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 http://www.traditionchicago.com|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!