Open to the Public

This weekend (May 19th & 20th, 2018) brings another episode of Silicon Valley Open Studios, an event that welcomes the public into artist's workspaces to see what we do and how we do it. I have to admit that I love to do these events, despite how absolutely drained they leave me at the end of the weekend. That's because I really am excited about what I do (and I talk about it all day, thus the exhaustion), and it's fun to get the reactions my sculpture and process receive. 

This time around I'll have several of my human-sized industrial felt pod-like forms that I'm starting to cover in white wool. Visitors will have the opportunity to help me poke the wool and attach it to the forms... and if they like that, sign up to join me at a felting party this summer. I hope you can make it-- things are shaping up!

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Foam: It's Complicated

I've completed another video about my process, this time focused on carving Styrofoam: how I do it, and how I deal with the mess. I have to admit I cringe a bit to even be using the stuff-- it's so fakey and bad for the environment and, well, seems so cheapo and lame to use for 'real' sculpture, and as someone who works with fiber I already have an uphill battle on legitimacy of materials in some circles. But, like wool itself, Styrofoam, or 'expanded polystyrene' to use the general and descriptive term, has qualities that just work perfectly for my aims. It is easy and quick to carve, can accept needles poking into it without breaking them, and is extremely lightweight while being somewhat rigid. I make myself feel better about the environmental impact by only using previously used foam, and I keep and use the chunks and bits I carve and sand off to fill other pieces. 

So, hierarchy of noble materials be damned! Use what works for getting your sculpture made. Here's a link to the carving foam video.

 

 A carved model, ready for sanding.

A carved model, ready for sanding.

Giving It Away

I've gotten some good feedback about the 'patterning' video I posted, along with some questions about how I actually carve Styrofoam (and deal with the resulting mess). I love learning about how other artists do things, so I'm putting together a video addressing that topic as well. But, you may ask, aren't you afraid of giving away your secrets? Well, maybe you're not asking that-- carving Styrofoam doesn't seem like a deep dark mystery. I do get that question a lot about my techniques for felting. In fact when I was just starting out teaching workshops I got that question a lot because the process seemed so novel. 'Aren't you giving away the milk? No one will buy the cow!' If I reveal my process, will I eliminate any market for my teaching and my finished artworks? My answer is a firm no, for a few reasons:

1) I want to work and live in a spirit of openness and generosity. Needle felting is like painting in oil is like throwing pots is like forging metal: a set of techniques and knowledge that you can use to make things. Closely guarding such information seems petty and exhausting. I've benefitted from the generosity of a free exchange of knowlege and techniques among my art community, and I like contributing to it. It would be exhausting and downright depressing to always worry that I've revealed too much and will presently be overtaken by a wave of competitors. I do what I do, you do what you do. Got a cool tip to share? Me, too! Sharing is what makes a community. 

2) It's pretty dang hard to actually copy what I do. In handmade work the hand of the artist really does come through, and someone else trying to duplicate something I've made will necessarily make it look and be different. That's particularly true in the material and subject matter I deal with, which take a lot of time and practice. In any case, copying from existing objects and the works of the masters has long been a way for artists to learn (yeah, yeah, that's some ego on me, 'The Felt Master', but you know what I mean). We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and we each come through life with our own set of experiences and outlook that inform what we contribute to the world in general and our area of expertise.

3) I'm always moving on from what I used to be doing. I learn as I go and take great pleasure in coming up with new questions, answers, and ideas. I'm not particularly interested in revisiting the same thing over and over, which is another way of saying that I feel like I'm on the leading edge of my own practice. My material for the foreseeable future continues to be fiber-based as far as I can tell because I still have a lot of unanswered questions and experiments to follow in various directions. My subject matter and the forms my sculptures take have had some unifying elements that will likely continue one way or another. What I'm saying is I embrace my own artistic change and growth and I'm forging my own path, so I don't feel threatened. It's as simple and complicated as that.

So, expect more behind-the-scenes. And if you have questions, ask me! 

 Early prototypes of organic/geometric forms for potential InTouch pieces.

Early prototypes of organic/geometric forms for potential InTouch pieces.

Explaining Myself...

As an artist I've always been intrigued to learn HOW other people make and do things, so of course I assume there are others like me out there. As I create this new body of work for my InTouch project I'm trying a lot of new processes (or at least scaling up and increasing quantities of known processes) and I want to share some behind-the-scenes parts of that so people can better understand what I'm doing, and perhaps why. To that end I decided to film some short bits here and there to explain what I'm doing, and this marks the first installment. This first video shows a little about the way I am figuring out patterns: starting with a model so I can determine the flat shapes that go together to cover that model in a 'skin'. If you want to see past videos and sign up to get notifications about new ones as I create them, go to my YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/c/StephanieMetzSculpture 

 The felt pattern I created over an enlarged foam model; the small clay form on the right was a guide for carving the foam. Note the marks across the pieces so I can realign them later. 

The felt pattern I created over an enlarged foam model; the small clay form on the right was a guide for carving the foam. Note the marks across the pieces so I can realign them later. 

