I finished installing Paper Mountain at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art last week. After one year of planning, three months of folding paper cranes, and one week of installation with a team, it feels good to see the project come to life and to share it with others.
Below are two time lapse videos showing the installation process from Saturday night through Wednesday. I used GoPros to shoot one photo per minute for the duration of the installation. The first video was shot from the ground floor, and the second was shot from the mezzanine for a bird’s eye view. These are the steps we followed to install Paper Mountain:
Assemble the scaffold (not for the faint of heart)
Place tape on the floor to mark the footprint of the mountain
Attach the wire fence to the ceiling trusses
Tie fishing line to the wire
Open each crane (fold wings down)
Pierce the top of a crane with a needle
Run fishing line through a crane
Place crane at correct height
Squeeze split shot (small lead weight) under the bird to hold it in place
For three months, artist Jessica Singerman set aside an hour or more nearly every day to hand-fold paper cranes. The end result of that meticulous exercise is “Paper Mountain,” a 13-foot-high, 30-foot-long installation that comprises more than 1,000 of these intricate figures.
It’s part of a new body of work that Singerman will debut in her upcoming exhibit, Beyond the Mountain, which runs through April 26 at the Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art following an opening reception on March 15. Also featuring pieces by abstract landscape painter Martha Armstrong, the show seeks to celebrate the human connection to nature and respond to the changing ways people interact with the outdoor environment.
Singerman, who majored in studio art at The College of William & Mary and received her MFA in painting from the University of Delaware, began incorporating nature into her artwork during a creative rut. As an undergrad, she focused on politically driven figurative work from a feminist perspective, but by graduate school, she had hit a roadblock.
“I didn’t feel like I had a lot to offer with the figure,” says Singerman, who lives in Winston-Salem. “And so I think as a result of that, I started exploring other avenues in my work.”
Like Armstrong, Singerman ultimately found her passion in landscape-based abstraction. After graduate school, she took a job as a cycling guide, leading tours across Europe, Central America and Australia. That adventurous outdoor lifestyle provided experiences that continue to influence and shape her work today.
“I started living on the road a lot, and then when I would get home, I had all these images in my head of all these places I’d been, outdoor places,” Singerman says. “Especially now looking back, I understand that a lot of that was fodder for my imagination. All these outdoor landscapes … you have all these memories of places you go, and all of that goes into my work as an artist. I think about all of these different spaces that I’ve been to.”
“Paper Mountain” marks a departure from painting for Singerman, who says the feeling she wanted to evoke with the project couldn’t be captured on canvas.
“I wanted to create something that was more immersive for viewers in a way that when we go outside, if we’re by a mountain or a big tree, we sense a presence that is bigger than us, and it’s awe-inspiring,” Singerman says. “And so I wanted to make something that would try to do that.”
For Singerman, the main challenge was finding the right kind of paper.
“Because I wanted to make something big, I couldn’t use regular origami paper,” she says. “And the big paper, the tough thing was to find something that wasn’t too thick, because then it doesn’t fold well. And it couldn’t be too flimsy; otherwise, it would just fall over. It had to have some kind of structure.”
Through trial and error, Singerman landed on drawing paper, and from November 14, 2018, through February 12, 2019, she dedicated a portion of each day — aside from three days to attend a painting workshop — to folding the 1,200 paper cranes.
And “Paper Mountain” isn’t the only part of Beyond the Mountain that has moved Singerman out of her artistic comfort zone.
A complementary installation called “Sky Project” includes 75 images of the sky, crowdsourced through Instagram, that will be projected onto the gallery’s walls. The project is a response to the modern-day desire to document much of our lives on social media and how that has altered the way we experience nature.
“I think of people going to places outside to then post about it, which is really interesting,” Singerman says. “In a way, it’s nice that it’s driving people to national parks or to go outside and do stuff. But on the other hand, there are places that are overcrowded now, because they weren’t meant to have so many people visiting them. So there’s a double-edged sword that’s happening with social media and the outdoors. The question I wanted to ask with this project is, can we have pure experiences outside? Can we go outside and be there and not have to filter everything with our phones?”
Here I am in the studio working on one of the paintings that will be shown with Paper Mountain and Sky Project starting next week.
I began the painting in acrylic. The paint’s rapid drying time allows me to work quickly, putting down layers of paint as I figure out the direction of the painting. You’ll notice when I swap carts that I am switching to oil paint. These dry more slowly and have a texture I really enjoy. They are very creamy and allow me to work wet into wet for relatively long periods of time.
