The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 30, 2014

Trying to Make Someting Of Myself

Filed under: Art, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:32 am

This past weekend saw the arrival of the annual Art Fairs in  Downtown Bellevue.  Although there are a lot of things I like about living in Downtown Bellevue, this particular weekend is one of the times I really enjoy living here, as it’s always interesting to go wander around the three different art fairs and see all the cool stuff people are making that I can’t afford.  To be honest, I’m not really sure why they need to have three separate art fairs put on by three separate groups when it seems like it would be easier to just have one big one, but that’s beside the point.  Either way, it doesn’t take much looking to see that there are people with (usually) a lot more more creativity than myself who have managed to come up with some really interesting stuff.  And in a lot of cases, it is things that are well beyond my skill level.  For example, I seriously doubt you’ll see me making fabric-like sheets of woven glass anytime soon, and I think the last time I tried to paint anything was somewhere around fourth grade.  On the other hand, as I wander around the various booths and see the various things people have made, every once in a while, something jumps out at me when I’m browsing around.  Not necessarily because it’s an expertly crafted piece of art (with a price tag that I can’t afford, no less), but because it’s something that, if I put my mind to it, I could most likely make myself.


To illustrate this point, let me show off a couple of somewhat recent acquisitions in what passes for my art collection these days.  The box you see above was purchased from a craftsman on the island of Dominica during the Caribbean cruise I went on with a friend last December.  If I recall correctly, I paid about $50 for it.  On one hand, you have to be somewhat wary when purchasing souvenirs when cruising because there’s a good chance that 75% of the stuff you see in the various flea markets on the islands pretty clearly comes from China (if you’re lucky the sellers will at least have the courtesy to take the “Made in China” stickers off before they sell the stuff to you,) but in this particular case it was clear that this one was hand crafted, as the person selling it was busy working on another piece when I paid a visit to his stand near the cruise dock in Rouseau.  As far as Caribbean islands go, Dominica isn’t exactly the most touristy place you’ll find (I’m pretty sure that particular competition is neck-and-neck between St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Aruba)  but in a way that makes it a more interesting place to shop for things like this, because you’re a lot less likely to be overwhelmed by shockingly large quantities of overpriced jewelry stores and Prada bags, fake or otherwise, and more likely to find someone making a modest yet honest living turning out surprisingly beautiful pieces like this one.  In particular, the detail of the bird carved onto the top of the piece shows someone who knows his way around a scroll saw.  The fit and finish of this piece is also very well done, and indicates that a fair bit of effort must have gone into making it.  If someone was selling something like this at one of the Bellevue Art Fairs, I suspect the price would be far higher than the $50 I paid for it.

And yet, with a bit of effort, I think I could try to make something quite similar on my own.  Granted, I have a lot more tools at my disposal than would be available to a craftsman living on a tiny island on the Windward side of the West Indies, but I suspect that even with all that I’d have a hard time matching the quality, and given the most likely approach I would take to this (using a laser cutter, something I have a bit of experience with) my own version would get far more expensive in a hurry, and would also come with the added drawbacks of leaving scorch marks from where the laser makes its cuts.  I would probably also need to work at a smaller scale, as the laser cutters I have worked with tend to not handle thicker pieces all that well, and even if I do laser cut all the pieces I’d still need a router to do all the edges anyway.  Even if I doubt I’d be able to match the original piece nearly as well as I’d like here, I would still like to try this one out, if for no other reason than to see if I can actually come close to matching this one.

This piece, on the other hand, was purchased at the Bellevue Art Museum Fair last year, from an artist by the name of Christine Hausserman.  Although I don’t necessarily want to disclose how much I paid for this particular piece, I will say that it cost considerably more than the wooden box discussed above.  And yet this was one of the rare pieces at the art fair that stood out and came with a not completely shocking price tag.  When it comes down to it, this is ultimately just sheet metal and Dichroic glass (confession time:  I might be something of a sucker for Dichroic glass) and yet the end result is something I enjoy being able to look at whenever I want.  This too seems like something I could make myself if I was sufficiently motivated to do so, but I get the sneaking suspicion that the management in my apartment building might have some issues if I started messing with a plasma cutter in my apartment (that plus the fact that setting the place on fire seems to be a good way to lose your deposit.)

That seems to be the big limiting factor in all this:  Lack of proper tools.   Sure, there are places I could probably go out and find a lot of this stuff if I needed it for some reason (that’s what hackerspaces like Metrix Create:Space in Seattle are good for) but ultimately I’d love to have some of this stuff to mess with on my own.  To be honest, I’m nowhere near as mechanically inclined as either my Dad or my two brothers, but even so when I get to the point where I buy a house of my own I’d love to build some sort of a workshop so I have somewhere to mess with this stuff.  If I’m ever going to make something of myself, doesn’t that mean that at some point I actually have to make something?

