Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Learning new tricks

During the spring I had the amazing opportunity to learn the art of paper sculpture from one of leading artists in the field, Jeff Nishinaka. If you're not yet familiar with his work, I highly recommend checking it out. His style is extremely precise and detailed while simultaneously maintaining a graceful sense of movement and flow.   

Before learning from Jeff, I had experimented with cut paper as a medium, but only in a two dimensional approach. Here's an example of one of my older cut paper pieces, a children's book illustration titled "Solstice," from 2013. 

While I really enjoyed working with paper in that way, I was interested in learning how to bring more depth and dimension into my pieces. Jeff specializes in created intricate three dimensional worlds with his paper sculptures, using mainly only white paper. 

The concept that I came up with for my first paper sculpture was a human rib cage with an anatomical heart inside it from which the tributaries of the vascular system would branch out like tree limbs. From these veins would grow tropical flowers, which would attract hummingbirds to feed. Below the ribcage and spine is a lotus flower and leaves, forming the shape of the pelvis and representing the energy of the base of the torso. 

concept sketch
This concept was inspired by my deepening understanding of the practice of yoga. I've been dealing with a chronic injury that has made it difficult to engage in many of the athletic pursuits that I've been passionate about (such as climbing, training, and running), but the upside of that has been that I've developed a whole new relationship to yoga. Though I've practiced yoga on and off for over a decade, it's really only been in the nine months or so that I've really devoted myself to it, practicing almost daily. What I've learned is that it's an incredibly subtle practice, one that just continues to open to greater depths, with a seemingly unlimited breadth of new things to teach me about my body and mind. The concept for this piece was to express the opening, expanding, and enlivening potential of yoga and meditation practices on a physical, energetic, and spiritual level.

If I would've realized how complicated and time-consuming this piece would end up being, I might have gone for something a little more simple for my first paper sculpture. Luckily, I naively thought I could handle it- and with the help of a great teacher, I managed to pull it off after numerous weeks of effort. 

To begin, each element of the sculpture has to be analyzed and dissected into smaller pieces in order to plan out how each small flower or bird will be constructed. After the planning comes the cutting, where hours upon hours are spent with X-acto knife in hand. Then, each small piece of paper is individually rolled and sculpted to have the desired curve or bend, and then it's carefully glued together with other pieces to form the intended object. 

I started with the hummingbirds- the first one took me around five hours. The rest were quicker, but not by much. 
After a day spent working on hummingbirds in my studio, I came upstairs to find a real hummingbird perched on a chandelier in my living room! Luckily we were able to get her back outside safely.  
detail of lotus flower
 In addition to learning paper sculpting techniques from Jeff, he also taught me how to use an airbrush on the vascular system and anatomical heart I had created.

Airbrushing! It's quite fun. 
One of the best things about art classes are meeting other artists and being inspired by them. While there were many talented artists in the class, I particularly enjoyed meeting fellow Bay Area artist Julia Cone. She makes the most colorful, sweet, and cheerful creations out of cut paper, with a keen eye for shape and design. Her style is very different than mine, which made it really fun to observe her working and also easy to glean a lot of inspiration from her art. 

Julia working on tiny birds. 
"The Paper Ladies," one of her many incredible paper sculptures. Yes, these are made entirely out of paper! 
Another Julia Cone piece- visit her website! http://www.juliaconeillustration.com/
 Once I finally completed the cutting and construction of each individual element of the piece, the time came to arrange it all on one larger sheet of paper (reinforced with foam core and mounting board) and glue it all down- very carefully, of course.  

Getting every piece in the right spot

detail of hummingbird and flower
It was a very long process from start to finish, but the result was unlike anything I've ever created. I was really pleased that it got accepted into the 2014 Academy of Art Spring Show! 

In its custom-built plexiglass frame 
Hanging at the Spring Show 
Jeff with my piece at the Spring Show
I didn't have a chance to get it professionally photographed yet, which makes a big difference due to the shadow and lighting effects. Here's the best photo I was able to take:

"Prana" or "River of Life"

As of now, the piece has two names. One is "Prana" a Sanskrit word referring to the life force of all beings. Think of a tree branching upwards towards the sun- that's Prana. The other title for now is "River of Life" which refers to the rivers of blood that flow in our bodies as veins, sustaining and nourishing us. It's also an homage to one of my Dharma teachers, Reggie Ray. To hear some of his teachings in the form of free podcasts, please visit Dharma Ocean here

Which name do you like best? Feel free to comment and let me know! As always, thanks for reading. It's an honor and a privilege for me to create art to share with you. 

"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

–Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991)

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