Aug 4, 2012

Why A.K.A. ZooLN?

I’ve always struggled with signing my name.

It took years to feel “worthy”—after all, if you sign a piece of artwork, you ARE an artist, and who are YOU to call YOURSELF an ARTIST, and so on and so forth till you realize, finally, after years, that it’s O.K. -really, -to sign your work -AND let it be seen -in PUBLIC. (It really is a psychological growth issue, not uncommon to lots of creative types.)

And while all that was spinning in my psyche, I was wrestling physically with my signature, which, like my handwriting, is about as out of control as my drawing and painting is under control.  I prefer pencil on paper or illustration board with tooth. Don’t give me some skinny pen to slide across some slickery piece of paper—I feel like a duck on ice.

Signing my name became a painful task. I had to contrive ways to make it work, or close my eyes, sign, and tell myself I didn’t care that it looked hideous. I could spend hours dredging up the courage for the attempt, and hours trying to “de-hideous” it.

And especially when I was painting in oils, signing my name began getting seriously tedious: my name is loooong and starts with an "S", which is a real mess to do in oils.  I remembered back to my childhood, watching "Zorro" as the masked, caped hero in black silks deftly sculpted an effortless "Z" into a drape, a wall, or the bad guy's shirt, and thought, Hmm... "Z"s are soooo much easier. 

And yeah, there was college:

I have a fabulous friend from college who (because she is highly creative herself) always played with people's names. So, instead of Sue, I became "Zoo".  And it didn’t take much to transform “Ellen” to “L N” among my college friends.

– So-- I sign the oil paintings (and just about all of my work now) as ZooLN (Sue El-len). Its quicker, less angst-ridden, and, most important of all, it looks cooler.

Aug 3, 2012

Yes, I'm having fun with this!

What more could I want? It's great to see my art on a doggie's t-shirt!!

Don has a Cafe Press site now, too!!

I’ve been working with Don’s images as well. (I'm getting better and better with Photoshop.) So he now has a Café Press site of his own:

It’s really cool to see new ideas emerge from the original art. And it’s fun to revive some of his older designs from his black and white speckled past. 

You can go directly to his website (New and Improved!!) here:


Jul 27, 2012

I have a Café Press site now!

Yea! At last! I can provide my images on usable and fun items at affordable prices—and I didn’t have to make or marry or murder for a $million in order to make it happen!!!

I guess this only underscores that I must be an Illustrator at heart—it pleases me to see my art work in print—and not just as frame-able prints and posters, but on mugs and t-shirts and note cards and tote bags and mouse pads, etc. If this attribute disqualifies my assuming the title of "Artist"--O.K., I'll live with that. 

Jun 2, 2012


What else can I say?

The Fire Mountain Gems and Beads contests are swamped with entries from all over the planet. I am pleased to have made the cut!!!!

My necklace design "Nice Catch" was selected as a Finalist in the 2011 Pearls Contest. I hope you like it, too!

"Nice Catch"

May 12, 2012

In honor of Edward Lear and his Nonsense

It’s May 12, 2012—International Owl & Pussycat Day!

In honor of the 200th birthday of Edward Lear, renowned for his Nonsense Poems, the UK is celebrating the day with limericks, recitations of his poems, and discussions of his life and works.

He is far less known for his landscapes paintings, done from his travels through Greece and the Near East, and for his ornithological studies that were declared to rival those of Audubon.

I fell in love with his nonsense verse with their accompanying nonsensical illustrations as a child.  Coming from a rather serious family I was stunned and delighted that anyone, no less an adult, was allowed to be so silly—on purpose.

And he loved cats. His beloved fuzzy Foss, lived to be 15 years old. His sorrow at his passing can only be imagined, for he himself died a mere 2 months later.

No doubt he would be surprised and amused to be celebrated internationally.

Cheers, Mr. Lear! Thanks for being silly and making serious nonsense!

Mar 9, 2012

Out of the blue . . . and into the black.

Not long ago, a client asked me if I could create a necklace for her in Black and Silver. Hummm, I thought, why hadn’t I explored that combination before?

Interesting idea . . .

Jewelry requires, even demands, a limited palette: not just of color, but texture, form, size, and shape as well. Every creation is imbued with its own logic, a composition running like music through it’s patterning and colors.

I am a painter first, and accustomed to having the full range of color at my disposal. I tend to swing from complexity to simplicity and back again simply because I can. I hate being restricted, unlike my artist husband, who has constrained his palette to nearly an absence of color. (How does he stand it?)

