Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Attack of the Muses, Part II.

So, now you know why I ditched zookeeping for art school. You have the basics on my art school training. Now, back to those pesky Muses(behold; rare hyperlinks to the outside world!)

Muse One: Basseopeia
She whispered softly in my ear, "Grab that dusty Yamaha and play it, my dear."
I've been messing around with electric bass guitars since I was twelve years old. Actually, my first "bass" was my brother's hollow-body electric guitar. I figured out if I played it acoustically, I could get a pretty decent bass sound out of the lower four strings. I played by ear, and easily picked out the bass riffs on popular songs by Culture Club, Talk Talk and Michael Jackson. (Gimme a break; it was the eighties, okay?)

In my early thirties, I finally bought a bass of my own.(My trusty Yamaha RBX260.)I started taking lessons, but had to cease when I became pregnant with our first child. (I didn't feel good, and my stomach got too big to balance the bass on.) At that point, I put the bass in a corner, and would only get it out every now and then, when good old Fred would encourage me to play it. I got to the point where I could plunk out a funereal "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", but that's about as far as it went.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, so they say...He moved my big brother to put together a music mission called "Ventana", a great group of folks who hope to use music to reach out to people in need. I'm fortunate that Mike still encourages his little sister to tag along, so I've had the good fortune to participate. I'm slowly but surely learning to play that electrified hunk of wood, with a little help from Mike's friends.

Muse Two: Photoshoppity
"You've used this software since version 1.0; now to the people your work you must show."
I love, love, LOVE digital editing in Photoshop. I really have used the software since version 1.0, and I assume I'll use it as long as it exists. At work, I use Photoshop for creating web graphics, comping user interfaces and prototypes, and for photographic retouching. Outside of work, I love photo retouching for friends and family (and eventually clients?), and entering Photoshop contests. This is my pride and joy, (see original) though I'm darned proud of this and this and this.

Muse Three: Knittania
"Buy homespun and patterns, and needles, you fool! Since all your friends do it, to knit must be cool!"
I got into knitting because my buddy Lisa seemed to have so much fun doing it. I quickly became knitting addict. Having mastered the garter stitch, I cranked out odd hats, neckwarmers and scarves galore. Now that I've completed a beginning knitting class, I expect to crank out less odd hats and perhaps a sweater or two.

I love the tangible quality of knitting. It's so satisfying to have a creative outlet that produces results I can touch, smell and feel. (I am NOT kinky, I swear.) I can play music on my bass, but the notes exist in waveform. I can create cool digital images in Photoshop, but I can't feel them. (Other than glossy or matte paper) By knitting, my fingers can luxuriate in a variety of yarns, from slick and glossy chenille to soft and comfy cotton. I can savor the zen calm induced by the rhythmic clacking of the needles. I can delight in making scarves that my clothes-horse husband will wear, and neck-warmers that my picky daughter prefers over store-bought hats.
In short, I've gotten over the creative snobbery of my youth. I finally allowed myself to pursue an artistic career. I now indulge my interests in music, visual and literary arts, and textile crafts. Apparently there's something inside me, thrashing and gnashing to escape, to be seen and heard. Whether there's a book in my future, a gallery show, or a reputation as the scary old lady who knits sweaters for cats, I can't say.

I'll just keep juggling the whims of my muses 'til something takes to the air in flight, or crashes on the floor and breaks into a million tiny pieces.

Muse of bass playing

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Portrait of the Artist as an ex-Zookeeper.

It no longer surprises me when I meet someone who’s transitioned from a scientific career to an artistic one. (Or vice-versa.) My first boss out of art school was a former geneticist. Her artistic claim to fame was working on the design team that created the Legg’s pantyhose eggs. “People don’t remember what type of hose or cereal they buy,” she confided in me. “They remember what color egg, or box it comes in.”

It’s all in the details, literally. Scientists render detailed drawings of microbes and diatoms to study what makes them tick. Artists belabor the details of an ad, or a book cover, because one typographical element or golden mean can make the difference between a success and a flop. Perhaps my eye for detail allowed me to pupate from zookeeper to designer in a surprisingly short amount of time. In two very intense, sweat and blood filled years, I learned the sullen ways of the designer and adopted the de rigueur black clothing.

What fine institution of the arts did I attend, you may ask? Why, Alamance Community College, I’ll proudly offer. Let me summarize the experience:

Classes at Alamance began at 8:00am sharp. Those of us taking computer graphics and desktop publishing might stay in class until 9:00pm. Attendance was compulsory: miss three classes and you’re out. Tardy too many times? You’re out, too. It was a harsh contrast to my undergraduate experience at UNC, where my Biology and Chemistry professors lectured in monotone voices to vast auditoriums of student cattle. At Alamance, classes contained an average of 15 students. The poorly prepared and hung-over students were easily identified, but so were the studious and hard working. I busted my butt at that school, and my reward was a great job straight after graduation in an interactive multimedia firm. Two years of vocational experience and hands-on internships landed me farther than a Biology degree from a well known university. Yeah, I was older and wiser, but I also discovered the value of a practical education versus a theoretical one.

