The secret power of things we hold dear.

Intimacy with dear things: that’s how a friend described my art today, but in thinking about that as I was exploring how to write my art narrative and bio, I realized this applies not only to my art but my life.  I see everything around me as art — things that feed my creative process. I live in a soup of art inspiration swimming all around me. The things in my home, the items that are close in to me, are particularly important and within the realm of my control.

I especially like:

Buttons.

Bowls.

Boxes.

Books.

Bits of fabrics, especially old and worn and torn.

I’m also a sucker for images, especially certain photographs. Photographs and images have a way of pushing back the immediacy of life just a bit, giving me space to reflect and approach the subject on my own terms and deal with what that image means to me.

Looking around my home, I am realizing I have LOTS of things, mostly in display cabinets, and on mantles and dressers and around in my yard. I also have things in drawers, closets and cupboards – but then most of us do. That is the purpose of those storage spaces, after all.

I’m thinking about how I define myself as an artist and it keeps coming back to “things.” Things I want to keep, hold, protect and preserve.  In thinking about this in terms of the psychology of these feelings, it strikes me as being dangerously similar how hoarders feel about their “stuff.” That’s not particularly comforting.

A book I read – Compulsive Hoarding and The Meaning of Things – helps me understand that my attachment to my things is not necessarily hoarding. That in-depth review has collecting cross-over to hoarding when it starts to negatively impact one’s life or the lives of those around them. I don’t think my house in any way negatively impacts me or others. In fact, mostly people love visiting my home and delight in looking at my “treasures.”  But then I think that could be the first problem – one’s inability to admit they even have a problem!

In a more healthy approach, I propose to explore my relationship to my “stuff” by grading it according to the following two categories.

I will be going around my house, putting labels on each item. I will stick to just one label, or at most, two, because indecision is also the achilles heel of the hoarder.

CATEGORY I (Rate 1 to 5 with 5 being most positive)

A – I value the experience of I had when I purchased or acquired this item.

B – This item has sentimental/family value or is an heirloom; I remember when…

C – It is my job to protect this item’s history and provenance by keeping it in my mini-museum.

D – This item has monetary value.

E – I might use it one day. (This will probably apply mainly to food and art/sewing materials.)


CATEGORY II 

I possess this, therefore I am (more) important.

Someone gave this item to me and I don’t want to hurt their feelings by discarding it or this item would be hurt by me discarding it.

I can’t remember how or why I have this item/possibly a spur of the moment home decor decision.


GUIDELINES FOR ME MOVING ITEMS ALONG TO THEIR NEXT “HOME”

Items that make Category I with a score of 3 or higher will probably survive and be kept; I can ditch the rest without fear of losing the memories.

I may choose to take photos of the items I get rid of in the top four and would seek to find someone who can use them or treasure them as much as I have.

Donate to a known person

Sell at a yard sale

Give away to stranger

Discard in trash

The Delicate Balance Between Frustration and Zen, Or What a Bag of Kantha Scraps Can Teach You About Creativity

What a perfect day to receive a bag of kantha scraps. A co-worker brought them to me this morning, knowing my love for fabric and sewing.  I have a small pile of new fabric at home I got last weekend at a quilt show that I envisioned using to make a small quilt featuring sashiko. I have all the parts of it ready to go, but could not see how to start. That’s always the hard part – the starting of anything. Once I’m up and running, I go. I fly! But there is a fair amount of latency, molasses-like thinking, and just plain ole foot-dragging before I start, whether it be sewing, painting, collaging. Usually not cooking though….hmmmm…. interesting observation.

What is it I’m afraid of?  This small bag of fabrics reminds me that at other times, I can be easily pushed up and over that scaredy-cat hump into “get out of my way” mode to create. No rationalizing, no procrastinating – just clear the calendar! because I’m on my way out to the studio to get some work done.

Today, this all has me thinking about the difference for me between these two places – stuck/can’t get started and get outta my way.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when I do get started and into the thick of the creative process and my project, I mostly feel soothed. Once in awhile, I’m frustrated if things don’t go the right way, but mostly I feel soothed and comforted. I often remark about my art-making that it’s “paint, or drink.” I don’t really drink, but art-making calms and soothes me the way I imagine folks who do drink must feel: relaxed, chilling, ready for whatever comes next.

An email I received from Selvedge Magazine included an announcement of their craft spa. The copy went on to say:

Textiles to sooth the mind and soul... The ties between craft and therapy have long been in conversation, but how does craft actually contribute to your well being? According to recent research, the rhythm and repetition of movement act not only as a distraction from daily life, but have been clinically proven to raise serotonin levels, inducing relaxation and mindfulness with great meditative healing qualities on both the body and mind.

I think the difference between yesterday, looking at that sweet pile of new fabric on my kitchen island, and today with a bag of coordinating kantha in hand is KNOWING.

