Category Archives: Art

Loneliness

Standard

I was planning to start this essay, the topic being “loneliness,” by saying, “of course I get lonesome for family and friends, but I don’t suffer from loneliness.”

“Loneliness” is, after all, a sad feeling of isolation. “Lonesome,” I thought, is just missing those people that I love. It turns out, they have the same meaning. Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. It is also described as social pain, and a state of distress or discomfort. The definition for “lonesome” is pretty much identical. Definitions read, “sad or dejected as a result of lack of companionship or separation from others,” and “depressed or sad because of the lack of friends, companionship, etc.” So, maybe I’m not lonesome, either.

My mother once said, “Of all of my kids, Cindy could live on Beaver Island; she has always been the most anti-social of all my children.” When I tell that story, which usually gets a laugh, I add that I think she meant it in the nicest possible way. She was correct in her observation, though. I spent my childhood searching for places where I could be alone, and quiet, in the midst of our large and noisy household.

I used to say that a more accurate description would be “asocial,” as I don’t feel that I need people to the same level that others seem to. Checking the dictionary, though, I see that “asocial” is defined as “avoiding social interaction; inconsiderate of or hostile to others…” which is the same as anti-social.

I do miss family and friends, but I don’t feel “sad or dejected.” I want to describe it more like a feeling of melancholy, but I’m afraid that if I went back to the dictionary, I’d find that “sad” and “melancholy” also share the same meaning. What is it, then, this life I live on Beaver Island, far away from so many of the people I love?

Well, I do miss them all: my daughters, my grandchildren, my brother and sisters, nieces and nephews, and distant friends. I sometimes wish I were a bigger presence in their lives. “Sad,” “depressed,” and “dejected” are not accurate terms, though. This is just my normal life.

When I pick up the telephone and hear the voice of a loved one, my spirit leaps with joy. I feel happy excitement at the prospect of going to visit friends or family, or of having them come here. Messages from my grandchildren always warm my heart. Photos posted to social media make me feel like I’m participating, in some small way, from this great distance, in their lives.

But I am not sad. I am not pining away for those people that I love, and don’t see regularly. There were times in my life when I felt loneliness as it is defined: when my daughters first went out on their own; immediately after the end of my marriage; likewise, when other relationships ended; and often after a death, with the finality it brings. The transition of going from having someone nearby, to not…that has been hard. But those difficult, depressed feelings don’t last forever. I’ve gotten used to being alone. Maybe my first statement was correct after all: I don’t suffer from loneliness.

Timeout for Art: “Artist Statement”

Standard

With an art show coming up, I pulled some support materials out of an old file: biography, resume, and artist statement. I had several versions of each. They were assembled when I was more actively pursuing employment in the field of art, or looking to broaden my gallery representation. Each would need a serious up-date if I were to use them now. Luckily, none have been requested for this particular show.

It got me thinking, though, about how to define my art. I’ve heard that we should all have an “elevator pitch” ready. Taking into consideration that an elevator ride generally takes less than two minutes, it is a brief statement of who you are and what your best assets are. Or, in my case, what I am trying to accomplish through my art.

In the studio, as long as I’m working regularly there, it is not an issue. Sometimes I have a pre-conceived idea; more often I let the materials guide me. Problems in technique, composition or process lead to new directions. One piece leads me to the next. It all makes good sense…until I try to put it into words. In under two minutes, no less! My elevator pitches tend to be long, rambling affairs that add little understanding of my intent.

An “artist statement,” one would think, would be a better opportunity to explain myself. First, because it is written out, I can take more time to think about what I want to say. Second, I can edit for accuracy and clarity. Finally, there is no stammering over words when it’s in writing. That’s a big advantage for me!

Except for being written instead of spoken, the artist statement is similar to an elevator pitch, but longer. It should explain or contextualize the artist’s work, noting influences or inspirations. Basically, especially for people like me who work largely in the abstract, it is a chance to let people know that it’s intentional, and that I know what I’m doing. I’m still not overly comfortable with the format, but I have managed to hammer out a new statement, that I think reflects my work, and my motivation:

I am intrigued by the calendar, and the numerous ways we mark the passage of time. Other influences come from many diverse sources, including poetry, natural formations of earth and rock, stained glass windows, weather-worn signs and buildings, variegated yarns, and the idea that there is beauty in imperfection.

Though these ideas sometimes direct me, and often guide the progression of a piece, my work is mainly an exploration of methods and materials. I allow myself to be pulled along by the process. The medium, whether paint, printer’s ink, or the scraps and detritus that form the basis of collage, dictate the direction. My training comes in to play in pulling it all together.

