The Bluefish is New Tonight

In 1987, with funding from the Cambridge Arts Council, I was asked to paint a mural for a building in Inman Square, Cambridge. The painting was called “The Bluefish is Good Tonight”, as an homage to the original Legal Seafood restaurant that once stood on this site. The imagery also contained references to the vibrant jazz scene in the area.

It had faded badly over the years and I was ready to have the mural taken down since it had been on display for almost thirty years.  It turned out that it wasn’t so easy to remove the painting because the neighbors had grown attached to it and they still liked it, even though all of the reds and purples and much of the imagery had disappeared.  I was pleased to know that it was so well-loved, and I started to hope that a plan could be made to save the mural.

Rika Smith McNally, the director of the art conservation program at the Cambridge Arts Council, was determined to find a way to re-paint the mural, and she made it happen last week!  Before I could say “What is that huge thing in my studio?”, Rika and a team from USArt, George Hagerty and Alfred Zuniga, had moved the five panels to my studio.

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George Hagerty and Alfred Zuniga removing aluminum panels from Inman Square building
Rika Smith McNally and Rory Beerits of Cambridge Arts Council, cleaning the mural
Rika Smith McNally and Rory Beerits of the Cambridge Arts Council, cleaning the mural to prepare the surface for painting with Golden acrylics.
Rika and Regina sap
Rika Smith McNally and Regina Gaudette applied a layer of Golden MSA resin varnish to the surface to prepare it for painting with Golden acrylics.

I am planning to re-paint all of the background colors, and then with the help of  assistants Jill Curtis, Rachel Newsam and Regina Gaudette, we will trace the shapes and patterns back in place and repaint them.  On Rika’s recommendation we are using Golden 100% acrylic emulsion colors which are rated for excellent lightfastness.

Painting bright colors over faded areas.
Here I am painting bright colors over faded areas.
Coloful backgrounds ready for patterns to be added.
Coloful backgrounds ready for patterns to be added.

The Five Stages of Unloading a Kiln

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Lo these many years that I have been working with clay, teaching it, learning about it, making all kinds of stuff, I still can’t get over how many emotions come up when I am firing a kiln.  It’s not unlike the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

First I imagine that this kiln load will be different from every other one: nothing will crack or craze, all the glaze will be smooth, colors will be harmonious.  Then I crack the lid and try to peek in when it’s really too hot to open which singes my eyebrows and makes me kind of irritated.  I should know better but it’s so hard to wait to open the kiln.  Then I start thinking about the commissioned platter on the second shelf.  Is it good to imagine it broken and already have accepted that disappointment before I lift off the top shelf?  Or is it bad karma to imagine it perfect and gorgeous before I get a chance to check it out?  In each firing there are several disappointments, often involving the one piece in the kiln which I do not want to re-do.

This leads to questioning as to why I continue to endlessly fool around with this medium that drives me nuts.  It’s unpredictable and labor-intensive and involves a lot of heavy lifting and ceramic pieces don’t command the respect they deserve in the art world.  Yet I still love the look and feel of colorful ceramic pieces.  Over the years I have rolled out slabs to make big tile murals, I have created large-scale platters with a terrific teacher Jeanee Redmond and I have worked with coils, pinch pots, and raku firing.  It is one medium I keep coming back to because it is so versatile and fascinating.

So I face the pile of the stuff from this firing that has small flaws and I’m doing triage: which ones can be repaired and re-fired? Maybe I can add a little underglaze to the spot where it came out a little thin if I can just remember which of the fourteen blue shades I am currently using will match this piece.  Of course the colors and textures will change in the kiln, and sometimes the accidents will be happy ones. Then I start loading the kiln again while the shelves are still a bit too hot to handle.  It’s like gambling-I can’t help it, I keep thinking there is such a thing as a perfect firing.  So I set the timer and try not to feel like a complete idiot as my hopes return again.

