Monday, May 28, 2018

swatches - past, present and future

Back in the day we used to wear these things on our wrists called watches.  After we graduated from the sundial, the mechanical clock was how we told time.  Having a small, portable version on your arm was pretty dang convenient.  I'm being a little sarcastic because technology has moved us to an era where the younger generations can't imagine the inconvenience of not having a digital clock face on the small computer screen in their pocket.  More recently I've noticed that people are wearing things on their wrists again, but it's the tiny Apple watch computer screen or one of those huge Garmin fitness watch faces.  I remember when our first kid was having to learn how to tell time manually when he first started school and he asked why this was important because every clock in his life was digital.  Kid arguments like that are the reason "because I said so" was invented.

A year ago I decided to go back to the wrist watch.  I don't wear any jewelry.  Not only is it a hazard in my line of work, I also just don't like things hanging off of me.  But I often found myself in conversations with people and also really needing to know what time it was.  When they pulled out their phone and looked at it, I felt that was rude and not conducive to conversation.  I know they could have been just checking the time, but they also could have been bored and hoping to find something more interesting and stimulating than me on their phone.  I never wanted to be that rude to them.  Even if I needed to be across town to pick up my kids in eleven minutes.  

Even in conversations I didn't want to be a part of...when I was being held hostage by a non-stop talker and really needed to escape, basic decency kept me from pulling my phone out of my pocket to check to see how long they had been talking.  

But the wrist watch.  I was quick enough to be able to check the time on a watch without being rude.  You just have to watch the eye contact.  You maintain eye contact with a smile and wait for them to look away.  Your arm is already positioned so that a quick glance is all you need.  As soon as their eyes move left or right, boom, you check the watch and you're back at eye contact before they come back.  Such is the inner thought process of a socially awkward person.  Still, I know what time it is without being rude.  All I needed was to find my old watch.

I'm sure I had any number of watches as a kid.  I think I even had one of those calculator watches in elementary school.  I didn't do math, I think it was just cool for a couple of months.  I probably spelled questionable words with the upside down numbers and found various other ways to not pay attention in class.

I was in high school in the 80s (class of 1990!) and that was right up in the wheelhouse of the rise of Swatches.  Swatch was a Swiss brand name of colorful, plastic watches.  When the plastic neon 1980s bloomed, their designers jumped on the train and produced cheaply made, durable watches with interchangeable bands.

I worked in my dad's metal shop and cut grass for the lady with the big yard on the corner.  Swatches were cheap enough that I could afford them.  The idea was that you could buy a Swatch and when you wanted to change it up, you could buy new bands in whatever colors you wanted.  They even had those rubber "Swatch Guards" in bright colors to protect the watch face which also gave you more ways to change things up.  

As best I can remember, this was one of my first Swatches from around 1988.  The silver watch came with the leather band still attached to the top.  At some point I changed it out with a white plastic one.  

The animal print one above was probably from the same time period and had both plastic printed bands to match the face.  Swatches were water resistant up to several feet under water so as a teenager, I don't think I ever took it off.  It swam with me and showered with me.  Eventually the plastic bands would crack and break, so you'd just dig into your box of spare bands that you thought were a good idea one night at the mall and you'd switch it out.  Apparently I thought white was a good idea.

In college, I'd like to think my artistic taste developed a little more fully.  Swatches were not really the thing anymore, but I still appreciated the inexpensive functionality and the design.  There's always been a beauty to the proportion of the watch to the bands and the sleek flow of the watch casing into the curve of the bands.  I took this one off to sleep, swim and shower so that helped prolong the life of the bands.  I still think the design of this one is cool but mustard yellow?  What was I thinking?  This one is probably from '91 or '92.

I still love this one.  They started printing the date on the watch face and this one is from 1992.  It was probably purchased from the Belk store in the Galleria mall in Rock Hill, SC.  I discovered my love of coffee in college and this seemed to be the perfect design.

