Sunday, November 22, 2015

THE MAKING OF IDEAS - Start to Finish


Public and corporate art projects are often a mystery to most artists. Having been in the field for quite a period of time since the early 1980’s and after completing over eighty five large scale commissioned art projects around the state, nationally and internationally,  I often look back in wonder why  I’m even still standing.

In making a large scale project it often takes a large amount of patience, communication skills, work with engineers, architects, art committee members, business representatives and corporate client CEOs. Sometimes we work with artist agencies who handle most details and other times we do it all ourselves. Either way the process is challenging and often rewarding.

Melanie and I are both process oriented artists. While the end product is certainly an important part of this process, our concentration and work takes place in the early stages of the idea and design. This stage then progresses to a formal proposal of a concept or maybe several ideas, then meetings with the client for feedback and approval, contract signatures, scheduling the fabrication and installation.

As artists we both tend to work intuitively and enjoy spontaneous design so planning a project one or two years ahead is often difficult. Generally we have a month to present a proposal of our concepts. After that our imaginations might progress to other directions with ideas, new thoughts, alternatives and new materials.  It’s always a learning process each time stretching our capabilities in increments along the way.

Last year we were approached by an art agency, Lewis Graham Art Consultants in Denver, to present ideas for a new building in South Denver that would be the new company headquarters for CoBank, an agricultural lending and financing bank for agribusinesses, rural power, water and communications systems. We were to present ideas and concepts for their atrium entry lobby space. The building construction had just broken ground and we prepared a package of our past projects for the agent to present to the CoBank  people. A short time after they expressed interest in having us put together some ideas and a proposal for the entry area artwork.  There were three other artist finalists that they are looking at so the proposal meeting is an important stage in presenting the idea.

Given that the bank is multi-layered in its involvement with agricultural businesses we chose to work with general abstracted themes within the framework of the concept.  Circular ideas kept presenting themselves, the cycles of seasons, the shapes of pivotal irrigation fields, the wide open spaces needed for farming and agriculture, the sky, the clouds, colors of fields throughout the seasons.  So many images along these lines started to create a theme in our heads within the volume of the atrium space of that split between field and sky. 

My first aerial view of farm fields from an airplane taking off from Denver’s Stapleton Airport back in the early seventies astounded me by the beauty of that patchwork quilt below. I was surprised and delighted by seeing the circular fields that used pivotal irrigation systems from the air. How could I not have noticed them all the years before? This theme then started to dominate our approach.

sky + earth 

Two thin membranes on the planet, the arable soil layer and the atmospheric water circulatory system, create the living sustenance for all of life. The importance and connections of these two elementary systems to our civilization is deep in its history and immense in its mark on the earth. 
In a world where the products of the farm and extensive agricultural practice is hidden from view of the consumer behind the veil of packaged food and stocked grocery chains, the only glimpse that most people have of the immensity of the agricultural endeavors and infrastructure this country has produced is during airplane flights of the much maligned "fly-over land". The casual view out the window reveals vast areas of the country that are filled from horizon to horizon with a quilt of farming fields each with a shimmering array of lakes and reservoirs, meandering estuaries of silver rivers, and hundreds of thousands of miniaturized farm houses, barns, stables and grain silos dotting the grid of roads below. It is this flat land and rural heartland that provides the nutritional ad economic sustenance to this country.
We both have traveled extensively as youths over dirt roads of rural America, witnessing firsthand the fields of dreams that a particular farm bred group of people called 'farmers' have cultivated. Those fields are a testament to the cooperative endeavor of growing the foods, tending the groves, the flocks and livestock on an endless carpet of green patchwork. Those flights have kept our eyes glued to the plane window watching the clouds and fields pass below us for hours and hours. 

Since the art committee stated that they were interested in a kinetic sculpture hung from the ceiling we chose a play between random elements of movement and form with an ordered grid-like arrangement of mobiles that mimic the shapes of farm fields.  Grids of circles and grids of squares filled the sketch book pages.  We were also attracted to a more free form representation of circular overhead ‘cloud’ forms of free rotating white screen mobile units.

