Failed Experiments

fragmented failed transfer print on

I promised some failed experiments today and so I present two recent ones that just didn’t turn out. Although taking the extra effort to photograph these and prepare this post has endeared them to me more than I expected. I find myself looking at the photographs and slowly, partly redeeming them…so “Perpetual Little Particles” came about because I had just purchased some Light Pumice Gel at the art store and my first transfer with it went flawlessly (that one became a postcard that was posted on IG on Wednesday, actually). In my excitement, I tried another bigger transfer – and I’m not sure if I applied the medium too thickly or what, but it came apart as I pulled the plastic sheet away. But I can say the Light Pumice Gel gives the texture that it promises on the tub and it reminds me of fine sand at the beach.

closeup of failed transfer on blue painted background

This next one was a case of handling the piece too much. The initial transfer of a photograph of the author James Baldwin went perfectly – I was thrilled with how it looked over the foil backing. And so, if one transfer was good, more must be better! I wound up having a gummy mess with the different media applied too thickly. I’ve considered sanding down the gummed up areas to see if that will salvage the piece and seeing it again for the post has reinvigorated my will to do that.

failed transfer print of author James Baldwin over gold foil
closeup of a failed transfer of a photograph of author James Baldwin

The birth of John Coltrane, September 23, 1926

JohnColtraneBirth.jpgHeroin, cancer – 
nothing could stop your prayer:
a saint of music. 

Happy Autumn Equinox! I hope everyone is staying safe and sane in these crazy times.  I was looking through the Illustrated Poetry archives and discovered I don’t have a good equinox post, but I do have a past post about John Coltrane’s birthday.  I am one day early – his birthday was September 23, 1926 – but I think that is okay.

From the original post: “The history haiku for today is to honor the birth of the legendary jazz musician John Coltrane (1926 – 1967). He struggled with addiction as a young man, and sadly, his career was cut short by liver cancer at the age of 40, but he had an outsized impact on jazz and music in general. Especially towards the end of his life, he believed his music had a spiritual dimension, one that transcended any particular religion and tended towards a universalism.

John Coltrane has made an appearance on Illustrated Poetry before – in an illustration of the poem In Memoriam John Coltrane by Michael Stillman. I’ve posted it below.”
MemoriamJohnColtrane

being repelling moving apart

three brown ink wash faces with black ink outlines transfer printed words overlay
brown ink wash square with black outline face and word "Being"
closeup of middle ink wash square face with "repelling" transfer printed on top
right hand ink wash square face with "moving apart" transfer printed over

Posting another mini-art experiment that turned out better than I expected – doing some ink washes and drawings before overlaying the transfer print. There is a part of me that feels I should also post some failed experiments – because that is the unvarnished truth: many don’t turn out. These days, because of all the transfer printing I’m doing, the transfer fails completely or pulls off the under-layers or dries really weird.

I think about the highly edited nature of social media and the illusion it gives of perfection – but then the other side of my brain is just so happy when something works that it says “No, but show that one! Blargh on the ones in the recycle bin!” So, just know that the truth is that experiments fail as often as they work (and if we shift to science, please know that 90% or more of experiments in the lab fail) and next week I’ll pluck up some courage to post some failures too!

The Kick-About #10 ‘Romantic Museum’ — Red’s Kingdom

The results are in! See below for the compilation of responses to the Kick-About #10. It was fantastic to see that other artists did assemblages as well – the inspiration emanating from Joseph Cornell’s life and work is almost too strong to resist…

My piece, “Albatross Box”, featured some of the text of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge, which felt very relevant and poignant right now – and it turns out that at least a writer for The Atlantic agrees with me!
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was made for 2020

Thank you, Jilanne, for sharing the article!

I don’t mind admitting I’ve spent a few moments dabbing my eye as I put this latest showcase of new work together in response to Joseph Cornell’s Romantic Museum! There’s a lot of love in the mix this week, with reflections on beloved relationships, time passing, and the making and keeping of memories. If the last Kick-About was a short ride in a fast machine, the Kick-About#10 is about the long ride we’re taking together.