I never got to wear this one much but it's from 1993.  I bought it just because it made me laugh.  It's Eve, she's naked and at every hour she's picking forbidden fruit.  The top of her body and the bottom of her body work as the watch hands.  The band is fake snake skin.  It still cracks me up.  I think I kept wearing the coffee watch instead of this one to protect Eve.  She's still in really great condition.  

 In less great condition is this beauty from 1996.  This puppy really got used.  It's one of my all time favorites.  One of the owners of the place I did graphic design for a long time got me this one from Switzerland in '96.  It was the first "skin" Swatch I owned.  These are much thinner and lighter watches and for a person who hates to wear things, it's perfect.  This one got a ton of use in the late '90s and early 2000s and it served me through graduate school.  It got beat up pretty bad in the sculpture studio and even took a couple of good hits on the concrete block walls there.  I wore out the original bands and got these replacements at the Swatch store in Times Square in 2003.  

It still kept perfect time until I got my first iPhone 3 and decided I didn't need a watch anymore.  This is the one I dug out of a drawer last year during the spring semester.  I got a new battery for it and I was back on manual time again.  I wore it to our first Sand Sculpture class in May, 2017 and the cracks in the face proved to no longer be water resistant.  It took on some salt water during our surfing escapades and the interior started to rust.  The watch worked fine, though.  At least for several more months.  That's when I noticed it running a bit slow and had to set it every couple of weeks.  

That brings us to my current Swatch from 2017.  G got me this one for my birthday to replace the old skin.  This one is also a skin and it goes with me every time I leave the house.  It survived the Sand Sculpture trip of 2018 although I admit I took it off for surfing this time.  Shopping for this one was difficult.  I think we ended up getting it from Amazon second hand.  There were so many Swatches to choose from and I discovered so many designs I never knew existed.  The James Bond collectible series was pretty cool, but nothing came close to the one I've wanted for several years now...

A Keith Haring designed Swatch from 1986.  I should have splurged for it years ago when I saw it on Ebay for $300ish.  When you can find them now they seem to be a good bit more.  I talked myself out of it then because I'm pretty realistic about functional things.  I want them to look good but I also want to use them.  The fancy plates that you aren't supposed to eat off of?  I have no use for that nonsense.  A Swatch designed by Keith Haring is useless in the box sitting at home.  I'd need to wear it and I'd scratch the face on the first day and have paint on it within a week.  But still, it's really cool.  

Maybe if I had been cooler in 1986 I could have snagged one for the suggested retail price of $50.  When I get my time machine, I'll put that on the list.  There's currently a set of 4 for $3,600 on Ebay.  You know, if you're looking for gift ideas for me.

A couple of my students came back from Paris last summer with new Swatches on their wrists.  That made me happy.  I'd love to see the Swatch Company continue to be successful and I'd love for humans to start wearing manual wrist watches again.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

sand sculpture 2018 part three

Saturday night's fun and the end of the week had everyone amped up.  I still heard Jarecki's voice and laughter outside my door after midnight.  I could hear the room beside me laughing too. My 46 year old butt was tired and it hurt a little to set that 5:30am alarm.

 But man, what a reward.  

 For the last beach run it was BOLT! and Gazelle, of course.  These two.  So committed.  I'm so impressed by their dedication.

 We ran down to the point again and there was even more beach this time.  I think these were snowy egrets.

 The light was beautiful.  The clouds and water just made everything absolutely perfect.  I took so many photos.

 So many photos.

 So many photos.

 A cool reflection photo of BOLT!

A cool reflection photo of Gazelle.

An even better reflection photo of me taken by Gazelle.

 The view back up the beach.

 For everyone who scoffed at the idea of getting up so early, here's what you missed.  Totally worth it.

 After a pretty extended break we were a few shells richer and our feet were very sloshy.  But we headed back to the hotel taking in the beauty of the sky and the beauty of the week as we ran.

After coffee and showers we joined the group loading up the vehicles for the drive home.  We made a stop at Flapjacks for breakfast in Garden City before driving to Bishopville, SC, home of Pearl Fryar.


