The Paper Chase

Yes, I am literally going to write a blog post about paper, which is very Dunder-Mifflin of me, I suppose. But in my determination to make a simple hobby like coloring far more expensive and time-consuming than it needs to be, I’ve tried a few things out, so I might as well share.

Right when I started coloring, I knew I wanted to work with alcohol markers, and the paper used for coloring books is a no-go for those. Alcohol markers are very watery, and the paper disintegrates right away. So, I hopped online and did some research about good papers for alcohol markers, and after some trial and error I finally landed on this card stock as my favorite option. The main things I consider are the smoothness and the weight of the paper; for alcohol markers it is best to choose a smooth paper that won’t tear up the marker nibs (unlike using watercolors, which work better on rough or highly textured papers), and it should be heavy enough to prevent bleed-through or feathering. This paper is 100 pounds, but I have read of people going as low as 65 lbs and still being satisfied. I also had to be sure that the cardstock would run through our printer, and this does the trick. It’s probably my most-used paper so far, and I often use it when working with gel pens also as I like the durability of it, and since I frame a lot of my pages I feel like it frames up nicely. But, because I bought several different papers before landing on this one, I do have others I try to use when I can.

This was another paper that was recommended for alcohol markers, and while it is very smooth and colors really pop when using it, I found it couldn’t tolerate the amount of shading and layering I do without it starting to break down. I will say this paper really is bleed-proof, even when I get the paper pretty wet, but it’s not one I use often. It’s fine for gel pens, though, so I try to remember to use it for that purpose (even though I generally prefer the cardstock for my gel pens as well as my Copics).

Neenah papers come highly recommended for all sorts of coloring and crafting, but as you can see if you click the link in the image, it’s expensive – plus, I didn’t buy a heavy weight so it isn’t very useful for me. This is unfortunate, because I bought an entire ream and I haven’t used much of it at all. I try to remember to use it for my gel pen coloring, but it can still break down and bleed a bit even with gel pens. This was my first paper purchase, so it was a learning experience for me, albeit an expensive one.

I’ve mentioned before how convenient it is to copy coloring pages before using them, because you don’t ruin an image you wanted to work with (make a mistake, just re-copy) and you can choose better papers than what the original was printed on. Obviously, you need a copier to be able to do this, but since Doug and I have both worked from home for years we have a decent one that can handle copying on heavy paper. So, every image I’ve colored still has an original that I keep in a folder (I do tear the pages out before copying them as that makes it easier for me to make a straight, non-wonky copy) so I can re-color it whenever I want. It definitely makes paying for coloring books more cost-effective, and even if I was just using regular paper I would copy the images to save the originals.

Since I have time and space here to do so, I’ll go ahead and mention some other tools I’ve discovered and have found really useful.

I would be NOTHING without this thing. My husband mentioned such a contraption to me shortly after I got started coloring, and I scurried over to Amazon to buy a magnifying lamp right away to assist my 51-year-old eyes. I love it, and use it for other purposes besides coloring – it makes a great ring light when I am using my camera on Zoom, and it helps me when I do my nails to see what I am doing without having to push my nose right up against my hands. I don’t have anything else to say about it because, I mean, there it is – but I have really appreciated having this thing on my desk and use it every time I color or use Zoom. It’s a seriously bright light too – in fact I can’t aim it right at my face unless it’s really far away for webcam use, so I just turn the light around and bounce the light off the wall instead, which is much softer.

OK, I just bought one of these a few days ago so I haven’t tried it out yet, but it seems straighforward enough that I can go ahead and recommend it. I can’t tell you how many times I would smudge a coloring page by laying my hand down on the paper where the ink was still wet, so I finally got the idea to hop online again and research what people do to circumvent that issue. It’s called an artist’s bridge, and you place it over your workspace so you can place your hand on it while you color without touching the paper. Hopefully this thing will be as useful in reality as it seems to be conceptually!

I picked up this idea when searching YouTube for tips on blending alcohol markers. I don’t like using colored pencils as a primary medium; I enjoy the flow of working with wet materials like gels or alcohol pens. However, colored pencils can be used with alcohol markers to add more drama to blended areas of a page – after using the markers, you can go back to areas where you want the shading or blending to be more pronounced and dramatic, choose a colored pencil that matches the darker shade, and color over the marker blending with the pencil. It will look very scratchy if you leave it there, though, so using a solvent like Gamsol (which is odorless and as non-toxic as any solvent can be) to break down the colored pencil and make it blendable will create the desired effect. The paper stumps are what I use to distribute the Gamsol; I dip the stump in the gamsol and then apply it to the penciled area of the page, then blend out the pencil marks and scratches to create a softer appearance. This photo is an example of where I used a lot of this colored pencil technique to make my blending more dramatic and pronounced:

I may not have explained this technique well, but you can search YouTube for demonstrations on how to use Gamsol and colored pencil and tons of videos will be available to you. I have found this doesn’t work at all with gel pens, though, and even though I can shade and blend with my gel pens when I want to, it’s pretty inconsistent as far as the results go, so I don’t do it very often.

