Author Archives: cindyricksgers

About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

Timeout for Art: Other Things

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This week, I’m working on Other Things.

Though there are plenty of projects underway in the studio…projects that need my attention, require my presence and are calling out for my focus…I am not there.

This week, I’m spending a lot of time outside.

I’ve been weeding the flower beds. Around the outside where the bordering stones stones meet the yard, and inside, where the long roots have spread the grasses to live among the blooms. I’ve been moving straw to mulch around the tomato and squash plants, to keep the moisture in the ground. I’ve been planting, and replanting.

I had to buy a little six-pack of tomato plants, to replace one tomato seedling that didn’t make it. That left me with five extra tomato plants without a space. It took a bit of finagling, but my Dad would be pleased, I think, to see the spots I’ve tucked them into! Only about half of the pole bean seeds, planted now over three weeks ago, came up. Even less than that of the peas. Not a single bush bean sprouted. I gave them plenty of time to show themselves. I checked the dates on the seed packets. I carefully poked around in the soil, to see if the sprouts were just getting ready to burst out of the ground. Finally, yesterday, I replanted seeds in all the gaps.

I’ve been working at pruning the grape vine. That should have been done much earlier in the spring. Actually, it should have been done two or three years ago, in the early spring. The vines are tremendously overgrown, tangled around the branches of the forsythia bush, fence posts, and the surrounding trees. I’m saving the vines that I cut away, with intention of using them to replace the back wall of my garden fence. I imagine a beautiful, curved and cohesive design…but then, imagination is easy before I begin. Already, I can see that the distance between fence posts might present problems, and that the vines have a tendency to curve their own way.

After a much needed rain, the grass suddenly needs to be mowed again.

And, I have quite a few “other things” going on inside, as well.

Yesterday, the morning felt like fall. The temperature inside my house hovered around 50 degree until after noon. I couldn’t bring myself to get out of my warm robe. I thought seriously about once again carrying the portable heater downstairs. Since it was such a perfect day for it, I made soup. Enough for a hearty, warm and comforting dinner last night, and plenty for lunches all week.

After an unexpected and unexplained electrical outage that lasted through all of the afternoon and into the evening on Monday, I spent yesterday catching up on my weekly laundry. Though there are still clothes waiting to be folded. And, when the dogs finally move to get out of bed today, I intend to wash the sheets and hang them on the clothesline.

That’s not everything, of course. There is an on-going writing project that I give some time to. I’ve had phone calls to make and letters to write. There is the normal everyday “stuff,” from meditation to sweeping the floor, that keeps my life and my house running smoothly.

Sometimes, when all of the other things take over, the studio just has to wait.

Here I Am

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I’ve been neglectful of my writing for a couple weeks now. The first one I missed – a “Timeout for Art” blog – was easy to skip over. It hasn’t been that long since I re-started an art-centered blog, and I’ve already missed a few times. The other one, my Sunday blog, has been a pretty regular habit for a while now. I don’t like abandoning my commitments, and it didn’t feel right to skip my weekly post. Then another whole week went by, with nothing. And then another. No art blog; no Sunday blog. By that time, the “gremlins” moved in.

These questions ran through my mind:

“Has anyone even noticed?”

“Does anybody even read what I write anymore?”

“Do I even have anything new to say?”

“What difference does it make?”

“Who cares?”

These thoughts were accompanied by all the usual justifications and excuses:

“I’m too busy!”

“I have too many other obligations!”

“There isn’t enough time!”

And these were followed by self-criticism:

“I’m a quitter.”

“I never follow through.”

“Lazy bum.”

It’s quite the worm hole I travel down, when I neglect things. I’ve had similar conversations in my head over not getting my daily walk in, or letting the recyclables pile up.

