Monday, March 23, 2015


When I'm out and about (a rare instance due to the terms of my parole) many of the best things I see in antique stores carry the tag "NFS."  Often they're intriguing mannequins and shelving systems, but sometimes they are items the shop owner wants people to see but not buy.  My reaction to these tags is threefold:
  1. I totally understand.  No problem with that;
  2. I bet if I offered you $10,000 it would be for sale; and
  3. Who the hell do you think you are to taunt me with things you won't sell?

Reminder to Self
In the spirit of NFS, I've been thinking about some of my pieces that I believe I'd never sell.  

Today's example is "Reminder to Self," an assemblage piece I made in 2012.  The visible area is roughly 3.5 x 5.5 inches, inside a thick black frame.  This was a fun piece to work on.  I wanted to use one of the antique telegrams I'd bought from Sara at Manto Fev.  I was amazed to find that most of them pertained to Columbus.  They were all urgent communiques about various difficulties in shipping by rail in the early years of the 20th century.  

I envisioned the piece as being three-dimensional, so I decided to use one of the lovely plastic fingers I'd found at Michaels.  They contained - of all things - bubble blowing liquid, and they had screw-on caps at the "hand" end.  I chucked the cap, rinsed out the finger many times, and proceeded to give it a thorough going over.  After a lot of sanding, staining and painting, it finally looked nothing like plastic.  (Clear gesso is a great help in this regard.  Use it on plastic or other slippery materials after sanding but before doing anything else.  It really bonds the subsequent surfaces to the object.  Clear gesso might be a little hard to find, but it's available online if you can't get it locally.  Be sure to shake it up first, as you do with all gesso, because its contents settle quickly.)  

Urgent official business.
I glued the telegram to the backing (I used the board that came with the frame - why not?  It fit and was sturdy) and gave it a coat of matte ModPodge to protect it in case of future spills.  I figured out where I wanted the base of the finger to be, and drove a nail with a large flat head through from back to front at that point, leaving a good half inch sticking through the front.  I filled most of the finger with packed-down paper towel, and finished filling the finger with about a half inch of Apoxie Sculpt.  I put the finger on the nail, taped it in place with blue tape, and propped it up overnight to dry.  When I came back in the morning the board was giving me a nice, sturdy finger.  

I was newly in love with crackle medium at that time.  I marked the area for the medium carefully to make sure it wouldn't interfere with the frame and taped it off.   In spreading the medium, I paid particular attention to the area at the base of the finger.  I needed to encircle it and make it look artless, as if the finger had really poked itself through.  That dried overnight.  It ended up looking rather like a map, perhaps even a map of Ohio.  

Crackle medium
From that point, I let the piece tell me what it wanted.  The crackle medium needed to be pink.  This isn't a color I use much, although I often intend to.  I have a lot of pink shirts, but I have to force it into my artwork.  Whenever I've managed it, I've been pleased.  The cracks in the medium needed to be dark, so I put on a nice dark wash and wiped it off immediately.  The pink itself was either Inktense, Neocolor II or a watered down acrylic - I don't remember at this remove.  Maybe I used a combination.  After standing back and considering, I realized the crackle area needed more visual weight, so I applied a couple of stamps, added some bright red lines using a cardboard edge as a stamp, and there was a "click" in my head that told me I was done.  (This click is pretty darned reliable.  It's more of a feeling than an actual sound.  I haven't started hearing things.  Yet.  What?) 

After working so much with the lower left, the upper right area looked bare.  I'd bought what I thought was a rather

trite birdcage stamp for 99 cents at JoAnn Fabrics a long time ago.  It also had the word "fly" on it, which I thought was appropriate given the urgency of the telegram.  I tested it on a piece of scrap paper, held it up against the piece, and decided to go for it.  It worked.  If it hadn't worked, I probably would have found another suitable telegram and layered it over what I'd done.  That kind of layering is often part of the process.  

A final coat of ModPodge, and I hung it on the wall, only to realize that it wasn't finished at all.  When I tied a piece of vintage "reminder" string around the finger that I knew it was truly complete.  That also gave me the title.  

What is the reminder?  Maybe the sender of the telegram needed to remember to get a less stressful job.  Or maybe it's something I've temporarily forgotten.  It might come back to me.  

I still love this piece.  It means something to me, something important.  For now, at least, it is NFS.  

Side bar:  When I was looking through my collection of telegrams, I realized a few of them made no sense.  They employed strange words that seemed like gibberish. Googling revealed a nether world of secret terms used in telegrams.  These served three purposes:  they made the telegrams private (often the codes were created by the companies involved); they saved the sender a lot of moolah (telegram fees were charged by the word); and they enabled people to say unpleasant thing without anyone knowing. (Perhaps "sanglost" meant "this guy is a drunk; don't work with him, or "butterspartz" meant "that train car is full of dead cows; get it onto a side rail quick.")  No one can know how many secret codes were used, but there are some intriguing examples out there.  Look for them when you're reading through your collection of antique telegrams.