In my work, as in my life, I want to convey a sense of structure and security, a bit of mystery, an attachment to the earth, a softening with age and the passage of time.

Lagging Behind

Standard

The other day, I gathered stalks with curled, dried leaves, seed pods, and late blooming flowers to make a seasonal bouquet. This morning, having carved out a tiny space at the table to write in my journal, I thought wistfully about how nice it would be to display that arrangement there. Impossible! The main focus in this household is getting ready for my October art show.

My dining room table is covered with a variety of piles. There is a pretty big stack of matted collages, waiting to be mounted into frames. The frames have been ordered and shipped, but have not yet arrived here on the island. Next to that are incidental items used for matting and framing: linen hinging tape, glazier’s points, screw eyes, scissors, gimlet, screwdriver, tape measure. There is a pile of foam sheets, to layer between artwork, to protect it from scratches. There is a stack of papers to be filed, one of bills to be paid, and one of paperwork I’ll need to bring downstate with me.

The chairs are equally occupied with the task at hand. One holds a stack of plexiglass sheets; a box of metal frame rails sits on another; mat board occupies a third. My purse moves from the fourth dining chair to my desk chair, depending on where I need to be. In the kitchen, two large, recently assembled frames lean against the freezer. The laundry room is filled with boxes and sheets of cardboard. In the living room, another collection of boxes reflects the work that is finished and ready to ship.

My plan was to have one hundred pieces of artwork to display. I’m on track with that goal. Fifty-four pieces are mounted, framed, boxed up and catalogued. Twenty others need picture hanging wire attached, and to have their titles and prices added to my master list. Two large paintings have to be mounted into their frames. I’m waiting on plexiglass for three collagraphs. And, there are those few frames that are still en route. Compared to how I’ve met with other deadlines in my life, I’m doing pretty well!

Clearly, though, I’m behind in almost everything else! Recent rains have gotten the grass growing, and the yard once again needs to be mowed. My garden is just about done for the season. I’ve quit pulling weeds, or worrying what the deer might steal. At this point, anything I can harvest is a bonus and, frankly, more than I have time to deal with. There’s already a big bag of green beans taking up a shelf in my refrigerator, waiting to be trimmed, sliced, blanched and bagged for the freezer.

I gathered up all the other produce last evening. There were several zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, half of a head of cauliflower, a few stalks of Swiss chard, a half-dozen tomatoes and an equal number of hot peppers. I cleaned and chopped, then combined it all in my big kettle, to simmer until it was soft. Just before bed, I shuffled things around to make room in the refrigerator for that mixture. Today, I’ll put it through the food mill, and portion it out for the freezer. In the winter, I’ll use it in place of water in soups and stews. It’s a small accomplishment, but I’ll accept it!

The calendar tells me that it’s been two weeks since I last posted a blog. That’s okay. During the last two weeks, I had company, worked 13 days in a row at two jobs outside of my home, harvested whatever was ripe, and did a mountain of framing. Sometimes, the best thing is to ignore what has been neglected, and focus on what did get done. That’s what I’m doing!

Timeout for Art: Everything Else

Standard

By some standards, this has been a good week for studio work. Often, especially in the summertime when a hundred other things can pull me away, I rarely get even an hour in the studio each day. Many days, I don’t even make it up the stairs!

This week, I’ve spent several hours every single day on art-related activities. Even though one of those days was my birthday. In spite of ripening squash and tomatoes and beans in the garden. Regardless of the blackberries hanging on the vines. And even though I still had to finish mowing the lawn, squeeze in walks with the dogs, and manage all the other stuff that makes up my life.

It seems like I should feel much more accomplished than I do. The explanation for that lies in the words, “art-related.” Because no matter how busy I was, there was no art being made. After working eight hours at my job, I came home Saturday and spent four hours mounting collages in mats. After work on Sunday, I started assembling frames, then layering plexiglas, matted art work and backer board in them. That tedious job continued through Monday and well into Tuesday. Then, each piece needed to be catalogued, and wrapped and boxed for shipping.

Last evening, I received an Email from the Lapeer gallery that is hosting my show this fall. It contained a contract to be signed, and an inventory list to be filled out. Plus – dread – a request for “quality” images to use in their promotions. So. last night, and long into the night, was spent taking photos, downloading them onto the computer, and editing them so that they could pass as “quality.” Today, it was off to the library with my master list, to hunt and peck my way through several documents.

I’ve logged more than forty hours doing “studio work” over the last five days, and haven’t done a single thing that I’d consider art-making. It’s all part of the process, though. The business aspects and utilitarian tasks are not what I thought of when I dreamed of becoming an artist, but they are necessary, too. Keeping that it mind, it was an extremely productive week in the studio!