When I first started this blog, almost nine years ago, I wrote “when the spirit moved me,” usually two or three times a week. It was a way to pay attention to life as it was going on around me, and a bit of self-discipline that, I thought, couldn’t hurt. Then, my friend Lisa and I agreed to share our artwork and methods in a weekly “Timeout for Art” blog. Lisa was much more dependable than me, and I gave it up before long. Often, I participated in the “April A to Z Challenge,” posting a blog every day except Sunday for the month. Once, I took on a more extreme challenge, and posted a blog every single day of the year!

Eventually, I settled on a couple regular weekly posts, on days that coordinated with my work schedule. Recently, feeling a little overwhelmed by other tasks and obligations and, honestly, by a real concern that I have pretty much already said everything I have to say, I cut back to one blog per week, on Sunday. Then I reintroduced Timeout for Art, on Wednesdays. Though I sometimes scrambled for writing material, I had settled into a habit. Then, three weeks ago, in the middle of all the craziness that spring brings to my life, that habit fell apart.

But, I missed this outlet. Whether or not anyone cares, or reads it, this is different from the private ramblings in my journal. I need to consider that others may see what I write, so I have to keep my ranting in check. I have to think about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And, the reasons that drove me to start a blog in the first place are still valid. So, here I am. Again.

Haunted

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It’s true what they say, that the older you get, the more familiar you become with loss.

I’ve grown accustomed to death.

First, there are the somewhat expected ones: grandparents and elderly family friends. Next, parents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. Then contemporaries, siblings and friends. Interspersed throughout are the tragic, unexpected and “too soon” deaths of the very young. As a child, dumbfounded by loss, I thought I’d never get used to it. Now, with age, it has become all too familiar.

If I were to place all the people I have known in my life in two columns, one for the living, and one for the dead, I’m sure that second list would outstrip the first one by a mile. Fortunately, my memory is not nearly good enough these days to even attempt it. It might make a slightly morbid but entertaining group exercise, sometime.

But I am not haunted by the dead.

My Dad, long removed from this earth, often accompanies me as I work in the garden. We keep a running dialogue going, in my head, as I make the furrows and plant the seeds. He offers bits of advise that I’ve heard many times before, and sometimes I get a brand new kernel of wisdom from him. He hasn’t softened much, in his opinions. Flowers are still “Nonsense! A waste of time and garden space!” And “that damned quack grass” is still a mortal enemy. Still, it’s always a pleasure to have a chat with him.

Others visit me when I’m asleep. When my dreams are peopled with friends and dear ones who are no longer here, I wake up smiling. How nice to have had such a good conversation with my Mom! Or, there was Vince, such a comforting presence, talking fervently about local politics, and offering me tea. Grandpa Ted. Ernie Martin. Muggs Bass. My brother David. Being just as predictably maddening as he always was in life.

The difference is that, having experienced the loss of my brother David, having realized what a treasure he was, having spent much time missing him, and mourning him, in my dreams I now know better. No matter how annoying his behavior, I look at him with love. My precious little brother. I wish I’d seen it when he was alive: how special his own crazy personality was; how fleeting his life. It’s things like that that haunt me.

When I was much younger, I used to be haunted by moments when I looked foolish, or did something that embarrassed me. Now, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a single example; they all seem so trivial. But I remember times when I could have easily been kind, but I was curt or short-tempered instead. As a parent, a sister, a daughter, a friend, I have fallen short. Why did I not listen better, show more appreciation, hug longer? It makes me cringe to think of so many incidents that I should have handled differently. Better. In some cases, the people are still here, so I can hope to turn it around, make up for it in some way. Too many are gone. When they visit my dreams, I try to do better.

Timeout for Art: Surface

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Collage is always concerned with surface. By its nature, the process creates a low-relief sculpture on the picture plain. Sometimes it’s just a side effect of the additive operation, not vital to the image created. Other times, it is part of the design, and necessary to the work of art. I like both. When observed from a distance, the colors, composition and overall design should be strong. Textures add another element of interest when you move in closer.

