Smile Politely

Meet the artists behind the new Exquisite Trio virtual exhibition

EKAH, Kim Caisse, and Lydia Puddicombe are formidable artists on their own. But working together on their upcoming online exhibition proves once again that in the alchemical process of artistic collaboration, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. And in the spirit of the Exquisite Corpse model, which inspired this work, I presented each artist with the same interview questions, directing them to choose those most spoke to them. From what I can tell, they worked blindly. Their responses illustrate both their synchronicity as friends and collaborators, while reflecting their unique voices, personalities, and thoughts. They also bring to light the challenges of creating in a pandemic and the difficulty, yet necessary, fight to create meaningful change in one’s work.

Smile Politely: So tell us what inspired this show?

EKAH: The show was borne out of the Double Take, an invitational group show from 40 North. Double Take was also based on the Exquisite Corpse model where a group of artists were paired to create a collaborative piece. Kim and I paired up for Double Take, and I remember asking her if she wanted to do it again in the future outside of the show, and she said yes. I have also wanted to collaborate with Lydia, and I thought it would be more fun to do it as a trio. We had already decided to do it before the pandemic, but we never discussed about when or how. I admire their work and am fond of them both, so it seemed liked a no brainer. When everything was canceled and we were in confinement, it seemed like a good idea to actually start working on it.

Kim Caisse: Really it was EKAH who put it all together, but we all enjoy doing Exquisite Corpse type collaborations. I got to collab with Anna [EKAH] on the Double Take show. It was so thrilling to see how it turned out.

Lydia Puddicombe: Kim and EKAH worked on a piece together for the 40N “Double Take” show, and at the reception (pre-quarantine) EKAH brought up the idea of an Exquisite Corpse trio. I was immediately psyched since their collaboration that night was so incredible. P.S. I got to work with Darin Doty for that show. I’m a huge fan of his paintings.

SP: What appeals to you about the Exquisite Corpse model?

EKAH: I love the surprise aspect of seeing the finished pieces. Although we “collaborated” on each piece, the divided portion was created individually without knowing what the rest of the piece was going to look like. I really love how every piece somehow comes together as a coherent piece even when completely random parts were juxtaposed.

Caisse: The unexpected conjunctions. Things happen when artists work together that go way beyond what any artist does alone. And the sheer surprise of the unveiling. There’s always something so funny and something extremely profound all at once.

Lydia Puddicombe: The appeal for me was in the collaborative effort. Working with other artists is something that has always resulted in me learning something new to take back to my own practice. The opportunity to be a part of this show was a surge of inspiration that spilled over into my solo work. As for the Exquisite Corpse itself, seeing the creative decisions of three different illustrators together in one drawing is fascinating. Our approaches were as varied as the weirdos we ended up creating.

SP: How did you translate that for a working trio?

EKAH: As we discussed the logistics over Zoom, we realized we could use guidelines. We wanted to set a few rules so we could work within the confinement. This was evident from the Double Take show, where we were given 10″ x 10″ wood panels to work from rather than given free reign and being all over the place. We borrowed the same approach by limiting dimensions, medium, and even subject matter. This is one of the surprising things about artists because artists have a reputation of wanting freedom of rules, but when given total freedom, we often find ourselves looking at a blank page.

SP: Did you find this new way of working somewhat liberating or challenging? 

EKAH: The liberating part was that we told ourselves that we would not have a real deadline and that we would not stress about any of it. They will be finished when they are finished. We were in a pandemic, so if life gets in the way, then we would re-schedule accordingly. We have postponed the opening date multiple times, and we did so without feeling guilty about it. The challenging part was that we are still living with the pandemic, and one of us lives in a different state.

Caisse: Frustrating: Mostly doing things by mail was challenging, and the fact that it was such a weird year, and we were all scrambling with various projects, so it was hard for me to focus my attention and find the time to complete things. Also, I admire Anna and Lydia’s work so much, there was a little feeling of intimidation. I had to kind of wait for a day when I felt particularly carefree to jump in and find the flow. Liberating: I love Exquisite Corpse drawing, so I was all in from the get-go.