August 5, 2011

It’s the Most Artsiest Time of the Year: A Look at the 2011 Bellevue Art Fair Weekend

Filed under: Art, Bellevue — Brian Lutz @ 1:31 am

As a general rule, I tend to be skeptical of most things that get passed off as art these days, and the one recent visit that I made a few months ago to the Bellevue Art Museum didn’t do all that much to change my opinion.  As I’ve always understood it, the purpose of art is to make things that look nice, and maybe make you think about something a bit in the process.  Based on my experiences with a fair bit of what passes for modern art these days, it seems that a lot of so-called artists don’t care whether or not you think their stuff looks nice; just that you’re aware of how much more worldly and clever they are than cultural Philistines such as yourself.  Oh, and the only reason they’ve been working at Starbucks for the past three years is because people somehow refuse to acknowledge this irrefutable fact.  At the same time, there are also quite a few artists out there who do actually create interesting pieces that would look right at home in the average American living room (assuming you can handle the inevitably steep price tag attached to them) without trying to bludgeon you over the head with assorted pretentiousness.  Thankfully, most of the artists who come to Bellevue for the annual Art Fair weekend fall into the latter category, resulting in a weekend that provides all sorts of nice artwork to see (if not necessarily afford) throughout Downtown Bellevue. 

Over the years, the Art Fair weekend has become one of the largest annual events in Downtown Bellevue, attracting hundreds of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors over the course of the three days.  Rather than being one large art fair, there are actually three separate art fairs in Downtown Bellevue that run simultaneously;  The oldest and largest of the three is the Bellevue Arts Museum ArtsFair, which has been running since 1947, actually predates the establishment of the Bellevue Art Museum by nearly thirty years.  This one takes place at Bellevue Square, occupying most of the first floor of the giant parking garage behind the mall, and spilling out into the street, and also includes entertainment on the stage inside the mall, as well as other events at the museum itself.

Next door to Bellevue Square in the parking lots of several nearby businesses, the Bellevue Festival of the Arts takes place simultaneously with the ArtsFair.  This particular fair, put on by the Craft Cooperative of the Northwest,  attracts an additional 180 artists, with the requisite food and entertainment offerings.  Incidentally, that big cube sculpture you see back there?  It had a price tag of  well over $80,000 on it.  I’m not sure whether or not that includes the semi truck you’d need to haul it around with.  To be honest, I didn’t find a whole lot here that I found particularly interesting, but you mileage, of course , may vary on that one.  And probably will.

And finally, out on the 6th Street pedestrian corridor that runs through the middle of Downtown from Bellevue Square out to the Transit Center and along 106th Avenue, there’s the 6th Street Fair, put on by the Bellevue Downtown Association.  This is the smallest of the three fairs with only about 100 artists in attendance, but I actually found that this one seemed to have some of the most interesting stuff being offered.  There’s a bit of a different character to this one than you’ll find at the other two, with less emphasis on fine art type pieces, and more of the types of things you might use as household items rather than sticking them up on a wall and looking at them every so often.  It was from one of the vendors at this fair that I purchased a rather nice looking glass seashell to go on the knickknack shelf I have established in my front hallway.

One of the annual traditions at the ArtsFair is the chalk drawing on the sidewalk in front of the Art Museum.  As I’ve noted previously on this Blog, last year’s drawing of Botticelli’s Venus lasted a while lot longed than one would ever expect a chalk drawing to last, and in fact even as this year’s drawing (a rendition of Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe)  was actually drawn on top of the remnants of last year’s two chalk drawings. 

Walking through the parking garage where most of the ArtsFair takes place, you can find all sorts of different artworks in various mediums ranging from the standard paintings, photos and pottery to more unusual things like kinetic sculpture.  Jewelery and clothing in particular seemed to be well represented.  Since many artists requested that no photos be taken, I didn’t take pictures of any of the individual booths or artworks, but there were definitely lots of interesting things to see.  Virtually everything being displayed here was for sale, although with the price tags on some of these things, one would generally be more likely to walk away with sticker shock than anything.  Even so, there are still some reasonably affordable pieces to be found if you know where to look. 

Among the various artwork being offered, I also noted that there seemed to be quite a lot of landscape paintings and photos, most of which seemed to be mountain and forest themed.  And although many of these were quite nice (if a bit uncheap,)  I just didn’t see a whole lot of stuff that really interested me much.  In my apartment, I have a bit of a tropical island theme going with the artwork on the walls here, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there were more than two or three pieces at any of the art fairs that would match this theme at all.  I’m aware that art fairs in the Pacific Northwest are going to attract mostly artists who work in the local area (although you’d be surprised how far some people come for this, I bought some nice wooden kitchen utensils from someone who came all the way from Pennsylvania to attend,) but I get the impression that someone could bring some nice tropical landscape paintings or photos to one of these fairs, and could probably make a killing off people looking for a nice little change of scenery.  I might even be convinced to spring for one of those (well, a print anyway, not quite sure I’ve got the budget for an original at this point…)

Even as a longstanding skeptic of much of what passes for art in this day and age, I have actually found that the vast majority of what was being offered at the three Bellevue Art Fairs was actually quite nice, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that I don’t need to bother trying to find a parking spot in the mess that inevitably results from trying to cram an extra 300,000 people into Downtown Bellevue on a sunny Summer weekend.  I’ll probably go back to being an art skeptic for the next 11 months or so, but it’s nice to know that at least once a year, there will be something nice to look at around here, right?


