Monthly Archives: January 2016

Timeout for Art: Using Up

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I have always loved to make something out of nothing.

Give me twelve skeins of new yarn, all from the same dye lot, and I am uninspired. A bag of bits and balls of mismatched yarn, though, and I’ll  create patterns for gnomish hats or gypsy slippers, and crochet all night. It’s the same with fabric, papers or any other raw materials. I’m drawn to collage for the chance to create from things that are trash, but beautiful for the character and patina provided by their history.

In my studio right now, I have one hundred and eighty squares cut from painted papers and patterned with the little shapes that are cut from packages, so that the package can hang on a hook. I’ll assemble the squares in a grid formation on a large board, then finish the piece with a series of glazes. It’s working title is “Going Nowhere.” A companion piece is made up of horizontal ribbons of painted papers topped with little cutout triangles. Like arrows pointing, they zip to the left in one row, and rush to the right in the next. I named that one “Fast.”

In shadow boxes, I am assembling row upon row of little rectangles of handmade paper of varying thickness. I like the subtle shadow play and color changes.

My plan this winter is to use stuff up though, to make room for new work and new ideas. It seems that everything I do creates more, not less.

For instance, I have several small paintings underway. One technique I use quite a bit is to apply paint to the canvas, lay a sheet of paper over it and rub, then lay that paper onto another canvas to deposit the excess paint on it. Though I use the same sheets of paper over and over, it still generates quite a stack of painted papers. To use them up, I’ve been contemplating some kind of weaving. I imagine a large, closed basket form, made of painted papers and old drawings. Yesterday I did a little internet search of woven papers. It turns out, there’s quite a movement out there, for making baskets and other items out of paper. There are hundreds of videos on it!

My first thought was one of discouragement: Are there no original ideas yet to discover? Still, I was intrigued. Papers are rolled into tubes, which can then be woven into bowls or boxes or baskets. “Make about a million, to start,” was the suggestion of one crafter. Well, I did have a big mound of painted papers. Maybe, if I made a bunch of tubes, an idea would present itself as to how to proceed.

I made about fifty. They are pretty simple, and quite pretty, I think. Where to go from here, though, I don’t know. Maybe if I’d made a million of them…

Next…

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I pulled a book off the shelf: What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. I bought it several years ago, with the intention of working my way through it, chapter by chapter. I did one blog about the first chapter, “First Lines,” then closed it, put it back on the shelf and never looked at it again until today.

I don’t remember being resentful or mad about it, like I’ve become over the 30-day Creative Fire journal. I just quit. There is a strong possibility that I am just a quitter when it comes to goals I set for myself. I could make quite a list of examples, if I’m ever called upon to do it!

Anyway, paging through the writing exercises in this book, I came across several that grabbed my attention. They don’t seem to have an answer in mind, but rather just suggest a topic, very open-ended, and say “write for twenty minutes on it” or “fill one page.” It seems like a pretty good book; I’m going to give it a try.

In a chapter titled “Who Are You? Somebody!” the authors draw from an essay by Richard Hugo, who suggests that in a world that tells us “individual differences do not exist” and that “our lives are unimportant,” writing teaches that “you are someone and you have a right to your life.” They then offer several topic suggestions. The first is this:

List in detail all the places you have lived…

That’s where I start.

3678 Hunt Road, Lapeer Michigan was my first address. That’s where I spent the first eighteen years of my life, in a house that my father built with his own hands, right next door to my grandparents.

The land was a wedding gift to my Mom and Dad, from my mother’s parents. They could not stand the thought of their only child moving far away, so they gave them a place to make a home. In the year my mother graduated high school, the yearbook predicted that “in 10 years…” she would be “married and living on a farm on Beaver Island raising a half-dozen children.” Instead, she got married the August after her  graduation, but stayed close to home. My mother was born in the little cottage that stood on the lot to the right of our house; she was raised in the house on the other side of ours, and spent the rest of her life in her own home between the two.

I’ve traveled farther from my starting place than my mother ever did, but I’ve always held it close to my heart. Any memories of place, though, start with the address next door, where my grandparents lived.

My grandparent’s house was a story and a half, cottage style, with a stone foundation, and curved cement steps leading up to the front door. Flat, colorful rocks were embedded in the cement, and formed interesting patterns on the surface. Cedar hedges stood on either side of the door. A snowball bush sat beside the driveway.

