Who is Sue and what is Suelandia?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Swantastic baby

Hey people.  So this is what started it all.  This picture, on Pinterest.  I just thought there was something very funny about it, so I put it on Facebook with the comment, "How funny would it be to get a bunch of women to ride these down the Mississippi?"  That was all it took.  

 Soon friends from all over were saying, "I'll do it!"  "Me too!"  "Where do we get these?" and it was on.  Of course there was a lot of coordinating and organizing, be eventually we got a bunch of swans and a bunch of women and arranged to all go on a river expedition.

I often lament that it is difficult for me to find willing, ~up for it~ playmates.  This continues to be true to some extent, even though I am lucky to have a variety of fun gal pals that I really can't imagine life without.  I have had to accept the idea that most women will not just enthusiastically jump into a major river on a giant inflatable swan without a fair amount of hand-holding, reassurance, and detailed organizing on my part.  Even at the last second 3 of our 12 swan battalion dropped-out. 

So it was a big relief, and pretty exciting to actually get to the launch site and get everyone unloaded.  This was actually going to happen!!  (See the giant American flag boat in the background?--- Party crashers.  This was explicitly a no dudes event, but one guest took it upon herself to invite her husband and his cousin (2 dudes), despite this fact.  People were pissed, but they were there with their boat.  I def had an attitude towards their whole party at first.  More on them later.)

After a bunch of knot tying and stringing groups of swans to boats, we were off.  And as soon as we got onto the river everyone's faces transformed into giant beaming smiles.  It was awesome!

The swan floaters were giddy-- their swans floated perfectly.  Everyone felt very secure, yet adventurous.  The paddlers, most in my assortment of borrowed kayaks and a canoe, were loving the feeling of navigating the river on their own-- under their own power, paddling where THEY wanted to go.

My swanmate (we were both tied to Trusty Pam's kayak) Jessica had been very worried about this trip.  She wanted to do it pretty badly, but isn't a strong swimmer, and was very afraid of venturing onto a big river like the Mississippi on what amounts to a pool toy.  It wasn't long before I looked over to see her tension had completely melted away though.  She could be a swan model no?

We got to relax while Trusty Pam pulled us.  Eventually she gave up the speed mission and just let the current take us along.  The boats were needed to steer us away from hazards more than to propel us down the river.

At one point we saw an eagle fly to it's nest right along the river's edge, and there was a mom and babies in the nest-- a whole eagle family!

It was supposed to rain all day, and it was raining in the morning while I was doing the last minute preparations, but the skies cleared and it was beautiful and sunny the entire time we were on the river.  When you do outside stuff, you just have to forge ahead as if everything will be fine, even when it looks bleak.  It's a gamble that pays off more often than not.  Kind of a good way to live actually.

The swans were so huge I pictured us practically clogging up the whole river, viewable from space perhaps, but the river was so huge, while I'm sure we were a bit of a curiosity for anyone who happened to live along the river and look out as we passed, we were hardly the spectacle I imagined.

The river was, as these pictures attest, calm, even though water levels are still a bit high.  There was one bit of excitement though, and it was exciting to the point that I'm lucky to still have my camera, much less have a chance to whip it out and take pics.

The only good spot to land at our final destination-- Otsego Park in Elk river, was a small sandy spit of land.  Really the only flat spot along the otherwise overgrown steep embankment the river swept  by rather rapidly.  To get to it you had to enter nearly parallel to shore, skimming under a large willow branch.  The first kayak landed no problem, so did the second.  But then along came us.

When Pam turned towards shore our swans snagged in the branch.  Since we were tied to Pam, it stopped her kayak short of shore and swung her immediately downstream.  I saw Jessica's swan break loose as she was dragged through the leaves etc past me.  I shouted, "Are you alright Jessica?" because i knew this would surely freak her out.  She was good at keeping her cool and just stayed centered on her swan and said she was okay, for now.

