Taking Better Pictures with Any Camera with Edie Shimel

We’re so lucky to have two great photography classes on offer at the Somerville Skillshare! First up is Edie Shimel’s Taking Better Pictures with Any Camera. Edie is a Somerville-based artist and educator who was recognized for her phenomenal talent at the 2012 “30 Under 30” exhibition at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.

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Tell us about your background in the arts. How did you first get into photography?

My relationship with photography began when I was 13. I joined the photography club at my school and really fell in love with it. I was an Art Major in undergrad (I went to Sewanee) and then went on to get an MFA at UNC Chapel Hill. I tend to think of myself more of an artist than a photographer. The end result of my creative process these days happens to be a photograph. For a while the end result was painting. I’m sure the end result will become something else later on down the road as well. But photography is like a first love for me, I’m not sure whether it haunts me or helps me, so it will always be a part of me.

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Consummation, 2009.

You teach Digital Photography at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and you’re also the community arts educator at the Peabody Essex Museum. What have you learned about your art through teaching?

I have actually transitioned out of my role at the ICA, but what I learned there about teaching and art, for me anyway, that the two are not so different from one another. They are both ways of communicating and building up an idea. In the case of art, it’s a body of work; in the case of teaching, it was building the photography program. The Peabody Essex Museum provides such a wealth of materials, content, objects and diversity, that I am really able to experiment with programming.

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An image by one of Edie’s students in the Creative Arts at Park program, summer 2013.

People talk a lot about developing “an eye” for taking good pictures. Do you believe this is a skill anyone can nurture?

Absolutely! Its training yourself to see good compositions. Plus you have to take a lot of photos!

How does the Somerville arts community support you in your work? Do you have a studio space in your neighborhood?

I do have studio space. I have a darkroom that I share at Miller Street, and space at Vernon Street to set up shoots, paint, and otherwise piddle around. My husband actually has the studio next to me at Vernon Street. The community has supported us both in other ways too. For example, when we were looking to move into the neighborhood near Vernon Street, we put a sign up during open studios. It worked! That’s how we found our apartment.

Do Skillshare participants need any prior photography experience?

Nope! If they have a camera, be that a film camera, digital camera, phone camera, they should feel free to bring it!

Visit Edie on the web at EdieShimel.com.

Urban Beekeeping with Jacqueline Beaupré

We’re very excited to offer a Skillshare class on urban beekeeping, a very practical past-time that is newly legalized in our area! Our class will be taught by Ms. Jacqueline Beaupré, a Boston beekeeper at The Best Bees Company, where she builds and maintains honey bee hives for businesses and residents in cities and towns all over eastern Massachusetts. She also works as a research assistant studying food allergies and eczema at Boston Children’s Hospital. Jacqueline first became interested in honey bees while earning her master’s degree in science education at Boston University. She is looking forward to starting a Warré-style hive this spring at the Boston Nature Center’s teaching apiary and sharing her enthusiasm for honey bees with students when she goes back to teaching biology next fall!

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Jacqueline and friends. Photo by Doug Levy.

Urban homesteading and self sufficiency is growing in popularity all over the country, so we predict this class will be very popular! How did you first get interested in beekeeping?

When I started graduate school for a Master’s in science education, I was looking for a campus club to join and found the Boston University Beekeepers. The buzzing noise and threat of stinging had always made me nervous, but I was motivated to join by my grandfather (a beekeeper), as well as the fact that honey bees are so ecologically important and fascinating! I’m glad I did because I learned my anxiety was totally unfounded and I got some new beekeeping friends and an awesome hobby out of it!

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Can you truly taste the difference between the honey you buy in a health food store and honey made in your own backyard?

Absolutely! Honey off the comb is one of the tastiest things in nature! Honey reflects the local nectar foraged by bees, so in diversely-planted urban areas like Somerville, bees will make a very complex and delicious honey! I highly recommend visiting Follow the Honey near Harvard Square. They have an amazing selection of seasonal, local, and global honey to try—all with completely different flavors and textures. I just sampled some of Dee Lusby’s Arizona cactus flower honey there and it was so good! So, fair warning: once you try real honey, it’s impossible to go back to that plastic bear stuff from the grocery store.

