What I’ve been working on in the Studio: Very Large Pieces

There is a project in Minneapolis that uses the vacant storefronts in downtown to showcase local artwork in quarterly shows. The next round’s theme is Brillanace!,  having to do with the concept of Light. This theme immediately intrigued me on several levels. I have been watching Neil de-Grasse Tyson’s version of Cosmos lately, including the one on light, and Ken Burn’s documentaries on the National Parks and on Prohibition. Both have made me much more aware of things I hadn’t remembered about how light actually functions or hadn’t known about a major social movement in our history.

I also had a tickler in my head about “working large” and doing a “museum quality piece at least once a year”, both from a talk given by Kathleen Dustin at Synergy in 2011. Tory had tried to get me to translate a 2 dimensional piece that wasn’t working in to 3 dimensions by doing a mobile. While I hadn’t succeeded in my effort to make that jump before, this call for Art piqued my interest in a way that not only inspired me but also allowed me to get past my blocks.

I started by doing smaller mobiles (see the one above, hanging in my car) to get the hang of actually creating a piece with movement and balance. While it is far from easy, I realized that this was a logical progression for me from the earring designs I have been doing lately, where movement and a sense of flow have been key elements that I have been exploring.Gold domes earrings

Dancer earrings


I changed the scale for the aluminum dangles and let the designs grow to more the normal size that they have in my head. Oh my! This was tremendously freeing to be able to make things the size that they really “were” and to be able to play with balance and movement more intentionally. While balance is an invisible element in the composition, it provides a dynamic that seems to bring the work to life in such wonderful new ways.

I am about 80% done with the middle of the three pieces that will comprise my submission for the MadeHere call, and it has already taught me enough to be worth the exercise even if it doesn’t get accepted.

1: Construction and materials: Going larger brings new challenges for the sheer engineering of the work. Polymer works well in small sizes, but going larger and having to account for possible temperature fluctuations mean paying a lot more attention to the structure and capability of that medium. I also need more strength than I would get from my usual metals, so steel has entered my list of materials and new ways of building out the supporting pieces have had to be discovered. At least those years doing theater set construction are coming in handy as I try to think about how to build something capable of withstanding its environment!

2: Conscious design: The balance of design elements is both easier and trickier. It’s easier to have the space to include some element you want to bring in, but the temptation is to put in more than the piece can handle. It takes cycles of adding and subtracting to get to the point of making your statement without it getting muddy!

3: Revisiting assumptions: The design also caused me to question practices that I had gotten used to when working on a smaller scale. My sister told me once that in Indian cooking, the problem with scaling recipes is that the spices don’t just multiply in amount so you have to know which ones to use less of when you increase the amount you are making. The same thing has been true when trying to take an element i like in the small and bump it up: not everything should or can be increased directly in size by the same amount.

4: Intimidation: It’s daunting to make something big – there is so much more of it for people to see and possibly criticize! But it isn’t going to kill you if some piece of it doesn’t work the first time and needs to be rethought or redesigned. It’s easier to pull some piece out or rework it to get it right because you have some space to worth with. I’m finding that the extended time it takes just to build out the design also builds in time and space to reflect on the different parts so I can better see what pieces need to be tweaked or rearranged. If you can’t do the entire build in a single day, you get enforced time where your mind can noodle on design and implementation ideas.

5: Better focus: I’m getting used to expecting things to evolve and adjust as the pieces grow and I keep circling back to the key intentions. It could have made me struggle more with staying focused, but it has actually increased my focus by having to be more disciplined about consciously blocking out possible distractions.

6: Experimentation is invaluable: Based on the ideas from Cosmos about how light both obscures and illuminates, depending on the type and color of light, I had grand ideas of doing some components that would only be visible when a certain color of light was shown on them. We got color changing lights and tried out some possible ways of accomplishing this. It may still be a neat idea to play with some day, but it quickly became apparent that it would be either overkill or simply too vulnerable to unexpected consequences to make sense for this installation.

7: Photography gets tricky: The shot of the smaller mobile above doesn’t show the piece very well, and cannot capture the movement since it is a single point in time. I’ve tried different lighting, different backgrounds, and different camera settings. This is a place to let someone who knows better how to shoot difficult objects step in, Sigh.

8: Transport and display: The main center mobile very quickly got large enough that my usual working space was too small to be able to see it and keep it from getting inadvertently damaged. The smaller trial mobiles were hard enough to transport without the sections getting tangled, so thought has to go in to how to move the larger piece once it is complete. My studio mate has had some good advice since her father made mobiles, so I was lucky there. This piece has been designed to go in to a storefront, hopefully a bay window style if I’m lucky, but I need to think long term about display as well. This is going to take up a lot of space in the studio if I were to even consider putting it out there!

I’m sure there will be more to add as I wrap up the final sections of this piece, but this has been a great learning and growth experience. It’s hard, it’s scary, and it takes commitment. I am very appreciative to live someplace that has these kinds of opportunities to grow and push myself!