Friday, April 22, 2011

The Tag Tree


A few months before I started getting into the International Moleskin Exchanges, I ran into a Flickr group that working on installing strange flash mob art projects in urban settings around England for charity awareness and support. 

While I remain somewhat foggy on the details of how the charity connections worked, I do know that the contributors posted to the group were wonderful, and I wanted to be listed among them. Color this vanity, or ego, or maybe just a desire to try a hand at something new in a community of strangers, whatever the case, I signed up, and soon the real fun began.

The project involved decorating paper tags to mail in to a central source where the management team would collect all the tags, scna and post them to the group forum, then on some special day decorate a tree or small grove with the tags and throw a party or something to draw spectators and subsequent awareness to whatever agencies had agents available on site. 

Lindz had a lead on where to get the paper tags, and scored a bushel of them. How many to send remained up to me, though I set a high bar for myself and remain glad I did, though doing so ended up being a brutal undertaking. Color pencil wax stained stained hands, paper cuts, flecks of pencil sharpening debris still showing up in the sheets despite two years of regular washings, and never did receive my free art for the effort from the coordinators. Ah, well, chalk this one up to the merit of the journey. 


I began drawing on the tags and treating each as a canvas, then realized they were two sided, and that lead to seeing them as sort of fish, the eyelet at one end an actual eye. Thereupon the fish were born and for the most part I believe the many, many fish tags I made were the strongest pieces.
Each night for about two, maybe three weeks I piled onto the Queen sized bed beside my personal Her Majesty and piled my colored pencils, pens, white out, paper towels, Staedtler eraser, and heap of tassel tied tags to knock out one, two, five more, until I had the full swell of abundance I had hoped to contribute. 

Through the course of the project I designed several fish I’ll use again, either as part of the Marmot & Tentacle stories, or on their own somehow as a spiritual sibling to Dr. Suess’ Red Fish. Blue Fish. I designed a brother and sister team that rolled over into the Moly projects I subsequently got into. 

The brother and sister seem like they might be inspired by my love for Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother books, mixed with a little Psychonauts, some Beverly Cleary Ramona & Beezus, and some Tim Burton everything, particularly Beetlejuice, including the cartoon, and Nightmare. A smidge of Junko’s Hanzel & Gretel, and a heap of Taiyo Matsumoto's Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White.
I think they’ll make an interesting story at some point as well, though I’m not entirely sure what they’re even called. So far the style sounds derivative, though I don’t draw well enough for that to be a concern, no one will get confused, me for anyone else. My fumblings and flailings seem pretty distinctive, good, bad, or otherwise.

Once the stack of tags were done we got them in the mail as safe and securely as possible, sent them by air on their way to dangle from exotic trees somewhere in England. This filled me with a strange sense of emptiness, a little at a loss for purpose. After so many days of concerted effort, to run up short of a schedule looming, I shrugged with uneasy acceptance of having nothing immediately pressing to do beyond securing a pint to celebrate.

My wife, wise beyond her years and sensing my worry for having no deadlines or projects, suggested I use a few of the many remaining tags for gifts for the holidays. Eureka, I thought! And so I banged away a few more, a surge of coda, to excise the remaining notions and arty ideas I still had left, until I felt like I’d hit closure, or fatigue, or both, and called the project truly and completely done.

The tags look wonderful once they were arted up, and not just mine, most of the many, many contributions artists sent in from around the world. So many styles, mediums, conversions, additions, experimentation. Wonderful stuff. A whole lot of forehead slapping and wonderment at why I didn’t think of that, or that, or that…

The downside for the format is that after working so intensely on surfaces so small, I developed cricks in my wrists and aches in my hands that took some time to shake out. After the additional pieces for holiday gifts, I decreed to never again to marathon such small surfaces again unless getting substantially subsidized. Digital art might be taxing, but at least I can still wrangle chop sticks afterward. 

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