Here’s to Doing Things the Wong Way

There’s a printmaking technique named after me.

It’s called, “The Wong Way.” The pun is intentional.

In undergrad, I was an eager student of woodcut printmaking, but not of color registration. Ken Rignall demonstrated a system involving metal buttons at the California College of the Arts, but he warned against leaving the buttons in the press. That would destroy expensive blankets and thus incur the wrath of fellow printmakers. To this day, I’ve never left the buttons in the press, because I’ve been too afraid to use them.

Either due to early twenties overconfidence or mechanic’s daughter ingenuity, I thought, if all you’re trying to do is line the block up with the paper consistently, why can’t you just jam them both into a corner? I made a 90º angle out of wood and tried it out on a block with a margin carved out. If your block or paper is less than square, you pick an edge to line them up with, and, Presto!

It wasn’t the most precise, but it was the most idiot-proof. (If there is an essence to the Wong Way, that might be it.)

Ken caught wind of this method and admired it. He coined the name and taught the technique in subsequent semesters. The pun in the name suggests that this is not how you should do it, but this is how you can do it.

I finally bought some sewing reference books—six years after buying my sewing machine, and experimenting with many combinations of needles, threads, and fabrics, not to mention patterns of my own devising. I’d been rambling between states of unconscious and conscious incompetence—sometimes completely unaware of incorrect thread tension, sometimes painfully aware that the bias in the fabric was exacting a toll for my poor cutting.

The reference books point out the sheer volume of fundamentals I’ve skipped over.

You might be thinking that I’m kicking myself for putting the wagon before the horse, but actually, I’m grateful and elated to learn these fundamentals now. I know WHY I need to acquire this knowledge, and am able to ground it in prior experience. I appreciate it so much more.

My Dad taught me to problem solve fearlessly. He’d take broken things—from toys to toaster ovens—down to his garage tool bench, rattle around in his toolboxes, crack the thing open, and have a look-see. Sometimes he repaired it, sometimes he didn’t, but he always gave it a try. Dad went to automotive school, but he learned a lot by doing. No one taught him how to re-roof our house or make a kid’s play structure from an old barrel and a car rotor. He just figured it out. He showed me that I too could figure things out, and that there’s no reason to shy away from trying.

Here’s to jumping in with both feet. To the confident leap into the unknown, that the things around us are not too complicated, that fear can be rather useless, and that curiosity is intertwined with survival.

Art & Development

moments in Bay Area art-time


I really liked Kenneth Baker’s review of Kim Anno’s show at Patricia Sweetow Gallery (SF Gate, Sept. 26, 2009) — very concise writing about the work and the context of contemporary painting. How’s this for a tight lede:

New abstract painting arrives today in an interpretive hall of mirrors where quotation, pastiche and the cannibalizing of motifs by designers can instantly embarrass any claim to originality.

The review also mentions a show by stellar artists Walead Beshty, Patrick Hill and Karl Haendel at NOMA Gallery. I’ve been a fan of Haendel’s insanely detailed graphite realism since Glen Helfand’s Particulate Matter at Mills College Art Museum, and of Beshty’s since I saw his Fed-Ex’d glass cubes at the Whitney Biennial, so I regret missing the chance to see their work as well as Hill’s.

Another show I wish I saw was Ian McDonald and Conrad Meyers II at Queens Nails Annex. I totally loved Ian McDonald’s mixed media sculptures at Rena Bransten and YBCA’s Bay Area Now 5; in both exhibits he showed ceramics works that were functional yet their identities were somehow unhinged, with a lot of great material juxtapositions. His latest work about everyday objects and usability really resonates with my Pounds of Happiness project, but I just haven’t been able to make it over there…

Besides opening a show in LA last weekend, I’ve been logging hours at the studio…


…where I’ve been nerding out on behind-the-scenes art stuff, like:

1. Taking joy in the small things in life.

1. Taking joy in the small things in life.

I haven’t painted in ages, but that doesn’t mean that I no longer enjoy that brand-new brush buzz… This is my first-ever Purdy. It’s sharp as a razor, and it buoys my hope that craftsmanship can still exist within mass manufacturing.

Some things, though, don’t change: Wood stain, it turns out, smells exactly like the last time I used it, in junior high wood shop class. I’ve lost my printmaker’s tolerance for oil and solvent smells, but gosh, it’s satisfying to wipe down fresh stain and see the wood grain magically re-appear.

Lately, I keep thinking back to Mr. James’ shop class, and my dad’s garage, because those are the places where I learned most of my woodworking skills. I picked up a few things in college and grad school, and I’m picking up new skills quickly as a preparator. But the foundation is the same, and certain traits seem to show through. For example, in junior high I found the jigsaw and bandsaw least intimidating, and to this day I still use circular saws with extreme respect and caution. I also still appreciate my dad’s improvisational handyman approach — try to use what’s around, instead of running to the store for every little bit of hardware or new tool — and his good humor inherent in tinkering.

2. Building a big crate.

2. Building a big crate.

This crate, which has a detachable compartment, took about:
— 2 hours to design,
— 2.5 hours procure and unload the materials, and
— a solid day and a half to construct.
To move the crate, though, is gonna take three people and a truck.

(A recurring puzzle: Why do people think that artists just make art all day? When in fact, there’s so many other things that need to be done, like making crates, storing stuff properly, framing, writing, reading, research, procurement, bookkeeping, seeing art, talking to people, emails, etc. That’s why CARFAC Canadian Artists’ Representation / Le Front des artistes canadiens is so exceptional: it reflects an understanding that an artist’s work extends beyond studio work and exhibition installs. See their PDF guidelines for Professional Fees, which include admin and preparatory work, as distinct from baseline Exhibition Fees.)

This crate is for mirrorsblack, my newest sculpture, which will be unveiled at…

FUTURE / Art events I won’t miss:

Friday, October 16, 8–10 pm (Member’s Opening)
Saturday, October 17, 4–10 pm (Public Opening)
October 17–December 12, 2009 (exhibition)
Southern Exposure, 3030 20th Street, San Francisco
I stopped by SoEx’s new digs the other day and it’s all abuzz with activity. Their purpose-built gallery/office/classroom is brand spanking new. I can’t wait for the inaugural exhibition to launch. There’ll also be loads of activities and artist’s projects at the Public Grand Opening / Block Party, so hope to see you there.

Monday, October 5, 7:30 pm
Fred Tomaselli lecture
SF Art Institute
Tomaselli’s resin-cast mixed-media paintings are mind-bending. His works in MOCA’s Ecstacy show were trippy and hallucenagenic enough, but his more recent work at White Cube were completely stunning. He also seems like a down-to-earth kind of guy. I think his lecture will be great.

Thru December 12
Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art
Though I helped to install this show, I didn’t get to spend much time looking at the work, especially the media works. I’d love to spend more time with the lovely paintings by Marcel Dzama, prints by Rockwell Kent, and the installation by Ellen Gallagher and Edger Cleijne. Also, I’ve heard high praise of the film by Peter Hutton.