I’ve been busy over the winter: pushing ever onward with surface finishes on the white wool-covered ‘Hanging Pods’, designing and stitching industrial felt ‘Holdable’ sculptures, hosting an Open Studio event, carving the last of the twelve Hanging Pods, planning the fabrication of the metal structure that will suspend the hanging sculptures, and working on some of the smaller-scale, more sellable work: wool drawings and a unicorn fetal specimen. Click on each image below for a bit more of an explanation.
This past summer brought a ton of progress thanks to all the help I had from paid studio assistants and volunteers. It was a big leap forward for my studio practice to have others assist in fabricating my sculpture-- a leap that required me to get my head around the idea of not doing everything myself, and to up my funding game so that I could afford to make it happen.
One ingredient that made a lot of this possible was an Audience Engagement Grant from SV Creates, a Silicon Valley nonprofit that seeks to raise the value and visibility of the creative sector and increase access to arts and creativity. My InTouch project worked out to be a good fit with their goal to support special projects that strategically broaden or deepen connections and relationships with audiences. With InTouch I’m trying to create connections between people through my unique form of touchable art-- both in the making phase and when it is ultimately on display. But, of course, that takes money-- there are definitely costs associated with creating big museum shows-- go figure!
No one ever wants to talk about funding, and there are so many complicated and unhealthy beliefs out there about artmaking and money. You know, the idea of the Starving Artist who lives off passion (and lovers/handouts), the "I'll benevolently trade your original art/writing/music for 'Exposure' because we don't actually pay for content" racket, and so many 'pay to play' gallery situations both online and brick-and-mortar. Plus, there's the sense that if you do sell your work you’re ‘selling out’. Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most people realize that materials, tools, and workspace cost money. So, how am I funding this whole thing?
To make InTouch happen, I’ve been raising funds in several ways. Grants are just a piece of the puzzle. There are very few grants available for individual artists, and they are extremely competitive. Most of my support so far has come from individual donors and sales of my artwork. Over the past two years I’ve put over 200 hours into raising half of the budget for this project; I’m looking for some help to raise the remaining $25K so I can be working in the studio as much as I need. Would you or someone in your network be great at connecting this project with individuals, companies, and foundations that would love to support it? I’m all ears…
As the summer draws to a close I am taking a moment to reflect on the progress of my InTouch project. This summer was a busy one for me that included many successful new ventures: the help of studio assistants, hosting volunteer ‘Felting Parties’, and the receipt of a grant! (more on that in the next post). All three contributed to measurable progress on creating the InTouch project.
First of all, if you’ll remember I began with creating the Hanging Pod forms for one of the two gallery spaces. These abstract organically-inspired forms will be hung from a steel structure in the gallery space, allowing visitors to walk among them and feel their surfaces, textures, weight, and ‘squishiness’. Fabrication of the human-sized pieces is a big undertaking: it includes:
making small models in order to create 2D patterns
laying thin felt over the models to figure out where to demarcate separate pattern pieces
digitally tracing and enlarging the patterns
cutting out the scaled-up patterns in thick felt
hand-stitching the pattern pieces together
inserting a cable anchor and stuffing
covering the industrial felt forms with white wool, and
adding detail and finish through needle felting.
My plan calls for twelve Hanging Pods. Yes, that is a lot of work. Yes, there exist digital programs to create patterns and print them out. No, I do not have the time, funding or desire to sit in front of a computer to learn how to create 3D forms and make their digital patterns-- I learn by hands-on making. I am a sculptor, not a programmer. Moving on.
At the end of May I had five of the Hanging Pods started and partially covered with wool; now, at the end of August, I have eleven of the twelve Hanging Pods stitched, with five of them covered with wool and almost ready for details and another five in the detail finishing phase. In case it doesn’t communicate through my description, that is a FANTASTIC amount of progress. I’m incredibly pleased, and I know that I have a lot of people to thank for that: assistants and volunteers.
Starting in June I hired two studio assistants to help with fabrication: Jordan, a student on summer break from Santa Clara University, was my main full-time helper, and Jessica, a mom from my kids’ school, provided some extra assistance as well. Their tasks included cutting out paper and then thick felt patterns, hand stitching industrial felt pattern pieces together, helping me stuff, wrestle, and sew the forms closed, covering industrial felt with wool, learning and applying some finishing techniques, and managing volunteer events. They also helped me talk through and solve some of the fabrication issues as they arose. Part of the effectiveness of paying people to be in my studio for solid hours every week was that I had to be prepared and use their time and mine efficiently and productively, and commit to a very regular schedule-- which necessitated finding summer camp options for my kids so I could make as much progress as possible. As usual, having outside deadlines always helps me. And having employees helped me even more. As someone who generally prefers to work alone, I had been a little nervous about what it would be like to have someone else in my space all summer… but it proved to be lovely. Jordan and I in particular had a lot of time to talk about life and art, and I think we both enjoyed hearing each others’ perspectives.
This summer I also tried out another new approach in the studio: holding ‘Felting Parties’ at which volunteers came to my studio to help physically contribute to the making of the work by covering the stitched industrial felt forms with white wool. I trained volunteers in the techniques of needle felting the various pieces and provided them with information on the visual and physical goals I had in mind for each sculpture. Variations in armature (the underlying forms to coat: either stitched industrial felt stuffed with various lightweight filler, or foam rubber, or styrofoam) affected how one would poke at the wool or use more or fewer felting needles in the tools.
I was unsure how Felting Parties would play out-- quickly training and then arming an unknown quantity of newbies with sharp tools to work on my sculpture? But I needn’t have worried. Just like my workshops, felting parties attracted kindred spirits aplenty: enthusiastic helpers who just clicked with each other and the spirit of connection that characterizes this project. I can’t frankly remember where the idea for Felting Parties came from-- all I know is that this project would be impossible without all that help. Over the summer I held seven felting parties, and hosted a total of 38 individual participants, several of whom were repeat attendees. Some had a bit of experience, a few had a lot, but most were totally new to the process. Some were already friends from various parts of my life, others were relatively new friends, or recent visitors to my Open Studios, or people from my mailing list whom I’d previously never met in person. They were a pleasure to work with, every one. We had fantastic conversations about on a huge range of topics, a lot of laughter, and great results. I have two more Felting Parties planned for the first two Saturdays in September-- if you want to join in, you can get more details and sign up here.
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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