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NCECA was in my city this year! I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, and I am still processing everything I saw/learned/did.

The best part of the whole conference (for me at least) (and excluding seeing Carleton people) was HIDENSEEKAH, an independently organized event on Instagram. You follow @hidenseekah AND the 63 artists that account is following. During the conference 25 different artists posted cryptic picture clues to different locations around downtown Milwaukee. The first person to reach that spot found a piece of work by the artist who posted the picture and they got to keep it! Forever!

This was a really fun event for me. Even though I was born and raised here, and even though I work downtown every day, there were still clues that totally flummoxed me. Not all though! I was extremely lucky to find two pieces!

The first! I saw a clue posted by Joe Pintz (@joepintz). It went up at noon, and I realized immediately that it was the silly red phone booth outside John Hawkes Pub. I ran at a dead run from the convention center, literally gaving myself an asthma attack. But it was totally worth it because when I finally got there and saw something waiting in the booth, I basically lost my mind. From there I ran to Red Arrow Park where a piece by Crystal Morey had yet to be found. I didn’t find that one, but I was there when a girl did. It was so exciting!
Hidenseekah - Joe Pintz
The second! I saw the clue posted by Carole Epp (@musingaboutmud), and from there it was a mad dash to the lake front. I could tell by the stickers that it was at the Art Museum, and from the concrete wall that it’s on the old part of the building. [Side Note: The new section of the museum is the most recognizable. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava and is really beautiful and popular. Blah blah blah. The other half of the museum is still great though. It is beneath the War Memorial designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. It is a hulking modernist building overlooking the lake, all angles everywhere. It’s the art museum of my youth and I love it.] I came around a corner and saw the power box with a couple parcels stuffed around it. In the picture below I am sitting on the ground for two reasons: 1. I lost my mind and was so excited I couldn’t stand; and 2. my body said, “Hey pal, you are tired. Sit down. You live here now.”
Hidenseekah - Carole Epp

 

In both instances, I arrived at the spot the pieces were hidden literally seconds before other people. I think over the course of three days I probably walked/ran 20+ miles around Downtown Milwaukee. At least!

I am so incredibly grateful for this event. I am a public librarian, and I don’t have access to a clay studio. I don’t have a lot of money and I also don’t have work to trade anymore. This was an unparalleled opportunity for me to own extremely wonderful ceramic things that are usually out of my price range. It was also a great opportunity for the 63 participating artists to increase their presence. I’ve been out of clay for a few years now, but now I feel like I can jump back in because I know at least a little bit about what’s going on in the wider community.

If you go to the conference in Rhode Island next year, you MUST hidenseekah!

It’s a very simple idea: a woman receives a notebook with newspaper clippings from the Bintel Brief, a long-running letter column in turn of the century Yiddish newspaper The Forward. When she opens this notebook, the ghost of Abraham Cahan springs to life and they read the columns as they interact in the present. This is the charming premise of Liana Finck’s graphic novel A Bintel: Love and Longing in Old New York.

Finck adapts 11 letters-to-the-editor, using a different style based on the content of the letter. The illustrations vary wildly from blocky and dark to spacious and delicate. The tone of the book is lovely and heartfelt, perhaps because she is a character in the narrative. As she reads The Bintel Brief, she gets to know centuries of New York immigrant Jews and she gets to know Cahan himself. It can also be difficult to interest younger people in 100 year old advice columns when there is so much else to read, see, and do. Especially when that advice was written in a Yiddish newspaper! Finck breathes new life into these columns. Plenty of life was there before, but I’m not sure they had an audience.

Every story in the book actually appeared in The Forward. These are real problems real people wrote in about. They are all a bit sad, but not in an outright weepy way. People sought advice about missing husbands, thieving neighbors, and embarrassing spouses; but at the core they’re all very respectful and earnest. Many people were haunted by the ghosts of the old world, which never seems to be far from their minds. The letters are borne from the everyday hardships of immigrant life, which is sometimes quite bleak but at the same time poignant and hopeful. These letters can tell you as much about peoples’ lives at that time than any article about working conditions, poverty, or immigration ever could.