We presented many of our inspirational images as well as showing animated walk through views in a computer model simulation of the concept. There was a balcony lounge area overlooking the first floor area that required certain considerations like nothing should obstruct the view out the south window from that vantage point as well as how the light would play on the mobiles during certain times of the day and seasons.  In order to present a full representation of the concept we also had a physical model of the space with the mobile units in place.  This detailed model showing accurate material simulations are often a valuable part of visualizing the concept. It also helps us determine scale and how the piece will hang within the volume.

After our presentation it took a while for the art committee to decide. Usually when we receive the call or sometimes just an email we respond with a celebratory dance of glee followed a very short time later with “Oh, my god... now we have to make it!”

The first payment is received, the schedule is set, materials are purchased, finalized design details are ironed out and we begin making. First a hundred fabric circles that make up the sky cloud forms stretched onto fiberglass rod hoops.  The work is slow and careful but soon we have a momentum going. Next the ‘land’ form mobiles made from polycarbonate sheeting and painted with acrylic coloring. Also used were polychromatic and metallic laminated resin sheets that change color in the light and reflect color up to the ‘cloud’ form circle mobiles above. All units are then balanced and set for installing at the site.

Installation at a newly constructed building is often difficult weaving our works around other contractors working feverishly day and night to complete the building. We use a scissor lift or cherry picker type lift to access the ceiling. Work continues day and night until everything starts fitting together like a puzzle. The plan fluctuates between following a plan and working on instinct when a work like this one takes up most of the atrium ceiling. It’s like painting and sculpting in the air. The work progresses slowly with trips up and down, checking positions, switching out pieces, making sure that nothing is touching while in motion.


At the end of the last piece installed we get to stand back and see if it works as planned and then load up the van and head home. Many of the workers and contractors expressed their appreciations after seeing the progress and the model on display at the work site. Some of the bank workers occupying the first few floors of the building also expressed their pleasure with the work. Always good.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

First Fly 2015

We'll be flying kites on the first day of the year again. January first is the day. Call us crazy but this is probably the 31st annual. Some years it's only been the two of us. Others have been attended by a great group of friends and kite flyers from all over. There have been sunny days, sometimes sunny and warm. Occasionally there was wind. Always some sort of refreshments and warm beverages like hot chocolate and cider. Some have been in snow storms, 60mph winds, no winds. Sometimes we bring sleds for the hilly sites. One time there was spontaneous snow sculpture making

This Boulder tradition had it's beginning way back in 1983 when co-owners of the Into The Wind kite store, Jim Glass and George Emmons and I decided to fly kites on the first of January. We met up at a local high school football and soccer field, popped a few kites up into the freezing winds, flew for a while and then dashed back to the car heaters to thaw out our fingers. It then became a tradition.

The rules for the fly was that we'd fly something no matter what the weather and what the conditions were just so that we could start the year out right and with a positive spin. After a few years other friends and family started joining us. The event traveled a bit. It went up to Bald Mountain, a short drive up Sunshine canyon above Boulder. The hike up the hillside to the top led to a view was fantastic! It was usually a clear day and you could see all the way to the Kansas border or at least to the skyscrapers of nearby Denver to the southeast. It continued there into the mid nineties with a combination picnic gathering, kite flying and tree climbing.... to retrieve the kites from the branches.

One memorable fly was during a full blown snow blizzard storm. The storm swept through as we were hiking up the trail to set up the kites and picnic area. We thought no one would show up. Amazingly five others made it up the road and trail and we spent about an hour in the blizzard flying kites. You could not see the kites just ten feet up over our heads but you could hear them flapping wildly. It was a surreal and fantastic memory.

Since then the First Fly was held in various city park and Green Belt areas around Boulder dodging the rangers who told us we could not fly kites without a permit. Permits are required for groups of twenty people or more. My response usually was "I don't know where all these people came from", or just apologizing and promising that I'll apply for the permit next year.

This year we will be flying at our 'Wind Ranch', a large field behind our North Boulder
studio. The field is where we sometimes test fly kites and is a broad expanse outside the jurisdiction of the city of Boulder. It's the realm of prairie dogs, hawks and great horned owls, lots of wild rabbits and some hungry coyotes. Our neighbors of the complex have goats, chickens, pigs, turkeys and a fantastic spring time gardens.

If you're in the area, please stop by for some hot chocolate and a bit of fun in a snowy field. The address is 2227 Yarmouth in Boulder. Please park in the parking lot next to the stone studio building or on the street. 
Walk north from the parking lot into the big field behind the houses. 
You'll see us. Starts at noon. Please come if you can.