Chameleon pens

OK, I feel like these pens merit a dedicated blog post, but I feel like discussing them here so we’ll see if I ever go more in-depth on them later. These come across as pretty gimmicky, and they get mixed reviews from artists, but the concept is a cool one and with a LOT of practice I’ve found the best ways to use these for my own purposes. The first thing to understand is that the whole reason I love using alcohol pens is because of their blending abilities. On the right paper, you can blend the living shit out of the colors once you get them onto your paper, and create beautiful blending and shading. But even with my regular Copics, this takes practice and patience, unless you’re just a natural drawer and shader, which I most certainly am NOT.

Pretty sure this one was done with my first really cheap set of alcohol markers; even with a $30 set of pens you can still create lovely shading and blending!

So. The gimmick of the Chameleon pens is that they have the ability to be fastened to a solvent “cap” to make the blending process easier and more effective. With regular alcohol pens, you need to choose 2-3 colors very close in shade and tone to blend – you lay down the darkest color, then blend with the medium one, and then use the lightest one at the edges of the ink to create the faded appearance. As I said before it takes practice, and thank g-d once again for YouTube for helping me figure this out; it took me a solid week or two of shading circle after circle before I got it right. With a Chameleon pen, however, what you do is take the color you want, pop the blender off the back of the pen, attach it to the tip of the colored nib, and wait a bit for the blending agent to seep into the nib. This waters down the color so that when you start to shade, the ink comes out very light, and as you sketch that solvent fades off the nib until you return to the original shade, creating that ombre effect.

Taken from a video, sorry for the little play arrow

This is a cool idea, but as a lot of the criticism about them points out, it’s not really necessary. Copic markers are excellent for blending, and while this idea might speed up the process a little, it isn’t exactly laborious to start with, and there is actually a lot less control over the amount of blending you get with these pens. The biggest problem I had with them was that I blend from dark to light (which is just a preference, a lot of people work from light to dark, or start with a middle color, etc) and the only way to use these pens was to shade from light to dark. I just never could get a handle on how to work with these – I would have to estimate where I wanted the darker ink to “end up” on the page and then start coloring somewhere above that to get the fade, and it was just non-intuitive and annoying. So, I had chalked these up to a specialty pen I’d probably only use every once in awhile until I came across these little Chameleon pen accessories:

Color tops!

So, these little pen tops replace the “cap” on the original pen that just had blending solvent in it. They pop onto the ink nib just like the solvent cap does, BUT they seep another COLOR onto the nib, instead of just soaking some solvent into it that lightens the original shade.

Upper image using “normal” chameleon pen; bottom image blending using a color top instead of plain solvent top

Now THIS is useful! Using regular alcohol pens to blend and shade is fairly easy; you just choose 2-3 pens that are close in color from light to dark and blend them together. It takes practice, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. However, using regular markers to blend two colors together that are NOT close in shade or color is a real bitch, but these color tops make it a snap! Once I discovered Color Tops, my Chameleon pens went from my least-used to my most-used alcohol marker. You have to buy the color tops in separate packages of four each, so that can get pricey, but you can pick and choose which colors you want to use and add to your collection over time. As some have pointed out, you could just as easily take one colored pen and smoosh the nib up against another one and get the same effect, but the distribution method with the color tops works much better, and to me that is worth the money.

Lots of color tops in use here – sorry for the reflection, but this pic is framed

I will say though, that at first I had a habit of pushing the color top really HARD onto the nib of the other pen, and I’ve damaged a few nibs that way. So, I’ve learned to use a lighter touch. Also, the Chameleon pens come with a few replacement nibs for just this purpose, and like Copics you can buy more nibs online if you need them. Chameleons are also refillable like Copics are, which really help justify the cost. Also speaking of cost – while a set of 52 Chameleon pens costs about $180, that is child’s play compared to what a 52-set of Copics would cost. So when you think of it that way, you could consider these a cheaper option that has a lot of flexibilty and ways to add to the value of them over time. I don’t think the nibs on the Chameleons is as good as those on the Copics, but since there are replacements that doesn’t bug me too much.

Whoo! I think that’s enough for now. But I am still uploading a COVID-365 pic a day here, so that will be coming soon. Stay safe everyone!


Photo No-Go

As I may have mentioned previously, one of my bright ideas I had about getting into coloring pages was to use my own photos as pages to color. However this turned out to be much more challenging than I expected.