You can read some excerpts from the book on Liana Fink’s website. If you read this book and you want more (as I did), you can read the original columns in A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward, edited by Isaac Metzger (libraries have it, but you can also buy it). The Forward also still hosts a Bintel Brief advice blog online.

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Cover image via Goodreads.

This review was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Enjoy!

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey is incredibly fantastic, offering a peek into the lives (and perhaps minds) of great cultural figures. The project started as a blog, so it has that same short, easy-reading format.

The book covers authors, composers, poets, artists, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and filmmakers; and the huge variety in how different people create. Some toil waiting for inspiration, others chug ahead day after day. There are early risers (like W.H. Auden who said, “Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.” Harsh!), night owls (Jackson Pollock said, “I’ve got the old Eighth Street habit of sleeping all day and working all night pretty well licked. So has [my wife] Lee. We had to, or lose the respect of the neighbors.”), and nappers (Buckminster Fuller practiced “high frequency sleep” where he slept for 30 minutes after every 6 hours of work). There are many parents who write while their children are napping (Alice Munro and Sylvia Plath are two) and civil servants and blue collar workers who work after a full day on a job (like Anthony Trollope and Joseph Cornell).

And their eating habits! Holy moly, their eating habits! Soren Kierkegaard would pour sugar into his coffee cup so it was piled to the rim, and then slowly pour coffee in until it dissolved. He would down that concoction swiftly, then chase it with a sherry. Beethoven counted the beans in each cup of coffee (60, if you’re interested). Patricia Highsmith didn’t care much for food – an acquaintance remarked that “she only ever ate American bacon, fried eggs and cereal, all at odd times of the day.”

Currey focuses on the ritual, not necessarily the product. All of these individuals produced great work, but with wildly varying levels of productivity. People have quested for the perfect routine since the beginning of time, and this book is evidence that there are as many productive ways to work as there are people getting work done.  This book can also serve as inspiration for people looking to change up or tweak their routine.

As a sneak peek, here is Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine as outlined in his Autobiography.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 27 books toward her goal of 100 books.
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This post was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. If you want to read all of my Read @ MPL posts, click here! Also, cross-posted at Happy Bodies!

February is still the time for self-improvement, so here are some books for anyone who wants to be more creative and who might need some inspiration for the New Year. Let these books be the kick in the behind you might need to get started.

The Artist in the Office by Summer Pierre
Artists often have to work day jobs to make ends meet, and even people with no aspiration to be a professional artist might need an artistic outlet. This book provides artistic ideas about how to use your surroundings and the materials at hand to create small projects and incorporate creative thinking into your daily/weekly routine. A lot of the exercises in this book focus on helping you examine your priorities. What are the obstacles to you making art? What are the obstacles to you enjoying your job? How are you spending your time? How do you want to spend your time? This book is a supportive guide to figuring out the answers to those questions.

Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is another great book for figuring out how to be creative in your daily life. Kleon outlines 10 principles for making creativity a priority. Filled with some amazing quotes about creativity, Kleon draws from tons of fields to make some interesting points about making stuff. It doesn’t all have to be miraculous artistic genius, sometimes you just have to do something and keep doing something until things start to click. The tips in this book are particularly relevant because they focus on creativity in the digital world. Etiquette, putting your work out there, and citing your sources (in the often anonymous internet ether) are all covered.

What It Is by Lynda Barry
I think Lynda Barry is the absolute greatest, and this book is no exception. Simply put, it’s a book about writing and how to write. Barry is very encouraging and open, mixing stories about her life with instructions for writing exercises. Most of her comics and collages are on lined yellow legal paper, making it clear that artistic expression doesn’t have to be fancy and special. Art can happen anywhere! She talks a lot about how children create so much and without scrutiny, and when we get older we fall prey to judgment and the idea that we’re not really artists/writers/creators. This book is meant to help you see that the freedom and creativity we experience as children isn’t off limits as adults. We can create! We can dance! We can write! We can draw! We just need to get off our butts and do it.