On the far side of the house, there was a separate, flat-roofed garage, and a small orchard beyond: three apple trees, one pear. The back yard had a grape arbor with benches inside, a garden spot and a big willow tree. On the side of the house closest to ours, there was a fenced area enclosing a cesspool where the washing machine drained.

A neatly trimmed hedge divided front yard from back. A birdhouse anchored the large flower bed in the front yard. It perched on top of tall, ladder-like trellises that enclosed climbing roses and were surrounded by peonies and other blooms.  Huge elm trees provided shade and created a park-like setting. A white bench sat under the big trees. It was constructed of flat panels, much like a church pew.

That’s the description, bare. It doesn’t speak to the feelings, the deep-seated memories, the warmth. The sound of the wind when it wheeled through the branches of the willow tree…the quiet shade provided by the grape arbor…the flowery shelter of the igloo-shaped snowball bush…the feel of trudging through deep autumn leaves…these stay with me. Grandpa Ted would sit on his white park bench when the weather was mild, and we’d wander across the yard to talk to him. I never remember a time when he wasn’t glad to see us. We were always welcome there.

The crackle of drying leaves underfoot, the smell of autumn fires or the springtime scent of peonies in bloom can, after all these years, still transport me right back to that place and time.

Something Else

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I am getting very tired of the 30-day Creative Fire writing challenge.

I have been trying to work with it. I read through the prompts – she gives four or five, all related, each day – and try to choose one or two that I can talk about with truth and a little humor, without baring my soul. I skip around to other topics: Thursdays I write about art; Sundays are devoted to the “52 Lists Project”(which I am loving, by the way); other days, I just throw in a random post about the weather. I’m not a stickler. I have a whole year of daily blogging yet to do: I can take my time getting through one challenge!

Still, even though I’m not doing it thirty days in a row, I’m sick of it. It has taken on a soul-searching, “let-us-all-weep-together-in-our-new-awareness” feel, and I hate it. I cringe at the topics, and struggle to find a way to bring them from the realm of what would be discussed in an encounter group, to something I feel comfortable writing about.

Those of you that regularly read what I write have a lot of information about me. I don’t shy away from true stories, even when they make me look ridiculous, or reveal the stubborn meanness that I wish was not a deep-seated part of my personality. I can write about my deepest sadness or my biggest blunders.

I get squeamish, however, about public revelations that should happen only in a confessional, or on a psychiatrist’s couch. Now, I have never been on a psychiatrist’s couch, but I can tell you honestly that when in the confessional, I go with the assumption that the good Father knows exactly who’s on the other side of that screen, and I word my confession accordingly. I never have been very good at that level of sharing. Or, maybe more accurately, sharing at that level.

So, while I take the time to wrap my mind around the latest prompt, I’m taking a break from the whole challenge. Oh, I’ll finish it eventually. I have an entire year, after all.

 

 

Who Am I?

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What’s the big deal, anyway, about the writing prompts that makes me want to run? Just so I don’t keep you wondering, day #7 looks like this:

Today’s Journal Prompts

I’ve been quietly courageous…

I see quiet courage in action…

I’ve learned about trying again tomorrow…

Courage is whispering to me right now…

Share:

How does your struggle to be seen show up? How does it impact your creative work?

No big deal, really…a little goofy with the “courage is whispering to me…” but not too weird. Yet I want to give smart-ass, snarky, one-word responses to each suggestion. I have nothing to hide, but it feels like a stretch to make these ideas fit around my experiences. I get aggravated just thinking about it. Time to move on. At least until my attitude improves!

I pulled a book off the shelf: What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. I bought it several years ago, with the intention of working my way through it, chapter by chapter. I did one blog about the first chapter, First Lines, then closed it, put it back on the shelf and never looked at it again until today.

I don’t remember being resentful or mad about it, like I’ve become over the 30-day Creative Fire journal. I just quit. There is a strong possibility that I am just a quitter when it comes to goals I set for myself. I could make quite a list of examples, if I’m ever called upon to do it!

Anyway, paging through the writing exercises in this book, I came across several that grabbed my attention. They don’t seem to have an answer in mind, but rather just suggest a topic, very open-ended, and say “write for twenty minutes on it” or “fill one page.” It seems like a pretty good book: I might give it a try.

Creative Fire Journal, Day #6

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Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.

― Ray Bradbury

“Self-consciousness has been my enemy when…”

Self-consciousness has been my enemy when I have too much time to think. This applies not only to my writing or studio work, but to all areas of my life.