36" X 36" ceramic tile mural
Mountainous Acre, 36″ X 36″ ceramic tile mural commission in Boston, MA

Cutting Paper with Beatrice Coron

In July I was privileged to take a class called Cut it Through with Beatrice Coron at the  Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (FAWC).  Beatrice has made her career in the fine arts by cutting stories out of paper.

All Around Town, poster for NYC subways by Beatrice Coron
All Around Town, poster for NYC subways by Beatrice Coron

Her favorite “paper” is Tyvek because it is strong and lightweight and easy to cut.  Tyvek comes in black and white, but Beatrice special-orders large quantities of black tyvek that has an additional layer of black pigment so it is black-black.  Beatrice creates editions of her works by having them laser-cut, usually on a smaller scale than her original hand-cut pieces.  She also makes garments and sculptural pieces with this versatile material.

Beatrice Coron at FAWC in July 2014
Beatrice Coron at FAWC in July 2014

I took advantage of a week with no distractions to cut lots of paper, and make stencils which I used for printing images on paper and fabric.

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I also created two artist books using black Arches paper.  The covers were cut from Mi-Teintes colored paper.

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City Square with Reflecting Pool

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Design for Iron Street Park in Boston by Halvorson Design Partnership

My mosaic, City Square with Reflecting Pool, was installed in the new Iron Street Park on the corner of A Street and Iron Street in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood in July.

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Dan Sacco installing the mosaic in Iron Street Park, Boston

The park was designed by Halvorson Design Partnership, and this mosaic (6′ X 6′) was designed to incorporate the historic themes of the park.  Quotations highlighting  the history of this area are sandblasted into the concrete plinths in the park, and some of the seating is made from original beams from historic buildings.

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The mosaic was inspired by the iconic loft buildings in the neighborhood which were built over 100 years ago by the Boston Wharf Company to be used as warehouses.  As you walk around the Fort Point Channel area of Boston you will see round copper Boston Wharf signs on the buildings, which indicate the years in which they were built.  The reflecting pool in the center of the mosaic is a reference to the fact that many of these buildings are built over water.

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White Line Woodcut at Mass College of Art

This summer I taught a two-day workshop in white line woodcut at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, MA.  I had three talented students and we spent our time together discussing the whys and wherefores of making things while carving lines into clear pine boards and painting watercolor onto the boards to create printed images on Japanese paper.  No answers as to why it is so satisfying to learn about color and texture and to explore new materials and to engage in creative problem solving, but we did all of these things as we worked and talked together.

Octopus print my Katie Boulter-Dimock
Octopus print by Katy Boelter-Dimock
Octopus with painterly watercolor backgroud
Katy’s octopus with painterly watercolor background added
Beautiful subtle colors by Elizabeth Pyle
Beautiful subtle colors in landscape by Elizabeth Hammond Pyle.  Check out Elizabeth’s blog: http://www.bottlebranch.com
Inspired by Blanche Lazells prints, Patti Ryan created a fanciful still life
Inspired by Blanche Lazell’s prints, Patti Ryan created a fanciful still life
Katie made a second print and refined her watercolor technique
Katy made a second print which shows off the wood grain in subtle washes of watercolor

White Line Woodcut Fever

I love the textures from the wood.  You paint one section and then rub the back of the paper. Deceptively simple.
I love the textures from the wood. You paint one section at a time and then rub the back of the paper to transfer the image from the woodblock.  Deceptively simple.

I took a class with Amy McGregor Radin  in April of 2013 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA.  I discovered a  technique that brings together printmaking and watercolor painting: two of my favorite things.   White line woodcut was developed in Provincetown, MA in 1915, and made famous by Blanche Lazell and a number of other artists who embraced this simple technique as an alternative to Japanese woodblock printing (which requires a separate block for each color).

Painting the wood block with watercolor
Painting the wood block with watercolor

Below is a new print entitled Evening Owl.  I love the subtle gradations of color and the textures that are transferred from the wood.

Evening Owl