I’ve been exploring this idea quite a bit over the past several months: changing a composition by adding extreme, graphic textures, then attempting to incorporate them into the whole. It has been a not-always-successful challenge. Too much variation in the surface can be a distraction, especially when it’s not balanced. Or, I’ve found, when it is introduced via a prominent visual element like a woven grid. I like working through a problem though, and I love a lively surface, so it has been an enjoyable journey.

Ground

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“Ground” is a perfect topic for this week, in this time of the year. I’ve been watching the ground for weeks!

I am constantly looking down; in the springtime, there is always something new to observe. First, I watch the steady regression of the snow cover, then I note the things that are revealed. The pale grass in my yard brightens with each spring day; rain intensifies the many shades of green. Under the trees at the edge of my driveway, wild ramps and trout lilies carpet the ground.

Walking down the Fox Lake Road, the view changes daily. Bright greens shoot up among fields of dull grasses. Ferns slowly uncurl their fronds. Brambles that just yesterday were bare, show bright buds at the ends of every branch. From areas where there was nothing of interest to see, suddenly a cluster of trilliums bloom. Always, especially after a rain, and just in case luck favors me, I watch for morels.

It’s not all new. Around my lawn, before I can mow the quickly growing grass, I pick up windfall shaken down by winter winds from several large trees, clothespins dropped and forgotten under the clothesline, and a dozen dog toys.

My big dog, Darla, loves to carry her toys outside. She’s choosy about which one gets to go out with her on any given day. If it’s muddy, she always seems to want the white lamb; the crazy chicken is her current favorite. No matter; she never brings them back inside. I pick them up, regularly, and bring them inside. There comes a time, though, when the day is too cold, or the snow is too deep, or I’m simply neglectful. The toys are abandoned outside, and buried under the snow. It’s an annual ritual, when the snow melts, to gather them up, wash them, and give them back to Darla. She greets them all like long-lost friends, and we begin again.

It’s not all good. The fenced-in space for my vegetable garden needs a lot of work. The light deer fence has come down along the whole south side, and is tangled in the milkweed, blackberry brambles and tall grasses that grows in the field there. Weeds have sprung up in the planting beds, and the mulch that marked the pathways has pretty much disappeared. The flower beds are covered in clumps of blown-in leaves, and choked in quack grass. That’s what forces me down to the ground.

I tackle the flower beds one at a time. I work on hands and knees. One by one, I roll away the rocks that form the border. I pull the grasses that have taken hold between the stones then, digging down with my bare hands, I follow the long white roots into the bed. I’ve never been able to get used to wearing garden gloves. I can’t feel anything through them – not the bulbs and corms I’m trying to save or the tangled roots I’m attempting to eradicate – so I sacrifice neat fingernails for the satisfaction of getting my hands in the earth.

It’s a slow process, and one that is continually interrupted by more pressing duties. Last week, I spent parts of three days getting the lawn mowed. Before the summer season gets underway, I have to tackle the vegetable garden, and get plants and seeds into the ground. Always, there are other jobs calling me away. Recently, the mosquitoes have hatched, and their fierce attack brings all outdoor work to a quick halt in the evening. Still, it’s satisfying to see the progress, and when I’m able, on almost any bright day, I’ll spend at least part of it on the ground.

Timeout for Art: Going Nowhere

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I had the title – “Going Nowhere” – for this quilt-like piece long before I had even started it. The patterns are made of the little machine-cut bits that, when removed from packaging, leave a hole that is used to hang the merchandise.

Every day at the hardware, whether putting away freight or tidying aisles I’d accumulate several of the bits of shaped, stiff paper. Often, along with other trash that I collected over the course of my shift, it was forgotten until I emptied my pockets at the end of the day. The little basket that sits on top of my clothes dryer for collecting coins and other incidentals was soon overflowing with these little cut-out shapes. So, I started collecting them in jars, thinking that I might find a purpose for them.

The mere fact that I had such huge quantities of the little divots, collected two or three or maybe up to a dozen at a time, made a statement, of sorts. It spoke to me of all of the days, days upon days, turning into many years, that I have spent at that hardware store. In a job that doesn’t thrill me. Doing menial labor. Going nowhere.

