May 30th, 2016
Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma
If you happen to be in or passing through Tacoma soon, I’ve got a new show of sketchbook drawings up right now, at the brand new Feast Arts Center on Hilltop.
Like the way I do it on my travel blog, the images in the exhibit are arranged thematically rather than chronologically—this made curating the show something of a challenge, since I have frillions of drawings to choose from. So I did a practice run on my living room floor, with a notebook in hand to jot everything down (seems fitting!).
That ended up being a really good idea, because pre-arranging everything beforehand made the installation of the show much, much easier. All I had to do was measure and level everything, rather than try to make any aesthetic decisions on the fly. Still, you can see from the above photo that hanging a show is always a big, big mess—no matter how prepared I am ahead of time. Everything is total chaos until the last possible moment!
The show consists of ten original sketchbooks, paired with reproduction prints hung on the walls of the gallery. Displaying original sketchbooks is always another challenge, since it’s only possible to show one page at a time, and the books are delicate enough that they can’t stand up to constant handling during the show. But the folks who run Feast, Todd Jannausch and Chandler Woodfin (yes, there are two Chandlers involved here!), had the great idea of displaying the books in unobtrusive, handmade glass tabletop cases.
Here’s Todd putting one of them together—
the end result is sleek and professional, and it made it easy for me to come in and turn the pages of each sketchbook once a week or so, to change things up during the show’s run and give folks the chance to see multiple pages over time.
These little map cards tie everything together, providing a little context behind the drawings and explaining my rationale for the themes I chose for the prints.
I’m so pleased with how the show came together—this has quickly become my very favorite solo show. So major thanks to Todd and Chandler for making it happen and handling the logistics!
Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma
As an added bonus, the folks at Artist Trust, a statewide arts organization, hosted an event to tie in with my exhibit opening. Since Artist Trust recently funded me with an artist grant to continue my sketchbook work, they asked me to speak about my process at the opening. I brought my very first travel sketchbook with me, and it was great to talk shop with the crowd that showed up that night!
Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma
The show closes on Sunday, June 12—here are all the details, if you’re looking to visit:
Jaunt + Jot: a solo sketchbook exhibition by Chandler O’Leary
May 19 through June 12, 2016
Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, WA
Open Saturdays 12 to 4, Sundays 9 to 1, or by appointment
Photo by Shawn H. Nichols, taken at Artist Trust on Tour: Tacoma
Or if you’d like to try your hand sketching yourself, Feast, Urban Sketchers-Tacoma and I are hosting a special ad-hoc sketch outing this Sunday, June 5, as part of Feast’s Sunday Coffee series! The event is free and open to anyone who would like to try their hand at urban sketching—no prior experience is necessary, and all you need to bring are your own sketch materials (paper or sketchbook, pen or pencil, watercolors, or whatever you like to use).
Here’s how it works: Feast Arts Center will open at 9 am on Sunday, so visitors can see the exhibit. Anyone interested in sketching will gather at 10 am at Feast for a quick meet-and-greet. We will then split up and sketch around the Hilltop neighborhood; you can choose to stick around Feast, or wander farther afield and sketch whatever strikes your fancy. Some people sketch in groups, others go off by themselves. Then we’ll all meet back at Feast at 12:30 for an informal show-and-tell of our sketches. This part is completely optional (so if you’re nervous about showing your drawings, you don’t have to!), but it’s always fun to see everybody’s different styles, materials and points of view. Feast will remain open until 1 pm. Here are those details again, in digest version:
Ad-hoc Sketch Outing, sponsored by Urban Sketchers-Tacoma
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Feast Arts Center (open 9 to 1)
1402 S. 11th St. Tacoma, WA
1. Meet at Feast by 10 am
2. Sketch in and around Hilltop
3. Show & tell at Feast at 12:30
Please note that this is not a class or workshop, so neither I nor any Urban Sketchers members will be offering instruction. But this is a great opportunity to meet other sketch artists and find inspiration. People tell me all the time that they’d love to try sketching, but aren’t sure where to start. This is a great way to get your feet wet amongst friends—so don’t be shy! Grab your pencils, and we’ll see you this Sunday!
Creation of this work was made possible in part by Artist Trust Grants for Artist Projects. Special thanks to Artist Trust, Feast Arts Center, School of Visual Concepts, and Urban Sketchers-Tacoma.
Photo by Mary Holste.
March 12th, 2016
A year ago we told our families and closest friends. A few months ago we started whispering to colleagues and acquaintances. Lately we’ve been spreading the word on the down-low, at events and gatherings. And now we can finally spill the beans in public:
Jessica and I are publishing a Dead Feminists book!
