29 January 2009

Spotlight on.....Kimberly Belle

I'm pleased to present this interview with the food maven herself, the lovely and talented Kimberly Belle of The Dinner Belle, a boutique catering business in NYC. Kimberly and I walked the same halls in high school but never really knew each other. I just recently rediscovered her and her fabulous food blog, Midnight Eggs, through our mutual friend and another Spotlight interviewee, Amy Luraschi.

(photo above: Kimberly Belle by Kyle Dean Reinford)

First, can you talk about how your career unfolded? How did you become a chef with your own catering business?
I just jumped in. I was working a desk job and felt uninspired. I needed a return to some sort of artistic expression, but I knew traditional paths toward the fine and performing arts weren't for me. I loved cooking. Cooked all the time, was a regular hostess to my friends, and one day one of those friends asked if I would cater an event she was throwing at the United Nations for a Live Earth awards ceremony. She had like "no budget" and needed someone to step in to do the whole thing at cost. I believed in her and the event so I accepted her invite and haven't looked back since. I later asked Erin, my best friend and seasoned cater-waiter, to join me and The Dinner Belle was born.

You have a really interesting website that mixes eating and drinking, recipes, one part fashion, travel, a dash of life in NYC, topped off with some glamorous photos, as told from your point of view as well as that of 4 of your girlfriends. How did you land on this style of writing? How did the webisodes come about? Do you think your writing will evolve into something else? A book? A cooking show?
Fingers crossed on all fronts! We're developing a television concept right now that's a sort of outside-the-box food and lifestyle TV series, and I would personally love to publish a cookbook someday. Midnight Eggs was born from this same desire to use my passion for food as a vehicle for creative expression, to bring something new to the food blogging landscape. I wanted to do something that was fresh, hip, edgy and made use of all my gorgeously talented, food-forward girlfriends. New York was a given of course, that's been true since I moved here 12 years ago.

I noticed the disclaimer at the end mentioning fact and fiction-- any comment on that?
I think the comment speaks for itself: "Midnight Eggs is an inventive interpretation of a group of real friends, presented here in a somewhat fictionalized manner." We are big fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm if that's any help.

Can you predict some flavors or ingredients that will be hot this year?
Comfort food is the new black! Luckily for The Dinner Belle, that's exactly what we do. We're sort of a fusion where gourmet meets girl-next-door. Economic realities and cold winter nights are pushing diners and chefs alike toward comfort foods that feel homey and satisfying without over-indulging pocketbooks or palettes. The same is true of hot-ticket trends like offal, vegetables, peanut butter, eggs, American wines, craft beers, farmers' markets, pickled anything, and pork belly. Consumers want food they can feel good about buying; this means buying local ingredients, organic when possible, and shopping at affordable neighborhood markets. Let's hope it doesn't also mean a return to fast food...that's my biggest foodie fear in these tough times.

How do you prepare a menu for a catering event? Is there a conceptual angle to the ingredients you pick as well as a practical angle, like what is in season....?
We custom tailor every single menu we write to suit the client, the event, the environment, the audience, the season. We rarely repeat a dish unless asked to. We started this business in an effort to find creative outlets, and we continue to tackle events that challenge us to create anew and to keep learning. Our favorite clients are those who propose the impossible, like a lingerie store we partnered with last Valentine's Day to create a black-themed menu for their customers. Black food isn't an obvious choice, but we made it work with conceptual dishes like Midnight Crackles, Black Coffee Braised Short Ribs, and Black Truffle Parmesan Tuiles.

What are you working on now?
Pitching the TV show, filming a new series of video webisodes to post on our blog, and planning a Brazilian themed Carnaval dinner party.

What is your dream event/dinner/catering gig?
My dream isn't singular. I sort of want it all. I am lucky enough to live in New York and have dining experiences of note regularly, whether they are at some village newcomer with a hot, talented chef, or dishing round my coffee table with a big bowl of pasta and my Tribe of girlfriends. I'd like to see all my creative projects take off as a cohesive brand such that I might one day be able to sit back, relax, pick fresh herbs and vegetables from my garden and cook dinner for some future husband and the future babies we've made together, maybe on a piece of land we've bought out in Northern California. That sounds dreamy to me.

What inspires you?
Cheese. Joy. Excellence. My friends and family. Love.

What books, people, mentors, or other foodies have had the greatest impact on you?
New York is fodder for all things food. The press, the markets, the chefs, I adore the whole of the Mario Batali empire, and live in walking distance of three of his restaurants and his brownstone. I'm an untrained chef who taught myself to cook by reading books and magazines (I subscribe to every rag out there) and watching PBS and The Food Network. I take my inspiration wherever I can get it.

What is your personal philosophy of food and fine living?
Feel. Touch. Hear. Smell. Taste. Use your body's sensory capacity to lead you toward excellence in food and in life. You'll never let yourself down if you follow your instincts, though you may need to find comfort in a bottle of red on occasion.

And of course, last but not least, the camera loves you! Do you have any beauty tips you'd like to share?
Know your angles! The camera loves good lighting and well lined eyes, but more importantly, it has a cunning ability to capture phony expressions. I think happiness is eternally beautiful (and easily caught on camera). The best beauty tip I could give anyone in any circumstance would be to do as our forefathers asked of us and pursue happiness.

