The outside of the studio door
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.
vertically, as a diptych…
Large collage, in progress
Not much time in the studio this week. When I was there, I contemplated how to better divide my time. I think I’m going to set aside acrylics for a while.
Acrylic collage is a messy business. My chair holds the gallon of polymer medium; I scoop it from there into a shallow plastic container that claims a corner of the drafting table. The rest of that surface is loaded with papers. The large surface I’m working on rests on a paint can, and leans against the printing press. That leaves me about eighteen inches of space to move around in.
I cannot wear gloves. I keep them on hand. You know, the thin latex – or sometimes latex-free – surgeon-type gloves. I buy them in boxes of one hundred, in the “one size fits all” size…which means large. They are handy when I’m printmaking. On, for inking and wiping the plate, then quickly off, before I touch paper, felt blankets or press. When working in collage, though, I can’t wear the gloves. I lose the feel of the papers, and a sense of how much adhesive I need. I lose dexterity. Soon, from continually dipping my hands into the polymer medium, the tips of the baggy glove fingers have stuck together in an unmanageable blob. Not workable. So, my studio clothes are covered with hardened polymer, where I have wiped the excess. Still, when I’m finished for the day, it takes an hour to clean the muck from my hands.
I am vested in this large collage, which is a companion piece to another of the same size. I am anxious to see where the idea will lead. Still, my studio is small, my options are limited, and I am tired of the mess! I am giving myself until the end of this month to wrap it up. Then, the large panels are going to be stowed away, the drafting table cleared, the press made accessible once again, and I am moving on to other things!
a stack of collagraph plates, waiting to be printed
List the things you like to do that don’t involve technology:
- I like to read. I always have. When I was six, my mother crawled under the kitchen table where I was having a sobbing fit because the words I was reading did not make any sense. She looked at what was going on, and with a smile – and a level of patience she was not always known for – explained to me that K-N-E-W was pronounced “NOO,” not – which was the source of my frustration – “CANOE.” It was common, over breakfast, for me say, “Please pass the Corn Flakes,” simply because I had already read everything the Rice Krispies box had to offer. I still like to read the cereal box, when I have cereal. Books were not allowed at other meals when I was a child, but I often rushed through dinner and dishes to get back to a good book. Now that I’m an adult – and often dine alone – books and magazines are grand accompaniment at the dining room table. I always think of books as miracle-workers. From a very young age, they gave me an idea of how other families behaved and how the world worked. I have looked to books to learn a skill, make a repair, or solve a problem. They have given me vast insight into other places and other people, imaginary and real. Books have given me hope when I saw no hope.
- I like to walk. I’ve become very familiar with the changing scenery down the Fox Lake Road through all seasons of the year. Still, there’s always something fresh about it. A change in the color of the sky, the brightness of the sun or its position overhead makes the whole view brand new. Sometimes I choose a heart-pumping pace; other times I meander. There are days when my mind is full of problems that I am trying to solve. Sometimes, the purpose of the walk is to get away from them. And, sometimes I sing, loud and off-key, for the distance.
- I like games: board games, card games; word games; dominoes; dice. Solitaire is okay, if there’s no one else around.
- I like working in the soil. Gardening offers many benefits – that I also enjoy – but in the early spring, when the ground is just warming up, long before the promise of flowers or vegetables, I am out there, on my knees with my hands in the dirt. And I am enjoying myself!
- I like exercise…a little. And that’s how much time I devote to it.
- I like to cook.
- I like crafts. Crochet, mostly, but I’ve enjoyed knitting, sewing, and embroidery, too.
- I like art. I like the “doing” often as much as the “making” in that often the act of pushing paint around the surface, or shaping clay is every bit as meaningful to me as the product that may come of it.
- I like writing. Though I use the computer for most of the writing I do these days, I have several volumes of sappy, melodramatic and angst-y journals that I wrote by hand through most of my adult life. And, if the hours in my days ever expand to allow time for it again, I’ll add it back in. There’s something about the physical act of putting words on the page – different than typing them onto a computer screen – that makes it more meaningful.
Again this week, time in the studio has come in fits and starts, moments stolen from other activities. Still, I managed to get a little work done.
I have several large painted papers that will eventually become the basis for collage, or paintings on their own. Right now, it’s just a matter of doing SOMETHING with that wide expanse of white space
work continues on this large collage
and I like the way this small collage is coming together
and progress continues, slowly, on this large piece
…and, finally, these panels wait for me to find the time, courage and conviction to begin exploring encaustic painting
This morning, neither my brain or my body seems to want to work correctly. My back is “out” today. During several days of discomfort leading up to this, I told myself, “moving will ease the pain” or “gentle exercise will help” or “walking will make it feel better.” Today I moved unabashedly from bed to chair, crooked and moaning, and made a good dose of ibuprofen my first menu choice.
My mind is foggy, too, though I’m sipping my way through my second cup of coffee. I just looked over the notes for the writing I had planned to do today, and thought, “I have absolutely no idea where I was going with this!” A glance through a few drafts of blogs I started, and saved for later, gave me nothing better to work with. The only one near completion was titled “Ice Cream” and we’re right in the thick of winter here!
Not writing today is not an option, for many reasons. One of them is that tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. Though I’m not an actively practicing Catholic, I’ve been looking at using Lent as an impetus to get back on track, in all the little ways I’ve been back-sliding since January 1st. Blogging on a regular basis is one of my few successes in habit forming and maintenance, so.
