Category Archives: Art

Can I Ever Catch Up?

Standard

20200731_114202

Two weeks ago, I was on top of things. At least that’s how it seems, looking back from my present situation, which is polar opposite of “on top of things.” Today, it seems like I’m on the bottom of a very large pile of things, scrambling to get my footing. What happened?

It was just about two weeks ago when my sisters started arriving for their week-long Beaver Island vacation. I’d had a good summer up to that point, both relaxing and productive. My garden was doing well, the house was in order, and work was progressing nicely in the studio. I was working a few days a week, but was looking forward to more time than usual with my family.

Cheryl arrived on Saturday. I stopped at the family farmhouse after work to say hello. We made plans to meet later for dinner and a trip to the cemetery to plant flowers, and I went home to take care of my dogs. They met me at the kitchen door. I gave them a good greeting, and we went for a long walk. I wandered through the garden to pull a few weeds and pick what was ripe. Inside, I packaged up my contribution to dinner, and started to fill the dog’s dishes for their evening meal.

It was only then that I glanced into the front room. What in the world?!

20200725_182338

My bookshelves had given way, spilling their contents all over the room. My little television was dangling by its electrical cord. The stereo was face down on the floor. Books were strewn over every surface. Baskets, once filled with yarn, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and assorted on-going projects, had been relieved of their contents, too. I was thankful that the dogs, often sleeping right in the path of all of the destruction, had not been hurt. I assessed the damage, made a few necessary adjustments, fed the dogs, and went out the door to keep my plans.

So, it was several hours later when I sifted through the mess to make some sense of it, and cleared enough of a path through the room to make it usable. Cheryl had offered several times to come and help me, but I declined. The room is small, and the mess was huge. Even alone, I often had difficulty finding a place to step; there was no room for a second person.

Books had to be picked from the shelves before the shelves could be moved. Sometimes, removing the books caused a shelf to slide away in an unexpected direction. It was a long, tedious process. By the time I went to bed, I had a huge pile of books in a corner, and a stack of shelves against one wall. The supports were in a mound on the dining room floor, and the TV was on the table. And, my back was out.

20200807_104900

And, two weeks later, that’s exactly where everything still is. Because, the next day, I worked eight hours. And my back was still causing problems. And, three more sisters arrived, along with husbands, friends and one niece. My brother-in-law, Keith, brought up my shelves more than once; if I’d asked, I’m sure he would have helped me tackle the project. I didn’t ask. One week is a short time to visit with loved ones that I see only a few times in an entire year. That was my priority.

Meals together; game nights; beach time; catching up on family happenings, mutual acquaintances, general news and health updates after months apart: that was most important to me. That’s how my time was best spent, and I don’t regret it a bit. I took time away from work last Sunday to – sadly – see the last of my family off on the ferry boat.

Monday, I went back to work at the hardware store, after a four-month hiatus. Many of the summer workers my boss had hired are going back to college, so my job was available again. Continuing to honor commitments I took on in the meantime, I am now suddenly working six days a week. And, boy, am I out of practice! This is exhausting! In addition, over the course of the last two weeks, weeds have taken over my garden and the grass needs to be mowed.

Today is my only day off. The electric screwdriver is on the charger; if it charges, I’ll be able to tackle the bookshelves. I bought gas for the lawnmower. Bed linens are in the washer; I plan to hang them on the line to dry. I’m going to take all the rugs outside to shake them, and sweep through the house. I intend to make some salads to carry for my lunches this week. Big plans…if I ever find the energy to get out of this chair!

20200728_211600

a sunset shared with my sisters

Happily Behind

Standard

sisters sunset

The grass in my front yard is longer than it’s been all summer. Weeds are gaining the advantage in the garden. More than a week ago, the bookshelves in my living room collapsed. Since then, I’ve had a small television set on the dining room table, baskets of yarn and embroidery floss tucked onto other surfaces wherever they’d fit, and a huge mound of books stacked in front of the front door. The shelves are stacked against one wall; the supports against another. I haven’t stepped foot in the studio in a week. I’ve missed at least three blogging days.

Normally, situations like this drive me crazy. Disorganized procrastinator that I am, I often find myself behind. Usually, I hate it. I berate myself for my laziness and neglect; I rant and rail about all the obligations that keep me from my tasks. I feel anxious and frustrated. Not this time!

My sisters came to the island last week! It was a welcome and long overdue chance to catch up. I spent the whole week enjoying their good company and smiling faces. I relished every conversation, loved every shared experience, and basked in the feelings of comfort and joy that come from  sharing time with people I love. I’m behind, yes, but happily so. It was absolutely worth it!