Time is an underlying theme that runs through my work: calendars, and the many ways we mark the passage of time. Slowly, the idea of a quilt came to me as a way to develop this idea. The grid, for its relation to the calendar, and its static solidity. Within it, repetitive elements with slight variations.

First, I cut heavy, painted papers into squares. I marked each square, from corner to corner, with an X. I arranged the shapes on top of the squares. Finally, I glued them onto a large ( 4′ x 4′ ) piece of plywood.

There were problems. The squares tended to curl up on the edges, and didn’t lay fat. Some corners didn’t line up as they should have. Some of the little elements delaminated when I applied glazes. Finally, I gave up on it.

From the first glimmer of an idea to the point where I abandoned the project (and I don’t give up easily!), I had probably devoted ten years, off and on, to this piece. The title proved more accurate than I ever imagined…it was, in fact, going nowhere!

Timeout for Art: Surprise

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Some paintings come together easily; others take a long, long time. This piece, “Home of Language,” has been “in progress” for at least five years.

It has been through several incarnations in that time. It started as a painting, then became a painting with collage elements. I’ve added coats of paint, layers of glazes, and more collage elements. I’ve scraped and sanded the surface.

In between changes, it has spent months hanging on walls, sometimes in the studio, sometimes in my living space for a different perspective. I have studied it at length. What did it need? What to do next? Was it worth saving? The answers changed, based on the day, my mood, and the quality of light. Always, it held my interest enough to keep me from giving up on it.

Now and then, I’d hide the work. Sometimes it helps to forget about a piece for a while, so that I can see it with fresh eyes again. So, with its face to the wall, it would join other primed or painted surfaces, waiting.

Last winter, I took another look at it. Hmmm…it still intrigued me. Using an electric palm sander, I “excavated” selectively through layers of paint, revealing some old elements. I worked in some stains and added glazes. I studied it some more. Finally, a coat of varnish signaled a finishing point.

Still, when planning which pieces I’d prepare to send to the gallery this year, I debated about whether I was ready to send this out into the world. In a moment of wild abandon, I ordered a frame for it. Last week, I spent some time assembling frames.

Sometimes, the frame puts just enough distance between me and the efforts and doubts I have invested in the work, that I can finally see it clearly. Oh, hey…did I do this? This is done! It does work! When that happens, that’s the best surprise!

Gratitude

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Ah, gratitude. I’ve written about this before. Often, and – I think – recently. So recently, that I’ve wondered if I should bypass this word, this time. But, I just recently finished my A to Z blog-writing challenge, and returned to my long list based on the Table of Contents in David Whyte’s book, Consolations. It’s too early to start changing the plan. So, gratitude.

I have, finally, thoroughly embraced a daily gratitude practice. I write, every single day, a list of things that I am thankful for. The habit alone makes me happy. I have, for most of my life, traveled through my days by the seat of my pants, ad-libbing everything from waking and sleeping times to whether the dishes would get done, or pile up in the sink. I’ve lately embraced habit as a way to make life easier.

I used to smoke. When I decided to quit that habit, about twenty or so years ago, it was really hard. In addition to the addiction, which is real, I had the habit of smoking, Now that I am a non-smoker, I don’t wonder, after a big meal or when I pick up the telephone, whether I should light a cigarette or not. It doesn’t even cross my mind. My life is easier as a non-smoker for many reasons, but one important one is that I don’t have those decisions to make all through the day.

Because I was giving up rather than adding a habit, it didn’t occur to me right away just how much habits make life easier. We all have daily habits that are such a natural part of our lives that we don’t even think about them. Forming a habit takes time. Some studies say two weeks; others suggest thirty days or even longer. Once it’s there, though, it comes easily. With this awareness, I’ve incorporated quite a few new and helpful habits into my life in recent years. I’m proud of every one of them.

