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Craft as performing art

January 4, 2008

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Gilded Roman lettering for the village church

Photo by Rende Zoutewelle

A concert pianist practices a piece, ironing out the mistakes until it is as perfect as possible. But the ultimate test of her skill  and experience comes in front of a live audience when there is only the present moment…. and no chance to do it over. 

There are similar moments in art and fine craft even though the audience is not present until completion.
I’ve been working on a sign for several months now. The letter design, layout,  spacing revisions, transfer to the prepared board have all been done. The last weeks have been spent gilding the large Roman capital letters. And today came the performance bit- outlining the entire text with black oil based enamel. You basically get one chance.

Of course there is some margin for error, and I have a whole battery of correction devices lined up in front of me to catch a wayward tremor or blob. Too much pressure on the brush creates too thick a line. Getting paint on the still delicate gold surface could ruin the entire letter. Too much solvent in the paint could dissolve the gold size. It is so scary to start, and so high when you somehow face down the natural trepidation and make those first strokes, risking ruining weeks of work.

Also I learned an important lesson from Jovica Veljovic during a workshop I did with him. He explained the importance of leaving some slight irregularities in at the beginning of a piece, then one doesn’t have to strive for an almost impossible perfectionism.

Luckily, my client wants to see evidence of the human hand in these letters. And I find that by letting my perfectionism slip just a little, the whole effect is alive.

I mean, if he wanted perfect, he could have ordered stick-ons, right!!?

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