Sunday, December 14, 2008

Layers of My Life

So ... a couple of days ago I started sifting through my stuff. Looking for my sign grip (a toolbox, if you will) and a box of paint cans. It's because I may have a side job lettering something, which I haven't done since the last time I was unemployed. So I need the brushes, whispery bits, odd gadgets and other sorts of what-not that allow me to perform the real magic of painting.
Magic, you say?
It's really probably the Guilder's fault that glitter is associated with magic and mysticism. The guilder uses static electricity generated by rubbing the Guilder's tip (a brush) in his hair to pick up gold leaf from a cushion. this action deposits bit of gold in the Guilder's hair. Now for the scary part, the static electricity causes the gold leaf to literally leap from the cushion to the brush (ooohs and ahhhs). This is clearly evil wizardry.
But what about the painter and the magic wand. What other profession can you think of where a person (Artist) waves a wand (paint brush) to create some thing (painting) where before there was nothing. Now that's your real magic. No wonder painters were venerated. It was fear of magic. Ha!
Anyway, let's get back to the subject, my grip. "Grip" is a term that old-timey set painters and the like use to call their tool box. They are musty, oily places with tapes and razors and wads of gum, the stuff used to put a show together. Mine has cheese cloth and cotton balls, crazy odd hand cut graining brushes and the occasional screwdriver. I used to say that with that toolbox I could go anywhere and work.
It really started in about 1985 when some crazy friend of mine said "Hey, why don't you make this guy a sign?" Well it started before that -- but this is where I'm going to start. I was sitting in a bar named "Stella Blue," which happened to be right near the local sign shop, and met this guy who told me he was painting a painting ... and a few weeks later he was teaching me to really make signs and I was helping him paint. There are a bunch of twists and turns to this story and although I never was that great at it -- I was a sign shop for about 5 years. Then I taught painting at the local community center, and went back to college. When I got out of college I got divorced and went to grad school with a truckload of tools and a Subaru, which leads us to the point where this story actually starts.
Me looking for a box of sign paint amidst a huge pile of stuff. Layers of stuff. When I moved to Eastern Washington to go to grad school right after giving up everything in my divorce, I had a truck load of tools, what fit into my Subaru, and my freedom. Two years later I packed up my studio and sculpture and the contents of an apartment and headed back to California to create the first layer of stuff in the storage that would not get unpacked. I moved to Northern California and back, New Hampshire and back, South Korea and back, Arizona and back, and several times in between. Each time I've added a layer to the storage here at my folks. About 11 layers. Some stuff always finds a home in the new location ... the stereo, the sign kit. Some paintings. the topo maps. Other stuff -- always manages to return to the pile ... letters from a certain friend. Oil painting stuff.
So I've been riding around with an old-timey sign guy, once covered by Signcraft magazine, when he was a sign shop in Maui. Definitely one of the local characters. I offered to help him out if he needed a hand, and he did. We ride around in his truck, fix up old signs, make new ones, drink coffee, flirt with waitresses. It's just like living one of the old layers of my life. One of the good layers.
As I clean up and sift and sort ... I find myself uplifted by my past life. The stuff I did. Each layer has residue that is about what I did at the time. The things I was interested in. There are layers of me as a painter, a sculptor, birder, bird owner, orchid collector, camera enthusiast, a darkroom layer, a ceramics layer, a blacksmith layer, a software layer, a manager layer, an adventurer layer, and we shouldn't forget about the bicycle layer. Or the book layer.
Anyway, so I walked into the sign guy's shop and it was organized like mine ... "In Wally's world, sandpaper is usually at the end of the shelf, standing on edge;" once you know that you'll always be able to find it.
I missed my unorganized shop in the barn at 20 South Eldorado when I had two cats and a one year old, a phone and a roof that leaked; A racoon that was starting to act like a pet, and a neighbor that made sculpture with names like "Gateway to Narnia" and drank like ... well ... a drunk. My unorganized shop with a greenhouse on the roof and wild parrots in the trees above.. The same year that I traded a sign for a VW 411 -- which I later traded for a 46 flat bed Dodge. The Sign Layer.
I could go back to that.


Jonah said...

Sounds like a nice relaxed gig you've got going with the old truck and coffee and waitresses...

Nice grip - very organized. I'm still cramming brushes and paint tubes into an old coffee can.

shawnkielty said...

Hey -- thanks Jonah.

The toolbox has been cleanup a few times in the last ten years, but rarely used -- which might \help expplain is orderlyness.