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Cooking Creativity January 18, 2010

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Before Christmas, I watched the movie Julie & Julia, which, as you probably know, tells two stories: that of master chef Julia Child as she discovers French cooking and that of blogger Julie Powell, who challenged herself to make every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. The movie instantly won me over–not just for the acting or the beautiful way in which 1940s-’50s Paris is depicted, but for the message that creativity can change people’s lives.

I love seeing people discover a creative outlet that then reroutes their lives. In her autobiography, My Life in France, Julia Child says that she had no interest in cooking whatsoever until she was in her 30s. Likewise, Julie Powell rediscovered her love of writing through her blog, and now she has just released her second book. And there are plenty of other stories of famous artists, writers, and musicians who stumbled upon their creative streaks when they didn’t expect it.

I guess my point here is that it’s never too late to find your passion, whether it’s in art or writing or cooking or whatever. But don’t put it off, because there are plenty of ways around town to help jump start your creativity. Try some classes, such as those offered by Samford After Sundown, the art museum, art stores, and some art galleries. Some of those are more affordable than you might think, but if you’re looking for something absolutely free, be sure to visit art openings and arts/crafts festivals. Many times, you’ll get to meet the creators of the works on display, and they’re usually happy to explain their processes. An art festival, by the way, is what got me to explore block printing. I had learned how to do it in elementary school but hadn’t even thought about it for 20 years–but after I met a printmaker and saw his works, I was eager to explore it once more. And my life is certainly more interesting now because of it!

So get out there and start exploring, discovering, and creating. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

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Toward 2010 December 31, 2009

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I like new years. They’re all fresh and clean and full of possibility–much like a sheet of paper I haven’t doodled on yet. And now that we’re on the verge of another one, I’m scribbling down some plans for 2010, both art-related and otherwise. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

–I’d like to begin some face-to-face get-togethers of the Birmingham Printmakers group that currently exists only on Facebook. Perhaps in January or February.

–Screenprinting. Finally!

–Last year I enjoyed shopping more at our local farmers markets, and I want to continue to do that this year. And I’m going to try growing a few of my own things, too–simple things like tomatoes, basil, and radishes.

–And then I’m going to take all of those fresh veggies and cook more this year.

–I want to get back into running, and I might even try a short race. Or join the Birmingham Track Club. I’m also intrigued by rock climbing. I’d like to try it sometime.

–Explore Alabama some more. Somewhere I have a list of day trips written down. I definitely want to make my first visit to the Dismals this year.

–More travel outside Alabama, too!

–I’ll be working on pieces for the WPA-inspired show at Naked Art in June for half of the year. I really want this show to be a success for all of the artists who will be involved.

–And I want to use my art to help boost Birmingham. I’ve got some ideas on how I’d like to do that, and I’d like to put them into action this year.

–The other day I saw an article about Kwanzaa, which is under way right now, that included a beautiful description of kuumba, or creativity, one of the principles celebrated during the holiday: “to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.” Isn’t that an inspiring line? I think that’s a perfect resolution for everyone in the Birmingham region, especially considering the year we just had. It’s certainly something that I’m going to try to keep in mind throughout 2010.

Happy new year!

Local Style December 29, 2009

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Elle Decor is the latest national publication to discover Birmingham–and be pleasantly surprised by what it finds here. See the article, which appears in the January 2010 issue.

It’s kind of amusing to see how visitors interpret the city that’s so familiar to us. I was impressed that the writer of this article touched on the city’s crime and schools and our flamboyant former mayor–I mean, as much as I love this city, it’s not a perfect paradise, so we shouldn’t lie about or ignore our problems. But I was a little confused by the hints that we’re a British-leaning or -inspired city. Beyond the name, very little about Birmingham seems to have anything British about it. I think the writer might have spent a lot of time in Mountain Brook to get that idea.

Also, the article totally ignores Birmingham’s civil rights heritage, only mentioning the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Institute in the listings at the end, and I found that to be odd. The point of the profile might have been to give people a new image of Birmingham beyond police dogs and fire hoses, but the civil rights movement in this city was a major turning point in American history–it would be like writing an article about Boston and omitting the part about the Boston Massacre or Paul Revere.

