Alone. Lonely? Loner.

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Out in front of my house in my jammies on Saturday morning, I was in tears. My hands were scrambling to catch the lines on the sailboat I have planted in my lawn so I could untie knots that hold flags hoisted high above the boat and house. I was in tears because I am frustrated at being too short to reach the knots, and the wind whipping around wasn’t helping .  I was in tears because this is the sort of thing best done with a partner and helper. It was tender work. I was mad at myself because I had been meaning to take down these flags myself, or call my handyman months ago.

And, I was cursing my dad. He tied the knots a year ago last September. He taught me how to tie, and untie, proper knots as a kid on our sailboat.  This knot wasn’t one I recognized, and the long tails on the lines, combined with having to reach over my head with the sun and wind in my eyes, made deciding which way to pull on the lines a series of crucial decisions. I just wanted to get it over with and get back in the house before someone saw me.

My uncle built the wooden boat by hand over a 20 year period, then discovered he hated sailing. I bought it from my aunt and proudly put it in front of my house, because it is a piece of art.  I had a big party to “launch” Quiet Tune. It was one of the best days of my life to see my dad hoist the US, Canadian, California and Ohio flags with my small grandson at his elbow, assisting in putting flags up over his new fort.

Friday, I had come home from work to find a letter in my mailbox, hand-addressed, stamped and mailed to “Occupant.” You know that is a situation that is not good from the get-go. Inside, full-color photos of my sailboat and the flags, and citations to the Title 4, the United States Flag Code.

“The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.”

The writer was 100% correct – I agreed with them in every way when it came to the flag. I took exception to their rude comment calling the sailboat a piece of junk.  Ask my kids – I still put my hand over my heart at ball games and sing – and cry – during the National Anthem.  I say the pledge in full at public meetings. I believe in the sanctity of our flag and all it stands for, and I got lazy.

I got out there as soon as the sun came up the next morning. The US flag was tattered, and so was the Canadian flag I fly for the heritage of Quiet Tune. The California state flag was pretty much gone, so that came down too. But bless her heart, the Ohio flag was still in pretty good shape, so back up she went.

Later that day, I was talking to a friend about another chore on my list – hanging some art up in my patio. I meant to get it done while my daughter was home on Spring Break, but it just didn’t happen. Again, it is something I could call a handyman to come and do, but I resist. And the friend offered help, but I didn’t answer. I want the help – I want the quiet collaboration of working on something with another person – learning from them and celebrating a job well done together. But I couldn’t admit it. I couldn’t ask for or agree to help offered.

The day ended with a visit to my in-laws’ home in Oakland to celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday. It was a big party with lots of nieces from the divorced side of the family I haven’t seen in awhile, and my ex and his wife and their daughter. It was actually a very pleasant get together. We all got along nicely, almost like old friends. My ex and his sister were telling stories from when they were kids – pranks they pulled in the neighborhood, small car accidents – things you want your kids to know about you. My 90-year-old father-in-law sat quietly listening to us while he ate birthday cake.  It was just like old times there in that living room, when my now 30-year-old girls were just babies, and when I had a partner to go home and work on things with.

But I don’t now. I’m alone, but not lonely, and I guess I have become a bit of a loner.

 

SO Paint

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It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post. It was an overwhelmingly busy six or eight weeks. I knew that going in. At some point, I wondered if I would get through it, and I did. Everything got done, on time and well. I didn’t get sick either, which surprised me. And I actually did a lot of art along the way.

Some days, doing the art was what saved me.

That, and the love of family and friends.

My youngest daughter, the only one left at home, moved away to college in Washington State right before the 4th of July. She’d moved away once before, to Monterey. But there, I could go visit her. Not so easily up in Washington, and I’m much busier now.

Also, last time she left, people came and stayed with me almost immediately, so I didn’t have much down time in between her leaving and them arriving. Enough for a few good cries, but now I am alone with no long-term visitors on the horizon. Some days, I am lonely. I think that is why I stay so busy – to avoid looking at the alone-ness. I should probably look it more squarely in the eye and ask it what it wants of me.