I guess I’m still enough of an Illustrator (as opposed to Artist, with a capital “A”) that I don’t mind requests or suggestions. I can always say “no, thanks” or “no way” or “ick”, and I can even whip out my capital “A” artist license if needed. (It’s still recognized in some circles.)

But requests like these show me paths I might not have seen, let alone taken, yielding ideas I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

Some artists react to suggestions as if they were confrontations. But I prefer to see them as challenges, opportunities to consider a different direction or calling for a new approach.

Collisions of thought, images, concepts, color, and design are the sweet spot of invention. The last thing I want is to be closed to a new idea, whether it emerges quietly from within or tackles me from the outside. (Like when a customer walks in and asks me if I could create a necklace for her in Black and Silver.)

So . . . in the final analysis, why not?

And, while I’m at it, why not do two designs--or three? (Like I said, I hate limits,) and choice is always the ultimate luxury. Who knows? Maybe she’ll buy more than one.

Fortunately, she didn’t; because by the end of the day, someone else did. Sometimes it pays (literally) to try new things. . .

Feb 25, 2012

Moretti's "Vulcan"

“Why didn’t they get somebody good? Like somebody who could really sculpt?”

That’s what used to go through my mind every time I looked up at Vulcan, the towering cast iron figure looming over the city of Birmingham from the top of Red Mountain.
I mean, what the heck happened here? His head is too big, his proportions are odd, --and what is he doing!? Is he reaching out to hand that spear to someone? What?!!

I’m from Texas; moved here in 2002. I didn’t know Alabama; I didn’t know Birmingham; I didn’t know Vulcan. (Heck, I’m still trying to get a handle on Alabama.)

I heard all the stories, all the mythologies aired anytime Vulcan was a topic on the local news or in conversation at a local bar or restaurant: He’s ugly because “he’s a dwarf,” or “malformed,--crippled, because his tempestuous goddess mother Hera, hurled him from the clouds of Olympus in a jealous rage at his father, Zeus.” He looks odd because “the artist purposely made the proportions to counter the foreshortening effect, so when you looked up from his feet he wouldn’t look out of proportion.”

Certainly, Vulcan, as Ironsmith to the Gods, was an excellent choice to represent Birmingham. A perfect symbol at least, for the Birmingham at the turn of the previous century, when the city it was a major engine of the Industrial Age. The natural occurrence of iron ore, coal, and limestone, not to mention the unmentionable, the source of poor cheap labor, made Birmingham a powerhouse.

I also learned heard the history of Vulcan’s trek to the 1904 St Louis World Fair, where he was celebrated heroically, and then returned home, to Birmingham, . . . to silence, disinterest, and confusion as to where he belonged. From medal-winning prize to hot potato in one train ride. A long way from champagne toasts in Missouri, he wound up back home dumped off the train as unclaimed, unpaid, freight, eventually winding up mis-assembled at the local Fairgrounds, where for years he was used as an advertising prop.

And when he finally got put up on Red Mountain (1935), his spear was exchanged for a night light, and he was used like a traffic accident update: Green for Good, red for Bad news.

And then there were the various failed attempts at improvement that wound up threatening his very existence. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing: No one thought through the idea of filling him up with concrete, so with time—and temperature and humidity, Vulcan truly, literally, was coming apart at the seams.

Still, Vulcan is cherished here, despite his less than perfect proportions.
In contrast, the preliminary model of Vulcan is beautiful, and displays subtlety and nuance. The maquette is lovely, showing a powerful and attractive man, back arched, lifting the spear high above his head to see if it’s point is hammered true.

And after viewing Moretti’s other work, including “Head of Christ” (which is as subtle a piece of marble portraiture and as delicately done as Vulcan is –not), I just couldn’t make sense of it.

I had to get to the bottom of this.

Giuseppe Moretti is the sculptor in question. From biographical sources, he is described as:
“a prolific artist (who completed) 12 World War I memorials, 19 monumental works, 6 church sculptures, 24 memorial tablets, 14 cemetery memorials, 27 sculptures in marble, bronze, and aluminum, and 27 bronze statuettes.”

A few of those other pieces by Moretti are here in Birmingham, and Pittsburgh is rife with them: he was commissioned to design an entire park there, as well as a number of public monuments. Other large commissions are scattered throughout the US in places like Tennessee and Ohio. And in Cuba, the Gran Teatro de la Habana is adorned with 4 of his large sculpture groups and an angel who stands at its pinnacle.