And if you need a further inspiration, you should read Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. What’s that about? Just go back in time and read the review!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 17 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This was written for my work blog (what are the odds, right?) Read @ MPL.

Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat.A common complaint about cookbooks is there aren’t enough pictures. Boy howdy do I have a cookbook for those complainers! Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. by Katie Shelly is a graphic cookbook where the recipes are drawn not written. Each recipe features drawings of the ingredients and the process of preparing the dish, with the instructions contained in the drawings. The recipes aren’t strict blueprints for perfect food, but more like a framework to experiment with. Instead of a recipe for tacos, she has “Some Thoughts on Tacos” featuring a huge variety of ingredients that you can combine in any way you want to create your perfect taco. People who are strict recipe followers probably won’t like this; it’s very loosey-goosey. Shelly does finish each recipe with a ribbon across the bottom of each page featuring the measurements and quantities of ingredients, so you aren’t totally out on a limb. If you want a taste of the cookbook (pun intended!), she has posted several preview recipes on her website.

In addition to the yummy food, I am totally smitten with Katie Shelly’s drawings. The lines are beautiful and clean, the colors bold, and the recipes very tempting. Cookbook innovation is pretty infrequent. People stopped trying to change it up once they figured out a standard format. And don’t get me wrong, that format is wonderfully efficient; but not all recipes have to be that way! This cookbook is beautiful, interesting, and delicious. Some cookbooks have a tone of haute cuisine, but Picture Cook is just an artist sharing her favorite recipes.

My absolute favorite part of this recipe is the hands. Mix! Around!

Notes:
Cover photo via Goodreads.
Recipe photo from katieshelly.com.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 2 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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I was looking at a gift guide on Miss Moss (whom I lovelovelove. Not to be confused with Swiss Miss, whom I also lovelovelove) and she included this stripes cup from Rennes:

Rennes stripes cup

I was salivating instantly. Look at those stripes! Look at that exposed clay! Look at the speckles! It has so many lovely beautiful things I want/love. Their ceramics collection (pictured below) is beautiful and subtle: matte glazes, simple colors, clear forms. Even though the cups, mugs, and jars are minimal, there is a lot of complexity there too. On the mugs, the handles have squared edges, extending pretty far off the surface and connecting symetrically close to the top and bottom of the form. The speckled matte glazes are another beautiful touch. The speckles let you know that the glaze isn’t uniform, that it doesn’t behave the same way on every cup in every firing. I love the squared off edges of the handles because the glaze doesn’t sit evenly there. It makes a line, emphasizing the curve of that handle, letting a little more of the clay body show through. Boy howdy, do I ever like this collection.

Rennes ceramics

Rennes, I learned, is a design studio based in Boston. They are named for Rennes-le-Château, a chateau in southwestern France that is apparently the center of some conspiracy theories about the Holy Grail! They comically note that they “were into [it] way before the Da Vinci Code.” Their ethos is to make things, close to home, with beautiful details and excellent craftsmanship. Their (too small! Gimme more!) ceramics collection fits right into that. Rennes also means reindeer, and you know how I feel about antlers.

Note:
Photos from rennes – Ceramics.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL and cross-posted at Happy Bodies.

Allie Brosh, author of the new book Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened, and I are soulmates. I am absolutely sure of this. Not just because both of our names are Allie (spelled correctly), but because she gets it. She gets pets, she gets depression, she gets cake, she gets procrastination, adulthood, and spider fear, and she gets me. This book gives me all of the feelings.

This book is a collection of her writings and drawings from her website Hyperbole and a Half that cover just about whatever she wants. Her drawings are some of the best things to come out of MS Paint since the programs invention. She represents herself as a stick-ish figure with a pink dress a tuft of yellow hair that kind of looks like a party hat. It’s not high art, but it is hilarious. There is a bunch of stuff in there about her dogs, who are quite dumb but very very sweet. She also tells a hysterical story about a childhood run-in with some cake. Her stories can be incredibly funny, but also tender and meaningful.

