Sunday, October 29, 2017

171029 A shared vision 

Yesterday I wrote about the coffee bean-sized nucleus accumbens, a shared characteristic nugget tucked deep inside the brains of 99.99 percent of we humans which, given the right environment, care and feeding of the rest of our bodies, can advance a human being or destroy itself—and even destroy all humanity.
Image result for how big is the nucleus accumbens?
Image from the Web
Today I am feeling the benefits of this little morsel of organic material in the good feeling it both thrives upon and regenerates—the feeling of sharing. Many pleasurable sensations derive from the nucleus accumbens—looking at or making artworks, a beautiful sunset, culturally-attuned music, for example—and for me, sharing experiences, too.
Sharing looking at an artwork is perhaps more pleasurable than experiencing an artwork by myself. Being in a movie theater is better than watching a movie streaming on a home screen by yourself. Streaming a movie with Lynda is better than doing that by myself. I never do it, in fact, unless it’s to examine the exact words of an actor, such as I did not long ago with Proof.
It occurs to me I would like to share those lines with a reader, but I will postpone this and drive toward my point: Sharing in the printmaking experience is more important than making prints alone. The only pleasure I get from making prints alone, by myself with only myself to talk to or sing is the anticipation that someone, someday, will have the print I am making.
They may, at some point in the future, look at the print and derive some pleasure merely by looking at it. They may not know what it is in the sense of its meaning or what I, the artist, was thinking, but the essence of colors, line, texture, etc. may please them—give them pleasure. And I can thank the health of their nucleus accumbens for this.
In a sense, this other person—or people all gathered around the picture in a museum with a docent’s guidance—completes the act of making the art, or what some people call the act of creation. I venture to say we’re sipping dopamine together in a pleasant, nonverbal communication across time and space. The nucleus accumbens is the source of dopamine, an organic chemical produced in humans, animals and plants.
It is the source of art, you might say, and any activity associated with art in all its forms. This includes activities not considered art at all, such as truck driving or weight-lifting, science and deep-sea diving. I am exploring what possibilities there may be in Seattle a person or a group interested in partnering with me to develop my brainchild—offspring of my 50-year printmaking career: the Northwest Print Center Incubators. Perhaps the Uptown Arts & Culture Coalition. Perhaps Artist Trust. Maybe the Seattle Print Arts will change their minds and take up a conversation because they need a central office.
Or, maybe it will never be an existing nonprofit in Seattle which will talk with me and look at my plan. It is true that—as is said in stock investing—past performance is no indication of future performance. I am thinking how my vision has not drawn support in the past encounters with nonprofits in Seattle. They don't answer my calls for help.
I learned these lessons when investing in stocks via an investment club years ago. Now, this morning, as the eastern sky grows slightly lighter, I think of my friends far, far to the east for whom it is already past lunch time and who have a Halfwood Press somewhere in their home. That press has my fingerprints on it! It may be in a closet, but they have not disposed of it like so many mass-produced consumer goods they decided that were no longer of value.
They bought the press, paid dearly for the Halfwood Press (or the WeeWoodie Rembrandt Press) due to their nucleus accumbens’ indicating that if they did so, good things would come from it. Or, even if they didn’t use the press, they could admire it. Their friends could admire it, too, or their spouse. Those who gave the press as a gift can know that it was a nice gift to receive, even if hopes for an art career didn’t pan out.
I shall end this speculative essay now, finish my online Spanish lesson (Duolingo) which is my way of stimulating my nucleus accumbens into giving me hope that, in a circuitous way, will lead to the formation of the Northwest Print Center Incubators. For example, my long-held dream is that printmaking will be the nucleus of teaching second languages to kids (and maybe adults).

