Monthly Archives: March 2018

Timeout for Art: Collage

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These small-format collages are what I start with, when I go to my studio. They go together quickly, with whatever materials I have on hand, combined with what I have collected that day, on supports cut from old drawings or paintings on heavy paper. They are playful and gestural; they lead me into their visual world. It’s a good way to get myself into the “studio state-of-mind.”

For many years, I put together one collage each day. Then, my life grew hectic, and I went weeks without ever stepping into the studio. When I managed the time, I often moved right into work mode: what absolutely needs to be done, in this small amount of time that I have for art-making? Often, I was frustrated that the inspiration was not there. In my desperate attempt to make good use of stolen moments, I forgot about the importance of play.

Now, with the studio becoming more of a regular habit again, I have re-introduced the practice of making a collage upon getting started in the studio. I think of them like visual diary pieces, the shapes and colors reflective of my mood on any given day. They frame up nicely, with three inches of mat board all around, in 14″ x 14″ frames. I imagine them hung in four or five rows and seven columns, like the layout of the days on calendar pages. But long before they are matted and framed for display, they remind me of why I go into the studio in the first place: the fun of putting things together!

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Chicken Memories, Part #1

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[Many years ago, I enrolled in a Writer’s Workshop here on Beaver Island. The teacher was my friend, Mary Blocksma. At that time – possibly twenty-five years ago – she already had a long list of published works that included children’s books, poetry, memoir, and the most entertaining nature guides I’ve ever encountered. “Teacher” is too narrow a term for the wonderful woman who facilitated the workshop. Mary generously shared her knowledge and experience, offered kind and helpful feedback, read to us from her own works-in-progress, and even made cookies! I recently came across my tablet containing some essays I wrote during that workshop. One seems to be everything I knew about chickens, and every single chicken I ever encountered in my life. The writing wasn’t bad, though. This is just one segment  of my “chicken history.”]

My Dad raised chickens. We’d get them in the early spring: fifty fluffy yellow chicks. They spent their first few weeks in a large cardboard box in our utility room. The floor of the box was covered with newspaper. A light bulb dangled over it at one end, to provide warmth. Mason jar feeders, for water and chick-feed sat in the center.

It was our job, as small children, to change out the newspapers as needed, and to make sure the feeding stations were clean and full. We were allowed to handle the chicks – carefully – and we did. We took it upon ourselves to try to train them. We each picked our favorites, named them, and swore we could identify them. We taught them to jump into our outstretched hand, or onto the water jug, when we whistled (those of us that could whistle), or snapped our fingers (if we could) , or called their name.

We trusted that we would always know “our chicken” and that it would always know us. I imagined going out to the chicken house with its big fenced-in yard, with fifty chickens milling about. I’d call out, “Penelope,” and my own chicken would look up, and run right over to me. Of course, that was never the case. Once they moved outside, they didn’t know us, and we could no longer recognize them.

The chickens ran toward us all together when we came to spill grass clippings, garden weeds or kitchen scraps over the fence. We loved them all together, then. It was no longer “Penelope” or “Sally” or “Fluffy,” but “the chickens.” And, in the world of raising animals for food, that is not a bad thing. Having grown up on a farm, my Dad understood that, and led us gently through the process.

In the early summer, before the hens started laying, the young roosters were culled from the flock. That gruesome tale, I think, can wait for another day.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #13

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List the things in your life you are actually able to control:

What?? My first thought is to rail against this question: “Nothing! Nothing! It is all out of my control!” Often, that’s how it seems. Big things and small, out of my control.