On November 14th, 2018, I started folding 1200 birds for Paper Mountain. Well I actually started earlier, but all the birds I folded before then didn’t make the cut. I was testing out papers, and didn’t find the right combination of size and weight until the middle of November. So from mid November until February 12th, I folded birds every single day without fail (except for 3 days spent painting at a workshop). In this video, I am folding the last of the 1200 birds. As soon as I folded that last bird, I felt a tinge of nostalgia. I really enjoyed my daily folding (typically 1-2 hours per day).
From March 9-14, I’ll be installing Paper Mountain and Sky Project at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC. The exhibit opens on March 15th. I’m still raising money to make this project happen, and I’d love it if you would contribute and be a part of this big undertaking. Thanks to everyone who has already contributed to the project!
Please forward and share this with all your friends!
Note: The video is sped up 2x and it’s set to Ella Fitzgerald’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
Here’s a time lapse video showing the process of making an abstract landscape painting. This one was the third in a series of four that I made. You may notice the little drawing pinned up to the right of the painting. This is a loose reference drawing that I made from a friend’s photo of a valley in Spain. The photo really inspired me when I saw it – something about the big space, the layering of shapes of grass, ground, rock, and sky – so I asked my friend if I could make some work inspired by the photo.
If you look closely, you’ll see that part of the way through I swapped my acrylic cart out for my oil painting tabouret. I often start my paintings in acrylic so that I can more quickly put down successive layers of paint (acrylic dries very quickly – for a split second I use a hair dryer to speed up the process), then I move into oil paint which dries much more slowly. Some people are sticklers to one medium over the other, but I think they each have their benefits and drawbacks, and they are ultimately means to an end. I use what works best for me at any point during the process. Once you start working in oils though, there’s no going back to acrylic. The painting would literally fall apart since acrylic dries too fast for the oil paint to dry properly under it.
If you search for “How to Collect Art” you’ll find articles on how to build a “serious” art collection, a collection with vision that could be exhibited by museums. What’s harder to find is how to buy art that you want to live with. And what no one talks about is how to buy art if you feel like an art world outsider.
Buying art doesn’t have to be intimidating.
The art scene has changed in the last decade. With the internet, you can now buy directly from artists in addition to buying from galleries. And while the art world may seem hermetic and elitist, if you start to explore the art scene, you’ll find that there is a warm community of people who love creating, looking at, and talking about art – people who care deeply about art and its role in the world.
If you are intrigued by art but uncomfortable around it, the best thing you can do is to educate yourself. See as much art as possible, go to art openings, go to galleries and museums, talk to artists and art dealers. Ask questions! As you are exposed to art and talk to people about it, you’ll find that the way you see will shift. You’ll learn to appreciate work that you may have ignored before. You’ll also start to get a feel for what you like or respond emotionally to.
When you decide to buy something, it should be because you love it, because you want to live with it, because it inspires you – not because someone told you it was a good investment or because someone else said it was nice (unless it’s a gift of course!).
An easy way to get into buying art is to buy from a well-respected gallery, where attentive staff can answer your questions and steer you toward art you’ll love.
Another way is to get to know professional artists. You’ll be surprised to find out that most professional artists are not weird or unapproachable, and that instead, they are hard-working small business owners. Ask the artist about their work and about what inspires them. As you learn more, you’ll gain a more profound connection to that artist’s work. And when you buy from living artists, you are helping foster their career by supporting their work. As artists, when we sell paintings to people who love them, it is validating. It feels great to know that the work we poured ourselves into matters to someone else – that someone connected with our work. When you buy artwork from a living artist, you are saying that you believe in their work. And as an artist it is comforting to know that an artwork is going to a good home where the work will be loved and cared for.
If you have any questions or comments about buying art, feel free to reach out.
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Around the holiday season, I make a series of small works on paper to send to collectors of my paintings as a way of saying thank you. This time-lapse film documents the process of making the mixed media drawings I sent this year. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that I started working on light blue paper, but eventually switched to a white paper. The blue paper felt too flimsy, so I used a heavier-weight watercolor paper instead. You’ll also notice in the upper left corner when I cut the new watercolor paper. I think my favorite part of the video is seeing all the tools move around as I used them.
This was shot over the course of two days, with a photo once every 10 seconds. I used watercolor, graphite, ink, wax pastels, colored pencil, and gouache (opaque watercolor). Enjoy!
I moved around a lot as a kid. My mom is French and my dad is American, so we lived both in the US and France for a few years at a time. I didn’t feel like I fit in in either country. We also spent a lot of time doing outdoor stuff. We hiked, camped, ran, rode bikes, and played a lot of imaginary games outside. I remember building tree houses, making magic potions with mud and flowers, and pretending to be on secret missions and outdoor expeditions. I may have also made a fire in the middle of our backyard so I could make s’mores and cook beans in a can. (Don’t tell my parents.) Anyway, when I was in the outdoors, I was at home. No matter what country I was in, when I was doing stuff outside, I felt at home.