So obviously, this doesn’t work. Coloring greyscale images is actually a thing, but it’s not my thing at all. One of the coloring books I bought was in greyscale without me realizing it, and in researching online how I could color the pages I discovered greyscale coloring usually is done with colored pencils, which isn’t a medium I enjoy working with at all. It can be beautiful though:

an example of greyscale coloring

Since I wasn’t interested in that process, I started thinking of ways I could create a more typical coloring page out of my pictures. I did some research online and found a few different techniques, but none of them really created an actual coloring page with clear lines. Every suggested process I tried ended up looking something like this:

My next big idea was to convert the image into this rather messy format, print it out, and then trace it keeping only the lines I want. This seemed to be a decent solution, but for some reason it still wasn’t working for me:

It’s OK, but it still didn’t satisfy me, plus I found the whole process boring. From transforming the photos in Photoshop to figuring out what lines to trace, it just wasn’t any fun and I still didn’t feel happy with the results.

This was my second attempt
And the traced result. I actually did end up coloring this one.

Choosing which lines to keep and which to leave out was tricky; I always felt like I still had too many lines and they got in the way when I was trying to color. And the lines all felt ‘weak’ and rickety and difficult to color within for some reason. Compare my attempts to one of my coloring pages that has a similar image:

Why is this so much better? I can’t explain it, I just know that it is.

I even found some free sites online where you could upload a picture and the software claimed it could convert it into a coloring page, but guess what – all those sites used the exact same processes I had used on my own and disliked. So I pretty much gave up and decided I just wasn’t going to be able to color my own photos. No big deal – I had plenty of other stuff to work with. But a few weeks later I thought perhaps I could find someone on Etsy who had the capacity to covert photos; lo and behold I found the perfect person! It’s an artist with a shop there called MGSCustomArt, and she hit it straight out of the park!

Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!

See how much more satisfying this is? I swear to God I never could have done this and I’m still amazed at how good this artist is at it herself. I sent her three photos the first time, and it took about two weeks to get them back, which was fine. I just ordered another print from her today and sent it along to her as well.

She charges $10 a page, which I know sounds like a lot when you can buy a whole coloring book for $6, but to me having my own photos looking like real, actual coloring pages with exactly the right lines and clarity while STILL looking like ME is totally worth it! She has a lot of positive reviews at her Etsy site with uploads of other people’s pictures, so you can go there and see samples of other photos she’s transformed. Lots of people have had more personal photos than these turned into coloring pages – pictures with family, friends, or pets – and they all look great!

I just sent this one off to get converted also

So, if this is ever something you’ve been interested in doing, give MGSCustomArt some love because she is the best I’ve found. I have never seen anything even close to what she can do!


Well hello there! How the hell are ya? Are you well? Are you safe? Are you stir-crazy? Are you wearing a goddamn mask when you leave the house and social distancing like you absolutely should be, you little shitbirds? ūüėČ

Can you tell I’ve gained weight? Well I have. A lot.¬†

OK, let’s get to it. So first of all, this goddamn virus. WTF, right? It was the week of our Spring Break in March when COVID-19 wormed its way into our American lives, and what a week that was. I had taken a little trip to a small Texas town with my sister, where my aunt owns a home, and on Monday the virus was barely a blip on the radar. By Wednesday when we left, we were glued to the news as a neighborhood in NY called New Rochelle went into lockdown, and hospitals in NYC started to overflow. By Friday of Spring Break, both of our school districts had decided to stay closed for a second week, and the Houston Rodeo had been canceled. I’d say it was a week later that most of the country went into hiding.

Extra weight or no, I am still fierce, so suck it. 

OK so, everyone knows this story and has their own version of it, so let’s jump ahead to now. My husband has retired – and quite honestly he worked from home anyway – and we are both homebodies, so he wasn’t all that affected by the stay-at-home order. As for me, I completely lucked out in that I was able to transition to online tutoring without losing any of my students. In fact, in spite of my commitment to working less this year, I ended up picking up at least five more over the course of that miserable semester (miserable for the kids – at least some of them – not really for me except that I was super-busy) and didn’t lose any of my income. So, we’ve been ridiculously lucky.

Yep, I’m over it.¬†

I really thought I would use all my new free time to take more photos, but the truth is, I’m simply bored with it now. I’ve taken every sort of picture I would ever have wanted to take; I’ve worn every wig and costume; snapped every airplane, and leaped every leap I ever wanted to photograph. I’ve levitated and drag-queened myself into oblivion, and there just isn’t anything more for me to do or learn, so after this one initial set taken in April I haven’t done any shoots. While posing for that last one it became clear the thrill was gone, and while I may come back to the whole endeavor once the well that’s run dry refills, I put my cameras aside for the moment and began searching for something new to do creatively, as I always need to be doing something that addresses my artistic side.

I purchased this beautifully colored hoodie while on vacation in Spring Break. My last shopping trip before the virus took hold. Ah, the memories…

I’d been toying with the idea of keeping some adult coloring books around for some time, but had never actually bought any, so I decided this was as good a time as any to take the plunge. Initially it was just going to be a simple little something to do to while away some time, but being me, it of course became an obsession almost immediately, and one that I had to master to the best of my ability. Oh sure, I bought some cheap-ass markers and colored pencils to start (does anyone else still call them map pencils like everyone did when I was a kid? My students have no idea what I am talking about when I use this term) but that satisfied me for about a day before I had all sorts of ideas for what I wanted my colorings to look like, and soon it was off to YouTube to watch a million tutorials and then to Amazon to buy a million different coloring tools. This started in April, and by June I was able to pull off some pretty cool tricks with this new hobby.


