June 20, 2011
A few weeks ago I received an email from the art director of Wired magazine, inquiring if I would be interested in a quick editorial illustration. I was recommended to her from a fellow diorama artist Thomas Doyle. Thanks Thomas! I owe you one. The project was a photograph to accompany an article on the end of the Harry Potter franchise. The last Harry Potter movie arrives in theaters this July 15. I jumped at the opportunity after hearing what kind of image they were looking for, a miniature funeral scene atop of one of the books, or the stack of books. When I read this description, I immediately had a picture in my mind of how I wanted it to look. But this doesn’t mean my idea matches their idea. So after consulting with Kathleen, she sat down and started making sketches. I went to work on procuring the needed art materials, because there is always something I don’t have ready to go in the studio. Sketches are great because it helps nail down what I’m able to do in the studio, and the magazine gets an idea of what I can deliver. Alice Cho, the art director was fantastic in expressing what they were looking for, yes to the creepy tree, no to the coffin idea, yes to the grave dug out of the book, no to the tombstones. It’s taken me several years to figure out what questions to ask. The single most important thing is to not get too married to your original ideas because they will change throughout the process. I’m being hired to give them a certain look, the “Lori Nix” look. I’m not being hired to create high art.
After we got the green light we headed off to Barnes and Noble in search of hardback Harry Potter books. We then took a ruler and eyed how large the creepy tree should be, and also what scale figures would work best standing around the grave. I started immediately making the tree form out of wire, lots and lots of twisting wire. After two days of wire twisting, the tree was ready to hand off to Kathleen. We knew how we wanted the bark to look, twisted and old. The perfect material is called Magic Sculpt, a two-part epoxy clay that hardens in three hours. The beauty of this stuff is that it’s non-toxic and easy to work with. Thank you Complete Sculptor. The next day I went off to the day job and Kathleen began to carefully put on the epoxy. It’s a slow process and not to be rushed. Three days later the tree is done, hardened and ready to paint. Let me just say right now how happy I am the magazine wasn’t looking for leaves on their trees.
Next come the figures. We’re not very good at sculpting people without them looking really cartoony. What we can do is modify an already static one. Unfortunately we chose an odd scale of figure for the scene, bigger than O scale 1:45, smaller than G scale 1:22.5. We like an in between scale at 1:32. Unfortunately, not many figures come in this size, but the ones we find can be modified to our needs. I’m just thankful the local railroad hobby shop has a great selection of figures. Thank you Red Caboose.
Now it’s time to create the grave in the book. With this project I treated myself to a new Bosch jigsaw, the perfect tool for the job. It emotionally hurt me to cut into the book, but after a few quick runs of the jigsaw, a nice rectangular hole was left. I took the loose pages and punched out leaf shapes to create a literary dirt pile next to the grave. Kathleen worked the figures over with super matte paint, giving one of the figures a Gryffindor scarf. Kathleen’s part of the process is finished, now it’s up to me to create the sky, model the lighting and start photographing.
This project was quick from start to finish. Friday I was emailed about the job. Sketches created over the weekend to arrive at Wired electronically on Monday morning. Received the thumbs up Monday afternoon and immediately started sourcing materials. Wire, epoxy and figures were picked up on Tuesday. Kathleen works on the tree for the next four days. Yes it takes that long. Sunday evening all parts have dried and we begin to set up the scene. I shoot late into the night, experimenting with light, fog machine, camera angle and more light. I get to bed around 1:30am but toss and turn all night because I don’t feel like I’ve achieved the best shot just yet. Monday morning I send Kathleen off to her day job and I go about rearranging the lights and background and start fresh. I like what I’m seeing so I send jpegs to Wired. The only thing that’s saving me is I’m on New York time and Wired is on California time. The four-hour time difference is keeping me from freaking out. I wait for Alice to say yes or no to the finals. She replies with a request to make one simple change. I’m on it and within two hours I have a final image uploading to California.
I enjoy commercial work. It always challenges me in unexpected ways. For a small time, I get to live outside of my head and inside someone else’s and create images that I would never create for myself. I also use these opportunities to work with new materials and experiment with new approaches. The secret to this success was asking the right questions, being flexible, and keeping the outcome on a realistic timetable. Short deadlines can really release the creative flow. And I honestly thrive under deadlines.
Harry Potter sketch 1
Harry Potter sketch 2
Harry Potter sketch 3
Harry Potter sketch 4
Tree created from wire and epoxy clay.
Finding the best scale figure to adapt.
Final image for Wired magazine.
June 16, 2011
I was asked by the New York Foundation of the Arts to participate on an expert panel for their “Artist as Entrepreneur Boot Camp”. The panelists included Lenny Pickett, the musical director of Saturday Night Live, Andy Hunter, Founding Editor of Electric Literature, Dave Shroeder, Musical Director at New York University and Mark Golden, founder and CEO of Golden Artist Colors. We were asked to speak about our entrepreneurial skills as well as how we got to where we are now. The audience consisted of about 60 artists from a variety of backgrounds including painters, musicians, dancers, playwrights, actors and writers. The goal for the participants was to learn how we the panelists make a business out of what we love to do, and hopefully help them create goals for themselves.