 Pearl is a world famous topiary artist.  Or as he prefers to put it, "I cut bushes."  He's been cutting those bushes for 38 years now in his quiet neighborhood.

 He's visited weekly by people from around the world and he has a movie that was made about him.

 The work he does is really amazing and it's wonderful to have him living and working in our home state.

 We were lucky enough to catch him at home on a Sunday after church and he came out to talk to us.

 He has a great demeanor and he was a captivating speaker.  

 My students listened carefully as he gave advice about school, art and even marriage.

 The connection with sand sculpture is that Pearl has devoted his life to creating and sharing art that makes people happy.  His message of Love, Peace and Goodwill is intended to allow viewers to leave better than they arrived.  As I've practiced sand sculpture for the last 10 years that's also the major goal I've had.  People are walking the beach or lying in the sun and they are surprised by this sand creation.  It makes them smile and brightens their day.  When people look at something you've made and they walk away smiling and happier than they were before, that's about the best thing you could do as an artist.  This is a message I wanted my students to get.

 It was great to be there in his yard.  I first learned about Pearl from Tom Stanley at Winthrop about 25 or so years ago.  I've seen video clips and tons of photos but I'd never stood inside the topiary garden until last Sunday.  

 Forgive me for being a little bit out of uniform.  Pearl was wearing the international sculptor's uniform, jeans and a white t-shirt.  

 These "sailing ship" topiaries were elegant and stunning.

 Even the smallest plants were interesting.

 There's not a boring plant in his entire yard.

 This one was probably my favorite.  The little negative space there on the far right was perfect.  This was just half of an arched entryway.

 The fishbone tree.

 I'm so tempted to get my clippers out and start carving on the hedges.

 But I know I don't have the patience it takes to literally grow a sculpture.  Pearl talked to my students about the three things they needed to have success.  Hard work, passion and marketing.  It's easy to see the hard work involved here.  Still to this day he works every single day in his garden.  Every day for 38 years on his masterpiece.

 You can learn more about Pearl at  His film is called "A Man Named Pearl"

 I loved MC Escher way too much as a kid to not take this photo.

I got to talk a little welding and work ethic with Pearl before we thanked him and loaded up one last time.  This is where the art convoy broke up and my truck headed toward Laurens.

Grace's home is not far off the interstate before you get to my house.  Grace isn't fond of silence and at one point in her talking she told us about he great uncle's ice cream shop in downtown Newberry.  I hadn't realized we skipped lunch but ice cream sounded good to everyone in the truck so we got a small tour of town before pulling into the ice cream parking lot.  We enjoyed some ice cream and this purple building across the street before dropping Grace at her sister's.  

Minutes later I was home.

A few years ago this Sand Sculpture class was just a funny idea.  The art department faculty supported it and so did the university.  I'm am forever thankful for this support.  Sandy Singletary is super smart about trips and she knows all the ways to make a trip like this work.  Without her help, I'd be traveling alone and there would be no class.  She handles every detail of the trip that involves money and she does it better than anyone else.  I think we were up about $.50 in the budget by the time we returned and that's amazing.  If you went on this trip, you should send Singletary a note of thanks.  We also had the good fortune of having Haley come along to document the sand sculptures and all the group photos with a real camera.  This was a big help and we are all thankful for her as well.  Also, go stay at The Litchfield Inn.  Tell them you heard about them from us.  It will help keep our costs low.

And the students.  Once again we had a great group of people sign up for this class.  7 of the 16 students were freshmen which blows my mind.  3 of the students were second timers.  All of them were well behaved and they all followed our one rule.  Don't ask.

A few things we don't want to forget:

There was a guy at Brookgreen with the tiniest handlebar mustache.  It was like someone was playing a prank on us.  The whole thing from one curled end to the other barely stuck out beyond his nostrils.  It was hilarious.  And then he talked to me.  Remember the scene in Austin Powers when he's talking to the guy with the mole?  That was me talking to mustache guy.