Many environmentalists are concerned about the effect of beekeeping on the ecosystem. Is it possible to raise honeybees in a sustainable way?

I’m far more concerned about the effects of NOT beekeeping on the ecosystem. Right now a lot of our pollinator populations are in decline. Native bees and honey bees are no different- about one third of known honey bee colonies die annually. This level of population loss is ecologically unsustainable. But if biodiversity isn’t something you care about, just consider the economic costs. Most of our food (experts say up to 80%) is ultimately produced thanks to bee pollination, so losses would cost billions of dollars and reduce us to eating mostly wind-pollinated grains. So beekeeping and bee-friendly gardening/agriculture has never been more important. Oddly enough, urban beekeeping is often more successful than its rural counterpart. We’re still determining why—it might have to do with a greater diversity of pollen and nectar in the city, as well as less widespread pesticide use.

The Best Bees Company acts sustainably by practicing chemical-free beekeeping, meaning we do not use any drugs or pesticides to control infections or deter hive invaders. If we see something that doesn’t belong in the hive or look healthy, we simply remove it. This keeps things in check without resorting to poisons. A side benefit to this method is that weak hives are not kept alive by accident—natural selection is less interrupted and strong colonies become stronger. Best Bees also uses most of the profits from beekeeping services to conduct research developing bee probiotics at our Urban Beekeeping Laboratory & Bee Sanctuary in the South End. Just like humans can benefit from healthy yogurt cultures and a balanced diet, so can bees!

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Is any sort of permit required to raise honeybees in your backyard?

Somerville and Brookline passed legislation to legalize beekeeping and have started instituting a permitting process. It’s not particularly easy to navigate, but it’s a start.

How much of an investment is involved?

Beekeepers usually say that managing a hive takes more time than caring for a cat but less time than a dog. Obviously it varies by season and the health of the hive.

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A backyard hive.

No prior experience or knowledge required to take part in this Skillshare class, right?

Right! Newbees welcome! The only way you can mess up beekeeping is to not have fun.

Tell us a bit more about The Best Bees Company. If Skillshare attendees get really excited about keeping their own bees, how do you help them do that?
The Best Bees Company is primarily a beekeeping service. We construct and deliver custom hives to businesses and residents all over Massachusetts. Since clients own the hive and bees outright, they also own any extra wax and honey produced by their bees. If you are interested in beekeeping but are not ready to start a colony by yourself, you could hire us for the year to periodically check in on your hive to make sure it is happy and healthy. Our beekeepers use a custom app to track the well-being of each hive visited in order to collect data and inform the frequency and extent of services needed. While contracted to monitor a hive, we guarantee its population all year long and through the winter.
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The staff at Best Bees, summer 2013.

What other bee-related activities and organizations does Best Bees support that participants should check out?
I would look up the Boston Beekeepers group on Facebook (now transitioning into the “Suffolk County Beekeepers Association”) and the Middlesex County Beekeepers Association. The SCBA’s Tour de Hives is tons of fun: 150+ bee enthusiasts bicycle around to different local hives to learn about bees and beekeeping. Last year, Best Bees’ Urban Beekeeping Lab was a stop! The 4th annual tour will take place on June 21st and probably be mostly in Cambridge.
Noah and I from The Best Bees Company also work with the nonprofit Classroom Hives which helps local K-12 teachers install and use observation beehives in their classrooms. There are currently observation hives in Fenway High School and the Mission Hill School. If you know a teacher that would be interested in incorporating some bee science in their classroom—spread the word! Check us out here.
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A classroom observation hive at Fenway High School.

