Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The last piece of art

Perhaps it is fitting that my last blog post for 2014 is about death and art. As anyone reading this post is no doubt aware, artistic creation is integral to my life and my self-identity. In addition to creating artwork, one of my favorite activities is to enjoy discussions with friends and fellow artists about our motivation to create art and about the creative processes. I have enjoyed many conversations this year with Tom Nettle, Goody Sinclair, Anthony Morgan and Gabe Lockwood about all things art (visual and musical). I would hope, and I suspect, that I will be creating art as long as I am physically able. I feel like I have LOTS of art "in me" and I want to keep on producing. It's interesting because I was just talking with Gabe last night about this notion. I feel like I have art "in me"; but I rarely have any specific idea about what the art would look like. In fact, more and more these days, I am understanding and embracing the fact that much of my work is "intuitive" (i.e., serendipitous and spontaneous, although slow-to-emerge). But it is inevitable that at some point in time, I will make my last piece of art. And I also think it is inevitable that there will still be art "in me" that will never materialize. I have thought about these things before as I know I think more about death in general, death of friends and family and my own death more than most people (I suspect). But this past week has made these ponderings more salient. The father of a friend of mine passed away suddenly last Sunday as he was preparing a family dinner. James Laramie was 81 years of age and was an accomplished watercolor painter and teacher. He had just had a piece accepted into a very prestigious exhibit (The National Watercolor Exhibit) this year. He was SUCH a kind and gentle man with a beautiful aesthetic sensibility. I couldn't help reflect upon the vast creative output in his life; and the fact that Jim has now made his last piece of artwork. I know he had lots of art still "in him". It is unfortunate that he can no longer create the work for others to see (BTW, I am working on getting some good digital images of his work to share; but am still in the process of doing that). Does the value of an artist's work increase when they pass away? The answer is definitely YES. But I'm not referring here to monetary value... I'm referring to a value that is much more precious. I am sure the pieces that Jim created are valued and will be cherished way more now that he has left us. Rest in peace Jim. And thank you for making the world a more beautiful place by creating and sharing your artwork with us. To all who read this, I wish you a peaceful, prosperous, healthy and creatively- inspired new year! Peace be with all of you!

Thoughtsgiving 2014

Well, this post is a little late, but...
In 2010, whilst we were drinking a couple pints at The Green Onion (in Utica, NY), my friends and colleagues Jason Denman (English) and Brad Emmons (Math) and I concocted a new holiday that we called "Thoughtsgiving" (the day before Thanksgiving). Since then, we meet every year on the day before Thanksgiving to celebrate. For the past couple of years, I have made collage pins for revelers to wear on our new holiday. One of the challenges is to find images that appear in multiples so that everyone gets a commemorative trinket for the year. Last year I used altered yearbook photos (you can check out the post from last November if you're interested in seeing them). This year I was a bit busy and so I thought I would perhaps use yearbook photos again (although I really did want to do something new). Whilst I was looking through on e yearbook, I came across an interesting group of multiple images that I ended-up using for this year's pins. In the section for group photos of Greek organizations on campus (the yearbook was from Gettysburg College 1971), the names are listed numerically next to a drawing of the posing individuals (see below). I LOVED the way these looked and I think the pins turned out well (I know I enjoy mine!).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The devil... in the details, I guess. Here are the finished pieces from two of the sketches the other evening. For those of you interested in the technical side of things, I had to add a "lifter" element and do a little "building up" of the underlying acrylic medium to avoid a sharp bump in the finished product (and to make the tomato adhere to the Viewmaster element). The details here -- compared to the previous post -- include having cut the edges from the diver (as well as painting the edges of the cut paper to avoid a white edge). I also added just a little bit of color in the jam piece to provide a bit of contrast and interest.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

a couple quick sketches

I finished grading my students' work and submitted final grades this afternoon. I played some poker with wonderful colleagues and then came home and decided to head to the studio to get in the mood for what I anticipate will be a productive day in the studio tomorrow. I was pretty pleased with some of the sketches I did tonight...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

