Five Ways Travels can Enrich Your Art

As I plan a trip for the summer, I want to remind myself, that even on "vacation,"my artist /maker mind is not vacant! In fact, what an artist date, extended and intensive. We all know that, but here are my tips for making travel especially productive and mind-feeding. Let me know any other travel habits you have that awaken, energize and contribute to your artistic vision, tools and skills.

1. As a surface designer and art quilt maker, I don't take along too many tools of my trade, but I DO take the  makings for a travel journal that I add to along the way. My essentials: small format sketchbook (small enough and light enough to carry with), watercolor pad and brush, black ink pens, glue stick, scissors (packed in the luggage so I don't get them confiscated).

2. Take photos (and edit as I go, this is from past experience). Use them for inspiration, printing on fabric, motifs and designs to turn into thermofaxes and stamps back home. I usually don't post until I get home and have time to mull over the best images to share. Usually sorted by Sensory Alphabet theme. I try to take not just the long shots, but lots of details. Usually pick a theme or topic to shoot consistently (I have an amazing collection of manhole covers and street paving stones.) I think I'll look for shell design elements this trip.

3. Museums, museums, museums. Duh. Also historical sites, gardens, etc. I do occasionally (where legal) snip and press leaves from what are exotic trees for me,  to use for screens and thermofaxes back home.

4. Dollar stores, Euro Stores (or whatever the local currency equivalent) for a different set of (usually Chinese-made) stuff that can become stamps, stencils and texture tools. OK, this is sometimes a silly use of luggage space, but I am willing to take old undies and even slacks that I will leave behind in order to take home some weird, wonderful find. Oh yes, cheater readers in the fashion of the place. You gotta see, right?

5. Maps, brochures, ephemera. Also go into the travel journal. Also rich mining for future work. And helps the memory when others travel to the same destination. A network of traveling artists is a wonderful thing to have!

 

Trip to Perquín, Morazán, El Salvador

(This blog is also posted on the Posterous site at http://escuelacass.posterous.com with many more photos there.)

The clean air, the pines, steep tile-roofed houses with more wood in their construction than in other Salvadorean towns, the steep narrow streets lined with small shops, the smell of coffee roasting in a tin barrel roaster --these signal the mountain town of Perquín  in the far reaches of the Departamento (like a state) of Morazán in northeast El Salvador. But Morazán and Perquín soon became more for me than names on the map after my visit to the little Museum of the Revolution.

 

Julia shared with us her first experience here, “When I first came to the Morazán, I had come with the pictures that were described by the teachers telling about their war time experiences. Many had left with their mothers and grandparents as refugees to Honduras. They showed pictures where the tropical mountain landscapes had literally been bombed to rocks.” When she arrived in 2001, the lush greenery and land was  already in the process of recovery and the tasks of  rebuilding had begun. During her first trip she was hosted by CASS teachers from 2000, Rolando Perez, Juan Bautista Chicas and Ana Delia Romero.  They  traveled by bus on a Friday afternoon from San Salvador to the Morazon Department Capital, San Francisco Gotero ( a trip that took 4 or 5 hours) and caught the last camioneta, for the  20 miles to the rural  communities of Segundo Montes.

Julia remembered she had a reservation to stay in a B & B in Perquin, 20 miles to the north, but the students told her it was not possible, there was not transport there on the weekends. They had arranged everything: she would stay several nights with each of them. They had organized transport to see the schools and the region with a local man who owned his own truck. She remembered her first visit in Morazan, via  the specially arranged camioneta, “Traveling throughout all the rural communities in Segundo Montes to witness the process of rebuilding after the devastations of war: schools, homes, churches, community centers, with the help of NGOS and churches from all over the world."