Chat with Jacqueline about her Skillshare class on Twitter at @jbeaupre424, learn more about Best Bees on their website, and you can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Basic Bicycle Maintenance with Emily Thibodeau

Perhaps the most practical class on our roster is Basic Bicycle Maintenance, which will be taught by Emily Thibodeau of Hub Cycle Company in Cambridge. Emily is a passionate cyclist and loves to travel abroad during an annual off-season sabbatical from her shop. Check out this awesome sculpture she spotted in a botanic garden on her recent trip to Singapore:

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We take it you’ve had a passion for bicycles for a long, long time. When and how did your love of cycling begin?

I learned to love bikes when I started going for ‘long’ bike rides with my dad. I was seven or eight and we’d ride an eight-mile loop near our house—which at the time seemed like an impossibly long distance. I thought it was very cool to ride so far from home.

emily thibodeauWhat’s the longest you’ve ever cycled in a single day?

I rode to Portland, Maine a couple of summers ago. At the end of the ride my computer read 123.4 miles.

What’s your all-time favorite route?

When I ride for fun I usually ride mountain bikes. There are so many great places to ride in New England I probably can’t name a favorite, but Harold Parker in N. Andover, MA, Bradbury Mountain in Pownal, ME and FOMBA in Manchester, NH are on my short list.

What can Skillshare participants expect to take away from your class?

Folks will leave with knowledge of the two things they need to do to maintain their bikes (two—that’s all you need), as well as how to deal with flat tires (the number one bicycle repair).

No previous experience necessary, right?

Definitely not—all experience levels welcome!

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Out for a ride at Tyler State Park.

We bet a lot of your Skillshare students are going to get the “cycling bug” after taking this class. How can they connect with other cyclists to enjoy some social exercise in Somerville and Cambridge?

We’re really lucky here in the Greater Boston Area—there are tons of opportunities to connect with other bike folks. I, personally, look to the Boston Bike Party, New England Mountain Bike Association, and (here’s a shameless plug for my team…) Team Monster Truck when I’m looking for good people to ride bikes with.

Visit Emily at her shop at 1064 Cambridge Street or online at hubbicycle.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something with Miranda Aisling

Today we’re talking with Miranda Aisling: artist, teacher, singer-songwriter, and author of Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something. She’ll be teaching a Skillshare class of the same name. We love how passionate she is about empowering people to create!

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We really appreciate your emphasis on executing your ideas (rather than just sitting around wishing you could make them happen). Tell us a little about your evolution as an artist and a thinker. How did you grow into an “idea person”?

Although I’ve always considered myself very creative, it wasn’t until my senior year of college (as an art major) that I felt comfortable calling myself an artist. You see, I was never the “art kid” in school. By which I mean, I wasn’t the kid who could draw something really well. I made tons of cool things both in an outside of art class, but because I couldn’t realistically render with a pencil, that was it. I wasn’t an artist. It wasn’t until I was standing in the middle of my senior show that I looked around at my collection of large abstract paintings and realized, “Oh, I guess this does count.”

That’s when I figured out that all this stuff I make, the knitting and the doodles and the fictional worlds, they can be art. All the ideas that I’ve always had suddenly seemed to matter. The truth is, I’ve always been an idea person, and I think most people are. That’s what humans do: we think of cool new things to make. The problem is, our willingness to act on our ideas and our confidence that our ideas are “good” or “artistic” is often stamped out of us. So though I did have to learn to be an artist, I never had to learn to be an idea person. I just had to accept what was already there.

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You practice many forms of art—music, painting, pottery, writing, knitting, and more no doubt! How do your various passions inform and inspire one another?

One of the best things about having so many different art forms is that I’m always in the mood to make something. Even though I’m a painter, sometimes the last thing I want to do is paint. Thankfully, if that happens, I can write or knit or play guitar instead. This has helped me develop some resistance against a culture that is obsessed with specializing. Because I didn’t specialize in just one art form, I’ve realized that my passion isn’t for my oil paintings or songs or stories. Instead, I’m passionate about the actual process of making things.

