Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Exhibit - Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, NC

There is the South and there is the New South. I didn't really know this until I toured Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina. It's a history/cultural museum that begins the exhibits with a time-line hinging on the birth of the New South (1865 when the US Civil War ended with the defeat of the South). I highly recommend visiting this museum as the first thing you do in the city. It's within a 15 minute walk of the Convention Center and between Reid's Fine Grocery and the Mint Museum.

I didn't really know what to expect in this part of the South, though I had some ideas and some of them weren't very flattering. That's why I recommend visiting this museum first. It taught me a lot about the stew of cultural courage, the confederacy and change that are the history of the New South. The remainder of my stay was enriched by the understanding and knowledge I gleaned from the exhibits.

Touring the downstairs dioramas and exhibits, I was toured through Southern history from 1865 to now. It wasn't until I saw the the exhibit upstairs: Comic Stripped, A Revealing Look at Southern Stereotypes in Cartoons (Sept. 7, '07 to April 13, '08) that I realized just how much of my knowledge of the South was shaped by the daily comics.

I LOVE reading the newspaper comics and will read them all, even those I don't really like. I've read the newspaper comics for most everyday day of my entire life. For a few years, I studied comics so that I could draw them as part of my art job painting windows. Touring the Comic Stripped. . . exhibit I realized that cartoons I didn't even care about enough to actively dislike had shaped my perceptions of the South. Lil' Abner, Pogo, Snuffy Smith and others were part of the exhibit. The exhibit puts the viewer head-to-head with Southern Stereotypes. It gave me a wake-up call. Stereotypes I didn't know I had became apparent to me. It was an interesting exhibit to see before I headed to the Discovery Museum later to see the traveling Norman Rockwell Exhibit.

Exhibit - Mint Museum of Craft and Design, NC

Charlotte, North Carolina has a vibrant arts community. Visiting last week, I was on a quest to find everything artistic that I could within a 40 minute walk (each way) from the Convention Center. The Mint Museum of Craft and Design is a nice place to spend a couple of hours and it's only a short walk from the Reid's Fine Foods grocery store. The Reid building has long slim plastic panels embellishing the exterior that sound to the touch. Sit outside and have a deli lunch and watch the people go by. The majority will take a few side-steps to touch the panels and wait for the sound of human giggles or musical chimes.

The dividing line between Art and Craft is not a clear one to me. In the pre-1970's U.S.A. it was an easier designation. Most anything a woman made or most anything anybody made from a non-European nation was a craft. That left the obvious utilitarian arts (U.S.A. and Euro made) like silver- smithing, ceramics and furniture to occupy the center stage of Craft (with a capital "C", the kind of Craft that makes it to a museum). I'd often hear my teachers talk about the point when fine craft could become fine art. This argument was made by men born before the time that fast-food, fast-clothing and fast-everything took over our culture.

So here's my observation: Images which used to be firmly in the "art" camp are now so easy to produce with a camera and computer software, that they often don't seem very "fine" or artistic to me. And now that the majority of stuff most Americans own isn't made by anybody they've ever met, seen or have the faintest idea where their country is on a map, the handmade object is turning into "art" and the machine-made image is sorta still "art".

My trip to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, was a respite. I knew that the moment I walked through the door, my convoluted decision making process could go off the random setting. Somebody else had made the decision and everything beyond the door was both art and craft. What a relief!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ask Cristina: Children's Book Illustrating

Hi Cristina!

I met you in Richland WA a few autumn's ago. You were teaching the Paint Happy workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop. I sat in the front with my good friend Te'. We enjoyed the "energy" language you used in regards to your art and painting.
I am a full time artist. I sell my work and show it in local venues and hope to get into some galleries. Last week I was approached by a young man looking for an artist to illustrate a children's book he has written. He has been in contact with a publishing house and the writing has been approved and registered with the library of congress, he just needs an illustrator to make it come to life.
My situation isn't in the books I used for guidance. This is different as I had been approached by an author who has already been in contact with a publishing house who approved it and registered it with the library of congress. The publishing house sent him out to find an illustrator. Which seems odd because most websites say that the publishing house assigns an illustrator to the story and the author has no control over what the illustration will look like. This author has no money to pay me as an illustrator, and needs it in a very short turn around (18 spreads). The payment would come in the form of royalties. He has 6 other children's stories that he has written although none published yet. I think the book has great potential.
I feel it is a big gamble for me (I have never done anything of this sort before). I am more of a fine artist and used to getting 50% payment up front for commissioned work. So this is a very different animal. I have no idea what to expect in the form of royalties.
I noticed on your website that you have illustrated a children's book, and was wondering if you could shed some light on the process... foibles... pitfalls.... Also would something like this help ones career or send it careening into oncoming traffic.
Thanks for your time!! Laura G.