Timeout for Art: Abstract

Standard
collagraph-sanctuary

Sanctuary

Here I am, just one day after posting a conversational blog (that should have been published on Sunday), with another. And this, my “Timeout for Art” blog, which I planned to post every Wednesday, has been pretty hit-and-miss over the last few weeks.

Here’s the thing. After weeks of Corona-virus induced stay-at-home time, I find myself back out in the work force. And it’s exhausting!! Not that any of it is too hard or so demanding, but just that I’m not used to it.

I work one or two days a week at our Island Treasures Resale Shop. It’s a worthy cause, providing support for our island Fire Department and EMS. All merchandise is donated; all staff is volunteer. Everyone that I work with is helpful and kind. No job is difficult, and there are many hands available when assistance is needed. The shifts are only four hours long.

I work two days a week at the Beaver Island Golf Course. My duties are few: I sanitize carts and equipment between customers, and accept fees for golfing and cart rental. I drive a golf cart around the course to check for any problems. If the weather is good, and the office isn’t busy, I can cross the road and work in the garden. Pleasant activities for lovely people.

Compared to my work at the hardware, where I would regularly:

  • run five miles or more on freight days, just in repeated trips from the back to the front of the building, often with heavy loads
  • carry 50 pound bags of bird seed, potting soil or water softener salt out to the customer’s cars
  • haul 12′ ladders through the store to retrieve products or set up displays
  • make dozens of trips each day up and down the basement stairs to stock products on shelves

This, in addition to helping customers find what they need, managing telephone calls, cash register and veterinary appointments, cleaning, mixing paint, cutting and threading pipe, cutting keys…the list goes on. That was a hard job. That was a job that warranted the exhaustion I felt at the end of a day.

That’s why I am baffled at the way these relatively simple jobs wear me out. Other than that I may have gotten too accustomed to the lackadaisical, easy-going lifestyle of the unemployed, I don’t understand it. But, that’s the way it is.

I was so tired Sunday evening, after four days of having to (dread!) leave my house, I couldn’t possibly write. Monday, I felt it was necessary to just sit around, one dog or another on my lap, to recuperate. Yesterday, I finally managed to write and post a blog, mainly as a means of procrastinating on another obligation (which tendency, I swear, deserves a blog all to itself!).

Today, with that “other obligation” still looming, I decided (surprise, surprise!) that it was of ultimate importance to get my Wednesday post out on time. So, here I am. I’ve been struggling with finding enough to say about art, so I’m going to work my way through the alphabet, starting today, with Abstract for the letter A.

I was thinking I’d have some trouble when I got to those hard letters at the end of the alphabet. As it turns out, the trouble is already here. I was planning to write about my reasons for working mainly in the abstract. It’s something I’ve talked and written about before, and a topic I’ve thought quite a bit about. Simple.

Then, I came across a wonderful essay by an artist I admire, that tossed all my rote thinking out the door. Brian Rutenberg, a prolific New York artist, has a series called “Studio Visits” that I’ve been watching on YouTube. I’m also reading his latest book, Clear Seeing Place. He says, “abstraction is a process, not a style.”

Aren’t even the most realistic paintings abstract, in that they are two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional objects? Rutenberg makes me believe it with his description of Van Gogh’s ropey brushstrokes. So often, the brushwork or pencil lines are an integral part of art work, though they have nothing to do with the object or scene being depicted, and everything to do with the act of recreating it. According to Brian Rutenberg, “saying you’re painting abstracts is like saying you’re eating cooking: it doesn’t mean anything.”

He’s given me a lot to think about, and rendered my planned essay unusable. So, there.

 

 

 

Monday, Monday…

Standard

IMG_5206

We are awfully close to halfway through summer. In some ways, it seems to be flying by. In others, this has been the summer of my dreams, and distant memories. I’ve probably already mentioned that I haven’t had a summer off, on Beaver Island, since I first moved here in 1978, until now. I always worked hard, too: busy days; long hours. Summers are the busiest season here.

This year, though, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc everywhere. Though this island remains, at this time, free of the virus, we still have all the usual misgivings about how to stay safe. We need the business, but it’s scary to think of crowds of people coming here from areas where the virus is prevalent. Fortunately or not, many usual summer visitors have not come. The Corona Virus has taken a big bite out of our tourist industry, and left me temporarily out of work.

