Art, Home teaching, and Coronavirus. Or: How successful was 2020 so far?

At the beginning of this year, I thought about success, what it means for me, and how I want to achieve it in this year. I came up with a pretty ambitous list of goals for this year, it seemed to much to hope to accomplish.

Fields of Gold, Linoprint and Watercolour by H. Kurzke 2020

With clear goals in mind for the year, I set off to work. I pushed myself, in some weeks to the limit, as I was (and still am to an extent) suffering from increased fatique. Like to be expected when doing many projects at a time, in these first two months it’s hard to already tick boxes like sales and exhibitions. But I was clearly working toward all and felt very confident to make (almost) all my goals year. I reached out to other artists (which on its own felt very good), founding a collective (probably called milc, and hopefully with a website soon, but we got stopped in the tracked by an evil virus, more about that in a minute), I teamed up with two other printmakers to do the open studios jointly this year, I took one week off for focused writing, and handed in submissions…

And then, last week my life was turned upside down – like for so many. On Friday the 13th (when else), M. developed a high fever. Sticking to NHS guidelines, we created quarantine quarters for him: Our bedroom has an ensuite, so he was to stay in there. Luckily the twins share three beds, one for me to spare: They went back to sleeping in their poster in my daughter’s room, and I camped out in my son’s. So, instead of a weekend with printing and submissions to a print exhibition, I spent a weekend entertaining the kids, fearing we might catch something, and worrying in general. The fear that M. might have caught on the new Coronavirus stirred us up. Germany was closing down schools and threatened to close borders while the UK seemed set to doing nothing and “taking it on the chin” (quote Johnson). What would we do if M. and I both need hospitalisation? Where would our children go? What if something worse happens? I started to read up once again on how to write a will (something I have thought about many times but M. resists), M. read about how to set me up as a beneficient in his pension scheme (yes, we should have done all that before; and we haven’t even done it now), all the while making sure the kids don’t get too worried.

Image of self, suicide print from linoleum, H. Kurzke 2020, size 10cm square

On Saturday, M. had severe pain in his throat and still no cough at all. He called a GP practise which, after checking thoroughly over the phone, agreed that it didn’t seem like a corona infection, that the tonsillitis he himself suspected was more likely, and he was allowed to come in to see a doctor. They confirmed this diagnosis and prescribed antibiotics. He was still to isolate just in case, since it wasn’t clear that nothing is riding “on the back” of this infection.

We felt more confident again. But while M. still kept to his quarters, and I was alone with managing and entertaining the kids, alongside caring for M, and while struggling to sleep in my son’s bed.

On Monday I brought the kids to school, increasingly worried about the state of things. In Germany school closed, in the UK nothing was being done to help with the infection. The worst affected area, they seem to have reasoned, is not people and their lives but business and their finance.

On Monday, M. was still feeling ill but on the path to recovery. I sent the kids to school, because schools were still open. Because NHS advice at this point was that Matthias should self-isolate, but not the whole family. And, let’s be honest, because I craved breathing space. I needed to ship out goods that were ordered over the weekend, and wanted to get into the studio.

But we read up on recommendations for people with CP and found out that they are considered a risk group. The twins have never been especially prone to infections, and other than some with CP, do fine with breathing and swallowing. But as all muscles are weak and lack control, including those for breathing, it is feared that a pneumonia that comes with corona would render them in need of artificial respiration more or less immediately.

On Monday at the 5pm announcement, finally UK’s government buckled under international and domestic pressure and nodged their recommendations up. Anyone with a fever is to self-quarantine together with their family for full 14 days.

wing, detail of still unfinished work, H. Kurzke

M., still weak from high fever, wasn’t in a decicive mood. But I decided it was time to take the kids out of school and isolate completely. Even though his wasn’t a new fever. Even though we were pretty sure it wasn’t corona.