The Kick-About #10 ‘Romantic Museum’ — Red’s Kingdom

Albatross Box

black and white photo of details from the Albatross box - bird skull entwined in thread and wire

I confess that I’ve always wanted to make shadow boxes (AKA assemblages) and so when the Kick-About #10 theme was announced as one of Joseph Cornell’s assemblages called “Romantic Museum” – I decided to seize the day and fulfill the dream (click HERE to see Kick-About #9 and the announcement itself). First, the prompt:

I took a cue from the fact that “Romantic Museum” is housed in a case used for storing scientific specimens. I had an old wooden wine box I’d picked up curbside on trash day a while back: I painted it and used it to house the reconstructed bones of seabirds. NOTE: These bones were all found objects – washed-up on the beach near my home, already skeletonized. They are not from the same bird, and most likely are from local seagulls.

On the back of the box, I transfer printed as much of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as I could fit (click HERE to read the entire poem). The imagery of sea birds in this poem is so powerful it has seeped into everyday language as the phrase “an albatross around my neck.” Many seabird species are highly endangered – for instance almost half of all albatross species are threatened by the degradation of fishing stocks and habitat loss. This is in addition to the effects of climate change that intensify storms and disrupts sea bird breeding on remote islands. They are caught in an environmental net of human making. I hoped to convey some of this in my “Albatross Box.”

Since finishing the box a few days ago, I have been struck by how different it looks at different times of day. The shadows draw me in and highlight different phrases and words from Coleridge’s poem. Wiring the bird bones together was unexpectedly emotional for me – I know this box isn’t just about the plight of seabirds or found objects – and in that too it finds kinship with “Romantic Museum.”

Dead Center – Atwood

Black ink lettering of Ann Atwood's haiku "dead center"

dead center
in the center of her flowers
Georgia O’Keeffe

Ann Atwood

I was cleaning out a portfolio of old drawings the other day when I stumbled upon the ink lettering I did for a past post on Ann Atwood’s haiku “dead center.” Back then, I wound up using the lettering for an overlay in a digital collage (reposted at the end), but with the perspective of time, I’ve decided I really like the simplicity of the original. So I rescued it from potential recycling and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a “B-side” drawing as well!

Black ink wash and line drawing of woman singing

At the time of my original post, there was almost no information on Ann Atwood online. Her haiku were listed in numerous anthologies and the poems could be found on the internet, but the poet herself was a mystery. This seems to still be the case, as I found a post (click here) from the Haiku Foundation (featuring my collage – which was another pleasant surprise!) talking about the limited information we do know and calling for anyone with more to get in touch. The post also features many more of Ms. Atwood’s beautiful haiku.

Digital collage - purple paper with line drawing of woman and overlay of "dead center" haiku

The original digital collage for “dead center.”

The Kick-About #9 ‘Short Ride In A Fast Machine’ — Red’s Kingdom

Wanted to share the results of Kick-About #9 – some great stuff from Kerfe, Phil (both Phils), Gary, Francesca, so many more!

In marked contrast to our last creative prompt, which encouraged us to reflect on the slow, attenuated life-cycles of the cicada, this week’s jumping-off point invites adventures in velocity. As per, the range of responses is a delight. My advice? Slow down and have a really good look.

The Kick-About #9 ‘Short Ride In A Fast Machine’ — Red’s Kingdom

A ride on the DNA machine

collage of black and white science illustrations and shapes with DNA polymerase overlay and red DNA stitching

To keep the pressure low, I always give myself a little pep talk as the deadline for the Kick-About on Red’s Kingdom blog nears, “don’t worry, if Phil announces the theme for the next Kick-About and you don’t have a single idea, that’s okay – it’s totally okay.” But when he announced that the theme for Kick-About #9 was a musical composition by John Adams entitled a “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” oh, I had ideas. Because there is an incredibly fast machine operating inside of you – countless times a day, taking you on a too short ride from the moment of conception until the day you die: your DNA replication machinery. This complex machine, made up of dozens of components, makes an exact copy of your DNA in preparation for your cells to divide.

