When you step out into the world as much a hot air balloon as a young man, there's no opportunity you feel you can't rise to and some deflation is bound to occur.
College was a ball pit of ideas and emotions. Diving into the pool of cereal brightness was symbolic of the possibilities that waited for me. But as sure as the sugar high will pass, in the stillness you begin to feel the harshness of the plastic fabric at the base, smells are loosened and you realize that you are in a hammock of Chinese plastic. Whimsy and decrepitude are the two sides of the play pen I called college.
But one shining star of my higher education experience was Art Class (sounds familiar, right?). I had taken a few in the past. Learned the kind of things they advertised on tv, in those art tests you can send in to see if you have what it takes to take an art class (I seem to remember the pith of which involved drawing a pirate with a parrot). Drawing was always fun for me, but I would usually hit a sort of wall of technical ability. AND to be honest, when you're taking art classes when you're vulnerable and base-emotion terrified, seeing other kids with natural talent is devastating. I was certainly not equipped with the head screwed-on-ness to not seep cool, green envy. Instead of motivating me to work harder, I began, like so many people, to compartmentalize creativity. Some people have it (very often the goth and 4chan kids) some people do not. I wouldn't whole heartedly cast myself into the ball pit of the incapable, but I knew I could never pull off a tail, either.
So while I enjoyed art class, it was also a nervy burden. Asked to do things that didn't come easy to me, that required hard work, while certain people around me, my teacher included, did the work in half the time with seemingly no effort at all. I wasn't sure what the takeaway was. Diorama building this was not! This was the next level of making in the education system. I wasn't sure how to feel about it. ALSO, gossipy side note: a very emotional girl in my art class tried to stab someone with a scratchboard blade, only to miss and lodge it into her wrist. She would have to get tetanus shots, and it would be the talk of the class for the remainder of the year.
By the time I was in college, and some art classes were required for the honors program that I was in, my perspective had changed a bit. I had rediscovered my desire to make things (see the companion post to this one). The ideas in my head were non stop, my brain was in a constant state of play. I would associate it's locomotion most with floating physics of doing drugs, though I did not partake at the time (honest!). Physical objects unclick from the matte background, and physical space no longer seems as set in its ways. Everything becomes as conceptual as it is literal. The world breaks into legos and asks for your Sim City (or Sims, depending on your loyalties) style participation.
As we began to make things, I began for once, not to feel held back by my lack of artistic skill (okay, I was still a little wistful towards that, who wouldn't be?). I saw it as something to work around. Some things I can draw quite well, others I can't. I began to play with different styles, learned to appreciate the messy, disproportionate drawing as not simply an insufficient duplicate but an individual's perspective of the world. A thumbprint. As people often do, when they learn to take their self-conscious, creativity shield down, blind contour drawings became infinitely more interesting than a well-shaded apple.
It only took one more semester, when I took the 102, art class: 3D Fundamentals, for it to hit me. You didn't have to do all the art, all the time. Obviously, if you were taking this seriously, at some point, you'd find both your strengths and what you love to make and you would make that. I had assumed, to be an artist (a term I trumpeted around all the time) you'd have to MASTER all of the ARTS! For a modern boy, I really had some traditional, ancient, bearded notions of how things were to be done.
3D Fundamentals was arguably the most important class of my life. It lit my fire in way that only English classes ever had. The ideas, the concepts were always at play with the execution. Medium became more than just black and white versus color, realistic vs. distorted. This art could be made of anything in the world. Could be made out of earth itself. It all began to align. I began to spend hours in the art building after class, making an inflatable, crumbling, brick wall, a little house plot with a battery in the back yard looming like a water tower, enormous cardboard headphones that spit out cassette tape on to the floor. I was hooked like a bass and baby, from my plaque I was a' singing.
And yet I still had almost no experience with paper. In fact, the real beginning of Shipwreck, came from nowhere. I made a card for a friend's birthday. I had an idea, cut up some paper, and made a little intellectual dinosaur. I used scissors and an actual blue, glue stick and it felt like such a nice combination of being young, and feeling some version of grown up. That was the first time I made a card from cut paper.
At the same time, my best friend and roommate, Rush, who was an RA, was responsible for making a new bulletin board every month. He dreaded it, and I was always (and am still) down for a creative project, to make things, and to help a friend, so I offered to do his bulletin board for him. After some initial doubts about not doing the work himself, he relented. He took me to THE GRINGOTTS OF THE RA, otherwise known as the supply room. Within its walls were stacks of construction paper, printers, copiers, those giant rolls of paper that only teachers use, you name it. I stocked up with more than I would ever need and I went to work.
A few days later, I had a board of made up facts about dinosaurs (people need to know!). From there, the rewards of the objects were within me. I felt an enormous sense of pride at the silly things I was making. I made one more card involving an OCD Astronaut Octopus, before the pressures of going to college allowed that hobby to slip into the past. Other projects sprung up. Costumes for halloween, practical jokes, party ideas.
After college I moved to Austin. It was one of the most poetic and effortlessly pleasurable periods of my life. So it is no surprise that this is where Shipwreck gestated into a full blown THING. In these days of living in a city where I knew only my roommate (and him only for a handful of months), I was as hungry for creative endeavor as ever. I wrote 1/2 of a novel. I cooked baguettes from scratch. I began my now infamous gold frame wall and in my internet wanderings one day, I happened upon a tutorial for making paper art, in the style of screen printing. And that was that.
I made a gift or two for Christmas that year in the style. And I just really took a liking to it. I loved how exacting it was, how much patience and dexterity it took, but also how organic it looked. I loved that if there was a detail I didn't like, I could just redo it, but that it wasn't the same control as having an undo button or an eraser in hand. After a few projects in this style, I ventured out, and with the inspiration of one of my favorite artists, Jen Stark, I began to experiment with layering many sheets of paper on top of each other, to create not just representational images, but surreal pieces that move slightly when viewed in person.
I had an art show, and made up business cards and even sold a piece! But ultimately, these larger scale pieces took weeks and sometimes months to make, and I just didn't know how to sell them. So I went back to the drawing board, and as I often do when looking for guidance, I thought about the dinosaurs. Those greeting cards and silly things that filled me with such joy in college also delighted the recipients. It was something beautiful and harmless that I could stand behind. And so it went. Tiny frameable art, for people's birthdays, graduations, anniversaries.
And BABY SHIPWRECK WAS BORN.
It wasn't until a few years later, in a silly loft in Bushwick that I was able to launch my project in earnest, but even so, it felt like it happened in mere moments. Just as a life does. And now, as I am mired by the very real work and consideration of starting a creative business, I look back on all these moments of discovery with such warmth and tenderness (you know I've never cut my finger on either an x-acto blade or a piece of paper since I've been doing this?), and it gives me the courage to go on. Because I look back and I see that I never knew what I was doing, and it never once held me back.
Sometimes it is so easy to look to the past, to revel in stories of embarrassment with old friends, to walk through past relationships, to share photo albums when visiting your childhood home. Other days it feel like reaching into the waves for your sunglasses. They must be close, flitting around your ankles, but your hands thrust into the foam make you realize how blind you are to the tilt of the planet, the forces that make the water eddy all around us. There's movement everywhere, so don't forget while you're dancing, to dance.
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