(Above: L to R: Amanda, Erin, Kimberly Belle, Celest, Sara, photo by Amanda Rose Rowan )

Kimberly Belle resides in Manhattan and is the Owner and Executive Chef for The Dinner Belle, a boutique catering business she started alongside business partner, Erin Fritch. Chef Belle, with a little help from her friends, writes a fabulous foodie blog called Midnight Eggs: Chronicle of a Food Life where she dishes out a spicy-sweet mix of restaurant reviews, recipes, webisodes, and tales of life in the big apple.

Thanks Kimberly!

28 January 2009

Spotlight on......Fred Betzner

In this interview, I talked to friend and funny man, Fred Betzner. Fred and I met as co-workers at City Theatre and now he has moved his employment location down the street to JB Booksellers where his new co-workers are graced with his comic relief and funny charisma. Lucky for them, sad for us.

You have a particular style/brand/aesthetic of humor, how did it develop and who are your comedic heroes and heroines?
Well, it's a rich tapestry. I think that, like all aspects of anyone's personality, my "style" has been influenced by a thousand different sources and shaped over such a long period of time that it's difficult to describe concisely. But I'll try.
I was very sheltered as a child, my father was a Christian Minister and my parents imposed many, some fairly arbitrary, restrictions on what I could watch. The one thing I was allowed to watch without any restrictions was Nick at Night, which, for anyone who doesn't know, would show sitcoms and dramas from the 50's, 60's and 70's after 8pm. So while I wasn't allowed to watch Roseanne or Cheers (both of which I believe are now on Nick at Night, makes ya think) I could watch as much of The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres and Mr. Ed as I wanted.
And I watched them constantly, I loved it, I really didn't feel like I was being deprived of anything (except The Simpsons, I was very upset that I couldn't watch The Simpsons) because those old shows are SO GOOD! And remain some of the best ever produced.
Seriously, you want a master class in physical comedy? Watch The Dick Van Dyke Show. Green Acres is one of the most absurd things that has ever been created, that show is INSANE!
So my early comedic influences were all from these classic comedies. I don't remember a whole lot about my childhood, but I was diagnosed with ADD (not the hyperactive version) and few things held my attention like television, I just absorbed everything I saw and when I wasn't watching it I was thinking about it (and getting in trouble for not focusing).
But it kind of made for some isolation in high school 'cause while all of my classmates were watching Bevis and Butthead, I was watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show (which frankly, is better than Bevis and Butthead).
Anyway, so I had this bedrock of the classics from my early youth, but once I started getting into 9th or 10th grade, my parents stopped caring as much and I got to watch Seinfeld and Newsradio and Wings (not a great show, but it had its charms) and David Letterman and, once I was in college, South Park.
So I guess in many ways, all of these styles and characters just stuck in my head. I honestly don't know how I would describe my particular aesthetic, though I hope it comes across as smart and inventive. I will say that I've always been drawn to the random, what is "funny" if not what's unexpected. And I am really interested in bringing back some styles of comedy that are, for all intents and purposes, dead.

How do you get through comedic block/writer's block, or a just a case of the plain old blues?
Ha, well if I knew the answer to that I'd be a hell of a lot more productive. And happier. Writer's block…honestly, I walk away from it until I'm inspired again, it can sometimes take, literally, years. The blues (or as I like to call it "crippling depression") don't so much present writing problems, in fact it often feeds it.

What is your life motto?
I don't really have one, so I'll give you two. One for life that I made up just now:
"Be nice to everyone except Douchebags (and be mean to them in a way that they don't get).

And for comedy, I'll steal one from South Park, "If you can't make fun of everything, then you can't make fun of anything."

The last time you had a deep, full throttle belly laugh-- what or who caused it and what were the circumstances of said laugh?
Oh god, I laugh out loud all the time, I don't even know. Probably something ridiculous one of my friends said...or at The Daily Show.

You studied film and theater in college, you bake amazing bread, and something tells me that you're a great chef!!-- can you tell me more about your diverse interests and how you find time for them in your daily life?
I'm interested in just about everything. I love learning about science, the law, politics, biology, the history of ridiculous things. I would hate any and all of those things if I dedicated my life to any of them but as it is I like finding out interesting things about them. And I love coming across people who love what they do. Someone who is excited about the most boring thing in the world can make it seem really interesting.

Let's talk about the Hodgepodge Society. What's it all about? What is your part in it?
The Hodgepodge Society is an ancient organization of wits, raconteurs, and erotic pastry chefs dedicated to the betterment of society through humor. Or well, that's the set-up anyway. In actuality we're a..."sketch comedy group" is probably the easiest way to describe it...though that's not wholly accurate. The whole idea came about after a close friend of mine attended a very depressing night of theatre (the kind of theatre that a friend of yours will do, and you have to go, and all their inner demons and, well, crippling depression are all there on stage for an hour and a half) and walked away drained saying to himself, why can't this just be fun. Wacky even! What ever happened to vaudeville? The idea is to have the zaniness of a Marx Brothers movie on stage, we're getting to that point, but most of our venues have been on the small side. I am one of three primary writers alongside Joe Lyons and Robert Isenberg who co-founded the group while I was living out of state. Since my return I've been primarily focused on creating content for our website which we are constantly trying to grow (and is in desperate need of an overhaul/face lift). I wrote a series of video shorts about the election which has gotten a very positive response; we also have a podcast that is a much more traditional sketch comedy show. All can be found at http://www.hodgepodgesociety.com/.