Big things:

  • I lost a dear friend last week, to the same dread disease that killed my mother. Of course, I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t spare him the pain. I couldn’t say or do a thing to make his transition easier. I couldn’t visit; he couldn’t take calls. I continued to write letters, but I have no idea if he received them, or was able to read them. The whole thing was out of my control. The week before, I lost another friend. Again, I could do nothing about it. I’ve heard it my whole life, and it’s true: the older you get, the more you have to learn to say good-bye. It’s out of my hands.
  • Though I care deeply about what is going on in the world, in our government, in our streets and in our schools…though I always vote, and speak up when I can…it does not feel like I have any control. From the bottom of my heart, I care that children go hungry, that people suffer, that there is injustice and cruelty in this world…but the difference I can make to any of it is negligible. It matters to me that we seem to have a buffoon in the White House, that children are not safe in their own schools, that the climate seems to be spinning out of control to the danger and detriment of all life…and I feel helpless. Through it all, I act, speak up, rail against the system, vote, march, sign…and I know that my efforts are not worthless…but also that I have no control over the end results.

Small things:

  • My weight. Even though my diet has remained the same – basically healthy foods, heavy on fruits and vegetables, perfectly reasonable – one that I have enjoyed for years, that fits my tastes and my life…I have been gaining a pound or two a week, for the last month. After maintaining the same weight for the last seven years. In the cruel joke department: the weight gain started at the same time I started planning a trip to Florida with my sisters!
  • My appetite. Along the same line of conversation, when I do decide it is time to go on an actual, serious diet, I think of nothing but food: the foods I cannot have; the portions I have to limit; how hungry I feel; how deprived I am; and when will it be dinner time??
  • My appearance. I need to move off of this topic, and variations of it, I know…but there is always the mirror, with some new wrinkle every day…
  • Which goes along with the general aging process  (and then I’ll drop the subject!) that includes aches and pains, loss of ability, loss of memory, a hundred minor inconveniences…all out of my control.
  • My budget. This has been a very slow winter here on Beaver Island. Business has been slow at the hardware store. Hours have been cut, to compensate. Which has wreaked havoc with my budget. When my basic monthly expenses – before groceries and gasoline – add up to more than I am bringing home in a month…when the little dog needing to see the veterinarian and the car needing a new battery work to dig the hole even deeper…when I have to empty every stash of coins just to buy dog food…when I have to borrow money just to make ends meet…this feels totally out of control.

Tiny (hardly worth mentioning) things:

  • The weather.
  • Other people’s moods.
  • Other people’s opinions (though I often try…).
  • My dogs. Whether it is at the neighbors, the road truck, or the wild turkeys that wander through the back yard, when they feel the need, my dogs bark…and I can’t stop them. No matter how many times I calmly tell them “We’re okay,” they bark until they decide to stop. It’s out of my control.

But, the question was not what was out of my control, but what I am able to control. As I see it this morning, that’s a very short – but important – list. When the world – and my life – seems to be spinning, crazily, in all directions…the thing I can control is this:

  • My reaction to it.

That’s it. But, the good news is that, most of the time, that’s enough.

 

 

 

Timeout for Art: Time for Art!

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stairway leading to the studio

This week, the stars and planets aligned: work hours, energy levels, inspiration, determination, materials at hand and a willingness to use them, and the cooperation of two often needy dogs all fell into place! On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I spent much of  my time in the studio.

I hooked the curtains open, so that the heat could get upstairs, and left them that way. So,when a few minutes – or a few hours – presented itself, I could follow the steps up to the studio. I have plenty of cleaning and organizing to do up there, and spent some time on that. I decided that if I were to wait until that was all done before allowing myself to make art, I would never get to it. So, I balanced my time between several different things. My mother used to call it “running around like a chicken with her head cut off.” It is often my favorite way to work!

I cleared the press of all of the work I had piled on it, as I’d been using it as a work surface. I cleared the drafting table of the mounds of collage papers and scraps that were preventing me from using it as it was intended. I cleaned out one deep desk drawer of everything that had accumulated there in the last ten years. In between times, I worked on art.

I pulled out a stack of small collages that needed to be tweaked. Finished, I dampened each one and stacked them between sheets of waxed paper, then weighted them down with a pile of short shelves, so that they would dry flat. I matted a few others, and measured them for frames. I started six new collages based on a dream (that left me with the suggestion that I should use the color red as a neutral). I set up the mat cutter and cut backer board down to size for collagraph plates. And I started six new plates!

