Category Archives: Art

Timeout for Art: Not Making Art

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There’s been lots of activity in my world here on Beaver Island. Last week, my family was here; four sisters with three of their partners; four nieces with their families; and a few cousins just to round out the numbers. There were days at the beach for swimming and playing, trips to explore the island, and evenings at the beach for sunset. There were puzzles and games keeping us up until all hours of the night, and shared meals gathered around big tables. It was wonderful!

It didn’t, however, leave much time for other things. I neglected my home, garden and yard. My dogs became accustomed to – though not happy with – my erratic coming and goings. I struggled through shifts at work, with little sleep and no energy. I didn’t write. I never stepped foot in the studio.

Then, there’s the “catching up.” Mowing lawn and weeding garden and flower beds compete for my time. Showering my dogs with love and attention is also at the top of my list. Then there’s laundry. Housework. And, I admit, nap-time. Then back to my outside-of-the-home jobs. Which, especially at this time of year, can be exhausting, leaving little energy for anything else.

Though I’ve had no time or energy for making art, I’ve been busy at tasks related to studio work. There’s always something to do! Last week, I switched out the mats and frames of collages for a couple who have been good customers and loyal supporters of my work. I framed new work for an upcoming show, and put wire hangers on the backs of some others.

While working outside, I deadheaded my daylilies and bagged the spent blooms. Added to my collection of leaves and petals in the freezer, they’ll be there when I need them for papermaking. Yesterday, I delivered my work to the building where the Museum Week Art Show will take place, then filled out the paperwork and paid my fees. Last night, I cut to size, dampened and wrapped printmaking papers, so that they will be ready to print on this evening. That will be the first actual art work I’ve done in weeks! Often, though art-related activities take up much of my time, there is no art-making going on!

Heartbreak

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I’ve been skittering around the topic of heartbreak for several weeks now. How to write about it? What to say? It seems, often, that heartbreak is all around. But is it mine to speak of?

Illness and loss of ability are common, and heartbreaking to see. Death is ever-present: people that I went to school with; relatives; friends; residents of this small island. Lately, there has been news every week of one loss or another. I knew every one of them, some better than others. I am saddened by each death. It feels arrogant to talk about my own sadness, though, and somehow disdainful of those closer to the loss. I’m not one of the parents, the spouses, the adult children, or the best friends.

I could skirt the subject entirely. I could talk about the heart-breaking-ly beautiful way my hollyhocks have bloomed this year. They came up like two giant bouquets in my narrow flower bed. The stalks lean, so I see their red blooms, visited frequently by bumblebees and hummingbirds, through the window of my kitchen door. I could write about floods in Germany, wildfires in the northwest, or the rise of the Delta variant. Lord knows, every day’s news offers plenty of heartbreak!

I could talk about my own personal heartbreaks. Some of them don’t hold up very well in hindsight. There was the man that rejected me, throwing me into a months-long depression. Honestly, I had already been gathering a list of faults and grievances about him. If he hadn’t walked away, I’m sure I eventually would have. There was the job I thought I wanted and felt I deserved, that broke my heart when I didn’t get it. Realistically, I can think of a hundred reasons why it would have frustrated me, and why the way it worked out was better all around.

Of course, I’ve also had true, stand-up-to-time heartbreaks. More than enough. I understand the frustration and sadness of not being able to do things that used to be taken for granted. I know that it’s often just as hard for those watching the decline, as it is for the ones experiencing it. I know how difficult it is to see those we love in pain. And I recognize that, sometimes, when death comes, it is a blessing.

I know, too, that no matter the blessing, no matter the acceptance, that is only the beginning of the heartbreak. That is when the harsh reality sets it. When the realization strikes that somehow life will continue on, and yet never be the same. There are the litany of holidays and special events that continue to arrive, in spite of the glaring absence of the loved one. There are all the ordinary days when you look up and expect to see them coming through the door, pick up the telephone and expect to hear their voice, or when you – from a scent or a shadow or a summer breeze – feel that they are right beside you. Then, the heart breaks again, with the cruel reminder, “still gone.”

A segment on this morning’s news was talking about a disaster somewhere. It was just background noise as I worked on something else. I looked at the screen in time to see one of the bystanders talking into a microphone. “You see all the heart-ache,” she said, “and it breaks your own heart.” That’s it, exactly! Whether, in sympathy, we can say, “I know what this feels like,” or, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” is not important. Our hearts break when we see the heart-ache. Our hearts break for you; our hearts break with you.

Timeout for Art: One Thing to Another

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I’ve been making art for a long time. And, I’m a “saver.” Together, those things result in a good deal of accumulation. Then, with changing sensibilities, a more discerning eye and limited storage space, I end up with a lot of rejects. Complicating the issue is the fact that I hate to throw anything away.