Part of the itinerary of that incredible education trip was a visit to Perquín, to visit the Museum of the Revolution and to further north to witness the mountain routes the teachers’ families (the women, young children and old people) had traveled to escape the death squads burning and bombing the communities right behind them. There were photos of Rolando as a 4 year old in front of a church in the refugee communities in Honduras. Another photo captured a 14 year old Miguel (our driver that day) two weeks before a grenade exploded in his hands (Miguel received reconstructions and prosthesis limbs in hospitals in Cuba ). Julia remembers an incredible emotional  day of learning with these young teachers traveling with a handicapped veteran from the revolution on poor mountain roads with intermittent rain."This was Morazan and the experience and access to Perquin  in 2001."

Now, almost 10 years later, Perquin is still a long trip up the mountains–but now there is daily bus service and an internet café in the center of town. The roads are rebuilt and there are signs of construction and rebuilding everywhere – small construction businesses and many construction sites for homes and public service: road work, piles of cement block, workers carting materials up and down the roads.

The schools have grown and prospered. There are 10 CASS teachers from the rural communities of Morazán, most studied at Alamo Colleges (nine of them attended the workshop at the Education Resource Center that we facilitated on Saturday – more later on that). All of these teachers have a remarkable shared community history of war, survival, and rebuilding. They are brave, resilient and, now, amazingly joyous people who are still working under difficult conditions by U.S. school standards – at least as far as the “material world.”

THEN (Elmer's first school in Morazán)

The same school today (and Elmer is an administrator of a program that trains teachers who do not have university degrees with workshops and web-based college courses so that they can become Licensiados.)

The museum is small and modest: a few rooms lined with photos and small glass cases of artifacts from the conflict – pictures of pre-war poverty of the region (no schools then, no democratic representation, intense prejudice against the indigenous people and widespread hunger and poverty) medial supplies, the backpack of a revolutionary hero, posters of support for the fighters, rifles and machine guns, parts of downed aircraft. All these signs of violence and courage set against a background of children’s paintings depicting the peace. The museum is larger, and Julia noted a new pride and cultural ownership by the indigenous Linca tour guide as he described the people who have lived in this region since people arrived.

Another building shows a recreation of the radio station that was the voice of the people. Photos show women, children and elders operating the radio – equipment patched together from old transistor radios and other well-traveled electronics were used as receivers by the guerillas in the mountains.  In the back of the museum, a bomb still remains in a crater, with other earthen holes that show the impact. Our guide explained that on one day during the conflict 20 government planes each dropped 4 bombs on Perquín – the intent was obvious, to drive these people into the earth. (An effort, by the way, funded by the U.S. During both the Reagan and Carter administrations – at the height of the war --  the U.S. was contributing about 1.5 million dollars a day to the El Salvador government.)

Despite the part of the U.S. in the tragic history and loss of the region I was welcomed and have been warmly affirmed as a friend by the teachers we worked with in San Antonio. And as a tourist there this week, I sensed no resentment or anti-American sentiments. The teachers who came to us during the earliest years of our work with CASS all shared the history of the region, and grew up in the Honduras refugee camps camps. Many of the personal stories that they used for hand-made books included images of helicopters overhead, families fleeing across the river border, children waking in the middle of the night to escape the violence. And their photos were of a town literally leveled to the ground.

Now, after the Peace Accord was signed in 1992, Morazán is a welcoming place, busy with life and hoping for more tourism, (about 6,000 people a year visit the museum in Perquín) with a growing number of artisan crafts including indigo dyeing, paper and wood jewelry making, and sale of the distinctive coffee-colored clay pots from clay found only in this mountainous region, (More on the crafts later!) We had a wonderful meal at a little comedor, walked around the corner to buy coffee just out of the roaster – organic coffee – a new initiative in the area to rejuvenate the Salvadoran coffee industry, one devastated by global economy and the less-expensive coffee of Southeastern Asia.

 

Much money flows into El Salvador from the U.S. – formally in US aid including programs like this scholarship program-- and informally, through the money sent back to families at home from the emigrant Salvadoreanos in the U.S. But that’s another story!

Coming tomorrow, more about the crafts and art of El Salvador.

