Monday, December 30, 2013

Wherein medieval art writers conveniently leave steps out and wherein not living in Italy makes you swear at your project

So, I thought it might be time to publicly reflect on two issues that happen in Arts and Science projects that cause them to not go quiiiite the way you had planned them.  While this is obviously part of my projects analysis and reflection as well, I think it's important that people understand that even working on high level entries stuff goes wrong. All. The. Time.

First, the more innocent.  We do not live in Italy. Well, I don't - maybe you do - and we are not in the middle of a global temperature freeze nor is the humidity level and temperature level of Florida like anything anywhere. We have days where gilding is easy peasy and other days where we laugh and won't touch the stuff because its just not going to stick - or it will stick to EVERYTHING including the cats, yourself, the floor, your table. Not that I've had to take gold leaf off the cats or am still trying to buff it out of the dining room table or anything.

The point is, our weather - or your weather - really affects your art.  Here in Florida it's either insanely humid and hot or rather chilld and humid or.. just to be confusing... chilly and dry because the air conditioner sucks all the moisture out of the air. While some of this can be mitigated by opening and closing windows, humidifiers, etc, it's a constant game of roulette to try and get "ideal" conditions for your supplies to behave as they would have in the 1400's in Belgium or Flanders or England or Florence.  It just doesn't work right. Sometimes this means absolutely nothing - parchment will still act like parchment. Hardened metal will still be hardened metal.  But other times - like with anything involving paint, glue, varnish, or anything susceptible to weather - you're playing a game of artistic high-stakes poker and praying you've got it right. Sometimes it takes several attempts to figure it out and sometimes what worked PERFECTLY last time didn't work at all this time.

Second, Medieval artisans lie. Maybe, to be less accusatory, they omit. This may be because they were attempting to protect a trade secret that kept them as popular artisans in a time when selling your art was absolutely a commodity and a trade. This may also be sometimes because the step seems so infantiley stupid that OF COURSE you would know to do that. Strain the bits from the oak gall ink? Well duh. Leave the varnish on to seep into the cloth? Of course. Why would you tell someone how to turn on the light instead of just telling them to turn the light on today? You wouldn't - you'd expect that they know where the switch is.

In short, there is no perfect art sci (even those high scoring ones).  It's a learning process and part of that process is, well, learning. To do that you need patience and the ability to let go of perfection and how it "should" be and sometimes go with "how it is" and "what does that mean?"

Also, don't gild the cats.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Optimism and Expectations - an SCA musing

I spent a great deal of time pondering this concept of expectations on my drive home last night. We had a lovely event and saw some much beloved friends and James was utterly passed out from lack of sleep this week. 

I spent a lot of time yesterday listening. This wasn't really my initial goal for the day but I ended up in a position that landed me in several moments of individuals dealing with various topics and situations that I was only peripherally part of or that I wasn't entirely fully informed enough to make my own commentary.  It left me as a sideline viewer of these moments and I try to use those times to learn and absorb.  These situations were all by and large pleasant or were neatly handled and resolved quickly and so none of this was negative in the extreme. No drama or fights or anything of the sort. I noticed, however, many of these moments began not with positive expectations but with negative ones. Not even strongly negative ones - I would say they were absolutely mundanely realistic expectations based off life experiences and hard-won world-knowledge.   In short - we were all being very practical in our approach to everything. I was too - lack of sleep and a very difficult mundane month made me a little less shiny and optimistic than I normally am yesterday. 

The problem came, as I drove home and tried to figure out why this was not settling entirely well with me, is when I realized why that didn't mesh with my vision of the "Dream" yesterday and why yesterday felt quite... well... mundane...in several ways. I don't mean this in the sense of the backroom work necessary to organize crowns and coronets or the paperwork or the mundane legalities of the society. All of that is part and parcel of what I normally deal with at events and I find it enjoyable.  I mean it in the general sense of people interacting with one another. We were mundane in our expectations of those around us.

The ideals of chivalry and honor and hope and love and faith and all that we strive toward have very little room in them for the practicality of "mundane and realistic" expectations. They were and are chivalric ideals that are based on striving toward something better and that are, often, difficult to achieve.  It is why we admire them so -because they are not common and because they demand dedication and work.  They demand optimism, hope, and expecting the absolute best from those around you. Ah! Lightbulb moment! Now how to wrangle this into the "real world" that we live in as well as the Societal expectations around us.

There are two "problems" with this need for optimism and high expectation.  The first is that, obviously, not everyone has that same "Dream" vision and so you're bound to encounter a few folks who don't live up to those high ideals even some of the time. This can cause problems when you were expecting better than you saw or received. Sometimes - often I think -this is a matter of someone having an off moment or a bad day.  Most of us come to the SCA to find something different than our mundane lives, after all. That's an easy fix as a return to those ideals really just involves awareness, a sincere apology or moment of reflection, and bam we're back on track. Even the best of us have those moments and that's perfectly fine. Humanity at its finest.

