At last month's Show and Tell in San Francisco, Courtney Cerruti mentioned a project she had been curating: 36 antique wooden spoons painted, modified or adorned by artists from the United States and the UK. The results will be on display in Paxton Gate Kids and opens tonight from 6-8pm. The full list of artists and details are on Courtney's site.
GUEST POST BY ANA ISABEL RAMOS
Ana Isabel Ramos is an illustrator, designer and crafter from Lisbon, Portugal. In this guest post, she shares her personal story on how craft and creativity has helped her find connections and community in difficult times.
As Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots in hindsight; and today I want to tell you a personal story where I connect the dots from difficulty to craft, to collaboration, to creativity, to integration. And finally, from there to making money with content creation.
Let’s move back in time: seven years ago, I moved from my hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. All I took was a suitcase and the hope that my new life near my then boyfriend would work well for us.
(Spoiler alert: it did. We are now married and having a lot of fun together. The beginning was rough, though.)
The first week in my new city wasn't very easy. We had an apartment, but no friends or acquaintances. In a ten-million-metropolis, I didn't know one single soul.
On the eighth day I was there, I got sick. At first, my husband and I thought it was just a bad case of food poisoning. We decided to go to the hospital, if only we knew where to go. We looked at a travel guide, saw the hospital recommendations and took a chance. When we got there, I was admitted for the day and discharged with some medicine prescriptions, as doctors believed it was nothing too serious. I didn't get better, though, so we returned a day later, very dehydrated and with an enlarged and painful belly. That was when I was finally diagnosed with a first world disease, one that is easily curable but not preventable: due to a previous surgery, I had grown adhesions inside my abdomen, which then forced my intestines shut. The treatment was surgical: in 48 hours I underwent two open abdomen surgeries followed by three long weeks at the hospital.
The day I was discharged, several pounds lighter, no strength on my limbs, I felt pure joy. Returning home was like finding the El Dorado, but I kid you not: after the initial thrill came the heavy weight of depression.
Why am I telling you all this? Because my life in my new city did, indeed, get better, and I got to make a lot of new friends through collaboration, craft and creativity.
Fast forward to a year later, my new life started to get better and I slowly grew roots in Buenos Aires. After attending Spanish classes, where all the students were foreigners who sooner or later left the city, I signed up for German classes, where my fellow students were locals. That is when I finally made local friends.
I also took up knitting, a craft my grandmother had taught me when I was a child, but I hadn't done in two decades.
In Buenos Aires, knitting kept me sane and energized: through knitting, I was able to burst the expat bubble and meet real porteños, people with as diverse backgrounds as possible, the only thing in common among us being knitting. For some reason, we were all at a crossroads at that point: after meeting, many of us turned craft into successful entrepreneurial ventures, and today there are professional dyers, spinners, knitters, teachers and designers among our group. In my case, I launched a brand of handmade baby wear, abbrigate*, which has been growing to this day.
But the story goes on: after three years living down south, the time came to uproot our family of two and leave Argentina for Panama. Where, due to its tropical hot and wet climate, there's no need to wear any knitting at all.
My knitting strategy was useless on that latitude, so I turned to a new craft, embroidery, for a challenge (and support). Being a passionate illustrator and sketcher, I saw in embroidery a way to somehow reproduce the line drawings I fill my sketchbooks with: instead of pen on paper, I started using needle and thread on fabric. For my baby wear brand, I launched a new product: hand embroidered baby blankets, to protect the little ones from the fierce cold of air conditioning.
Embroidery soon became a passion, one that was portable and easy to take with me in that incredibly hot weather.
Given that knitting wasn't going to help me integrate in Panama, I launched an illustrated monthly zine, which I then printed and left in strategic places. It became the start for many conversations I had during those years. I even spoke at a Pecha Kucha event in Panama about it, and entertained a whole audience in a foreign language.
In 2013, we relocated again to my original hometown of Lisbon, Portugal. Repatriation may sound easy and smooth, after moving around so much, but it comes with its thorns. Granted, I had a previous social network, I have my family and friends nearby, but it is unwise to think that things are exactly the same as they were when I left seven years ago. Neither am I the same person.
In Lisbon, I pulled my big guns: I knew craft, collaboration and creativity would be the best way to connect with new people, make new friends and maybe even revive old friendships. I launched an Embroidery Club as a way to create a network, to collaborate with different people—I believe each member is a collaborator, specially whenever I see the amazing embroideries they come up with, based on my designs—and to monetize my content creation.