Dear Laura,

Glad to hear from you, thanks for the compliments about the class.

The details of your situation are unusual. Usually a publishing house hires the illustrator and takes care of any contract negotiations which include the issues of the advance (pre-payment) and the royalty structure (often a 50/50 split between the artist and illustrator). Is it possible this man is "self-publishing" his book and hasn't told you that?

Before you put any energy towards this project you need to know more about the financial end of this proposition and more about the project. Illustrating a book won't help your career if it's the wrong project for you. Don't let yourself be rushed by his deadline. The only time a deadline matters in a situation like this is when you have already signed a legal contract that specifies how you are being paid (an advance is wise and to be expected) and exactly which copyrights are being assigned (sold). The contract will also include time lines for performance and more.

If you do get a contract from the publisher (or him, if he's self-publishing), hire a lawyer who specializes in the field of publishing/illustration to advise you with industry standards and customary procedures.

The first thing I would do in your situation is to call SCBWI -- The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Pony
up your money to join and take advantage of their stellar resources.

Heres what they say about themselves: . . . We are the the only international organization to offer a variety of services to people who write, illustrate, or share a vital interest in children’s literature. The SCBWI acts as a network for the exchange of knowledge between writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people. There are currently more than 19,000 members worldwide, in over 70 regions, making it the largest children's writing organization in the world.
www.scbwi.org membership@scbwi.org
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 , USA
voice: 323-782-1010 fax:323-782-1892 General Questions: scbwi@scbwi.org

I am confident that SCBWI will be able to give you the counsel you need.
Best wishes with this situation. Let me know what happens.

Warm Regards,

See more about my books and articles.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Norman Rockwell - How "Real" is Realism?

Rockwell's America: Celebrating the Art of Norman Rockwell is a traveling interactive exhibit of Norman Rockwell's images that explores his impact as an artist who in the process of creating images that imagined and conveyed events and moments in his experience of American life, contributed to the American vision. Along with other work he painted 322 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers during the decades from 1920's through the 1960's.

Last week I toured the Rockwell's America exhibit at Discovery Place (a science museum) in Charlotte, North Carolina with my family. After sitting in a darkened room and watching the introductory video for 6 minutes, the attendant parted the curtains on one side of the room and invited all of us in the room to proceed through the exhibit.

As a child I began studying art in the early 1970's. Adult artists I was around were still arguing about the merits of "modern" artists like Picasso. Though poles apart, many realistic/figurative artists and modern artists agreed on one thing: Norman Rockwell was "just an illustrator".

Seeing his images (there aren't any important originals in this exhibit) from the vantage point of 2008, those discussions seem silly. Norman Rockwell did more than paint. With his paintings he reflected and guided American culture. His images have been seen by more humans than ANY other artist in history!!

My first feeling seeing the dioramas of Norman Rockwell's world was one of sweet familiarity and nostalgia. My maternal grandparents loved Norman Rockwell's art and the Saturday Evening Post. Norman Rockwell images pervaded their life. Unconsciously I melded Norman Rockwell's sweet images of small town America into my understanding of my Grandparent's lives. My grandfather, James Ira Wisner, was born in Missouri on a farm outside of Center, Missouri. His sister lived in Hannibal, MO and his other sisters remained in the Midwest their entire lives. For a few years he moved his wife and 5 California-born daughters back to Center, Missouri to be near his family. My grandmother, Alice would often shake her head when recalling the memory of the move, glad to be sitting in her Escondido, California home, savoring a sun-drenched retirement. As Catholics, the family had been the object of anti-Catholic prejudice and weren't a good fit in the tiny country town of less than 500 people. They lasted a few years, then returned to Southern California.

