What Should You Do When A Niggling Feeling Won’t Leave You?

Full STEAM Ahead

Back in 2004/5, I was fortunate to volunteer at the local Parks & Rec department to teach after-school art to kids. We had to get a grant for art supplies, which we did, and I had an interesting partner who was vital to the project because she lived in the district in which the rec center was located, but she was a monumental pain the behind to work with. Still, I did my best and the kids had a great time and made great art.

I used the framework of FAME (Fine Arts Mini-Experience) that my daughter’s elementary school was using to teach art in K-5 classrooms as a basis for the lessons. We did exquisite corpse drawings, studied pop artists, looked at how watercolor stained canvas a la Helen Frankenthaler, and made drawings with our non-dominant hands.

Each quarter, I presented a report to the community on the work done by their students and toward the end, it seems that my partner receded to the background, so I was able to experiment with more exciting topics and approaches, instead of teaching art the same old way.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to speak to mid-year engineering students at the University of California San Diego’s Jacob’s School of Engineering about engineering careers. For that talk, based on my 20+ years’ experience as an engineer and mid-level manager, I used the Situational Leadership model to discuss how to approach their soon-to-be new jobs in engineering, specifically how to manage their bosses. My intention was to build on the important guidance they were getting from UCSD about manners (stay off your phone), prepping, and time management as it related to succeeding in their jobs. These are some of the best and brightest young men and women who will join the work force, but sadly it was hard for me to connect with them.

I’m an accomplished speaker and I had done a lot of prep for the talk – both inquiring with the conference organizers about what would be most relevant, as well as doing some research and using an organized model for the talk. I invited participation, used my sense of humor, and talked to them straight about the experience from my side. But I got low scores on my feedback which was disappointing both because I wanted to reach them to encourage them by sharing the love for my profession, and also because I always want to know I did the very best job I could.

In the meantime, I have continued to teach myself art skills and have been thankful at the end of every long hard day that I had the safe harbor of art to comfort me as I painted, collaged, or simply took observational photographs. Art saves. That is almost cliche at this point, but it is absolutely true.

I’ve also come to appreciate the more subtle aspects of art that my engineering education did not really provide – the importance of keen observation, the excitement of discovery from a “mistake,” and the pride that comes from creating even the smallest and most simple drawing. Imagine how one must feel if that creation is a bridge, or a small part in getting men on the moon, or creating a new application for the phone that helps impaired people communicate more easily?

So that brings me to my niggling feeling. I remember the day as though it was yesterday. I was at an event for Art in Action to present a book I created for the founder, Judy Sleeth, upon their 30th anniversary and for her retirement as the Executive Director. I was proud to have been asked to create the book and tears were shed when she viewed it. One of the speakers at that event was Craig Watson, Executive Director from the California Arts Council. It was from his talk I first heard about putting the “A” in STEM. As an engineer, I was already very familiar with STEM and the importance of a strong science/math/engineering education. As a self-taught engineer, I was becoming more aware of how valuable the art skills and training were.

Which leads me to today: I have this niggling feeling I’m supposed to be helping STEM-bound students learn more about art. You could argue that I’m not the best qualified to be teaching art, or developing art-based curriculum to teach from. I don’t have any background in formal education or a teaching credential. But, I have taught a lot. I’ve taught adults through the UC Santa Cruz Extension in environmental engineering, corporate training for employees in more than 40 subjects for conformance with environmental and health/safety requirements, and development and delivery of training for data management applications to meet regulatory compliance criteria.

I’ve also taught the FAME-like program throughout my childrens’ elementary school years as a docent, and then as an instructor of a like-program for the Hayward Area Parks and Rec District Ashland Community Center. And I’ve taught art classes for people in my community in my own studio and through the Adult Day Care Center.

As I get ready for my vacation that involves some serious time on airplanes, which I find to always be extremely valuable in thinking through whatever my question-de-jour is, I know I will find the right conditions to ponder this important career question:

Am I the one to I develop and deliver programs to K-12 students to facilitate creativity and a wider understanding of scientific principles through art?

Am I bold enough to embark on putting the A in STEAM in my community? I always think big – as in developing programs that go nationwide!

Let’s see how I feel in two weeks about moving Full STE(A)M Ahead.

 

 

 

 

360 – Full Circle

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I challenged myself to make 100 pieces of art for the Open Studios show this weekend. Considering I started a new job on February 1, and also endured a flood in my house at almost the same time, it is a wonder I got even close.

I am glad I got all the way to 72 pieces – 72 expressions of what is going on inside me. I did them in collaboration with a friend who sources me with the materials.  I am very happy with them, but I also feel they may be complete. The next step will be to recycle them yet again into a larger piece – they have served their purpose.

I’m heartbroken about the outcome and the next art has to be about that.

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 was 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 – for where I was born – 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 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 92-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.