Monday, February 27, 2012

Sharing the Wealth

The idea of sharing what one does creatively is extremely unnerving to some and even crippling to others. Sharing our work, our art, is a very intimate and revealing experience. The number of people I have known who were amazingly talented creatives who didn't feel comfortable sharing their paintings, drawings, poems and songs is in the hundreds. Even people I knew for years. . . suddenly one day I find out they are oil painters or poets with so much beauty hidden away in under the seams of their ordinary lives.

Of course, once we make the decision to share and to offer it up to the universe, there is a whole new set of concerns. It seems, with the advent of e-commerce, the problematic issue of "copying" has hit an epidemic proportion. And I am not so sure it is an epidemic in terms of the reality of it as much as the perceptions many people hold as to what copying is.

Back in the days of craft shows and art festivals, which I did many of with friends who were not as comfortable in the public eye talking up their work as I was, I heard this line all the time:

"Oh, I could make that!"

And I bet that those words are now uttered tens of thousands of times a day in the privacy of browsing from our e-homes. Everything is more visible. More accessible.

Even in those days it was infuriating to some to think that people would come to these fairs, look through their work and then go home and try to copy what they had seen.

It never bothered me. Of course, it wasn't MY work they were going to try and copy but, if my years and wealth of human experience in the service and coffeehouse industries have taught me nothing else. There are two types of people, those who talk about what they are going to do and those who actually do what they say they are going to do. The latter is definitely the minority.

I believe in sharing what I do and yes, I am trying to carve out a living doing it, but that has only served to make me less concerned about the copiers. Most of whom have no idea how, or no intention of, making a living with their art (or mine).

I believe in sharing my creations because I know deep down that I have brought incredibly original work into this world that is very hard to replicate. Even if the techniques are there, the materials and the desire, without the SOUL that went into it there is no way they will succeed.

And, if someone wants to try, I am truly not bothered by it. That said I will flip out if I see someone copying another artist I admire or know personally. Go figure! Just as I have sent my share of "Have you seen this?" emails to sellers who have had their work "borrowed" I would expect that I would receive the same in return.

I am at a loss often to understand what some people think is copying. With my work, I feel that I cannot copyright French country buildings or surreal landscapes or Egyptian statues or Fairy houses or even the shape, color and composition of these things individually.

I believe the true originality is in the whole package. The story I create with many of them. The presentation and the style that evolves over hundreds of attempts, successes and failures.

My shops have developed, I feel, a style reflective of my soul.
No one, in my opinion, can touch that.

And if someone tries to copy THAT, oh I will definitely be in touch with them.  
But not over a pattern or a color scheme or a title or a tag or a theme.
I didn't invent any of that. It was already out there.
As are 99.9% of the things we deem to be a part of our own art.

It's what we create with it, from within, that gives it uniqueness.

And isn't it better to put the time and focus into making what we do better?
Growing it beyond a pattern or a technique?

I, personally, would rather spend my hours sharing that with the world. . .  freely. . .  and hopefully having it touch and inspire others inside as well.

Thanks for reading. . .


Another view on Sharing by fellow etsian artist Viktoria can be found here:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Source of Inspiration

“There’s a mystery there, a clue, a nut, a bolt, and if I put it together, I find me.” 
- Maurice Sendak

I seem to never be at a loss for inspiration. . .

I sit down at my little corner music studio and a song will always come out. I pick up polymer clay and something new is always fighting to be given life. I throw a piece of paper in the typewriter (Yes, typewriter!) and several poems will emerge. I take raw, mundane photographs and look at them and I see an image and story where there is none.

How is it possible to never have a lack of inspiration? Well, for me, be it a blessing or a curse, it is two things that are like the positive and negative of the electrical wiring that charges my creative spirit and makes this kid's battery go, go, GO!

One is, I long ago buried any notion that I was controlling creativity, It never works for me. I just dive in head first with no sense of success or failure as a barometer and no expectation of what may await.  I let it come to me on it's terms.  It teaches me. It guides me. It is never wrong.

There is no great revelation I await. No reward at the end. Creation has always been my chosen companion. I have always turned to it as therapy, as sure as I would a long standing friend. I do not argue with it or try to tell it what to do.  It has never let me down.

Creating is, to me, a life's work and a pursuit that is as beautifully simple and as mundane as any work I might choose could be. 

And second? A deep connection to my childhood imagination that I have never, and will never, let go of.

Every artist I have loved in my life seems to offer one consistent piece of advice. Whatever the medium, it is to "create from what you know."

Paint what you know. Write what you know. etc etc And, I will add to that and say that I believe we will never know more than we did when we were children. Oh, we learn much as adults and sometimes we have to relearn things again and again. . . but I am positive that as children, we are closer to the inherent truths of this world than we may ever be again. Any of you who HAVE children, you know this to be true. That sense of truth is lost in so many ways along the road to adulthood. .  .not always in bad ways or through ill intent.

