Ahoy Matey, and Welcome to REPTIRE, an intermittent ‘ship’s blog’, chronicling the slow rise in the South Easterly skies of Reptire Designs; a studio that designs and crafts always artful, and sometimes useful THINGAMABOBS from old Indian Cucachou, aka ReTired Rubber.

Down Below, Ye shall find a permanent 'flagship post' marking the Maiden Voyage of Reptire Designs.

And below that, in the ‘hull’, can be found more recent posts chronicling the daring new adventures of Reptire Designs, dashed with small bits of whimsy, spotted pickerel, local color, and lizard lore..

In fact, on the right, in pale purple, ye shall find the Captain's Log’s Table of Previous Posts, which ye can peruse by year, month, and title to ye hearts content.

If ye haven't gotchyer sea legs yet, My Pretty, Ye can take a gander at our website at www.reptiredesigns.com, to get a proper Landlubber's Introduction.

Thanks for stopping in, I do hope you enjoy your visit aboard this ship! HARHARHARHAR.......

Sincerely, Travius Von Cohnifus

Captain, Founder, Indentured Servant, Rubber Alligator Wrestlor Extraordinaire a' this here ship.

enter the treadknot

On September 26th, 2006, I launched my tire art/design business, Reptire Designs, with a solo exhibition of my artwork in The Green Gallery at The Scrap Exchange Center for Creative Reuse, in Durham, NC. For many reasons, it was a night that I will always remember, and I am grateful to Laxmi (my girlfriend at the time) and Edie (my mother, still) for dutifully documenting while I shmoozed, so that I may now shmare a taste of the evening with anyone who was not able to attend...

On a cool but lively autumn night-before-Center Fest, a stream of friends and curious strangers trickled (like pebbles through a rain stick) through the forest of odds and ends (that roost at night in The Scrap Exchange), out into the warm light of the back savanna, a scene utterly glopped with bizarre rubbery hybrids. Tentative and curious, the visitors craned their necks, nibbled, pecked, stood back, moved in closer. From the walls, glassy mirror eyes gazed back through black unblinking eyelids, while beneath the visitor's feet, in a steamy drainage cistern, a mortal drama unfolded. Primordial forms, with no eyes at all, sat puckered on stoops. A cascade of glittering steal droplets formed a curtain, to which clung a colony of tiny tire knotlettes.

Vito D., a long-time collabator down from the Asheville area, caressed the warming air with his Strange Little Folk music. I bobbed and I flit, and at an increasing clip-someone must have opened the faucet a bit....for soon I was swooning, I just about lost it! As the evening progressed, to my delight and amazement, 'family' from Durham, Chapel Hill, Pittsboro, Hillsboro, Siler City, Asheville, and Fresno all made it! From the Cohn Clan to the Steudel Clan to the CFS Clan; from the WWC Clan to the Duke Ac Pub Clan to the SAF Clan; from the Bike Shop Clan to the Ninth St. Clan to the Scrap Clan... and every one in between, guys, they were all appearing before my stunned, blinking eyes. While I spun and I splayed, Vito now played-CHURNED- up a torrent of gritty ditties; while a staff volunteer (Brandon's a photographer, I swear) whipped up pitchers of Mango Lassies. And The 'Scrap Exchange girls' worked the door, the counter, and the floor, going "cha-CHING!", cha-CHING!","cha-CHING!".!.

By the end of the night, hundreds of friends, acquaintances and had-been-strangers had poured in, poured over the work, and partaken in, what was for me and my art, a monumental communal feast. And on top of it all, I got to place many of my preemies in hands that I love and trust, and in several instances, hands that fit them like gloves. What a privilage to be able to connect with people this way. Heading into the turbid seas of small business, I can confidently say that if I drown tomorrow, I am at least blessed today with the memory of (as Vito later put it) one authentically good Durham night.

Thanks to all of you who were there; in body and/or spirit.

Reclaimed-wood Builder and Reptire Collector Howard Staab enjoying magwi knot at the Scrap Exchange

Reclaimed-wood Builder and Reptire Collector Howard Staab enjoying magwi knot at the Scrap Exchange
I can't think of anything more rewarding for an artist than to see someone interacting with their artwork. Photo by Laxmi Haynes

Sammy and Dannette contemplate

Sammy and Dannette contemplate
Photograph by Laxmi Haynes

Cascade Colony of Knotlets

Cascade Colony of Knotlets
They would go with your jacket, would they not Claire?

Laxmi Resplendent

Laxmi Resplendent

Mavis In The Mist

Mavis In The Mist
Photograph by Laxmi Haynes

Tire Amazement

Tire Amazement
Photograph by Edie Cohn

Thursday, May 6, 2010

HAW RIVER FESTIVAL- Painting Rivr Critr Pitchrs

Oh Man,
Well last weekend I did my 2nd Haw River Festival. It is an annual festival to honour and celebrate the Haw River, a golden green and blue vein rich with cool aquatic life, languidly drifting and occasionally tumbling through Chatham County.