beautiful sources

Once again, I want to write about procuring materials/ephemera for my creative collage efforts. This past Tuesday, I spent half the day at the Farmersville auction in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with my good friend and fellow collage artist Anthony Morgan. The auction itself is a wonderful cultural experience. In addition to some Life magazines from the 1960s (Life magazines are some of my favorite sources of collage elements), I also got some vintage books. One of the books was a Bible from the turn of the 19th Century with many beautiful etched images like the angel shown below. But the emotionally moving element was the page on which the owner of the Bible entered family information including the details of his/her marriage in 1902 in beautifully calligraphic red ink. I found this moving and somehow felt a bit "guilty" that I ripped pages from this tome. In fact, if by any chance, anyone who reads this blog has any information about this family, I would love nothing more that to frame this page and present it to them. In addition to the Bible, I also bought a lot of three books which included a book entitled "The Grammar of Palmistry" from 1893 (by Katharine St. Hill). This book didn't have many images and was not the one I bid on primarily. As it runs out though, I will not cut/rip out images from this book. It will be the second vintage book about hands and plan reading that I own (perhaps this will become another interest of mine... i.e., the history of this silly notion that hands/palms tell us something about personality. A second book -- the one which caused me to bid enough to get the lot -- was a book entitled "Steam". It included wonderful images of vintage machinery with beautiful depth (shown below). BUT... the book was even more beautiful than I initially thought AND it is SO beautifully laid out, that I will have a difficult time "destroying" such a wonderful piece of "art" for collage. The thing is, if I hadn't purchased the book, it may have ended-up in the garbage or in a musty attic somewhere. What made the book even more heart-warming was the hand-drawn inscription in the first couple pages of the book -- a wonderfully drafted signature and the phrase "Knowledge conquers riches" in old colored ink. I guess I just wanted to share another aspect of collage that makes it SO special to me -- the time travel and nostalgic and contemplative experiences it provides. I LOVE IT!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

collaged "place mats" at The Black Gryphon (Elizabethtown, PA)

Tomorrow I will be heading down to Elizabethtown, PA to my friend's award-winning restaurant -- The Black Gryphon -- to set-up for a "Dinner & Collage" event on Tuesday evening. My friend -- Anthony Morgan -- is a collage artist himself (and had his first piece accepted into the NCS Annual Juried Exhibit this year!) and is having me and a couple other collagists (including Joe Castro) create some collaged "place mats" for the restaurant. Here is mine entitled "The Title of This Piece is Not "Dive In'".

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Gary Leising's poetry book

I am SO excited and humbled to be the cover artist for the latest poetry chapbook by my friend and colleague Gary Leising. He's an award-winning poet -- because his poems are awesome! For $10, it's a great holiday stocking stuffer! You can get the book at:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

It's so discouraging that people make such a big deal out of a commercially-driven shopping day. Consumption, consumption, consumption! If 10% of the people who are in constant consumption mode would turn some of their energy to PRODUCTION, I think the world would be a better place. There SO much unused creative energy in the human race. So of course, I spent my entire day in my work space. It was awesome! I decided that spending some "quality time" in my collage space would be my top priority. I ended-up finishing a piece that I had conceived earlier this week and I created another "from scratch" out of a prepped substrate that I have had hanging around for a while. I will show the finished pieces for now, but I may do another post tomorrow showing some of the intermediates for the flower portrait piece (there's some things worth discussing methinks).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Teaser question

Okay, this is a little teaser for an upcoming post (I hope). It is a philosophical question for all y'all. Is it possible to create a collage with only one element? I suppose that it depends upon your definition of "collage". Do you need at least two elements to create a collage? Input will be greatly appreciated...

intense lighting

I absolutely love this element -- it's black-and-white; it's "earthy"; it's dramatically lit; and it's surprisingly large for the subject matter. I MUST use it in a piece, of course. Last night I started with some sketches.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

time to "flow"

As I get more "serious" about my artwork (actually, I really don't believe I am too much more serious... but I do care more than I used to ;-)... I have come to realize that it takes some time to get into a state of creative "flow". I have learned to be patient (although it's not always easy for me) and just "plug away" at it. Today/tonight it seemed to take a while to reach the level of "flow"... but I think it finally happened. I am really liking the sketches that I did with this B&W church pew substrate and the other elements. I will probably go with the "art woman" as the focal element (can anyone help me identify her?).... although I do like the foot too. I thought these might be "cool" enough to share now...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A blast from the past -- "1153"

