Thursday, March 28, 2013

Delicious fun

A few months ago, I was asked by Sharon Butler, a local bakery owner, to create a postcard for the bakery's 30th anniversary. The Bonbonerie is not just any Cincinnati bakery. It is one of the best. In fact, it was just won the top spot for best bakery, best dessert and best wedding cake in Cincinnati CityBeat's annual "Best of ..." issue.

In addition to its wonderful basked goods, the bakery, cafe, and tea room are infused with a sense of whimsy. Colorful art. Fun collections of cake stands, tea pots, and more. Mismatched furniture. It's cozy, yet hip.

Sharon wanted the postcard to show two girls. "Tiny bakers" is what she called them. After scouring my archive, I turned up the wonderful photo above ... and went to town. I could have made physical collages, but there were digital techniques I wanted to try. And I had to create more than one card, to give them a choice, which meant duplicating the original photo.

Well, I got carried away. To say the least. I ended up developing a series of 4 postcards.

Each card featured the girls from the antique photo. But Sharon thought they looked like sisters, which she and her co-owner Mary Pat Pace are not. She hit on the idea of subbing the heads with childhood pictures of her and Mary Pat. We ran into immediate problems. The first photos - 1950s era snapshots - were too blurry. The second photos - school pictures - were better. But in Sharon's photo, she was too old (5th grade).  After much tweaking, Sharon's photo (she's on the left) was in printable shape.    

I pulled images from my archive to add to the cards. And experimented with various filters and layering styles in Photoshop. For example, on the cakes behind them, above, I used color overlays, gradient overlays and pattern overlays. I hadn't used any of these in a long time and it gave me a much clearer understanding of how a lot of the digital collage work I've been seeing is accomplished, especially greeting cards.

I also played with type, learning how to manipulate it and add drop-shadow effects - though I still have a long way to go. And I messed around with the various ways to transform images in order to make them the desired shape. The party hats and horns, for example, were resized and skewed.  

For the final postcard, I dropped out the original background and substituted the pattern from the bakery's box - which I had scanned - for it. It became vivid wallpaper. I had also scanned the bakery business card and took the logo to make a "sign" on the wall, as well as pins on the girls' dresses. Then, I slipped the card into Sharon's hand. Later, she requested that I turn the card into an invitation. So, I went back in and erased the original type, substituting the text she wanted.

In addition to becoming a postcard, the final design was made into a poster in a few different sizes. This one is at the entrance to the bakery, with others hanging inside, as well as in the cafe. Kinda fun to walk up and see my work!  

Friday, March 22, 2013

To the rescue ...

I find that the final piece for a show can be the most problematic. Maybe it's burn out. My mind gets kind of fuzzy, and I can't make decisions. I was determined to include a ballooning piece in the RolePlay exhibit that opens later this month. It's a nod to my late brother, David, who was a balloonist. (Though I should add that he never had to be rescued.) It was coming together fairly well, but didn't feel right.

Sometimes, a stroll around the work table pays off. Looking at a piece sideways or upside down can help me see it more clearly. If that makes sense?! Earlier, it lead to moving the watercolor sections from the top of the collage to the bottom as a way of grounding it, and providing a horizon.

Another stroll, and the collage became a vertical. Aha! Even though I liked, liked, liked it, I let it sit overnight. 

When I returned to the studio Thursday morning, I changed my mind again. Back came the original horizontal version. There are many other changes, too. It's so much fun when it reaches the point of embellishment. It's similar to when the prep work for a meal is complete and you can - finally - get to cooking and playing around. 

The woman in front was added - she pops out courtesy of black foam core board behind her. More rescue tools were glued down, including some ridiculous ones. And the misguided mister is now losing his hat, too.

One thing left to do: name it! 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sowing the seeds of art

Now that spring is here, we are inevitably thinking about seeds and planting our annual veggie garden. Well, garden might be a stretch. We don't have much sunlight in the yard, so our planting is limited.

In any case, I was reminded of the almost-antique seed packets in my archive. I bought a cache of circa 1920 Card Seed Co. packets at the Tri-State Antique Market in Indiana a few years ago. Had no clue what would be done with them. Initially, they were to be framed. Now, not so sure.

The striking packets were lithographed, giving them a soft, lush look. Prices vary wildly. Mine were $1.50 each, but I just saw the beets for sale online for $7.99. Carrots and corn hit the $14.99 range.

Another reason I was reminded of these is an e-mail from the Hudson Valley Seed Library that landed in my in box. The company has been commissioning artists to create the art for its heirloom seed packets. New Art Packs are issued annually. Of course, these images are copyrighted, so I wouldn't think of using them in my work. But I love the idea and have bought some to frame. Oh, and to plant what's inside, too.

Twenty six artists are featured this year. Here are a few of my faves ... and who knows, if they revive the Cincinnati Flower Show maybe the library's traveling "pop-up" booth will come our way. This year, it's headed to shows around the country. At the annual Philadelphia Flower Show earlier this month, there was a gallery show of the original art work, too.