San Antonio to San Salvador

The first impression: green, low grey heavy sky (that's the flow over from the hurricane on the other coast of Central America), and, at the airport, a surprising scarcity of tourists as measured against folks headed to their homeland from US work and relocation. As my colleague, friend and sister traveler Julia said, "The Salvadoran experience really starts when you get on the plane to San Salvador." Full of families going home, workers returning, loaded with gifts, full of stories, children and elders. Once in the city, the landscape is mountainous, with the city and its suburbs wrapped around and climbing up the steep green peaks wreathed in whisps of clouds. And, surprising my parochial expectations, FULL of American companies -- every fast food imaginable, glass blocks of Citi-Bank, an expansive sprawl of Legorreto designed mall, well, you get the picture.

We're here (and in Guatemala) for three weeks of working, talking, sharing, finding ways to support the maestros and directores from those who've returned from their year of education in San Antonio at Alamo Colleges. For the past 11 years of so, I've spent anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months (as it is this year) working with the maestros as a special instructor/designer, mostly teaching technical and material and design skills matched to creative curriculum development.

This is my first trip to Central America, and I'll be blogging here, and also, with more work-related posts on the posterous blog I've set up to use with the teachers and in the schools that have internet connections. If you want more than the artist's impressions and inspirations that I'll post here, surf over to those little posts and pictures to see more of what's going on in the schools we visit.

Space in Spaces - photos from summer travels

Bus and street reflections, St. Petersburg

SPACE is one of big time favorites.  I work from and within spaces whether I am working on an art quilt, art cloth or, wearing one of my other hats, as a museum and exhibit designer.  As a textile artist, I like working with unusual spaces, and often my work is shaped or irregular, simply because that seems much more interesting to me than a rectangle or square. It may be one of the reasons I like textile arts in general -- the spacial use and ideas are much more diverse than that of the space of a painting -- which is all created by illusion of depth of field -- the one kind of space I'm NOT that interested in.

Here are a few of the photos from this summer's Scandinavian travels that have particularly strong use of SPACE. (This is part of a series of nine photo collections that record different aspects of the Sensory Alphabet -- a tool I use for organizing images, working creatively and collecting input and organizing new ideas.

The British Museum with Kings Crossing in the background

Arcade, St. Petersburg

Berlin, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

 

Berlin

Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Light, illuminating new ideas

Sometime around midnight, somewhere in the Baltic SeaPerhaps the most stunning and interesting photographs from my recent travels in Scandinavia were those with strong LIGHT content -- not only because photography is all about light, but because the quality of those 20 plus hour days of daylight were so potently active as to our psychic relationship to the space and time. Daytime has a much more expansive meaning when the sun "goes down" at about 11:30 pm and rises at 3 am, and truely, it never is really dark. The white nights of Russia, Finland, Sweden certainly color the activity and spirit of the places. Even though we were ship-bound in the evenings and nights due to our sailing schedule, it was easy to see that the lives of all the ports went on way into the wee hours. There were truely more hours in the day to do things and in general, people seemed intent upon enjoyment of all the pleasures of daylight. Guess it shapes your summer when you know 18 hours plus of dark is coming all too soon!

Linda in a Light exhbit at the Design Museum in CopenhagenConservatory at the Sculpture Museum, Glyptotek, in Copenhagen. Along the River Neva, St. Petersburg White Nights

More from the ship

 

World Shapes: Art-making Inspired

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Next up: the  shape collection from the summer travels. (Previous installments in the two previous posts include Movement and Color, see the sidebar for links.)
Some things I might try from these inspirations:

1. Think of the grid as a pattern of shapes and use it as did the artist who designed the Berlin Holocaust Memorial.

2. Try making a columnar shaped art quilt, like the Estonian tower.

3. Use the paving stone and manhole cover collection (I took lots of these photos) to make thermofax screens for an art cloth series.