Sometimes, however, we encounter people who are so mired in the negative, pessimistic, or simply just "realistic" view of the world that it's hard to be around them and still have those feelings that honor and chivalry, courtesy, and high expectations are in fact possible. This does not make those people bad - far far from it - but it means an awareness of mindset that sometimes they simply just won't "get" the viewpoint you're coming from. This is, again, also all right but it means that those of us working to live up to those chivalric ideals may have to adjust our own mindsets to compensate or endure through those encounters with our own optimism intact. 

The second problem is simply that this is a very hard mindset to personally shake.  The mundane world conditions us to be practical - and by and large practicality is a wonderful thing.  It allows us to tone back our art or planning flails to something workable. It lets us work with identifiable resources rather than funds or volunteers we don't have. It lets us budget our time wisely and plan rationally to accomplish large tasks that need getting done.  The mundane world, however, has also taught us that people are generally not trustworthy, hard working, or reliable.  It tells us that people cannot live up to high expectations or fulfill our ideals outside of those we trust the very most. This seems particularly prevalent in American society that we tend to feel like everyone is somehow "out to get us" and this isn't a viewpoint helped by our modern media and its focus on the negative. There's probably some very valid sociological and psychological reasons for this but that isn't really here or there when the Societal demands in the SCA ask for something very different from us.  I was very much prey to this yesterday and I expected not the best but, at least, practical and mundane reactions from those around me. 

The ideals of chivalry ask us to believe that our fellows are good, upstanding, reliable, noble, kind, chivalrous, hard-working and capable.

Obviously a bit of a disjoint when we show up from jobs that leave us often feeling beleaguered and frustrated with the abilities of those around us.

I can tell you however - our mundane views are wrong. Boy is it hard to cling to that sometimes too, but they are and I am a happier person and a better person when I can believe this.

Oh, not all the time. There are bad folks out there and people who are not worth spending time around. There are true pessimists and people who don't lug their share of the weight in this world.  But most people are good and want to be hard working and productive and offer the best within themselves.

We have to, however, let them do so.  We need to expect that our fellows are going to meet the same ideals we are striving for ourselves. We need to ask for it.  We cannot assume that, going into a given problem, the people we are approaching were intending malice - even though sometimes this gets us burned.  We cannot assume that because someone is having other problems in their world that they cannot have a rational, adult moment and be spoken to with caring and foresight for their duties and well being.  We must assume that someone working on a project can have a rational and constructive conversation about their project - be that art or service, and can work toward a better end as a result.

If we approach situations with optimism in mind, with the highest expectations of those around us - we often *get* it.  I see it in students constantly. If I expect that they are stupid or inept, they will only ever live up to that, in part because it is the ONLY thing I become willing to see. If I expect them to work hard and be brilliant -they often are. And it becomes self-fulfilling. They do it again... and again... and again. If I expect that people will be calm and polite and gracious, they often will be because there becomes a social obligation of trying to move toward the same goal.

Does this mean I expect perfection? Nope. Does it mean everyone will live up to this 100% of the time? Nope. Does this mean we will occasionally have messes created by those who fall short? Sure does.  But we have all of that even if we're being "practical."  What it does mean is that if I - if we - cling to our expectations and our optimism, we will see it more in those around us. We will see it become fulfilled more often and our interactions with those around us will become more positive and less based in the mundane ideals of a practical world that tells us our fellows have "already failed' because that is a safer social option in our mind.

It's a scary, scary place to go. But it's pretty amazing when it happens - and it will happen far more often than you might think.  This is what I cling to. Or try to - yesterday was a reminder that I have off days myself. But when I reach it, my world is very much filled with glory and happiness and something intangible that makes it infinitely better than it was the moment before.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A recent discussion on the Ask a Laurel Facebook reminded me that I don't post here often enough. Fortunately I keep galleries of all my scribal work here:  https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/112735004436194670657/albums/5647757165271617473

The most recent "big" endeavors have been continuing scribing but also last year's Visconti Tarot project (a snippet here from the scribal gallery.) Twelve cards all completely reproduced with period methods and materials, including my own handmade cardboard.  Needless to say the house was covered in gold leaf for months!

I am currently working on period style banners (pictures coming soon) and period masks, all of which ended up as odd extensions of scribal work because it seems almost everything I'm directly interested in is an extension of that.

The below shows a sketch of the French royal arms a la Charlemagne that is being completed with period materials and process. The cartoon was done in charcoal, traced onto the silk in charcoal and is in the process of being gilded at the moment. The only substitutions on this one will be the leaf itself as that was WAY too much gold leaf (all those fleurs) for my wallet!