Most days, I blast out of the house to go to work ten minutes or so later than I should have. I am clean and presentable, wearing one of several stock outfits that form my workday uniform. I don’t think much about clothes beyond being sure to choose slacks with pockets on freight days. Sometimes a glance in the mirror before I go out the door elicits an “Ugh!” but that’s the end of it. When I get to my job, there is plenty to keep my mind busy.

A different engagement – a meeting, a funeral or a dinner out – can be almost completely derailed by my self-consciousness. When I have time to think about what I’ll wear and how I’ll present myself, nothing is good enough. This makes me look fat, that accentuates my [lack of] height, that makes me look jowly/bow-legged/pigeon-toed/old/trying to look too young/like a stuffed sausage…the list goes on. I will tear through all possibilities, leave the house with rejected clothes covering bed, dresser and chair, and stress all the way to town about how I am really not yet ready to be seen in public.

When I work regularly in the studio, I concentrate on the job at hand. There are specific steps to complete any project. One idea leads to another, so there’s always something to do next. I’m not stalled by waiting for paint or glue or varnish to dry; there is another task to fill the time. I don’t have time to worry about who will like it or who won’t, whether it is “art for the ages” or just a whim. I’m occupied with the work in from of me, and that’s all that matters in that moment.

When I don’t get into the studio for a week, or longer, the story changes. No project seems worthy of my time or attention. My mind fills with doubt. I pull out books, so that other artists can inspire me. They have the opposite effect. The more I look, the more I think, “now that is real art…” and the more I wonder what ever made me think I had something to offer to begin with.

Hurdles like this are difficult, but not impossible. The trick is to ignore the self consciousness long enough to get past it. Soon, whatever event I was heading to will take my mind away from my appearance. Before long, whatever problems I am solving in the studio will become more important than the finished product, and how the world will judge it.

The 52 Lists Project #3

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Week #3: List the happiest moments of your life so far

I think this question was perhaps designed with much younger people in mind. People with better memories and fewer experiences.

  • I remember thinking, as a young woman with my husband asleep beside me, my baby girl in the next room, that I was so absolutely perfectly happy, the rest of my whole life was bound to pale in comparison. My husband disappointed me so much (as I disappointed him too, I’m sure) in the next dozen years of our marriage, I hate to even put that on the list! Yet there it is.
  • The births of each of my daughters, of course, but not right that instant. With Jen, it was when she was about a week old, as I held her in my lap. We were calm, content, and studying each other. With Kate, it was when she was ten days old, and finally released from the hospital. In each case, it hit me like a bolt of lightening: the enormity of this whole motherhood thing, how I was a part of a group that spanned thousands of years with shared thoughts and experiences with every other mother…yet unique to me, and to each of my babies.
  • Moving to Beaver Island. This is a wonderful place, and a good life, but it is real life, with hardships and disappointments. None of those things were a part of my conscious reality when we first moved. Then, it was just our plans, hopes and wildest dreams coming to fruition.
  • One night, on a 29′ sailboat, in the middle of Lake Huron. My mates were asleep. It was just me, that huge bowl of the sky, and a million stars.

I could come up with a longer list, I’m sure. I’m sixty-three years old, and have had a pretty good life. These, though, are the things that come to mind effortlessly…so, today, this is my list.

Creative Fire Journal, Day #5

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“What an overwhelming lesson to all artists! Be not afraid of absurdity; do not shrink from the fantastic. Within a dilemma, choose the most unheard-of, the most dangerous, solution. Be brave, be brave!” ― Isak Dinesen

A dilemma I’m facing is:

Make a list of 10 unheard-of, dangerous solutions:

A dilemma I’m facing is getting my work space organized so that I can easily work in it.

It’s a small room, 12′ x 12′(the space under the eaves adds about 3′ x 12′ to either side, though it’s not high enough to stand in). When it comes to art, art books, art materials, beautiful papers and tools for working, I’m a bit of a hoarder.

If it were used only for art making, the room would already be crowded.