OK, this isn’t a great photo, because I snapped it with my cellphone, but you get the idea. Pretty quickly, I realized the cheap markers weren’t gonna cut it for me, because I wanted to be able to do all sorts of shading techniques and color blends, so I landed on Copic markers, which are NOT cheap, y’all,¬† but they are refillable so they will last for what I am telling myself is forever to justify the cost.

Click here if you want to know what I paid. By the way, these are the “cheaper” Copics!¬†

These are all taken from a coloring book called 100 Amazing Patterns that I got off Amazon, and while they are, yes, amazing, I had to figure out a few things as I got started on this coloring adventure. First of all, when using Copic markers, which are alcohol-based and function more or less like slightly less watery watercolor paints, the paper the images are printed on in the book are NOT gonna work. No way. No how. Aside from the fact that the wet markers will turn the paper into mush almost immediately, the paper in the book is also black on the other side-which is supposed to help with color bleeding when using other mediums, I think-but with the Copics, the black bleeds through and ruins the colors. Fortunately, we own a printer that doubles as a copier, so I was able to buy the right card stock and tear each sheet out of the book and copy it onto that. This has the added benefit of saving the original, colorless image in case I mess up and want to start over (and if you caught that little wait, so she spent money on special paper too?! detail, well, hang onto your shorts ‘cuz we’re just getting started).

Got this coloring book full of DRESSES (!!!) from Amazon also

So, yeah, first of all – there is simply NO END to the variety of coloring-book subject matter out there, including some baffling topics such as farting animals and the people of Wal-Mart. I lean towards mandalas and cool patterns just to enjoy the act of coloring without having to consider anything else like color choice or shading patterns, but I am also partial to fashion and feminine imagery as well as fun slogans and blackboard books (which are coloring book with black pages that have “chalkboard” style lettering and drawing).

Best. Slogan. Ever.

For those of you who caught that the chalkboard coloring pages can’t be copied onto cardstock (the print on them is white before you color it) and that therefore, I must be coloring on them with something OTHER than Copic markers – congratulations! You win the damn-she-spent-more-money-on-different-markers prize, which is the abandoned cheap markers I bought at the start of all this and have never used. You’re welcome.

Yep. Bought a lot of frames too, but I got super-cheap ones. I’ve bought two different kinds that you can find here and here. I like the second type better.¬†

The two chalkboard coloring books I’ve used so far are here and here. I particularly love the Southern Slogans one, being from the South and all.¬†

So, when it came time to work with the black coloring pages, I discovered gel pens. Gel pensssss!! They are so freaking fun to use, and way less expensive than the Copics. As with anything, there are varying levels of quality with these pens, and with the gels in particular there are absolute SHIT-TONS to choose from. My recommendations are:

#1: Gelly Roll pens. These are, I think, the gold standard. The gel ink flows so smoothly, it is like coloring with ice cream. Just really, really satisfying, especially with the thicker nibs. I started out buying a full set, but in the end there are several types of Gelly Rolls in here that I do not like At. All. So, I would not recommend spending this much for a set of them.¬† The particular types of Gelly Rolls I prefer are the Classics, the Moonlight series (neon and other unique colors), and the Stardust glitter pens (LOVE) Unfortunately, this set also has tons of metallics, which I just do not like at all due to the way they deposit the ink – very streaky and sketchy with coloring lines you can clearly see and lots of skips and white spaces. And this collection has THREE DIFFERENT KINDS of metallics, so there are a lot of pens here I probably won’t ever use up. But if you like the metallics, well, there’s plenty for you to love about this collection.

Sorry for the reflections; this one is framed so it was tricky to snap. I used a combination of Copics (anywhere there is color blending) and gel pens on this mandala – you can see how opaque and smooth the gel pens are! Except those shitty metallic ones, which obviously I did not use. Because they suck.

#2 – My secondary recommendation for a more economical gel pen purchase would be this set from Fiskars – 48 pens for $18. Even though the ink isn’t near the smoothness of the Gelly Rolls, I actually like all the pens in this set. Even the metallics aren’t too bad, and it has some cool styles like swirl pens and pastels, which the Gelly Roll line lacks – and I LOVE pastels. Also, the nibs are smaller which I don’t care for, but overall, I like this set and will re-purchase it when my favorite pens run out.

Lots of the Fiskars pens in this mandala, and NO Copics, so you really can get a sense of how vibrant and opaque the gel pens are. 