What creative projects are you currently working on?
Boy, I'm about to start writing a one act play for the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, I just finished our 6th Hodgepodge Podcast (or Podgecast) and we are about to start brainstorming sketches for the next batch, I'm at the beginning of the process of making a Hodgepodge video game, and we are MC-ing some comedy nights at the Cabaret Theatre downtown over the next few months.

What has been your greatest reward, creatively?
I love it when the things that I do connect and work on an audience the way I want them to and thought that they would. I like it when my instincts are proven correct. I'm not naturally very confident so it's nice when I make a choice that ends up working out.

What has been your greatest challenge, creatively?
Really, forcing myself to get motivated. It's not easy to work an 8+ hour day at a job that you hate and then spend a significant portion of your free time working on something that has little immediate tangible reward. I love having completed a project, but sometimes I just hate the process of getting there.

What's on your current reading list?
Ok, the first volume of Peanuts comics from 1950-54 as well as the biography of Charles Shultz, Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco which I've read before but frankly wasn't smart enough at the time to fully appreciate, John Adams by David McCullough, and a book about physics concepts as exemplified by comic books.

Who have been important mentors, influencers, muses, instigators to you in your development as a creative person? Why?

Well, I think I touched on many of these in my first answer; I'll talk about actual people here. My father could be described using many colorful adjectives, some flattering many not so much, but "funny" would certainly be among them (maybe "goofy" is more accurate, but you get the idea). In my adult life I've really tried to be as self analytical as I could be, because there are a lot of aspects of my father's personality that I detest, many of them the same ones that he claimed to hate in his own father. So I really have dedicated myself to not falling into that trap, to take the best parts of what has been passed on to me (and I do believe that to some extent personalities are passed on genetically, though I have no idea if that is a scientific reality) and discarding the parts that I don't like (a short fuse, a general inadaptability, etc). This may sound depressing, not to mention off-topic, but I actually think it's a really good life skill, and has led to a creative approach that I really like. The ability to watch something, really enjoy parts of it, separate out the parts you didn't and then learn from other people's mistakes has been very valuable to me.

Fred Betzner is a contributing member of the roving sketch comedy group, The Hodgepodge Society. He has a notable laugh. Sometimes he is very quiet but when you're lucky, he drops a comment into the conversation in a giggle inducing, high-pitched voice that could only be Fred. He bakes some damn fine bread and I also think he has a talent for cooking up some really yummy Italian food-- though I can't be certain. He also knows an awful lot about film- and on many occasions we've had long and complicated discussions dissecting mainstream and indie titles.

Thanks Fred!

27 January 2009

"tough times never last but tough people do"

Here are 3 of 8 brand new collages I am currently working on.

These are on the smaller side, approx. 8x11 inches. I have made a total mess- cutting up papers- and creating a huge pile of clippings and and scraps all over the futon and floor of my home studio.

I'm loving creating these because I don't think about it, I just do it. Tiny pieces emerge out of the mess and settle in to some kind of balance on the paper. It's a very meditative practice. These are going to go through a couple more stages of drawing and painting before being finished.

I watched 2 films this week that were polar opposites but equally inspiring:
How to Draw a Bunny, a documentary about the amazing collage artist who committed suicide in 1995, Ray Johnson, and Rivers and Tides, a documentary about artist/sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Ray Johnson was very tuned in to pop culture- and created these really multi-layered, kooky collages, works on paper and correspondences, while Goldsworthy is all about the energy and flow of materials- he works with stones, ice, leaves, flowers to create site specific installations in nature. Part of their existence is the act of their destruction- the ice melts, the pile of stones caves in, the web of branches falls down. And he just gets up and starts all over again. He is a very mellow, solitary figure with his work.
I'm also nearing the end of season 2 of 6 feet under. I love seeing Claire trying out photography and her slow realization that it's something that fits her despite all the negativity coming from her teacher and brothers.

Here is a great story on NPR about Bob Raglan, a Denver artist who is recession proof and proud of it.


(photo: collage with cutouts/ for sale on Friday)

I am getting excited for the girl's night out event at City Theatre on Friday night (1.30.09) where Laurie and I will have a table set up selling our wares. I have handmade scarves, art cards, and a couple of augmented books, and Laurie has handmade crocheted wire earrings and small drawings. If you are in the neighborhood- stop in and say hi, 7pm-8pm at:
City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., Pittsburgh PA 15203.

24 January 2009

Spotlight on.......Honey S. Lapcharoen

Today's interview is with Honey Lapcharoen. Honey and I were in the same program at college, lived in the same dorm- but didn't really become friends until our junior year. I would have a difficult time putting into words how I feel about Honey. To say that she has been my mentor, my trusted and great friend, and a sounding board for me feels like an understatement. I have learned so much from her in so many different arenas of life: spirituality, self-confidence and assuredness and respect. The list could go on and on. She is one of the most deeply insightful, bright, beautiful people I know.