Knowing my children and myself, I knew it was unthinkable to wake them up the next morning and simply tell them that they wouldn’t go to school. So I closed down shops (also because we decided to self-isolate as completely as possible, and that includes not going to the post-office), and spent the evening and next morning setting up a time table for home schooling, printing out material, and keeping their schedule as close to the known as possible. Instead of telling them the next morning “no school for you today”, we told them from now on school was happening at home and presented them with a time table. We discussed how our “Kurzke Uniform” would look like, and kept dressing them in it every day.

new classroom wall

From that moment on, I taught Maths and English every day, plus two extra subjects in the afternoon: Geography, Music, Art, PE, science, German. My son asked for French lessons, and knowing my own limitations I booked a French class over skype for him.

On Tuesday we did maths from 9-10, had a short break with a snack of fruit, did English from 10.20-11.20, had a short break, and then guided reading with my son from 11.30-12. Somhow I managed to cook a very quick dinner at the same time, and at 12.10 we had a warm lunch. I went on a cleaning routine – that’s extra important if you have someone on quarantine in your house. To their great joy, I let the kids join in and gave them a cleaning job each. My daughter asks every day which task she is allowed to do that day.
We finished the day off in the afternoon with science and outdoor PE for one kid (football in the garden), physio exercises for the other kid. And then I started to prepare for the lessons on the next day…

maths

On Wednesday M. was starting to feel better, and helped here and there. He’d cook lunch, and just help with stuff. Still, my life had turned in an instant. From doing art, reading news, and being worried about the world, I went to no-time-for-news, preparing lessons, delivering lessons, and organising kids.

I crave alone time. I crave art time. I weep for lost chances, and feel betrayed by the world. I made such an effort in the first two months of this year. And it looked like it would pay off. And now this health crisis just jumped in my way and keeps me away from the rewards of hard work.

But, to my surprise, with all the bad, good things happened too. It is hardwarming to see the level of support we received from everywhere. I am so grateful for all those who helped get my daughter’s physio and mobility equipment out of school to us, who shopped for us, or – in one instance – handed over their supplies of tampons and sanitary pads because these have become a rare item.

And I actually enjoy seeing my kids learn. I am so proud on how they are doing. They are eager to show me what they know, and actually love being home-schooled. On Wednesday my son asked whether we could just carry on with school through the holidays, – he didn’t want to do an Easter break. On Thursday both resisted the idea of interrupting school work for the weekend. And on Friday afternoon he said: “I am soo tired. Home school is just as tiring as real school. – But better.” Which I take as the highest praise. And I think it’s good that they are looking forward to the weekend and doing nothing for a while.

Gardening. – I am new to it; the first thing to do will be to assemble this wheelbarrow…

For me, it’s not back to art, unfortunately. I am looking forward to the weekend. I hope I’ll manage to write a little, and maybe film the skillshare class that I have already skripted (and online teaching is by now my only source of income). But I have more imporant plans:

I fear that, with Brexit still under way and all that, difficult times are coming. And I plan to turn a good portion of our garden and lawn into vegetable patches. I’ll start today with a very small (about 12 square meters) of potato field. So it’s digging and turning soil today and preparing classes tomorrow. Sowing seeds and planting stuff will come next. – One thing at a time. We are told that staying active is important, so I guess gardening is a good thing. And with schools in the UK closing from this Monday, home-teaching has been made easier: School now sends us teaching material and learning schedules for every week.

I wonder when I will next see a supermarket from the inside. I wonder when I will feel at rest and ease. I wonder when I will see friends and extended family again. I worry about more vulnerable family members. I wonder how these isolation measures will change society as a whole. I worry what will happen with the economy for us personally and the whole country, Europe, and the world. I worry what will drop out of this politically in the end.

But mostly I am busy looking after my family. And although I crave alone time, I am more grateful than ever for having children and being with my family. Not all’s bad that’s going to come.

How are you doing out there?

