Odds ‘N’ Ends 5

framed willie on couchFraming Willie

A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a client with whom I’ve previously worked regarding framing a piece of Willie Nelson memorabilia — a bandanna with a silk-screened image that looks a bit like an old “Wanted” poster.

I had never been asked to frame someone else’s artwork before, but I’ve done enough matting and framing of my own work to have some insight on how to present a piece.  So I approached the bandanna as if it were something I had created.

willie matte up closeRight away, I knew I wanted to play on Willie’s “outlaw” image.  My first thought was to make a matte out of corrugate in such a way as to resemble tramp art frames.  I then added two leaf designs cut out of turquoise cork.  This helped the matte and artwork feel integrated.

willie matte

framed willieI wanted to give the frame itself a distressed look, again to support the outlaw concept.  I used a plain black frame, painted it turquoise, and then painted over everything with white crackle paint.  The end-result not only looks like something from a dusty Western town, but the underlying turquoise also fits with the colors in the artwork.Willie on the wall

The client and I were very pleased with the result.  You can see Willie in his new home at the right.  After this experience, I would be happy to try my hand at framing more art!  To propose a commission, write to dean@deanjohnsonartstudio.com.

Young Artists

Dean and Jerry at Expo 72Today, Jerry and I went to Expo 72, an exhibit space associated with Chicago Cultural Center.  Through April 12, the space is showing traditional artwork by students from Chicago Public Schools.  Then, from April 17 through May 10, the space will be featuring multi-media projects by the students.

There are a lot of techniques on display: drawings, collages, scratch-board drawings, cut-outs, paintings, and even a few ceramic pieces.  The 2D artwork was created on everything from canvas to cardboard.  Subject matter ranged from naturalistic to abstract, with a strong segment of Surrealism in the mix.  I was impressed not only with the high skill level achieved by these young artists, but also by the knowledge of art history and traditions evident in these works.  CPS doesn’t always get credit for offering sufficient arts education, but obviously some teachers are excelling.

An exciting bonus for the students is the fact that the show is juried.  This is actually something they can put on a resume or bio.  Visitors were encouraged to select a favorite piece, as one talented artist will win the Audience Choice Award at the end of the show.  It was difficult for me to choose just one piece.  I would have been happier selecting five … or more!


I’m sincerely happy for these young artists to be getting some recognition and real arts training.  I think many of us creative folks do not get much encouragement or structure when we are showing our first signs of artistic talent.  Let’s face it: the teachers and family who care about us are most concerned with our survival, and the last thing they would recommend we do is risk our livelihood in any way.  To many of them, the arts seem insignificant at best and decadent at worst, surely not a low-risk / high-reward enterprise.  Many people are under the impression that the arts don’t pay at all.

The truth is that we all consume the arts every day, and we all pay money for them.  Every magazine you pick up, every book you read, every commercial you see, every DVD you watch, every article of clothing you wear, every website you view, every piece of software you employ, even every package of food you unwrap — all of these had a stable of skilled and paid designers and craftspeople who contributed to their existence.  And they all got paid.

You’re only talking about commercial products, you might say.  Of course those “artists” are paid.  Okay, well, artists also had a hand in that religious painting in your living room, the sacred medal hanging from your neck, the design and décor of your local church building, the cover design for that Bible on your nightstand.  They were all paid to help you transcend your crass, worldly state of mind and enter into a higher, more spiritual frame of consciousness.  Believe it or not, that’s a job.

Moms quilts

There is actually some precedent in my family for a career in the arts.  My mother is an expert quilter and textile artist (she made the quilt and wall-hanging you see at right), and her father was a baker who made cake decoration an art-form.  These are both examples of people who channeled their talents into paying careers.  I can look at them as role-models as I expand my art business.

Even my father’s parents — pragmatic children of the Great Depression — could see the possibility of profit in the arts.  They weren’t “dream big” kind of people, but they did build themselves up over the years from nothing.  Maybe that’s why they could see possibilities in something others often regard as nothing.  Of all people, they were the ones who had the foresight to suggest I apply my artistic talents to “the church” — a goal I’ve adopted in my own way.  That might have been the canniest piece of professional advice anyone has ever given me!

I can’t pretend that my relatives hailed me as the new Da Vinci, but I do remember the encouragement I did receive, because it rang in my ears like victory bells.  It validated the person I already knew I was born to be.  It assured me that I wouldn’t have to pretend to be someone else.  That is why I’m so happy when I see arts programming for young people.  It gives kids the message that they really can do what they love for a living.

I can tell you that the most fulfilling job that exists is to change consciousness.  My grandparents were on to something….


2 thoughts on “Odds ‘N’ Ends 5

  1. Great frame Dean, well done, shows how creative you can be framing a piece and what a difference it makes!
    Really enjoyed reading the post too, and finding out a little of your family history. Those early messages are so important, and it sounds like you enjoyed some positive messages from your family which many people arent fortunate enough to receive. Wonderful quilt by your mother too!

    • I did indeed receive some positive messages from my family, and those are the ones that I honor in my memory now. However, I can’t deny that some family members have also tried to discourage me from pursuing a career in the arts. This negative pressure continues to the present day.

      We will all inevitably receive both kinds of message, and we will also internalize those voices. Encouraging messages are essential is in counter-balancing negative messages — otherwise, the only voice that will sound in our heads is one that is terrified of scarcity.

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