Despite that, the article is a nice look at the city and should open some eyes across the country. It’s stories like this that help put Birmingham on the national radar and let people in on our little secret.

A Peek at the Past–and Future December 10, 2009

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This Sunday you’ll have two chances to look at two pieces of Birmingham’s past–a neighborhood and a landmark that also could play important roles in a revitalized city.

First, the East Lake Arts District will host its second Purple House Parade. I think this is a fantastic idea–show off newly renovated, affordable, historic homes for sale by using them to showcase local artists and musicians. It’s all part of an effort to encourage the revitalization of the East Lake neighborhood (and connected with a broader effort to entice creative types to set up shop in the city’s eastern neighborhoods). The event begins at 1:00 p.m., and you can find more information about the artists and house locations at the end of an article about East Lake in Pavo magazine. The artists are a mix of well-known names and newcomers, so you’ll see a good variety of work, plus I hear that the prices are affordable. Let’s go find out!

Also on Sunday, don’t miss an opportunity to see inside the Lyric Theatre, the vintage vaudeville showplace hiding across the street from the Alabama Theatre. This historic building is one of Birmingham’s treasures, and efforts are under way to begin raising money for its restoration into a live performance venue. When you walk inside and notice all the period detail, imagine how spectacular it will look once it’s all clean and gleaming. The open house extends to the Alabama as well–you’ll get to see how the famous organ works and peek into the projection booth. It all happens from 2:00 to 4:00 on Sunday, and admission is free.

Prints in Print December 6, 2009

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Birmingham magazine is featuring my art in its December issue! You can find the print version on newsstands now–look for the “Canvas” section–and you also can see the article online at the magazine’s site. I really like how the prints look in the issue–they captured the colors well!

If you’ve found my blog through the article, welcome! I need to make some updates to my cbuchanan.net site, but if you’re interested in one of my prints, please send me a comment or e-mail or visit Naked Art Gallery, where I have a good selection of limited-edition and one-of-a-kind pieces available right now.

Holiday Haul December 1, 2009

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In the next few days, you’ve got a ton of opportunities to get unique gifts for everyone on your list–goodies created by local artists and crafters:

–Jill Marlar is showing her intricate, elegant, timeless intaglio prints at What’s on Second beginning this Friday evening at 5:00 p.m. You don’t see very many intaglio printmakers selling their work around here, so you should definitely check out her work.

–That same evening, from 6:00 to 10:00, Bare Hands Gallery is opening its “Shine” holiday show, but with a twist. In addition to ornaments and such, the art will include “sculptural trees and branches” to hang them on. That sounds intriguing!

–On Saturday and Sunday, Bottletree’s annual holiday craft bazaar will take over the cafe–and three other locations in Avondale. That’s likely the largest craft show the city has ever seen, so you’re sure to find some kind of fun or funky handmade treasure. Plus you’ll get to explore Bottletree’s cool neighborhood. Bottletree will be serving food and refreshments in multiple locations as well. The bazaar lasts from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.

–I’ve also learned that Pepper Place is hosting a special holiday market this Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. I haven’t seen much promotion for this, but it sounds like you’ll be able to buy fresh veggies, baked goods, and handmade gifts in the usual spot.

Rediscovering the New Deal November 11, 2009

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In the Great Depression, Birmingham and Jefferson County were dirt poor. Which made them prime targets for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives to put people back to work and energize the economy. Many of the projects the WPA built here still exist in some form today, including major sections of Trussville, UAB Hospital, and our state parks to our iconic landmark, Vulcan Park.

The Birmingham Public Library deserves major kudos for creating a fascinating new Web site cataloging WPA projects in Birmingham and Jefferson County. Their list isn’t complete, but it mirrors a new Birmingham Historical Society photo exhibit–“Digging out of the Depression: Federal Programs at Work”–on display in the central library’s gallery through Dec. 31. In many cases, the site includes modern photos with historical images to show how the buildings and landscapes have evolved over the years.