At the edge of the sculpture garden at Brookgreen there was a chain blocking off a trail through the swamp.  The chain was down.  We went in.  It was a long buggy walk that took us to the river.  We thought we might die a few times.  We survived.

Minutes before closing time at the Chick-fil-a, Seth and I dashed in to order milkshakes.  While we were paying one of the very polite employees quickly turned a corner behind the counter, slipped and fell in a very dramatic fashion.  Seth and I watched as every single one of the very kind, very polite employees cackled and horse-laughed the guy on the floor.  It was wonderful.

Remember the lady with the dogs that night by the pool?  She asked so many questions and was kinda loud.  The very next morning at Huntington she walked right between our vehicles while we were paying.  She stopped again and talked to us.  She worked there and it was her 3rd day on the job.  It was weirdly coincidental.

BHP is not Hawaiian.  Not even close.  He's of Hispanic descent and speaks fluent Spanish.  Every second person on this trip asked him if he was Hawaiian.  In their defense, he does have a Hawaiian shirt from Goodwill.  Just minutes before we roasted him with his Hawaiian award that I can't tell you about, a cashier asked him if he was Hawaiian.  It was too perfect.

Armir is like a big brother to the students and like an unpaid intern to me.  He was a calming presence among the students.  On one of the rainy days while everyone hid under the shelter he distracted everyone from their misery by asking them thoughtful questions like "what superpower would you choose to have" or "who in history would you have dinner/coffee with".  Several of the students talked about how fun this was and though Seth and I missed it, Armir let us have a turn at dinner that night.  We got to answer and explain our answers and he made everyone else at the table answer again so we could hear it.  Moments like that we will not soon forget.  

And...I got to surf.  It was so great.  I love this class.  I guess I'll do it again next year.

*also, Singletary fussed at me for not putting part three up fast enough.  Happy now?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

sand sculpture 2018 part two

 ...picking up where we left off...

 Thursday morning looked like this.  A lot more clouds blocking that sunrise but they created a dreamlike landscape for running.  

 The usual slogsquad was out at 6am for a run.

 Those balcony breakfasts were really sweet all week long.  I brought my fancy coffee maker with me and only got mocked a little for that.  But I forgot my giant mug so Singletary made an emergency trip to the Dollar Tree on the first morning to find a mug to get me through the week.  The handle was cracked but it made it all the way home in one piece.

 The Thursday sand sculpture studio was a different location.  After breakfast we loaded up and drove a couple of miles north to Huntington Beach State Park for the day.  The beaches there are wide open and usually not very populated.  It's a great place to spread out and work with various found objects gathered from along the beach.  As the students got started, I headed up the beach in search of beach treasures and a little bit of solitude.  I came across this decorated tree not far from our sculpture spot.  

 The decorations got started a couple of years ago and now people come by throughout the year and add to it.  

 It's a perfect fit for what we were doing all week, taking natural things around us and making people smile with how we organized them.  

 Found this vicious looking fish washed up.  Those nasty looking fangs will make you never want to go in the water again.

 Also found this jellyfish's final resting place.

 The walk started out as me checking on sculptors working up the beach and turned into a little escape.  I picked up Sabrina as I was exploring and since we were already so far out, we decided to continue on to the northernmost boundary of the park, the rock jetty at the mouth of Murrell's Inlet.  

Sabrina was not prepared for the adventure.  The rock jetty has an asphalt walkway in the center but it's really tough on the feet.  We had already walked about 1.5 miles just to get to it and now it was a long walk out to the end of the jetty.  For the record, I offered her my sandals.

 As we neared the end, the skies darkened and the wind and waves picked up.  It's hard to tell from the photos but the waves were really large.  They'd build up to an impressive height and then they'd crash along both sides of the jetty.  It was pretty intense.  

 That was about the time Sabrina told me she couldn't swim.  I was not excited about jumping in to save anyone and getting dashed against the rocks so we rolled out and headed back.