We’ve been hard at work for months already, and the writing, editorial and design part of the process is entering the home stretch. But it’s still too early for us to be able to share many nitty-gritty details, but we can tell you that the book will be called Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color, and that it’s coming in October 2016 from Seattle’s very own Sasquatch Books.
There’s so much more to come, everything from photos to the cover design to sneak peeks to event details. But for now, enough things are still up in the air that we can’t show all our cards (or mix all our metaphors) at once. So to make sure you don’t miss any announcements, I suggest signing up for our mailing list.
More soon—we promise!
February 29th, 2016
For the past year there has been a movement to replace Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the $20 bill with that of a woman, thanks to the folks at Women On 20s. The effort went viral, with people all over the country weighing in on who should grace the bill instead. Harriet Tubman was the most popular choice—and last May Women On 20s presented the signatures of a nationwide petition to the US Treasury. Just a month later, the Treasury responded with the news that a woman would soon be featured on a bill—but the much less widely circulated 10-spot, not the 20. Now that it’s Leap Day and Women On 20s just turned one year old, Jessica and I are adding our voices to the call.
The last time a woman appeared on American paper currency was Martha Washington in 1886. Since we think it’s long past time to #DitchJackson and include a woman on our money, I put together a little snippet of a Tubman bill. Here’s hoping that after her effigy garnered so much public support, Ms. Tubman will get rewarded with a little hard currency after all.
February 22nd, 2016
When it came time for us to find our next Dead Feminist, our thoughts turned to our own mirrors. Like every woman in our pop-culture-driven world, Jessica and I are bombarded with imagery and messages that urge us to scrutinize and criticize our own appearance. Unsurprisingly, we are taught to find ourselves lacking in one way or many, and to compare ourselves with an impossible ideal.
We were a little surprised to find courage and consolation in Ancient Greece, where they were all about the impossible ideal. Yet if you sift through the lofty architectural theory, stylized scenes and tales of the immortals, you’ll find a honey-tongued poet who speaks the plain truth: Sappho.
To be human is to grow old.
Our 23rd broadside, Age Before Beauty, reaches further back in time than we ever have before—to the 6th century BCE. As you can clearly see, the illustration is styled after the designs and motifs of ancient Greek pottery, right down to the amphora handles.
Yet even though she lived and worked thousands of years ago, Sappho’s words ring true as if they were written yesterday. We especially loved her self-reflection in the poem we chose, and the way she managed to view her aging body with kindness. It brought to mind, for me, an image of dual goddesses who are really two faces of the same woman—like the Maiden and Crone archetypes so common in other pre-Christian cultures.
Like the art of ancient Greece, the illustration is chock full of allegorical imagery. For instance, young Sappho carries Aphrodite’s mirror, while Athena’s wise owl looks over her aged self. Both figures play a seven-stringed lyre: Sappho was a lyrical poet, which means her poetry was designed to be performed to music. (Incidentally, some scholars also credit Sappho with the invention of the plectrum, a tool similar to a guitar pick that was used to pluck the lyre’s strings.) Finally, the band of dancing deer at the base references Josephine Balmer’s recent translation of Sappho’s Old Age Poem.
Compared to our previous broadsides, the composition and color scheme of this piece are fairly simple. The printing, on the other hand, was not. All those curves made it hard to line up the plates, and we had huge floods of color paired with delicate lines and text. To help her with the ink coverage and add just a tiny bit more pop to the color, Jessica ran the vase shape in a run of subtle cream first.
The cream pass helped with the super-tricky registration of the black and terracotta, as well.
All that fiddly and difficult technical stuff made the finished product that much sweeter. We’re pleased as punch about the results—we hope you will be, too.
To help all women and girls see themselves in a more positive light, we are donating a portion of our proceeds to About Face. Founded in 1995, About Face works to improve girls’ and women’s self-esteem and body image by helping them understand and resist harmful media messages.
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Age Before Beauty: No. 23 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 158 prints
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches
Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.
Sappho (c. 630 – 570 BCE) is the only woman counted among the Nine Lyric Poets revered in ancient Greek culture. Plato called her “the tenth muse,” but all that remains of her work is a handful of fragments. This quote is an excerpt from Fragment 58, a mysterious Old Age Poem that can be read either as a lament or a celebration of mortality. Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring, in hopes that all women might see themselves both with Aphrodite’s gaze and Athena’s wisdom.
Now available in our Dead Feminists web shop!
February 16th, 2016
It’s that time again—we’re inking and printing up a storm right now, because we’re just about ready to introduce you to our newest Dead Feminist!
We hope you’ll like her as much as we do—after getting to know her history, we feel like she’s become something of a deer friend.
(Sorry, I can never resist a terrible pun.)
She’s already made her first (and second, and third) impression with us, and oh so soon she’ll do the same for you. Stay tuned!
