The Portfolio Review went well!

Photobooths are cool, originally uploaded by pejnolan.
Three things have happened:

1. I attended the portfolio review at Spudnik Press in Chicago.

2. An advertising firm from Montreal, Canada requested an illustration

3. Rick Dale and Kelly from the History Channel's American Restoration thanked me personally for creating an invitation for a Petrol-Mania party.

Paul came in to the city with me for Spudnik's portfolio review. I was nervous about walking back to the "El" in the dark. There were three reviewers from opposite ends of the art spectrum. It was extremely helpful to know what certain aspects of the art community are looking for from an artist.
The first reviewer was Dawn Hancock is the owner and managing director of Firebelly Design. Seriously, take a peek at their website. (I'll wait … ) Right?! It is freaking awesome!

She was very excited about my work from a commercial standpoint. Her exact words were, "Quit your day job and do this full-time." She said that I have a phenomenal talent that really showed through with my portfolio. She loved the personal background stories and meanings behind each piece and mentioned that it really added to the artwork. As an added bonus, she mentioned that she has a pop-up show planned in about three weeks to benefit people in need during the holidays and that she would like to have my work in the show.

Mark Pascale, the Curator for the Department of Prints and Drawings at The Art Institute of Chicago, was my second reviewer. I was most interested in his opinion because I want my work to be of fine art quality, not just a crafty-person or hobbyist. He had many suggestions:
One of my "textural, sculptural" pices
• "Continue to develop the textural, sculptural pieces." This was a fresh of breath air. I had a show at Kishwaukee College called "Cricket and Sparrow." My idea for this show was to show the textures and patterns found in nature. I was very proud of this set of work. Well, no one purchased those pieces. From the feedback I received, I didn't think they were very successful. When I said this to Mr. Pascale, he thought that it was the type of audience and not the artwork.
• He suggested using embossing using a press
Earthtone Aqucolor inks made this print stand out.
• He enjoyed the earthtone colors and said that it was interesting because it was unexpected. If the same print used black ink, he suggested that it would be more illustrative than art. (I think this point was interesting because I had mentioned that my degree will be illustration. I wonder how much this statement had consciously or unconsciously formed his opinion.
• He wanted to see much larger work possibly created with a Dremel.
• He suggested making several editions using the same block, but using different color palettes to show many moods. At this point he asked if I had heard of the artist named Arthur Wesley Dow. I hadn't, but told him I would study up when I came home.
• Finally he told me not to try for perfection, that imperfection can add to a piece's meaning and context.
• He liked the idea of returning to get my degree at NIU and said that the printmaking department was well respected.  He mentioned that he knew Michael Barnes who would be my graduate instructor.
Angela Bryant liked the cultural symbols in this piece.
The last review was shortened due to time. Angela Bryant is director and owner of Abryant Gallery, a rotating contemporary art gallery for new and emerging artists. Angela is also the new director of Dominican University’s O’Connor Art Gallery. She represented the Gallery side of art. The best information I received from her was to return to the Australian Aboriginal origins of my artwork. She wanted to see the same patterns and textures, energy and linework used in my pen and inks and acrylics. This prospect excited me and gave me a new perspective. She also liked the idea of using symbols like the ones used for the ImaBridge Africa.
Returning to the ideas behind the Australian Aboriginal origins of my art is exciting!
When I originally returned to my artwork I was doing it for me because it was fun. Over the last couple years, because of experimentation with different techniques and also because I am no longer doing work just for myself; the process has come to feel more like work than play. It is hard not to think of subject matter, sizes and colors that will sell vs. what I want to do. This is just a growing pain of the business of art. There is a balance that needs to be achieved. The idea of returning to doing artwork because it is what I want, doing my best not to be overly influenced by the pressure of sales or competition between other artists, makes it exciting to think about.

I was asked to create an illustration for Huetopia in Montreal, Canada. This was really a fun piece to do! Although I want to be known as a fine art printmaker, my day job is as a graphic designer, creative consultant, and illustrator at OC Imageworks in DeKalb, Illinois, USA. One thing I love to do it to create vector illustrations. I didn't have a clear image to work with, so this is an amalgamation of several references of scarlet macaws. It turned out really well and I am particularly fond of the way the feathers at the ends of the wings appear as if the sunlight is shining through them like stained glass. I hope to be doing more work with Huetopia in the future. Thank goodness for the networking possibilities of the internet.
Rick Dale and Kelly form "American Restoration"
Lastly, I created an interactive, multi-piece invitation for a local party featuring Rick and Kelly Dale from "American Restoration" television show on the History Channel. Unfortunately I don't have a pic of the invitation, but I will get one soon and repost. Rick and Kelly liked the invitation so much that they requested to be introduced to me before the end of the evening. I had my picture taken with them, but I don't have permission to use the photo. Instead, I have my blurry camera phone pictures.