Bindingthread

Wire Binding (1)

Types of thread… – there are so many! Just from reading clothing labels, we are used to different fibres in your threads. There’s cotton and linen, silk and cashmere, hemp and jute, polyester and nylon, and many more. When looked at in a systematic way, the first distinguishing factor is whether it is a man-made or a natural fibre. (If you want to read more about fibres in general, I recommend this Wikipedia article.)
Many of these are used by bookbinders. Fibres are used to secure pages to each other and to the covers, for actual binding thread but also for cords and tapes used as support and connection between the book block and the covers, for headband stitching and decorations on the covering material, as well as attaching a covering material to book boards. And let’s not forget that fibres may make up the covering material you are using in the first place (when covering boards in paper or fabric).

Threads are used when sewing dust covers, pouches, or bags to protect the books, and leather thongs (which arguably are fibres, too) and fabric tape can be used for added features such as book marker ribbons and closures.

Embroidered Book (1)

Ideally we want all our books to be made quickly, from cheap materials that keep the book in good condition forever on a shelf but are compostable once we don’t want them anymore. The book should remain looking perfect at all times and at the same time open easily and readily stay open. Stains should be easy remove, but marking, dying and painting on should be easy, too. …

Binding by H. Kurzke using painted boards, Büchertiger Studio & Press

Since the world is not perfect, we have to decide which of many desireable properties are most important to us in any given case. That makes bookbinding so very interesting to me: Every single book is a problem that has to be solved. Sometimes simply stapling is the best binding method for a job (nothing than a simple stap binding with wire). Sometimes we will instead want an ornate leather bound tome with lots of gold finishing and fore-edge painting. – And most of the time something in between is what we settle upon.

Waxed Linen Thread (photo by H. Kurzke)

When it comes to durability, not only the choice of material and binding stype are important, but how the different, employed materials and techniques fit together.

From the view of a book conservator it is much preferable if the thread fails before the paper does. When the thread tears through the paper, pages fall out. And althought a failing thread also means that pages and whole signatures will come loose and might fall out, re-binding or housing a stack of paper that’s not torn is so much easier, than first menting a weak and broken fold. On the other hand of course, if the thread is too weak, it will fail needlessly – and annoyingly – while the paper is still in good condition.

The best paper, conservation wise – as far as I am aware of – is rag paper. And it is the sort of paper that conservators have a lot (like in hundreds of years) of experience with. Rag paper from earlier times (like in the middle ages) might have contained cotton but also all sorts of other plant based fibres like linen and hemp. Thus it is not surprising that we find that linen thread is most sympathetic to the paper made from it: It ages at about the same rate, and thus becomes weak at about the same rate.

Spun Silk Binding thread

And thus it came to pass – or at least that is how I understand matters and imagine history to have developed – that in the West we overwhelmingly use linen thread for (hand-)bookbinding, and it is widely viewed as the best choice of fibre. Obviously there are different strengths available, and conservators who work with already aged and weak paper will choose a weaker thread than a bookbinder who binds new paper. But in general linen thread is strong because flax, the plant that produces the linen fibres, grows to tall height, making a thread that is exceptionally hard to break. That makes it ideal everywhere where a strong thread is sought. Historically as well as still to date, linen thread is therefore used in all kinds of traditional crafts: leather works, sail making, tent making, for puppets on a string, or for sewing on functional elements like buttons – and of course for bookbinding. And as bookbinders we always dabble in other crafts: We employ leather working techniques for leather volumes, embroidery for fabric covers, and so on. How wonderful and practical that we can always stick to the same thread that becomes like a familiar friend under out hands. And all that with the knowledge that we have chosen the best thread in any case.

Supplies

A while ago (in 2014), I bought the book “Japanese Bookbinding” by mast bookbinder Kojiro Ikegami, and more recently I rediscovered it and followed some of his instructions more closely.

In (Western) bookbinding books targeted at beginners the Asian or Japanese bindings are taught in a much simplified way (I wrote similar instructions here) that make it a very accessible method for quick and easy notebooks. But when done properly, they can be elaborate, lush, and quite far from the quick and dirty method we are used to calling an Asian binding.

Three Jotters, Büchertiger Studio & Press, bottom bound with 12-strand silk, middle one with Perle 5 Silk, top jotter bound with linen thread.