Craft, collaboration and creativity have been the instruments to keep me grounded wherever I am living at a certain point; they keep me growing with all the stimuli I receive from new friends around the world, with whom I share a passion for craft; they make me appreciate the skills and abilities required to complete a project, and the producers of those materials I use, from the farmers who grow and shear sheep to the dyers and spinners who produce wonderful yarns, to the industries that provide us with new, natural sourced fibres, to the shops who strive to keep themselves open and engaged in their communities, despite the difficult economy.
Through craft, collaboration and creativity I managed to find a community; with the support of my community, I found a way of making a living with content creation. And through all the challenges of living abroad, I grew much more than I could have ever anticipated.
The ideas, projects and creative passions that were shared at the Show and Tell event at 3 Fish Studios on January 30 were outstanding. Not only was the evening really enjoyable and entertaining, it resulted in this week-long series of posts about the individuals who braved a few jitters to publicly present their work. I look forward to following along on their various blogs and sites and Instagram accounts and hope to meet these friends of UPPERCASE again the next time I'm in San Francisco. We may see some of the participants profiled in more depth in future publications!
Thank you again to Annie and Eric for providing the perfect venue and being so welcoming to all. If you've fallen in love with California, visit their shop and you'll find something fun or endearing to adorn your walls.
Here's a face you've just seen on the UPPERCASE blog: Courtney Cerruti works at Creativebug appearing on camera as well as setting the stage for other artists and she does even more: she is also an instructor at the San Francisco Center for the Book, an author with a new book by Quarry called Playing with Image Transfers, she's active on Instagram, was formerly a display coordinator at Anthropologie... the list is so long that "maker extraordinaire" is the best all-encompassing description!
Frances England is a singer-songwriter who RSVPd to the Show and Tell to just "watch and listen", but when I saw and listened to her website, I was bold enough to ask her if she'd like to share a song. I'm so glad that she agreed! Frances has a lovely voice with sweetly melancholic songs for children and families... and she has just released her first "grown-up" album as well. I was also impressed with the collage artwork on her website and on her album covers—that is her handiwork as well. I've posted her lettering for her new album "Paths We Have Worn" so that we can appreciate that she cut those out by hand (no photoshop).
It is wonderful to find out that UPPERCASE can connect creativity in unusual ways. In perusing Frances' website, I watched the video, above, about a boy who has a great friend in an oversized Donna Wilson creature. I emailed Frances to tell her about our mutual fondness for Donna's creations and Frances wrote back:
"I am such a huge fan of UPPERCASE and you are the reason I found Donna Wilson. I saw the feature you did on her last year and the minute I saw her "Big Ted" knit creature, the idea for my "Tell Me It All" video popped into my head. And she was kind enough to let me use him for it—so thank you for that connection. I'm sure UPPERCASE is responsible for plenty of those kinds of artistic connections!"
How lovely! Thank you, Frances for your beautiful singing and providing a lovely interlude at the Show and Tell.
I was happy to meet Cleo Papanikolas in person: Cleo is one of the artists in Work/Life 3 and also created the great hat illustrations in our current issue. If you want to be astounded by her prolific creativity, spend some time on Cleo's blog: she has created a long list of intricately illustrated downloadable projects based around her paintings. Scroll through her Tiny Paintings Project, visit her Pinterest boards and purchase craft kits from her Etsy shop.
3 Fish Studios was the perfect venue for the UPPERCASE Show and Tell. Annie and Eric were generous hosts and their studio was amazing. Formerly a neighbourhood grocery store, and then a dance studio, now the main open area is their gallery and printing area. In the back is a small kitchen that leads out into a covetable garden space. Although it was too chilly to hang out in the backyard, with a large state of California-shaped table, it would be great for a gathering. Upstairs, Annie has a painting studio along with a computer office area and a table for preparing prints. There was a small window peering over the shop area which would have made for a great photo of the Show and Tell proceedings, but I was a little too busy with that to steal away for a picture. I took photos and notes of all our presenters and I'll share them on the blog throughout the week. Lots of great creativity to share!
The 'Robots' owned the Grammy awards last with Daft Punk winning 5 awards for Random Access Memories. The French duo is truly invested in their robotic appearance, cultivating a sort of famed anonymity. My brother, Marc VanGool, is also someone who likes to remain behind the scenes and under the radar, but I'd like to congratulate him for his part in getting Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams' "Get Lucky" track to Album of the Year and Best Performance by a Duo/Group.