Growing up, I also spent a lot of time drawing and making things. Looking back, I realize that the experience of making things was and still is the same for me: I am focussed, nothing else matters except for what I am making at that moment, and in the best case scenario, I am in a state of flow. This feeling of being in the moment and fully engaged with my environment and what I am doing is similar to my experience when I am enjoying the outdoors. Whether in a forest or on a mountain top, what resonates with me are the feelings of being connected to the world and at the same time, of being small in a vast universe. While I can portray what an outdoor scene looks like by making a landscape painting, through abstraction, I explore what it feels like to be outside.
It’s through making things and being in the outdoors that I am able to connect to the world and to find my place in it. In the outdoors, we are reminded of how small we are in the world. We experience the vastness of the universe and at the same time, the interconnectedness of it all. For me, I don’t feel like my words do these feelings justice. But in my artwork, abstraction in particular, I can explore the human experience in the outdoors, the spiritual element of being in the outdoors – that feeling of both being small and being connected to a vast universe.
Being a human is complicated. Spending time in the outdoors and making things helps me make sense of life – of my place in the world. When I make things, I express what I feel but that I don’t have the words to explain. Through abstraction, I try to communicate the complexity and the vastness of the human experience.
In a 2016 interview with German newspaper Tagesspiegel, the performance artist Marina Abramović said: “I had three abortions because I was certain that it would be a disaster for my work. One only has limited energy in the body, and I would have had to divide it. In my opinion that’s the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There’s plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family, children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that.”
In 2012 when my husband and I were living in Australia, we had a baby. I was in a typical new parent sleepless daze for months. After two months I realized I was losing my sense of self, and the best way I could think of to regain it was to make things every single day. I had been browsing books at the local Michael’s on a trip Stateside with my parents, and found a book called 365: A Daily Creativity Journal: Make Something Every day and Change your Life! by Noah Scalin. The book is full of prompts for projects to make every day for a year, and it struck a chord. That night I made a small drawing project and vowed to continue each day for the next year.
Let me back up a few years. After I completed my Masters in Fine Arts, I had trouble making things consistently. I worked on commissions and made things for exhibits. I made collaborative work. I even got a grant for a public art project in Adelaide, Australia. But I wasn’t making work every day, and it gnawed at me.
After I had a baby, time seemed to speed up and I got the feeling that I had no time to lose. I felt a sense of urgency to make work – that I had to make work to exist. Having a baby gave me a clarity of purpose and made my priorities very clear. I am here to make things, to paint, to create.
We now live Stateside, but I have this same sense of urgency in my practice. Up until January 1st 2019 I had another job, so I had to be ruthless about my studio time. I moved my studio time according to the needs of the family. Over the years my studio time varied from early in the morning before anyone was up to late at night after everyone was in bed, and everything in between. It is important to me to show up every day and make work.
I have figured out over the years that I am my best self when I regularly sustain my artistic practice. I have a visceral need to create. It’s how I connect to the world and how I make sense of things. Now it’s also my full time job, so I juggle my studio practice with the work needed to sustain that: writing, photo/video, marketing, web design and web building, accounting, setting up exhibitions, etc…
I also believe that Mrs. Abramović and all the other people who think that women must choose between making good work and being a parent, are mistaken. Being a parent has made me a more dedicated and more professional artist. It has given depth to my practice and given me vision both for my work and for my life. I am grateful to my son for helping me uncover my path.
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I came across my first Mary Oliver poem somewhere in a field in Pennsylvania when I was 23. It was autumn, the sky was big, there were wild geese flying overhead and forest around us. One of my artist friends brought a book of poetry, and when she read the first line of the poem “Wild Geese:”
“You do not have to be good.”
I was stunned. “You don’t?” I thought to myself. As a young woman, to hear this so bluntly spoken was a revelation. It’s the opposite of everything I had been taught growing up. I listened to my friend read the rest of the poem. She loaned me the book, Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, and I poured over its pages. My love affair with Mary Oliver’s poetry began at this point, and I often consulted it when trying to come up with titles for my artwork. I often don’t know what my most abstract work is about until I have to come up a title for it. Mary Oliver’s poetry puts into words all of what I am feeling through my artwork. Images of the landscape and layering that with our experience as humans. Her writing is spare and to the point.
“… Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination…”
These are a few lines from that first poem I heard, “Wild Geese,” a poem originally from her 1986 book Dream Work.
If this resonated with you, I encourage you to check out Mary Oliver’s writing at your local library. And if you like this post, please share!