Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Learning to Play Well With Others-My Most Recent Commissioned Large Work

Like most artists I would describe myself as a “does not play well with others”.  I like my privacy in the studio (the idea of sharing studio space is unappealing) and I keep my creativity close to the vest.  So when Red Door Designworks approached me late last year to create artwork for a client in Cambridge, the initial discussions were around me doing a large 36x60” painting that would be showcased at the bottom of a staircase leading into the rumpus room they had recently designed.

The theme of the artwork was to be outdoor sports, specifically rock climbing.  I have never rock climbed myself but my many trips to the White Mountains have led me to observing climbers.  And my husband, Joe is an enthusiastic outdoorsman with a lot of rock climbing experience.
Red Door Designworks mentioned they had been considering just hanging an empty wood frame up on the wall and with the rock climbing theme in mind my mental wheels started turning.  I proposed-instead of a painting done on a 36x60” wood panel-I do something more sculptural based on the theme.  Thus the project began.

I first met with the client and spent time in the space, taking photographs of the room, noting the color palette and admiring the aesthetic.  The client and I agreed that something colorful yet not domineering was in order, with playful elements such as bright tones and an added urban or street art style. While visitors to the rumpus room would be met with the piece as they entered the space, its purpose was to serve as a complimentary factor to the design and d├ęcor.
My first thought was: This is going to be simple.  But when I started trying to get my ideas around the project I realized this was beyond my abilities.  Engineering a sculptural piece where paintings are “free-floating” on climbing rope within an open wood frame is not as straightforward as it sounds.  (Does it sound straightforward?) Preservation and structural integrity have to be determined.  Architecture and (gasp!) math is involved.  Fortunately my husband, a technical engineer and I decided to each come up with a rough mockup of how to construct the piece.  Overnight our individual ideas came to us.  While our concepts were similar, his was “cleaner” so we presented that concept to a technical engineer-turned carpenter, Frank Burns of Burns Design. I figured, with Joe and Frank being able to speak “the same language”, Frank was the right carpenter for the job.

Over the next few weeks meetings and mockups ensued, with the three of us tackling engineering issues as they arose.  Because much of the interior of the piece is open and solid climbing ropes are strung in the open space, so the frame itself needed to be lightweight yet solid.  Built incorrectly, the frame could twist or torque.

After we felt confident about the design it was time to buy the wood.  This is where the notions of aesthetic design came into play. When you are creating something that has various components you must ensure the eye will not be overwhelmed when taking in the piece as a whole.  While working on each separate part I had to consider the piece in its completion.  The harsh winter Boston experienced delayed Frank Burns and my trek to the lumberyard but finally we were able to spend a bitterly freezing morning sifting through reclaimed barn wood in an open warehouse.  As lovers of reclaimed wood the trip was like visiting an art museum, but we had to keep ourselves from being lured in by texture and color.  In fact, we searched for and found the opposite-two gorgeous planks of barn wood in a subtle silver sheen that-as I put it-whispered rather than screamed for attention.  A frame made of this wood would be the perfect backdrop to all the energy happening within.

After the frame was complete it was time to start painting.  Much like the considerations taken with constructing the frame I had to make sure the paintings enhanced the color palette of the rumpus room without competing.  And knowing climbing rope is generally in loud, garish tones I had to pull the reins and not get too carried away.  I brought the urban theme into the work by creating (based on standard rock climbing signs and stencils) a “street sign” of a rock climber.  And I married the texture of the reclaimed barn wood with the textural work I did on the street-art-styled Great Outdoors.  Both the rock climber and the mountain scene look simple but they were, like all my artwork, created over several hours using layers of materials.  Materials included: Graffiti markers, Oil pastels, Acrylic, Gouache, Pencil, Pastels, Graffiti Paints, Inks, Permanent Markers, with a shellac coating so guests to the rumpus room can touch the artwork without damaging it.

Finding the right rope-rope that matched the color palette of the room-was more challenging than expected.  Local climbing groups weren’t receptive to donating old rope and sport stores told me it was illegal for them to donate rope for my project.  I even called a local rope manufacturer with no luck.  So looking a bit odd with images of the rumpus room and the actual paintings in hand, I went around town visiting sporting goods stores to check out their rock climbing rope supply. 
And here is where my hands-on work ended and my project management resumed.  My husband, Joe and I designed the layout for the ropes using diagrams of the artwork.  He then created and inserted dowel rods in their proper places based on our design.  He strung up the rope and made the knots.  He then drilled holes in precisely the right positions for the rope to be knotted behind the paintings.  I painted in the holes and I painted along the edges of the back panels he had cut to encase the knots.  He then drilled the panels into the backs of the paintings.  This actually allows for the client to switch out the paintings in the future should he ever decide to do so.

And there we had it, after months of planning and orchestration: The finished piece.  My assistant, Michael and I dropped it off yesterday.  In this final image you can see us holding it up against the space where the piece will be hung.  The colors and textures of the piece invite the eye to bounce around the room, landing on complimentary colors and textures.  I can’t wait to see a photo of it actually hung on the wall!

I want to thank Red Door Designworks for inviting me to do this project.  Thanks to Frank Burns of Burns Design, Joe Koon and Michael O’Donnell for their help and patience.  And I especially want to thank customer, MG for trusting me to do this work for his home. 
In addition to selling my work at galleries, home & gift shops, and live events, you can view my inventory online @ a2n2koon.etsy.com & art25bya2n2.etsy.com.