Tell me about all of your interests, ie. baking, cats, art, music, poetry, etc.......
My love of music fuels all of my other interests. It scares me to think about how lost I'd be without my personal soundtrack. I love to write, to work in the garden, to cook, and I do all of those things while listening to my favorite bands. I connect some of the most important experiences of my life to particular songs, lyrics, and voices.

I've written poetry on and off since high school, but only recently became serious about writing poetry as something to share with others. I love watching television when the writing behind it exceeds my expectations.

I consider myself a spiritual person. I'm a Buddhist by choice and I've found that amazing things happen when I pray. I'm also a cat person because cats rule and dogs drool.

You are working on your PhD....what are you writing about and how has your writing process changed since you began the project? What is the mission of your thesis?
I'm writing my dissertation about an amazing Japanese American artist named Roger Shimomura. I first saw his work in a magazine, and was completely overwhelmed by how much I related to the issues of Asian American identity he critiques in his art. My dissertation explores how I, as an Asian American viewer, make connections to aspects of his work that communicate an "Asian American" experience. The difficulty with my thesis is that it relies on an overtly subjective-critical perspective. Using the "personal" perspective in academic work is challenging, so I've had to read the work of theorists who specialize in autobiography, narratives and alternative methods of research. Art remains a discipline which benefits from a variety of perspectives including psychoanalysis, sociology, history, critical theory, and philosophy, so I have a great deal to work with. Ultimately, I'm trying to write a paper which adds something informative and unique to the discussion of ethnicity and identity. I want it to be simultaneously personal and intellectual.

Before I started work on the dissertation, I never wrote anything longer than 20 pages. Writing a paper 150 pages or more was a daunting prospect for me. I used to be the kind of writer who edited every sentence before it ever showed up on the page. I don't do that anymore. I just write whatever babble comes to my head and edit everything later. Editing takes a lot of practice, and I've had many opportunities to edit the writing of others. All of that outside work enabled me to see the strengths and shortcomings of my own work.

You've teamed up with a film maker-- what are you working on?
Mika Johnson is a person that I've known for over 7 years. He's made a few short films, but started work on a feature film script about four years ago. He wanted to hear my opinions about his story's synopsis, so I agreed to give him feedback. Before I realized what was happening, I became completely involved in his project. His film is called "AMERIKA: a notebook in three parts," and tells the story of a Japanese woman who comes to the United States in search of her father and her true destiny. Mika is a fantastic director and photographer, but I found that his writing lacked the poetry of his visual palate and imagination. So I volunteered my time and helped him basically re-write and edit his script. I'm now the co-writer for AMERIKA, and the writer for Arcanum Productions, the company he started with his wife. It's been an exciting and frustrating time because we're trying to find funding to make the film. But overall, it's been one of the most rewarding endeavors I've ever been a part of.

How do you structure your day? What is your creative process?
I can't really focus on writing until I have a cup of coffee in my hands. If I smoked, I'd probably be on a pack a day by now. I'm not a morning person, so I don't usually do any writing until after noon. Sometimes writer's block hits me and I'll find any excuse in the world to distract me from the void in my brain. My most productive and fruitful artistic experiences happen between the hours of midnight and 3am. And needless to say, I don't sleep soundly.

With writing, I make lots of notes by hand and type them up later. Music also helps to motivate me. You know that feeling you have when you're listening to an upbeat song while you're on the treadmill? The one that makes you want to run faster? When I listen to the right song, I physically write faster and think more clearly. It's strange.

You started off studying one thing and gradually, that thing kept morphing. Can you talk about how your life as a student has brought you to where you are today.

When I was at Syracuse University I realized that I enjoyed speaking and thinking about the impact of art, rather than making art itself. Critical Theory seemed like a natural fit, because it combined extravagant thinking with academia. I eventually went to NYU for an Arts and Humanities Education degree, because it heavily focused on Critical Studies. The Doctoral program in Art Education was more of the same.

But when I was in the thick of graduate school, I sometimes felt completely inferior to everyone around me - students, professors, other visual artists. I was the youngest person in my doctoral program and I'd often be sitting at a table with only two professors and two graduate students who were over 10 years older than me. There was pressure to speak and think in a particular "post-modern" way. I was able to keep up, but there were times when I would doubt my own sincerity. Now that I've had some time outside of the academic environment, I realize that I want to speak and think in a way that incorporates what I've learned without limiting the way I communicate that information.

What books, mentors, teachers, people, etc. have had the most influence on your development as a writer?

My mom is the biggest influence on my life. She represents everything I want to be in terms of her confidence, strength, and resolve. I've been exceedingly fortunate in the support I have had from teachers and friends throughout my life, but there's nothing more important to me than the support of my mom. In terms of writing, I am most inspired by Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." That novel speaks the breadth of the universe using the fewest amount of words. It's remarkable.

What are you currently reading?
I'm embarrassed by how many books I'm reading concurrently: Revolutionary Road, Blood Meridian, The Hunger Games, 2666, and Fantasy Lover-a romance book ;)

What are you inspired by?
I'm inspired by people who aren't afraid. I'm always afraid and I hate it.

