us know how much they appreciate our efforts. We get car honks, cheers, applause, detailed appreciation when people stop to speak with us, and a few times people have dropped by to give us drinks or donuts. The neighborhood is downright delighted by this new addition. We’re so happy about that, because public art is for the public.
See you next month with lots more news.
We are opening the gallery, and my mural is well underway! – September 2017 Newsletter
L: Some of the Crew getting ready to start work on the mural: R: Our brand new space for Agitator Gallery!
There is so much happening this month that I needed to wait a week just to get it all sorted.
First - Agitator: A Cooperative Gallery
My first artist newsletter back in April mentioned a community meeting to discuss forming a new cooperative, artist-run art gallery. In the few months since then, we have progressed at breakneck speed, writing bylaws and a mission statement and getting all our business details in order; and just last week we signed a lease for an ideal space near Ashland and Division in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood.
Agitator is nicely situated a few doors down from Corbett Vs Dempsey, an already established gallery; and our landlords run the renowned Chopin Theater. We are hoping to hold our “soft opening” next week, during EXPO Chicago. I think we have done very well for ourselves.
And also - The Mural!
We started work on the mural in Rogers Park late in August. I used the deposit partly to purchase a scaffold and a paint sprayer, because I plan on doing a lot more murals.
My team is made up of excellent, diligent young artists I met through AnySquared and Figure Tuesdays. They are skilled in traditional painting and spray paint stencils, both of which are very important for this complex, multi-layered piece.
Our contract states that we need to be finished by October, and I am pretty sure we’ll be working right up until then. It’s going to be worth it!
I’ll keep you posted on these and many other projects over the months ahead. In particular, watch for more Agitator news soon!
My First Major Mural Commission – August 2017 Newsletter
"Resilience", my design for the 2017 iteration of Rogers Park's Mile of Murals Project.
I am thrilled to announce that my design has been chosen for the 2017 installment of Rogers Park’s Mile of Murals project.
From the Mile of Murals website:
“The Mile of Murals is a community-based public art initiative in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, located on the far north side of the city. The project began in 2007, and is sponsored by the Rogers Park Business Alliance and the Clark/Morse/Glenwood Special Service Area #24 . Our ten-year project goal is to paint a full mile of murals along the CTA Red Line track from Estes Avenue to Pratt Boulevard along the Glenwood Avenue train line.The project will result in 19 large-scale murals: ten block-long walls, seven viaduct walls, and two overpasses. New artists and themes are selected annually through a rigorous selection process juried by arts professionals and community leaders.”
I have been part of the Rogers Park art scene for several years. The neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the country, with an active and pervasive sense of community. I always admired the Mile of Murals initiative, and applied several times before. I believe this is the final year – so I made it just in the nick of time!
The 2017 call for proposals asked artists to design a mural around a word or phrase. My design, “Resilience,” honors the strength, ingenuity and persistence of Rogers Park residents.
I’ll be working with several assistant artists to help me complete this 88 foot long, 12 foot high piece. Painting will begin in the month of August, and be complete by October.
I’ll update you on our progress!
Clips from My Day Job – July 2017 Newsletter
Still from "Not On My Watch," Original Theater Piece Created and Performed by Kelton House Museum and Garden in Columbus, Ohio. Image from the Kelton House website.
Later this month I will travel to Columbus, Ohio to work on a video project with Kelton House. A museum, event venue and educational center, Kelton House is the preserved home of an abolitionist family who served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Kelton House Museum and Garden is a community service program of the Junior League of Columbus, who hired me to work on this video.
The video will document the full performance of Not On My Watch: The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858. This theater piece is a dramatization of a court case from the story of John Price, a fugitive slave living in Oberlin, who was captured by federal marshals intending to return him to slavery. Oberlin anti-slavery students and townspeople freed the runaway from his jail, and the subsequent trial brought the country to the brink of war.
Not On My Watch was created from accounts drawn from Nat Brandt’s book, The Town that started the Civil War. It is performed by the members of the Kelton House Underground Railroad Community Advisory Committee. The performance includes twelve speaking roles, performed by actors; plus an active audience of Columbus residents active in historical re-enactment. Everyone will be in full period costume.
Kelton House wants to use the complete video to educate a wider audience about a very important piece of history. This type of project is one of the reasons I love doing video; I get to learn, meet interesting people, and contribute to a valuable project that serves the public good.
And also, incidentally, I will get to visit a dear friend in Columbus. So it’s going to be a great weekend! I look forward to sharing images and video with you soon.
Read more about the history of the John Price story here.