Art by David Gordon.
Art by Bill Rybak (out of stock).

Art by Natalie Merchant.
Art by Lynne Bittner.

Art by Jennifer Knaus.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Playing through ...

© Foreplay
mixed-media collage by Sara Pearce
vintage print, map (U.S. Geological Survey), illustrations (Woman's World, 1922; Architectural Forum, 1960); ink, watercolor, marker; archival mat board.
Framed with conservation glass for UV protection. 17.5" x 8.75"

Yes, another sporting woman collage for the RolePlay show, which opens at Cincinnati's 1305 Gallery next Friday (3.29). Gulp! She's much more modern - from the cover of a 1922 issue of Woman's World magazine, to be exact - than the women in the other pieces.

I wanted to make a golf collage and had a half dozen or so Victorian golfers, but the women were too tiny. I knew she was around and wrestled with her size. But I love the image - so full of vim and vigor. Lord knows where that ball went!?

In a nod to the lean '20s aesthetic, the collage is less cluttered than the others in the series. But like all the others, it includes a map and layering. The numbers were a last-minute addition. I wanted to add numbers in some way. Maybe as a bib on her (like a marathon contestant)? Or a measurement of the green (there is more to the collage, by the way; I couldn't scan the entire image).

Then, I found the numbers in a 1960 issue of Architectural Forum. They were on a series of tissue-thin pages introducing new sections in a special feature on American architecture. On each page, a different number was darkened. Luckily, this one was still around. I had to cut each out and position them, before deciding. Somehow, I don't have the ability to visualize an element in a collage unless the entire thing is cut out, and placed.

Well, still one more to wrap up. Women balloonists out for a ride that turns into a rescue mission.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Smile! It's St. Patrick's Day ,,,

Top o' the morning. At it is the top of the morning. I slept in after staying up 'til the wee hours of the morning messing around with a design project.

It's gray and dreary here in Cincinnati, and since there's a bit of Irish in me - on my mom's side of the family - I thought I'd brighten the day with St. Patrick's Day postcards from the archive. I skipped the landscapes in favor of those with people, and two sets from specific series and artists.

When I began collecting pre-WWI holiday postcards, I spent too much on them. The card above, published in 1912 by Boston's A.M. Davis Co. as part of its series 705, is a good example of what I mean. I paid a whopping $15 for it at a flea market. I knew it was too much, but didn't have many St. Pat's then and wasn't seeing many, so I pounced. 

Back then, I also tended to buy cards that were not in great shape (note the postmark ink coming through to the front of the card). I figured they could be fixed up in Photoshop when I wanted to make reproductions, which was the plan. But as I got deeper into collecting, I yearned for cards in better condition. That's when my master's in library science came in handy, because as I researched publishers and artists, it became obvious I was overpaying. Happily, it was a lesson learned early on.

The cards here are a mix of mint, good and poor. I'll admit, I still fall for crummy ones when there is an image I can't resist.

The cards above were all published by Boston's International Art Publishing, and were drawn by Ellen Clapsaddle. She was one of their premiere artists. Her work - which is copyright free - is widely reproduced, popping up on everything from mugs to tote bags. The most collectible of the cards are those with her signature on the front (the two at the top).    

This sweet series was published by England's Raphael Tuck and Sons as part of its St. Patrick's Day series No. 106. Pigs have always been considered lucky in Europe. They are a sign of prosperity, and appear on many St. Pat's cards, as well as New Year's cards. Of course, the requisite good luck charm, the four-leaf clover, is ever present.

The cards teach a bit about the evolution of postcards. The one on the top left (postmarked 1907) with all the writing on it has what's known as an "undivided" back. Postal regulations specified that the address was the only thing that could be written on the back. Then, the rules changed and backs were divided - like now - to allow an address and a message. The other two cards (postmarked 1908 and 1909) represent that change.

One last card that is so goofy I couldn't resist adding it ...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Love of letters ... and snail mail

So excited when I got home from the studio last night and discovered the envelope, above, in my mail box. Even more excited when I opened it to find the card/poster below.

It's by Erin Beckloff, a young, enthusiastic letterpress printer. A bunch of us were on Facebook lamenting the news that the post office will stop Saturday delivery later this year and extolling the virtues of snail mail, printing, paper, etc. Erin promised to send me a letterpress card if I sent her one. I did, my bell ringer card - as a New Year's card.

Erin teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and in her spare time, is consumed by all things letterpress. She operates Inky Winke Press and its Etsy shop. The shop is empty at the moment while she works on printing new cards, etc.

She comes by her love of printing via her father, Scott Moore. He makes - yes, makes - wooden letterpress type. I can't wait to see what the exchange will bring next. Time to get my letterpress going again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Plenty of cool images but still no pope ...

Well, it's taken six months, but I'm back to scanning that cast of marvelous Italian characters into the digital archive. I started again when trying to be timely by posting an antique image of a pope. Still have not found one among the 88 hand-colored plates in the Costumi Dei Secoli. The book was published in Firenze (Florence) in 1837, so there is bound to be a pope somewhere.