One of the things I discovered was that he uses mainly silk thread for his bindings. As I wanted to learn Japanese bookbinding better, I decided to source some threads…
I don’t want to bore you with things I have already written about. Check my blogpost from last autumn, in which I showed you different silk threads that I tried and how the binding turned out. Following that post, I asked a couple of binders for their opinion in exchange for some free threads. I ended up sending threads out to:

Toben from Baile Mor Books
Cecile Coyez from Reliure Coyez
Heather Dewick (see her instagram here)
and to someone else in Brasil, but unfortunately that didn’t work out in the end

I asked all of them what kinds of binding they would want to try the thread on, and depending on their answer, I sent them slightly different samples.

miniature binding by Cecile Coyez (photo by Cecile) (2)

The first Cecile tried was the Fine Silk I sent her. You can find it in my shop here. Her verdict:

experiment with @buchertiger silk thread : and my conclusion is that it is the best thread I have ever tested even on very small surfaces ! 👍

Cecile Coyez from Reliure Coyez
Coloured Silk Thread (photo H. Kurzke)

From Heather I don’t have any photos to show, but she wrote about her experiments. She tried the thread on some pamphlet bindings:

I used the silk 12/3 on a pamphlet binding. I was easy to thread into the needle, despite being a bit fluffy on the cut end. – Nice springiness to it, but the softness of the thread makes it very easy to pull through sewing holes. Unlike linen thread, it sits and stays, like a good dog, to where you pull it.
8/2 Super Spun Silk; a pamphlet again: It feels a bit looser than 12/3, sits in sewing holes really well, and frays out beautifully once tied off.
5/2 Super Spun Silk: as above, but it has untwisted in some places, so looks a bit uneven.
fine varigated silk thread: much thinner, but still very strong”.

Heather Dewick on testing my silk threads
Stab Bindings by Toben from Bale Mor Books (photo by Toben) (2)

As you can see above, Toben followed my experiments and did a series of stab bindings. If you want to read more about how he faired working with the threads, you can read a whole blogpost about his experiments here. In summary he wrote:

I would not hesitate to purchase or use any of these and happily recommend them. Ultimately the 8/2nm “super” spun came out top for me, with the variegated Silk Perle 5 a close second. I liked the 8/2 best of all because of how it held up both during and after binding. It sews easily, kept it’s shape, and hasn’t lost its definition. The Silk Perle did get slightly fluffier in binding, but I’m a sucker for variegated colours so all is forgiven.

Toben from Baile Mor Books

He did have a few difficulties with the thread and found (just like I myself, see previous blogpost) that the thread got a bit fluffy while sewing. It is a common recommendation among bookbinders not to wax silk thread (as we would do with linen) as it then looses its sheen. However, that really only applies to filament silk which can be used for headbanding. This spun silk can, and I think if you binding with it, it should be lightly waxed by hand. – But maybe you want to experiment yourself?

Here’s a link to different threads:

12/3 NM Silk

12/3 NM spun silk, with about the same thickness as a Perle 5 thread, and thickest of my natural silks.

8/2 NM super spun silk, about the same thickness as the 12/3, but a bit firmer.

5/2 NM super spun silk, the thickest of the three.

braided silk

I have various other silk threads available. A description can be found on this page. In brief:

There’s

Images
(1) Used under a CC license (click for link to source) – Thank you for making it available!
(2) Photos used with the kind permission of Cecile and Toben. – Thank you!

Interview: Jenny Stevenson

I first met Jenny at the Sheffield Artist Book Fair last autumn and was immediately smitten by her and her books. Despite their diverse subjects, they share a common aesthetic: many have a concertina as the basic element, lending flexibility and movement to the structure, with abstract collages in a calm colour palette and no text on the pages.

It was end of November when we finally found the time to meet up. I rang the doorbell, and Jenny let me in to a large open living room and kitchen that showed clear signs of children living in the house: drawings on the fridge, craft projects hung from the ceiling, small people’s tables, and toys in display cases.