One other honorable gel pen mention here is the Pentel Milky Pop series. I do not think this set is still in production, so it may be hard to find eventually, but for now you can still find it on Amazon and some other places. This set is tricky; it is known for not having the smoothest ink distribution in the world, and the pens tend to dry out quickly (which can be fixed with a little heat applied to the nib) but they are the most lovely pastel colors I’ve found so far – even though there a lot of other options out there I haven’t tried so I can’t speak to any of those.¬† A lot of gel pens that claim to be pastel end up looking more neon, so there must be something tricky about the gel pen formulation that makes true pastels hard to come by. A close-up of one of my chalkboard pages shows the colors well:

Again, sorry for the reflections.

The yellow and blue are Milky Pop pastels, and that yellow in particular is perfection. I’ve used other yellow gels that claim to be pastel, but only the Milky Pop so far actually comes out right, and it is really really lovely. However, both the blue and the yellow required me to light a match and hold it up to the nib for a bit to get and keep the ink flowing – but once that was done, they both colored nicely. You can see pen scratches and strokes here, but that is actually a quality of the chalkboard coloring page and not the pens. That bolder blue is a Gelly Roll and you can see how it looks like paint because it’s so opaque – and there are also some splashes of glitter pens in there as well, if you can spot them.

Oh my gosh, I have so much more to say, but this has already taken over an hour and I have shit to do, so it will all have to wait for later. Will she wait another year to post again? Will she update us on her Invisalign adventure? Why is her hair green (yes, it really was green)? Did she use YouTube tutorials to cut two inches off her hair and create a perfectly even blunt bob (yes, she did, and she is very proud of herself)? Has she ever taken her own photos and turned them into coloring pages (of course she has)? Is this all the spending she’s done with her coloring, or has she bought even more crap? How the hell did she gain forty pounds and what is she doing about it? Has her husband become a cooking fanatic since the pandemic has kept him indoors, and is that contributing to her weight gain? Has she tried to take images from her favorite horror movies and turn them into coloring pages (see below)? Has one of her besties started a travel blog that I should check out (yes, she has, and it is here). Does she still look fabulous although she is heavier (yes, of course)?¬†

All this and more to come, friends. Until then, stay safe, stay socially distant, and wear your face mask. Cheers!

Contempt-orary Art

Our final excursion around town Saturday was to the new contemporary arts museum which opened up five months ago. My friend Candace is on the board of directors, so she wanted me to go by and see the space.

I should mention that my friend is on the board of directors for pretty much everything in this town. Keep in mind, by the way, that this is not the town in which I live, but a town that is very close to my neighborhood and is actually where my school is located. Katy, Texas is a very unique area, one of many that make up Houston and its surrounding neighborhoods, to be sure, but an area with its own attitude. It used to be a small town that was far enough away from Houston to be considered “the country” but those days have been over a long, long time – much longer than I’ve been alive anyway. However, Katy has maintained this sense of itself as a small town that is all its own, and as such, it has a history it has managed to keep alive, as well as scads of “old Katy” families whose members have wielded weird power within the little city for generations, it seems. My friend Candace is from one of these Old Katy families, so she knows everyone and is involved in everything. She attends things I’d never begin to understand, all sorts of Women’s Associations and Civic Luncheons and other mysteries are always on her schedule. It’s a town that still has all that stuff going on regularly, and to me, it’s all foreign (Renee Zellweger grew up in Katy, by the way, if that matters).

So anyway, it is no surprise that my friend Candace is on the board of this new contemporary art museum, and it’s certainly no surprise that she wanted me to see the space.


When she first told me this gallery was opening up, I figured it would be a disaster. There’s never been much demand for contemporary art in a small conservative town like this, and part of me figured it wouldn’t be “real” contemporary art anyway. But it appeared to be the real deal, at least as far as the artwork was concerned. I’m no art aficionado, but I was impressed with the collection of work I saw on display. It was also clear the director plans all sorts of talks and workshops in the space to reach out to the community and make the gallery a place for people to come together and celebrate art, which is pretty awesome.

However, I couldn’t help it – I found the director off-putting and unlikable. Perhaps it’s because she was talking to one of the board members that she went on and on so much while we were there, but she was exhausting. ¬†Not only that, she was pretty negative. She spent most of her time complaining about how no one in this little town saw the value of investing in art, something which I would think one would investigate before opening up such a venue. And it’s true, she did seem to be aware of this before the gallery opened its doors, she just really, really liked pointing it out to us over and over again – how no one in the area thought a work of art was a valid use of two thousand dollars. It got weird after awhile, how she kept talking about it, while at the same time shooting down anything either I or Candace had to say about the subject, as if she’d already thought of or realized everything we tried to contribute to the discussion – which again, kept making me wonder why she opened up the gallery in the first place if she was already so acutely aware of something that clearly bugged the crap out of her so much. It got old pretty fast.

Not only that, but I became aware that I was one of these closed-minded patrons she was criticizing; I came into the store and wandered around, liked what I saw for sure, but had no intention of plonking down $1500 for any of the pieces. So in effect, she was repeatedly telling me what was wrong with my attitude about art. I started to feel guilty that I wasn’t ready to whip out my checkbook and invest in anything, but if that’s her selling style it isn’t going to work out too well for her, because it sure didn’t work on me. I just felt judged and uncomfortable.