Last year I decided to commit myself, and my tire art business, to being a part of this festival on a yearly regular basis. Somehow, it feels like a good match..

So I paint faces, and more often arms, with renderings of the 'neighborhood' flora and fauna who call this river home, 'denizens of the deep'. I also bring some of my tire art to show and share, including Luther, the snapping turtle I made of bicycle tires on a sewer pipe. And indeed, the inky black sculptures seem right at home amongst the cool and lush blue/greens of the 'riparian rushes.'..

And It has been a real treat these past two springs, to 'get in touch' with this community of wild life, and will be for as long as I do it. It is fun to take stock of who's who, kind of like going to a family reunion. "Oh, there's Uncle Ron, the yellow bellied slider, perched on someone's fore arm like a log. Or aunt Izzie, the Rough Green Snake, draping herself around cousin Henry's wrist. My aim, I suppose, is to help 'connect' the festival participants with these locals. To remind us of who's who, and just who's land we're on!

Traditionaly this festival has been held Down By The River, and an old abondoned tushkins factory, in sleepy little Bynum, a small Mill town, come tight knit community. But this time, due to some sad complaints of 'local' realtors (who don't even live in state), it was moved up river to up and coming Saxapahaw. Now there are a ton of great things to be said about 'Saxy', (gracious home of PaperHand Puppet) and a TON of great things to be said about the festival this year (Kickin Musical line up, thanks Germane!). You could very well say that this festival took it to a higher level, and from many important angles, this is admirable.
However, I have to confess that I feel like we lost something in the move. I miss the Bynum site. It was a little more down on the water. A little more down homey. I don't know, maybe I'm just a whiny sap. I will have to try to make a better effort to adapt next year.

This year I decided to concentrate on reptiles and amphibians. You have to draw the line somewhere (or risk overwhelming yourself with work , and your customer with choices), and this seems like a distintion I can live with. So I picked a few of each:

Rough Green Snakes

Yellow Bellied Sliders, (no photo available)

Blue Tailed Skinks

and Anoles.

For Amphibians, I did Bullfrogs and Tree Frogs. Next Year I will add in salamanders (Fiery Red Efts). I did do one striped Salemander.

I decided to change the name of my service from 'Haw Rivr Cridr Pictrs' (kind of an homage to Clyde), to Taboo Tattoos- these are animals that people generally regard as creepy, but they can also be 'befriended', if you let go of your fear alittle...

Well, I did get blessed with some pretty darn wonderful neighbors. Right next to me were two most inspiring old friends, Jan Burger and Emma Skurnik. And while I felt a little bit sheepish to be hawking my two-bit carny tattoos next to these two phenomenal illustrators, they were every bit as good company as I knew they would be. And across from me was none other than the Goddess of Liquid Green Goodness herself, Zulayka Santiago, with her Liberacion Juice Truck, from which she whipped up refreshing concoctions which kept me cool through the long hot day. I also met some interesting local artists.

There was another facepainter down the way, (doing nice but more generic face painting), with a much quicker techinique. I am still not sure how I feel about the festival bringing in both of us....
In some ways, I was actually ok with this. I don't know that a little competition is a bad thing. Also, last year I was kind of swamped, and another painter's presence this year reduced my business down to a more manageable stream.
However I also did come away feeling a little bit disapointed. I put a lot of work into cultivating a product that is somewhat particular to the festival. While I had no formal exclusivity agreement with the planners of the festival (at all yet), I guess I had hoped that they realized my intentions, which seems a little silly to assume, now that I say it. I really can't hold this against them. But maybe I should have been more bold, and brought the subject up with them. I suppose it is not too late, and maybe I will. However, this would also beg the question of fidelity towards them. Is such a thing worthwhile, right or necessary?..

I had several interesting interactions:

Well, first, I would be remiss if I did not mention "Hugo" a blue tailed skink strutting his stuff with flair and pinache on the brickwall 'cat walk' behind me. Thought I claimed he was 'with me', he was actually just a local volunteer. For his service, I provided him amnesty from many enthusiastic lizard spotters. I think it must be a special treat to be getting a skink 'tattoo', and then see one crawling across the brick wall in front of you. To me, this is what the Haw River Festival is about...this is why I do it.

I had another little kid he boasted that he had just caught a blue tailed skink down by the river, where he was canooing. For his stealth and bravery, he was awarded a discounted skink tattoo. (I hope Hugo didn't hear about that though).
Also, I met a fellow face painter, a real pro, and a really nice person, and she invited me to check out her Face Painter's Guild! Who knew? She invited me to come and share my art with them. Was strange to me that she thought I had something to offer.....I feel like my techniques and materials are pretty 'primitive' at this point. But it was a nice invitation, and I look forward to talking shop with them some day...A quicker technique would probably serve me well..

There was also a funny kid with punk rocker parents, 'Townes', who got Very excited when he discovered my booth, and roared that wanted to be "COVERED with tattoos"! Instead, he settled for a bit of my own inpiration (what was to be the tattoo of the day, edicted Emma). He wanted a beating heart in the middle... Funny Kid.