One of the best things she does is talk honestly about her depression. On her site she addresses how she used to post a lot more but slowed down because she was depressed. It’s not something she dealt with and now it’s gone, it’s something she deals with all the time. She told the Guardian, “It’s sort of like a thing that is maybe a tunnel, but also maybe a giant tube that just keeps going in a circle. And you can’t tell which one it is while you’re in it. There might be light, but there might just be more tube.” YES. She doesn’t gloss over it; she dives in and brings you with. But it’s not all sad, and there is some truly priceless comedy in those stories.

You can read an excerpt on NPR. Let it be known, I like this book alot.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 182 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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I have been reading a lot lately, and not really blogging about anything. Ugh. I know I should be writing more.  Baby steps. Here is a little bit about some of the graphic novels I’ve read lately.


Goliath by Tom Gauld
Aw, man. Real good, but also real sad. This is the story of Goliath, yes the Goliath of “The Bible” fame. I mean, I know how this story ends, I just definitely wish this one didn’t end like this. Tom Gauld’s style is so pared down and simple, it makes this very well known story very wrenching and sympathetic.  I always like stories that have a thoughtful and likable weirdo at the center, and this fits the bill very well. Basically I’ll read (and probably love) anything published by Drawn & Quarterly.


Daisy Kutter: The Last Train by Kazu Kibuishi
Recommended! I started reading The Amulet series (highly recommended, too) a while back and fell totally in love with it. After that I looked up all the comics by Kibuishi in the library catalog and read all of them. Daisy Kutter is earlier than the Amulet series, but you can see so much of Kibuishi’s sensibility building. There are robots and old-timey things alongside one another. It sounds sort of steampunk, and it is, but not in a lame way. It’s more like Firefly, which is a very apt comparison particularly because it’s also a western.

I really like how Kibuishi writes female characters. They are strong and awesome, but not flawless sexy martyrs. The book might be short (or shorter than a regular novel) but there are so many character-developing glances, movements, and affectations.

Also there’s a really bad ass robot gun.


Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor.
Very disappointing. I’ve been going through a bit of a Batman kick lately (the new movie, and episode of The Indoor Kids dedicated to all things Batman, and an episode of How Did This Get Made about Batman & Robin). I give it 2 stars instead of 1 solely because of the architectural details.

At first glance, the art looks really beautiful — moody, responsive, and atmospheric — But it really didn’t make sense when reading the comic. It took me a while to figure out why it looked so weird and then it hit me: most of the characters’ mouths were closed when they were talking. It looks so ridiculous. And the color palette is awful. It’s almost all a soft charcoal color, with some not-very-dark darks and some very strange pastel color accents. Gross.

There’s also just waaaay too much writing. It was so boring to plod through because there was too much to read with so little visual pay-off. I had no investment in the plot or the characters, and one of the characters is Batman!


Unterzakhn by Leela Corman
It had been a while since I read a true graphic novel, as most of the graphic stuff I read (at least in 2012) is non-fiction. This book is about two Jewish twin sisters living in New York in the early 20th century, and the different paths they take. Life was pretty rough and tumble in those days, and there aren’t very many sentimental frames in this book. It was a time of great possibility, but also of some very sharp and harsh differences in class and culture along those ethnic lines.

Corman really brings life to the pages through the Yiddish dialect and the bustle of the streets. She captures the excitement, difficulties, and clutter of the time period. Her drawing isn’t pristine (something I really like in my comics) but it is stylish. There’s room for outrageous expressions and comic portrayals as well as beautiful and careful renderings, and the story isn’t hampered or diverted by that.

The sisters end up in vastly different places than I expected, and the story was always shifting and growing with these fallible and very flawed women. All in all, a very successful book.


2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 150 books in 2012!
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I cannot imagine my brain without Lynda Barry.