 Reunited with the class, I was happy to find people hard at work, even with the occasional rain shower passing by.  This collection of shells gathered and sorted by Emily made me really happy.  It demonstrated a thoughtful processing of the artist research done before the trip.

 The ocean breeze is usually a nice cooling breeze on a sunny day.  But when it's about 70 degrees and raining, that breeze can feel downright cold.  Mary Catherine and Jocelyn took refuge against the dunes during a downpour.

 But my people stayed busy and used the rain to their advantage.  Abby ignored the rain and kept working.

 Katherine was smart enough to bring rain gear.

 BOLT! was cold all day but she kept working, creating giant thumbs stretching a long way up the beach.

 Around lunch time a really strong downpour came up and pelted us with rain.  We took it as long as we could before heading to the parking lot and taking a lunch break under the picnic shelter.

 Even a stormy, rainy beach is captivating.

 Between downpours Jocelyn finished her tidal pool sculpture lined with leaves and rocks.  It got more interesting when the water drained out and the wind blew sand into the space.

Katherine finished her big octopus.

 And Jarecki made a really big pineapple.

 The rain stopped for a bit and we loaded up and headed over to Atalaya Castle on the other end of the park.  This was the seasonal home of Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband Archer Huntington in the mid 1900s.  It was built during the Great Depression and it contains a huge sculpture studio where Anna worked and had stables and holding areas for wildlife so she could work from live models.  

 It's a beautiful place and a great little piece of South Carolina's art history.

 By this point in the week we were nailing the group photos.  We look like a happy family.

Friday's slog was a little wet.  The phone case was covered in rain so we got a blurry slog pic.  Jarecki joined the regulars again.

 Friday was the last individual project day and several people had some things to prove.  The week had been frustrating to a few students in terms of their projects.  They kept running out of time and things kept falling.  Friday was the day to show what they had learned.

 Armir was out at about 7:30 to start a huge project.

 Grace could barely be seen behind her sculpture.

 BOLT! went bigger too and took over a whole section of the beach.

 Katherine made a large banana themed sculpture

 Seth got back to building and made a big furry creature.

 Abby made a very cool cactus with lots of texture.

 I couldn't get a good photo of it but Armir made the Family Guy dude.

 And the big mound of sand Grace was hiding behind turned into a big elephant.

 Emily went Egyptian and made a pyramid.

 Singletary made a giant cupcake.

 Hannah made a cool abstracted butterfly.

 Jarecki wrestled with this guy all day and finally got him to stay together.  He's a stegosaurus.

Kelsey worked with this one through some changes and ended up with a creature with a little bit of whipped cream and a cherry on top.

 The fun activity for the day was the Broadway Grand Prix.  The rain held off in the afternoon long enough for us to grab a quick bite at Chick-fil-A and make it to the race cars.  The look on Singletary's face in that photo sums up the night.

 The go-carts were so much fun.

 We all got to race each other and it was a great way to let go and have some fun.

 After hitting all the good tracks, a downpour blew through and we thought our night of racing was over.  We headed inside for some fun in the arcade.

 Blue loves to play Terminator but he and I never get very far.  This was an opportunity to play with Armir who has a little experience with an automatic weapon.  We did pretty good together.

 I did not fair so well in air hockey against Emily.  She's a shark.

 We were just about ready to leave when we realized the track were open again.  We all headed back out for more laps.

 Jessica had a boot on her foot all week but Jarecki wanted to make sure she got to enjoy some go-carting.  They got a "family car" and the track dudes let them do some laps by themselves.

 We all drove pretty aggressively.  There was absolutely no bumping but there was also a lot of bumping.  We got whistled at a few times by the track dudes, but they seemed happy to let us fight it out.  It was such a great night.  We all had a blast.

 Saturday morning it was a little wet and we were back with the slogsquad.  We ran down to the point again and with just a little difference in the tide, there was a lot more beach to explore down there.

