Painting, Not Painted

"What did I learn at art school? I learned that art is painting, not painted." --Harvey Fierstein

I really get this now. I agree with it completely. If I make whatever I do about the end result then I'm tense and rushing and uptight, frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, etc. If however, I make it about the pleasure of doing each part, then whatever I do is simply my life. (I wrote this same thought here extemporaneously several months ago without any notion of what it meant at the time.)

I have been giving this a lot of thought; I have decided that I am formally, officially announcing that Halfland is not a commercial endeavor. Well, technically, right now it isn't much of anything, nonetheless, this is an important fulcrum point for me and what I do. I have said before that I wasn't interested in festivals, awards, any external recognition, or really even any critique. But the additional distinction I have made for myself now is that I really have no ulterior intention other than making Halfland, or any subsequent projects, in my way, on my terms, in my time, for myself. I am not working (when I do work) on it for the sake of selling. It's now about the painting, not having painted.

(The quote came from an incredible new book I've just started and can already whole heartedly recommend to all you, my artist and artist-eyed friends, Color, by Victoria Finlay. She tells the whole, often sordid, tale of each color in your paintbox and how it is they are there in the first place. The way she describes earthen pigments such as ochre from the Australian outback where they originate in a sacred four color palette, and others, is riveting and terribly enlightening.)

Boo. Happy Halloween, Peeps. This full-size silhouette of a scary owly owl is textured with matte medium and texture paste with a paint patina on the peaks. The cut outs in it are illumined by a candle shining through colored glassine adhered to the reverse.

Putting on the Halloween dog a bit, I never got around to carving my red squash this year (Maybe that guy will do it!?). I festooned the TV for the guests of honor, Jack and Sally. The candle luminaria are made from handmade paper wrapped around clear glass jars with black widow spiders made out of black tape stuck to the inside of the paper. When it's light out all you see is the plain orange and black striped paper but when the candle is lit, the haunting spiders appear. Woo.

Halloween at our house tonight featured, as always, an annual screening of one of the finest stop motion works of art to date, The Nightmare Before Christmas. As I watched it again this year I was more impressed than ever with the endless details in the sets and characters the filmmakers made. I'm even more amazed at the amount of texturing on every surface throughout the film's world. I wonder how it was possible for so many people to invest such loving attention to detail while working on such a large commercial enterprise. Watching the "making of" feature afterward just raised more questions about how these films ever get made. It seems an impossibility looking from here.

The last two days have been devoted to the Christmas Handmade Card Workshop. I woke up at 4 am Monday morning and dove in and kept going all day. These cards go to all our family and friends at the holidays as little wishes for every good thing. We send a different type of paper-craft or fiber-art holiday card instead of any other gifts (so you can quit wondering!). As our only gifts, they need to carry some genuine care however because I need to make 100 of them, they shouldn't be overly crazy time-intensive to create. Each year I try to reach a balance of real holiday heartfelt joy with each one and still be able to render them all during the month of November. After these two days or focused work things are in great shape.

This years "card" was inspired by little East Indian twirly paper puppets Himself brought back from a trip. It looks like an articulated paper doll whose limbs fly up when the handle is flipped around. In preparation I bought luscious beefy festive papers from The Paper Source and made little sketches of a suitable Christmas character to use. I've stuck 100 bamboo skewers into 100 wooden beads and painted them with five coats of cheerful red acrylic for the puppet's handles. Yesterday I was able to fully develop a design for the character and make master templates for all of the parts to make him as well as an ingenious paper envelope based on a Florentine fold. I've laminated and painted up sheets of decorative paper and aged pages from an old dictionary that will be used to make the parts that will be assembled the way the original sample was, with knotted red stitches at the joints. I've carved two expressions into rubber stamp carving blocks in case I want to make these Thaumatrope, special-edition, articulated paper puppet holiday cards. Hee.

Happy Holidays to you!


  1. Anonymous1:37 PM

    Ooh... I really like the owl! Matte pastes -- do you mean acrylic mediums? What are these things?

  2. Anonymous4:33 PM

    Great post, Shelley! Loved your thoughts on your new approach to life and to Halfland (as if there is difference!). Hopefully this will make for a much more relaxed time, with solutions and enthusiasm now free to bubble to the surface. Hooray. Can't wait to see the paper puppets. Please try to post every day. Some of us out here in the blogosphere depend on it. PK

  3. I love the spider-candle, and the owl, and I can't wait to see your homemade-holiday-greeting-card-puppet-surprise!!

  4. Hi Sven, I corrected the entry a bit, I used texture paste mixed with black paint and matte medium for the base I recall and then hit the peaks with a grody cement looking highlight in acrylics.

    @PK, Thanks dear, glad you approve. I like it when you comment but I know you only comment when you are genuinely excited about what you see here.

    Thanks, Jeffery, you and the Mrs. Uber are covered!

  5. Yeh, Happy Halloween. Here at Off the Shelf Productions we love the nightmare before christmas and cards.

    ben from off the shelf

  6. Hey thanks, Ben. If you email me a mail address I'd be glad to send you a card! (Anyone who loves NBX is a family member.)

    I just listened to Henry's audio commentary last night and learmed a bunch! Take care!

  7. Hi again, I'd love to have a card but the problem is that I live all the way over England and I wouldent like you to pay the high prices

  8. Hi Ben, I hope you will send me your UK address. I'd be more than happy to include you in our list! Don't be concerned about costs as I'm delighted to send cards all over the world. It's a small one after all.


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