I have, in the pursuit of living and creating a life as a full time "maker of things", had to unlearn much of what I have been taught about the world and what we "must" do as adults.

Of course, I always knew these things as a child but as an adult, I was taught differently. . . and, as I see it now, incorrectly.  I return to the things I knew in those early days. So far, it turns out they were right all along.

So those are my resources for inspiration.
The source of the well that has never run dry.
May it be the same for you in your own way.


This topic was inspired by the post at the AG Team Blog here:

Other creative views on it can be found here:

And here:

Salt Air - Poem

Settling into our new coastal home and the difference in my soul is palpable. I do not know why I stayed away so long even though I can see how things have worked out over time and it was all necessary. . . . but ohhhhhh I am glad to be here once again.


Salt Air
On this perfectly still morning, the fog nestles down into the ridge line,
Blurring the form of the tall trees into nothing more than a jagged sketch.
A seismograph in the morning sky
Even here, in the stillness of this pale place
As in the stillness of a pale heart
There is activity

Outside the window, more activity
People are passing through
As most do here
This is not a “place to be”
And I am pleased to be in a place where this is the rule
Happy to be free of all the corners where everyone is talking about their destinations
Hurrying into their next chapter
With so much left unwritten in the one before
All those years ago I was dreaming of a destination too
I left a place, just like this
All in a hurry to get somewhere
To find something
To become someone
I never would become

Stepping outside the rattling door of the little bakery
I am greeted by the squall of the seagulls
All around me the fog has dipped itself down into the bay
Settling along the harbor and covering this little corner of the world
I breathe in
The salt air filling my lungs, as the essence of who I am,
Who I always have been
Appears again on the distant horizon
Like little tremors deep within
A ridge line of activity
Recorded here in my heart

nicolas hall 2012

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Art Forms #1 - The Clockwork Monk

This is the first in a series of posts about things I find incredibly wonderful and works of art no matter the form they come in.

The Clockwork Monk

In the Smithsonian Institution is a sixteenth-century automaton of a monk, made of wood and iron, 15 inches in height. Driven by a key-wound spring, the monk walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he brings the cross to his lips and kisses it. After over 400 years, he remains in good working order. Tradition attributes his manufacture to one Juanelo Turriano, mechanician to Emperor Charles V. 

The story is told that the emperor's son King Philip II, praying at the bedside of a dying son of his own, promised a miracle for a miracle, if his child be spared. And when the child did indeed recover, Philip kept his bargain by having Turriano construct a miniature penitent homunculus. Looking at this object in the museum today, one wonders: what did a person see and believe who witnessed it in motion in 1560? The uninterrupted repetitive gestures, to us the dead giveaway of a robot, correspond exactly in this case to the movements of disciplined prayer and trance.

taken from:

ELIZABETH KING / Clockwork Prayer: A Sixteenth-Century Mechanical Monk

Friday, February 10, 2012

In Every Dream Home A Heartache

I needed a place to stay and my friend Carla told me her boyfriend had a house I could rent. It was the house he grew up in and though it had not been lived in for years, she said that it would be good for Henry to "clean it up and move on."

I was not sure what she meant by that but I was excited by the prospect of having a two story house to live in for under 400 dollars.

Time passed and I definitely got the sense that Henry was in no hurry to have anyone move into the house. He was always too busy or too tired to go over and do the clean up as was needed. Finally, after about two months, Carla said, 'Let's you and I just go over there so you can see the house. That will help Henry get motivated.

When the day came, Henry managed to take off work to accompany us. He said he was going to start cleaning while we looked around.

Entering the house was like entering a moment frozen in time. Nothing had changed from the last time someone had actually lived here which was, by my understanding Some 11 years before. Everything was fairly outdated from the furniture to the calender on the kitchen wall that had not been turned in that same 11 year period.

Henry spoke of his childhood and his family. Growing up in that house and all the memories that were clearly tied to each item he touched and each corner he turned. .His Mother had died first and then, several years later, his father passed. Since then, the house had remained pretty much the way it was.

His bedroom closet was filled with clothes from his college days. The wine cellar had kegs of homemade wine pressed from the fruit of the grapevines in the backyard. The yard, overgrown and rough, still had garden spots marked carefully by sticks and trellis.

The whole thing shook me a bit and left me unsure as to whether or not I even wanted to live there but Carla was insistent. "Henry needs to move on." she said. We will clean it out this weekend and you can move in.

They did.

I did.

I am certain I told this story many times back then to family and friends and, at the time, I am sure I laughed and thought it unreasonable that anyone would maintain a house like that for so many years after their parents were gone and yet, not live there or change it around at all.