What is your dream project?
I recently started writing a novel and if I finish it, publish it, and sell it, that will be my dream project.

What words do you live by each day??
I say a particular prayer every day and those are the words I live by. The prayer isn't from any text, it's something that I created a long time ago, when I was still finding my way. It works for me. But for something a little less enigmatic:

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

You have been a very grounded, spiritual presence in my life, how does your spirituality affect the way you approach your creativity?
It's difficult for me to think of myself as a creative person, because I don't think that I have much of an imagination. I have a very pedestrian nature that impedes my ambition. But prayer has allowed me to see the scale and impact of my life on the world. Without getting too narcissistic, I have come to realize that my choices are significant, and the positive and negative energy that I reveal to others always finds its way back to me. I no longer believe in coincidence of any kind. Everything has significance and profundity, and I remain open to its possibility.

Honey S. Lapcharoen is a writer, editor, and artist from Silver Spring, Maryland. She holds a B.F.A. and M.A. in Art Photography and Arts and Humanities Education respectively, and is currently writing her Ph.D. on the work of Japanese American artist Roger Shimomura through New York University's Art Education and Visual Culture department. Her writing has been published in Beyond Race Magazine and at the Asian American online magazine iaLink. She is the co-author of the upcoming independent film "AMERIKA: a notebook in three parts" and is the lead writer at Arcanum Productions. She is a Cancer (moody) and a cancer survivor (thyroid), and she spends her free time pulling the tails of her cats.

Thank you Honey!

23 January 2009

Spotlight on.....Amy Meza Luraschi

Laundry, Photo by Amy Meza Luraschi.

I am very excited because some of my interviewee's answers are now starting to roll in to my inbox! Here is an interview with my friend Amy Luraschi: talented photographer, teaching artist and friend since high school. Amy and I spent countless hours in Mr. Morris's Photography class and hanging out in the darkroom and studio during study hall and after school. We lost touch for awhile but the craziness that is Facebook put us back in touch with each other-- and I am so thankful for that!!

How has your career in photography and teaching unfolded? or How did you get to where you are today?
I have always been fascinated with art ever since I was a little girl. One of my earliest memories was sitting at my grandparents’ desk for hours with a box of crayons and scrap paper. They were very encouraging of my artistic side and proudly displayed my scribbled creations on the refrigerator door. I like to think of this as my first official gallery showing! In high school, I took a photography class on a whim and so began my love affair with it. I was drawn to how empowering a camera can be. It gave me a voice and enabled me the ability to express myself through images. My teacher had a huge influence on me. He was really passionate about photography and encouraged us to explore our ideas to the fullest. He taught me that photographs are so much more than pretty pictures. They can have meaning and tell a story.

I went on to get my BFA in photography and then moved to Chicago. I worked at an art store there for 4 years. I loved working there because I got to meet a lot of creative people. It was fun to help customers with their art projects. However, I started feeling really restless. I knew I didn’t want to work at the art store for the rest of my life. I wanted to start developing a career. That job helped me realize how much I liked working with people one-on-one and that I wanted to become an art teacher. This way, art could still remain an essential part of my life. I wanted to motivate and inspire people just like my high school photography teacher did. I decided to go to graduate school for Art Education and get my teacher certification. After I graduated, I ended up coming back to Buffalo and got involved with CEPA Gallery and MUSE, Inc. I worked at both organizations as a teaching artist. I’d go into public schools and do photography and video projects with kids ranging from 5th grade to high school. Now, 3 years later, I’m the Lead Teaching Artist at CEPA. I do in-school residencies, after-school and summer programs and I absolutely love it! I get to work with kids from all over the city and introduce them to the magic of a camera. It is constantly inspiring. I am always so amazed at the images my kids create. I think it’s so important for them to have a voice and an outlet to express what it feels like to be growing up in the current state of the world. I couldn’t be happier with my career right now!

What photographers, other artists, mentors, teachers, books, artworks, etc. had an influence on your creative development?
The writings of Albert Camou and Rainer Marie Rilke, the music of Jason Molina and Songs:Ohia, and films by Woody Allen and Jean-Luc Godard. The photographers that have inspired my work the most are Cindy Sherman, Nikki S. Lee, Nan Goldin, Adrian Piper, Francesca Woodman, and Lee Friedlander.

How do you get through artist's block?
I try to have a variety of creative projects going on at once. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to work nonstop on a body of work. I never want it to be forced, so I always welcome the opportunity to do something crafty. I love crocheting, embroidery and sewing. Sometimes, I use these processes in my work. I was obsessed with clouds for a while started making crocheted sculptures. I also embroidered song lyrics about love onto the pockets of sweaters and shirts. Something I’ve found to be really important to avoiding artist’s block is trying to take pictures every day. I’ve been using my cell phone as a way of documenting my daily experiences. For example, I was walking down Elmwood Ave and saw a heart-shaped puddle on the sidewalk. I like how easy and accessible a cell phone camera can be. It’s like having a tape recorder in my pocket,
recording my daily encounters.

What's on your reading list right now?
I’ve been reading J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

What artists or artworks are you currently looking at?
I am currently enthralled with the work of Francesca Woodman. Her self-portraits are absolutely stunning and haunting. Her story is tragic because she committed suicide when she was in her early 20’s. Her images always depict her merged into her surroundings.