I watch with sadness and horror as other communities deal with overwhelming sickness and death. I’m very aware that my age puts in in a “high risk” group. There is still some trepidation whenever I have to be in public. I cancelled a planned trip to attend my grandson’s high school graduation party downstate, due to fears about being exposed. And I’m still second guessing myself over that decision. I don’t want to be ruled by fear, but I absolutely want to be safe.

Beyond all that, though, I’m having a wonderful time! I am kind of a loner, and definitely an introvert. I have house, garden and studio to keep me busy, dogs to keep me entertained, and a regular routine to provide some structure to my days. I have a little one-day-a-week volunteer position, and a new part-time job on the week-ends. I get a little Social Security check each month, and a little unemployment to supplement that. This is a lovely summer!

Mondays, though! When I worked at the hardware store, and before that when I worked at the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub, I almost always worked Saturday and Sunday. My “week-end” is Monday and Tuesday. So, even now when I mostly don’t work, I wake up on Monday with a sense of urgency, a feeling of near panic, at all the things I need to do. Today was no different.

I got up early and got going right away. First my morning routine: meditate; write; draw; yoga.  Then I spent about an hour studying. I am working my way through an embarrassingly large collection of self-help books, with topics ranging from art techniques to exercise to how to stop procrastinating or become a better listener, writer, cook or general human being. If nothing else comes of this time off, I will have at the very least made every effort to better myself!

I took a shower and dressed, then took the dogs on their first walk of the day. Garden, next, to water and weed. Then on to one of the flower beds It’s hot out there, though! Especially in that flower bed, against the south wall of my house. There was no breeze, and the heat was magnified by the white siding. When I was driven inside, I’d start a load of wash, dust a surface, or sweep something. Then back at it. When I cleaned up for lunch, I made a pot of chicken soup. Always, with the idea that I’d better keep busy. No time to waste. Lots of things to get done.

As I was working at filling the wheelbarrow with crab grass and bladder wort that has taken over among the day lilies, my mind was racing ahead to the next thing to do. The rugs need to be shaken out and washed. I have two paintings underway in the studio. Windows show patterns of dog nose and dog paw. Before long, the yard will need to be mowed again.

After my third long bout of weeding, while wiping the sweat from my brow, it occurred to me: what I don’t get done today, I can do tomorrow. Or the next day,Or the day after that! I broke into a big grin. I love this summer! Mondays do not have to be filled to the brim with urgent tasks. Mondays can be just another normal day. As long as I remember!

Timeout for Art: Mash-Ups

Standard

20200706_121640

Drawing or painting from a photographic model presents challenges all alone, but it was never a challenge that interested me. When I hear, “It looks just like a photograph,” meant always as a compliment, I always wonder, “then why not just take a photograph?” Honestly.

There are artists that work from a photograph, but put their own spin on it. Chuck Close comes to mind, with his wonderful, large pixelated self-portraits. Others contribute their own lush brushstrokes or distinctive line quality that – though based on a photograph – raise it to another level.

When I was learning to draw, I drew every single day. I sketched my husband, my children and my pets, but they grew tired of sitting still. Likewise, I grew tired of drawing still-life arrangements, room-scapes, and crumpled paper bags. Then, I would turn to photographs for subject matter.

To keep things interesting, I’d do what I call “mash-ups.” Rather than one photograph, I’d choose two or three, and combine them on the page. For instance, from a book of black and white photos of the excavation of King Tut’s tomb I’d get the “bones” of a drawing. From People magazine, a movie star’s face. The torso from another photograph. Add my own surgical scar to finish. It wasn’t always successful, but it was always fun.

This Summer

Standard

20200625_130040

I’m sure that every single childhood summer day was not as perfect as those that live on in my memory. I know there must have been times when the heat seemed too much, or the days seemed too long. I have vague memories of begging to come inside out of the heat, of complaining that there was nothing to do, and of anxiously wishing for school to start back up. Mostly, though, the impressions that I hold are of long, lazy, sunshiny days, with fields to explore and the ever-present shade of the big willow tree.

Summer was playing in the sprinkler and wandering barefoot around the yard. It was reading for hours with my feet in the sand. Walks to the store for ice cream, and to the beach for the cool water. It was green fruit from the orchard, fresh peas from the garden, and bunches of grapes plucked from the vines. It was vacations on Beaver Island and all the perfect white-sand-blue-sky-warm-days-cool-nights magic it offered. In my memory, summer lives on as a perfect time.