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Peers and Associates - a response to Mistress Ilene

And now for something non art related ;)

Since I like a good thought question - and one of my favorite things in the SCA is the sheer number of peers that I get the privilege of hanging out with and listening to (they're cool people with neat outlooks!) - my Baroness and good friend - and a Pelican, asked today on her blog that people consider what they thought was a good peer and a good peer/associate relationship.

Like Christoff, I feel rather compelled to answer this as part of my apprenticeship to Mistress Gwen is considering those very concepts.

A peer/apprentice relationship needs to be tailored to the pair of individuals. What works for Gwen and I, for example, is a fairly hands off relationship where I approach when I have questions. This typically turns into me having more like five laurels due to the way Feilicean works, which is juuust fine by me.  My role with her is far more about discussion, partnership, and shared interest and less about her being a "teacher" and me a "student."  She absolutely *does* teach me - but she knows I'm motivated enough to Hermione-wave when I need help and when I want to talk.  For me, this is a perfect combination as I dislike people standing over my shoulder.  In contrast, my friend Mora has often said she'd like someone with a more hands on approach to nudge and guide more regularly and to be able to run questions by. For me, this means that a good peer/associate relationship has two things. 

The first is clear expectations.  Gwen and I clicked fairly quickly but we did have several conversations about her expectations and mine, my learning goals, etc.  We were very clear with one another, which was as important to us as friends and mentor/student as it is as artists.  Actually Feilicean's pretty good, as a whole, about being straight forward and it's a valued trait amidst butterflies. Who knew?

The second is respect and trust. That can come in many forms but it's important that both the peer respect the associate and the associate respect the peer. I don't mean in a kiss-up sort of way, but in the way that a person values a special friendship, relationship, or interaction.  I trust my peer's advice and I respect it, but in turn I am given respect and trust to pursue my interests, and to be my own person.  I realize there are a number of associates who have formal relationships with their peers and that works for them, so I point back to the need for trust and respect on both sides in whatever sort of relationship works for those folks.

As for what makes a good peer - I think I revise this concept about once a month. I had some very definite opinions when I first started my SCA journey and some of those remain intact while others have altered significantly as I've gotten older and more experienced.

They should be knowledgeable. Not just about their area of passion, but about the workings of the society and other aspects that may not be their specialty as well. You don't have to be a "master" at everything but I like a certain sense that a peer is well rounded enough to be able to point people in a direction if they themselves don't personally know how to do something.  I also like to think that Peer's aren't just "one trick" ponies - I may be a good illuminator (see Jake I admitted it!) but I feel like I should also at least be decent at some other stuff too. One of the reasons I try so many arts and try to push myself to excel at anything I try is this belief. I don't think I'm going to be amazing at everything. But I want to have a good breadth of knowledge in addition to the passion I feel for illumination, calligraphy, and service.

They should be a role model. This can either be direct mentoring or by example.  "You never know who's watching or how far the story goes," is one of my favorite lines from a Heather Dale song. I have been sometimes sorely disappointed to see how people forget to be chivalrous when they think no one is looking. Obviously, everyone is human and I really try to maintain that awareness so that our peers don't feel as if they need to be PERFECT all the time.  That said, a peer should remember that they are a role model and strive to BE what they want to encourage. Chivalrous, kind, honest, and thoughtful are my biggies.

A peer should serve. I never understood this when I was younger and then I played a queen in changeling for three years.  This may seem like an odd correlation - you played a role playing character and understood service and noblesse oblige?  Yup.  I got a really good grasp in those years of leadership position in-character (which was pretty much a volunteer job on its own) of the concept that the highest up are the ones that are often working the hardest and serving the most.  The job of a peer is, in part, to be certain that the Kingdom, the populace, the whomever, are served and happy and able to access and LIVE the Dream as much as possible.  That doesn't mean as a Peer that you are going to be toting the feast trays all the time - but maybe sometimes you tote a feast tray ;)  I feel like a peer's job is, in part, to be inspiring the ideals we strive for and that often means a sort of reverse philosophy of serving the kingdom and populace.

A peer IS human.  That and a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee, as they say. A peer is human and I think its important to remember this. They go home. They have lives. Chaos happens and they don't get to their e-mail. They have a bad day and may get a little grouchy on occasion.  These are the things that all humans go through. I think what separates a peer, however, is how they ultimately deal with those moments.  Did they get a little snappy at feast after fourteen hours of cooking? Well sure - but did they also talk to people to encourage them and smooth away the snap?  Did they make a mistake and own up to it and work out the issue?  Those are qualities I look for in a peer. I don't EXPECT or WANT perfection, but I do expect that a Peer recognizes the power and force of their own presence and words in the *context* of the SCA.

That last one was my biggest revelation in the past year. I was suffering, at one point, from a major case of Peer Fear but I've largely had to get over that becoming Chart Signet. That said, I have tremendous respect for peers but still realize they are human.  The ones that also realize and accept that - and work to be the best they can WITH that knowledge - are the ones who have earned so much of my admiration.