It was a good, productive time, and has made me feel anxious to get back into the studio!

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This large collage needs some finishing touches, but it’s getting there.

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New collagraph plates, in progress.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #12

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List the people that make you feel happy:

  • My daughter, Kate. I pick up the phone these days with a little trepidation. Often, it’s someone with a great cause, hoping for a charitable contribution. Frequently, it is someone wanting support for a political party, or answers to survey questions. Sometimes, it’s a bill collector. I don’t have “caller ID.” When my “Hello” is answered with Kate’s sweet, “Hi, Mom,” my heart soars. Whether she’s having a good day or not, a conversation with Kate will always be interesting and fun. She’ll enlighten me as to all the current news about my grandchildren, my other daughter, and other family and “ex” family that she knows I care about. She never fails to make me laugh. Visits in-person are rare treasures, but every bit as enjoyable.
  • My daughter, Jen. She and I are on conflicting schedules lately. I don’t talk to her as regularly as I do Kate, but it makes me happy whenever we are able to have a chat.
  • My grandchildren make me happy.
  • My sister, Brenda, makes me happy,
  • and so do my other sisters: Cheryl, Robin and Amy.
  • My brother, Ted, makes me happy. Last week, I received a letter from him. He signed off with “Your brother, Ted.” I’ve been smiling about that all week. As if I’d have otherwise thought the letter – filled with family news and remembrances – was from some stranger named Ted that I never met…if he hadn’t been clear.
  • My new neighbors make me happy. They embrace this Beaver Island life with eagerness and joy. They don’t question my hermit-like ways. They kindly put up with my barking dogs, who feel it’s a personal affront if the neighbors so much as walk out into their very own yard. They remind me, with their enthusiasm, of all the special things about this island, and of the reasons why I came here to begin with.
  • My best friend, Linda, makes me happy. We have been plotting, commiserating, giggling and sharing secrets together since we were eleven years old. I hope it never ends!
  • All friends, old and new, make me happy. Some I met all the way back in grade school: Joan, Kate and Mary come to mind. Some go back to high school: Lynne, Deb, and others that I’ve re-connected with through social media. Many, I know through my family or my life here on Beaver Island. Some friends I have not met in person, but have gotten to know through their blogs: Sara, Lisa, Kathy, Pam, Joss, Linda, Susan, Nat and Nancy. Others I know through my work, or other jobs I’ve had over the years. Some friends I keep in touch with regularly; others not so much. Still, I can say without a doubt that thoughts and memories of them, if not a written or verbal exchange, always makes me feel happy.

In the Studio…

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Last week, just because a combination of outside events happened right around the days I normally have off, I ended up with an unprecedented five days in a row without having to go in to work. It’s going to wreak further havoc with my already struggling winter’s budget…but that’s another story. Unfortunately, I spent most of that time in bed, with a rumbling belly, chills, and a headache that would not go away.

The one day I felt well enough to be up and about, I attended the funeral of a dear old friend; the next day – when I was well enough to go to work – the business was closed so that the guys could wax the floors. I took a portion of that day to get back into the studio.

I sorted through collage materials, and discarded a whole mound of papers and other detritus that was taking up space in the studio…and in my mind. I stowed several things that have held center stage, though I have no intention of working on them in the near future. Finally, I finished the two large collage-paintings that have held my attention for the last several weeks.

These are clearly companion pieces, two more in a series that I’ve been working on for the last five or six years. I have a longer explanation for the motivation behind them, but – in a nutshell – they speak to the everyday moments that make up a life. Taken as a whole, it’s easy to say, “that was a horrible year” or “that was a really dark time.” When we pay attention to the smaller increments of time, though, there is always beauty…joy…something to marvel at.

These pieces can stand on their own, but complement each other. At the moment, I have them standing vertically (not their intended orientation) and close beside each other, like a diptych…and I like them this way.

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vertically, as a diptych…