Joy (Again…or Still)

Standard

When you come to the letter J, in any alphabetical list, “joy” is the likely topic. This I know, because it has shown up as my subject here three times in the last few months. That’s okay. It’s a pretty good thing to write about, whether or not it shows up as a given topic. There are always plenty of things that bring me joy. In no particular order, here is my list today:

  1. The moon on any night, whenever it shows up.
  2. My morning routine, which makes me feel productive and accomplished, no matter what else the day brings.
  3. Friends, new and old. Shared memories make them all the more precious.
  4. Shared memories, with family and friends, are a joy unto themselves.
  5. A summer breeze, especially at night, brings me right back to my teen-age years.
  6. Daughters. I have two, and they are both wonderful, joy-bringing treasures.
  7. But the sound of my daughter Kate’s voice on the telephone deserves its own mention.
  8. As does a hug from my daughter, Jen.
  9. Pie.
  10. A good, rousing thunderstorm.
  11. A smoothly writing pen.
  12. The brightening sky any morning,
  13. And the rooster crowing next door.
  14. My baby sister, Amy. A card and two sweetly wrapped packages arrived in the mail from her the other day.
  15. Cool nights for sleeping.
  16. Whitetail deer.
  17. Being appreciated at work. I swear, a heartfelt pat on the back and a “good job” often feels better than a raise in pay.
  18. A brand new tablet.
  19. Poetry, when it touches my heart.
  20. Blackberries. They are ripening now here on Beaver Island, and I can easily gather a bowlful with a simple walk around the perimeter of my yard.
  21. A clean kitchen.
  22. White sand beaches.
  23. My big dog, Darla, who takes her jobs as protector, snake-killer and spoon-licker very seriously.
  24. Rosa Parks, my fat little Chihuahua who refuses to like anybody but me.
  25. Blackie Chan. This most recent addition to my dog family is a charmer. My heart swells at his earnest efforts to please.
  26. A freshly mowed lawn.
  27. A nice camp fire.
  28. Corn on the cob.
  29. Pencils, with a sharp point.
  30. A quality pencil sharpener.
  31. Wild turkeys crossing the road in rows.
  32. Smooth white stones.
  33. My sister, Robin, who never swears, and has a sweet laugh and great style.
  34. Milkweed. It’s mop head flowers have the nicest scent, that perfumes the air on my walks down the Fox Lake Road.
  35. A bowl of cereal with fruit, as a snack before bed.
  36. Good books, of any genre. Right now, I’m reading Presence by Amy Cuddy, In the Wake of the Plague by Norman F. Cantor, The Paris Girl by Natalie Meg Evans, and (on Audible) Dangerous Old Woman by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
  37. My little tablet, that allows me to listen to audio books while walking the dogs.
  38. Stubby screwdrivers. They are easier on the wrists when – like now – I have a lot of metal frames to assemble.
  39. Short-handled paint brushes for the same “easier on the wrists” quality.
  40. A good thermos.
  41. Hot coffee.
  42. My coffee cup, adorned with blackberries, vines, and blossoms.
  43. Newly-framed art work. Sometimes it is so greatly improved by the frame, I can hardly believe it’s my own!
  44. Beans. My vines are finally starting to produce, and fresh-from-the-garden beans are always a pleasure. Last night I cooked a mess of them with a slice of bacon and a splash of balsamic vinegar for a very pleasurable simple supper.
  45. My sister, Cheryl, who inspires me with her organization, enthusiasm and energy.
  46. Live music.
  47. Old movies. Not vintage-old, just nostalgia-old. Like E.T., or Jaws.
  48. The deep blue color of the water this time of year.
  49. My older sister, Brenda, who I cherish for a million reasons, only one of which is the fact that she is older than me.
  50. Peaches, when they’re not quite ripe.
  51. Grandchildren, in general, and mine in particular:
  52. Michael,
  53. Brandon,
  54. Madeline,
  55. Tommy, and
  56. Patrick.
  57. Maple trees.
  58. Ice cream, in a cone. Double chocolate almond is my current choice.
  59. Chocolate of almost any kind.
  60. Almonds. Whether in ice cream, as a bit of crunch in a salad, or tossed into a pan of fresh green beans, almonds are always welcome.
  61. Pistachios, of course. Whenever I’m talking about nuts, pistachios have a place in that discussion.
  62. The family farm.
  63. My brother, Ted, who writes the nicest, newsy letters.
  64. Cousins. There is always a good connection, and a little different perspective on shared history.
  65. The CBS News “Eye Opener.” They promote it as “your world in 90 seconds,” and that’s often just about all I can stand of the news!
  66. Mail. I love finding envelopes in my mailbox. Even junk mail. Even bills.
  67. Perfume.
  68. Slip-on shoes. Because, life is too short to have to mess with shoelaces!
  69. Birthdays. I used to hate when mine came around, but that has changed somehow. Tomorrow, I’ll be sixty-nine years old, and joyful about all of the sixty-nine items on this list!