She also went on a lot about her mission to ‘teach people’ about art, based in part on her assumption that no one in the area knew anything about it already (because they weren’t buying anything). It seemed a bit presumptuous to assume people needed all this teaching, but maybe it’s not – I’m just not sure lack of art sales = lack of art education. It could just mean lack of money. Yes, there is money in Katy, Texas, and lots of it – but this is still a depressed economy, and as far as luxury items go, art is up there pretty high at the top of the list of what people won’t spend money on when the belt is being tightened. And this is a very conservative area to boot, and art of the contemporary variety is going to be a hard sell in such a place even when the economy’s booming.

Besides which, insulting people with the tone of one’s conversation isn’t ever going to be a great way to convince people to cough up their cash. Take this conversation for example. While she was going on about how people in the area just don’t see the value of art and how it’s her duty to teach them about this, I asked her about photography and if she thought it was an easier sell. Keep in mind that as I ask this I am standing in the center of the gallery with my Canon strapped around my neck, and have been snapping photos of some of the newly constructed spaces she’d shown us with abandon. In other words, I am clearly a fan of photography. Her answer to my question was this: photography isn’t art except for very few exceptions, but it’s easy to¬†understand and¬†appreciate¬†so sure, people are going to like it – but if I focus¬†on photographs no one’s learning about art. Anyone can take photographs because it’s easy; sure, sometimes someone with a camera gets lucky by being in the right place at the right time, or snapping a shutter at just the right moment, or taking loads of shots so by default at least one of them comes out decent – but it’s too easy to really be valuable.¬†¬†Wow, thanks for pointing out what crap my passion is while I’m standing in your gallery trying to figure out why I should spend my hard-earned money on what you’ve got hanging on your walls.

I bought a coffee mug.

A shot I popped off without looking while we were standing in an as-yet-unfinished area of the gallery. I guess it isn’t art,¬†because¬†she’s right – it was pretty easy.

In the end, I left the gallery feeling chastened, overwhelmed, and unworthy. At the time, I just smiled while she insulted my art of choice and ragged on people like me who won’t drop two grand for a heart sculpture made out of nails, but I kind of wish I’d snapped to her attitude more quickly and gotten bitchy with her. At the time though, I was tired, and not too quick on the take.

Here’s another example of how our conversation went throughout the visit – when she took us around the side of the gallery to show us the new space that’s under construction, I fell in love with the orange wall that wrapped around the side exterior of the building. What followed went like this:

Me: Oooh, I love this orange wall! I gotta go across the street and get a picture. It’s amazing!

Her: Yeah, I’m painting over it. It’s all going to be white.

Me: Oh, erm, okay…

The empty plant holders represent the emptiness of her soul

As usual, I’m saving my favorite shot for last. In spite of her contention that photography is easy, I did quite a bit of work on this shot to get it just how I wanted it – especially since I know that soon, sadly, this orange wall will disappear (she is, however, keeping the ironwork on the windows, I’m assuming to keep out photographers or people without money). I wanted to make the sky and concrete as white as the building, and get the oranges to really pop, including the orange line in the middle of the road. In order to do that I desaturated everything except the oranges, and made the blacks darker to contrast. I didn’t think much of this shot before processing, but the more I worked on it the more excited I got about its potential. Sure, I could have framed it better, but I still really like the way it came out.

That’s the director walking down the stairs. I assume she’s thinking, I don’t know what that chick across the road is doing with that camera, but it sure isn’t art!

I thought about editing the power line out of the shot, but decided against it in the end. I kind of like it being there; it draws an interesting line and adds something of the mundane to the scene. Okay, not really – I was just too lazy.

Curtain Calls

Last night, around 8:45 PM, I got to thinking about my next shoot and what it might be. I finally bought a black backdrop so that should be here on Wednesday, and I can get Doug to hang it sometime before the weekend so I can take some shots with a different mood than I can get with the white one that’s been on the wall for over a month. I’ve had the thought for some time that I might try taking the purple curtain sheers I used a few months ago and hanging them from my ceiling fan, just to add some interest to the photos, and for some reason I decided last night to hang one of them up there and see what happened.

If I’m going to do this in photos, I’m going to have to utilize more of the office space than the one blank wall I usually use, so I had to go searching around and see if I had any extra black sheets or blankets I could hang on another wall so I’d have more space to move. I did find a fleece sheet set I used previously in my costume closet, so that’s good – at some point I need to hang those on the second wall and see how they look too, but I didn’t have time to try that out last night. It’s a bit of a more elaborate set than I usually do, so I don’t want to wait until the day of the shoot to see if this is all going to work. We’ve got another three-day weekend coming up, so I should have time to play around this weekend, and can spend some time just playing around with the set and different shot angles before actual shoot day.