First, the prompt:

Next, the connection: There are a lot of animations of what the DNA replication looks like inside of your cells, but this one is short (only 1 minute) and does a good job of showing how fast and complex this machine truly is:

I went back to an A4 paper sized collage, which I had done for the first Kick-About I’d participated in (Kick-About #4: Orphée). I like how this format lets a story form freely around the images. But it does present a challenge for me to photograph and/or scan. The top image was the best photograph I could capture and below are some close-ups.

Closeup of black and white DNA machine collage showing detail

The overlaid transfer print is of the DNA replication machinery (same as shown in the video) midway through making a copy of the genome. The imperfect transfer speaks to the fact that DNA replication does go awry sometimes – as we age, in certain diseases such as cancer, and in some inherited diseases. I was really inspired by Kerfe’s stitched Cicada wings in the last Kick-About and decided to continue the DNA helixes by stitching, letting the ends unravel. We are learning more about our genome all the time, but human heredity is extremely complex, and not all of it is written in the DNA code itself. We have much yet to discover and even more to understand.

In the end, it is always too short of a ride – but at least the journey is made, in part, on this very fast, very elegant, machine inside of you.

Mini-arts that turned out

small red collage with bit of paper and the word "atoms" on it

The host of one of the open figure drawing studio sessions I used to go to (back in the time before COVID when there were such things) would always say that the secret to “art success” is to make a lot of it and not get too hung up on any one piece. This is true, although I think this man did not also have small children! My time for art is after my kid is in bed and it is very finite. And so I totally get hung up on individual pieces, especially if there is a deadline involved – I’m unlikely to get a chance to redo it once I’m committed to an idea. The compromise I came up with recently is to do mini-tests for certain works to see if I want to proceed with my plan or if it’s going to fail miserably. And sometimes I like these mini-arts just as much as the finished product! The “tester” for Atomic Courtesy is above (the scale is about 2 inches by 3 inches).

Another one, testing out how the Thomas Guide maps transfer print:

layered collage with map and a wooden circle and the word "motion"

This tester strategy has been working well for me and so I plan to keep it up! The bonus is that when the tester turns out, it becomes like a bite-sized preview and art in its own right!

If either of these pieces speaks to you, they are up for grabs: let me know in the comments and I’ll be in touch to send it to you. Remember, they are only 2 by 3 inches each, so not going to work over your mantelpiece (unless you have a miniature fireplace).

Atomic Courtesy Collaboration – Jacobson

GIF by John Sapiro

Atomic Courtesy

To smash the simple atom
All mankind was intent.
Now any day
The atom may
Return the compliment.

Ethel Jacobson

collage of beige and red particles escaping from a black concentric reactor

John Sapiro and I began our email correspondence about this little poem and the history of the atomic age a few months ago, before the early August anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but amidst the early chaos of the pandemic. It seemed almost ridiculous to be talking about yet another threat to worldwide health, peace, and humanity and yet, it was the mood of the day. I couldn’t find an exact date for Ethel Jacobson’s poem, although it is in a book I have that has a copyright date of 1952. And so our conversation centered mostly around the cold war of the 1950s and 60s but veered around widely. We talked about the physicist Richard Feynman and his “One Sentence” the sentence he composed that could be left behind to restart all of science and technology in the event of complete cataclysm (i.e. nuclear annihilation).

“…all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.”
– Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

I had planned to print Feynman’s entire sentence on my collage, but as I set up the transfer print, it felt wrong. It was too optimistic, too clinical, too exact for what I was feeling. I kept pulling away words and phrases until I was left with this one word; then I was satisfied.

We worked on our pieces in parallel and this is the result! Please stop by his blog (click here!) to see more of his unique combinations and recombinations of music, art, poetry, and video.

Lastly, my tiny paragraph of self-promotion at the end here:

Have doggedly kept up with the writing exercises from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the craft latest entry (here it is!) is on POV and my very very short story called “The Mountain Lion Killing.”
Also, I have an IG, come on over to @merb02 to say hi and see different haiku and monoprints and some desert photography.