Ask me about that if you’re interested in your kids or your school’s kids learning Chinese.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

171028 A Town without Pity 

Yesterday I did what many people in the art community might consider a strange thing, something out of the ordinary way of doing things in the Seattle Arts Community. It is something I did which many artists would say, “I sure wouldn’t do that!”
It’s typical of me, though, and therein lies the core of my creative soul—the tiny bit of my brain which Elmer Gates studied, the source of dopamine his Collie dogs demonstrated to be the possible key to intelligence and what he called Mind Growing. Today it’s called the nucleus accumbens located in the so-called pleasure centers of my brain and which resembles that of almost everyone.

Image from the Web
What is it that I did? I wrote a blast email to the entire staff of Artists Trust—from the topmost Executive Director to the new Interns. I asked them to consider partnering with me on the development of the Northwest Print Center Incubators.
In a similar vein, I sent a blast email to my colleagues on the Uptown Arts & Culture Coalition. This is a key group whose purpose is to encourage cultural and artistic endeavors in the neighborhood where we live and have our family’s art gallery.
The nucleus accumbens is the source of dopamine, an organic chemical produced in humans, animals and plants. It is the source of art, you might say, and any activity associated with art in all its forms. This includes activities not considered art at all, such as truck driving or weight-lifting, science and deep-sea diving.
My blast email was, and is, part of my deep-sea diving insofar as I am exploring what possibilities there may be in the Artist Trust staff in partnering with me to develop my brainchild, the Northwest Print Center Incubators. The same goes for the Uptown Arts & Culture Coalition. Is there any interest, I wonder? To date (and I am writing less than 24 hours after my email and have not, at 6:30 AM, checked my email).
Past performance is no indication of future performance, I learned, when it comes to investing in stocks. Years ago, I formed an investment club to learn about investing—one of my many exercises driven by dopamine. In other words, I have communicated with Artist Trust in the past. In fact, I was in touch with the founders of Artist Trust from it inception, notably Anne Focke and David Mendoza.
When Artist Trust was started, the group was to address as many of the deficiencies in the artists’ support infrastructure as possible—from housing to health insurance. Lobbying and grants may have been the most successful aspects. Health insurance was, I suppose, out of its capacity. My personal wish was that it would address educational deficiencies artists find and, today, Artist Trust is possibly the best source of education in matters of economics, i.e., the business of being an artist in today’s economy.
For example, Artist Trust lists almost twenty resources on line—ranging from asset management to laws that effect artists and their families. Many artists, I think, who would scan this list of resources would experience a tiny hit of dopamine just reading it because there is help available on pressing questions like, “What about copyrights?” and “What about grant-writing?”
Artist Trust espouses community-building. Anne Focke’s life has been a life of a community builder, and Artist Trust would not exist were it not for hers and David’s vision and design plus their political acumen in getting support from the monied people in Seattle both in industry and government.
I shall end this speculative essay now, finish my online Spanish lesson (Duolingo) which is my way of stimulating my nucleus accumbens into giving me hope that, in a circuitous way, will lead to the formation of the Northwest Print Center Incubators.

Ask me about that. And if you’ve read this and wonder why I gave this essay the title, A Town without Pit, it’s the title that popped into my head—a title of a song, the lyrics of which are, “It isn’t very pretty what a town without pity can do.” It’s about the possibility that my blast email will not receive a single answer from a staff member at Artist Trust, as has happened with my emails to the UACC asking for partners to develop the NPCI.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