I grabbed the branch now, because I was all that was keeping all of us from washing downstream past the park.  Pam decided her best bet was to just jump out and drag us to shore.  Had she told me this I'd have warned her off, but before I knew what her plan was, she swung her legs over the side and jumped off.  The water was deep here though, over her head, and she plunged below the surface, rolling her kayak in the process.  She boobed up and was able to grab her paddle that was floating away, and her life jacket that was not on, and somehow scramble to shore.  Now I was the only thing holding me and Jessica, and our 2 swans, and an empty kayak from being swept downstream.   I looked at Jessica and said, in the most serious intense way I could convey, "I ~PROMISE~ I will not let you go Jessica.  I've got us, and I will.  Not.  Let.  Go."  (I'm pretty sure I looked like an older flabbier version of this animated heroine.  Or something.)

Then I looked over my shoulder to see the giant America boat headed right for me.  I go, "Don't hit me!"  The poor guy rowing, who had clearly lost all control said, "I'm not trying to, but..." right before his boat (a giant Amercian flag possibly the last thing I would ever see) (I felt a bit like an oil-rich third world country just then) smashed right into me.  A second later the canoe smashed into them.  We now had a clusterfuck of 3 boats, one without a pilot, and 6 swans hung up on the willow branch, and I was the only one who had a good hold of the branch.  Then across the bow of the America boat I saw a swan slowly up-end and go upside-down.

I yelled, "Someone is in the water!  Who went in the water!  We need to find them RIGHT NOW!"  To my immense relief a head immediately appeared-- my friend Linda, her big floppy sunhat inexplicably somehow still on, and a big smile on her face.  "Me," she chirped cheerfully, waving.  "It was me.  I'm fine."

I yelled for the people on shore and closest to shore, where it was shallow, to start grabbing anything and anyone near them and hauling the mess ashore.  In a couple minutes it was down to just me, Jessica, and the empty kayak still in the river.  The guys from team America, and Pam began heroically reentering the river to get us, but I knew the second their feet went out from under them they'd just wind-up being more dead weight clinging to us, so I just started shouting, "HUMAN CHAIN! HUMAN CHAIN!" like a giant boss, but I wanted to stop anyone else from getting into jeopardy.

They did a chain of people and paddles and got to us and dragged us in and in the end it was all fine.
What's an adventure without at least one good war story?  My trusty swan didn't pop, just got plastered with river guck, and everyone was okay.  Pam was soggy and not too thrilled with my choice of exit spots, but unhurt, and even Jessica, who i expected to need some kind of therapy, seemed fine, and said she had a super good time and was glad she overcame her fears to make the journey.

I'm already planning future swan adventures.  Oh-- and team America?  They redeemed themselves with their river heroics, and with generously bringing a whole big bucket of cut up watermelon to share.   They were all actually very nice kids (I can say kids at my age, even though I'm sure they were in their 20's).  It even made us reconsider our no dudes rule.  Someone needs to paddle after all.  Now practically everyone wants swans.  :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

How I got the biggest job of my career (so far).

Hey people.  There's been a lot going on art-wise lately.  Some of you have heard about some big commission I was competing for, but no one really knew the details because I didn't want any of that info out there until I had presented my proposal to the selection committee.  But here's how it all went down and what is going to happen:

 First of all-- I got it.  The committee picked me unanimously over two other highly qualified, much bigger outfits than me, with tons more resources at their disposal than I have.  They said they just liked my artwork and design concepts better, and I was the best prepared of the 3 candidates.  Not to take anything away from them, but I think at the end of the day, I just wanted it more.

The job was to design an "entry feature" for a special outdoor classroom at a school in my hometown.  This outdoor classroom is part of a larger national program to educate preschoolers about nature and the environment.  The school itself is on the national register of historic places.  They'd like to begin incorporating artwork into their site, and make it an artistic destination eventually.

Other things the committee was looking for in terms of this project was to welcome the public to the site, draw attention to the site and the program, emphasize nature, reflect the historic significance of the site, and be attractive/appealing to children.