They are a super-nice, down to earth couple with larger than life personalities. Basically, Rick said that he was a small business owner who had some lucky breaks. You could tell he was so thankful and appreciative of everything and everyone that has propelled him and his company into people's homes through the show.



Even if you can't draw, you can create your own labels, cards, invitations and more with etchpop! This is how it works: you upload etchpop an image (it could be a photo or computer printout or one of your own hand drawn creations), they laser etch it into a piece of wood and ship it back to you. All you need to do is ink the woodblock and you're ready to rock! No woodchips all over the floor! No slips using razor sharp tools which conceivably could take your finger off!

Of course, I like the danger and mess of using my own tools, but if you are a craftsperson and want a one of a kind piece of artwork to share, this is a great service for you! Whatever you make it will be as original and unique as you are.

To find out more, visit etchpop.com or email Marshall & Chester at etchpop@gmail.com . They'll be glad to hear from you! Help them make their business dreams a reality by supporting them on kickstarter.com. I did!


Splitting Hairs

Singeing the horsehair (smelly!), originally uploaded by pejnolan.
Today was just beautiful: sunny, cool, but not cold. I decided to fire up the grill and reshape my brushes before winter set in.

The first step is to soak the brushes. This plumps up the horsehair fibers and cedar handle so the hair doesn't become loose in its housing.
Heating the cast iron skillet on the grill.
Next, I heated the outdoor grill to high and place my cast iron pan directly onto the rack. I let it heat up for maybe 15 minutes until it was HOT! I know it is hot enough when I place the damp brush on the pan surface and it sizzles. The hair will pucker and curl, then turn a light brown.

Eventually it starts to smoke. I watched it closely to make sure the brush didn't flame up. Then it is placed in some more water. The smell is bad, but not horrible.

Dragon's Skin
On to the the dragon skin. Traditionally shark's skin was used, but I like to let the sharks keep their skins. (They write me thank you notes regularly.) Dragon's skin is a sheet of pierced metal that has been stapled onto a board. Kind of like a cheese grater.

As I stroke the brush over the dragon's skin, the singed areas are removed and the individual hairs are split. They become soft and velvety. I brush in one direction about 20 times, turn the brush slightly and brush again... over and over and over... about an hour for each of the large brushes and about 30 minutes for the smaller ones.

I'm left with a wonderfully beveled, soft, feathery, yet still stiff maru bake brush perfect for moku hanga! If you want to find out more about how to shape your brushes, visit iMcClains.com here.

Test prints using Payne's Gray watercolor on newsprint paper.
After reshaping my brushes, I couldn't wait to use them, so I made a little Christmas block. If you would like to exchange cards, email me your address. Please contact me via blogger or by visiting www.erinknolan.com !

In the evening I started filling out scholarship applications!

That's how my day went. How was yours?


SOFA Show / Intuit Art Show

Navy Pier, Chicago, originally uploaded by pejnolan.
Over the weekend I went to my 3rd SOFA Show (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art) and Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art at Navy Pier in Chicago. No photographs are allowed and although I saw plenty of people taking pictures, I purchased a moleskin sketchbook for the occasion to log the names of the artists and sketch a piece or two. I also purchased to catalog to remember all of the wonderful pieces.

This year I made up my mind beforehand that I was not going to see the entire show, and was going to stay away from the glass galleries. The last several years SOFA has been over-run with glass work and while I appreciate the individual pieces very much, my opinion is that the show is very weighted towards glass.

The very first thing I did is walk to the back of the room to the Intuit show. I have to admit that the first couple years I saw the show I didn't understand why a drawing that looked like a 5 year old had made with marker on a piece of cardboard would be worth $80,000. Ok, I still might not understand the price tag. I am coming closer to really appreciating the art though.

It is as if these people, who had no formal training in art, and therefore had no words to articulate regarding their art, were driven by an inner passion to create with whatever materials they were able to amass. They created art because it is what their heart told them to do.
Howard Finster: Hope
Rev. Howard Finster
Some of them had messages the artist wanted to project. One example is Howard Finster. He was a fiery Baptist minister and artist whose impassioned, and at times nonsensical, ramblings were written over top his pictorial paintings creating a dizzying cacophony of religious zealousness. He was inspired by God to share the gospel with people through paintings of his visions. His visions began at age 3, he stopped school at 6th grade, and was born again during a tent revival at age 13.