There is the very large yet very necessary drafting table, taking up a big block of space. It is used for drawing, adding watercolor to collagraph prints, painting, putting collages together, reading and – every now and then – as a dinner table. There is the big padded bar stool that goes with it, to get me up to the correct level to work. Next to the drafting table, a set of shallow shelves holds materials I use most often. There is a smaller desk chair. It is needed, too, for when Madeline (or one of the grandsons) is visiting, and we want to be in the studio together. I sometimes use it as an easel, too, and it’s always there when I need a place to drape a sheet of newsprint or fabric that I’ve used to rub a painting, until the paint dries. The printing press, if not in use so that the press bed can be centered under the roller mechanism, takes up a space 32 inches by 40 inches. More, when the press bed is off to either side. A short bookcase stands under each of the two windows. Their shelves house my art books; the top surface holds clay pieces, waiting for the kiln.

This is also the room where I keep my materials, and finished works in between galleries.

The space under the eaves is used for storage.

I have, on one side: two file drawers; a map cabinet for storing flat works; 12 storage totes labelled with the materials they contain and hung on rails between dividers, so that any one can be pulled out without moving all of them; 8 bus tubs for paper-making supplies, tucked in the same way. Behind the totes is a large vinyl lidded trash can filled with moist clay, several big bowls from an old commercial bread making machine, and a few rolls of bubble wrap. A shallow shelf above the totes holds moistened printing papers inside of large plastic bags when I’m actively printing. At other times, it tends to be a catch-all.There is an old TV with a built in VHS player hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes I put a movie in, for entertainment while I work.

The other side has a folding work table for inking printing plates. It holds pots of inks, boxes of latex gloves, and squares of dense cardboard for spreading the ink. There is a work light hanging above the table, and many lengths of starched cheesecloth hanging off to the side. Beside the table is a box holding collagraph plates and another holding lengths of metal frames, not yet assembled. Then there is a box of mattboard, and several packages of pre-cut matts. The remaining space has framed artwork, wrapped individually for protection from scratches and air-born paint spatters, stored standing up, in very tight quarters.

At this time, I have a half dozen finished or almost finished works leaning against the wall of storage totes, making them inaccessible without a major shuffle. I have gallons of gesso, polymer gel, polymer medium and glue under the drafting table. I have a large painting-in-progress on top of the printing press. I have small painted canvasses in various stages of completion on every available surface.

This is definitely a dilemma!

Possible solutions:

  • Pretend I’ve had a house fire, and clear out the studio entirely. Mercilessly. This is a fresh start.

[My heart is pounding dangerously at the thought!]

  • Get rid of everything that I don’t love right now. If it needs work or isn’t “quite there yet,” ditch it.

[No, I still can’t stand it!]

  • Toss everything I am not actively working with, or working on. Burn the drawings that I did twenty years ago in art class; dump the contents of totes that I haven’t looked at in months.

[I’m not up for these kinds of absurd solutions!]

  • Work larger; use stuff up.
  • Plan works using the materials I have on hand.
  • Spend more time in the studio, finishing things, using materials.
  • Use what I have; don’t bring any more materials in.
  • Quit saving every single thing.
  • Find ways to incorporate scraps into new works.
  • Perhaps make woven sculptures from old prints and papers.

That’s just about as dangerous as I can bring myself to be. It will have to do.

One Day to the Next

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Some of these mornings, I am not prepared to write.

There are days when I wake up so bursting with ideas of things to talk about, I can hardly type fast enough. Other days where I turn to my writing prompts for inspiration, and work it into a post.

I started doing that this morning: day five of the thirty-day journal writing challenge. I put in the prompts; I found a photo; I even found a good, inspirational quote. Nothing came of it. I am uninspired. I’ll save it for another day.

Winter is finally upon us here on Beaver Island. It’s not one of those extreme winters we’ve grown accustomed to. Not so far, anyway. But the snow has arrived, and looks like it will stay awhile. Our ferry boat quit running before Christmas. Business has slowed.

Time, then, for all of the things I put off…until winter.

I’ve been cleaning, at work and at home: the kind of thoughtful sorting and deep cleaning that never gets done in the busy season.

At the hardware, I’ve been arranging the basement so that overstock merchandise and seasonal products are orderly and accessible. I cleaned up the screening area, hauling out glass and plexiglas pieces, rolls of old screen and metal scraps. I put all the holiday merchandise into one side of one neat aisle. I’m helping to set up a display of new faucets.

At home, I’m incorporating some”Zen habits for de-cluttering” that I recently read about. I never get up from the desk without filing or otherwise taking care of five items that are on it. I never leave a room without fluffing a pillow, wiping off a surface or tidying an area. Last week I thoroughly cleaned my underwear drawer. I threw out every pair of socks with holes in heel or toe. I got rid of anything with worn out elastic. I pitched every single uncomfortable undergarment. Then I folded everything that was left, and lined it up nicely, in rows. One small step, I know…but in the right direction!