February 14th, 2016
Inside the house we have these this morning…
…but Valentine’s Day looks a little different in the yard. Spring is already on its way here, so we have to seize the moment and get going on the massive pile of landscaping projects we have planned for the year.
So we’re spending our romantic weekend with chainsaws and tree stumps. Hope your Valentine’s Day is a special one, too—whether you stick to tradition or not!
February 8th, 2016
Well, now that it’s been a whole year since I first showed you these, and the secret no longer needs keeping, I can tell you about what I did today. Today is the start of the lunar new year, and here in Tacoma we have a tradition that proves how wonderful this town is, year after year. The tradition is called “Monkeyshines,” a public treasure hunt through the city that falls on (or around) the first day of Chinese new year each year. The name comes from the Year of the Monkey on the Chinese zodiac cycle, exactly twelve years ago, when an anonymous artist going by the name “Ms. Monkey” created a few hundred colorful hand-blown glass floats, each one stamped with a monkey design, and hid them all over the city. Anyone who found one could take it home with them, and since only Ms. Monkey’s inner circle knew about it, it came as a complete surprise to those lucky few who found treasure that year. Over the years the tradition has grown and the secret has spread like wildfire, with more and more beautiful pieces of glass art being hidden around Tacoma with each cycle of the zodiac. Since the only rule is “take only one,” many people have taken to rehiding the ones they find, or contributing their own handmade treasures to the hunt. Not that it’s easy to find multiple Monkeyshines—or even one! Even now that there are thousands of treasures hidden each year, it’s still like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. I’d never been lucky myself, coming up empty-handed year after year.
2015, the Year of the Ram, completed the 12-year zodiac cycle that started with that first treasure hunt. Ms. Monkey approached me (no, I won’t tell you who she is!) and asked if I would contribute some “Monkeyshines” of my own to the cause. I jumped at the chance: even though I’d never found a glass float myself, I loved the hunt, and by then I’d amassed a mental database of potential hidey-holes. By then I was more excited about the prospect of hiding treasure than of finding it. Besides, even though my work has been moving away from letterpress printing in recent years, it was fun to do a printing project again.
So I whipped up a little medallion design, and hand-carved it in linoleum.
Then I threw it onto my tiny tabletop press, and set to work.
I printed close to 500 medallions (until I ran out of paper and the block started to break down!), and then hand-assembled them in the style of my other letterpress ornaments.
And then came the fun part: hiding them all over Tacoma.
Since there were so many medallions, and I had to go out of town over Chinese new year, I enlisted friends to help, and staggered my own distribution over several weeks. Together we managed to canvass almost the entire city map, hitting both well-traveled areas and less-visited neighborhoods.
The hiding was, indeed, the best part. I loved walking inconspicuously at weird hours, my hands stuffed in my pockets and posing as a searcher, waiting until the coast was clear to pop another medallion into one of Tacoma’s nooks and crannies. Sometimes I’d hang around and wait nearby until someone came by and discovered what I’d left behind. It was a thrill every time.
I saved this pictured for last because it echoes this year’s odyssey, when my chance finally came. Fast forward to this morning, and it’s the Year of the Monkey all over again. Since it’s now become a tradition as ingrained as Christmas, there was no question that I’d resume the hunt. A friend came to pick me up at 4:30 am, and after a quick swig of coffee, we set out.
And in less than an hour, in my eighth year of searching, I finally found my first glass Monkeyshine! Just like the previous picture, it was in the mouth of a fish sculpture—this one in the middle of a fountain downtown. Luckily for me, there was only about an inch of water in the fountain, so all I had to do was climb in and step right up. And yes, if the fountain had been full of water, I would have gone in anyway, 35-degree weather be darned. I wouldn’t have been the only one—tales of people braving murky koi ponds and polar-plunging into the Bay have become the stuff of legend around here. For some things it’s worth getting soaked and dirty!
My friend is still searching for his Monkeyshine—we spent the rest of the morning hunting on his behalf, but even if he doesn’t find one this year, we made sure to pay it forward by hiding a few small monkey-themed treasures ourselves.
So now I’m back home, refreshed after a nap and a hot cuppa tea, admiring the Monkeyshine that’s serendipitously in my favorite color. SO many thanks to Ms. Monkey, all her fellow ‘Shiners, all the friends and friendly strangers I hunted with this morning, and my art-loving city. Thank you for making this happen year after year, for making my year so far, and for bringing us all together for a chance to play explorer in our own hometown. Gung hay fat choy!