Put up near the window was a collapsible table and bench with paper pieces and art materials and a small book in progress.

Jenny working at home at a collapsible table and bench

Hilke: (looking around in the room) I am always interested in biographies, how the places we find ourselves in, literally as well as figuratively, shape what we make. And how sometimes just everything seems to slot into place.

Jenny: Yeah, definitely. I sometimes wish I had a studio somewhere, a place to my own. But working in the house currently suits me well and works best with the family situation I find myself in. My children are 3 and 7 years old, and mostly I work while they are away in school or preschool or while they are asleep.
Surprisingly, however, I found that working like this and with the kids, I get more work done than ever before.

Hilke: That’s amazing! Most parents seem to complain about the lack of creative time. Why do you think it’s different for you?

Jenny: Before the kids, I worked as an art technician at a secondary school. My work gave me a sense of achievement and it satisfied my need to be creative. I still made my own work, but very slowly, and usually only when a deadline of a call for art was looming.
After I had the kids, I gave up the job as a technician, and it became so much more important to do something for myself.

It is in the small time slots when I am alone or they are asleep that I get my table and bench out, unpack my materials, and become very focussed on what I want to achieve.

Offset, artist book by Jenny Stevenson

Hilke: I see. How would you describe your books and how you work?

Jenny: I love to work with different layers, textures and combine them all. In my collages I bring together my own material from sketchbooks, mixed media layers and mark-making experiments, and I combine those with carefully selected elements from magazines to form an organic whole.

Hilke: What is it about the book format that appeals to you? Why not make stand-alone collages?

Jenny: Books appeal to me as fairly small and handheld artwork. They are intimate and playful. The viewer holds it in their hands, and is able to experience it at their own pace. And I like how in a book the elements move, bringing the different collages into relation to each other.

Hilke: How do you approach a new work?

Jenny showing a page from a sketch book

Jenny: Let me show you my sketchbook. I use mind-mapping to choose my theme and then gather research: other artists who worked with similar elements, drawings of the subject matter, markmaking in response to the theme and I make notes all the way through.

I also glue in paper samples, a trial collage at a later stage, maybe. – I always think through the concept of a piece. Recording my thoughts and research helps me to think and later to talk about my art. And by the time I start with the first collages, I have a clear idea of what book structure I am going to use, and what kind of feeling I want to portray. I create more collages than I need for a project so I can choose which will work best in the book and which relate well to each other.

Sketch Book Jenny Stevenson

Hilke: Moving from one collage to the other, what drives you on? Are you dissatisfied with the collage you just made, and try to make it better?

Jenny: Well, obviously I do always try to improve, but it’s not that I’m dissatisfied with one of them. Making collages with found paper has an exciting element for me. I’m thinking for example: How can I turn that image of a lampshade into a reflective part in a window? or: How can I cut out this bowl of soup, change the context and change how the viewer sees it. And then one collage might be finished before I am.
So rather than being dissatisfied with what I already have, I’m still curious to see whether I can catch the same emotional content, picture the same atmosphere, once again now that the snippets I used in the last collage aren’t available anymore. – Once I’ve used a piece, it’s gone, and I can’t use it again.

detail of a collage, Jenny Stevenson, 2020

Hilke: So scarcity of material is important for you work?

Jenny: In a way, yes. But I do use photocopiers in all stages of my work. I might photocopy a drawing, sometimes onto acetate and then cut from there. I also sometimes photocopy a finished collage and then keep working with it.

Hilke: Do you have an overarching topic in your work?

Jenny: I like to discover the story in a place, maybe its history, the feeling of visiting it or how people live. Windows are a recurring theme  – they offer a glimpse into someone else’s world. I’m also inspired by all the texture, detail and angular lines in buildings. I find that the imagery I work to, and the way I interpret a topic has a clear personal style and I often use the same materials and colour theme in my work

Shelter, artist book by Jenny Stevenson

Hilke: Mhm, yes, I can see how many of your books have a strong architectural element to it. Some remind me of technical drawings. Architecture often is bold and big. – What is the biggest book you made?