This is the first piece that I ever submitted to the National Collage Society annual juried show. It was before I started this blog and I don't believe I ever posted an image of it. It was destroyed in the shipping process (by FEDEX!!!). Here is the "artist's statement" that went with the piece...
Steven Specht

     This piece is inspired by the “Doomsday Clock”, created in 1947 by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in symbolic recognition of the international accumulation of atomic weaponry and the state of geopolitical equilibrium across the globe (see:www. In 2002, the clock was moved from 9 minutes until midnight to 7 minutes until midnight (i.e., 11:53). According to the atomic scientists, this change was prompted by the following: The United States rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces it will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Terrorists seek to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons.” It is interesting to note that in 1991, the clock was designated to be at 17 minutes before midnight. The middle panel of this piece suggests the interactions between religious and scientific/techno-logical forces which contribute to global tensions and which may actually have a common ancestry as alluded to with the iconic fish and mortality (i.e., skull) imagery.

nota bene: the sound of static may be added to enhance the impact of this piece by adjusting the volume using the small black knob at the right-hand side of the digital clock mechanism.

My friend and fellow artist Tom Nettle

A dear friend of mine (for over 30 years) is a civil servant in the field of Human Services and is also  an accomplished oil painter from Syracuse, NY. He recently saw a Van Gogh painting of the poet Eugene Boch and thought of me when he saw it. So he asked if I would "sit" for him to do some sketch studies and potentially paint a portrait of me in the style of Van Gogh's Boch piece. I was interested and willing. We discussed the fact that it might not work out. But I admire Tom's motivation and courage to try it. It may be difficult to "see" me sensorially, when he has known me personally (and "psychologically") for so many years. I'm interested in however this project turns out.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

New prep

Whilst I was on the porch last night attending to the intermittent halloween visitors, I decided to start prepping (i.e., sanding) my next project. I'm going to try to do a collaged guitar body!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

getting back into "it"

Okay, I'm going to admit it... I feel terrible about not posting on this blog more over the last 6 months. Mostly because I REALLY appreciate your interest in collage and this site. In some way, I feel like I have let you down a little. BUT, enough of that... I am hoping to post more now again. And I hope that you will enjoy what I post. Tonight I was in my studio again. I needed to do some art "custodial work" for some pieces that need to be "shipped out". However, I was able to sit down and do some exploration. A couple "sketches" started to emerge..

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sculpture Space CHAIRity Auction 2014

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the major annual fund-raiser for Sculpture Space in Utica, NY. This organization provides paid competitive residencies for sculptors from around the world. I have been involved with the organization since 2000 and am a member of the Board of Directors. Every year I donate a piece for the auction, and being the competitive individual I am, I am always hoping to "set a new record" for amount that my piece fetches at auction. I was SO excited and pleased last night when my piece "shattered" last year's high water mark! It's a shot in the arm for me. And as anyone who reads this blog knows... once in a while an artist needs some good feedback about their work as encouragement to "keep on keeping' on"!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lysergic park

I worked in my studio for a while last night. It was fun... but I was getting a little bit anxious after some time. I was doing lots of experimenting with placements of elements, but nothing was really "coming together". After a while, I brought out a piece I had set aside for quite some time (I've done that with several projects). I REALLY liked the substrate; so much so that I had already gotten a mat and frame made specifically for it. One of the reasons I was so excited about it was because it was a "centerfold". Since my collage work is all analog (i.e., I do no photocopying or digital manipulation), I am always on the lookout for a cool image element that might give me an opportunity to "spread my wings" in terms of size. You'll see below the "full" substrate image (a B&W photo of some boys in Central Park). I decided to play with some additional element placements and happened on the one I show below. BUT, it is "truncated" in size from the original centerfold! The thing is, I LOVE this truncated piece! I have not put anything down permanently, but I am seriously thinking of forgetting about the centerfold and doing the smaller composition. I have included a couple of "detail" shots here to show the "mini-figures" in the piece. The left side of the composition looks like a reflection of the building in a body of water... but that is NOT what that portion of the image is. There is no water (except for the little bit of blue below the boat). I suppose I will find another interesting "centerfold" or equivalent for the mat and frame I had made. I have tentatively entitled this piece "Catching the Boat at Lysergic Park" (since it is such a weirdly surreal piece).