Those memories – faulty though they may be – are what fuel all of my present-day hopes for summer, in the same way that anticipation for Christmas is fed by an impression of that perfect holiday, that may not have ever truly existed. Because of my high hopes, summers are often a bit of a disappointment.

I take care of my own yard and garden. That has managed, most years, to take up much of my spare time while still constantly frustrating me. The garden was always lacking something; I was constantly behind schedule, whether for planting or harvesting; the grass was always overgrown; the weeds continually got the better of me. Housework, studio time, and other projects had to be squeezed in around other obligations.

This is the busiest time of year here on Beaver Island; it’s when I work the hardest, and the longest hours at my job, whatever that job is. It’s also the time when  family and friends come here. Of course, I want to find time to see them! Many summers, the only time I get to the beach, to the shore to watch a sunset, or visit any of the wonderful sites that Beaver Island has to offer, is when I go with visitors.

Not this year! Because I was stuck (most pleasantly, but still…) on vacation due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, then had two weeks of mandatory self-quarantine before I could go back to work…I was replaced in my job. I should be concerned, but I’m not. I’m too busy, frankly, enjoying myself. For the first time since I moved to Beaver Island (in 1978!), I am not working this summer!

I wake up every morning to the rooster crowing with a smile on my face, knowing I have this time. I’m doing a little volunteer work. I’m making art. I have a whole routine of meditation, gratitude, reading, drawing, writing and yoga that I enjoy immensely. I’m growing my garden. I’m mowing my lawn before the grass is knee high. I take the dogs for walks morning and evening. Today, I’m contemplating a drive with them down to Fox Lake. I’ll bring my book. I had an ice cream cone for lunch. This is the summer I’ve been dreaming of!

Time-Out for Art: Getting Started

Standard

20200610_160245

Beginning is the hardest part of almost every endeavor. That certainly holds true for art projects.

Once the studio habit is formed, it’s easier to walk into that room regularly. I know what I’ll be working on, which materials I’ll need, and where to find them. Often, works-in-progress will be out, and waiting for me.

Once projects are underway, it’s easy to keep the momentum going. Problems seem to work themselves out as I sleep, and I know exactly what to do next. Daily rituals in the studio help me warm up to the materials, fill time while waiting for paint to dry, or help me try out new ideas. Successes help to generate confidence in the next process.

None of those things are true for me, right now. Though I have more time at home than usual, other things have kept me out of the studio. Gardening and yard work are springtime necessities, I can’t deny. I’ve got a list of other daily tasks to complete, from household chores to exercise to on-line classes. Still. I recognize avoidance when I am involved in it.

The only way to get over it…is to begin. Go to the studio. Tidy up. Get rid of the failures. Just sit; be in the space. Don’t expect miracles. Don’t look too far ahead. Start.

I’ve been making little thumbnail sketches each day, with fine-tipped marker in my sketch book. Expanding on that habit, I made a little list of items to draw, with soft pencil on good rag paper. That way, when I am unable to do anything else, there is an assignment to fill the empty time. At best, the series of drawings might eventually make a nice display; at the very least, it keeps my drawing skills honed.

Recently, I had a series of collages fail because of technical problems that distracted from the compositions. I’d already ordered mats for them, so I have several mats to fill. I chose good printing paper (Rives BFK, in this instance) so that I wouldn’t have issues with a wavy, buckled surface. I measured and cut them to the desired size. Wanting some color on the surface, I applied a loose, light watercolor wash.

While the papers dried, I went through my collection of collage materials, and set aside some possibilities. I cleaned my brushes and tidied the work table. Then I did one small drawing of a paper bag. That’s it. Not much, granted, but for me, a good beginning.

 

 

A Day in the Life

Standard
said at the start

I am an artist. I used to have a hard time saying that. It seemed presumptuous, premature, or like I was putting on airs. I’d say, “I want to be an artist,” or “I take art classes,” or “I like to make things.” Though it was as much a part of my individuality as almost anything else, it was a hard title to claim. Mother, daughter, sister, friend, of course. Student, walker, gardener, cook, teacher, sure. But “artist” seemed a designation for someone living a life far different than mine.

Even when I finally, after much practice and self-talk, learned to say, “I am an artist,” I half expected to be called out on it. Though I studied art for many years, and have a couple degrees to prove it, and though my work hangs in colleges, galleries, and many homes and businesses, I sometimes feel like an imposter. My life is pretty ordinary. My jobs have been simple menial labor positions. I don’t dress flamboyantly. Yet here I am. An artist.