171026 I can jump start your small business in printmaking 

Feeling heady today with my success record, I’m entertaining the idea, Yes, I can! A word of caution, however, and this comes from the story of the Little Red Hen. She had an idea to grow wheat to make flour, and she asked all the barnyard animals for help. No one would help her, and with each refusal she said, “Then I will do it myself.”
When, after she tilled the field and her wheat was harvested and milled into flour, she made a cake! Then all the animals came to ask for some, but she denied them. The trouble then became that she ate her cake alone, with no one to talk to. Moreover, this bred envy and resentment and I don’t like to think what happened after that. It’s too ugly to think about.
I am the Little Red Hen, because I designed and made a number of things. However, I always had help from those around me—my family, first of all, who supported me and who continue to do whatever they can within their abilities to support me. This is the thing for which I am most grateful.
Then, too, there are my friends (I hope I can call them my friends) who support me in many ways—with “Likes” on Facebook, for example. There are former students who, even today, join me in my projects such as the Vladimir Chichinoff Interactive Sketchbook project, and buying the last of the Halfwood Presses.
I’m grateful, too, for the little seeds of new ideas that are sprinkled in the minutes of my daily work—like the name of Lucy Garrick, which came to me in a complex, circuitous way which you might compare to an intriguing novel or mystery story. By tracking her through her online information, I came to an organization with the odd name of Scrum. It turns out it’s a move in a sport and refers to a strategic formation used to win by surprise (I think).
Off I go—like the Little Red Hen across the barnyard—to the Scrum Website, there to find Scrum is a source to connect with consultants who use the Scrum methodology generally known as lean and athletic, fast and thoroughly intended to win in business. I understand this thinking and I’ve practiced it in my way since the days I was a college professor; that’s another story.
Scrum appears to me to be ideally suited to my current project, the Northwest Print Center Incubators. If these incubators were to become real, then each of the units (I estimate nineteen are viable startups) might all be trained under the Scrum framework, which is here copied from the Web:

The Scrum framework is deceptively simple: • A product owner creates a prioritized wish list called a product backlog. • During sprint planning, the team pulls a small chunk from the top of that wish list. That chunk becomes the sprint backlog. The team decides how to implement the sprint backlog within the time frame of the sprint. • The team has the given sprint (usually two to four week time frame) to complete its work, but it meets each day to assess its progress (in the Daily Scrum). • Along the way, the ScrumMaster keeps the team focused on its goal. • At the end of the sprint, the work should be potentially shippable: ready to hand to a customer, put on a store shelf, or show to a stakeholder. • The sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective. • As the next sprint begins, the team chooses another chunk of the product backlog and begins working again.

Here, again, is the rub: Where are the people? Who are the people who want to jump start a small business connected in some way to printmaking? The Little Red Hen had her barnyard population to which she could make her proposal and hope to gain their help. Who are my friends? Who will help me “take a “chunk from the top” which is the Halfwood Press line?
Like Bob Dylan said in Brownsville Girl, “Oh, if there is an original idea out there, I could sure use it now.” Sam Shepard co-authored the lyrics of that song—it’s one of my favorites. I read that during the recording the group came to a sticking point and they needed some new lines to complete it; Dylan, according to the story, went off by himself and in only a few minutes came back with the needed words—so fast that it amazed everyone.
Back to the title of this essay, I can jump start your small business in printmaking, what does that mean? In my email today I see two items by artists I know, both of them graduates from the UW. One of them took a drawing class from me in the late 1960’s; the other was a student at the UW forty years later and both of them are selling off all their studio and looking for storage for their art. I think to myself, I could have helped you prevent this if you had asked and listened.

But, this won’t happen, any more than I can help that Eskimo I wrote about yesterday. Those I believe will listen are those who have more at stake than their own needs—people who are thinking about other people, too, in a sense of teamwork and winning Big Time. People like Lucy Garrick, maybe, and her colleagues in the Scrum network.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

171025 Mistaken identity

 – or – Don’t get me wrong. 