After researching these other samples of his work, I can only affirm the obvious: Moretti was an exquisite sculptor. The delicacy of his technique demonstrated in his Head of Christ runs throughout his work.

Which still left me mystified. It’s not that Vulcan’s a bad piece of sculpture, it just has its peculiarities-- but why, when others by Moretti are so perfect? Why the discrepancy? It’s obviously not a lack of talent or inspiration.
So . . . O.K., they did get somebody good, but what happened that the big guy on the mountain looks the way he does?

Time, I think it was a factor of time. Moretti had a deadline of six months: six months to go from rolling a ball of clay in his Bronx studio in December, to erecting a 56-foot tall cast iron giant in St Louis by June. Moretti had to create an original 3D design, about 18 inches tall, (the maquette mentioned above), have it approved, then enlarge it to 12 feet tall, then enlarge it again to full size, all in clay.

I can’t imagine working with that much cold wet clay in the chill of late winter. He had 16 assistants, so it was probably a shared misery, even though they had to be driven with the excitement of attempting the impossible. Their success would be on display at the upcoming World’s Fair, for all the world to see. Vulcan would be the largest sculpture of it’s kind. (It still is). Success would be as large and as solid as Vulcan himself. Even failure would make a good story for their grandkids.

To fit all 56 feet of the final Vulcan into his (apparently tall) studio required splitting him in half: head to waist, and waist to feet. This split might also have caused the error in proportion.

Artists do use math, much more than the general public would believe. But even with the figures checked twice, we go by eyeball to make the final proof. And even if Moretti suspected something was off, there was no time to make any significant changes. The final clay model was divided into even more pieces so that plaster molds could be made and shipped to Sloss Furnace where the once clay giant would become iron.

And as to the suggestion that the proportioning was done on purpose to offset the foreshortening effect? Maybe . . . , but it doesn’t seem to have been in vogue at the time. I’m hard pressed to find any example where this was done. And even if he did use it here with Vulcan, it doesn‘t seem that Moretti ever used the technique again. (In my opinion, a wise decision.)

Regarding the shift of the figure’s balance from the maquette to the final Vulcan, giving him that here, take this” pose? One reference I came across mentions a large amount of clay slipping off Vulcan’s arched back: maybe this is when the figure was pitched a little more forward to compensate. Maybe they were afraid the statue, once cast in metal, would fall backward.
A friend of mine, an engineer, pointed out a difference from the maquette’s base to the base of the final Vulcan: there’s less mass. Maybe they had to pitch him forward to compensate for the lack of ballast. Again, they’d be afraid he’d fall backward.

I have no idea if I’m the least bit correct in my suppositions, but seems that the confluence of issues: the tight time-frame, (mis?)-calculations in enlargement, surprises with the clay, and the need to preserve the statue’s center of gravity is this artist’s best guess as to why Vulcan is the way he is.
My 10-gallon hat is off to Guiseppi Moretti--and to his Vulcan, a triumph of the artist up against a deadline. The man I first set out to criticize has made me a believer --years after his death.

Now I want to go and find his place out in Sylacauga, where he once lived, had a studio --and a quarry. Moretti loved the marble from Sylacauga; he found it to be superior to any from Italy. He pulled the rock which became “the Head of Christ” out of the ‘Bama hillside himself. He apparently carved a marble slab 9 feet long and a mere1½ inches thick to demonstrate the material’s strength and translucence. Three times he put together a marble production business, which three times, fell prey to the irregularities of the economy.

It had to be hard, living and working here, watching his prized “Vulcan” get shuttled around like a white elephant. The silver medal from the 1904 World’s Fair probably was put in a drawer to tarnish in quiet embarrassment. It would be tough to see your brainchild dismissed with ignorance if not impudence. Moretti himself is quoted as saying, “Sometimes I almost wish I had never made him.”

Moretti’s commissions took him back to New York, to Cuba, and eventually back to Italy. “Vulcan” was an achievement, but during his lifetime, under-appreciated. The statue didn’t make it up onto Red Mountain until the year of Moretti’s death. If he could see the park and museum now, I’m sure he would be gratified.

I’ve never seen a sign out there pointing to his studio, and it’s not on their tourist map, but I hope the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce knows where to find it. There should be tours honoring the name and talent of this gifted artist.