Friday, March 20, 2015

Cleomade at Castle in the Air

If you visited Castle in the Air during the early days of our upstairs gallery you might have seen the paintings of Cleo Papanikolas, which melded images of food and animals in phantasmagorical and whimsical ways. As delighted as we were by them, we’re even happier that they are just the tip of the iceberg in Cleo’s creative world.

For the past year or so we’ve been proud to offer the Cleomade craft kits, and YouTube tutorials, each one of them a small sculpture you can assemble with simple tools and minimal fuss. The range includes prize ribbons, a wooden keychain charm, a trio of moths whose wings part to reveal tiny books, woodland candy boxes, and a paper oyster shell holding a fortune.

In addition to her artistic talent Cleo also has a knack for teaching, which is why we’re so happy she’ll be presenting a springtime themed “make-and-take” craft at Castle in the Air. Just drop in on March 28 from 12pm to 2pm and walk away with a charming craft you’ve made yourself. It’s free!

We recently asked Cleo about her kits, her creative career, and how much of art is a teachable skill. Here’s what she said:

Has art been part of your life from the beginning?
I’ve made toys to entertain myself since I was little. I grew up in the country in Sebastopol, California. I couldn’t easily get to friends’ houses, or downtown, and there was no TV reception. So I wandered around the yard, garage, and creek and made things. I did draw and paint but it wasn’t rendering, it was more decorative.

Did you always plan to have a career in art, or did you transition into it?
I worked in restaurants and clothing stores through high school and college. I did have an interest in art, but it was propelled by the fact that I couldn’t get into any other school. Once in, I got serious and ended up doing well with a BFA in printmaking from CCA and an MFA in painting from Cal. I started painting for a living right after undergraduate. I did faux finishes, murals, and other decorative painting, as well as gallery paintings.

How is your process different when working on a standalone piece, such as a painting, compared to one of your instructional kits?
I like to keep a balance between craft and fine art. Making my kits and products involves a lot of problem solving, which I like—figuring out the simplest way to make things, sizes, sourcing materials, and designing the covers. Production involves repetitive cutting and gluing and it’s while keeping my hands busy that I get my best ideas.

Painting is more intense. There is a bit of procrastination, like circling a cold pool before jumping in. Every brushstroke is another decision to make. And every painting goes through an ugly phase and many do-overs before it’s right. I need a bigger chunk of time to paint because it’s unsettling when I have to run out the door to do a school pick-up and leave a painting in the middle of the ugly phase.

How did the kits come about?
I did the Tiny Paintings Project on my blog, in which every week for a year I posted a new DIY craft project made from a postcard-sized painting. There are about 50 free art downloads on my website, each with step-by-step instructions. The craft kits are a way that people can easily get the materials in one place without having to print the art. I spent a lot of time designing the packaging because I wanted to make a keepsake and a lovely gift. People don’t know that I print all those labels on my home computer and cut and glue them all by hand.

What can people expect when they open one?
A postcard of my art to cut and use, instructions with one of my plaid paintings on the back—I hope that people find their own way to re-use the plaid art—some of Castle in the Air’s beautiful crepe paper and some other ingredients like wire and templates specific to the craft.

Practicality seems to be a theme in your work. You wrote a novella peppered with advice for cooking and life ("Cook Until Desired Tenderness") and now you have your craft kits. Which elements of art can be taught, and which ones come from the artist?
I definitely think people can be naturally creative and that helps. But practice is very important. I wasn’t a naturally good drawer but learned to be, through learning observation and doing a ton of bad drawings until I got good. I also never let fear of doing bad art stop me. You don’t have to show anything you don’t want to.

I hear people say to me all the time, “I wish I was creative like you. I can’t draw a stick figure.” But I’ve been drawing or painting almost every day for thirty years. And because crafty things are my job, everything I see throughout my day I think, “How could I make that into a paper craft?” So I naturally have more ideas. I don’t have particularly good handwriting, so I took lettering classes at Castle in the Air and practiced a lot so I could use it in my book and cards. Art is just like any other exercise—you build muscle by doing it.

What will you be teaching at the make-and-take on March 28?
We will be making jackalope nests. I have postcards of my mama jackalope and nesting material made from shreds of Castle in the Air’s crepe paper. Usually the eggs and antlers are made from nuts, tree pods, or pebbles, but since Easter is coming we will be using chocolate eggs and gold Dresden trim antlers.

Make-and-Take Craft with Cleo Papanikolas
Saturday, March 28, 12 pm to 2 pm
Castle in the Air
1805 Fourth Street, Berkeley
No cost to participate

You can check out the Cleomade craft kits at the Online Shoppe, and watch Cleo’s tutorial videos on the Castle in the Air YouTube channel.

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