Jenny: I’ve always loved working small – I must take after my Dad, he’s a modelmaker. I experimented with larger work at Uni but I always bounced right back to something handheld.

Hilke: Where would an interested reader be able to see your work?

Jenny: I’m going to be at the Turn The Page book arts fair in Norwich in May 2020, and my book ‘Cut Across’ will be included in the exhibition 2020 Vision: Magellans Voyage in Liverpool Central Library

“Cut Across”, artist book by Jenny Stevenson

Hilke: Thank you for taking the time to work on this interview with me!

If you want to see more of Jenny and her art, why not try her Instagram Stream or her Webpage.

All images in this article are used with kind permission of Jenny Stevenson.

Is this (still) bookart?

Me with my current work in progess, I don’t really have a working title, unless maybe “my pregnant statue”

It’s been a while since I gave you guys who like the written word an update on what I am working at but I am planning to show you some of my current work in progress in the next week(s). In case you don’t know yet: I post quite regularly on instagram these days, and there you can find plenty of work-in-progress images. Here I figure, is the place for some thoughts about the work in addition to just lamenting about the slow process.

As you’ll know, I started about 14 months ago to work with paper mache. Back then and still now I want to view these works as book art. But some are more “bookish” then others, and while I find it easy to insist for my “talking heads” that they are books, I find it harder to insist for “my pregnant statue”. I am currently working on a variety of different projects that all use paper mache, and all are works about pregnancy and/or pregnancy loss.

Usually I define book art as a piece of art that requires reader interaction to be enjoyed (open it, turn over pages, move a scroll along), and has some element about it that we usually identify with books in any form (like reading, or looking at pictures). That excludes, by the way, audiobooks. But in this context that seems correct to me. Sometimes we refer to “books” as the content of a book. Like when you said: “I wrote a book”, you usually don’t mean that you sat down and by hand wrote a book. Instead you mean you have generated contents that will (hopefully) be published in a book format. In that sense an audio book might count as a book, but that’s not really my concern here. Ebooks could be somewhat of a borderline case, but I am not here to give super clear definitions in that regard, and am happy with a bit of a grey zone in that area. However, when talking about physical objects, then that’s what I make, and I feel I should be clear about whether I think I am making books or not.

“in conversation” book art by H. Kurzke, 2018

The “talking heads” (working title) are going to be 5-8 (I have finished three at this point) heads, similar to those used for “in conversation”. At this point I imagine they will be hung in a (semi-) circle and “talk” to the viewer through scrolls from their mouths, similar to and in continuation to my work “in conversation”. This work has strong elements of installation. But I do see the paper mache head at least in part as a sculptural scroll case. It is true that reader interaction in this case is very minimal, and the presentation is very important for the piece (whereas normally for a book it doesn’t matter how and where you seat yourself to enjoy it). But still, I tend to insist it still is book art, even when it lives in the borderlands.

different paper mache hands

Now my pregnant sculpture… It will have text, that is a bookish element. I am going to cover her first completely in paper mache (so the newpaper pieces will disappear from view), and then the final layer will have paper pieces again. Maybe I’ll leave the contents open for now, so that I have something to look forward to undisclosing in the future. But I dare say so much: It will both feature found text, and the poem “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson (in a worked-with form).

I don’t know whether you can see it from where you are (it was difficult to take th photo this morning), but there’s a hole in her pregnant belly, and there will be a surprise inside.

What there won’t be is my own text or imagery. There are no pages to turn, and although it has elements of books (it can be read), and requires some effort (like walking around and looking at it all), I do struggle to see it as something different than a sculpture.

What do you think?

Plans for 2020 continued. Or: What do I mean when I say I want to be successful?

In my last blogpost, the first in this year, I mentioned that I am thinking about the questions what it means for me to be successful. I decided to write about it, hoping that maybe this helps you a little, too.