Marc built the transparent guitar and bass featured in the "Get Lucky" video and some photo shoots. They not only look cool, but they are solid, good-sounding instruments. Marc is a true perfectionist and cares about the details. He was also part of the Daft Punk arts crew, working on audio equipment leading up to the event and technical details and electronics for the Grammy performance. Congratulations, Marc!
Julie M. Elman is conquering fear, one phobia at a time. An associate professor at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, the fears that she illustrates are not her own; they are visual interpretations of others' concerns. Though the genesis of the project came from a fear we all share—the trepidatious blank page and the pressure to be creative. "I teach courses in publication design, and in my classes, I talk a lot about moving beyond the fear of that scary blank page. ... The Fear Project sprang from my own fears, one of them being how to manage the creative process. I also watched my design students struggle with their own fears of creating and taking visual risks, and I wondered how to best encourage them to move past creative blocks."
Since February 2012, Julie has explored topics that range from the somewhat silly to the serious. "The specific fear themes run the gamut and include failure, losing a child, centipedes in the shower, the impulse to jump off high places, small holes, escalators, dying alone and needles." The statements of fear are gathered from family, colleagues and perfect strangers.
"During my process of illustrating other people's fears, I have become much more aware of just how pervasive fear really is. I'm starting to notice more and more how the topic of fear creeps into the collective conversation (interviews, articles, essays, everywhere) — and I started to think about how fear can be either crippling to people, or a driving force to motivate people to move past it."
"People often ask me if it’s depressing to work on these fear pieces. The short answer is no. It’s actually quite the opposite: Some people have expressed gratitude for giving them a chance to see their fear in a way that makes the fear less powerful in their own lives. Some tell me that they feel better knowing they are not alone with their particular fear struggles. I’ve discovered that this project has resonated strongly with people — simply because of how deeply embedded fear is in most of our everyday lives."
"I have come to learn that many people feel validated after seeing their fears visualized in an interpretive, yet non-judgmental way. They can come face to face whatever fears they have in a non-threatening way."
"This delicate animation follows the charming rise and fold of a fragile metropolis. Captured by an unseen helicopter, the narrative unfolds through winding roads, erupting forests and emerging mountains. Paper City grows in one fluid take, with skyscrapers rising from the page – only to crumble, wrinkle and gently crease back into the ground."
Direction, Animation, Scultping, Camera, Architecture: Maciek Janicki
Over the past couple years, I have been working on improving my "scrawl" as I call it. I use UPPERCASE projects as a reason to get out my brush pen and start lettering. Some efforts are more successful than others, but overall I think I am finding my style.
As a Christmas gift to you, dear readers, here is the UPPERCASE creative manifesto available as a free download until December 26. (After that, it will be available as a print for sale in the new poster section I'm setting up in our online shop.) I hope my quirky lettering will inspire you in your creative endeavours through the coming year. Merry Christmas!
By now, you're probably getting tired by all the post-Thanksgiving, Black Friday through Cyber Monday shopping hoopla. Me, too. I have a suggestion: Let's rebrand this day as "Make Something Monday."
Today's the day to create a good old-fashioned made-by-hand gift.
It doesn't have to be something complicated, just something simple showing your recipient that you took some time. Time is precious; showing someone that you took time out of the busy season to make something heartfelt is powerful and will be appreciated.
Create something that comes from YOU.
It could be a handwritten card, a little embroidery on a hankie, some cookies made from scratch, a simply sewn pin cushion, an ornament made from found objects, a collage of pretty pictures, a finger-painting made with your child, a snowman in the yard (Instagram him holding a message for your friend!), a crocheted granny square coaster, a handmade notebook of blank pages with a found-paper cover... these are just a few little ideas that pop into my head.
Stay away from DIY posts and Pinterest!
These days, it is too easy to get bogged down into the perceived perfection of Pinterest and the tyranny of step-by-step craft instructions. Today's the day to unplug from these distractions. Comparing yourself to others and following directions can be so detrimental to genuine creativity. Use your own ideas, your own resources, your own ingenuity... you will make something that is from you and your heart.
Make something out of nothing.
Be experimental. Be silly. Creativity comes from letting yourself go a little bit. If you worry about stitching a straight line, today's the day to zigzag. Just gather up all your creative supplies onto the table and see what emerges.
Enjoy the process. Making things is a lot of fun!
PS For you cyber monday shoppers, we do have a sale in our shop... It's your choice of discount! Take 15% off your order or select FREE SHIPPING on orders destined within North America. Use the discount code "snowday" for 15% off, or "freeshipusa" or "freeshipcanada" at checkout. (Shipping costs must be under $50 and is for regular shipping only.)