Puddicombe: My biggest challenge was in the media—pen and ink! So very permanent and so very fragile! My usual practice of wood-carved illustrations is rough, forgiving, and packed with color. This was a complete departure, which was also liberating. It gave me license to step away from my “style” and come at the illustrations with fresh eyeballs. I have designed my usual workflow to make up for my shortcomings, (like an unsteady hand and an indecisive nature) so this was also a challenge of planning and patience for me.

Sample page of Exquisite Trio work in progress with notes in tape over blacked out section on top and b&w drawing of a plant at the bottom . Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe.

Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe

SP: What was your process or workflow like?

EKAH: We decided on three themes to work from—animal, human, creature/fantasy. We all have worked on things dealing with each theme, so it seemed like a good idea. We wanted to have each of us do different portions per category, so we created a round-robin style to guide us. We even have a chart showing exactly who does what on which piece. Each of us started a batch of 9 drawings3 drawings from each category. Then we covered up our portion of each drawing with black paper. Kim plays Exquisite Corpse with her artist friends all the time, so she had helpful tips on how we could hide our parts of the drawings. When our batch was done, we either shipped or dropped it off to the next person. The last one to finish the batch unveiled the pieces and sent photos. I am now in possession of all of the finished pieces. They are being digitized and will become available for viewing very soon.

Page from Exquisite Trio collaboration work in progress with drawing of guinea pig on the left and a rectangle of black out paper with notes on tape in the center. Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe.

Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe

Caisse: If I was working from their completed drawings that were masked, I would stare at the black masking paper and ask the drawings behind it to talk to me. Then wait for an idea to come and draw the basic lines quickly and add in details a little slowly after that. But it’s a very intuitive process. I often enjoy deluding myself that I use ESP to cheat at life.  

Photo of Exquisite Trio page work in progress, blank on top and bottom and a rectangle of black out paper with notes on tape in the center. Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe,

Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe

Puddicombe: Rather than my usual practice of sketching and erasing as many times as I please, I learned more about how to design using my iPad. I developed my section of each drawing digitally before making a pencil sketch on the paper and finishing it with ink. After each of us finished our predetermined areas of the illustration, we would cover the area with black paper, blocking all but the ends of the lines so the next person could work off it. My favorite part was the little notes Kim and EKAH left as “hints” of how to treat the drawing. They read things like “Torso. Has two legs” or “Thing. Negative space (not a thing). Thing.” They were so helpful but also made me laugh! Maybe my current threshold for entertainment is just low 🙂 Another treat was getting to reveal the drawings if you were the one to work on them last. When I unveiled a bizarre robotlegged, giant-mouthed creature I couldn’t believe how great the composition was.

SP: I know that the three of you are friends and supporters of each other’s work, what did you learn about each other and yourselves from this process?

EKAH: I really enjoyed seeing their creativity and interpretations. This was no surprise because I was already a fan of both artists’ works. When dealing with other artists you do not know well, it can be a stressful experience. But I always felt at ease with Lydia and Kim. I believe we all felt comfortable enough with each other’s sense of humor that anything was going to be okay. Even mishaps.

Caisse: I already knew Lydia and Anna have 2-D skills that are more detailed and refined than mine, being mainly a sculpture artist, but it was just more obvious to me seeing our work immediately adjacent like this. But I really enjoy how my doodles join up with their work. Mine are sort of a very fast ‘Hail Mary pass’ approach to drawing, and I love how it all looks together. But I did kind of feel like spending a bit more time on each drawing as I went through the project.

Puddicombe: EKAH and Kim are every bit as kind and patient as i would have guessed them to be. Our Zoom call to kick off this collaboration was one of the social highlights of my year. It was not a surprise, but did reinforce what I know about myself—change is hard for me. Being adaptable is a trait I admire, so this was a moment to push myself to learn some new things about a different media.

SP: The three of you typically work in very different styles and media. How did you decide on a common media for this collection?

EKAH: As mentioned before, we wanted guidelines to work from. We initially tossed around the idea of working with whatever medium, but we settled on ink on paper to see how it goes.

Caisse: I think it was shaped by the project itself, it can be so nice to see that even in simple black lines on white paper, each artist’s style is still immediately identifiable. We’re talking about doing some colored ones as well, that will have more of a mix of media between the three parts.

SP: What surprised you the most about this collaborative process?