(Photo: Self Portrait by Francesca Woodman)

What inspires you?
Honestly, my students are the biggest inspiration to me! I am always so amazed at the images they create with black and white disposable cameras. For many of them, it’s their first time using a camera and they want to document every aspect of their life. It’s very inspiring to see through their eyes! My favorite part about teaching is hearing why they took the pictures they did. There is always a sense of genuine pride and excitement.

You just had an exhibit, Apt. Noir, at Big Orbit, how did it go? Did you come away with new insights or feedback on your work?
The show went better than I could have ever imagined! I was so humbled by the turn out at the opening and the number of people that went during the time the show was up. What I enjoyed most about the experience was hearing people’s interpretations of the work. That made the work a success to me. People found humor in the images and others felt it was very emotional. I like that such a duality exists in the work. One of the most interesting comments I heard was that the images seemed provocative and lured the viewer in for more, but they were only allowed in so close before the figure in the image (me), stopped them.

The work you are currently making turns the camera on you as a subject. What are the challenges of making this kind of work?
It is a very vulnerable position to put yourself in. I think that was one of the original reasons why I cropped my head out. Technically, it was difficult because I used a self-timer and had to run back and forth between the camera and my place in the image. I have always been a believer in the happy accident and definitely think chance played a role in these images.

What is your dream project??
Recently, I have had an opportunity to do some curatorial projects. I would love to do more projects like this. I have a friend that takes phenomenal pictures on his walk to work every morning. He sends them periodically and that is as far as they go –my inbox. It would be so exciting to make prints of his work and have them on display or invite others to participate in the same morning ritual that he does. I’m working on trying to make this dream project a reality. Stay tuned!

What are you working on now?
In Apt.Noir, I am in the safe confines of my apartment. Now, it’s time for me to go outside into the world… It’s a gradual submersion for me, so blending into my surroundings seems like the natural next step. Recently, I was inspired by the lyrics in an Iron and Wine song (Love and Some Verses), “May I be weaved in your hair”. I began shooting hairscapes (this is definitely a working title). In these scapes, I have enlisted friends to photograph my hair in various landscapes (The ocean, snow, on concrete steps)… I like the idea of trying to blend in to or becoming a part of the ground.

Do you prefer working with film or digital photography?
For a long time, I would have answered film… I’ve always felt that before you can start making abstract paintings, you must first learn the fundamentals of drawing. Beginning with how to hold a pencil. This enables you to make lines of varied density and thickness. I think the same applies to photography. Before you can really explore the medium, it’s important to learn the process: the history of how it came to be and also the chemical process of how an image is captured on film and how to enlarge a print in the darkroom. I will admit that I am working primarily in digital now because it’s more convenient and accessible, but I am definitely adamant about the importance of teaching black and white film photography.

What is your creative process?
I am always doodling in notebooks or jotting down ideas on scraps of paper. This is usually how my work originates. An important part of my process comes form sharing experiences, bouncing ideas and generating discussions with my friends. I am grateful to have a lot of creative people in my life, especially my boyfriend who is also an artist and teacher. He has been a huge support of my creative endeavors this past year.

Amy Meza Luraschi is a native Buffalonian who received her BFA from the University of Buffalo and her MAT from Columbia College in Chicago. She is currently pursuing her MFA in the Visual Studies Department at the University of Buffalo. Amy is a certified Art teacher for grades K-12 and has taught in Buffalo and Chicago Public Schools. She has also served as adjunct faculty at Niagara University and the University of Buffalo. Amy currently lives in the city and is the Lead Teaching Artist for CEPA Gallery's Education Programs.

Thanks Amy!!!!

22 January 2009

funny valentine

My ex-pastry chef co-worker taught me how to make little pastry bags out of parchment paper and we decorated these cookies on Monday night! I was in charge of the hearts and wanted to make Mondrian inspired designs-- then I got a little bored with that and started making them a little psychedelic. They are too pretty to eat!

19 January 2009

Spotlight on.....Lisa Forrest

The new year is upon us and after some careful consideration, I've decided I needed to change things up a bit. I had this really lovely email exchange with my friend Lisa Forrest and she said, "Lauren: why don't you go further with your blog-- interview people.... " She also had a lot of other sage advice- and now my mind is reeling with all the possibilities. It's like a little ball of light opened up over my head and the angels were singing-"aaaaahhhhhhh." Then, there was a "duh, why didn't I think of that?" realization. So- with this post, I'm so thrilled to initiate the first of what I hope to be many interviews with friends.

And of course, because it was her idea, my first interviewee is Lisa Forrest. Lisa and I met at the wedding of a mutual friend back in 2003?.... She sort of rescued me from the doldrums of moving back to a city where I grew up but no longer knew anyone by taking me under her wing and bringing me in to her circle of friends. Among many other things, Lisa is a fantastic creative collaborator, a talented poet and writer, the creator of the Rooftop Poetry Club at Buffalo State College where she is an academic librarian, and a singer/songwriter with the band, Shady Grove. Wintering is the name of her blog.