Despite the negative experience the family had, in retirement my grandparents set out on a road trip to Center, Missouri every few years. Like a bitter pain pill coated with a resilient, warm amber layer of gelatin, the images Norman Rockwell painted soothed my grandparents, seeming to have covered any bad memories of small town life with a patina of bucolic charm.

To most non-artists, Norman Rockwell is perceived to be a Realist. He isn't. And he is. Though several late images convey a loving and wise view of race relations, the majority of images are of white people. Looking at decades of magazine covers I began to hunt for brown faces. Rockwell painted during the years when American Indians were still not allowed to vote, their children were being forcibly educated in English-only boarding schools and more. Anti-Greaser laws in the American Southwest were in force against American Hispanics. American Africans were being lynched and denied voting rights in the American South. Jews were undergoing the worst world-wide persecution of a religious group in history. I looked in vain for images of American Indians, Asians, Hispanics and African Americans. Then I realized, brown faces weren't part of the Anglo American mythological mindset.

Norman Rockwell wasn't a naive country rube with a talent for art. He was born in New York and educated at some of the best art schools of the day. A bright talent from the beginning, he was selling his illustrations to national magazines before he was 18 years old. Of course living in New York City, a city of ethnicity would have inescapably brought Rockwell in contact with people that weren't Anglo, along with those Anglos that were very ethnic. You'd never know it looking at the first 3 decades of his work. The realism Norman Rockwell was painting was what I see as a mythological American Anglo concept. Again -- yes, he did paint images with other ethnicities, but this was towards the end of his career and does not include the majority of his work.

Until this exhibit, I hadn't ever really looked at a body of Norman Rockwell's work. I'd seen paintings, prints and illustrations for most of my life, but that isn't the same as paying attention to and understanding the effect those images were having on me.

Walking through the exhibit I was struck with a unexpected mix of feelings. I felt a nostalgia for a life that didn't really exist along with anger that I had "just" noticed that I, with my brown skin and Hispanic heritage from my father was left out of the story. In fact so were all of my paternal relatives & ancestors. I finally consciously recognized that the exclusion of the color brown from the majority of Norman Rockwell's images had contributed to how I saw myself. I could enter Norman Rockwell's vision of provincial life mentally from the portal of my maternal heritage, but the reality of my obvious ethnicity kept me from thinking of myself as a participant in that life.

The reality of imagery is that it both documents and creates. Because Norman Rockwell's images were so commercially successful that he contributed to defining America's perception of itself, he is a powerful and important artist to study. The realism Norman Rockwell painted wasn’t realism at all. It was an American Anglo myth he imagined & shared. I realized that the exclusion of the color brown from the majority of Norman Rockwell's images contributed to how Americans see themselves, a myth that in some form persists. Re-imagining that myth is the work of contemporary society.

I'm grateful for the experience of being able to view Rockwell's America: Celebrating the Art of Norman Rockwell. I learned more than I expected. And that's a good thing.

Photo: The exhibit encouraged viewers to sit at an easel and paint a self-portrait like Rockwell would often do. The mirrors were set at the perfect height for children, so I sketched a portrait of my husband, Randall Barna. All in all -- an inspiring exhibit.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Life as a Ceramic Tile Artist, The Beginning

The year 1994 was the year that I saw my first work of art (my hand painted ceramic tile mural) on a magazine cover . Albeit, it was only about two or three square inches, nonetheless, it was enough to send me all over town buying every copy of the magazine I could find, sending them to my friends & relatives. I was sure I was going to be famous (and rich)!

Tile_Woods&Water_web.jpgI began creating ceramic tiles in 1991. I had just finished a two-year stint as a lettering and mural artist for an outdoor advertising (billboard) company, and was teaching college art classes in the evenings. I was so sickened by the substances I used in the billboard work, that I couldn't comfortably oil paint. Implementing a friend's suggestion, I switched to painting on ceramics. Completing a series of images, I sent them to the Ann Sacks Tile & Stone store in Portland, Oregon. Kohler Plumbing Industries had just purchased the store as the flagship for a national chain and I found myself serendipitously in the tile business! tile_FlowerPower_web.jpg
I quickly joined a business class, bought a kiln and learned about the ceramics business. READ MORE. . . .