Henry Darger: Vivian Girls Out Scouting
Mr. Henery Darger
Some artwork consisted of the private stories of fancy that needed to be brought into the real world. Henry Darger was this type of artist. During his lifetime, no one knew he had created his world in drawings. In this safe space he controlled the story line of children and battles, danger and happiness. It wasn't until he died and the landlord came to clean out the apartment that Darger's inner world came to light for the rest of us.
Bill Traylor
Blue Man with B in His Back
circa 1939-42
Mr. Bill Traylor
Bill Traylor was born into slavery in Alabama. After emancipation, his family continued to farm the same plantation. When he was 85 he was homeless and lived on the streets and sometimes slept in the back of a funeral parlor. During the day he sat on the sidewalk and drew images of the people he saw on the street and remembered scenes from life on the farm, hanging his works on the fence behind him. A painter friend would give him art supplies. He died at the age of 95.
He is known for is flat, modernistic use of color, his mystery scenes that he calls "exciting events." and the portrayal of unusual, non-identifiable objects he called "constructions."

Sadly, his fame and high regard as an artist came 20 years after his death. The person who had given him art supplies had also kept much of the work. He showed it to art dealers and galleries in the late 70's and it was a hit. He lived his life in extreme poverty. Now a single drawing is priced at $80,000.

Reading the background histories of the artists brought more meaning to their pieces. Understanding the person and their situation and their all encompassing primal need to create is what makes the artwork "art" not doodles.


First Hard Frost

Untitled, originally uploaded by pejnolan.

The first frost came this week. Meanwhile, I am carving some of the images found this past summer for multi-block woodblock prints. I can't wait to show the finished product! In just a few hours I'll be taking the train in to Navy Pier in Chicago for the SOFA Show / Intuit: Outsider and Folk Art Show. It is supposed to be chilly but sunny, in Illinois at this time of year, sunny is fantastic!


Cutting, cutting, cutting!

cutting, cutting, cutting!, originally uploaded by pejnolan.
So many wonderful things have been happening that I, yet again, barely have a chance to keep up! (and that's a good thing.)

I'm going to save my biggest news for last, so have patience, grasshopper, and wait to read the entire post.


The end of September was the annual Art of the Land at the Starline Gallery in Harvard, Illinois. Proceeds are used to purchase lands in McHenry County by The Land Conservancy (TLC). It was a wonderful evening and I was able to share it with my brother and his wife.

The show was on Saturday evening, but we decided to go early and walk about Woodstock, IL. It is a nice little town whose name to fame is that the movie "Groundhog's Day" was filmed there. It has a quaint town square that was having a local farmer's market when we arrived. We walked through gallery at the Old Courthouse Arts Center and chose to eat next door at Le Petite Creperie.
Elinor enjoying her coffee at Le Creperie
I had mussels and squash soup with warm tea. It was cold, but we ate outside because there was a fire pit by the table we chose. Along came a wasp while I was enjoying my tea. It flew into the teabox and I closed the lid saying that I was going to give it back to the waitstaff that way so the next person that opened it would have a surprise. Then I laughed and released the little guy. Sometimes just thinking these silly little things makes me laugh.  Seeing the surprise on people's faces when I say these things is hilarious. They know as well as I that I would never want to hurt the wasp or another person.

My boys had to stay home because the flu had finally caught up to them. Here are some of my favorites from the show:
Lynda Wallis, Acryics
Nancy Sieder, Cherry Bark Figure

Artist - I'll have to get you back on this one.
Then, as last year, I was enamored by the history of the Starline. A new friend, Rog and her husband had lots of stories to tell. Like this litter carrier attached to the side of the building along with a period poster for the same item:

Al did really well with sales this year. He was selling his woodblocks side by side with his prints. On one piece he framed the block within a shadowbox and added some of the wood shavings that were scrap after carving the block. It was interesting to hear people's comments when they didn't know who I was.



The beginning of October started off with a wonderful weekend away with "the girls" to Mineral Point Wisconsin.  None of us had ever been there and we didn't really know what to expect except that they are known as one of the top 10 artist communities in the nation.
Mineral Point, Wisconsin, USA
 What we found when we arrived was a small town similar to the one I grew up in where everyone is kind and polite - at least to your face - and everyone knows one another. There are turn of the century buildings that house gallery after gallery interspersed with home cooked type restaurants and gourmet restaurants and wonderful specialty antique shops.

The air was cool and there was nothing to do but shop, eat, and relax. No rush, no pretense, just living la dolce vita.