Other times, being alone feels like punishment. That feeling is some psychological throwback, like my nose is being put in the corner. Most days, being alone has been glorious over the past 17 years since I got divorced. I’ve learned a lot about myself, I’ve supported myself and my four kids as they grew up. Everyone is doing well. There are even grandchildren. Now, I have no one to report to but myself.

Lately, I am conscious of not being part of a couple. Raising kids and working, it was easy to not look that one in the eye, but I find myself longing to be part of a bigger thing. I wonder if I will ever get back to there again because inside me, those were some of the happiest days.

A relationship is like a piece of art. It is like a blank canvas with a lot of unknown, wide-open scary parts. What’s going to happen up in that corner? What if I put yellow on it here? Can I draw and represent that figure the way I want? Each stroke of the brush is a gentle, but deliberate move to mold that canvas into what I see and feel inside. And when it succeeds, it is so joyous. And when it is bad and needs to be reworked, that can be beautiful too. You just keep working on it and putting in the time and attention, enjoying the process along the way. I guess what I am saying is that right now, I am missing the relationship process. I’m out of significant-other paint.

 

Artistic Literacy – The Importance of Knowing How to Draw

 

I’m just finishing up a 4-week on-line class by Mary Ann Moss calledSketchbookery. I have done drawing in life drawing classes, on a computer, and as an engineer (technical drawings). It all started when I was almost 30 years old and finally got the chance to take an art class. I’d been teaching technical classes at the University of California Extension and received a discount on taking classes so I used it to take “Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain.”

I had an epiphany in that two-day class. I COULD draw! I had made an assumption that as an engineer, I had no artistic skill. What I learned in that class was the training and practice I had from mechanical drafting classes in high school directly applied to artistic drawing, though the reliance on triangles, rulers and lettering was missing.

The class started us by doing blind contour drawings. Then we moved on to contour drawings. We could peek at our papers, but the emphasis in both blind and regular contour drawing was more on the “seeing” and less on drawing.

In Sketchbookery, Mary Ann Moss kicked it up a notch with us. We were challenged to do contour drawing with a pen, rather than a pencil. This might seem like a small difference, but for me it was huge. First, I had not done contour drawing in years. I felt I had “graduated” beyond that to drawing more realistically, but I had gotten very relaxed in the “seeing” part of the drawing, and it showed in my work. Consequently, for the past 20 years, my art work has relied more on image transfer and collage, rather than original marks.  That’s okay – collage and image transfer are beautiful and legitimate art forms. Getting reacquainted with drawing what I was seeing, in ink, woke up a beautiful space in my art – the space filled with my marks. Second, using a pen meant the marks are the marks. There would be no going back and erasing and adjusting. There is a certain amount of liberation when that thought is in your head and hand as you start to draw.

These past four weeks, I’ve found it so calming to draw this way – draw just the shape and line that I see. There is no pressure to draw a perfect flower or bottle, only the line of the edge that I see. That’s a huge burden to be lifted. I’m in the class with 40 or more people who are posting their work to the share area of the class website. I have no idea of their competency levels, but I’m assuming they fall into a typical bell curve. Yet all of the drawing I’ve seen produced in the class is good. Very good. Some wonky stuff, including mine, but even that is very good. It’s all recognizable. And the wonky part is that artist’s fingerprint on their work – their signature.

Which leads me to my point: drawing, like math, writing,  and reading, is a core competency, or it should be. I wonder if all the people I run into day after day who say “I’m not an artist. I can’t *** fill in the blanks ***” would feel differently about that mysterious art world if they had the ability to draw something they saw in a way they were pleased with it. That would help them understand and not be intimidated by the work of other artists too.

For me, it is absolutely thrilling to look at something, put a pen to paper, and look back and recognize it as the object of my interest. I believe that through simple contour drawing – a pen, some paper and a big heap of quiet time – anyone can draw if they are willing to slowly put to paper what they see. And when you can draw, you are free.

 

Reincarnation

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?
Combined Media on Canvas/Found Materials 6×12 — Artist: Laura McHugh


What do you do with your pieces that don’t sell? 


