Monday, September 28, 2009

Recognition . . . Again

While at the Vermont Fine Furniture show this past weekend, another vendor came up to me and pointed out that I was in New England Home magazine. I had talked to Louis Postel, an editor of the magazine and the writer of their Trade Secrets section a couple of months ago but wasn't sure when it was coming out or if I'd be in it. In fact, I had almost forgot about it until this person showed me my picture, so it was a pleasant surprise. Not sure how much it helps but it is a good addition to the resume and it can't hurt. It was also a big surprise that he contacted me; I asked him how he heard about my work and he said he had been flipping through the Providence/Milwaukee/Baltimore Fine Furnishing Show's website and noticed my work. So I guess you can add it to the list of beneficial outcomes from the show even though I didn't sell anything.

Rejection . . . Again

I recently received my latest show rejection, I think this is the 3rd from the Baltimore Craft Show. I take from this that craft shows really aren't the right venue for my work and I really need to stop wasting time and money applying to them. I really don't want to go in the craft direction any way, but I have thought that since I am working with a "craft medium" (I hate that term) that if I could get into one of these high level craft show that it would be good exposure. However, the truth is my work doesn't compare with high level craft. My approach is more minimalist, I don't do any intricate carving or assemblage and the work isn't meant to be used. The problem being that it is difficult to find appropriate venues to get the exposure. The Paradise City shows are good because they are a mixture of art and craft, they are relatively close, and they have indoor exhibit space but I feel like I need something a little better. Many of the shows that include "fine art" are outdoors in the summer, two conditions that I don't like doing with my medium. Other "fine art" shows are very expensive and without having work at the right price level or a huge inventory, it is hard to believe that it would come close to paying for itself.

Vermont is a great place to make art, but it is a horrible place to make a living as an artist unless you've already established yourself somewhere else. It is tough finding venues (all of which are outside of VT) and getting the exposure you need to make a living at it. I've been doing shows like the Providence/Baltimore Fine Furnishing and Vermont Fine Furniture shows in the hopes that people who shop for fine furniture might also like fine art made with wood, and to some degree it has worked, but it really isn't a great venue for my work either. I've applied for the CraftBoston show (for the second time) in the hopes that it would be a good way to make to connections to the Boston arts community but given my problems with getting in other craft shows I'm not holding my breath. I think what I really need to do at this point is spend some more time visiting galleries in Boston, New York, and/or Philadelphia before making some more portfolio submissions. Submitting an unsolicited portfolio is a horrible way to get into a gallery but it is a step better than submitting it blind without having visited the venue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Red Means Go" is Gone

I finished my first book-matched wedge piece, titled "Red Means Go", a couple of weeks ago and sold it a week later.
Red Means Go
shellac on curly maple, cherry, and walnut
44" x 22" x 3"

© Robert Hitzig

I wanted to take it with me to the Paradise City show in October, and at least look at it a while longer, but you've got to take the sales when you get them so I'm not complaining. My personal opinion is that it is a great piece so I'm not surprised it sold so quickly. There is something about the concept I really love, two sides that are the same but not the same, going in different directions; wedges - thin to thick, thick to thin. It is simple but elegant; subtle but powerful; and best of all, slightly confusing. I'd like to do more of them but finding highly figured maple three or more inches thick isn't easy. Mills like to cut planks thinner because it costs so much more to kiln dry and thinner cuts sell much faster. If/when I get my prices to where I can make a living doing this, I could justify paying top dollar to track slabs down and have them shipped to me but at this point I'm still relying on chance encounters.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

Much to my surprise, I just won my first juried show at the Burlington Art Hop with Three Days in September. I guess the Big O is right, an America where a black man can become President is an America where anything is possible. Not that I have any disagreement with the juror. I think it is a great piece too; it is just that after getting rejected from so many juried shows, not even making the cut with a number of other pieces I consider at least as good as this one, let alone placing, I found it shocking that my work was selected for first place. It just goes to show what a crap shoot juried shows are. Every juror has a completely different aesthetic and a different selection process as well. I don't think there is a way for it ever to make any sense to anyone other than ther juror. The great thing about the Art Hop is that they show all the work that was submitted, not just what was juried in, and everyone can make their own selections. With this show, and I am sure other as well (certainly any shows I entered and didn't make the cut), there were many excellent pieces that weren't juried in. It just goes to show that recognition or lack there of isn't necessarily a judgement of quality or talent. All the same, it is nice to get the recognition and I choose to accept it as an indication of the quality of the work; while retaining the right to dismiss the lack of selection in past and future juried shows as meaningless.
Three Days in September
36" x 13" x 1"
shellac on curly maple and cherry

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bleaching Experiment

I needed to work out some technical issues for the shell commission so I decided to experiment with them on the second piece of my Flag Series. The major issue I'm dealing with is how to bleach the wood so that I can get true colors. I haven't found any detailed info on the web but found enough to learn that I wanted to use a two part method with lye and hydrogen peroxide. Finding lye was more difficult than I envisioned. It seems that in recent years many hardware stores have stopped selling it, I assume because it is deceptively innocuous. It doesn't look any more dangerous than mayonnaise but will dissolve/burn your skin like sulfuric acid. Home Depot used to sell a brand that was made for paint stripping but I couldn't find it anywhere. After an extending Internet search I learned that it is still used for clearing clogged pipes and after a few local phone calls, I was able to find it at Agway. The 2 lb container was about $10. Hydrogen peroxide was a lot easier to find at the local drug store, costing $1 (3% solution) and, of course, vinegar is needed to neutralize the lye, easily picked up at the grocery store for about $2/gallon. I've read that there are commercial bleaching kits that use this chemicals and can be bought at hardware stores but I haven't seen them -- admittedly, I haven't I looked very hard either. Having a kit has the huge advantage of providing instructions, I suspect they might also have higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide which might work better, but they have the disadvantage of not being as much fun to use. I find learning by experimentation is more fun than reading.

Above are the three chemicals on top of some of the yellow birch I'm planning on using for the shell.
Here is the bird's-eye maple, with a large section of dark heart wood, that I'm using for the flag - before treatment.

This is what it looks like after applying the lye and hydrogen peroxide. I mixed about one teaspoon of lye with a half cup of water. Let it dissolve and cool down (the reaction of water and lye creates a lot of heat, if the concentration is too high, I suspect it would melt a plastic cup). Then I brushed the lye on the wood and let it sit for about 15 minutes (I've learned not to leave the brush in the lye mixture because it will dissolve the bristles). Then I brushed on the hydrogen peroxide, let it sit for a minute or two, wipe-off with paper towels, and repeated until I no more color was being removed (about five interations).
The next step is to brush on vinegar, wipe-off, and repeat two or three times. Remember, vinegar is cheap, don't be frugal with it. If the lye hasn't been completely neutralized, it will destroy your finish. The reaction of the vinegar with the wood is when you really see the change. Before the vinegar is applied, you might not think that you've done anything. After wiping off the last interation of vinegar I wash the piece with tap water to get rid of the vinegar smell.

Here is the "after" next to the board it came from.

And here is the early draft of an almost square flag (it is 1/8" wider than high because I couldn't bring myself to take another 1/8" off the bird's-eye maple).

Update August 30, 2011: For people looking for more information, check out this discussion on the WoodWeb site.