 The flattened-out pattern pieces once they have been removed from the foam model.

The flattened-out pattern pieces once they have been removed from the foam model.

Getting Down to Work

Now that my space is set up enough I'm finally getting some work done on my InTouch project. I've made a lot of tiny test pieces to work out the pattern pieces for the most basic forms, and I've been learning along the way that human error makes for some interesting effects. As much as I draw and test and print out and trace and cut patterns, there's still a lot of variability that comes from, ya know, being a human as I stitch. 


 Reexamining small models I made to figure out plans for larger pieces. The twisted piece I'm holding didn't start out that way-- the twist came about from the directionality as I sewed the pattern pieces together. But I like it, so I'm going to recreate the effect in the full-size version.

Reexamining small models I made to figure out plans for larger pieces. The twisted piece I'm holding didn't start out that way-- the twist came about from the directionality as I sewed the pattern pieces together. But I like it, so I'm going to recreate the effect in the full-size version.

 After ironing the freezer-paper pattern onto 3/8" thick wool,I cut out each piece. Yes, my studio is very cold in the winter.

After ironing the freezer-paper pattern onto 3/8" thick wool,I cut out each piece. Yes, my studio is very cold in the winter.

 To go from idea to large-scale piece, I start by making a small felt pattern and stitch it together, trimming, changing, and restitching until I like it. Then I take it apart, trace the felt pattern onto paper, and scan the drawings. Then I digitally trace over the pattern using Adobe Illustrator, scale it up, and print it out. I use the light table to trace the pattern onto freezer paper, which will adhere temporarily to felt when I iron it on. 

To go from idea to large-scale piece, I start by making a small felt pattern and stitch it together, trimming, changing, and restitching until I like it. Then I take it apart, trace the felt pattern onto paper, and scan the drawings. Then I digitally trace over the pattern using Adobe Illustrator, scale it up, and print it out. I use the light table to trace the pattern onto freezer paper, which will adhere temporarily to felt when I iron it on. 

 Stitching together the large pieces. The bumps you see will actually end up as indentations in the sculpture.

Stitching together the large pieces. The bumps you see will actually end up as indentations in the sculpture.

Corraling Styrofoam

Settling in to my studio has been a gradual process as I prepare the space for the tasks I have planned. I happen to hate cleaning things up, but I love a tidy environment to work in-- so I focus on prevention and try to put systems in place to deal with messes ahead of time. To that end, I knew I would be carving some styrofoam models for larger pieces (don't worry, I'm recycling through repurposing) and want to contain the tiny static-infused bits as much as possible, so I took a note from some home remodeling we did and enclosed a corner of the studio in heavy plastic specifically to work with styrofoam. I still have to vacuum up all the bits when I'm done for the session, but the zippered door and taped-down-to-the-floor plastic walls help me keep the bits from traveling all over. I wear coveralls to work with styrofoam and have to use the shop vac on myself when I'm done, too. But I'm reclaiming the bits to use inside finished stitched pieces, so there's very little waste, and patting myself on the back makes it easier to deal with the cringey mess of EPS.

 Dedicated foam-friendly workspace...

Dedicated foam-friendly workspace...

 Laying out plastic on the blessedly large floor in order to stick on the zipper door kit-- basically two long zippers with sticky sides you can apply to the plastic, then cut in the center.

Laying out plastic on the blessedly large floor in order to stick on the zipper door kit-- basically two long zippers with sticky sides you can apply to the plastic, then cut in the center.

 A view towards the styrofoam carving area in the back left.

A view towards the styrofoam carving area in the back left.

Moving in slowly...

I've had possession of my new studio space for about three weeks now, and I'm at the tail end of readying the space for work. A lot of work has happened thus far, just not artmaking. In a way it has felt like those puzzles where you have to shift all the tiles around in order to move one to its real spot, then shift them all again to move the next into place. In my case part of it has been getting and putting up shelving in my back storage area (thanks as always, craigslist) and readjusting the shelves twenty times as I figure out what will go where as I try to find homes for everything-- supplies, tools, packaging materials, finished work-- it doesn't seem like much when I type it out, actually. Hm.

My space is basically a warehouse with a window, so while it is bright and lovely and cool in the summer (I've visited its previous occupant, my dear friend Tricia Stackle, then), it is also quite cold already this far into winter. I installed carpet tiles (Habitat for Humanity ReStore is a great source) this week over the concrete floor to add a bit of insulation and to ease the standing-on-concrete effect. 

 Carpet tiles turn out to be pretty easy to install...

Carpet tiles turn out to be pretty easy to install...

 Simply place the things down and do some trimming on the last two edges of the room. Ready to move furniture around.

Simply place the things down and do some trimming on the last two edges of the room. Ready to move furniture around.

I've also been playing around with how to lay out the space to use it (and my acquired work surfaces) in the most efficient way-- without dragging everything all over the space. I will confess to being overly nerdy and not totally averse to technology. So I've been using SketchUp to virtually plan out the room-- I drew up simple furniture stand-ins so I could move them around. So. Dang. Satisfying. I can see through walls and defy gravity, too. We'll see how it translates to the Real World.