Being self-employed and self-taught, the lack of a pad on the shoulder by a boss or teacher can be a problem. Or maybe it’s just the lack of co-workers to compare ourselves with. We decided to not run with the flock, go our own way, be measured against our own values not those society imposed rules. But while it is often easy to see where we fail, it can be harder to know where, maybe despite short-comings, we still are doing well. – At least that’s the case for me.

And so, my quest if not for this year, then for the next weeks and maybe months to come, is to have a think about it. — It would be great, if you could share your thoughts on the matter!

But before I start, – those of you who have been following my medical problems over the last months might be waiting for this – a quick update on that front: My GP had me have a full blood count on my last visit, and it turns out that I am “extremely” aenemic. I don’t know what that means in numbers. It’s what she said. And finding slightly different lists of syptoms online, I find that I usually tick all the boxes: exhaustion, raised body temperature, eratic pulse, short of breath,… Before you ask: No, although I consume few meats, I am not on a vegetarian diet. And while I might consume too few iron, the main problem actually lies somewhere else.
The diagnosis came just in time for me, because the reprieve I experienced at the beginning of the month from a thorough rest over the holidays, is now all used up. And once again I find myself fighting to stay awake and alert during the day. But I now know that there is a reason, and I learned not to push myself too much an especially not too long into the evening. When I am in bed early, I find I can avoid total crash-out days, or at least could so far.

So while I am in bed, resting from the strain of climbing the stairs, it’s time for me think about what success means to me. So what is success?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, success is:

the fact that you have achieved something that you want and have been trying to do or get; the fact of becoming rich or famous or of getting a high social position.

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com

The last three seem kind of linked: A famous artist would hopefully be able to make a substantial amount of money from it, and both of it together would hopefully earn him or her a high social position.

Riches, Fame, High Social Position. – Sounds good?

And what’s with Happiness, Friends and Family, a Comfortable Life?

I assume, we all want the things on the latter list. And for those who also have an eye on the first, I suspect that the hope would be that one gets you the other. But what’s with “money can’t buy you happiness”? (It can though, to an extent; especially if you start out with very little money and also, see this TED talk.)

When I started out thinking about what I want, I thought: well, I want to be successful, and I know how I can see that I am successful: It will be when I earn real money throught my art. But once I started to think about why this was most important, and what is it I *really* want ultimately, it became rather more difficult than I first thought.

To explore the question further, I did what we all do these days: I googled the question. From that I came to think about it a little in reverse and look back instead of forward.

When have I felt successful in the past? What kind of situations were those?

I suppose I felt successful when I had my first solo exhibition in 2012. At the time I was convinced that this was the start of something new. It turns out, it wasn’t as such, but it did boost my self-esteem and it afterwards felt much mor legitimate to call myself an artist. I’d definitely would like more of that!

What else? I find it hard to think of specific events and dates. But I suppose 2015 felt successful as such. Since 2014 I had been exhibiting more frequently, and 2015 was my most successful year so far when counting exhibitions. After than I got wrapped up in several long term projects, more and more frazzled, and I have hardly shown work since then.

The decision to pay less entry fees than before, in part fuelled by the felt success rate, would have to have had an impact, too. I am not sure anymore whether that decision is as closely linked to my success year 2015 as it is manifesting in my head now. But that decision definitely came from feeling moderately successful. I increasingly thought I should not pay money for making and showing art, and maybe even start to earn some. And thus I refrained from participating in some calls for art where you have to pay upfront for participating in the selection process. – Mhm…

Last year I was shortlisted for the Writing East Midlands Mentorship program. This was a very competetive thing, and the personal interview I had with these people gave me a huge boost. For the first time I didn’t feel like a fraud when calling myself a writer. But it wasn’t so much that I felt successful, more appreciated, and as if success was possible, maybe.

On the other hand, even when a long time ago: Finishing my PhD and then earning the right to call myself a Doctor didn’t really fill me with the sense of success. You’d think so… But it just didn’t feel quite right to me.

So what do I gather from that? What is it I want?

