Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Biting off more than I can chew?

I do a thing for my church's Sunday school a couple times a year. We have the kids divided up into 4 classes, so for a month, every Sunday I do an art project with each class. We have inscribed hieroglyphics depicting Joseph's dreams in clay, made stained glass windows with icons of the last supper, once I dressed as an Egyptian slave driver and forced the kids to mix clay, sand, water, and straw, make bricks, and build little pyramids. All the kids know me so they had a lot of fun while acted like a slave-driver, yelling at them to work harder and such in that grown-up, fake growl voice. All except one new kid who I think almost started to cry before I realized he was new. So I had to break character, get down on my knees and explain in the nicest voice possible that I was just pretending, and that he didn't have to play at all. I wonder if I scarred him for life. Maybe his only memory of church will be a giant guy in a yellow dress yelling at kids to mix faster. That would be sad.

Anyway, this time I didn't yell at anyone. Instead we made Easter dioramas. Like a nativity scene, but for Easter. It seemed like such a simple idea. The kids make a little cave and rock, decorate around it with plants, and put a Mary and angel on it. Sounds easy, huh? Well, by the time I figured out which materials to use, and how to fit the project into an hour long class I realized that I had to do the majority of the work up front to provide them with the pieces to assemble and enough choices to make it their art project instead of mine. There were going to be 30 to 40 kids, so I needed a lot of stuff. Fortunately, last time I got a bonus at work we put away a bunch of money in a separate account for this sort of thing. After several trips to Michaels, and hundreds of dollars later I had all the materials I needed. (I get a little sick when I think of what that several hundred dollars could do for a starving family somewhere. Then I wonder why I'm an artist in the first place and what the point of art is when there are so many people with material needs not being met. But that's fodder for another blog.)

As usual it ends up taking me ten times longer than I thought it would to get all the stuff prepared. I think I probably spent more than 3 hours per student in prep work. That may seem heroic, but that's 3 hours I wasn't spending with my family.

For a several weeks, most evenings and weekends, I was trapped at the counter making little caves and rocks. And for what? So a bunch of over privileged kids could make a little diorama that will most likely not survive the car ride home. Of course that is the deconstructionist in me talking and I don't really feel that way. (most of the time.) Mostly I'm just frustrated with myself because of my inability to estimate the time and the toll any art project will take. I lose myself in these things and thereby lose perspective on everything else. Ultimately it is a selfish impulse to get what I want: the best possible piece of art. The impulse can be noble or selfish depending on how you look at it I suppose. As with all things, it seems finding a healthy balance is the best course.

Oh, and I should note a cool blessing in this story. I ran into a co-worker of mine at church the week before I started this class. I hadn't found an assistant yet. (Believe me, a bunch of glue, scissors, clay, and 10 kids in a room and you better believe you need more than one adult!) The sermon had been about finding ways to help in the body of Christ. She was new to the church, but I thought I should ask nicely anyway. It turns out she was more than willing to help and that was a huge blessing, since she is an artist as well.

And in other biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew? News: We just bought a condo! We've been looking off and on for over a year. After surveying the market 3 years ago I determined we would never be able to afford to own anything in this area until the housing market bubble burst. But I was mostly looking for a house with a yard and a garage. I figured I'd save up and eventually get a home. The problem with that plan is that the housing market has been going up 10 to 15% a year. That's way more than I can save. So we decided that if we could swing it, we should get a condo, at least for a while so we can start building equity. I balanced our budget, and as long as my brother continues to live with us we can do it without squeezing too hard. We found a place about 20 minutes from my work and in a nice quiet neighborhood. Now we are in the process of renovating it. For some bizarre reason the previous owners had built up a wall between the incredibly small kitchen and the dining room, leaving a tiny gap to see out. So we took that down and it helps the kitchen feel much less claustrophobic.

Heather's parents came up for the weekend to help us do a bunch of stuff like tearing out an old heater and replacing it, painting, and putting up moldings. Also, Chris and Roger Maddox, friends from church, helped us with demolishing the wall and rebuilding. Julie Brunk, our pastor's wife even came over with some homemade food to keep us all fed. It was a touching display of a Christian community coming together for us.

I am painting the kids walls to look like the plaster is breaking away with stone underneath and a cool wooded scene behind that. I wanted to do the same thing in my brother's room, but it doesn't sound like he would appreciate it as much as my kids, and I'm trying to teach myself to limit my artistic impulses so that projects will only take 5 times longer than I think rather than 10. So I guess I'll just leave John's room white. :sigh:

In the art department I've got 3 different directions I'm trying to go in at once. I'm trying to get in with this band, making sculptural interpretations of their logo to sell. I've got the art fair Costume Kids I'm still trying to produce. I've been making contacts via MySpace and ended up with a gallery show this October, so I really need to start cranking on those. Then I'm trying to convince my company that when they get action figures of their characters, I should be the one to sculpt them. So I'm working on a little prototype for that. So there are three more bites I can't chew.