I love to read, and usually have several books going at once, so that I can choose based on my mood, my attention span, and the amount of time I have. Winter is the time, for me, to think about self-improvement, to explore new ideas, and to delve into books that grab and hold my attention. I enjoy reading reviews of books, but am not much for writing them. This is simply a list of the books I’m reading now, with notes:
- A Morning Cup of Yoga by Jane Goad Trechsel. This 15-minute yoga routine (designed to be completed in the time it takes for a pot of coffee to brew) has some of the best (that is, clear and easy-to-follow) directions I’ve ever encountered. The illustrations add clarity, and the program is a great introduction (or, as in my case, a re-introduction) to the daily practice of yoga.
- Sorted: freedom through structure by Gillian Perkins. Yet another self-help book to help me get organized and stay that way. The back cover suggests it will “enable you to finally achieve order for your schedule, home and future plans.” I hope so!
- Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott. Though her Bird by Bird is hands-down my favorite guide book on writing, I have found less to identify with in other books by this author. They are always well-written, easily injecting humor and spirit into hard times, they simply have not resonated with me. Hallelujah Anyway is an exception, and I’m enjoying it immensely. Her writing is such that I go back over sentences, paragraphs, and whole sections, just for the joy of seeing how masterfully she puts words together.
- The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. Beck does a regular column in O magazine that I have read and enjoyed. I like this book, but am only very slowly working through it.
- Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. I enjoy Larson’s work (Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts) for the good writing and accurate historical periods he depicts. He tends to toggle back and forth between events and people which demands a bit more attention than I sometimes have to offer.
- Redemption Road by John Hart. My daughter recommended this author to me, when I was looking for a “can’t-put-it-down” read. This one fit the bill, and I’ll watch for more of his work.
- Simply Clean by Betty Rapinchuk. I learned of this book from the author’s “Clean Mama” blog. It’s concise, well-written and helpful.
- Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi. Hegi is of of my favorite authors, along with Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Alice McDermott, Amy Tan and Laurie R. King; their writing never disappoints. I’m always happy for a new offering, and am looking forward to starting this one.
That’s some of what I’m reading, in my cozy home, in the middle of this winter.
List the greatest compliments and encouragement you have ever been given:
(There may have been bigger compliments, or better encouragement, but these are what have stuck in my memory. That counts for something!)
- “Oh, I know all of that; Cindy keeps us up to date on all the family news, with her letters!” spoken by my Grandma Florence on a visit to our home in Lapeer. My chest swelled almost to bursting with pride and, at that young age – of possibly eleven or twelve – I realized that the best way to give a compliment is to speak it to someone else, within hearing of the intended recipient.
- On the day before I got married, my Dad drove me down the drive near our home to visit a dear, old family friend, Magabelle. She would be unable to attend the ceremony, but wanted to see my dress. I went into the bathroom, changed, and came out to model it for her. While I was changing back into my jeans, Magabelle stumbled and fell to the carpet. By the time I came out of the bathroom, Dad and our friend Jerry had spotted blood, and were near panicked. “Let’s get her to the hospital,” Dad was saying. Magabelle was shaking her head, no. “Let’s take a look,” I said and, resting her hand in my lap, carefully rolled up the sleeve of her nightgown to expose the source of the blood. It was a minor scrape, made by the carpet or upholstery to her fragile skin. I cleaned it up, and covered it with a gauze bandage. All was fine. That night, upstairs in my bedroom, excited and nervous about the next day, and waiting for my maid of honor to arrive, I listened to my Dad. He was downstairs at the kitchen table, more than a little tipsy, telling Mom about the day’s events. “I’m telling you, Janice, I was just so goddamned proud of her today,” he told her, over and over. “I know, Bob, I know,” Mom responded with a touch of impatience at the repeated retelling. Her tone didn’t slow him down a bit. “I was ready to head for the hospital,” he said again, “she took care of everything! She just made me so goddamned proud!”
- Throughout my life, I have been extremely aware of every flaw in my face or figure, and pretty vocal about it. My husband was neither sympathetic, nor quick to reassure. There were times when he laughed out loud at an expression or a particular look. Once, though, when I was whining about my “fat thighs,” he thoughtfully looked up from the newspaper and said, “No, you have strong thighs.”
- Once, while a beginning student, I was showing some experimental paintings to Tom Nuzum, an instructor at Mott Community College, he called another instructor, Doug Hoppa, in from the hall. “I want you to see this,” he said, “Can you believe it? What are we doing, that compares?”
- Many years later when I was preparing for my M.F.A. show, I met with a group of professors to show my work and give a short talk about it. Included were two ceramics teachers and a printmaking instructor, all of whom were very familiar with my work. I had also invited the sculpture professor, as my ceramics were large, sculptural forms. He had not seen them prior to this gathering. After I gave my talk and answered a few questions, the meeting was breaking up. The sculpture professor enclosed my hand between both of his, and said, “Thank you, whole-heartedly, for sharing this wonderful work with me!”
- My printmaking instructor – when I stopped in for a visit a few years after graduation – introduced me to his class as “one of the best students I ever had.” Similarly, when friends from Beaver Island met my ceramics professor in Florida, he spoke in glowing terms about me and my work.
- When I took a fit and quit my job at the hardware store a few years ago – while I was still thinking “what have I done?” and “what am I going to do?” – a former employer called me up at home, to offer me a job. It was not only extremely flattering, but one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever encountered.
- When my granddaughter, Madeline, was twelve, and visiting me here on Beaver Island, she started a conversation with, “Grandma Cindy, we’ve got to get you a man!” I laughed, and explained that not everyone considered me to be such a prize. “What?!?” she asked, incredulous, “Grandma Cindy, you are the nicest woman in North America!” That stands, to this day, as my very favorite compliment ever!