Istanbul

Standard

I have been committed, this year, to posting a blog only a couple times a week. I aim for a regular post on Sunday, and an update on art and creative endeavors on Wednesday. Lately, because it’s summer, and I work long days on the weekends, my Sunday blog has migrated to Monday. Likewise, my Wednesday post can be found on any day around the middle of the week, if at all. I give myself a lot of leeway in the summertime. With expanded work hours, added household chores in lawn and garden, plus frequent visitors, a little grace is in order.

For my Sunday – or Monday – blog, I’ve been using an alphabetical list from the Table of Contents of David Whyte’s book, Consolations. With exceptions. I squeezed in a few other topics, when the spirit moved me; I sometimes used the same title twice, to further expound on a idea; and I took a month away from this list, to write from another alphabetical list. Still, for me, not bad.

I had taken up the Table of Contents list because, after writing a blog for almost ten years, I felt I was running out of material. My life is not that eventful! It seemed like even the weather was repeating itself! So, having a list to draw from would be helpful, I thought. Sometimes it was. Sometimes it was almost serendipitous, how the topic presented fell right in to place with other things going on in my life. Other times it was more of a struggle, but always better than scrambling wildly for something worthwhile to write about. Until today.

Today, the topic presented is “Istanbul.” What?! How can we go from ordinary ideas, like “Heartbreak,” “Hiding,” and “Honesty” to “Istanbul?” And what in the world could I say about that? I know only a few things.

If I dig deeply into my memory, and long-ago Art History classes, I can tell you that the city that is now Istanbul was once Byzantium, and the heart of the Byzantine empire. The Roman Emperor, Constantine, renamed it New Rome, but that quickly changed to Constantinople. It was overrun by the Turks in the 14th century, and became a part of the Ottoman empire. Christian churches, including the massive Hagia Sophia, which had itself been built over the site of a pagan temple, were converted to mosques.

The Encyclopedia Britannica informs me that Istanbul is the largest city and principal seaport of Turkey. That, for more than 2,500 years, the city has stood between “conflicting surges of religion, culture, and imperial power.” And that, “for most of those years it was one of the most coveted cities in the world.” So, there it is: everything I care to share about Istanbul!

Timeout for Art: Progress

Standard

Most times, in my world of art-making, I want to tally up what is finished. A dozen new works for the Beaver Island Gallery’s seasonal opening. Eight framed pieces for the Museum Week Art Show. Two dozen completed collages waiting to be matted and framed. It’s satisfying, and encouraging, to note what is done.

More often, though, the most notable aspect is simply progress. I have a lofty goal of having one hundred pieces, completed, framed and ready to be hung, for an upcoming show in my home town. My count right now is sixty-nine pieces, though they are not yet ready for the walls of a gallery.

I have a complex spread sheet. It lists descriptions, titles and finished sizes, plus mat dimensions and frame type. There are boxes that I check off when a mat or frame is ordered, when it is delivered, and when the assembly is complete. There is another box that is ticked when a piece is boxed and ready for travel. And, of course, there are several lines waiting for the 31 pieces yet to be completed, to meet my goal.

In addition. I am working out how to get my work from here to there. Ideally, I’ll be able to transport it myself, help set it up, and attend the opening. There are still issues to work out on that front, including time off work and finding someone to take care of my dogs while I’m away. Plus the logistics of shipping several large boxes to the mainland, loading them (and fitting them all) in to the vehicle I use on the mainland, and driving three hundred miles. If I can’t work that out, in some fashion, I’ll be faced with shipping costs.

This week, I have company. And, I have more visitors coming. And two jobs. Three elderly dogs. I am not yet overwhelmed. I am not panicked. But I can feel it, bubbling up, just under the surface. I handle it by avoiding looking at the whole picture. I just keep plugging away, and continue ticking off items as they get done.

In this busy season, it’s not completion that I’m looking at, but progress. Because, with daily progress, I’ll eventually get there.

Hiding

Standard

Hiding is a concept I was very familiar with as a child. There were lots of incentives. I could take cover to escape from the unwanted attention of younger siblings; I would lie low to get out of household chores. As a loner in the midst of a large, noisy family, I was regularly looking for ways to escape. Often, I would hole-up simply to have time away from the fray, to read, or write, or draw. Sometimes I’d seek out a hiding place just to sit by myself for awhile. And, of course, there were games of Hide and Seek.

