Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's Not Art, It's Propaganda

On a recent drive to DC, my mind wondered into the realm of bumper stickers and how worded bumper stickers make me feel anxious, regardless of whether I agree with the statement or not, because they sum a belief or ideology into a few pithy words which make me feel like I need to pick a side. I started to think how nice it would be to have a bumper sticker that didn't have any words, that I could drive around in peace, and just enjoy the visual aspect of a bumper sticker without having to believe something, or be convinced of something, or know anything.

So, convinced I would never find anything that I liked if I looked or waited around for it to find me, I decided to make my own, and start a movement of peace through the proliferation of wordless bumper stickers. 

I decided to print the stickers in limited editions of five, in part because I wanted to have enough to share but not so many that I would be purchasing many more than I could ever find homes for without knowing if anyone else would want one. Here is my first design.
With my second design, I decided to play with turning my flag series into sticker form. In making it, I found it fascinating how much I liked some of the odd random shapes within it. I'm not a huge fan of the triangles, but I find those random angled four and five sided forms completely mesmerizing. Hopefully, others don't feel the same or I could be causing accidents all over the place (luckily, I can't see what is on my own truck as I drive around).  
With my third, I wanted to experiment with polka dots, which are always fun and joyful, but I decided to tone them down a bit with a few stripes.
I debated for quite a while about putting this last one on my truck because I ran out of space on my bumper and I thought it might be too much to have three, but then I decided that I liked it to much not to use it as well. In retrospect, I think three stickers on one truck is too chaotic, too crazy looking, but it is also true that I can accept this truth. 
Three Bumper Stickers in situ
It turned out that these are more popular than I thought they would be. I'm at the point that I need to design and print a fourth in order to maintain an adequate inventory, just in case there is a rush on them, or (as I fantasize) that strangers in parking lots start asking me how they too can get such cool bumper stickers.

One of the things I love about these is that I feel they say so much more than worded ones, and, at least for me, without the anxiety inducing text (but I wonder whether I'm creating anxiety for other people on the roads as they wonder what I'm trying to say, though, perhaps this a useful/good anxiety). I also see them as propaganda because I feel they promote a subversive ideology of non-ideology. In this way, I think of them as inverted ready-mades. Instead of taking non-art objects and making them art, as Marcel Duchamps did, by calling them art; I'm taking art objects and making them non-art by calling them propaganda. Which creates an existential question of whether they are art or not. If I make art and call it non-art, is it still art? Or, by making art and calling it propaganda, is the art the fact that I'm saying it isn't art? Or, regardless of whether I say it is art or not, if it is art in the eye of the beholder, does that make it art? I guess the ambiguity is what I like the best.

Addendum (June 11, 2013):
Here is my latest, all others have already been distributed.
Addendum (July 8, 2013):
Version five, this one is in editions of seven.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Building A Canoe: The Finishing and Floating

At the end of April it was finally warm enough to pull out the canoe and finish it. All that was needed was some final sanding and varnishing. I went over the inside and outside with my Festool sander using 120 and 180 grit pads then hand sanded with 150 and 220 grit before brushing the first coat of varnish on. I choose System Three spar varnish because it is what they had at WoodCraft and I didn't want to buy it on-line, pricey stuff though, I paid $38/quart. I choose the satin finish because I thought the canoe didn't need the extra glitz and because satin doesn't show scratches at much.
System Three Spar Vanish

I guessed that two quarts would be enough without doing any calculations and, luckily, I was right (Gil's book didn't provide any guidance). I was able to apply three coats, inside and outside, plus four coats on three paddles and used only 1.5 quarts. The label says 350 to 450 sq-ft/gallon but I seem to have gotten more than that (assume an average of 3 ft wide x 16 ft x 2 sides x 3 coats = 288 plus three coats on the seats, yoke, and paddles equals about 300 sq-ft for .375 gallons = 800 sq-ft/gallon). I did thin the stuff with paint thinner a couple of times but mostly because of evaporation during the application. In any case, two quarts seems to be the right amount for most canoes.

I used a 3" Purdy synthetic bristle paint brush and didn't notice any brush marks -- it dried smoothly. I didn't sand between the first two coats because I put them on within 12 hours but then sanded the with 220 and 320 grit sand paper (by hand) before the final coat.

Here is the finished piece. The final weight is 66.6 lbs (I lost 0.2 lbs in the final clean up, mostly in the decks as I had to get them to match the level of the shell). Given that Gil said this design would weigh in at approximately 65 lbs, I'm pretty happy since I used lumber that is much heavier than the cedar he uses. I'm sure I saved much of the weight in the seats.
side view
front view
Bow Deck
Stern Deck
Bow Seat
Stern Seat
Seat Spacers
Over the winter I prepared three paddles, (58", 63", 68") out of my mountain of old barn flooring that I have stacked in my backyard. I wasn't sure it was a good choice but it was free and at the very least it was good practice material. It turned out to be a good choice  in terms of looks, weight (I got them all down to 2.6 lbs), and performance, but dealing with all the knots made it difficult to shape and probably doubled my working time. I wasn't sure how to make them but soon realized that it is just the same as any sculpture, remove material with finer and finer tools until you have the shape you want. The key was in copying the plans from an old paddle that I liked and using the shape, transferred to a board, to rough cut it the shape on a bandsaw. Then using a draw knife followed by a spoke shave to get an approximate shape. Unfortunately, the high number of knots in the lumber made those tools particularly difficult so I eventually started using a grinder to work through the knots and get the blade as thin as I needed (about 1/4" at the edge). Then my Festool sander working 40 grit to 180 along with a rasp to get the handle shape. The final step being hand sanding. 
The feature I'm most proud of is the thumb notch on the handle. I haven't seen it on other paddles but I found that it really make them much more comfortable to hold.
Note the thumb notches!
You can see that the blades on the right and left had nails, which were rusted by years of horse pee, that cause a black stain -- I really like the look. I filled the holes and knot gaps with black epoxy. 
Horse pee/rusty nail stained blades
I suspect all the lumber is old growth spruce but there is no doubt with the middle paddle. I tried to count the rings but had a hard time. My estimate is that, just on the handle, there are approximately 115 growth rings (plus or minus 5) within a 3" radius. I'll need to find someone with better eyes to get an exact count.
Approx. 115 growth rings  
So everything was ready for a test voyage on May 4. I took it out to Green River Reservoir, about 30 miles north of me. To be honest, I was a little nervous about whether it would float and how it would perform but it turned out to be great in every way. I'm very happy, not only in how it looks, but how it performs as well. One thing I learned pretty quickly though, is that when using it as a solo canoe, the bow and stern flip (since it is symmetrical this isn't a problem) because I need to sit closer to the center to keep the bow from tipping up too much. The paddle also worked great (I used the 68" one). I don't think I have ever used a paddle that was actually the right size for me, so it was a real revelation. I also found the large blade to provide much more power than I've ever found in a paddle before. I highly recommend making one's own paddles, in comparison to what you can buy, these are much better.   

As a final note, my wild life count for the first voyage was several mallard ducks, two loons (my first -- these are super cool birds to see and hear), a couple of kingfishers, and one beaver. Not bad for a three hour cruise.
Green River Reservoir, May 4, 2013