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ask Cristina: Cork Floor Comfort

Ask Cristina -- Cork Flooring
(sent via my website www.CristinaAcosta.com)

Did you utilize the cork flooring for your home? I want to use it, but my husband hasn't seen any homes with it, and he is skeptical, as it will cost us about $9000. What is your opinion about the value and benefit for utilizing a cork clik flooring system in a kitchen family room area? ( I have 2 artificial hips and feel that the suppleness of the cork will be wonderful)

Thank you.
Janis B.

Dear Janis,

We have Wicander's Cork Oak flooring in our kitchen/great room and we love it. This is the 2nd year with this flooring. We installed it throughout our house except in the bathrooms, where we installed Marmoleum (because of the puddles of water that get on the bathroom floor). The cork is warmer to the touch when we walk on it barefoot and not as hard as wood. (Our floor is a click system).

I understand your hesitation about buying a floor before seeing it down. Check with Wicanders for a distributor in your area and then ask that distributor if you can see an installation of a cork floor. One thing our installer did that I've enjoyed is that he installed the panels (I think they are roughly 3' x 1') going width-ways in the hallway so as too "widen" the hallway visually (in a very subtle way). It really looks good.

To clean our floors we bought a vacuum with a HEPA air filter that doesn't have a rotating roller. You can't drench the cork, but you can damp mop it. (Mine has a WRT polymer finish). Here's a picture of my kitchen floor taken from my dining area.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Licensing Art for Home Decor and More

Licensing is when a company pays an artist for use of an image that the company will use on a product. The payment is usually a combination of an advance payment that is prepayment for a royalty payment for each image sold. My fun Paint Happy imagery is perfect for licensing into home decor and other products.
My imagery is positioned perfectly for the diversity of the contemporary marketplace. I’m different than the usual designer/homemaker/author in this category. The gift of being born into two strong cultures has given me a unique viewpoint along with the strengths and gifts of both cultures. The practicality of my mother's Anglo American roots and the passion and mystery embraced by my father's Hispanic heritage combine within me to create the cultural fusion and tapestry that is the American experience. The published author of books and articles, I've built a foundation that positions my artistry for successful release into licensed products.

My work first appeared on the national home decor scene in 1991 when I distributed my Cristina Acosta® Signature line of ceramic tile through the Kohler Bath, Project:Acosta, Interiorcompany Ann Sacks Tile & Stone stores. Since then, my artistry has been visible consistently on a national level.

Pass on the news to manufacturers looking for something fresh in the marketplace. License the Cristina Acosta® brand for your product line. My offering includes: Home Decor textiles, tabletop andSpring Flowers Paint jpg furnishings; Paper products and more.

See my Bio & Resume and Press & Publications List for more details.

Contact me

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Feb. 2008 Newsletter

Cristina-Acosta-Standup-Paddling.jpgDear Friends,

Happy Valentines Day! This is the month we honor love. Like most everybody, I've spent a few bummer Valentines Days over the years. Love I learned is a practice. So is art, prayer, parenting, exercise, eating and most anything else that you participate in with your heart and soul. It all becomes a spiritual practice, and each of us brings our unique presence in the practice of our lives to the world. Lavishing beauty on the world is my way of dealing with the negative news that streams from all around the world into my TV set, computer and radio.Two to Tango.jpg

Sharing beauty motivates me to begin blogging. I've discovered that I enjoy the artistic discipline of blogging. Writing, like painting is both a craft and art. Searching for things to write about is similar to beginning a painting. I sit quietly with my tools at hand, shut my eyes briefly to signal my mind that I'm entering my place of creative flow and begin.

Sometimes that place leads me to history. As a life-long artist, I've done a lot of different types of art jobs to stay housed and fed. For a couple of years I was a billboard painter. Now that it's a lost art, I wrote the essay, Painting Big - My Life as a Billboard Painter, about my history painting the 24' long outdoor ad murals.

All of this writing hasn't left much free time. I invented Santa Fe Chicken Rice for those days that I don't have much motivation in the kitchen. When you're not cooking or otherwise creating, remember to sign up for my blog. Send me your creative comments and questions and I'll answer them on the blog. Whether you're wondering what color to paint a wall, how to teach someone (yourself!) to draw, make a killer cookie or talk about art, I'd love to hear from you.

Live Happy,


Subscribe to Cristina's Newsletter for once a month news, or get more on her Blog.