Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sign painter painting

Did some touch-up sign painting work for the Lillstreet Art Center. I really like using One Shot (shiny enamel paints), but the colors don't mix well, like oil paint. Someday I'll make a painting with them, but in the meantime I'm working on this sign painter painting:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chicago Artists Resource Story

Artist Story: Gwen Zabicki

On the Importance of a Studio, and How to Afford It

Chicago artist Gwen Zabicki is interested in the ways people in urban environments live alone together. In her most recent body of work she explores the idea of a shared urban melancholy. Her work is deeply invested in Chicago’s urban landscape. In discussing her work, she quotes Bosnian-American novelist Aleksander Hemon who once said that Chicago "was built not for people to come together, but for them to be safely apart." Drawing further on non-American perspectives, she reaches to the Turkish “hüzün,” a type of melancholy that is quite often cherished by the dwellers of Istanbul. Contemporary Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk writes often about "hüzun," suggesting that it is like what "a child feels when staring through a steamy window, but multiplied and shared by the inhabitants of an entire city, and so intrinsic to their consciousness that it becomes not negative – in the sense of depression – but poetic." Zabicki marries the concept of "hüzün" with Hemon’s statement, and then paints it onto canvas. In her artist story, she talks about the centrality of a studio space in creating work, and how to make that happen. Story edited by CAR Visual Arts Researcher Alicia Eler and CAR Editor JC Steinbrunner.
It’s important to have a good studio space. I like the structure, the mental trick that happens when I leave my home and go to the studio. I work in oils, so I need to work in a studio space with proper ventilation; otherwise I’d slowly poison myself and my loved ones. After I graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I made paintings on the unheated back porch of my apartment. From December to April it was too cold to use, and from June to August I had to wake up early in order to use it before the temperature got too hot. For awhile, I even tried painting under a tarp in my parents’ backyard. It was depressing to work that way and made my pursuits seem sad and small. Some of my painter friends switched to acrylics or gouache just so they could work in their apartments—but that still meant working at the kitchen table and not being able to leave anything set up and inconveniencing everyone around you. 

Next Door Neighbor, oil on canvas, 32" x 34", 2011
I looked into renting a studio with friends, but it was too expensive for me. I couldn’t afford $200–$400 a month. The studios always seemed to be located in hard-to-reach neighborhoods. I continued to work out of my home until 2010, when I went to grad school at University of Illinois at Chicago. One of the best parts about grad school was getting a private, gigantic studio with a real door and windows that opened and shut! Tuition was about the same cost as renting a studio. I considered the more expensive graduate program at SAIC, but the tiny little closets posing as the grad painting studios convinced me to go elsewhere.
The grad school studio experience is different from having a studio on one’s own. Lots of other full-time artists are working all the time, all around you. Everyone is young and wants to hang out, and the school provides you with deadlines and assignments. The après-school studio experience has fewer friends dropping by, no advisers and no deadlines. There isn’t that built-in community, which can make your individual studio practice seem like more of a free fall. That doesn’t have to be the case, however. Share a studio space with friends or get a studio in a building with your friends. Both of these techniques can go a long way to re-creating the grad school community experience, or even founding an entirely new community outside of any type of academic experience. Another way to bring a sense of community to your studio practice is to schedule studio visits with your friends. Don’t refer to it as a "hang out"—call it a "studio visit." This adds a sense of professionalism to the whole experience. Most likely you'll wind up spending less than half the time talking about your work, but this exercise will certainly connect more people to you and your work. Plus, the feedback that you do receive from friends will be incredibly honest, useful and meaningful.
Another more obvious option is to set-up a studio space in your home. My significant other and I bought a house in 2012. My studio is in a spare bedroom. I never thought home ownership would be in my future, seeing as I’ve never made more than $25,000 a year. Because of the housing bubble, we landed a beautiful house for the price of what we were both paying in rent. If you can scrape up a small down payment, you can buy a two-flat greystone and turn it into your fantasy artist commune/indoor badminton court. 
In August 2012, I started a year-long residency at the Lillstreet Art Center; that’s where my second studio is located. They have artists-in-residence for all of their departments—ceramics, metals, textiles, photo, painting/drawing—and everyone gets a private studio, stipend and opportunities to teach. It’s an ideal working situation that re-creates the grad school community feel. I do all of my messy projects there and use my home studio for cleaner projects.  I’ve learned that without a good studio, the desire to make artwork quickly dries up. The studio is a necessary expense; without a studio it’s hard to even consider myself an artist. 