Caisse: How well all the pieces turned out. I’ve been involved in other similar projects in which somehow, misunderstandings happened that made some pieces really not work. That was so disappointing because this process can really yield a lot of exciting surprises. I’m not surprised, per se, considering who was involved, but just thrilled. We all know how to make the lines line up. It can be hard to understand what a big win that is unless you’ve felt the bitter disappointment of a failed Exquisite Corpse collab. 

SP: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced putting this show together? 

Caisse: Mostly just all the challenges of 2020. Wrecked concentration, and being in the middle of figuring out online sales with art fairs canceled. Anxiety about the mail.

Puddicombe: Obviously, this has all taken place during a nightmare of a year, but the challenges of a new project were a welcome distraction. EKAH organization (there were charts and everything; it was so awesome) and her skills in creating the virtual exhibition were critical to the project’s success. She removed what would have been an immovable road block for me.

Photo of spreadsheet listing assignments and progress for each artist. Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe.

Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe

SP: What are you most excited for people to see?

EKAH: How fun and crazy the pieces are and yet, they all make sense to me in a strange way. I also hope people will laugh as hard as we laughed when we saw the finished pieces for the first time.

Caisse: There’s a mix of humor and melancholy and tenderness that all three of us are naturally drawn to, without discussing it at all. I think that harmony is what I was most delighted by, and what I can’t wait for others to see.

SP: How long will this exhibition be available online?

EKAH: We are currently looking at one month, but everything about this has been flexible, so that could change.

SP: Since you won’t have immediate input from a live audience, what is the best way for online viewers to share their comments and questions?

EKAH: Folks can post questions on the Facebook event page and/or on Instagram. I hope folks will share the link to the show with their friends.

Puddicombe: I hope readers will come find us on Instagram. We will be sharing information and updates there, and we welcome your feedback. @steampunkgrub, @kimcaisseart @lydiapuddicombe

SP: What makes an Exquisite Corpse style collaboration successful? Or to put it differently, what’s the secret to successful artistic collaboration?

EKAH: I think you have to be open-minded about the process and allow the piece to become whatever it wants to become. This type of process is not for those who want to be in control of every stroke on a drawing.

Caisse: Honestly just making the  ends of the drawings really start and stop at the same point is a bigger hurdle than you’d think. After that, I’d say, each artist’s willingness to dig into their heart and pull out something fresh and funky, and be in bold in committing it to the page. Like all art.

Puddicombe: I don’t think there’s a secret- the EC game sets you up for success. It’s like Mad Libs; the more ridiculous the choices you make the bigger the payoff. I tried to tell little stories through my sections—balancing in an alligator’s mouth, a spooky, monster houseplant, a toad that had too much coffee. Of course, Kim and EKAH told equally ridiculous tales, so what I started as quarantine self-portrait became a rollerskating, coffee-drinking, bird queen; I love it!

SP: Will we be seeing more of this collaborative effort?

EKAH: I hope so. We had talked about doing a multi-part series, but seeing how long the first part took, we shall see. We have not yet discussed any plans for another installment, but I would collaborate with Lydia and Kim in a heartbeat.

SP: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

EKAH: The pieces will be available for sale. We have not finalized this process yet, but we hope every piece will find a caring home. Lastly, everyone should try playing a game of exquisite corpse – with your friends, kids, partners, etc.

I hope everyone stays inspired. It can be difficult to stay inspired when you are in isolation without external stimuli. Creating art, for me personally, is the only thing that helps me to cope with whatever is happening around me.

Photo of Exquisite Trio sample featuring a chimera. Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe.

Photo courtesy of Lydia Puddicombe

Caisse:  Please try playing Exquisite Corpse drawing games with anyone else you know. Encourage people to try it even if  they say they can’t draw. Art adds so much richness to our lives, and I think  the potential for humor in this game can help people let go of their art inhibitions and  really enjoy the fun drawing can bring to our lives. And if you are playing it with someone who is nervous about making art, Please frame a least one drawing and hang  it on your wall. It really makes people feel welcome as an artist. Welcome in life. I’ve  seen the smiles it brings to hang art by someone who thinks they cannot make art.  There’s nothing like it.

Exquisite Trio: Black & White
Online event featuring collaborative work by EKAH, Lydia Puddicombe, and Kim Caisse
Saturday, February 27th, 2 to 4 p.m.
Link to be provided on Facebook day of the event and will be available through March 28th

Top image from Facebook event page

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