Knowing, in the sense of being conscious of my competence.  Twenty years ago, I had a therapist I was seeing tell me he had never seen someone with such high self-confidence (I can do anything!) and low self-esteem. I’ve mostly fixed the self-esteem and I’m more realistic about what I can do, or should devote my time to trying to do. The biggest aha! was becoming conscious of my competence.

The bottom line for me in art is this: practice practice practice. As with anything in life, experience breeds competence, and competence breeds confidence. When you are confident your time with your art will lead to mostly successful outcomes, and some surprises that you come to embrace as guidance on what’s next, you will be in the zen of creativity and that is a wonderful place to be.

Solitude and Creativity – Lonely, Alone, Loner?

Awhile back, almost exactly two years ago, I wrote on my blog about my personal experience with being alone and exploring whether I was lonely, alone or a loner. I continue to struggle with the balance between solitude (being alone) and loneliness. I’ve been single now for 20 years, and the subject can be a bit depressing, and also quite uplifting at times.  I have always felt art-making played an important role in how I feel about this, and about myself.

This topic was re-stimulated when I heard a recent Cambridge Forum called Loneliness in the Digital Age. In the forum, they explored whether people are lonely or in solitude by choice.  Is a person at peace with being alone vs. aching with loneliness? Figuring this out is an inside job for all of us, but I know making art/being creative can help.

A commenter to this forum said the following (I will add the attribution when I get it; she was a member of the audience):

There is an interesting paradox – that loneliness actually has something to do with being alone. People feel less lonely when they can connect with themselves, and there are ways to do that. Meditation is one. Passionate involvement with a cause is another. And there is creativity.

We don’t need group activity in everything. Certain things of course. If we have to build something – a bridge – we need group people. We need a meeting like this with group people. However, there are times when we have to be alone and we have to connect with ourselves and we have to know who we are. The eastern philosophers said you have to know yourself, and it is not easy to do that.

But if one is connected to one’s self by various methods, and passionate creativity is the most important one, then I think those people are much much less lonely.

The act of creating is a connection to something meaningful outside of ourselves. When our neural pathways for connection are stimulated, we can more easily be alone and have it be solitude rather than loneliness because we are held within something greater than ourselves. 

One of my favorite pieces of writing is Guardian of My Solitude by Rainer Marie Rilke:

A good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude. Each realizes and accepts that even between the closest of human beings, infinite distance continues to exist. In such a loving and accepting atmosphere, a wonderful living side by side is born and can grow up.

For me, this prose highlights how even when in a relationship, one needs some alone time and how much better if your partner not only realizes that need, but fiercely protects it on your behalf, and likewise. This guardianship is a safety net – a way to be held within something greater than ourselves.

Art-making can fulfill the same need for those of us who aren’t in a relationship or who are in one but with someone who does not “get” that need for alone time. It involves stimulating the neural pathways, at a scientific level, and may go beyond that in connecting us to our higher power, if you are inclined to believe that too.

My past five weeks of art-making in solitude have been a healing time. I started out in deep sorrow about some personal issues and made “sorrow collages.” After four weeks, and 130 pieces of art I made, I began to feel lighter and more hopeful. I’m now in the “hope collages” stage of my art-making. Of course, sorrowful times could return at any moment, but I see an arc inside me from sorrow to hope and on through to faith. The art-making has been critical to figuring this out from the inside out.

So today, go make some art or do something creative. You’ll feel a part of something bigger than yourself, held in safety. Then, you can choose solitude.

When Is A Piece “Done” – Stamp or No Stamp?

Put A Fork In It

You’ve heard that expression “put a fork in it.” Meaning Done. Complete. Ready to go to the table to be eaten. How does “done” apply to art making? It is one of the most difficult and agonizing decisions when you are making art – when to quit?

I see people new to art making go too far all the time. Less is more, but they don’t trust themselves or there is some internal dialog or investment that more is more. I took a painting class a long long time ago in a land far far away (actually, just Merritt Junior College in Oakland CA) and learned so much from the simple pre-class critiques. The instructor would have us pin up our paintings and one-by-one he would visit each one and ask us “What is working here?” and “What is not working?”

But the most informative thing he did was put his hand up to block out parts of the painting, effectively “erasing” them from our view. We could reconsider the piece without that thing that may have gone too far.  Then, he would suggest things in the piece that might benefit from being repeated, such as a dot in the background if repeated over and over would make an interesting pattern in the piece. That seemed to be a lesson in the power of mark-making.

Quit While You’re Ahead

I learned to make a piece, stop a bit short, and put it up on my windowsill at work when I arrived in the morning. All day, the piece would catch my eye and at some point the light bulb would come on. Aha! It needs…..this or that…. Then I would rush home to add that thing. But I am usually starting with less is more.