Staying Involved – June 2017 Newsletter
Occupation in front of Governor Rauner's office in Springfield, Illinois. May 30, 2017.
Like probably all artists, I have historically found it difficult / amusing to explain to people what I “do for a living.” Lately though, as we move closer to a gig-based economy, more people do understand the hand to mouth reality of creative work. And increasingly, I find that people also more fully understand the dedicated pursuit of something besides money. We all need money to survive, and we all have realities that impose various limits on our ability to pursue anything else seriously; but I think more people are questioning the status quo. That makes explaining life as an artist a little easier.
Activist work has been part of my practice for almost twenty years. Sometimes that means providing video support for an event; sometimes that means incorporating social justice themes into my comic narratives; sometimes it’s just a matter of portraying a broad spectrum of humanity in my figure work. I was a teacher for ten years, and our justice-oriented classroom conversations inspire me to this day. I’m always thinking about social justice issues, and I try to incorporate them into my work in a way that feels natural and evocative.
This week I volunteered with The People’s Lobby as a second cameraperson to cover a protest in Springfield, Illinois. My state hasn’t had a budget in almost two years, and people across Illinois are suffering because of it. The protest on Tuesday was the culmination event of the March to Springfield, a two-week march from Chicago to the state capitol. Marchers talked to people in communities along the way about the problems they face every day, and what they want for the future.
I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice it to say that it was a nonpartisan protest, and we had a wide variety of ages and backgrounds represented. Check out some pretty decent (and brief!) NBC coverage here.
As protests go, this one was fairly “safe.” The protestors were arrested, but released immediately. Most of the protestors were white, which absolutely affects how they were treated by the authorities. People were roughed up by security (as you will see in the video above), but far, far worse has occurred in protests that were not as closely covered by national media. Protestors are brave.
So what’s the point? People might point to the fact that we still don’t have a budget - legislators closed session without a budget on Tuesday and then, HA, went on vacation - and say that the effort was futile. I don’t think so.
I think that actions like this are one tool in a big toolbox of social change. I am very encouraged to see more and more people participating, and doing it in different ways. I look at AnySquared, Figure Tuesdays and our nascent cooperative art gallery as hyper-local, slow burn social progress. I am also becoming more involved in the political process, both in Chicago and at the state level. Sometimes the normal stuff is important. Sometimes the situation calls for something bigger, bolder, and more immediate. It’s all necessary. It’s all part of spreading education, building solidarity and gathering momentum.
I want to do whatever I can to move us forward. Right now I can do stuff like this. I might get a full time job in the next few months, my schedule would change, and I would have to recalibrate my involvement. I might do different things. But I won’t stop.
Taking Charge As A Community – May 2017 Newsletter
First Public Meeting for Our Cooperative Gallery. At Resistor Space, Chicago.
Several years ago, I happened into a group of artists working out of a very DIY storefront gallery in a Chicago neighborhood. Since graduating with my MFA several years previously, I had been teaching video production and working freelance and staff video gigs; but I hadn’t mounted an exhibit in a long time.
The group of artists at the gallery were an eclectic bunch of people with a wide range of experience and training. Some people had degrees, some didn’t. Some joined the gallery having never shown their work to anyone publicly before.
My first show with the group was a group collage exhibit. I had never made collages, so I decided to combine some of my innumerable figure studies (and yeah I keep that stuff) with old paintings, interesting pieces of paper, and cardboard – because I really like cardboard.
The show was a success. We had a great turnout, and over the next couple weeks I sold almost every one of my collages. I had not been expecting that at all. Suddenly I started to think about exhibiting again.
It’s not just about selling work – although obviously that’s really nice! The camaraderie between the participating artists really helped me to develop my practice and my goals over the next few years. And I helped others to do the same.
That gallery does not exist anymore, but recently my friend Larry came to me and some others with the idea that we should start our own space in the spirit of what we had created there. Larry and I both have experience with cooperatives, and we wanted to set up our gallery using a cooperative structure. We hashed out some basic ideas, put out a public call to interested artists to come learn more, and a couple weeks ago we had the first meeting of our founding group of ten members. We are an eclectic bunch, with an energizing combination of skills, experience and ideas.
We all know this is going to be a lot of work. We’re going to deal with some of the more political sides of finding and maintaining space in Chicago, we’ll have to navigate the challenges of hosting regular, interesting shows, and we will all be learning how we work with each other as we go. But we also know it’s going to be worth it.
Our next step will be a series of two workshops on cooperative structure and practice, presented publicly so we can share our learning experience with others. The first workshop is next week, at the studio of one of our founding members. I’ll keep you updated on our progress!