Tell me about all the different interests you have and how you fit them into your life?
Well, I've been writing mostly poetry since I was around 10 years old. But over the years, I've picked up other interests...I enjoy writing radio commentary (writing to be heard is so different from writing to be read) and I've recently started exploring a bit with the "flash fiction" genre. My biggest love though is music. I started playing the guitar a couple of years ago (the guitar was a gift from my father, who was also a musician and poet in his own right) and decided to teach myself how to sing. So, I've been taking lessons weekly from this beautiful 85 year old woman-- who has given me a singing voice! So, now I write my own songs too. Again, writing songs is completely different than writing a poem-- although I have tweaked some of my poetry into song lyrics. As far as finding time for all of these things: It is a constant struggle (especially when you have a day job)-- but like anything else you deeply care about... you just make it a part of your life. I usually write in the mornings when I'm pumped up on caffeine...and music is done at night when I'm feeling mellow.

What is your writing process?
For poetry, usually something sets me off—once it was a tumble weed going across the 90 E (“This is our love song tumbling”), once it was a pile of logs that looked like bones (‘there are more bones than you can count”)…and from there, I sit down at the computer and take lines from my journals that fit this image somehow. Then I play around with the language on the page—adding and moving and tweaking—for HOURS and DAYS. I read everything out loud a gazillion times over and change it some more. My poem “Wintering” took me about 2 years to get it right.

What is your day-to-day schedule?
I work a full time job as an academic librarian—so that takes up most of my daily schedule. I’m at my best in the mornings, so I wake up early (around 6 am) and use that early-bird energy to my advantage. There’s nothing like early morning solitude. In the warmer months, I like to go for early walks. When I pass other morning birds, we sort of greet one another knowingly…like “yeah, it’s our secret.” People always ask me “how are you so productive?” and I really think part of it is realizing when your best time is to work. Some people are their best at night—whereas I’m usually in bed by 10 pm.

Do you write, sing, research, imagine, ______ every day?
I try and do something creative everyday, yes. Even when I’m crazy busy. While studying to be a librarian, I used to write poems in class (totally influenced by the lectures!). You know how people always bring a travel journal along on big trips? I think everyday should be treated like a “big trip.” You’d be surprised how much material is around us (that seems mundane at first) that can be used in art. Studying language poetry taught me this. If you are struggling to find time for your art, try carrying a journal around with you all the time. It’s all one life—so instead of compartmentalizing when and where you can work on your art, carry it into everything that you do.

What has been your greatest challenge, creatively?
I think I might be experiencing it now! My book “To the Eaves” was published last spring, and since then I’ve been struggling with what to do next. I’ve been working on some new “flash fiction” and I still feel like I’m floundering a bit with it. I’ve also been writing really sad poems all my life, and know it’s time to try something new—but writing outside of that sadness is also difficult for me. I’m doing it—but I am conscious of the need to evolve! Also, learning music has been something that I’ve really had to work at…I love it more than anything…but it is a lot of work. Poetry comes naturally to me, where as learning the guitar and figuring out how to sing is WORK. I take weekly music lessons and practice almost everyday. In the beginning, I wanted to give up (and I think my neighbors wanted me to give it up as well!)…but something (stubbornness) kept me at it. I’m really glad that I persevered through learning those first chords and all of those voice exercises!

What has been your greatest reward, creatively?
I would have to say that would be writing my first song, and then hearing it performed by other people. It’s been really wonderful to write lyrics and put it all to music. I also love singing—but didn’t always have a voice. I’ve been working at it constantly—going to lessons and doing all of these crazy voice exercises- and my voice has really improved. So, I think singing now in my band, Shady Grove, and having strangers come up and say they love my voice. That is really rewarding to me….

It’s also been incredibly rewarding for me to organize all of the community poetry projects that I’ve done—especially the Card Catalog Poetry Project. I love collaborating with other artists and have been so blessed to have so many wonderful artist friends.

Oh, and the book—that was a really wonderful thing to see come to life as well. I’m so grateful to Geoffrey Gatza, who runs BlazeVox Press, for giving me the opportunity to publish my work!

How do you get through bouts of writers block or self doubt-- if you have either?

Hmmm. Wine helps. Or, if I’m nervous before a gig-- a shot of whiskey!

What projects are you working on now and thinking about for the future?
Right now, I’m working with my amazing boyfriend, Andrew Rippeon, on a letterpress project. We’re making a handset book of my bird poems on the “old school” letterpress. He’s such a talented bookmaker, and I am so excited to be collaborating with him. As far as the future goes, I see myself getting into more autobiographical flash fiction. Musically, I’d like to keep going with my song writing, keep working with the band, and also try and to find a duet partner!

How did the Rooftop Poetry Club come into being and where do you want to see it go?
I had this idea to start a poetry club at the library (my way of trying to not compartmentalize my life- but instead bring all of the pieces together!)…and so I called a meeting and found a few supporters. From there, it was just a matter of promoting it. Dennis Reed has been instrumental in creating the Website and doing the podcasts. The club itself has had a life of its own. Poets are always looking for venues, so it has never been hard for me to find readers….If I have an idea for a workshop or project, I just try it! If it doesn’t work out, “oh well”…we try something different next time. All of our past projects are listed on our webpage .