Anyway, I tied a sheer to the ceiling fan and let it spin around, then took some test pics in my pajamas with no makeup on just to see how it came out. These were total one-off shots, no set to speak of and just one curtain sheer spinning around, but you know me – I have to find at least a few I can process and try to turn into something.

curtain 2_Snapseed

I need a better way to attach the sheers to the fan, first of all; I just tied a loose knot which used up WAY too much of the length; ideally I’d like the sheers to almost reach the floor, but they only made it halfway to that point last night. So I need to get some clothespins or something to make that happen.

curtain 1_Snapseed

The sheer spun nicely though; and once I was brave enough to really get it spinning, it was quite fun to dance around in the midst of it. But it charged up my hair with static something awful.

curtain 3_Snapseed

Most of these shots didn’t mean much to me at all; as I said, I was in my pajamas and hadn’t prepped the room for the shots or anything, I ¬†just wanted to see if this idea could possibly work. I think it can, although I’m not sure how much the purple sheers are going to show up against a black background – that wall with the sunflower photo hanging on it, by the way, is the second wall I plan to cover with the black fleece, if it works.

This last shot, however, I ended up likingonce I processed it, because I decided since there was so much background noise going on with the lamp and my umbrella diffusers showing that I’d ¬†mess around with those details a bit to give it a surreal quality:

curtain 4_Snapseed

I tried at first to edit out the lamp entirely, but I just couldn’t pull it off without things getting sloppy; so I got the idea to edit out the stand and leave the lampshade floating in the corner. Then I figured I’d edit the stand out of the umbrella too, so it would have the same quality. I tried to do some funky things with that framed picture but with my head where it was, I couldn’t get anything to work, so I left it. Those surreal touches along with the light (I had a speedlite set up below me) and the positioning of both my arm and the purple curtain ¬†gave this shot some nice movement; I think the weird angle of the lens (which was just me being quick and sloppy) adds to that. I added some zoom blur with a focal point on the curtain to create a little more movement as well. It’s not great, but at least it’s more interesting than the others.

Oh and of course, I had to Pixlr one – I edited the heck out of this photo and it was pretty sloppy, so I just textured it to hell and back to try and cover up for it. I had a photo, a bunch of stuff on a bookshelf, and the umbrella stand showing in the original, and managed to get it down to just the umbrella:

curtain 5

curtain 5_Snapseed_pxr

I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull this off or not, but at least based on these test shots I should be able to get some interesting stuff. I also have this OTC inhaler I bought back when I had bronchitis in August that I was realizing creates some seriously crazy smoke that I could blow out of my mouth for cool effects, and I keep meaning to use it in some portraits, so I may try that too. Lots to think about – I’ve started a Word document to keep track of my ideas better so I don’t forget everything on shoot day and end up just doing the same old things.

Looking forward to the weekend!

Art Does Not Apologize

Every artist I know has a clutter problem; we’re not hoarders (a show I’ve never watched, by the way, because somehow I got the impression that at least one kitty corpse is unearthed in the debris each episode, and that ain’t right) but when we come across things we might be able to use someday, we really can’t – actually, we shouldn’t – pass them up. My artist friends and I all have stories about how we try to contain the chaos that is the never-ending collection of “I could totally use this for something” junk that, no matter how hard we try or how many resolutions we make, eventually takes over our lives.

My friends also share stories of significant others who must learn to tolerate the art-cluttered home – one of my favorite stories involves a garage sale and rows of cheap mannequin torsos. I’ll admit this is the one way in which I have an advantage over some of the artists I know: my husband is an artist himself, so he actually contributes to our clutter more than he complains about it.¬†But thinking about those less-than-tolerant SO’s to which the necessity of a gross of mannequin torsos must be justified – and oh man, am I envisioning the amazing uses for mannequin torsos right now – brought to mind the quote that is the title of this post:¬†Mandy Patinkin shouting at Hugh Grant in a scene from Impromptu. I tried to find a little snippet of just the quote itself on YouTube but all I could find was this three-minute version of the entire scene, still totally worth watching.

I have closets stuffed with insane vintage costumes I’ve never worn but have every intention of doing so, someday, while my actual, wearable clothes are crushed up front like David Beckham fans in China. For example, here is the “coat closet” in our hallway:

Four poor coats crushed by the weight of vintage caftans and square dance outfits. Eventually I had to move the petticoats out altogether and move them into my husband’s suit closet – I adore petticoats but they do NOT store well. On the floor you can see several sets of fleece blankets and flannel sheets, which I use as backdrops for my photos.

And by the way, that navy blue sequin coat is a real coat, not a costume, and I do wear it regularly; what I like most about it is I saw a picture of Kelly Clarkson once wearing the same exact coat, AND it’s from Ann Taylor Loft, which cracks me up – go Kelly!

Speaking of flannel sheets:

This is one corner of my office, which is also my “studio,” piled high with sheet sets. Meaning when it’s time to take pictures, I move all the office furniture out of it, pile it up in the family room, and tack a fleece sheet to the wall. Really high-tech stuff, don’t you know.¬†Oh, and the big gray and purple Athleta bag has a massive afro wig stuffed in it that I could not get back into its box once I took it out.