I am fascinated by the WPA–especially by how a government stimulus program was able to encourage an explosion of surprisingly good art and architecture, which continue to influence the fields of design, communication, and urban planning, not to mention communities across the country. When you go to that site, be sure to click “Murals” in the sidebar to see some of the beautiful artworks, created by local artists, that still decorate some schools and post offices. (On a related note, check out this al.com story on the status of the restoration of the big WPA mural at Woodlawn High School. There’s also a blog and Facebook group working to raise support to finish the restoration project.)

And if that’s not enough WPA for you, here’s a reminder about “Signs for Our Time,” a Naked Art show next June that is encouraging artists and designers to put a modern spin on WPA posters. For details on that, visit this page on Naked Art’s Web site and scroll down a bit.

Dead Time October 31, 2009

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Dia de los Muertos rolls around once again at Bare Hands Gallery this Monday evening, and I can’t wait. This festive, fun, colorful celebration of the dead is one of my very favorite annual events in town. If you haven’t been, you really should check it out, and if you have been, invite someone who has never been or–even better–someone who is new to Birmingham. It’s quite an unexpected spectacle–a homegrown mix of Mexico and Alabama decorating a corner of downtown.

This year there will be live bands, fire performers, dancing, children’s crafts, food, and plenty of Dia de los Muertos art for sale in the gallery. Be sure not to miss the roll call and procession, which last year featured at least one Frida Kahlo, a coffin, musicians, and two giant puppets circling the block. And take some time to look at all the altars set up in remembrance of the dead. All of them are creative, real, and very touching. The altars will be on display until November 14, but try to get to Monday night’s celebration if you can–there’s nothing like seeing them at night in a festive atmosphere.

For details on the festival, including the entrance location, schedule, and the admission fees, see the Bare Hands site.

Artscape October 28, 2009

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This has been a busy month in my art studio–a.k.a. my living room and kitchen. Mainly, I’ve been working on ornaments and other little goodies for Naked Art’s annual “Kitschmas” show in November.

But more about that later. First I want to show you this. It’s the print resulting from the really tough block I mentioned in my last post. And it’s debuting at a new–and somewhat unique–art event next month. Artscape is an auction benefiting the Freshwater Land Trust, an organization charged with protecting some of central Alabama’s most beautiful natural spots–treasures like Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, which needs a post of its own so that I can wax poetic about it. For Artscape, the Land Trust challenged artists to visit many of its protected properties and then create art inspired by those lands. You can see some of the resulting artworks here, and I think they’re fantastic. Among those, you’ll spot my other piece created for this event, a multiple-block-print piece on wood inspired by Red Mountain Park.

Speaking of Red Mountain Park, check out its totally revamped Web site. It’s got a lot of great features on it, but I particularly like the two movable maps: one showing what the park hopes to feature on opening day and another that presents some tantalizing additions for the future. (Find boht under “View Master Plan.”) The concept illustrations are great, too–they’re an exciting preview of what could become Birmingham’s crown jewel.

Weird and Wordy October 7, 2009

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All right! Tonight I finished carving a very intimidating block, and the resulting print turned out fantastic, which means I’m on a little artistic high–which means it’s time to talk about intriguing new art exhibits in town.

First up in Christy Daniel’s new solo show opening at Naked Art this Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. I can’t wait to see what Christy has created for this one, titled “Woodland Wonder Misfits.” Her work often seems to be a cross between cute and bizarre–like a twisted version of a Rankin-Bass stop-motion holiday special–but it always makes me laugh. It’ll be a fun show.

There’s another show you need to see over at Bare Hands Gallery. Pat Snow’s “Would you like me better if I made you a pretty picture?” is a collection of random images–from stars to supermarkets–on mostly unframed paper. It sounds simple, but each image is painted in watercolor–expertly, I might add. I love watercolor, but I have no patience with painting with it; it’s so uncontrollable. Pat doesn’t have that problem, apparently. His pieces are detailed–some approach photorealism–and he knows how to use color or even shades of black to create a great image. Most of his images also feature text, from a simple phrase to stories several hundred words long. You can’t help but read them, and some will make you laugh or think, “Ah, I’ve been there, too.” For me, the text is an essential part of these pieces. It certainly adds an extra dimension to the art, just like the use of watercolor. Pat’s show is up at Bare Hands until Oct. 24.