Here’s a dilemma many artists face: you, the artist, create a body of work – for a show or because you were excited about a theme, material, process.

After days/months/years, you now have 3 to 20 new pieces. You excitedly anticipate the show date approaching, and you price and title all the work. The night before the show opens, you view the hung work quietly, with no one else around. The silence envelopes you and you glow in the beauty you have created. Each piece is perfect. Each piece has a story to tell and an impact to be made on the people who will come through the door in the morning.

As you turn to leave the studio, you shut off the lights and as you set your head down onto your pillow, you reflect on the time, materials, inspirations, challenges and all that has gone into the making of this body of work. You envision engaged attendees to the show in animated discussions with you about your process. You vow to smile nicely at anyone who comments about how the color of a piece isn’t quite right to go with their sofa, and ask for divine intervention should anyone request to change or create a piece that would match.

Morning comes and you have rested. The exhaustion you would normally feel from all the work leading up to this moment is pushed aside by the adrenaline coursing through your body. The time comes for visitors to arrive, and they do! They come streaming in, bounding to see the work and the studio space. They are animated, as you envisioned in your sleepy state the night before. They ask lots of questions, good questions. You reveal yourself and your secrets. You leave them alone a bit to read the titles on the pieces and reflect on their own impressions of the work, then you reengage, making sure you ask that they sign the guest book, which they happily do.

Then they leave. Without. Buying. Anything.  :(

This makes you sad. Somewhat because of the money, but it goes deeper than that. These pieces that didn’t sell aren’t in the hands of someone else so that they can connect and emanate their message, energy, vision to the world. The impact you hoped they would make is fleeting…maybe the people who came to the show and saw the work “got it.” You didn’t stand with them to view each piece, so you have no way of really knowing whether the work was heard and accepted. And if someone bought it, that is no guarantee that they “got” it. Their relationship with the piece is deeply personal and intimate and may or may not have anything to do with what you felt and intended when you created it.

All of that not withstanding, you are now out in your studio/gallery with seventeen pieces that have not found new homes.

What’s a girl to do?  They need to be lovingly and carefully packaged up for storage. Maybe you can put 1-2 pieces in an upcoming show where the call or theme is perfectly aligned. You have an art giveway project – maybe you can leave the art out for people to find. But some of it is too big for this project, or maybe you need to rethink your size criteria. You can seek out venues who might want the art, for sale or as a donation.

What you DON’T want is for these pieces to end up at the thrift store. You buy canvases and other art materials there to make INTO art. Having your pieces end up back there would be complete and utter personal and creative failure …. So what’s a girl to do?

My dilemma, for my art, is that it isn’t necessarily nice. I make it because it comes through me as a message – a commentary on a current situation, an emotion I’m feeling, or even something more political. I haven’t connected with the right audience for my pieces – someone as quirky and appreciative of the subtle messages as I am.

I might give some pieces away because the feedback I get from recipients of art in the Art For Everyone Project is SO satisfying. They all appreciate their new gifts and the stories of where the art ends up are amazing.

But I am also considering reincarnating certain pieces. For example, five small canvases I did as commentary on branding for huge corporations (McDonalds, Girl Scouts, Corona and Budweiser, and Smart Water) were understood and appreciated in the show, but probably will not find a permanent wall to hang on. Like the old masters who painted on a canvas, then drastically reworked the subject, or changed it altogether over the top of an existing work, I may do the same. I’m not pushed so much for resources to purchase more canvases, but I don’t want to store any more art. Flow is an important value and I want to keep the work moving through my creative space. Bundling it up and using precious shelf space is not moving in the right direction for me.

These Corporate Branding pieces may end up with a new coat of paint over the top. I might paint images on them that are “prettier” as an experiment to see if that sells. I will know what is underneath. That message will still carry forward, even if it is covered up by a pleasant painting.

What do you do with your pieces that don’t sell? 


Hooked.   Combined Media (Found Materials, Pen/Ink, Pencil) Mounted on Canvas
24×36 — Artist: Laura McHugh

Engineering the Liberation of Creativity