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Leap of Faith

There are not enough superlative adjectives to describe the week that just transpired: excellent, magnificent, wonderful, marvelous, remarkable, unparalleled and of course…awesome. But before any of that could transpire, a tremendous leap of faith had to be taken by Boris, Vesa and myself.

When I went to pick up Boris and his wife at the airport I told my husband: I don’t know who these people are! Sure we are internet friends, we have shared a blog for over a year, we e-mail regularly, talk occasionally and have even had two video hang outs…these feelings of doubt were not new, but the timing was terrible.

I told my good friend Kitty, who I had hired to help with publicity, that my biggest goal for the week was to connect with Boris and Vesa and cement our friendship. This was more important to me than publicity, a successful opening or even sales. Without their trust, friendship and faith I knew we could never move forward.

I had my first indication that it would be ok when I arrived at the airport well after Boris’s arrival. (Can you believe I was late?)  I ran right into him and his wife as if it was planned.

I am not going to say the week was all smooth sailing, Boris and I both have strong personalities and some inevitable head butting occurred. I took Boris to Lower Snoqualmie Falls, one of my favorite places to shoot for our first photo adventure. I am used to shooting with other toy photographers and we generally leave each other alone and work independently. I was caught off guard when he wanted to know my plan at my first chosen location. I ungraciuosly shooed him on his way and we both got to work.

The next day we loaded all the photographs into the gallery, did some touristy activities around Pioneer Square, had lunch and did a little toy shopping. (We both bought toys that were not LEGO and played with them all week so look for those in our IG feeds.) Soon it was time to pick up Vesa at the airport.

Vesa was an even bigger mystery to me than Boris. Why had he said yes to all this craziness? Why did he eventually agree to come to Seattle in person? (Yes there were some strong arm tactics involved.) Was this a “one off” event or would we have a future together as StuckinPlastic? I had one week to get the answers to my questions.

While Boris and I played on our phones waiting for Vesa’s arrival (this time I was not late!) Wivika, Boris’s wife, was worried we would miss him. Boris and I, on the other hand, were pretty sure we would have no problem spotting Vesa when he appeared on the escalator, and we were right. After hugs were exchanged all around, we headed to the car and our adventure began in ernest.

We had some great days of sightseeing both in and outside the city. Many photos were taken of toys, each other and the scenery. Conversations were had and connections were made. Many great meals were enjoyed, many glasses of wine and beer were drunk, and I shared my home, my city and my friends with Boris and Vesa.

To hear Boris say: “It is a beautiful city” when watching the sunset from Kerry Park or hear Vesa say: “I didn’t think you could have so much fun in a foreign country,”(*) made me realize that my goal for the week had been accomplished.

We each took a leap of faith to make this photography show happen but I am pretty sure I speak for all of us when I say it was well worth the risk. And as Boris is fond of telling me: the adventure is only just beginning.

Vesa, Wivika and Boris walking down the beach on Whidbey Island.

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Do the Work

Do the work; this is my daily mantra and it has been extremely effective at keeping my emotions in check and the panic level manageable as hanging the show and the opening reception are looming just around the corner.

No matter what happens next week, or even next month, I feel I have done the work and I have been true to myself. Whether this is enough to win me a broader audience, to launch my work to the next level or to open up unforeseen opportunities, I have no idea. But I would rather know than not know.

To find some inspiration and solace in these stress filled days, I turned to the classic book on the creative process Art & Fear and found this passage:

In the end it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot – and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy. It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty. And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.

Art & Fear

I have lived with uncertainty for too long. I want to live on the edge of everything and experience life to its absolute fullest, even if I fall flat on my face.

So here is to being an artist, for going the extra mile, to putting yourself out there until it hurts; for doing the work. Because in the end when you are standing next to your image hanging on the wall, that is all that matter.

Standing on the edge of everything.

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Go Big or Go Home

For those of you luckily enough to live near Seattle and will be able to attend the upcoming Toy Photography exhibition, you are in for a real treat. All three of the exhibiting artists prescribe to that popular slogan “Go Big or Go Home”. So when we originally talked about what size to print our photographs, it was unanimous that we would all go large.

In an age when the majority of photography viewing is done on a small screen like a phone, tablet and occasionally a large computer screen,  we have forgotten (or never experienced) the joy of seeing an image large. So large that you see the grain pulsating, the snow sparkle and thousands of gradations of green.

Even though I knew Boris and Vesa where going  to print their images large, they surprised me with how big they were willing to go. So large in fact that I had to ask Boris how the heck he thought I was going to move his prints around? Not everyone has a car that will fit a print 28″ x 96″ . (If you don’t know how big that is, think 1/2 of a 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood.) Lucky for him I have a car for every  occasion.

When Boris first posted “The Dark Knight” on Instagram we only saw it in sections; each panel a different piece of the puzzle. This is going to be a rare opportunity to see this image as the artist has always intended. I’m very excited for him (and me)!

Vesa went the extra mile and dug into his original RAW files and reworked all the images for this exhibition. As the only one who has seen a hint of the results, I can assure you it was worth the extra effort. Images that were once a monochromatic blue/black have a subtlety of color not hinted at before. It is as if the last remnants of the setting sun left a faint glow on the ships pictured; breathtaking.

I myself, am no stranger to large images; I have always been drawn to oversized prints. I have chafed at the artificial constraints of Instagram where everything is square, small and can’t be enlarged. To have this opportunity to print my images as I have always intended, large and atmospheric, is a joy beyond compare. Each print is simply framed with no mat or glass; just a large frame surrounding each image.  As Bryan was quick to observe, they are like windows into another world. This was the perfect description since I am merely a voyeur into the magical plastic world of the LEGO mini figure.

If you are lucky enough to have the chance to exhibit your own work, I want to encourage you to go big. In this fast past world of quick photos and insta mentality, give your viewer something different. An image that will make them stop and notice how beautiful a well crafted photo can be.

“Breaking in the Tauntaun” by Avanat 30″ x 30″

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Rules are made to be broken!

The Tipping Point

I have certain rules I set for myself when editing down images into a cohesive set for exhibition. One of them is to not be too attached to any one image and always be suspect of any image I am too attached to. But rules are made to be broken, even this one.

I have an unnatural love for the Chima line of LEGO mini figures, I will freely admit this. Even though LEGO sells this line well, the online toy photography community tends to be pretty disparaging of these figures. I see this opinion reflected repeatedly in the number of likes for a Chima image compared to just about anything else I post. I know that an images popularity is dependent on many factors: when you post the image, who is active during that time and of course the subject. Some figures just have more pop culture resonance than Chima.

Because I can’t seem to make up my mind on the final six images I will be showing next month, I printed two extra images so I could do some last minute editing. I was uncertain what the last alternate image was going to be until I was tagged in someones feed that had posted this image:

Is this how you see me?

This image hit a little too close to home because I was (am?) this kid. Maybe this is why I like the Chima sets so much, because they are the underdog, the nerd, the misfit, much like me.

So I went to my desk and found my favorite image featuring a Chima figure and got it ready for printing. I sent it to The Color Group (who are beyond awesome) for enlargement. I know this image will look great but has little salability (I admit I could be wrong), but I don’t care; I am super excited to see it hanging proudly on the gallery wall.

I can’t stop haters from hating, but if I am going to lay it all out there, I should include one of my personal favorite images of the year. I’m going to break my own rule of not including an image I am overly emotionally connected too, and let the chips fall where  they will.

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Promotion: the Artists Achilles Heel

I think a lot of artists are under the assumption that creating a body of work for a gallery show is the hardest part of any exhibition. I would like to propose that creating the work is actually the easiest part; promoting it is the most difficult part.

Promoting ones work is never easy for an artist; it feels weird to blow your own horn over and over again to get noticed. But in this new reality of everyone being an artist and every artist being a small business person, a part of the emerging creative class, this is exactly what is required. Blow your own horn; time and time again.

The idea for this show was a pipe dream for myself and my friends over a year ago. It wasn’t until I pitched the concept to Bryan Ohno last summer did we have any chance of it becoming a reality. Since that fateful pitch,  I have been laying the ground work for promotion. I have been trying to be an active member of the gallery, creating connections with like minded friends, letting existing friends know what I would need if it all came together and  then not being shy about asking for it, giving away my work to promote interest and of course building up my social media profile across four separate platforms.

And this from the person (me) who quit all social media except Instagram over a year ago because it was negatively impacting my life. Now I find myself so deep down the social media rabbit hole I wonder if I will ever escape again.

Yet I have been overjoyed by the response from friends both online across all media and in real life. Friends are putting up posters around town and on the Eastside (read Microsoft campus), other friends are using their own business and personal networks to get the word out, many friends are sharing the event via Facebook, I have received lots of personal responses to e-mails expressing congratulations, regrets and of course a few “Yeah! We wouldn’t miss it!!”

I am definitely reaping the rewards of having spent a good chunk of my life’s energy on the internet and in real life creating connections and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So if you are one of those mentioned above, thank you!
Thank You !!! Yeah right, Thank You, You Rock !

Yet I feel it won’t be enough and I am asking for your help. We have joined our respective boats together as artists and for this I am grateful. Now we need to make some waves with this amazing toy, plastic, LEGO, friendship boat we have created together.

I ask you to share the information about this show with your friends, circles, groups and connections. We are a global community and our reach is incredible. It will be fun to see exactly how far we can spread the word and make our collective plastic, fun loving voices heard.

Why ?

Because we know you care, you care for the toys, for toy photography, for the creative toy revolution we all stand for.

This show is as much about YOU as it is about us; you who have supported us , you who want to join us next time, you who want to stand proud when you are with family and friends taking a toy photograph.

Please help spread the word. The more waves we make online will only lead to more interest, (hopefully) national press, international awareness and put toy photography right where it belongs…in the spotlight. Because the world needs a little more joy and a few more smiles.

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It’s Not Art You’re Buying, its Time

When buying from an artist/maker, you’re buying more than just an object/painting; you are buying hundreds of hours of failures and experimentation. You are buying days, weeks & months of pure joy. You aren’t just buying a thing, you’re buying a piece of heart, part of a soul, a moment of someone’s life. Most importantly, you’re buying the artist more time to do something they are passionate about.

Anonymous

I found this quote floating around the internet as an unattributed meme and found it to be very accurate. It doesn’t matter if you are buying the creative output of a photographer, a musician, a fine artist or your local craftsman…the effect is the same. By purchasing someone’s creative output you will be telling them that what they do has value and that you want them to continue. You are buying them more time to create and delve deeper and farther into their craft.

I know I have talked about the importance of supporting artists before with my post on So You Want to be an Artist, but I think it is well worth our time to revisit important topics. When you purchase from an artist not only are you supporting their creativity, you’re buying them time to continue creating.

So I urge you, if you see someone creating something that effects you in some way, buy it. It does matter if it is a song,  a book, a painting or even a photograph, by purchasing what you love you are sending a very clear message to the creator: this is valued. This goes double for all those beginning photographers out their starting on their own professional journeys.  Ask yourself,  what have I bought from an artist lately? How do I support the arts? If I want people to support my work, how can I support their work?

It may seem like a little thing, but trust me, buy from an artist and you will give them the gift of time. It is a gift beyond compare.

I think I can.
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Fair Play

It seems that most fans in the Lego universe are more than happy to let Lego roll right over their creative rights without even a whimper. It seems they believe this issue only impacts those creatives who want to sell their work. To summarize, they feel that Lego is well within their legal rights to issue take down notices to photographer. It is we, their customers, fans and LEGO artists who need to watch our step.

Seriously? What has this world come too when we think corporations have the right to tell us how to create, show and ultimately sell our own creations? What would Andy Warhol have said if the Campbell’s Soup company had sent him a cease and desist order when he first exhibited his now iconic soup cans? I am pretty sure he would have laughed and kept printing his silk screens. So why are we taking this sitting down?

If the Andy Warhol example is too esoteric for you how about this one which hits a little closer to home: Peter Reid. If you are not familiar with Peter Reid he created the fabulous book LEGO Space published by No Starch Press. Oh and he is also the guy who designed Lego Ideas #6135: Exo Suit. You may have heard of it? You probably own one since Lego has been selling it for a few months now. I want to respectfully point out to Lego System A/S that you can’t have it both ways.

Recently a related issue was brought to my attention regarding a popular company (Ikea) and it’s enthusiastic fans (IkeaHackers). Last summer Ikea tried to shut down the popular web site that is dedicated to finding new and more interesting ways to use Ikea furniture. There was a public outcry and Ikea backed down. I guess it doesn’t pay to piss off your devoted core.

Do you really think that if Lego System A/S got nasty and removed ALL photos with Lego imagery off RedBubble and related sites (yes, including Flickr since the basis of the IP infringement claim starts at publishing and Flickr has been making noises about monetizing fan art uploaded onto their website) that the outcry wouldn’t be as outraged as the Ikea controversy? I am pretty sure it would be more financially damaging in terms of bad publicity and a pissed off fan base than any revenue lost due to these “illicit” products.  No one likes a $14.6 billion dollar bully.

Personally I think we are all well within our rights to photograph our toys and sell the images as a unique piece of art to enjoy in your home (we are not talking about licensing stock photography here to be used in a commercial campaign as that is a completely different topic, and we fully recognize that). I am pretty sure most of these artists photos would not be confused with Lego’s own marketing campaigns or franchise business and the financial damage (if any) the company might be incurring is well lets be real…it’s minimal and far less than the community gives back exponentially. If Lego doesn’t like us creating art with their shiny plastic bricks and having us share this with the world, than they should speak out now with a clarified Far Play notice rather than these random take down notices.

This whole fair play discussion is not about the ultimate sale of a piece of art (that is just the financial recognition that someone liked what you did), but about the fact we should own the unrestricted rights to do with our art what we want (as long as it does not violate any other laws like discriminating or racial ones), which is to share, publicize and ultimately gain some financial recognition from it if we choose to do so.

I for one will continue to promote my work with the ultimate end game of monetizing it. While I am not interested in selling through RedBubble, I applaud those who do. If I ever get a “cease and desist” order, personally I am going to laugh all the way to the fireplace where I will promptly burn it.

So I say to Big INC™, I am not afraid of you and I am tired of being bullied by you!

What a steaming pile of….
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Think Like an Artist

Today is the day that I wish I could write better. The concepts rattling around in my head are bigger than I can express coherently. All these thoughts began to percolate when I attended a talk last week at the Bryan Ohno Gallery that was billed  as the first in a series of improvisational sessions around the topic “Think Like an Artist.”

As I was listing to Bryan talk to the various attendees on creativity, I heard  painters, sculptors and writers talk about their craft, it dawned on me how different the problems of photography are. Photography is not like other traditional arts mediums, we are more aligned with the music and writing industries.

So these thoughts go something like this:

  • How do you stay relevant in an industry that any one with a camera phone and an Instagram account can call themselves a photographer?
  • How can your work be seen when 70 million photos are posted to Instagram daily?
  • How can museums and galleries redefine themselves when these traditional gatekeepers and curators are no longer necessary?
  • Is this explosion of art creation the beginning of a new golden age of art?
  • When the creation of art becomes a part of our daily lives, and not something that is  seen as an activity of the special and gifted, isn’t this ultimately a good thing?

Which brings me to the final question asked to me by my good friend Kitty who is helping to promote the group exhibition in March:

How do I define success for this show?

What do I want to have happen that will make me feel this show has met my expectations?

Kitty Friel

Community building, not sales have been my focus for the past two years. I have very low expectations of selling any work, although it would be nice bonus for all of us who are involved. Plus I have no faith in the art establishment to “get it”; toy photography is not exactly high brow. Basically I have know idea what success will look like.

Maybe just meeting my international friends Boris and Vesa for the first time, showing my friends, family and my city exactly what makes the toy community so wonderful will be enough.

So now you have an idea how this artist thinks; confusion, doubt and hope, all in equal measure.

Preparing for battle.

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What Else Did I Miss?

I have always felt that a university education is wasted on the young. I went straight to college after graduating from high school and I always felt this was a mistake. So when I picked up a new book last month called 101 Things to Learn in Art School I was intrigued to see what I had missed the first time around. It turns out a lot.

File this under things I have never thought about:

Photography forever altered our compositional sense. 

“The camera with its viewfinder that samples a portion of the world, changed our relationship to the frame. The understanding that the frame is artificial and that the world extends beyond it affects the way we compose images. Painters, such as Degas, allowed the frame to cut into figures and objects, implying that part of the subject lay outside of the view of the image. This was a radical change from the centered image of traditional painting where the space inside the frame was a metaphor for the world. Now, we see the edges of pictures as being vital and compositionally active, not dormant and arbitrary.

101 Things to Learn in Art School by Kit White

This seems at once so obvious and yet so completely foreign to me. In the photography world you hear so much about the Rule of Thirds, but that is only one approach; and a rather safe one at that.

As I move forward into the new year and continue to practice the art of toy photography, I will be paying more attention to this frame and its relationship to the subject. It is time to move beyond the old standard “rule of thirds” and be a little more daring.

I wonder what else I missed in art school?

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The Runaway Bunny

I try to not talk about projects I am working on until they are completed. There is this weird phenomena that takes place if you talk about a project too much…it never happens. At least that is my personal experience. This is why I am just now telling you about my all consuming fall 2014 project: recreating Margaret Wise Brown’s classic children’s book The Runaway Bunny using Lego photos that I took.

You may have noticed an increase in Lego bunny rabbit shots on both this blog and on my Instagram feed last fall and now you know why.

I was approached last spring to do a Lego photography book based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick but that project fell through. Even though I was disappointed by this, it did inspire me to look for another similar project. I dismissed Moby Dick and several other books, both short and long, for a variety of reasons and eventually settled on The Runaway Bunny.

I set myself a strict deadline of December 1st for completion so I would have time to get it printed and wrapped up for my children by Christmas Eve. (I have found looming deadlines to be a good defense against the inevitable procrastination.)

I had a great time on this project and discovered some shots, like this one, were fun and easy to get.

“Have a carrot.”

While others, like this one, I chased for several months.

“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

Here is my initial take away from this project:

  • Goals are good.
  • Complicated shots need to be pre-arranged before you hit the great outdoors.
  • Working within a specific frame work is creativly freeing.
  • Hand made books make awesome gifts.
  • The Runaway Bunny is not as well known as Goodnight Moon even though they are by the same author / illustrator team and have much in common.

Now that I am free from the constraints of this book project, my typical free form style of shooting seems rather boring and meaningless. I guess it is time to look around for another book project!