November 25, 2010

Everything’s Cooler When You Add Lasers: Making Custom Laser-Cut Christmas Ornaments

Filed under: Art, Design — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 4:35 pm

It’s a bit hard to believe, but by the time this gets posted another Thanksgiving will have come and gone by.  I’m actually writing this several days in advance of Thanksgiving itself, but I’m saving the post until after the annual Thanksgiving get-together when these ornaments are handed out.  If all goes well, Thanksgiving should be a pretty typical family gathering with all sorts of turkey and trimmings, an inescapable Cowboys game on the TV (normally I can’t stand the Cowboys, but given the fact that they’re standing at a 3-7 record while I write this there’s not much point in flogging that particular dead horse at this point) and the annual tradition of exchanging Christmas ornaments.  As I may have discussed a time or two in the past, I come from a family of what could be considered very crafty people.   In fact, several of my aunts have actually made a small business out of their craft hobbies, creating a large variety of different decorative products through woodworking and a vinyl cutter.  This means that a significant number of the ornaments in these annual exchanges will be custom-made, often with quite a bit of skill (and these days, often with quite a bit of custom cut vinyl.)  

I’ve actually tried the handmade ornament approach before, but the results have been decidedly mixed, mostly owing to complications related to the possession of a Y chromosome.  While I must admit that decoupage does provide some interesting design opportunities in the right hands, I’m pretty sure I am not in possession of said hands.  There’s also the fact that the acquisition of such materials generally requires an ill-fated excursion into one of the several arts and crafts stores found around town.  These, as you quickly find out upon entering, tend to smell like potpourri.  Strong, unmistakable, soul-scarring potpourri, the kind of stuff that can cause floral-scented nightmares for any man who gets exposed to the stuff for too long. Fortunately I’m pretty sure the stuff can’t actually kill you, only make you wish you were dead (or, if you happen to be female and/or domestically inclined, it can really help add that special touch to a room.)  The whole experience is a lot more survivable than I’m making it out to be here, but as a guy and an occasional nerd, I figure there’s got to be a better way.  Sure enough, it turns out that if I can manage to throw enough technology at the problem, there is.  Roughly a year ago, a place opened up on Capitol Hill in Seattle that provides hobbyists access to a number of various machines they might not otherwise be able to easily find anywhere, including a laser cutter and 3D printers.  While 3D printing is just a little bit out of my league right now, I actually found out that with free software and a quite reasonable learning curve I could actually put together a project that I could “print” on the laser cutter and create my own completely custom-made ornaments without having to go anywhere near a craft store. 

I should probably add the disclaimer that this post is not necessarily intended to provide a how-to for the process of making ornaments like these or other similar items, but I’ll try to share what I learned in the process and hopefully help out anyone who might try something like this in the future.  I’ve found that the available information on the Internet regarding laser cutting can be a bit spotty, and there were a few things that I had to figure out on the fly.  That said, if you can manage to find your way around a vector drawing program it’s actually not that difficult to do.  After the jump, a detailed look at the process behind the custom ornaments you see above.


October 27, 2008

The (Not So) Fine Art of Pumpkin Carving

Filed under: Art, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:49 pm

It seems that Halloween is now just a few days away, and as a result, the appointed time of the annual gourd-mangling is at hand.  Although i generally consider Halloween to be one of the few strictly optional holidays on the calendar, it seems inevitable that the subject of pumpkin carving will come up at least once during the last week of October, and even though my attempts at such things usually seem to yield disastrous results, for some reason I keep trying, hoping that one of these things will turn out eventually.  I suppose that the temporary nature of the medium makes it easy to conveniently forget how last year’s wildly elaborate design eventually turned into “guy with a freakishly large hole in the middle of his head” and try again.  Usually this is a matter of getting way too elaborate with my intended designs, and not bothering to give much thought to the practicality of such a design.

Nonetheless, when this year’s pumpkin carving opportunity came up at a combined FHE with my singles ward and another one nearby, I had decided I was going to do something a bit less elaborate,  Given the fact that people were bringing in whole boxes full of razor-sharp knives for fine details and even power tools, i figured I might as well try to keep it simple, elegant (not so much actually) and somewhat disaster-proof.  During the lesson, I started messing with the uncarved pumpkin a bit, and noted that if I was very careful with it I could eventually manage to find a spot on which it would be able to balance at a vertical angle.  After figuring this part out, I ultimately decided to flatten out that spot somewhat to make it more stable at that angle, and carved the slightly skewed jack-o-lantern you see above.  After I took this photo,   I did a bit more (largely unnecessary) tinkering with the features and added a “THIS END UP” sign to it, but what you see here is basically the final result.  And yes, the lid does stay on as long as you don’t mess with it too much.

January 21, 2008

Chalk Up the Savings

Filed under: Art, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 3:01 pm

The local art supply store is having a sale, but their method of telling people about it seems just a little odd:

 You mean to say that out of a whole store full of art supplies (and with a staff that could be assumed to include one or more artists) this is the best they could come up with for a sign?  Granted, we’re not expecting a  Julian Beever level production, but I’m sure that just about any random nine year old could have made something more artistic than this.

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