 Google SketchUp rendering of my space, sort of.

Google SketchUp rendering of my space, sort of.

Moving and Growing

One of the first big challenges prompted by my InTouch project has been my search for a workspace that would accommodate my needs for more room for artmaking, finished art, supplies, and helpers. The solution came at a price-- my dear friends moved out of their large studio to relocate out of state, and offered it to me. It fits the bill perfectly. Located only 20 minutes from my home, the 1,000-square-foot space is part of a complex of artists called The Alameda ArtWorks. The long main room measures 17.5 feet wide by 42 feet long, with a partial wall dividing it into work room/storage room. Another room separated by a door and with its own entrance will be a future photography space/storage space for the work as I finish it, but for now I'm renting it out to another artist. 

Last week I moved out of my space at the School of Visual Philosophy studio where I'd been renting for three years. The dance to move out of one space and into another as its former occupants orchestrated their move out was tricky but successful. But in typical me fashion, I agreed to participate in a studio-complex-wide Open Studios event this weekend, only a week after actually taking possession of the space, which meant all my preparation and set-up would be compressed into an exhaustingly short span of time. I wanted to clean and paint before arranging and unpacking, so I had to call in some kid-friend favors to get a bit more time to get things done. I'm writing this on Thursday night; tomorrow I will unpack the actual artwork and do all the last-minute little things required before Open Studios on Saturday. Below are some photos of the space so far.

 The view from the doorway showing the storage area in the back, and main work area.

The view from the doorway showing the storage area in the back, and main work area.

 View back towards the main entry doors. Multi-pane door to the left leads into the smaller studio space I'm renting out 

View back towards the main entry doors. Multi-pane door to the left leads into the smaller studio space I'm renting out 

 Walls painted.

Walls painted.

 View from the doorway towards storage area.

View from the doorway towards storage area.

 Set up, save for the tiny issue of actually unpacking and displaying artwork.

Set up, save for the tiny issue of actually unpacking and displaying artwork.

What and Why...

Welcome! I decided to start a blog to track the progress of and thinking behind my big new project-- and to provide updates and behind-the-scenes views for my community of friends, family, fellow makers, fans of my work, and other subcategories that also begin with the letter ‘f’. I figure it will be a more casual forum which will also mean you’ll get a window into my sometimes lame humor as well. Consider yourself warned.

I’ve done a LOT of writing about my ‘InTouch’ project so far, much of it in the service of applying for grants to fund it or seeking a venue. I’ve been chewing on ideas and planning for over a year by now, and have to remind myself that although I’ve been living and breathing this thing for a long time, it’s still totally new to most of my network. It seems that my explanation and understanding of what I’m doing keep sharpening as I proceed, so if you stick with me you may note its evolution. But here’s a description of what I’m doing:

'My project is the creation and presentation of hands-on sculptural objects that invite the viewer to touch the art--and to share social experiences with other viewers in real time. My interactive sculptures will be made of highly tactile materials that can stand up to wear and tear, particularly the wool and felt for which I have become known. Audiences for my work tell me about the strong urge to touch and stroke its seductive surface and to confirm with their hands what their eyes tell them about the texture and solidity of the object in front of them. Typically art gallery visitors are forbidden from giving in to the urge to touch. In contrast, my alluring objects are meant to be handled, manipulated, and rearranged by the public. My new body of work is slated for a solo exhibition at the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University in 2020.

I’m calling this project InTouch, to communicate not only the invitation to physically interact but to focus also on the idea of art as a way to connect people. At exhibition receptions I often invite the viewers hovering near my work to try touching it under my supervision. The ensuing reaction is most often an exclamation of delight and automatic turning to their neighbor to share the experience-- whether that neighbor is a friend or a total stranger. Creating that kind of connection is the reason I make art. Causing people to stop a moment to be present and engaged with the world around them is the gift I can contribute through the work of my hands. Through this interactive, tactile sculpture I aim to provoke curiosity, play, engagement, and connection-- things I find particularly important in our divisive, disconnected, and overly digitized times.

InTouch will include three groupings of multi-component sculptures, each offering levels of physical participation at the viewer’s discretion, from simply viewing the works to moving among them, feeling the sculptures, creatively rearranging the pieces, and inserting themselves in the narrative. Stay tuned for posts about each of the sculptural groupings.

Through the creation and presentation of these sculptures I hope to provide audiences with experiences that fully immerse them in the present moment, cause them to notice and consider the nature of the materials they encounter, take the time to engage as playfully or seriously as they desire, and ultimately connect with their fellow participants.  My intended audience demographics cross ages, genders, physical abilities, cultures, and economic levels; in particular I want to welcome those who wouldn’t typically consider themselves museum-goers. The InTouch project represents a significant scaling up of my professional practice in terms of size, production output, audience reach, project management, utilizing assistants, and, most importantly, cultural engagement.'       

- Stephanie Metz, 9/25/2017