The entrance of the outdoor classroom is set back off the road, in a shady area among tall pines.  Not very conducive to "attention getting/ welcoming".  I decided my entry feature would begin well before the actual entrance; at the door of the school itself practically.  One way to attract attention is to create a directional flow to the area in question.  My idea: a herd of deer running along the side of the school towards the nature classroom, jumping the fence, and one deer inside the classroom itself.
I am still just learning to illustrate on the computer, so it took me a while to draw the deer and get the images onto a photo of the school, but I figured it out.  It's not perfect, but gives a pretty good visual idea.  I've learned people are usually not as good at visualizing things as me.  They could look at this picture, and still not really understand how 3D sculptures would look in real life, compared to a picture.  Also, I wanted to demonstrate that if they hired me, since I am a one woman show with no staff to pay, that more of their $ would go directly into the art.  So I went ahead and framed in one of the deer.

I brought the sculpture with me into the room where the final selection interview took place.  They were all impressed as it is quite large and very accurate and detailed.  A funny moment was when I said, "Wouldn't it be cool to see how this would look right in front of your school right now?"  A bunch of nodding heads agreed, that would be pretty cool.  I pushed a button on my computer and the above image appeared on a giant screen behind me.  "BAM!" I said.  Everyone laughed.  You can see the actual sculpture looks almost exactly like the first deer in my drawing/photo image, so I was able to establish in their minds how the whole concept would play out.  (They also thought it was funny when I opened with telling them we had plenty of time for my interview because I had contacted my competitors and told them the day's activities had been cancelled.  Hey-- just putting it out there-- I want this job!) 

Remember me talking about how difficult it was to get my animal drawings into the illustrator program, and then figure out how to convert it to a cad format Solidworks could read?  After hours and hours of trying a million ways of doing this, I finally figured it out and was able to get my samples laser cut, and then powder coated.  This is what the skin of each deer will be made of, so their bodies will look more solid than the framework deer I showed them.  Having this patch of sample "skin" to pass around and allow them to feel was helpful  I could demonstrate my designs had no sharp corners or edges.

Then I could offer them an option.  To me the white deer pop against the dark brick and the shade of the site, but bright colors could work too.  It was important to me, that even though this is being designed for an area that is for children, that the artwork not be dumbed-down, or look too commercial or institutional.  I wanted the forms to be sophisticated.  Color won't change that.

Next up: designing the entrance itself.  I based the doorway design on a stylized one room schoolhouse, with 3 branches to represent that this school is about nature.  Also, we are a river town, so a family of blue herons (a locally found bird) would be roosting on it.  I again had to use my developing illustration skills to get this across.  Not whiz-bang, but not bad.

I had past work to fall back on here.  I could show them past herons I have made to demonstrate the level of detail that would be involved in the final product.

The final part of the interview concerned an idea for an "entry plaza" they'd like to make at some point in the future outside of the entry.  We were told this was not going to be included in our bid, and we would not be expected to install, provide materials, or even design this, but they wanted to know what our ideas would be.  They wanted a conceptual design for it.  I did not put very much emphasis on this, because I knew they'd have to fund this project separately anyway.  I simply showed them this picture of some mosaic work I found online, and said I thought a ribbon of blue mosaic running through the concrete patio up  to the entrance that looked like a river would be cool, and left it at that.

When they asked for more details about this, I simply said I hadn't researched this part very intensively, because my job at hand was to concentrate on the artwork they wanted to install right now.  I am not a concrete expert.  That is surely something I could learn more about, and even design more comprehensively, but at this point I was not prepared to offer more.

Both other candidates designed very elaborate patio areas that looked impressive, but when you drilled down, they weren't included in their bids, and apparently the committee concluded what they were offering in terms of artwork fell short of what I was offering and had even gone ahead and created.  Also I used far more of the funding budgeted to all of us for our design work for materials, and even produced usable work.  There wasn't one question that was asked that I was unprepared to answer.  I'd been eating breathing and sleeping this project for weeks, and it showed.

I am so thrilled to get this job.  It will be amazing to get to walk down the street from my house and see and major public installation of my own artwork!