People think I’m an artist just because I studied and taught art in college, made things that look like art and had art shows. Even the etching presses I make “art works of art,” they say. Maybe it’s true, maybe I’m an artist, but what good am I to the world? What good is art? What is art. As one woman said, my plan for the Northwest Print Center Incubators is on the scale of “solving Seattle’s homeless problem and all the elephants of the world.”
She nailed it. Those are exactly the things I work on. The making of an artwork, by comparison is a trivial, self-indulgent and pointless waste of materials and time. I will not add to the waste I see all around me when there is work to be done to help solve Seattle’s homeless problem and save all the elephants. I mean business, the only business I’ve ever been in is education.
It happens I can draw, and when I was a kid everyone said, “Oh, Billy, you should be an artist,” and that wired my brain to think so. Other options open to me were engineering, dentistry and the military (Air Force). Sports was out, and anything to do with math was out. At the critical point when the Army beckoned me, I opted to teach.
Yet, I would serve my country! In college I learned about American Values from conservatives like Giovanni Costigan, plus those of my dad and extended family (some of them, anyway!). I admired my professors and I said I would be like them, I would be a great teacher. Art, in and of itself, was not as important as the Big Picture. To me that meant helping to solve Seattle’s Homeless problem and all the elephants of the Earth.
If my ability to draw and make beautiful etching presses (and ugly ones, too, if that were necessary) is a help, that would be great.
The question is, How? How can art help the homelessness in Seattle? I looked into that. I talked to a homeless man recently. His name is Kiesek. He’s Eskimo, down here to get out of the cold. He told me his background: alcoholic, wife abuser, on the lam, and his name means “shoulder blade.” I wondered, as he told me his story, and I told him mine (Legend of Vladimir Chichinoff), can I help this homeless person?
The main thing he liked was my story of Vladimir Chichinoff. Partly it was because he knows about skin boats. On his Eskimo corporate ID, there’s a picture of a skin boat, in fact. He offered to buy me dinner, or drinks, whatever I wanted. He almost begged me to accept something from him. I deferred. How could I accept a gift from a homeless man?
I pictured myself a story teller in those minutes I was with Kiesek. The homeless need entertainment, too, if it takes their minds off their situation a moment. But would it help? I’m a teacher, but my teaching is limited to manufacturing beautiful objects, such as etching presses.
Could I teach Kiesek to make etching presses? Actually, people like me have been trying to teach Kiesek to make a living, keep a family and sustain these things for over forty years and they—and he—failed because the sellers of booze were better at teaching. The alcohol industry, soft drink manufacturers and titillating entertainment know how to teach.
I have tried to steal those industries’ ideas and adapt them to American Values as I understand them from my history lessons. To some degree, I have succeeded. But for Kiesek, I have only a story. Any notion I might have of training a group of people—homeless in Seattle—to make etching presses’ parts and, better yet, own the market I created is stupid.
That part of Kiesek’s brain that is crucial to success of a healthy and whole life and style of living is owned by the industries that got to him first. Those industries beat the hell out of the well-meaning, non-native teachers from my culture. I can’t compete with the alcohol, tobacco and drug industries. No teachers can. The winner in this competition is death itself.
I’m pro-life. That doesn’t mean I’m against birth control and abortion; it means I’m in favor of living. Life is a gift. Every day I live, is a gift. My mother gave me life, assisted by my father and I see them manifest in my reflection in the mirror every morning I awaken. “What will you do with this life we gave you,” they say. “What will you do with the talent I gave you,” they say, like the lord in the parable.
Today is October 25, 2017, and I will work on Fox Spears’ press (he happens to be descended from the indigenous people a little like Kiesek). I will write a few more pages in my autobiography. I will enter my novel in a contest for adaptation to the screen. I will work with our daughter and my wife at assessing the value of our gallery’s contents and preparing it for sale or destruction. There may be surprise visits and emails, perhaps even another order for a Halfwood Press.
Many things await me. I’m grateful. As for the homeless, I wrote an opinion to the Seattle Times last year at the height of what appeared a renewed effort to help the homeless. I suggested building schools under parts of I-5. Education is key to helping the homeless; but are the homeless teachable? The answer is that it depends on who owns the rewards centers of their brains, and how do you compete with those owners? Can you save the elephants? That depends on the competition; can you beat those who are buying the products of the killings? Can you feed the families of the farmers whose crops are destroyed by elephant herds? Can you feed those elephants, competing with human populations which are exceeding Earth’s capacity to feed and water them (and satisfy the reward centers of those humans’ brains?