I chose community college by chance. I originally planned to attend a frou-frou “Art Institute” that offered classes with MTV animators and Hollywood special effects guys. My cousin convinced me that I could save money and expedite a career change by attending a community college in state. (He happened to be the registrar of a community college at the time.) He assured me that the curriculum and graduate placement rate at Alamance rivaled the Art Institute. This sounded much better than selling all I had, accruing student loans, and moving to Fort Lauderdale.

“And so I loaded up the Honda and drove to Ala-mance Countee... From Chapel Hill, that is…Southern drawls, Bible belt, barbecue…” Yep, I learned my trade in the bosom of the poor South, in a tiny school that was cutting edge for multimedia and advertising design. Along the way, I encountered a novel’s worth of characters and made steadfast friends. From Henry, a sweet guy with no belly-button, to “RFJ”, a gentle giant with a bullet studded necklace, I learned there was life after lemurs.

black and white ruffed lemur

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Attack of the Muses, Part I.

I haven’t decided yet; either I’ve entered a personal creative renaissance, or, I’m having a premature mid-life crisis. I’ve recently found creative outlets in music and digital art, and I occasionally write vignettes for this blog. I find it ironic that I am wrapped up in extracurricular arts, when I actively spurned the creative community in the past. I’m a recovering snob artist.

The rebellion began when I was a wee lass. My second grade teacher predicted that someday I would author a book, since I was such a gifted writer. How did I repay her? By not bothering to finish our “Make Your Own Book” project. All the other kids in my class wrote a story, drew pictures to accompany it, and bound the book with a decorative cover. The books ranged from “Jeff the Scubadiver” to “A Ladybug’s Day.” Alas, there was no title authored by me. I spent that time at my desk in the “punishment corner” for slacking off. The teacher didn’t realize she was enabling my slackitude since the punishment corner was bordered by a bookcase. I slyly pored through book after book, while my toady classmates made their little booky-wookies. I only regretted my apathy when the local paper published an article about our class project, including a picture of Jeff Keeling with his handmade book. My mother still has that article in a scrapbook. I would seethe at the picture of little Jeff, Jeff who didn’t write or draw as well as me, Jeff who got his picture in the paper...

My disdain for public displays of creativity continued in high school. By this time, I was a proficient sketch artist and had begun to investigate painting and illustration (at home, that is.) My mother didn’t understand why I wouldn’t enter the Bookfair poster contest, or help her draw a flyer for a school fundraiser. “You haven’t even signed up for art as an elective! Why don’t you want to take art?” she bemoaned.

“That’s just art and crafts,” was my curt reply. In my mind, art class was veritably a “special ed” class for untalented geeks. (In reality, the art class was inhabited by an odd flock of birds, but there were very talented folks in the mix.) I smirked at the hallway displays of their artwork, haughty pride well intact.

By college freshman year, I was illustrating in pencil, charcoal and ink, and painting with oil, acrylics and watercolors. Yet I chose to major in Biology. I classified my scientific interests as noble, whereas my artistic interests were frivolous diversions.

My perceptions changed slightly when I realized that painting and drawing classes could be GPA boosters. I began to relish the freedom of illustration classes, where we were encouraged to wander the campus and draw the inspiring surroundings. My coup de gras was a charcoal rendering of a neon bar sign, sketched in a tavern across from campus. My classmates toasted my ingenuity as we sipped beer and flourished charcoal smudges across newsprint pads. My instructor passed the mandate “No more classtime sketching in bars” but gave me an “A” anyway.

Post graduation, I landed a job as a zookeeper of sorts. I became absorbed in the world of primatology, and toyed with ideas of graduate school. I continued to paint and draw on the side, helped design a few tee shirts, and even illustrated a book cover for a fellow primatologist.

I’ve never thought about it until now, but I guess it was a life changing moment when Steven Nash came to the Primate Center. (He’s a scientific illustrator who specializes in primate illustration.) He had come to render figure studies of our lemurs for an illustration project. Somehow, I got the guts to show him a lemur pencil sketch I’d been working on. I couldn’t believe it when he showed enthusiasm for my work and my potential as a professional artist! Something clicked that day, when I perceived that his encouragement was genuine. I finally recognized that illustration could be a viable career, not just a hobby. I was primed for a change: I was tired of raking poop, and I’d soured on the feudal system that is grad school. Art school looked pretty darned attractive at this point.

Stay tuned for the next installment: “A Portrait of the Artist as an ex-Zookeeper.”

lesser bushbaby