A few pics from past years First Fly .....

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Two kite workshops and a toy boat print making project took us on a journey out to Anderson Ranch Arts Center  in Aspen and Snowmass, Colorado and the Atelier 6000 gallery and printmaking cooperative in Bend, Oregon this past two weeks.  I have to say both Melanie and I treat workshops as a chance for us to play along as well with the students in our own classes. We both needed some valuable time off after a heavy spring season of exhibitions, kite festivals and commission works to be installed.

the woodshop at Anderson Ranch

Anderson Ranch Art Center is a very special place in the mountains of Aspen and Snowmass, Colorado. The school and workshop facility was started some fifty years ago by a group of artists and ceramicists to offer workshops in painting, ceramics, printmaking, photography, wood working and now … kite making. We probably used every media available to the students for our week long adventure into the art and craft of paper and bamboo kites. We used Sumi ink, torn paper collage, paper fold kites, photo ink jet wax print transfers, digital prints, paper fold ink prints as well as conte and crayon drawings for cover designs. 

The art of spitting bamboo was taught from the stash of shafts we brought with us. Kite books lined the tables for inspirational idea making as well as a slide talk opening eyes to the art of kites around the world. 

This was our third invitation to Anderson Ranch with previous years creating our own works as artists in residence. We worked with talented and fun teen students creating and bouncing off of each other’s ideas. This basic kite making class started with simple miniature “sketch idea” kites and grew from there into larger flyables.

Each evening after leaving the dining hall we played with the light winds on the nearby golf course as the sun set over the ridge of the western high peaks.  A delightful experience! We’ll return later in the summer to dress up the campus with banners and wind creations for their annual Anderson Ranch Auction fund raiser.

Thumbing through our kite books, she said "I want to make one of those!"...
a kite design by Austrian kite maker, Anna Rubin

one of Melanie's photo kites on Kozo paper

some of my paper Cat Kites

our very small but very productive class ...
with Melanie, Riley, Jess, Elie, me and Kat

Melanie's  ink jet wax transfer printed kozo paper kite

 my Mr. Edo Wardo kite at the Friday Luncheon Auctionette

the last night goodbye bonfire party


From there we packed the kites and workshop materials and headed for Bend, Oregon to the Atelier 6000 printmaking studio and gallery for our “Flyables + Floatables” workshop. The first day was kite making with small miniature kites made from simple materials of Kozo paper and bamboo. These quick small kite designs and methods were then expanded into larger creations using a variety of painting, collage and print making techniques.

The second day we unpacked our pre-made Styrofoam toy boat hulls that we had made earlier to pass out to the class for the creative play session. Everyone took to the challenge like, well, ducks to water! Hulls were painted, printed and stamped with elaborate designs. Sails and masts sprouted from the small decks.  Ballast weighted keels were added as well as rudders, tillers, rigging, banners, tassles and even a few toy passengers scavenged from a large toy box someone brought to the class.  

By the end of the second day everyone took their boats and kites for the final test of fire… flying and floating at The Mill, a recently developed shopping area in the heart of Bend. There by the Deschutes River with summer floating parties drifting down past the old buildings of the former lumber mill now turned into fancy shops and riverside restaurants we tentatively lowered the little sailboats into a nearby pond for their baptism to the wet.

Off they drifted,  paper sails tipping dangerously close to the choppy seas.  Some headed for the pond falls while others drifted into the pump water vents. Screams  were followed by a run with the long retrieving poles around the pond and catching the boats just in time to send to the opposite side… and into the rocks. People walking by watched this scene of adults playing with toy boats with curiosity. Passing children wanted their own boats as well pleading with their parents to buy one for them. Nope.. not for sale. Gotta make your own.

The winds were also a bit too strong for the kites but several students tried. One flipped from its mooring under a box weight and ended up in the water. Despite it all everyone had a fun and splashy day. No one fell in. All the boats not only floated but sailed as if steered by their toy passengers. Everyone thanked us for getting them to think outside the box of standard printmaking practice and remembering that fine act of playful fun we learned as children.  Some said it was the best workshop experience they had ever had.

After cleanup we hopped into our little silver Beetle bug car and spent two days on the road with our eyes on those fabulous western skies of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming and remembering a great time mucking about with boats and kites.