In short, can you handle it, teacher? Yes, I can, if the student can listen. If the student can handle it.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

171022 Six Million? Really? 

Finding ways to jump start our small businesses at the NPCI 

For nine years I have grounded my plans for the Northwest Print Center Incubators on a number: six million. I say, “Six million people in the US alone would buy a Halfwood Press if they only knew about it.” That’s a lot of people, and if I had a dollar for each one sold, I could retire—maybe, like the MTG founders, live like a rock star.

(Can’t you just see Bill and Lynda Ritchie living like rock stars! Makes me smile.)

Where did I get that number?


It was in 2008 when I wrote the first accounting of how I came to make the first Halfwood Presses. In my book I was working on a paragraph, writing under my pen name, Harris Sweed, to explain the dollar-value of my design.

I wrote as though interviewing myself. I gave an accounting in a little Excel spreadsheet, counting who had bought the first 30-some Halfwood Presses up to that year. Taking into account these people (and I knew them in quite good detail) as a demographic; and then I took into account the people I had met when I was an art professor teaching college.

I taught college for nineteen years—call it a generation. In that generation, the population of printmaking classes at the UW School of Art in Seattle was typical of many universities and community colleges in the USA. In other words, 15-20 people in each class of printmaking, ranging across the four printing processes of relieve, stencil, planographic and intaglio.

Digital printing didn’t exist in the 1980s (unless you counted dot matrix or pen plotters), but photography was making inroads in classic printmaking by way of photo-screen printing, etching and lithography.

Technical matters aside, by simple math I concluded that six million people had been exposed to printmaking over the twenty years I had been teaching it (1966-1985) and, at the time I was making the calculation, another twenty years (1986-2006) another number, perhaps equal to or greater than the previous generation—had been exposed.

The calculation at that time (writing my book in 2008) acknowledged but did not include how many people were “exposed” to printmaking (TV, workshops, art fairs, museums, etc.). Nor did my calculations consider people who came to know printmaking sideways, as it were, through photography, computer graphics, book arts, fabric design, collecting and crafting.

Nor did I consider the parents, or the children of print-loving parents, nor their spouses—people who in one way or another love prints, printmaking, and printmakers. I dropped my calculations at the portal of my knowledge: College-taught printmaking.

And that’s how I got six million. The simple equation of the number of students in typical classes, the number of classes taught in a year in the number of colleges in the USA at the time. I remember when I did this exercise in Excel, I distrusted my understanding of my formula because accounting is not my forte. The number six million persisted.

I was trying to assure myself that I wasn’t nuts and that I was making another big mistake in my career and my efforts to restore our living standard to what it was before I resigned from the UW. So I added the codicil: Only ten-percent of my former students continued in the art field after graduation, and of these only one percent would continue making prints in the manner in which they learned in college.

Thus reasoning, then six-thousand was a number with which I felt more at ease. Still, if we made and sold six-thousand Halfwood Presses over the next decade, my partner Tom Kughler's and my families could do well financially. At that time, Tom and I were only making Mini Halfwood Presses and selling them at the top price of $1,300. The larger ones—which sold up to a price of $3,500—were just a twinkle in Tom’s eyes.

I wonder: Will I look back (or am I now looking back?) and realize that, once again, I’m making a big mistake—like the time I put my faith in the integrity of the University of Washington’s Powers-that-were and lost my family's financial foothold?

Have I, again, gambled on a vision of the success of the Halfwood Press for thirteen years and now assessing my losses?

I find myself awakening in an era of big data—when success seems is measured by how many millions of dollars you can acquire as seed money to launch a startup like the Northwest Print Center Incubators. So it seems, from the meetings I attend regularly, dominated by high tech and a favorite pursuit of Millennials, dreaming of the Next Big Thing.

In these times, six million dollars’ income from sales of presses spread over a year may not be enough to impress anyone! However,  like making an artwork from scratch, few can see how.