In fact, I just realized that I follow pretty much the same process in every art form: get a new idea, plunge in, start to really like it, ruin it, debate whether to give up, stick with it and finish.

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Are you a Boston native (and if not, what led you here)? How does the local arts community support you in your work, and conversely, how do you build community through your work?

I came to Boston in 2011 to get an M.ed. in Community Art from Lesley University. During my time time there I wrote Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something, the book this class is based on.

If we get right down to it, community is my work. In the past year I’ve also started Miranda’s Hearth, which is currently a local creative community and will grow into the first-ever community art hotel. Through Miranda’s Hearth I host Dinner, Art, & Music nights (which everyone is invited to!) where I get to share my own work, see the incredible work of the people around me, and introduce people who really should be working together. Because what’s creativity without community?

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What advice do you have for artists (both beginners and the more experienced) who are looking to “step outside the box” and see the world with fresh eyes?

First, go find something and try to figure out its story. Who made it? Why did they make it? Who owned it? Why did they buy it? Unless you’re standing in the middle of an untouched mountain, everything around you was at some point thought of by a person. Which means there’s a story. And stories are the best inspiration.

Then, give up on art for a little while.

Everyone gets so obsessed with that word and what it means that they forget to actually make stuff. I’ve found that the only way to actually make art is to just start with something which turns into something else and something else and eventually, possibly, ends up where you wanted it to be all along.

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What can Skillshare participants expect to gain from their time with you? Is any prior art experience required?

Participants will walk away with an appreciation of process and a bit more confidence to jump into their next project. They’ll make something and, since creativity is a chain reaction, they’ll leave wanting to make something else. The hardest part is building up the nerve to jump in, and that’s just what I’m here to help with.

No prior art experience is required.

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See more of Miranda’s wonderful work on her website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter!

Intro to Contact Staff with Eric Tondreau

We’re really psyched to introduce Eric Glickman-Tondreau, who will be teaching our Intro to Contact Staff class. If you’re looking to “step outside your comfort zone” and stretch your limits, Eric will give you that opportunity—and then some!

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What is contact staff, and how did you first become interested in learning it? How long have you been practicing?

Contact Staff is a form of object manipulation: playing and moving with a prop in a beautiful and skillful way. It’s a fusion of dance, performance, and circus, among other things, and centers around the philosophy of spinning a staff around without holding it in your hands. By experimenting with various properties of the staff like its momentum, axial rotation, the speed of its revolutions, orientation in space, and its position along the body, contact staffers have come up with a repertoire of beautiful and technically impressive movements that can be executed without ever grasping the staff, leading to a beautiful and often improvised flowing dance between the manipulator and the object.

I found contact staff completely by accident. As a freshman at Tufts in the fall of 2011, I went on a pre-orientation wilderness hike as a way of getting to know people before the year started. One of my team-members was a juggler, and we became friends over the next five days. Later, during actual Orientation, he went to some event to find the juggling club, and I tagged along because there was food. The club happened to have a staff lying around, and because I have experience in martial arts I asked if I could play with it. Kevin Gao, the club president, watched me spin for a while, and then said “You should totally come to the open fire practice on Thursday!” (to which I responded, “thewaitwhatnow? you do what!?”)

Naturally I went, and was introduced to an amazing community of crazy hippies, dancers, acrobats, and everything in between, all playing with these awesome toys and lighting them on fire, right on the Tufts campus. I met a guy named Cookie (because he makes amazing spicy cookies) who coached me through my first burn session, and from there I was hooked. The roar of the fire and the heat and the adrenaline rush captivated me, and I’ve been in love with spinning ever since. I’ve been practicing now for about two and a half years, and now I’ve come to love the discipline of contact staff for its own sake, even without the fire, and I regularly perform with an unlit staff because it allows for much more exploration of the staff’s potential.

You just returned from a semester in Spain! Tell us about the fire performance community you found there. Do you have any fun stories to share from your time abroad?