Our two-story house had nooks and crannies that seemed perfectly designed for hiding. The linen closet was built under the stairs. The top shelf was shallow, the next one deeper, and on like that to the bottom, that was as deep as the staircase. That’s where my mother kept her Kirby vacuum cleaner, folded into its horizontal position. When the vacuum cleaner was in use, though, that long, low spot was perfect to crawl into. Any of the beds offered a similar space for laying-down hiding. The space under a crib, though, with the side rail down, made a little room that was tall enough to sit, and with bars to peek through.

In one of the upstairs bedrooms, sturdy, deep, built-in shelves occupied the space above the stairs. The top shelf was my favorite “get-away.” I would curl up in that high space for hours, a book my only companion. From that same room, it was possible to squeeze through a narrow opening at the back of the closet that led into a narrow, slant-roofed side attic. When I was mad at my whole family, I imagined “running away,” and living in that attic space. From there, I’d be able to sneak down to the kitchen for food when everyone was asleep. Also, crucial to the fantasy, I’d be able to hear them wailing for me, missing me, and regretting whatever they’d done to cause me to leave.

Outside, there were many places to hide. If the corn in the garden was tall, a child could get lost among the stalks. The yard had trees, sheds and a grape arbor that could offer cover. The orchard, tucked away behind the garage next door, was like being in another world. Fields and woods surrounding the yard opened up many other possibilities.

There were rules, of course. Children couldn’t go down the road out front without specific permission, and most of the time, they weren’t even allowed to go near it. Time in the garden was not restricted, but because it was associated with weeding, watering and harvesting chores, it didn’t hold a lot of appeal. The field, with tall grasses, berry brambles, paths and thickets was perfect for hiding, as well as for games and adventure. As children, we could explore, as long as we were always able to see the roof of our own house, and hear our mother call.

Once, as a child, I picked a big bowl of peas, and sat down beside the black shed to eat them. It was warm, and shady. The peas were delicious. When I finally got up and made my way to the house, everyone was seated at the table. Supper was being served. I was in big trouble. “Your mother has been calling you for a half hour,” my father scolded, “we couldn’t find you!” He was sure I’d been hiding. Though the shed was between me and the house, I wasn’t far away, and hadn’t deliberately concealed myself. I honestly had not heard anyone call. At the time, I was puzzled by it. Now. I understand perfectly, as it happens to me all the time. Lost in my own thoughts, I’m oblivious to what’s going on around me. Now that I think about it, it is kind of like hiding.

Help

Standard

The dictionary defines the verb, “help” this way: to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means to; render assistance to; cooperate effectively with; aid; assist.

As someone who has spent forty years working in customer service, “help” has been a big chunk of my job description, and a regular part of my daily conversation.

“May I help you?”

“How can I help you?”

“Do you need some help?”

If I hear, “Can I get some help over here,” I am already two steps behind. Unless the customer has fallen down, is choking, or has accidentally tipped over a display, they should never have to ask for assistance; it should have already been offered. Or, in times of extreme busy-ness, at the very least eye-contact and a promise to help “as soon as I get a chance,” should have been made. There are ways to ask casually, without forcing anyone to admit they need help. Which shouldn’t be an issue when you walk in to a business, but sometimes it is.

“Everything okay?”

“Are you finding everything?”

“Doing alright here?”

“Did you get everything you were looking for?”

It is second nature to me. It’s the contact that’s important. Letting the customer know, without fuss, that you are willing and able to help, that you see them, and that you care.

Lately, the concept of customer service has come up in conversation far too often, and in a negative way. It seems that the basic notion of being kind and helpful to the people that come in for the service offered has gotten lost. Now, when customer service is so important! The ease of on-line shopping and the low prices offered by internet giants have made a smiling face and a sincere offer to help the only way we have to compete! And yet, we seem to have abandoned it.

There are a million examples of unfriendly, rude, and unhelpful people in jobs where they were, in fact, hired to be friendly and helpful! I don’t understand the bad attitudes, but I’ve seen them, far too often, firsthand, as a customer, and even among my co-workers. A friendly “How are you doing?” is answered with, “I’ll be doing fine when I get out of this place!” That, from a person who is being paid to be there! Making it clear that doing their job, helping you, is the last thing they want to do!

I don’t like it, but I have no power to change it. If I were in charge, employees would have to meet a higher standard. And while I’m at it, just let me take charge of everything. I think the whole world be a better place if we all approached each other with a smile, and the offer, “What can I do to help?”

Timeout for Art: Not Making Art

Standard

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!