A sheet of handmade paper could be rippled, but still have redeeming qualities. A collagraph print might have poor registration, but still have beautiful color and texture. A drawing or painting that is not strong in composition can still have value as raw material. In my studio, technical failure rarely leads directly to the trashcan.

I have boxes, folders and envelopes full of used papers, waiting to be put into service again. Old drawings, covered with paint that partially obliterates the original subject matter, often become the basis for collage. I think the “pentimento” adds a welcome layer of interest. Handmade papers, as well as cut or torn bits from prints and paintings on paper, become collage materials.

I have been, for several years now, on a mission to recycle and use up every bit of scrap in my studio. It is a herculean task. Sometimes it seems like I generate more than I use, with every single project! Still, my efforts continue. I imagine large basket-like hanging forms, similar to the nests made by paper wasps, but with color and texture still visible, hinting at the past life of the materials they are made of. To that end, I’ve been experimenting with various basket-making techniques, mostly with little success.

Some good things, though, come from the most uncomplicated ideas. I have an on-going series that expands very basic weaving techniques. I think the strength of the finished pieces are in their graphic simplicity. The process is a little more complicated, however.

First, I go through my stacks of “rejects” to select pieces similar in weight, and with colors that work together. I trim the edges, cut them to size, and put them through the paper shredder. They have to be picked through, sorted, and spread out on the drafting table. Usually, I select one color for the vertical lines, and an assortment for the horizontal weave. Sometimes it’s all just based on random selection. I make more weavings than I will need,, so that I’ll have choices later.

Next, I prepare the surfaces that the weavings will be mounted on. I like the background to have its own interest, but I keep the nuances of color and texture subtle enough so that it will balance, not compete with, the graphic pattern. Eventually, the surface will be coated with a thick layer of polymer gel, and the woven grid will be set into that. After that has dried, I have my starting point.

From this point, the piece will dictate what else is needed. Sometimes that is easy, sometimes not. It may involve embellishments of ink, collage elements, or layers of paint. I am not above peeling, scraping and sanding the surface of a piece to get to the place where it is finished. When it reaches that point, it seems to announce “Done!” Or, as sometimes happens, “Ruined!” In which case, it joins the collection of failures waiting to be repurposed!

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.

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.

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!

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!

Zodiac

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When I’m trying to come up with a topic for a particular letter, I often read the dictionary. It’s not such a big deal; sometimes I read the dictionary for no reason at all. When Z is the letter, though, Webster’s is not as helpful as you’d think. Instead, I went to good old Google. I typed Z into the search line, and chose zodiac as my subject. Over “zillow,” “zoom” and “zappos,” I might add.

Since I was already in a search engine, and figuring I’d might as well get a little help, I clicked on the link for zodiac. I read a brief overview of the zodiac, then clicked on my own sign, to see what it had to say. Well, because I couldn’t possibly summarize it better than they did, or perhaps just because I’ve gotten lazy here at the end of the alphabet, I decided to just copy their information. So, according to astrology-zodiac-signs.com, this is typical Virgo:

Strengths: Loyal, analytical, kind, hardworking, practical

Weaknesses: Shyness, worry, overly critical of self and others, all work and no play

Virgo likes: Animals, healthy food, books, nature, cleanliness

Virgo dislikes: Rudeness, asking for help, taking center stage

“Virgos are always paying attention to the smallest details and their deep sense of humanity makes them one of the most careful signs of the zodiac. Their methodical approach to life ensures that nothing is left to chance, and although they are often tender, their heart might be closed for the outer world. This is a sign often misunderstood, not because they lack the ability to express, but because they won’t accept their feelings as valid, true, or even relevant when opposed to reason. The symbolism behind the name speaks well of their nature, born with a feeling they are experiencing everything for the first time.

Virgo is an Earth sign, fitting perfectly between Taurus and Capricorn. This will lead to a strong character, but one that prefers conservative, well-organized things and a lot of practicality in their everyday life. These individuals have an organized life, and even when they let go to chaos, their goals and dreams still have strictly defined borders in their mind. Constantly worried that they missed a detail that will be impossible to fix, they can get stuck in details, becoming overly critical and concerned about matters that nobody else seems to care much about.

Since Mercury is the ruling planet of this sign, its representatives have a well-developed sense of speech and writing, as well as all other forms of communication. Many Virgos may choose to pursue a career as writers, journalists, and typists, but their need to serve others makes them feel good as caregivers, on a clear mission to help.

Virgo – the Disappointed Goddess Seeking goodness in humankind is the story of Virgo, and disappointment seems to be inevitable from their point of view. The first time they came from their cloud and jumped onto planet Earth, it felt like their mission is to use their existence for good, discovering ways of justice and purity in other people. Once they fail to find it too many times, Virgos will pull away, get lost, turn to substance abuse, or simply separate from other people to sit on the bench, criticize and judge.”

I think it’s pretty accurate! So, that’s my zodiac post, and this wraps up this month-long A to Z challenge!