4. Use the shapes of the plaster casts from the Victoria & Albert Museum to inspire some altar-shaped pieces.

5. Make a phototransfer of that lovely urn from Kensington Garden.

 Manhole Cover - Berlin

Newton, Sculpture at the British Library

Tower in Tallinn, Estonia, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Medieval stone carving, plaster cast at the V&A, LondonUrn, Kensington Gardens, London

Color: trip photos + how to use them

 Tallinn, Estonia, Old Town

More photos from the Scandinavian trip this summer: these screamed "color" when I went though the digital stacks. I love digital photography, but you have to admit that it makes editing an essential part of the process. Back in the film days, I could never have brought home 2000 plus photos! If you've just tuned in, I'm taking the next seven days (plus yesterday and today) to post pictures from our big summer trip/cruise sorted by categories of the Sensory Alphabet.

Here are some ways that colors in photogrphs (my own and other's) inspire my work:

1. If theiy're mine, I use the photos directly, printed on fabric or other strange materials, then use them as a collage element in my art quilts, or even as stand-alone small fiber pieces with stitching and over-printing.

2. I notice what works compositionally with color in a favorite photo, then let that proportion or relationship inform a piece of work.

3. I like to play a color matching game, mixing colors of paint or dye to match a color that I find striking in a photo or painting.

4. Especially with photos of the natural world, I find new and unusually color schemes that I wouldn't ordinarily think about. Coor is such an important element in my work, I am always working from both intuitive.

While specific images from this trip have not yet found their way into my work, I have gotten some interesting ideas for some new workshops, coming soon to this blog. Meanwhile, here's the color selection to inspire your work!

 

Grocer's shelf near Highgate Village, LondonHydranga blooms at the V&A, London

Very old stained glass panel in the V&A collection

 St. Petersburg, Russia

Summer Palace outside St. Petersburg

Back, already?

It's a blur. Big Trip screams by in a whirl of 3 weeks. St. Petersburg buildings, too.What? You didn't notice I'd been gone. Well, that's OK. I'm sure you've been busy, too. And it's not like I haven't been back  (at least in the real world) for a while.

Admittedly, I've been working some since returning home from the "big trip*" some teaching, some studio redo, another profile article for Quilting Arts magazine, sorting and clearing out, making sure the energy flows in and around El Cielo. But there's also been a good deal of lovely late summer just plain lazing around (while musing on next steps).

When I go on vacation, I REALLY go. I stopped blogging (oh, yeah, maybe you did notice); I didn't tweet but twice; I ignored FB friends; I didn't even go to "meetings." I felt as though all the batons that I'd been juggling --flinging around in the air with at least some degree of grace and style -- fell suddenly to my feet . Dropped, unloved, undone. Thank goodness for roaming  and overseas data charges or I might have been tempted to keep all those lovely little flinging objects up there. But no, I spent my money on pepper grinders, handwoven linen, museum admissions and sundry souvenirs, instead.

But here I am, almost the eve of September '09, back in the virtual studio, having thought about it and decided, yes, I like this little part of my working life, this time on the page that records my studio life and the time away from the studio that informs and inspires it. Writing this blog is part of my practise as a working artist. Writing this blog is part of keeping track of what it is I'm doing and why I'm doing it. It's also a way to market my wares, be it art work, classes, workshops or ideas. Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. I'll try to make it worth your while.

And to get back into the swing of things, and to catch up with my own recording nature, I'll be posting a few images from travel over the next week, interspersed with a preview of the workshops we'll be hosting here at El Cielo this fall and winter. Expect a flurry of activity on this site over the next few weeks -- then, no doubt, once I have the momentum going with the juggling act, we may find time for something pithier. (how long have I been promising to do an on-line course?)

The travel photos will be arranged not by place or narratively (you'll have to come over and see the slide show in person for that), but alphabetically  -- that is -- Sensory Alphabetically. Starting now, with MOVEMENT. Can you jusst imagine taking inspriation from some images to create a great zoom, a sudden start, a dance, a circling, a splash, a slippery slide, a flit or flurry of a feeling in your next work of art?

 

Plaster cast of Medieval carving in the V&A, LondonOn the way from London to Dover.

Matisse at the Hermitage

Gate near Church on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

 

How we moved.

Rodin at the Glyptotek in Copenhagen

From teh top of a doubledecker in London

Ditto.And wouldn't this make an interesting composition?