I suppose I do crave more external validation. I kind of knew that when I started out, but well, there you have it. How did I get that validation before? From entering calls for art (- maybe I’ll have to start paying again; at least when I can afford it; it seems to make me feel better about myself), but also from putting in the work and organising an exhibition for myself.

To go forward from here, and following the advice that I found on the internet (so it has to be right, no doubt) I now should make a list of things and events that I can tick off as they occur, so that I can then use this as a measure of my success.

Ultimately “I want to be (more) successfull” this year, can then be replaced by “I want to sell a piece of art to a millionaire” (Haha!) or whatever.

So: How will I know I have a successful 2020? Looking above: By being included in art exhibitions. And for the sake of being concrete, how many? When am I going to say this was a successful year?

Well, I am currently working on a) two sculpture/installation type artworks – or make that three, I just started another one. I must be crazy! That might be another reason why I failed to exhibit so much in recent years: Moving slightly away from more centre-stream book art made it harder to connect with my known outlets. And also not staying on target and being distracted by nice new trails of thoughts like this one, sight…

But I did make some books, and I’d like to a show for one of those as well.

Hm, so to call this a successful year, let’s put down:

  • one solo show
  • 1 or 2 curated shows

Yeah, I’d call that a successful year, art-wise.

Then there’s the project message in a bottle. – What do I want for this one? I was seeking to arrange workshops and more publicity for this project. But I’ll have to have a hard think about whether I indeed want to pursue that this year, or whether this is one of the things that I am calling more of a sideline project, in which I give up being sucessful for whatever that means.

Bookbinding Workshop, I do offer them as a general rule. – I do like small group teaching (very much), but I think I give up trying to get a crowd together. I rather teach in my studio than going to a location where I have to schlep all the materials and such. So I won’t apply for anything, or take any effort to organize something like it myself. I might do one should I be asked… But I’ll rather commit to not feel bad for not putting any work into that this year.

There’s my printing. – I love it, but I feel a bit clueless what to do with it. I’d love to incorporate more printmaking into my artwork-portfolio. I have been calling myself a printmaker for a while. I am going to do the open studio in May as a printmaker… But I feel especially unsuccessful in that area. Maybe it would be sane to call it a hobby. But I think I want to keep on trying. And if I am honest, I have not really given it a proper try because I always thought that all the 2D work I was making was just preparatory for making a printed book one day. – Something that not only didn’t happen, I also have no plans for one. So I want to spent more time and effort on this. My goals would be to:

  • Sell a print (one that’s not a postcard) and to
  • get into a curated exhibition with any one of my prints.

There’s my writing. – It would be nice to get something that I wrote published this year. I started to seriously work on that last year, but it caught caught up in feeling so low of energy. With the promise to get my mental capabilities up again in about 3-6 months, maybe I can still make it. Will have to look deeper into those calls for entry. But I definitely don’t feel like paying for entry for my writing… And I want to finish my novel! So let’s put down as a measurement for success:

  • publish a piece of writing
  • finish the novel (draft)

There’s my skillshare channel. – This is where I seek more money than fame or renomee, I suppose. I am already putting together a new class, and my goal here clearly is to get the sales up. To make it concrete, let me say: I’ll call it a success if I can

  • publish at least one new class
  • go to a stable 100$ or more per month.

Well and there’s Buechertiger Supplies with its usual growth expectation of >10% (because you need to grow on paper to counteract inflation). This is my main source of income, so that’s not really negotiable. And with the current economic climate a challenge.

  • 10% increase in revenue for non-failure
  • >15% increase in revenue for success

So, that makes quite a list. Too ambitious? Very likely. But we’ll see. I’ll do some more thinking about the matter in the time to come. Maybe I should print that list off and hang it on the walls. Because now that I know my goals much better, I can work on it. I’ll have to actively search more for calls of art in the printmaking section and for writing. And it gives an indication of what to spend time and energy on, and what not.

Have you worked out something for yourself? Care to share your thoughts? What was/is important for you to feel successful?