Other than a photo of Finley with Santa from last year, we don't have any photographs of our son on display. I have to confess that when Finley was a baby, though I absolutely adored taking pictures of him in the moment and am so glad that I did, it was too emotional for me to look at those photos later... he was changing and growing so fast, all these little amazing moments were so fleeting. Trying to put together a baby book, I failed a few times. With the exception of two Blurb books of Instagram photos, I still haven't made him a baby book.
Earlier this year, I watched a crowdfunding campaign that promised to turn digital photos and Instagrams into oil paintings for less than $150. I'm always taking personal photos but they end up stored in the cloud and on my laptop, rarely to be seen again. Curious, I decided to support the campaign and recently I received my Pixeli.st painting in the mail. I am so pleased with the resulting painting, it is so much better than I imagined.
I knew that the paintings were made by Chinese artists, but the thing that was lacking with the final oil painting was a credit and brief bio about the individual who created it. I emailed Pixeli.st and asked them about their process. Will Freeman replied:
China has a number of "art villages" which are generally small areas of cities where artists congregate. Some are famous for creative and cutting edge art like "the 798" in Beijing. Others are places where less successful artists find cheap housing and hang out with their peers, "like Songzhuang" in Beijing. Still others are centres for art production and export. Xiamen, a smaller city in Fujian province, where our artists live, is one of these. Xiamen actually has two "art villages", but artists and export factories are scattered all around the city. A lot of the oil paintings you find in home-interiors shops, hotel rooms, etc are made in Xiamen or Shenzhen. Most of these are done by migrant workers who create the same paintings hundreds, or even thousands, of times over in an assembly line fashion (one person paints the top corner, the next person paintings the bottom corner, and so on). The artists we use tend to be art-school graduates who do custom one-off painting projects and act as art directors for these assembly line sort of factories. They are extremely talented painters, but tend to see painting as a fun job—a means to earn a living—rather than purely a creative pursuit.
When we receive an order, our team's most important job is to chose the right artist for the particular photo. Some of our artists excel in human portraits; others paint mostly landscapes; others prefer cityscapes; and so on. A painting is usually finished about ten days after the order is placed. Our art staff then reviews the painting to make sure there are no alterations are needed. I'd say about 30% of our paintings require revisions. When someone places a custom order with us, we bring them into this process by sending them photos of their finished painting and allowing them to comment on any changes they'd like. After a painting is approved for shipping, we do all packaging at a central location in Xiamen and ship with various express carriers. The whole process tends to take 3-5 weeks, depending on how burdened the shipping companies are at a particular time.
Will said that artist bios was something they were working on. I think giving credit where credit is due would only add value to a painting that was relatively inexpensive and created by someone with genuine talent. Thank you to whomever painted such a lovely portrait of my Finley—I can tell it was done with care and great skill!
Find out more about Pixeli.st here.
Sago Sago apps prominently feature Aaron's character designs and it is fun to see them come to life in the many apps. Sago Mini Sound Box was one of my son's favourites when he was smaller and now he likes to build bugs. Aaron showed me some previews of forthcoming apps and it looks like Finley will have some more fun things to do with his iPad.
Thank you to everyone at Sago Sago for a nice visit and lovely lunch!
The notebooks are completed and look and feel wonderful! I was so excited I took these Instagram videos and shots as I opened up the packages. All the details came together so nicely, even the crystal clear bag that keeps everything secure is the perfect fit.
Stepping back a moment to recall the Jen11 book and exhibition from some years ago... If you know someone named Jennifer—and judging by the graphic above, you do—this small book features eleven creative and talented artists named Jennifer.
More than a million of us were dubbed Jennifer within the span of just fifteen years. From a place of relative obscurity, the name grew on a wave of sudden and unprecedented popularity. We’re starting to learn that the effects of this phenomenon were not entirely trivial. Now as an adult, Jennifer has become targeted as the highly sought after demographic of Generation X. In the business press, we are actually known as The Jennifer Demographic or Jen-eration and are told that “focus should be almost entirely on Jennifer right now as habits of all other segments pale in comparison to hers.”
Most of us have some desire to feel unique, as though we have some authentic expression that is exclusively our own. So when the culture spins out the next trend based on you and your name, it is difficult to make sense of what is genuine. Maybe one truth that my Jen-eration makes visible is the simple reminder that we act collectively, often without even knowing it. Done with the right spirit, this can sometimes be the only way to act.