Amateur Winter Birding With Alex

November 19, 2014

Whenever I go to a movie, I dread the credits, solely because standing up means my shirt produces a fine shower of popcorn that missed my mouth. I knock over glasses of water with alarming regularity despite having what I consider pretty good hand-eye coordination. Sometimes I do that thing where you think your car window is open, but it isn’t, so you just wind up punching the glass. In short, I am a clod.

But Fast Horse believes that even clods like me can be artistic beasts, which is why we offer the Muse It Or Lose It perk to our employees. It’s pretty simple: an annual cash stipend to spend on something (loosely) creative you wouldn’t normally do. Dave recently used his to purchase a GoPro, with thrilling results; Alex used hers to subscribe to magazines that expand her horizons (and encourage unplugging).


Here’s my first piece: a three-color cardinal, printed from wax paper.

One afternoon, while gazing at the walls at home, I realized that I have a lot of screen-printed posters from concerts I’ve attended over the years. “I’d love to learn how to do that,” I thought. Luckily for me, our offices are a mere three floors above one of Minnesota’s greatest hands-on arts experiences: the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. And, wouldn’t you know it, a six-week introduction to screen-printing course was on the calendar for November and December. Sign me up!

To my infinite surprise, my doofy hands are good for something other than typing, working remote controls and conveying food from plate to mouth. My five classmates and I gather with our two ace instructors, Michelle and Kirsten, every Thursday night through mid-December to work on a gratifyingly hands-on form of art. We’ve covered DIY wax-paper printing, photo emulsions, burning images into screens, and we’re getting into digital file manipulation this week.

This is all daunting to someone whose drawing experience ended in about seventh grade. My only visual-arts experiences are in video production and Super 8 filmmaking — hardly endeavors that require a talent for translating what’s “up there” to paper. But, as with most things, the only way to learn is by doing, so I’ve tossed my artistic inferiority complex to the wayside. Mixed results so far, but I haven’t felt this accomplished and proud in years.

(Why birds? They’re the original American art form, say I! I’m a huge John James Audubon fan, and I think his work contributed a lot to the cachet and reputation of American art. I’m currently working on a six-color reproduction of his American flamingo.)

Want to feel accomplished, too? MCBA offers courses for both adults and kids, including one-off class/happy-hour combos the first Friday of each month. You can enjoy a drink and walk out with some one-of-a-kind book art, from paper marbling to stab binding to stationery. Take it from this dolt: I can’t recommend it enough.

As with any budding artiste, it was only a matter of time before it all went to my head. My forthcoming Etsy store is slammed with business, so order your prints early. Kidding, kidding.

I'll leave you with this angry bluebird, also printed via wax paper.

I’ll leave you with this angry bluebird, also printed via wax paper.