I'll keep searching. Meanwhile, here's a look at who I did find ...


Monday, March 11, 2013

High Euro style: March 1899

I'm trying to imagine negotiating the wacky March weather we've had in any of these ensembles.

They are from a bound volume of six monthly issues - January-June 1899 - of the Young Ladies' Journal. After searching it the other day. I thought it was about time that the 20 gorgeous fashion plates were scanned and archived.

You'll note that some images are whiter than others, which seems odd since they were all in the same volume. Some are so white, I'd have suspected they were reprints if I hadn't seen the original source. The paper they were printed on may have something to do with the differences.

The magazine was a British publication but the fashion plates were printed Paris - a fact proudly noted on each cover. I discovered the magazine via framed plates in a friend's apartment, then, scoured the internet and area bookstores to find some. This is the only bound volume I have ... at the moment.

My plan is to use the plates that are most oxidized or torn in collages; the others - which are in near mint condition - will be matted and sold in the "Stuff I Can't Bear To Cut Up" bin at the studio.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tools of the trade: smoothing out things

Bone folders are one of a collage artists's essential tools. I use them every day to burnish paper, smooth out wrinkles and to make sure that everything is well adhered after gluing. As much as I like bone folders, I've all but given them up in favor of Teflon "Bone" folders.

The major advantages are that they don't leave marks on the paper, won't tear thin papers and are easily cleaned. Happily, a bigger range of sizes and shapes is available now. And, as soon as I pay the most recent framing bill, I'm saving for an entire set of Teflon tools. Right now, I have but one large folder. A few weeks ago,  that one was misplaced and I was in a panic until finding it.

No shops carry them locally, so I shop online. The ones pictured above are available from Talas. It's a remarkable Brooklyn shop for conservation, preservation and restoration supplies. It specializes in bookbinding supplies and the customer service is great.

An even bigger selection is available from I haven't ordered from here but am impressed by the array of folders. It also carries Teflon-coated tweezers, spatulas, carving tools and scissors.

Another source, but with less of a selection, is Ann Arbor's Hollander's. Love, love, love this place. I once detoured to Ann Arbor to visit the shop, and will likely do it again. It's paper heaven.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Redo No. 2

Having just finished the revamp of "Over the Summer Sea" detailed in the last post, I decided to tackle "Plate 25." It's another long, narrow collage from the same time period. For a while, I had been thinking that it needed to hang horizontally and the initial idea was to turn it on its side, and add a group of children. Not just any group, a specific group from Godey's Lady's Book that included a girl in a dress decorated with letters.

I used an image of her on a postcard and sign for the studio, and thought she'd fit nicely with the vintage report card already on the collage. But I couldn't find her. Fashion bins? No. Letter bins? No. Children's bin? No. Girls bin? No. After two days of looking, I remembered where she was ... in the "collages in progress" bin. I tucked her away there, thinking she'd be safe until I wanted to use her. But I'd forgotten that the engraving illustrated costumes, and once I saw it, I knew it wasn't what I wanted.

The search wasn't a bust, though, because during it I found a beautiful engraving from Peterson's magazine of a girl studying. It's titled "The Hard Lesson" and I discovered two copies. I almost decided to create twins. Almost. With the background removed, it appears that she's sitting at a table covered with marbled endpaper.

During all that rummaging, I came across a roll of vintage embroidered initials. Since the name on the report card begins with an "E," I decided to add them. The final touch was lightly coloring the image transfers on the left side, which were too white.

So, that's it. Well, except for the title - after all the searching, I'm thinking of changing it to "The Hard Lesson."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Back to the sea ...

By now, you know what happens when a collage sits - unsold - in my studio for a while. Yep. I dive back into it. In this case, the collage is "Over the Summer Sea," above. It's an early piece, which means it's about 2.5 years old. Yeah, ancient by my standards. It was made when I was experimenting with a long, narrow, non-narrative form.

Well, last week I came across a few engravings of bathing "dresses" while scouring the fashion files for another collage. I looked up from the work table, caught sight of "Over the Summer Sea" and decided it needed a lift via some people.


After removing it from the frame, I cut out and tested the group above from an 1888 issue of The Delineator magazine. They felt too big.

So, I cut out another group from an 1868 issue of Godey's Lady's Book. Though the group is larger in numbers, it's smaller in height and by turning the collage on its side, they were a perfect fit. 

I liked the way the first group extended over the purple backing board and onto the creamy front mat, and decided to have this group do the same. After painting them with markers (Copic Sketch, Prismacolor, Zig Photo Twin), shells were added as bathing caps. Nothing was glued down at this point.

The shells were repositioned, colored and another one added - behind the second woman on the right - as a fan. Still unsure of the direction, I let it sit overnight. In the morning, I looked at the photos again on my computer, and it struck me that in the original layout with the larger figures, it seemed as though they were standing on a shell-strewn beach and that the shell at the top was like the sun.  

So, yes, it was back to the original group. I colored them, added shell hats and, this time, glued it all down. Um. I think it's done ... though there is a cool octopus I cut out, too.