In the studio…well, I’m working on it. All of it. The organizing and cleaning. The matting and framing. The actual art making. I just plug away, with the time I have for it, but it is definitely a discouragement.

The list is long, of things to do, wherever I am, and whatever I’m doing. Usually just a bit longer than the winter allows for. All I can do is continue working on it all, day to day.

Timeout for Art: What’s Going On?

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Not much going on in my studio the last few days, but come, I’ll show you around.

Coming up to the top of the stairs, a bookcase fills the landing. If you looked to the right, you’d see the bedroom door, painted pale gray with the word “BED” stenciled on it in white. To the left is the studio door. Notice the “Paint” sign my granddaughter made for me, on top of the bookcase, with the arrow pointing the way to the studio. A stuffed hand hangs on the doorknob, and points to the poster. The framed poster is an old one, designed in the late seventies to promote a new city-wide art program in Portland, Oregon. As I understand, it was the mayor of Portland that posed as the flasher for the picture.

The other side of that door looks like this:

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Pinch pots, just the right size to fit in the bowl of your hand, are waiting to be fired.

Drawers hold works in many styles, and various stages of completion.

Collage papers are collected and gathered together on every available surface.

Usually I have something hanging. or leaning against a wall to look at, to try to figure out what it needs. Right now, it’s this large piece:

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I’m planning to soon have progress on current works to report. For today, though, just this little tour.

Creative Fire Journal, Day #4

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If I weren’t afraid of failing, I might…

If I weren’t afraid of failing, I might tackle a lot more home repairs. There are several waiting, if I ever feel brave enough.

Outside, I am unafraid. I have dug up and transplanted shrubs and vines and bushes like someone else might rearrange furniture. Eventually, they end up in a spot where they both look good and thrive…then I let them be. Until I decide to thin out, rearrange or redesign again. I built a low stone wall to border a wild area of the yard, and a stone walkway to my backdoor, though I don’t know a thing about the proper way to do either. The walkway in particular has several issues with holding water, growing weeds between the stones and tripping up visitors on its uneven surface. No matter. I’ve dug out every stone at least twice, in an effort to get it right; I can always try again. In my little vegetable garden, I built raised beds, tried out Ruth Stout’s “no weed, no work” gardening ideas, employed Patricia Lanza’s “lasagna garden” plan, used methods outlined in Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening…and many others. I have removed dozens of gigantic wild junipers from my property with a pair of long handled loppers and a “tromp and lop” technique I invented myself. I may not be using the right or the best method, but it doesn’t seem to matter much outside. I can figure it out, make it work, or try something else.

At the hardware store, I am always willing to tackle large organizing projects.After more than ten years of working there, I have a pretty good idea of what sells, and what things are used for. The company provides “planograms,” in many cases, as a guide for arranging an area. They can be very helpful, but don’t always work with our space or our inventory. I have gotten in hot water more than once, for veering off in a direction of my own. If I don’t know the product or it’s function, I devise my own method of arrangement. When I organized the spark plugs and later the oil filters, I laid them out in numerical order based on their product number. That way at least, it’s easy to find the one you’re looking for. In housewares, I organized by function: cooking, baking, table-setting, clean-up, and on and on. When I organized the fishing lures, I did it by size and color. When all else fails, make everything look pretty!

In my studio, I am fearless. I almost never know why I’m doing what I’m doing or where I’m going with it. I have always ignored hierarchical methods and hard and fast rules in favor of letting the materials dictate. Ooze, drip, squish and rub are my main techniques, though I have a few others, too. It doesn’t matter if  I’m working with clay, paint or charcoal, I want to give it full reign. I have a lot of failures, but I also have a lot of fun. I learn from everything I do, and gain insight into the materials as I go. When success happens, I know it’s something that has never been done before, in exactly the way I did it.

When it comes to jobs around the house, I am timid. I can’t shake the idea that there is one right way to do a thing, and that I am not privy to that knowledge. I feel clumsy and inept at most home projects. Those that I’ve tried, I have usually messed up. I can rearrange things without end, but I panic at the thought of hanging a door, cutting a mitered corner or putting up woodwork. Replace a window? No way! Put down flooring? Yikes!

If I could conquer my fear when it comes to home repairs, there is plenty to do!