Currently, I’m building an organization for the artists that can’t make work in their homes or aren’t in a residency. It’s called The South Logan Arts Coalition (SLAC), and we reach out to owners of empty storefronts and persuade them to donate their vacant spaces for use as temporary artist studios. SLAC works to pair these storefronts with local artists whose work complements the space. It brings visibility to the practice of local artists by giving them a place to make and showcase their work. It has the added benefit of beautifying and revitalizing blighted sections of Logan Square. If you’re stuck trying to figure out how you, too, can afford a studio space, here are a few tips I’ve come up with: 
  • Put the word out there that you are looking for a studio. Ask your friends, and post about it on Facebook. Someone will know someone who is looking for a person to share a space or of studios available in their building. This is how you find bargains.
  • Consider studio location. Choose Humboldt Park over Garfield Park. Pick a place that is easy for you to get to. If it's cheap but far from a train or bus, you'll never use it. 
  • Don't feel guilty about the expense. A studio is essential to your practice. Think about the studio space as a second rent. Be sure to keep your rent as low as possible so that a combination of your home rent and studio rent adds up to something close to what you’d pay for a reasonably priced one-bedroom.
  • Make sure that your studio is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I know people who got industrial/ warehouse type studios without thinking about how cold the space gets come December.
  • If you live in Logan Square, opt for a free space. Apply for a storefront studio at It's a temporary studio, it's free and you’re supporting neighborhood revitalization.
  • When you’re working in the studio, fill the silence by subscribing to lots of podcasts. Listen to music that you like. 
  • Make a schedule for yourself. Treat your studio practice like a job. Don’t sleep past 8 a.m...OK, 9 a.m…and then get to “work” in your studio. 
  • Invite friends over for studio visits. You may not spend the entire time talking about your work, but the feedback you receive will be incredibly honest and useful, and it will come from people who care about you and understand your work. 
GWEN ZABICKI is a painter from Chicago. She received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005 and her MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May 2012. She is currently the 2012-2013 artist in residence at the Lillstreet Art Center, where she teaches painting and runs an emerging artist lecture series. You can learn more about Gwen here: and SLAC here:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Commission- She Bears

I was commissioned to paint the cover of a fake children's book. The fake book could be of whatever I wanted, so I chose a disturbing bible story as a subject. This was all part of a larger novel about children's books. Below is my watercolor and the story that was written for it: 

                                             Perhaps she snatched the bow from one of the tasty whippersnappers?

The Bad Children of Bethel.

In it some little kids make fun of a wayward bald man and he curses them, after which two she bears arrive to dispatch with the naughty children. Yes. She bears. Some low impact Googling was enough to find the original story. As you may guess, something this effed up could only come from the Bible (2 Kings 2:23-24). The good book version is short and sweet:

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

As you might guess from the naturalistic illustration, the children’s book is more of a secular cautionary tale. The she bears are not deployed by the Lord. Instead they just appear, as if attracted by the tantalizing scent of schoolboy mischief. And instead of ripping the children 42 new ones the she bears chase them back to town where presumably they reflect on a lesson well learned and leave their pee soaked shorts for their mothers to wash (wise, since I assume the odor of little boy urine might also attract bears?).

I’m not sure what’s weirder. That a story where God orders some bears to whack a bunch of kids exists in the first place or that to someone this material seemed like fertile ground for a children’s story. And lastly, why she bears?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Blonde Ice

Saw this movie the other day. The best part was the presence of old fashioned food trends. Claire Cummings (Leslie Brooks) sits down in a fancy night club with her beau, Les Burns (Robert Paige) and he orders "two martinis, chicken salad, and coffee." Ugh! That sounds like an awful combination to me. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Black Market

One of my favorite Marlene Dietrich songs, Black Market, from the film, Foreign Affair (1948)-- a great film with actual scenes of a still-destroyed Berlin in it. Wait for the moment where Marlene passes the cigarette back to the piano player (hot!) who is none other than Friedrich Hollaender, a Jewish emigree who wrote all the songs in the film. 

Hollaender wrote other hits popularized by Marlene, including See What the Boys In the Backroom Will Have (another favorite of mine). His wife was named Blandine, which up until now, I did not realize was an actual name. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Teaching jobs

                                                                    "Knee Jerk Reaction"

"Hold Your Horses"

Here's a link to some very cute photos of the teaching I've been doing for The Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago.