It astounds me that it’s been literally ONE YEAR since I last updated this thing, but then again… I’ve been pretty busy. Kind of. Unavailable might be a more accurate word. Wrapped up in teaching, absorbed in processing the very odd sights and sounds (and tastes) around me, carried away with trying to survive the self-inflicted difficulties of expat life.
Now that I’ve been home for four weeks (holy mackerel), I think I’ve finally accepted that I need to do a bit more than drink a lot of water, watch shit on Netflix, and play with my moody cat. Part of picking up the pieces is… picking up the pieces.
Strangely, a few days before I left Istanbul, I received a message on Etsy from a woman who wanted to order cards (the balloons) I’d ran out of. She wanted to know how soon I could make more, and whether she could buy more than one. I explained that I was currently in a different hemisphere than my supplies, but if she could sit tight, I’d have them available within a week. And that’s just what happened. She and I have corresponded several times since, and she asked me about how I got into all of this. What my “evolution as an artist” has been like. That last question made me chuckle. The first time I heard that word directed at me I was in my second (and last) semester at “art school,” talking to my fantastic ceramics lab tech, Jill. I remember her more vividly than I remember the work I was packing up to be shipped home. Blonde, with a tattoo of a cabbage on her back. She asked me what my aesthetic was as an “artist,” and I was so taken aback that she would associate that very heavy word with me, that very meaningful word, that I just stared at her. How could I be an artist? I don’t make art. I’m way too uptight and rigid and rule-abiding to be an artist. I make things I want to use. Or want other people to use.
Clearly, I have major issues with semantics and self-reflection. But when I saw Jill looking at me, so earnestly and wholly un-sarcastically, I think it changed a lot for me. Life is much less straight-forward than I’d imagined it. Even mine. Especially mine.
So when this wonderful customer asked me about “my evolution,” it really got me thinking. About the twists and the turns, and the moment I picked up my first block of linoleum. About how I first really met paper, and curiously, how I really met Turkey. (Which for those who don’t know me personally, is where I lived for roughly the last year.)
To make a long story short, I was 13 and had really, really bad hair. My mom took us to Italy for two weeks, and from the moment we stepped out of the train station in Venice to get a glimpse of the Grand Canal, we were both changed. This is going to sound super silly, even for me, but walking around Venice that first trip was like walking around my own heart. I saw old men in aprons with stubble and big smiles making beautiful things. Chocolate, glass, sculptures, bread, food, paper. We met one woman, Giovanna, who made handmade shoes that I to this day could not fathom for myself if I tried. One pair looked like feet. With toes. And toenails. Except they were gold. My greatest moment came in a tiny store called Il Pavone which sold/sells paper, journals, and books made with handmade block printed paper. I could see the huge wooden blocks, see the ink drying. Something that looked so refined, and beautiful, and old… being done right in front of me. Just as it had been done for centuries, probably in the same building by that man’s family. Remarkable.
The last time I was in Venice, I had the pleasure of speaking to another paper-maker whose card has never left my wallet. He specializes in paper marbling, (which, in case you were wondering, does not involve marbles) and was the first to plant a mighty strong seed in my brain: marbling, made famous in Italy, actually comes from Turkey. (Its proper name is “Ebru,” Turkish, and also a woman’s name…) He spent about half an hour talking to me about his craft in his very honed English and my moldy decrepit Italian. Beyond these men’s artisanship and skill, what so deeply impressed me was their generosity in imparting hard-earned knowledge on a young and very shy American girl. A stranger.
Those encounters must’ve subconsciously marinated for several years. Because it wasn’t until 2008, the year I spent bumming around in Portland after I graduated college, that I delved into printing for myself. Almost entirely by accident. I was walking home one afternoon from a meeting I had with my writing partner at a cafe. I say “writing partner,” which is true, but I should also say “the guy I spent four years pining after but never got.” As usual, our time together had left me feeling ebullient, frustrated, and gut-wrenched, and it was with a heavier heart than usual that I walked into an art store I’d never noticed before. My eyes skimmed the place for something other than oil paints and pastels, and they somehow landed on gouge nibs. (The sharp bits of metal printers use to carve their blocks.) I picked them off the shelf, along with a piece of mounted linoleum, and two tubes of ink. (Never mind an actual gouge, a brayer, a palette, or a sense of what to do…)
Today I contracted with my third stationery shop. It’s a small order, and will probably involve way more work than it’s worth, but it means so, so much to me. At the end of the day, this is what I want to do. This is what I love. This is what connects me to the wonder, admiration, and joy that frizzy-haired 13-year-old felt.