Had a couple challenging parent experiences, but perhaps this is par for the course. (though I have never had such experiences with the Central American parents at other festivals).

One was the mom of my first customer, who said her little daughter wanted a butterfly. I said I didn't do butterflies, but I could offer her a reptile or amphibian, a tree frog perhaps? The mom was getting a little pushy, and said "c'mon, what do you care? You're getting paid!".

This was an interested comment....and begged a lot of good questions about my business and presence there.

Who was the boss? She, the customer, who held the money? Me, the business owner/artist?They say "The customer is always right". Does this apply to artists too? Are we exempt?....
And was I there to spread some 'river gospel'? Or was I just there to make a buck? as she seemed to be suggesting?

And there we were, frozen in time, at the gate, locked in a face off. It felt like all eyes were on us..

Now, I have nothing against painting 'mariposas' in general, and I have made a lot of kids happy this way in the past, and surely will again in the future, at other lovely events.

But I knew deep down that that's not what I came to do. I had spent the last two days studying frog and lizard anatomy, prepping my colors, and boning up on reptile 'lore', and I wasn't going to throw all that away for a pushy momma. Maybe if it had been the end of the day, I might have appeased her. But I didn't want to spend the whole day painting butterflies. And even more, I didn't not want to start my day this way. No way.

I could have told her to go to hell, or to go to the other face painter, which probably would have been the simplest thing to do. But I wasn't 'goin' out like that' either. So I asked the little girl what she wanted. She sat before me, big scared eyes, mouth a clasped coin purse, an enormous weight now placed on her tiny shoulders. 'Do I listen to my bossy mom? or to this weird guy holding a paint brush?'
I asked her gently if she wanted a tree frog on her hand? or a butterfly? She was mute. The tension in the air was enormous. I asked her again if she wanted a frog (admittedly I probably rigged the election). Slowly, shyly, tentatively, she nodded..... yes, that she did. Well, wether this was fair or not, I don't know. But what I do know is that at this point, all of the tension melted. I moved in quickly, painting a cool damp pale green tree from on her hand, and then a fly on her shoulder, and then finished it off with a long tongue curling around her arm to catch the fly. The mom had relaxed and Let Go by this point, and seemed to value the unexpected thing I had given them. The kid opened up too, turned out to be a real card, and we all enjoyed our time together, they posing for a family portrait at the end. We thanked each other warmly and sincerely, and they, my first customers of the day, trotted off into the crowd, it seemed, satisfied customers.

I had another Mom, not so satisfied, who bulked at the price."5 dollars for that?!" I looked down at the frog on her kid's arm. "Well, I've got to get myself here and back you know" I said. "Listen, if you can't afford it, give what you can. You give me what you think it's worth." I could tell that she could afford it, but I think she was feeling ripped off by vendors in general, which we all can relate to. Also, I had to admit to her that the design was one of the less difficult and complex. I settled for $3, and feel ok about it.

However, these two experiences aside, or maybe included, I should say that I also had several truly pleasant experiences with parents (mostly with Dads incidentally...). Parents seem to really enjoy bringing their kids to this festival, and on the whole, it seems to bring out the best in them and their kids.

But as the day wound down, boy so did I. I was getting wore out, and the festival started dragging on. I took a break, and went to sit under a tree, snarf down some BBQ, watch a kickin' Brass Band, and count my money! Wow, $60 bucks, net. While I had already topped last years net of $50, it still felt like a pittance for the full day of work. Additionally, my goal had been to gross $100.I staggered back, drained, and contemplated starting to tear down. But no such luck...

Arrived this late, twilight hour, was a different kind of customer, trolling about, on young and tender mayfly wings..
Up until this point, my customers had mainly been little kids, accompanied by their parents. Now, I am very grateful to these trusting parents, to bring their tender pups to me, to be tattooed with talismans of reptiles and toads...tis a trusting ting to do!
But now, was the feeding time of a different creature:... the unadorned eft, left on their own, with a dollar or two to spend; to scout the gettings for themselves. And as the sun dropped into the trees, and all the insects swarmed above the water, so too, these did collect about me so.
It was a trickle, but a steady one, and when they left, they brought back more. Till by the end, I had my own mayfly midge armada! Thanks to this crew, I made my $1oo, and then some.

Finally, 8:00 came, and I washed my brushes, collapsed my displays, and broke my tent tent down.
2 hours later, I was all packed up, and just in the nick of time. My sweetie pie, Carrie, met me near the bridge in a flowing flowery red dress, as she has once before. Though we missed the dance, we went down to the river, and I climbed in, and tried to wash the long long day out of me. I soaked adamantly, trying to pull my core body temperature down, because over the course of the day, I had cooked my self to the core. And I tried to loosen the monstrous knot that I had tied in the muscles on one side of my back, painting faces all day. As I lay there, beached on the river bank in the cool night air, I felt like I had worked a Full day landscaping, digging ditches. (All said, had been about 14 hours of work).
Who ever knew painting kids faces could be such hard work?