art


I first saw Sumi Ink Club art at my brother Ely and Christina’s wedding reception. The party was on the roof of the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and there was a whole room of Sumi Ink Club downstairs. It was striking–densely packed, collaborative, black drawings covering white walls from floor to ceiling. I have to admit I was primarily overwhelmed by it, and that it was Reanna who stayed interested, setting up a Sumi Ink Club party for an issue of her magazine. That’s how I had the idea to do Sumi Ink Club during my advisee group at the first New Hampshire session of Not Back to School Camp.

We started with two picnic tables of almost blank white paper and 14 sharpies. (Sumi Ink Club uses sumi ink and brushes, of course, but sharpies work. I’ll paste in the official rules at the bottom of this post.) We just started drawing and rotated to a new spot every couple of minutes. It was really fun and we were excited about the final product, which we figured took about 26 person-hours to complete:

Full Composition, 5×8′, Paper & Sharpie (Occasional Crayon, Marker & Paint by Anonymous Artists)

Section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Section 4

Section 5

Section 6

Sharpie Artists, in Front of Our Meeting Place, the Charles H. Watts Craft House, Camp Huckins, NH, September 2011: McKinley Corbley, Liam Woodworth-Cook, Signe Constable, Justus Joy, Joel Malkoff, Maddie Pryor, Jacob Adams, Rio Nelson, Eve Blane, Hannah Conrad-Reingold, Kiera McNicholas, Nathen Lester, Sophia Kramer, and LarkinHeintzmann in front.

Here are the guidelines for doing Sumi Ink Club, from the website sumiinkclub.com:

sumi ink club rules*:

– anyone can join in (all ages, all humans, all styles)

– everyone adds to the same drawing

– keep moving around, don’t spend too long in one area

– add to what other people have started

– keep the ink pure, don’t dilute with water

– no words allowed, but things that look like words are ok!

* you can experiment with making your own rules and using new materials, of course you can!

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While Nathen is away at Not Back to School Camp in New Hampshire, I, his lonely fiancé, am trying to keep myself busy and in good company. To that end, I moved in with some friends of ours, Nick and Tilke, for a few days.

While I was staying there, Tilke and I talked a lot about colour (or “color,” as I might start spelling it after I get my green card). Colour is a lifelong passion of Tilke’s, and she is in the midst of revising a book she wrote and illustrated on the topic as well as writing the syllabus for a workshop called Experiencing Color.

Tilke's backyard studio

While talking to her about her workshop, I started to describe my own challenges with colour: Since I started making quilts a couple years ago, I’ve struggled with figuring out how I want to put colours together and have realized how little confidence I have about colour. When I do hit on something I like, I mostly don’t know why it works. I described how a few days earlier I’d been in a fabric store trying to choose a few solid colours to buy: when I went for my favourites, the ones that caught my eye –fuchsia, emerald green and bright blue– they looked terrible together. When I tried to narrow my choice down to two colours that I thought of as complementary, the connotations seemed all wrong. I ended up leaving without buying anything.

Plant-dyed fabrics, books about colour.

So here she was, someone trying to figure out how to teach people about colour, and here I was, a real, live colour novice with a hunger to learn. We went to look at her fabric stash and talk it out.

Tilke has a very distinctive colour palette that anyone who knows her would recognize, a family of colours she uses in her work and surrounds herself with. She described the way that certain colours in her family support or “bridge” other colours. I noticed as she moved fabric around that she mostly grouped her colours in sets of three or more. She agreed and showed me how adding a third colour can add a subtlety and depth that you can’t get with two colours.

I started to get a feel for what she was saying. I tried putting together my own set, choosing first a turquoise I liked and then adding another blue, a mushroom, a brown and an orange until – magic! – I had a group of colours that looked great together.

“What if you couldn’t have this one?” Tilke asked, and took out the orange. So I shuffled things around and brought in new colours until I had another set I liked. We talked about the importance of arrangement (which colours are beside each other) and proportion, looking at paintings and photos around her house for examples. Later we played a game with her new “colour library” of fabric samples, where we challenged each other to take the worst colours (eg: neon peach or drab burgundy) and make them beautiful by combining them with good supporting colours. Very fun!

I was so inspired that I started “editing” some patchwork pieces I’d sewn together a year ago that weren’t doing it for me: it suddenly seemed obvious which colours weren’t working, and taking them out made a big difference.

My quilt project, before and after colour editing.

We also had great talks and I got to try out throwing around medicine balls with them in the park (Ooof. My hands were too shaky to keyboard afterwards). It’s so fascinating to peer into – and join in on – other peoples’ lives like that. I’d like to do it again some time.

Tilke Elkins, my favorite living painter, has her first gallery show and it is great. It’s open for one more week, until July 22, so you can still make it if you live in Oregon. It’s at The Voyeur in Eugene, 547 Blair Boulevard.

I may be biased by my years as the marketing director of her magazine, All Round, by my many more years living with her as she used our house as a gigantic art project, and by my even more years as her friend. (Plus, she did the album art and most of the photography and fliers for my band–here‘s an example).

I do not believe, though, that I am biased because of any of that. I’ve just had the great fortune to have spent so much time drenched in her aesthetic. I am not one of Abraham Maslow’s visual “advanced scout,” of superior sensitivity to color and form. It takes me a while to really appreciate an artist. I’ve had that time with her and it has really paid off. Tilke, on the other hand, is an advanced scout. When I am in doubt about a visual decision, I ask her and can trust to find her correct, eventually.

Photographs cannot do justice to her work–to my eyes, it seems to glow from the inside–but here is a shot of the gallery, to give you an idea:

Art by Tilke Elkins at The Voyeur, July 2011

Also, Tilke is starting an art school in Springfield, Oregon, this fall. She’s offering three classes:

Experimental Drawing Techniques and Materials: Tilke paints with natural pigments, many of which she makes herself, out of rocks and plants. She also paints on found materials.

Art for Synesthetes: This may be the first art class for people with synesthesia, whose senses behave quite differently from other people. (See my post on synesthesia here.) Tilke has synesthesia and it is part of how she works.

On Being a Metamodern Artist:  I have no idea what this is but it sounds intriguing. Check the “art school” link above for more information.