What’s that like, a day in the life of an artist? Well, I can’t speak for others, but I can describe my day: today. I get up to an alarm, because I have trouble falling asleep, and staying asleep at night. If I’m really regimented about getting up at a set time each morning, I find insomnia is not such a big problem. I have a regular morning routine that includes meditation, gratitude, drawing, studying, yoga and quite a bit of coffee drinking.

This morning, I had an appointment at the medical center. My cholesterol runs high; my thyroid runs low. Periodically, I have to make sure the medicines I’m on are doing their jobs. So, today I went in for a blood draw. I mailed a few letters and picked up my mail, then picked up my pre-ordered groceries at the store.

Home, I checked the news, then took the dogs for their first walk of the day. I carry a bag of kibble, to keep them close to me and to reward them along the way. I also carry my little electronic tablet. I have the Audible app, and listen while I walk. Right now, I’m enjoying A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Today, now that the lawn is mowed, was my day for getting the garden planted. I’m late. Not too late for Beaver Island, but late enough where I have to be serious about it. I am afraid Ruth Stout’s no-work garden plan is going to have to be set aside this year. It’s too late to get a load of straw delivered from the mainland. The straw I’ve used to hold in moisture and keep weeds at bay is on its third year in my garden, and losing its power. Proof is the prolific crop of weeds, covering the entire garden.

I pulled weeds: three heaping wheelbarrow loads of weeds. I cut back and pulled up blackberry brambles, worked up the soil, and planted six tomato plants and sixteen basil plants. And, on this day when I intended to get the garden done, that wasn’t nearly enough. I’ll have to get an early start tomorrow.

I emptied my compost into the big bin. Since the fire danger was low, I took the opportunity to burn papers and windfall. I put a load of towels on the clothesline, took the dogs for another walk, and came inside for the night. After getting cleaned up, I fed the dogs, made a big pasta salad and sat down to dinner. Then, remembered that Wednesday is the day I’m going to post a blog about art. Or, in this case, what a day in the life of this artist is like!

Dogs, Mowing, Miscellaneous

Standard

Yesterday was “Vet Day,” which is a big, nerve-wracking deal in this household. Vet in this case means Veterinarian, not Veteran. We’re all pretty calm and cool on Veteran’s Day. Not so much when the dogs have to see the doctor. Between the doctor tending to his mainland business and being here only intermittently, and my forays (that led to extended stays) off the island, this visit was a long time coming, and somewhat overdue.

Blackie Chan needed vaccinations for Distemper and Bordetella. He also has somehow hurt himself, and has been limping and sometimes whimpering in pain. I needed to have that checked out. He and Rosa Parks both needed their nails clipped. All three dogs – Blackie Chan, Rosa Parks and Darla – needed to have a blood test to check for heart worm, so that they could begin their summer preventative. All three needed the chewable tablet that keeps fleas and ticks away. For Darla (who has a hundred mosquitoes clinging to her whenever she goes out), I added the topical liquid that repels and kills fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.

I’d meant to ask the vet to check the ears of the two little dogs, but I forgot. That will have to wait for next time. It was already a difficult day for all of us. Darla caught me with a tooth, in an effort to get away from the needle. Rosa Parks was her usual melodramatic self over every procedure, squirming and crying out as if she were being tortured. Blackie Chan was more difficult than he’s ever been before.

By the time I got them home, I was shaking like a leaf. I thought of my friend Pam, who would dissolve in nerves and ask for a hug for moral support, even when her dogs came in for a simple wellness check. I thought of calling her, for understanding, but talked myself out of it. Half my day was already gone, and I still had lawn to mow. I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to drink it while the dogs settled in. Then, Pam called me!! Out of the blue, just like she had read my mind, or sensed my need. Like a friendly dog-loving miracle!

After that, more in the mood for chatting than mowing, I called my sister Brenda. It seems like I’ll go long stretches talking to no one but myself and the dogs. Even so, I don’t say much. I’m just not that much of a talker. Then, I get in a conversation with another human, and I can’t seem to stop! That’s how it was yesterday: two long, rambling conversations. Leaving me very little time for my planned yard work.

I mowed last evening until I ran out of gas. Today, I went back at it. This is a perfect day for that job: it is cooler than it’s been, and there’s a nice breeze. The forsythia, rhododendrons and cherry trees are in bloom; a nicely mowed lawn will let the blossoms stand out. By the time the damp, long grass caused the mower to stall, I had remembered that I’d forgotten my Sunday blog. Well! I was ready for a break, anyway. Now, I suppose I’d better get back to it!