Suddenly, the other day, this story resurfaced in my mind. And, as i have battled for many years to find the words to explain to my own mother why I do not wish to live in the city of my birth, let alone in the house I grew up in, it all suddenly looked very different.

The house I grew up in has changed so much.  My mother, after the passing of HER parents took a course of action that was meant to simplify the care of the house. In doing so, she took away all of those things that would make my soul desire to cling, as Henry's did, to the wonderful times passed.

The trees I played in and around as a boy are gone. The giant blue spruces that I hid under and whose thick, spiny branches shaded me on hot summer days are all gone. The mass of ivy along the driveway that held bits and pieces of my childhood imaginings for me to rediscover, like an archaeologist, every year as I helped my grandfather with summer chores into adulthood, is gone. The basement room that, as I grew up in into my teens, that I lived in, created in, dreamed in is now changed completely. The kitchen, the living room, the back yard, the front porch. . . all the places I have such beautiful memories of are no longer as they were.

The things I hold onto in time deep inside of my soul, the old wooden tool chest or the armoire of my grandfather, the sewing machine or the Lowery organ of my grandmother

The lawn mower, the smell of saturday cook fests, the warmth of the house on biting winter days.

The clamor of great aunts and uncles visitng and playing cards. The trips to the mall with my mother, the sound of the old rotary phone ringing, the days spent creating worlds of my own choosing. Playing make believe games and winning make believe championships. . .

The truth is, if these things were somehow still present there, I would likely be drawn back. I would want to dwell within them for a little while longer.

But I know things change. They have to.
I realize this.

Today, I owe Henry a huge apology.  All these years later, the house that I thought so odd and so unusual. The way I probably spoke of it all then. . .

No Henry, YOU had it right. To hold onto what is good and precious to you as long as you can is always to be an honored decision. Maybe it WAS time for you to "move on" but that should always be up to the person who is living with those memories and within that reality. Especially a reality that was so comprised of love.

It's one thing you can truly call your own, after all.

Image from myantarctica shop on Etsy

In Every Dream Home
Copyright 2010 nicolas hall

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's All About a Mood - Working With A Model

I think, as a "builder" of visual art who wants to convey meaning and emotion in my images I have discovered that the most important aspect of creating what I see in my mind successfully is to be sure
the subject I place in the image is tuned in to the same idea.

I began shooting models to incorporate into my work 5 years ago.  It has taught me so much about how to successfully create the work I envision. And how to "listen" visually to the expression of another and to let ideas come from that perspective instead of just my own.

Now, let me reveal this about my imagery that you may not know. If you see an image of mine that includes the human form, I almost always shoot raw images of the model in the most mundane of settings; a living room, a plain backdrop, a simple floor. I choose to create my images from heavy editing and compiling of several/many photos and not from setting up a complete scene to shoot as one image.

In starting down this road I quickly realized how important the mood and presence of the model is going to be to what I do. What they project in their posture, eyes and body language is what the camera picks up.  And that I cannot edit that away so easily.

This is true of all photography using models and, I believe, as much if not more so in the context of product photography. It's not enough to have a "stand in" hold your product and pose. It has to be the right person, with the right energy, because no matter the product you will usually find that they dominate the frame. This is great if they are really present and alive in the frame and, no matter the work of art they are modeling, terrible if they are not.

So it is important to have a model who is comfortable and who is able to be very natural with the product or in the setting you've place them in.  I am not a big fan of the blank, supermodel, indifferent, detached look. I find mannequins far more interesting to view actually. I WANT the human component in every one I shoot to come alive and help create the image. To guide my imagination into the visual experience.

Over time I have moved away from having a slate of concrete ideas when I photograph someone and, instead, it's important to me to learn about them, how they view life and themselves and who they truly are so that I can transform the images into ideas based on what they have revealed as well as what I see in them as the observer.

Sometimes I go back to work I shot three or four years ago and suddenly see something in the raw image that I did not before. Then the idea is born and I get to creating it.

Below is an example that I wanted to share of how I go from raw to finished work.

I shot these images of Corrie back in 2008. She drove from Boise ID to Portland to work with me. We had several long conversations and many email exchanges before the day we spent shooting. We settled upon this idea together of  "The Dollhouse" which is a series about how people are often treated as the new toy in someones life and then, over time, as interest is lost and new toys come into play, discarded.

The fact that Corrie is double jointed allowed for some of the most wonderful and surreal poses to come through. Below is the title page for the series with the original photo of Corrie and then the constructed image as completed.

The bookcase in the finished images is actually a little toy wooden one I bought at goodwill for 3 dollars. It is only 6 inches high but the drawers pull out and I filled it with the items shown one by one from photos I took along the way.