Although Spain was amazing, I never found any fire community! I kept hearing about people in Barcelona, but I was living in Madrid, and the most I ever found was a guy juggling on the side of the road outside of the Atocha train station. He told me about a circus school in the big natural park called Casa de Campo, on the west side of Madrid, but I could never find it. I also didn’t bring my staves with me to Spain, so I made up for the lack of practice by taking a physical theater class that taught me all about bringing emotion and imagery into my body movements, which will be incredibly helpful for future fire performances. I’m actually really happy to be back Stateside now, because I can finally get back to spinning again!

There’s actually a pretty great story from that class: our mid-semester performance was a Zombie March on Halloween, in Alcalá de Henares, the city where Cervantes lived and wrote Don Quijote! We taught a whole crowd of people the movements, and then we all got made up like zombies and paraded down the Calle Mayor, scaring people and dancing to the traditional University band, or tuna, which got zombified and played music for us! That was an awesome time.

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What can Skillshare participants expect to take away from your class? Is there a recommended fitness level?

Participants should expect to leave the class knowing some of the basic moves of contact staff, and (hopefully) the basics to an intermediate move. The class requires no prerequisites, and is open to pretty much all ages. Height is the key factor, because a shorter person or child will feel more comfortable with a shorter staff. However, we will be working with spinning sticks made out of metal and wood, and mistakes can happen, resulting in the bumps and bruises that come with swinging hard things around. That said, this is not an intensive sports or martial arts class, so risk is present, but minimal. Students should be aware and focused while learning and practicing, and that will avoid 99% of accidents. In addition, there is a vast repertoire of beginner moves, so if a student doesn’t feel comfortable with what I’m teaching the rest of the class, I can show them something that is better suited for them. Don’t let the physicality of the art scare you off, it’s actually a fantastic way to get moving and get to know your body.

If Skillshare attendees fall in love with this technique just as you did, are there classes or private lessons locally available?

Although I found contact staff and fire-spinning through Tufts students, the Greater Boston is full of amazing spinners of all types of props, and there are lots of weekly meetups where people can just show up and practice or ask questions. In the community, these are called “Spinjams” (because we get together to spin props and jam to music) and they generally have two rules:

  1. If you see something cool, ask about it!
  2. If someone asks you about something you’re doing, show them!

Because of this, it’s incredibly easy to start learning whatever you want, and we never ask for money unless it’s a pre-scheduled class by a professional spinner, or a spinning convention retreat. Like the Somerville Skillshare, the spinner community believes in free access to our knowledge, and we work hard to strike a balance between supporting the professionals in our ranks and keeping the community open.

Here are the two active Spinjams I know of in the greater Boston area. I am regularly at the Medford Spinjam, and I try to get out to the Boston Spinjam as often as I can.

Medford Spinjam: Thursdays from 6:30pm-10:00pm at Tufts University. This is the Boston’s only legal open fire practice (weather permitting)

Boston Spinjam: Mondays from 6:00pm-8:00pm. Generally a larger crowd than Medford, but no fire.

In addition, I’m helping to organize a large two-day workshop in conjunction with the Medford Spinjam. It’s called WOMBAT (Winter Object Manipulation Bootcamp at Tufts) and it’s not in winter. There will be classes for all levels, and some amazing performances, and I would encourage everyone who takes my class and enjoys it to come!

Eric offers this commentary on the video above:

In the spring of 2013, the alternative percussion group BEATS (Banging Everything At Tufts) approached my club (the Jumbo Jugglers and Medford Spinjam) about filming us for the multi-media portion of their spring show “4/20” show on April 20th. Because of the serendipitous nature of their performance date, they wanted something really weird, and we were happy to oblige. The footage came out great, and as a thank you the BEATS cinematographer Jack LeMay cut together this promo for us. The people in the horse and unicorn masks are BEATS members who were dancing with us during the filming. And no, the actual video didn’t make much more sense.

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If you have any questions about Eric’s class, feel free to contact him by email at eric DOT tondreau AT tufts DOT edu. You can also follow him on Twitter at @EIG_T.