February 4th, 2016
Today I am surrounded by piles of bird illustrations and hot pink envelopes, because it’s time once again for my local Valentine craft fair! My newest goodies this year are these color-your-own love notes, inspired by those adult coloring books that have been all the rage lately. I did a trial run with a little Tacoma coloring card last fall, and then you people nearly cleaned me out of them in one fell swoop! So this time I’ve done something with a slightly wider appeal, in case you don’t happen to live in my lovely town (and if you don’t, you can find these cards online in the shop).
If you are local, stop by this Saturday and see them in person. Here are the details:
Tacoma is for Lovers Valentine craft fair
Saturday, February 6, 2016
11 am to 4 pm, free!
King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, WA
See you there!
January 31st, 2016
It’s been a tough couple of weeks around here, and it’s the time of year when the Northwest is shrouded in a dark silver cloud most days. But just out my studio window is an early-blooming camellia, giving me a pop of spring color just when I need it most.
January 11th, 2016
It’s a tradition in my family that when a beloved musician dies, we play their entire back catalog of records in chronological order. I grew up on David Bowie as a kid, and then started feverishly collecting albums almost 20 years ago. By the time I’d amassed pretty much everything he’d ever done, I started joking that when his day came, it’d take me a month to play it all. I’m sorry that that day is already here.
I don’t usually write or post these days about the music I love, because taste is so personal and so subjective. But music is a huge part of my life, and I’ve loved Bowie’s music better and longer than anything else.
And more than that, Bowie has had an enormous influence on me as a visual artist—and I’m not talking about the fan-girl comic-book concert reviews I used to draw for the RISD newspaper, circa 2002 (and I think they only let me do that because my friends were the editors).
What I mean is that Bowie was a huge cultural force, a tastemaker—and I delved into his work at the time when I was forming my own tastes and just beginning to make my own responses to my culture.
I hesitate to show you these, because most of my student work makes me cringe, but these were part of a series of fake concert posters (of real, historical concerts) I did when I was just starting to do formal lettering work. The lettering is neither her nor there, but it was Bowie’s ever-changing alter egos that inspired me to use different historical periods as the inspiration for each poster. Bowie himself was heavily influenced by history and different cultural traditions—much of it of the non-musical variety—from Kabuki theatre to current events to French mimes to dystopian novelists to Picasso paintings to couture apparel designers, and everything in between. I remember this fact blowing my mind at the time, and it encouraged me to seek inspiration for my work away from my own field and contemporaries. That’s still the primary way I work, and I owe that to him.
The other thing Bowie taught me was not to be afraid to reinvent myself, to change direction and explore something new or totally different. He taught me that it’s possible to create many different types of things, in a wide range of styles that might bear little resemblance to one another, and still come away with a cohesive body of work. As a cultural omnivore who learned from the best of them, that makes perfect sense to me. Yet we still live in a world that largely expects artists to pick one medium, one genre, one style, one “signature” thing and stick with it forever and ever, amen. To reject that notion and follow one’s own path, wherever it might lead, takes a lot of bravery and faith in oneself (and one’s audience!). Bowie’s instincts were unparalleled. He knew how to be broad and deep all at once—he could change a thousand times and never come across as a flake. Instead, he added a new and exotic ingredient to every concoction, until he became one hell of a master chef. If even the smallest fraction of that bravery and instinct might rub off on me, I’ll count myself luckier than I can say.
The things we love are a part of who we are and what we contribute to the world ourselves. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, our influences come full circle and bring the things we make in contact with that which inspires us. I got to have a short conversation with David Bowie once, over a decade ago, because of one of those fake posters I designed. I brought this one, printed at a huge size, to a show where I had a front-row seat. During a lull I held it up, and he said nice things to me and asked if I had a request. I told him, and he launched into a 20-minute rendition of “Station to Station.” When it was over, he asked if the rendition was to my liking—I responded with a curtsy, and he laughed and said, “Good curtsy! Nobody curtsies anymore!”
All my friends and family know I’m a huge Bowie fan, and have been emailing and texting me all day about him. My brother sent me the setlist of a mix tape of favorite Bowie songs I made him as a teenager. The sequence of songs still holds up well today, I think, and suddenly it seems like the perfect sendoff. Here they are, with just one small change:
2. Fantastic Voyage
3. Rock n’ Roll with Me
4. Panic in Detroit
5. It’s No Game
7. The Man Who Sold the World
9. Queen Bitch
10. All the Madmen
11. Beauty & The Beast
12. Sound & Vision
13. Andy Warhol
14. Moonage Daydream
15. Boys Keep Swinging
16. Ashes to Ashes
17. After All
18. Drive-in Saturday
Raising a glass to Major Tom, to Ziggy, to Aladdin Sane, to Halloween Jack, to the Thin White Duke, to the Blackstar, wherever you are now. You were, are, and will forever be my favorite—and my first influence. Cheers.