The landscape was breathtaking: rolling hills with farmer's fields, made up of straight rows, creating patchwork quilts of warm autumn color. The weathered limestone buildings glowed in the foreground of a cobalt blue sky while the birds circled overhead -literally circled. (They were turkey buzzards. lol) In the evening there were so many stars.

Like the old commercial: Cost of the hotel, $70. Cost of meals $30. Sharing time with friends and being comfortable in my own skin... priceless.
Shake Rag Alley School for Arts & Crafts
Some special moments on this trip included visiting the art school on Shake Rag Alley.  There were very few people there because it was the off season and no classes were being taught on the weekend that we visited. It is a mini village made of log cabins and limestone homes that have been transformed into artist studios and work areas.
Blacksmith barn at Shake Rag Alley School of Art & Crafts
 There was a couple of people working in the blacksmith barn. We could hear the clanking of hammers against red-hot metal and smell the coal as it heated the metal rods.

The name Shake Rag Alley comes from the history of the location. It was settled by Cornish miners who discovered lead and zinc. They would go out and mine, in the evenings their wives would come outside with a large white rag and shake it to let their husbands know dinner was ready and waiting at home. A traditional meal was a pasty (rhymes with nasty) and figgyhobben or bread pudding.

While we were there, a beautiful monarch butterfly floated past and stopped for a moment to warm himself on a flower. I wondered if it would make it to Mexico in time. Soon after this photo was taken, Maria and I lobbed the largest horse chestnuts I have ever seen at one another next to the gnome in the garden.
Mr. Wasp went shopping with us.
In town we shopped at quite a few places. My favorite was the Mineral Point Architectural Salvage shop but the galleries were awesome, too. Wherever we went there were gargantuan wasps. They never bothered us, but they were our constant companions. I took this one's photo while safe behind a pane of glass.
Prairie Oak Artisans - Closed
The Prairie Oak Artisans gallery was closed, but I imagined that it was my home and gallery. I loved all the old wooden signs and limestone frontage.
Doll inside the Salvage shop
The Architectural Salvage shop was a plethora of yarns and vintage photos, dresses and kitchen supplies, you name it... they had it. Outside was decorated with seasonal potted plants, gourds and pumpkins.
Right now you might be asking yourself, "Hey I thought this was a blog about art, not a travel blog." My answer is that this blog is about the process of my art. I garner inspiration from my surroundings. When I travel like this and see new things, it allows a sense of wonderment to return. I notice the details like the wrinkles in that gourd (above). Aren't they wonderful?
Wise owl standing guard at the Book Trading Post.

 All the good-vibes came to a head when I walked into the Longbranch Gallery. I walked in and there were bent wood chairs, metalwork jewelry (not beads), woodblock prints, and a book by my old illustration instructor, Mark Nelson. Everything seemed very "me."
Longbranch Gallery window display
 The owner was talking with a patron about her upcoming trip to Door County, Wisconsin. When their conversation was over I walked up, handed her my card and said they she should stop by Plum Bottom Gallery to view my work when she was up north. She liked the card and immediately looked at my work online. She encouraged me to send in some work. I wrote her an email once I was home and asked if she wouldn't mind me dropping off some pieces the following weekend so she could review them. She ended up inviting me to be part of her artist base and logged in half of the prints I had brought!


Fallen leaf at Afton
 I haven't had a car since the beginning of May this year. One of the side effects is that I don't really get out of town much. Since my artwork is about the natural world, it has been difficult to find inspiration in the confines of DeKalb, Illinois. One weekend I used our dog Grace as a ruse. She needs to run around, she is miserable staying in the house with no exercise and fresh air. It worked! Out Paul and I went to Afton. We found a gartner snake. So, of course, I had to pick it up.
"I bet none of your other girlfriends would pick up a snake"
I said to Paul, "I bet none of your old girlfriends would pick up a snake." Without hesitation he said, "No, they would not!" Then I thought to myself, "Is that a good thing?" and felt awkward. Funny after knowing one another's most intimate details for 26 years, I still can feel awkward.
Oh, if you can tell me what these red-orange bugs are on the milkweed, I would greatly appreciate it! They have little black parts that could be wings, but they are too small. My guess was juvenille box elder bugs.

What kind of bugs are these?


The Norris Cultural Art Center's Vicinity Show was the next stop. Al won an honorable mention for his woodblock print. In our family, if we win a prize we frown-smile. Here is Al accepting his certificate:

I enjoyed many of the pieces, but I would have to say that these two are my favorites:
Judith G. Leppert, "Stalking Heron"  Woodblock Print
The cuts are so free and loose. There is a nice contrast between foreground and background, but the heron is still weighted to the earth by the feet and grass mingling. The cutwork of the heron are suggestive of detail, but do not create the detail in a realistic manner. You, the viewer, are allowed to fill in the details through your imagination.

The shape of the heron's neck winds around until the beak points your eye to the grasses which circle the path of your eye to the bottom of the piece. The grass in the upper right corner are just enough to loop the eye up making the circular path complete. It is so delicate and yet I know the strength that is involved when carving the woodblock. Really an excellent piece.

H. Dean Willis, "Blue" Egg Tempra
The colors of the piece are subtle, yet rich created though the layering of color. Egg tempera is a 50/50 mixture of ground pigment and water mixed with the fluid from an egg yolk. The pure pigment is what makes the painting glow in person. 

Because of the traditional technique used, the coarseness of the gessoed wood board shows through and adds a textured element. For me, there is a mystery. Where is this? Why is the door closed? Why is a wooden pully attached to the wall? Why is the shovel shiny? Is that a water mark on the wall made of stucco... or is it adobe... or is it clay? My mind wanders to fill in the gray areas. That is one of the things I like about this piece.
As usual I didn't agree 100% with the judges... but then again, no one asked me! lol. Wouldn't it be nice to hear the judge(s) speak on the pieces they chose and why? It was be an interesting lecture to hear.


Michael Bennett, left; Jerry Bleem, center. Two lovely people right.  ; ^ )
 I was urged to attend a lecture by my college art instructor, Michael Bennett. You might remember that he had just curated an art exhibit at Northern Illinois University's Art Museum entitled "In the House: Sculpture for the Home."  Like I told my husband, if Mr. Bennett tells me to go, I go!

The speaker was Jerry Bleem, one of the artists featured in his show. Before attending I did a bit of research online.  Mr. Bleem, or should I say Father Bleem(?), is a Franciscan monk, a Catholic Priest, an instructor at the Art Intitute of Chicago and a professional artist. Wow! I thought to myself. How on earth could anyone fill all these roles without neglecting one or another. Any one of those roles would take the majority of a person's time and heart.

He summed up that question by saying that all the roles he has chosen to play are based in caring and nurturing. I found him to be loud, abrupt, comical, spirited, intellectual, nontraditional and, at the very core, a beautiful, caring, nurturing person.

He said that he grew up on a farm in southern Illinois. He had six brothers and sisters.  As soon as he mentioned this, I felt a kindred spirit. There is a connectedness that surrounds people from small towns that other people just don't understand. 

Plants were his first sculpture teachers. He feels the same way about plants as I do about trees. They are perfect just the way they are, yet humans manipulate them to look very unnatural - very ordered and constructed. In a way this is the basis of his artwork only in reverse. He takes something manmade - trash, discarded items, unwanted detritus - and reshapes it, reorganizes it from an organized man-made material back to a natural, biomorphic object through tearing, cutting and stapling.

My understanding of what he said was that the process IS the artwork and that the final product is simply a record that he was at a certain place at a precise time while meditating or pondering a subject. When drawing, the marks that he creates are symbolic of the same precess. The lines themselves are not what is important, they are just a record that show a specific point in time. 

This interested me because in my printmaking, I can get very intricate. The hours that it takes me to carve and print a block are used for mediation. My mind is quieted. It isn't necessarily that I don't worry, it just allows me to slow down and actually think things through instead of racing. It is a productive time for finding solutions. 

Many of the things that Jerry said captured my attention because of the similarities between his way of thinking and my own. 

Isn't it strange that he knows absolutely nothing about me and yet he has shared his inner most artistic thoughts with me in the audience. His "lecture" was very human and personal in nature. 

At one point he said something rather sarcasticly. It was similar to, "Oh, and then President Obama will be re-elected and we'll all to out for ice-cream!" "YAY!" I said quietly. Unfortunately for me I was in one of the front rows and he heard me.  It stopped him in his tracks and he laughed.

His speaking style is engaging. His voice ranges from shouting to very soft. It keeps the listener on their toes. Again, unfortunately for me, I am rather jumpy. I've always been that way. So, each time he would shout I would unconsciously jump in my seat. Well, at one point he was right in front of me and yelled out a point. I jumped! He yelled to the museum personnel, "Where is the counselor! I need a counselor! I have TRAUMATIZED this woman!"  My face began to burn and I could feel the heat as it turned red. I was so embarrassed.



I will be attending Northern Illinois University School of Art after a hiatus of 22 years to finish my BFA. Afterwards, my plan is to continue in the graduate program in printmaking. The sale of my artwork will be used to pay for my educational expenses. I am so very excited to have a life plan in place.