As each of us spoke and answered questions, several phrases kept repeating themselves, such as serendipity, say yes, and be nice. So how does one go about creating serendipity for themselves? The definition is “the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident, or better yet, when someone finds something that they weren’t expecting to find. This happens when you pretty much say yes to every opportunity or favor asked of you. You never know when something will turn into something greater. I’ll give you a couple of examples which pretty much describes my professional trajectory. Back when I was still wet behind the ears and fresh out of graduate school, I applied to a group show at a non-profit art space several miles away from Columbus, Ohio. The exhibition was reviewed by the local art magazine and one of my images was published to illustrate the show. The local art magazine like my work and asked if I would like to submit an image to use on the cover. I definitely said yes. This magazine was picked up by an artist who lived in Georgia, but was obsessed with his home state of Ohio. He liked my work and sent it to his friend in Houston, Texas who happened to work at a gallery. She then sent it to her friend who was opening a gallery and was looking for artists to show in his new space. By submitting to a small arts space in small Ohio, my work traveled to Texas and landed me in my first serious commercial art gallery. From here my exhibition record had grown over the years and now I’m exhibiting at commercial galleries across the United States. What’s my secret? That I tried to participate and I said yes along the way.
Serendipity comes to those who try. You can’t hide in your darkroom or your basement or garage and expect to be “discovered”. It doesn’t happen this way any more, nor did it happen like this very often in the past. Sometimes when you try, your payoff doesn’t come right away, but rather further on down the road. This is why you need to be nice from the get go, and not fake nice, but sincerely nice. Here is story number two about serendipity. Trying to get my career off the ground, I’ve participated in several portfolio review events in cities such as Portland, OR and Houston, Texas and even in my own city of New York. My first portfolio review event took place in Portland, Oregon and it was called Photo Americas (now Photo Lucida). Again I was still pretty wet behind the ears. I sat a goal for myself not to have great expectations but to get my work before professional eyes and try to create a little buzz behind my name. This was in 2001. It was a whirlwind of new faces and new names. I met quite a few photographer there that I’m still friends with and in contact regularly. Several of the reviewers included Barbara Tannenbaum for the Akron Museum of Arts, Gail Gibson from G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle, Diane Barber from DiverseWorks in Houston, Texas, and Amy Gillman from MOCA Cleveland. From this first portfolio review I’ve become friends with Barbara, I’ve had an exhibition at DiverseWorks and I’m represented by Gail’s gallery. This past year, nine long years later, I receive an email from Amy Gilman, who in no longer with MOCA Cleveland but now at the Toledo Museum of Art. She remembered my work all these years and has curated me into a five person show around the theme of Small Worlds. Nine years later and serendipity is still at work.
I hope the participants in the NYFA Boot Camp got as much out of the panel as I did. I enjoyed hearing the other panelists tell their stories, as well as answering audience questions. Just remember, you gotta participate, you gotta try, you should be nice and you should say yes. You just never know where the path will take you.
June 7, 2011
Posted by Kathleen under Studio Life 1 Comment
It’s been a crazy week. I’ve had the great fortune to be included in a brand new show at the Museum of Art and Design here in New York. It’s called Otherworldly, and includes a wide range of artists who use models/dioramas in some capacity for their work. Some have the model as the final piece of art, others are like me and the model is a means to an end, either a photograph or painting. Others have taken it in totally different directions including a hologram and a zoetrope!
For me it’s a big step to show the diorama along with the final photograph and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. (Generally, once I’m satisfied with the final image I dismantle the scene to make way for the next one.) So much of the final image is about lighting; it just doesn’t translate the same if you are looking at the original model. Often I have to pump the lights 15-20 times to get the right density. Just doesn’t happen in real life. Same thing when I have to use the fog machine to create atmosphere- just not the same! Before now, the only place you could see one of the dioramas was in my studio. But the fact that this was a museum show, and in a way an educational experience, made the difference for me.
All that being said, it’s pretty cool. Kathleen and I installed the work last Friday. Two sets, Beauty Shop and Violin Repair Shop, were chosen by the show’s curator David McFadden. It was lucky for me that they were manageable in size and recently completed. I don’t know how I could have stored them for any real length of time. Space in the studio is at a premium. Beauty Shop was completed earlier in the year and we had time to glue down all the different elements so installation was just a matter of pinning the ceiling in place. Violin Repair Shop was a different story. It’s the most recently finished piece so there was no time to give it the same attention. Plus, we try to reuse what we can and there’s a lot of nice, detailed pieces in that scene. The chair, tables, lights, shelves, and tools all have potential for future scenes. Gluing them down would negate that potential. Even if that stuff just ends up being background filler for another diorama it’s worth it. Trying to simulate years and years of accumulated ‘stuff’ can be very difficult. Having a stash to access helps.
In the end, Violin Shop got lodged in the doorway of the apartment as we were trying to take it to the car. We had to cut it down on one side to release it from the door jam. It took a couple of hours to install, and that’s even with us being somewhat organized. When originally packing it up, Kathleen labeled all the tiny boxes with their even tinier contents, just like if you were moving to a new house. I unpacked the boxes and she placed the items in the scene. We had to keep going around the corner to look at the photograph to get things placed correctly. Even then we realized we left crucial elements at home so we had to go back on Saturday to finish up. And by elements I mean freakin’ stand up basses that are right up front in the scene. Figures right?
One of the nicest parts to all this was talking with a security guard who was overseeing the installation. She said that she would be guarding my work for the duration of the show and that I should not worry about its’ safety. She was very interested in all of the artwork being installed, but told us that she especially liked Violin Shop. She even asked questions about it so that she could talk to visitors about the piece. We showed her some of the carved elements and she was happy to get a closer look. It was a really nice conversation.
The diorama was too big for the apartment door. Surgery was needed.
Taking a break from installing the diorama