Friday, December 28, 2012

I Call it Possum, You Call it Opossum

I love it when my friends think of me in their travels.  I don't want the usual gifts.....scarfs, postcards, magnets.....  No, bring me something different and really unique to the area.  So I am completely grateful for my world traveler friend who brought back an Australian Possum skull and then lent it to me to draw.  What is the difference between a Possum and an Opossum?  Well, here in the USA we call the marsupial an opossum.  But Down Under they are called Possums, or if you want to be really accurate,  Phalangeridae.   But really, the two are not the same.  Scientifically the American O/possum is called Didelphimorphia.  They also do not look the same.  The Phalangeridae (Australian) has more forward pointing teeth like a squirrel, while the Didelphimorphia (American) is more bat-like in its dentition.  

  Australian Possum          American Possum  
 When I first started to draw this small skull (it's only about 3.5" in length) I was really interested in its teeth and how they articulated and wanted to draw this in profile.  I was also interested in the way the hinge of the lower jaw seemed to sit in the region of the eye socket.  This is so unlike other skulls that I'm familiar with.  To make sure that what I was seeing was infact correct, I called my local Natural History Museum and spoke with the scientist there.  He told me that while it looks like the hinge (think TMJ - Temporomandibular Joint) sits in the region of the eyeball, it actually sits outside that area.  But that drawing didn't turn out very well and ended up in the trash.  That was actually one of the challenges of working with such a small skull and worrying about its fragility.  Tendons break down the lower and upper jaw seperate so it kept falling over and I didn't want to fuss too much with it.   Too much information????  Well I won't add more, but for me, very interesting. 
So instead, I set the skull up as if you were looking at the Aussie Possum from about this angle
I break the drawing down in to 3 distinct stages.  Working in charcoal and white pastel on a fawnish color Mi-Tientes paper, Stage 1 is the basic outline of the form itself and noting the light and dark regions.  The paper is the middle tone.
Stage 2 is more developed.  I'm also going to continue to make corrections --and will continue to throughout the whole process.
And finally, stage 3 is the finished drawing
Hope you like it!
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Monday, December 3, 2012

Long Term Investments

(This is a reprint from my blog at

I read a great article in the NY Times a few months ago about the Herman Miller Aeron Chair and design for the long term.  There was this great little section that I'm going to quote.  "If you ask John Berry what the biggest obstacle is to innovation and creativity in the design of furniture, he would have to say, "It's the stock market. The drive on quarterly earnings causes companies to be very uncomfortable investing for long-term benefit. And good design should have a long-term view." .... The bankers boxes full of ideas that didn't get made in the Herman Miller archive are living examples of furniture and objects and tools that never happened".  The emphasis is mine.  It was those three sentences (and a Tarot card reader that I met at a dinner party just a few nights later who told me to take more risk) that really got me thinking about creativity and what stops and starts us.  
Often it is the case that we get known for a particular style of work and our clients and patrons expect us to continue along that path.  That is the "voice" they expect to see.  And as an artist, it's pretty nice when we have a good body of work that sells regularly to repeat and new collectors.  But that very stability can make us afraid to break out and try other ideas.  It's that short term "quarterly earnings" that can end up controlling how and what we put out.  And I understand this very well as I come from a family that is fully invested in the market and banking.  Quarterly earnings keep things moving along.  So it can be very frightening to introduce new works that aren't part of our known repetoire.  It feels like starting all over again.   In fact, it is actually a bit of starting over again.  What if our base doesn't like or appreciate what we are doing?  What if they think we've abandoned them by trying something new.  They might feel like their purchases are not quite as valid.  Is that worth the risk to us???  To them???  And even though I tend to be rather risk adverse, I think it is.
As artists, we are inherently creators and inventors.  We try new materials.  We try them in different combinations.  We are naturally curious.  I think that staying with the same type of work and never trying something new because of the fear that those quarterly earnings won't be as consistent can be a little bit like slowly dying.  
I want to be known not only for beautiful work, but work that has integrity.  By that I mean I want my collectors and future collectors to know that what I undertake is done with thought and understanding of the materials I use.  That they will last.  That I'm not resting on my laurels.  I won't abandon what I do because I love painting what I paint, but I also want the freedom to explore new ideas and materials and see what those efforts produce.  So, between the article on the Aeron chair and interaction with the Tarot card reader, I'm gingerly stepping out.  I realized it doesn't have to be a total revamping, but maybe a new tact.  I hope people will like what I'm creating, but if they don't, I will be that much more informed.  I'm excited to see what happens.