Sometimes I go too far and that is when collage is a good approach. Collage is the equivalent of the instructor’s hand over the piece. I can take a swath of tissue paper and glue it over the parts of the painting that aren’t working, then do more over that tissue paper, like in this piece:

Before

After


By the way, this piece is still not finished. I want to emphasize the tree, but haven’t quite decided how to do that – with a pen? with watercolor?

Or I can crop down the piece, being brutal to take out extraneous background and close in on the subject so that it really shines. Sometimes less breathing room around a piece is more.

The Stamps…Oh The Stamps

And then there are the postage stamps. Luscious vintage French (mostly) postage stamps I keep in a little container on my bench.

Some pieces just aren’t finished until they have a stamp on them. After making nearly 150 pieces with stamps figuring in somewhere on each, I am no closer to understanding why some pieces benefit from the stamp and why I would never put a stamp on others.

I do use stamps when I have made an actual drawing or painting boo-boo that I want to hide.

That’s the best place to put the stamp. Or the piece seems unfinished and I cannot think of what more I could paint into it to make it work. So I retreat to the little bucket o’stamps and pick something.

I decide quickly. I don’t agonize over it. Typically find the right stamp after 3-4 tries in my pile – mostly based on color harmony. Then I go on to where and what orientation.

I feel such a sense of peace when the stamp is finally glued in place. Completion. Closure. It is the oddest thing. I’m exploring the other pieces I’m doing where a stamp would seem cheap or trite, and how to achieve that same feeling of closure. I’m not sure what that is just yet, but it shows me just how emotional art making can be.

Art at Lunch – Quarter to One, or Don’t Drink The Water and I Hope I Get Caught

I’m writing a book. And by book, I mean a real book, and it may bleed out into blog posts, Facebook posts, and other formats to get the information out there to you all. The book is called Art at Lunch.  Keep up with the making of the book, which might include some working on it at lunch, by visiting my book website: Art at Lunch.

What is Art at Lunch?
Art at Lunch is just that – making art during your lunchtime. Serious art. Art you can use to build a larger body of work, work out ideas, build skills with or creatively solve a work-related problem while making art.

I work in an office job. I love my job, but I dream about doing art all day. I rush home after work every day to make art.  I’m single with no kids at home, so this getting to art at night may be easier for me than some. However, I do have a busy social calendar, and on the nights I have other plans, I find myself dreaming about getting back into the studio.

My studio is a wonderful place to spread out and do big, messy, complicated things like printmaking, collaging with big stacks of found materials, three dimensional work, and anything involving a lot of smelly glue and pots of paint. However, there are many, many art-related things I can work on for just a few minutes at a stretch that help me build skills, stay in practice and build my capacity for doing shows or creating larger bodies of work. Another benefit of doing art in those small, precious moments at work is that it is SO relaxing, and low-calorie!

I am guessing maybe there are lots of other people like me out there who don’t know how to pull of this thing of art-making at work… maybe because they are too shy to try, or not quite sure how to get started.

My aim is to make this EASY for you by providing short lessons/ideas for you to try in a variety of mediums. We’ll give you a list of all the materials – keeping that simple too – and tips and tricks to give you instant success that will help you build confidence quickly. The better you feel, the more art you will make!

My belief is that we all want to be creative – it is in our basic nature as human beings – a survival skill, really. With just a wee bit of information, encouragement and some ideas, I have seen people take off and soar almost immediately. This book will give your art-making wings.

Don’t Drink The Water

Here I am today getting ready for “lunch.” In my lunch bag that I packed before leaving for work was my trusty Moleskine journal containing a line drawing I did last night at an art meeting, my watercolor palette (QoR tin), a water brush, and a rag. I fetched a nice paper cup of water from the cooler outside my office.

Have you seen this joke about artists? Don’t be accidentally drinking your painting water!

I Hope I Get Caught

It used to be that I was worried that my doodling in meetings, making art-related copies on the copy machine, or *gasp* painting in my office would be found out by my co-workers or superiors and that I would be perceived as not-serious, not working through my lunch hour, not not not.

I’ve been practicing making Art at Lunch for about a year now and just today my mind wandered to this place: I HOPE I get caught watercoloring at my desk!!! It’s lunchtime, which is my time. I’m not doing anything against the rules with my materials. It’s my choice whether to spend time wolfing down a sandwich or making a beautiful watercolor.

Getting caught doing something wrong is a mindset, a bad mindset, my mindset. Instead, I imagined what it would be like for someone to come in to hand me an invoice, ask me a question, or request a service and notice what I was doing and stop and watch me paint and then say Hey, I’d like to do that too.

What if instead of hiding in my office, I was painting down in the lunchroom? What if a whole table of us were painting, drawing, knitting, and chatting? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Just something to think about.