What are you inspired by--how do you feed your creativity?
Nature really inspires me…so taking a walk or sitting by the water usually stirs something up. Being around other artists also helps me to feel more creative. I love my friends—each of them is so unique and full of beautiful energy! And reading really inspires what I write of course. I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and that led me to write a new poem that had sort of the same empty world feeling…reading is important.

What's on your reading list right now?
I have this problem of reading numerous books at one time. So, it takes me a long while to get through an entire book! Right now, I am reading “As I Lay Dying” by Faulkner, "One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, poems by Lorraine Niedecker, and diving in an out of “Swann’s Way” by Marcel Proust.

Who and what have been the most influential people, writers, books and mentors, in your life?
I tend to think that we all take a little piece of everyone we love, if that makes sense. Maybe one person introduces you to the poems of Creeley, and one to the music of Hank Williams….and then there’s someone who says “What! You’ve never had sushi?!” and so on…it’s all life. I’m influenced by it all. Good and bad.

Lisa A. Forrest is a Senior Assistant Librarian for SUNY College at Buffalo and the founding member of the school's Rooftop Poetry Club. She is the recipient of the 2008 Excellence in Library Service Award from the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC), and a 2007 and 2008 Pushcart prize nominee. Lisa's writing has appeared in a variety of local and national publications, including American Libraries, Artvoice, Buffalo News, eco-poetics, foursquare, Lake Affect, Not Just Air Literary eJournal, WordWrights, and Yellow Edenwald Field. Her commentaries have been featured on WBFO, Buffalo's local National Public Radio station. Lisa's first collection of poems, To the Eaves (2008), is available from BlazeVox Books.

(Photo Credit: Paul D. Van Hoy II)

Thanks Lisa!!

18 January 2009

Braun Brunch Sunday

An 11AM Braun Brunch with your pals means a happy day. Braun Brunch has become a pretty regular monthly extravaganza around here and I LOVE it!! The friends come over and bring an ingredient and then an ever shifting assortment of goodies is served up with the favorite: scrambled eggs. Today, we had bagels with fresh cream cheese- both plain and veg, scrambled eggs with cherry tomato, onion and mushrooms, and scrambled eggs without. We had dishes of sweet pink grapefruit, strawberries, blueberries, and perfectly ripened avocados. We had bacon! What could be a better beginning to a Sunday morning.

16 January 2009

a rose by any other name

Now that the excitement of the new year and the opening of our show is waning as the days of January slide by....my thoughts are turning towards bright colors, sunlight, and a break from the 10 degree chill outside. It's been such a great start to 2009, despite the shitty economy and my boring day job. D and I rang in the new year at Dish, the lovely little authentic Italian restaurant on the Southside. Our meal started with a pomegranate martini at the bar. We watched as the bartender, a young woman in an adorable cocktail dress with ribbon straps, black bodice and patterned slightly poufy skirt-- concocted our cocktail and then made a twist of lemon rind to decorate the glass. I am a total lightweight where drinking is concerned-- and because neither of us had eaten in awhile in preparation for our glorious meal-- we both had a bit of a buzz after just a few minutes

We were seated at our table and started the feast with a delicious chilled carpaccio appeteazer atop a bed of arugula and fresh shavings of parmigiana. Delish. Next came braised sea scallops with pesto risotto circled by golden and red beets, very good. But the true star of the meal-- was the Osso Buco and luckily, I was the one who ordered it! It was Fantastic, succulent, tendah! It fell off the bone with the lightest touch....it was served with broccolini and risotto and a tomato-y sauce. It was absolutely divine. After dessert, we went home to watch the ball drop on the tube-- but we were both so pleasantly stuffed that we drifted off to a satiated slumber.

2 days later was the opening night reception for the show at Garfield Artworks. It was a super terrific evening and just made me want to make art and show it all the time! I was so happy that so many friends came out and said hello and that my Mom and Jim drove to the Burgh for the weekend. I was truly on high. And I got some interesting and much needed feedback about the pieces I showed.
I went to the studio to do work but it is so freezing there-- the kind of cold that gets into your bones and stays-- that I had to bring a huge bag full of materials home. I am becoming a nomadic artist-- shifting from the dining room table, to the spare bedroom and back again and every where I go, I leave a trail of books, kneaded eraser, exacto knife, paper and little shards of cut papers. Which is ironic because I feel like I'm always cleaning up and straightening up- and it's always my stuff that's all over the house and not my partner in crime whose main mess is in his office.

I am lately thinking into the future and hoping, wishing, wanting to focus more on the art part of my life-- I keep saying that and yet-- the art part seems to be the difficult part because it requires a lot of brain power and dedication and focus, and self-confidence. As in, I am right now making something- but I have to suspend judgement about it because it may be just a little nothing that leads me to the thing that leads me to the really cool thing that becomes something. It requires a certain type of unique patience that must be cultivated and that I'm not sure I have quite yet. But, I'm working on it.

13 January 2009

pictures from the opening

My Mom talking to Wendy, and her parents.
The artists: me, Laura and laurie
Laura, Laurie and ____
Zack, Patrick, Joel and friend in front of Laurie's collage
at the opening
Adrienne and Elise in front of Laurie's drawings on left and my framed pastel drawing behind them
Dominic and Damien in front of Laura's photos