And at one time I did use all those weights, thankyouverymuch. I just haven’t touched them in about a year. But I am going to. Next month. Seriously.

Once the office furniture gets shoved into a corner of the family room, it will stay there anywhere from two days to a week, which is really lovely. This is why all my wigheads are also in the family room, perched on a bookshelf:

Believe it or not, this is quite logical. Since the aesthetic value of the bookshelf is already ruined by the office furniture piled up in front of it, why not just pull out whatever wigs I’m going to wear in the photoshoot and plant them there as well? I can just pop out of the office real quick and yank it off its stand when I’m ready to wear it. It may not be attractive to the visiting family member, but to me at least it’s practical. I do eventually move the furniture back into the office – because when it’s time to use it as an office again, I do need a chair or two – but I see no reason to move the wigheads, since I’m just going to get them back out again a few days later. There’s only so much effort I’m willing to put into maintaining a socially acceptable living space, folks. It is this same attitude that has resulted in a Christmas tree that stays up in our living room all year (and by the way, the necessity of moving furniture from room to room also requires said furniture to be easily transported, i.e. really cheap. Thanks, Fingerhut! I love a sofa that comes in a box and I can carry over my head).

Speaking of practical:

Ridiculous shit like this is just everywhere; massive platform shoes, Dynasty-era ballgowns, and Lolita bows the size of airplane propellers I will never wear in public and, in this case, I might be wise to never wear, period. The sign on the floor in this photo, by the way, says “Life is Short, Buy the Shoes,” which is prophetic considering how short my life would be were I to actually try and walk in these. Weird, random, seemingly useless, and occasionally disturbing surprises abound in our house, like this little pile on another bookshelf:

That’s two more cameras (a Canon PowerShot G12 & an ancient, tiny Canon PowerShot SE-or-SX-something-or-other that I do still use on occasion), some filters, a portable softbox, a curling iron for wig-styling, and…a meat cleaver. See, friends often find random items in CVS or Toys R Us that they (rightly) think I could use in photos and send them to me – that’s how I got the cleaver, which is plastic, by the way. And I think I also spy a bright blue belly dancing scarf used in one shoot and tossed back there when it began to bore me.

Since we’ve mentioned wigs a few times now, here’s how they contribute to the clutter:

Wigs in bins are tucked underneath everything in my house that actually has an underneath. And that’s an industrial-strength fan used to blow hair, scarves, skirts, etc. around in photos – attractive when sitting on the floor like that, I know, but since every available Underneath in our house is occupied by wig bins, there’s nowhere to put it that would keep it out of sight. More wig storage:

Yes, that is the Underneath of my computer desk. The bright pink tag in the left-hand corner, by the way, says “Gothic Lolita Wigs,” which is my favorite online costume wig store; I think they have the best costume wigs by far for the price. Just because a wig is costume, people, does not mean it has to be crappy.¬†¬†I probably own one of every style they make – in fact, I spy two in this photo that are still in the shipping envelope – damn, I forgot to open them!

Yep, more wigs, and wig-related products. This is what goes on in my bathroom cabinets instead of, well, whatever is supposed to go on in bathroom cabinets. See, I’ve been filling my house with art junk for so long, I don’t even know anymore what else I could possibly put on shelves besides all this mess. This is why I never have room for things like sheets (the ones I will put on our bed, not the flannel ones I hang on the wall) or soap or mouthwash or deodorant, or any of the normal things one puts in bathroom cabinets. Nope, all that stuff just stays out on the counters, so everyone can see my hygiene products.

I took ¬†more pictures of places wigs are stored, but I’m getting bored with that, so let’s move on to my husband’s contribution to home decorating:

Guitar gear stuck in another corner of the family room, directly opposite the wigheads on the bookshelves, in fact. At one time he would lug all that stuff up the stairs to our “guest room” (i.e., guitar and recording equipment storage area), but pretty early on he figured out that was a waste of time considering eventually he’d be lugging it all back down anyway (Remember: Christmas tree up in the living room all year, people).

Lastly I will leave you with a gear placement that might actually be practical, if it ever rained in my office/studio:

I have two more sets of these umbrella stands shoved into our walk-in bar, which is of course not used as a bar but for more, you guessed it, storage. There is also a huge muslin backdrop in there that I’ve never used (but totally will someday), two plastic tubs full of wacky Christmas ornaments I occasionally wear as earrings (in photos only) or stick into a wig (again, photos only), a few extra tripods, some gold and silver reflectors, and two exercise balls that are actually used for exercise (very dusty). On the plus side, we’re not drinkers, so it’s not like this misappropriation of living space has resulted in bottles of booze sitting out on the coffee table.

I don’t know what to say about all this in summary, other than if you come over to visit, you’re going to have to deal with clutter. And as Mandy Patinkin says, art will not apologize for that. But, in spite of what the movie clip may imply, art will NOT harm you! Well, unless you try and wear the shoes.