 We didn't even mind stopping at the halfway point to explore and look for beach treasures.  The landscape was really fun to see.

 And treasures we found.  This guy was barely exposed in the sand.  I dug it out and it just kept coming.  It's the largest shell I've ever found.  The other side had a few holes in it and it was vacant, I promise.

These two are amazing.  They came out every day to slog, no matter how tired they were and no matter what the weather was.  By the end of the week they logged more than 22 miles of beach running.  I'm so impressed.

 While the rain flirted with us for several days, Saturday it moved in to stay.  There was a 100% chance all day and the forecast did not disappoint.  It rained all day, the wind blew and it was cold and uncomfortable ally day long.

 Saturday was our group project which turned out to be a Sand Sculpture Deathmatch.  I divided the students up into two teams and they set out to create the best sculpture in 6 hours.  

 They wore trash bags and ponchos.  Some had sweatshirts.  All were soaked to the bone.

 The good part was that if you stayed busy, you were not quite so uncomfortably cold.

 Grace was not amused by the weather.  I wasn't very amused either.  I had a pile of sketchbooks to grade and comment on along with a few other tasks so between work sessions, I ventured out to see how everyone was doing.  Each time I got soaked.  

 Singletary got pizzas for lunch and then everyone got right back at it.  Both teams finished on time and both did well.  Captain Armir's team made a monkey coming out of a barrel with bananas scattered across the beach.

 They were excited to be finished and to get out of the rain.

 Captain BOLT!'s team ended up with a whole beach of a giant squid.

 I had to get up high to get a photo and even then I couldn't get it all.

 But it was such an impressive scale.  They too were glad to be finished.

 With the sculptures finished most everyone wanted a hot shower.  But not these people.  We had worked so much through the week, only a couple of people had a chance to surf.  Since this was our last day on the beach, these four wanted to give it a shot.  So as wet and cold as we all were, we got the surfboard and we got into the ocean.

 Katherine was first and she did really well.  She got up at least twice.

 BHP took some turns a couple of days earlier but couldn't keep his balance.  He wanted another shot.

 He gave it a few good tries before handing it over to Jarecki.

 Jarecki caught a few waves but none of them were good enough to stand up on.

 In this photo we are realizing just how ridiculous we are.  Standing in the ocean in our clothes, my teeth were chattering but we couldn't stop smiling.  Seconds after this photo we came to our senses and ran inside to warm up.

 After those hot showers and some dry clothes, we were off to find food at Russell's.  Russell's is the best seafood in Murrell's Inlet and probably G's favorite restaurant in the world.  She didn't get to come down for the trip this year so don't tell her we ate at Russell's.  We've been coming to this place for about 15 years and Russell, the hostess and one of the waiters always recognize us.  I told them all to forget they saw me and to be sure and not mention it when we came back for vacation.  They assured me my secret was safe.

 We made a quick stop for some secrets and arrived back at the hotel just in time for this sunset.

 And on the other side of the hotel there was this tiny chunk of rainbow over the ocean.

 Another of our Sand Sculpture traditions is going to The Spirit Room on the last night for a little gathering.  This year we were announcing the Deathmatch winners and celebrating with a cake.  The students were bummed that we elected to award both teams as winners because each team created something so different from the other in terms of the criteria.  Both were amazing for different reasons and we couldn't fairly compare apples to oranges.  I understand their frustration with this decision but I stand by our choice. And this way everyone got cake!
 Spending an intense week together like this creates a lot of funny/embarrassing/memorable experiences.  On that last night in The Spirit Room we give out awards to the students.  Think of it as senior superlatives with a twist.  It ends up being a bit like a roast at times.  Some get straightforward awards for being good people but most get some sort of funny or joke award and we all have a good laugh.  I would love to share these awards with you, but what happens in The Spirit Room stays in The Spirit Room.  If you want to experience it, you'll just have to come next year.  That's BHP in the photo.  That's all I'm allowed to say.

Stay tuned for part three soon.....