In January I started reading Blabber Blabber Blabber Blabber: Everything Vol. 1 Collected and Uncollected Comics from Around 1978-1982 and I LOVED it! My absolute favorites were Rita and Evette, twin sisters who are so totally weird. It’s not just the weird comics, but also how she draws and how her comics started and where they are now. The characters are weird, but also the style is weird and imperfect. I see a lot of beautiful, pristine drawings and comics but what I really love is the weird stuff. The stuff that looks almost like it could be done by anyone, but not quite because there’s this magical sensibility that fits so perfectly and is so lovely and abnormal. Barry fills the backgrounds with patterns, my favorite is bobby pins. Now all I want is some fabric that has bobby pins all over it. I’d make bobby pin dresses and maybe a coat. Definitely some linens too.

The second book of hers I picked up was Picture This. Holy WOW!! It’s part comics and part autobiographical musings on drawing. The near-sighted monkey appears throughout, making a mess in the kitchen and smoking a lot of cigarettes. Arna and Marlys are also all over this one, goofing off and sketching, sometimes hanging out and sometimes antagonizing each other. The book is divided into seasons, my favorite (and the first one in the book – i.e. I fell in love before I knew it was divided by season) is winter. She makes observations that I recognize in myself but I’ve never given a name to before this. Like sometimes in winter you just have to paint everything blue. That happens to me! Not just in winter though. When I get sad, everything in my sketchbook turns blue, almost because it has to. I draw, yes, but my drawings aren’t necessarily governed by me or my conscious brain. This book is so sensitive and perfect. She talks about insecurities about her drawings and her life. She talks about keeping brush to paper because she needs to; maybe because the drawing is keeping her there or because if she’s not drawing then what’s she doing anyways?

100 Demons (also called One! Hundred! Demons!) is up next. OH MY GOD. First, this 100 demons drawing exercise is something I really want to do. My life is governed by a lot of demons, big and small. Lynda Barry said that at first it was really difficult and awful but it became good after a while. Her demons, from girlishness to dancing, were so poignant and relevant to my life. Maybe it’s because she’s a redhead too. She was (is?) a freak loner, I am a freak loner! She draws a lot, I draw a lot! Everything she shares in her books is so honest and raw. These are feelings and demons that might be 30-40 years old but they are still very fresh. While I was reading I thought a lot about how I was (still am sometimes) both bully and victim. Hurt people hurt people is a phrase I first heard in the movie Greenberg, but I think about it all the time. It’s a good summary of how I was raised, and something I have to constantly think about to keep me from continuing the cycle.

The most recent Lynda Barry book I’ve read is called What It Is. This one is about writing like Picture This was about drawing.  There are cluttered parts and clear parts, and so much terrific advice about writing and creativity.  It was definitely my least favorite of these, but seriously I still absolutely love it.  The parts I like best were the autobiographical parts, which were less numerous in this book. The great thing about this one is that there’s an activity portion! It’s at the end of the book and it is a bunch of exercises to help loosen you up and start thinking creatively again. I think every adult could use an activity book like that, be they an office drone or a CEO or a teacher or an artist!

I know I came a little late to the Lynda Barry table, but I can’t imagine my brain without her. Everything she says, everything she draws makes so much sense to me in a way that is indescribable. I am genuinely at a loss for words when talking about her to other people, because I can say all the good stuff I like about her work but the most beautiful perfect thing is stuck in my brain.

You should listen to this interview she did with Talk of the Nation in 2008: Genius At Work: Lynda Barry, AND an interview on Talk of the Nation from 2010 Doodle Your Way Out of Writer’s Block. And a Review, What It Is Plumbs the Depths of Creativity.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 134 books toward her goal of 150 books.
hide

Cross-posted at Happy Bodies.

Aimee Fleck, a fantastic student at the Maryland Instutute College of Art, made a little zine called The Fat Femme’s Guide to Loving Summer.  Inside there are interviews with some really foxy ladies, instructions on how to make friendship bracelets, a recipe for beignets, new hairstyles to try, a playlist, and lots of suggestions for great summer fashion. It’s all beautifully, colorfully drawn and very well designed, plus sassy and fun.  The zine is also getting plenty of tumblr love, which makes me really happy.

You can view it for free (here) or for a mere $6 you can own your very own copy (order here).  You’ll not only be supporting a young artist but also a fat-acceptance advocate!

Insty

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