What is never lost throughout this series is that Corrie pulled the doll "look" off to perfection.  Not easy to do when you think about it. Not quite blank but wide eyed and singularly emotive. Perfect in the lack of a "self". The images get disturbing as the series goes on, using her double-jointedness to cram her figure (in editing that is) into the wardrobe side and into drawers and, finally, bent in half head and feet almost touching BEHIND the dresser. . . staring up with the same blank look.

This is the ONLY person I have worked with who could have pulled this off. I listened to what her story was. Her input was crucial to making this truly work.

For products OR images, finding the right model to show off your idea or your handmade dresses, jewelry or tote bags is just as important. Especially for online shopping where the visual image and description are the ONLY interaction people have with your product. Remember that your product has a mood. Everything does. . . so think about what you want to convey, what style, what age group is it for, is it casual or formal, serious or quirky, is it an outdoor or indoor product, etc etc and, in all of that, find the person who best fits those qualities and let them shine!


And here is another set of wonderful posts you can check out on working with a model from the product photography world:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Turning Points

There are moments that, in retrospect, seem to be a turning point in your life.

I left the Oregon coast 11 years ago.

At the time I made that decision I felt that I wasn't quite as ready for the small town life as I thought when I first moved there in back in 1995. I had picked up my life and taken it across the country to be near the ocean, near THIS ocean, and to experience the natural world as I never had before. I moved there because, upon first visit in the spring of 1995, everything had seemingly just aligned itself and I was offered a job and a chance to do what I love.

I moved there because life was going to be simpler and, much to my surprise as an East coast boy,  a whole lot more affordable. I moved there as a stepping stone. I could never have seen beyond that first step. . .

The next five years were to be both the best and worst of my life.

When I made the decision to leave the coast, I felt I really needed the diversity and bustle of the city again to inspire me and to move energy around me. I had done a lot there and accomplished things I never would have had I not lived there. I found my voice in many ways but I still felt that I needed to be where things were "happening" and people were creating all the time.  I felt i needed to balance my life between my creativity and a job and being around people I could relate to. I thought that my work would be best served in a place more like the East coast cities I grew up in.

Basically I had a lot of excuses for what I hadn't been able to do.

When in truth, the reasons I was leaving had more to do with the fact that I had lost sight of the beauty surrounding me, and within me, and I simply wasn't ready to accept the need for the deep silence of creating. Looking back now I can see that I was actually exactly where I needed to be for my creative work to really flourish and thrive. I had the time. I had the space. And, most importantly, I had the silence.

But I left.

Now,  flash forward 11 years later, (oh I'll get to telling you all those experiences in between in time) and I really do not have any regrets. I will tell you that I have felt something missing these last 11 years but only in the last few has it really reared it's head in front of me.

I am returning to the Oregon coast in one week, albeit to a different town. I think for the last few years I have known that I've needed to willingly walk into the deep end of silence to further my work.
This is life work. Work that began years before that first relocation. Work that began in the silence of my childhood days among those wildly varied Pennsylvania skies and seasons.

Work that began in the limitless imagination of a little boy.

I've also realized that "balance" is a very delicate concept in and of itself and, for each of us, it is unique. For me, this will never again mean trying to juggle an assortment of pursuits and things that I like or fell I should be part of socially, but instead, to really pour myself into the few things my soul craves and thrives upon. Just as I did all those years ago.

So ok, I can admit that I needed these years in the city too. I needed to reach this point where I can face my own limitations and mortality and realize that the clock never stops ticking and that whether I live the life I know I am drawn to live or not is a matter of my choosing it. Nothing really stands in the way but me.

But that first step is probably going to be a doozy again . . .

Most of all I realize that what I needed was to learn how to find that deep silence here in the midst of the never ending urban cacophony of so many people with so much angst and so many stories they are dying to tell. I needed to temper my will and my desire so that, when I return to the silence of the coast, to the lull of the timeless ocean and the simplicity of nature, I will not allow the outside noises to move in again.

I will not listen to those voices INSIDE that love to tell us we can't, we won't, we shouldn't and that we aren't worthy. The same voices I now realize the noise and static of the city drowns out momentarily in many unhealthy ways.

I want to close the door on them myself. . . forever

Life turning points are like the tides of an ocean, they cycle too, which means that what we think is gone is just in the midst of a cycle and it will return.

 I started this blog to remind myself of,  and to share, the experiences I have had across these 40+ years with anyone who wants to follow along. I started it as a place to collect my thoughts and my inspirations from the past and the present. I started it as a place to speak from the silence that I am now choosing to embrace.

I hope a few of you will follow suit. . . and share your experiences too.

But for now,


"To be an artist, you need to exist in a world of silence." -  Louise Bourgeois