So, writing down things that I’m thankful for is a good thing, all on its own. I know it would please my mother, and it adds another bit of discipline into my disorganized life. Beyond that, the gratitude habit has opened my eyes. It would be easy to write a simple, rote list of blessings in my life: my family, a roof over my head, and food to eat are always things I’m grateful for. Repetitive, but true. Since I try to write sincerely about things that please me, I am more observant, and more aware.

When I’m forced out of bed at two in the morning to let a dog outside, and the moon is bright, or the sky is full of stars, I think, “thank you,” and the next day, “last night’s bright moon,” or “that beautiful sky full of stars” will show up in my gratitude-writing. If it rains when we need rain, or the sunshine raises my spirits, I take note. A phone call or a message from a loved one will surely make the list. I’ve become more appreciative of the small pleasures in my life, as I pay more attention to them. Gratitude is a habit. A simple, eye-opening, life-enhancing, happiness-inducing habit. I highly recommend it!

Timeout for Art: Zig-Zag

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When putting collages together, I have a few “tools” that find their way regularly into my work. Of course, I consider balance within the composition and the colors used. I like the mix of organic and geometric shapes, torn edges and straight edges, man-made and machine-made elements. While some sections remain very clean and crisp, I also appreciate the added dimension contributed by smudging an area.

Placement of colors and shapes works to guide the viewer around the surface. Some elements encourage the eyes to move from one area to another. Some areas invite closer inspection, or give the eyes a place to rest; others shout, “look at me!”

I balance large blocks of color with smaller details. Often, I use portions of my own painted papers, juxtaposed with bits of manufactured pattern or lettering. I often use strips of paper, marching in a row, to ease transitions from one area to another.

Zig-zags function in a similar way, and also act like arrows, pointing the way back from the edge. It’s a good thing! If zig-zags weren’t so useful to me, in assembling collages, I might have been hard pressed to come up with an art topic for the letter Z!

Giving

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I enjoy giving much more than receiving.

I think that’s how most people are. Giving opens my heart; receiving intimidates me.

I can hand out compliments all day. I try, in every single interaction, to find something honestly positive to say. I’m good at it. When I’m given a compliment, however, I freeze. My first instinct is to deny it. No, I don’t look nice, I’m not that talented, and I’m not so smart. I worry that the compliment-giver is just being patronizing, that their words aren’t sincere, or that they are speaking out of pity. I have to force myself to accept their words, and to voice a simple “Thank you.” The same dichotomy is present in gift-giving and gift receiving

In The Mirror Has Two Faces, Barbra Streisand says, “I want someone to know me…to really know me!” Choosing thoughtful gifts for others based on their interests is a way to show them that they are known, and understood. It can be as simple as remembering a favorite color or a hobby.

Shared interests make giving even more fun. My daughter Kate and I are both avid readers, and we often share similar taste in reading material. Lately, we’ve both been working to expand our knowledge and awareness about race relations in this country. We have lively discussions about books we’ve found, and give each other suggestions about what to read next. She told me about The New Jim Crow; I sent her a copy of Caste.

Even when I limit myself to buying books as gifts (because shopping for and shipping out other things can be hard to do from this location, and because I love getting books as gifts, so I assume everyone else feels that way, too!), I work hard to match the book to the recipient. I know that both of my daughters share an appreciation for the works of Stephen King, and that my grandson Michael always appreciates a book about Beaver Island. It’s more of a struggle to find the “perfect” book for my other grandchildren, but I’m always up for the challenge.

Gifts that are given to me are, first of all, just too much. Too generous. Either too big and too expensive, or too many small, thoughtful things. They are so thoughtful! So timely! Immediately, I feel shame that I have not met the gift-giving standard. Did I even send a card? What measly or cheap gift did I give, to now be receiving this wondrous thing? What did I ever do to deserve such kindness?

Of course, if I voice these doubts and concerns out loud, I am generally reassured with compliments…which are equally difficult to accept. Receiving is just plain hard. Giving, on the other hand, is easy!