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lauramchugh – Laura McHugh

Well, That Was Fun…And What Did We Learn?

It has been some time since I wrote a blog post. A lot has happened since 2017, or even 2019.

I still believe in the written word. Instagram doesn’t do it for me. Facebook is getting bogged down with too many click-bait ads and not enough content from people I know and love or want to get to know and love.

I’ve been dedicating a lot more time to sewing, mostly quilting, since 2020 when the pandemic forced us all inside.  I’ve always loved to sew and having the sewing machine adjacent to the laptop made for easy pivoting from one to the other during “work from home.” 

I made 130 quilts in 2020, and soon found myself being interviewed to head up the Creative & Home Arts part of the San Mateo County Fair. I found my people. My parents had both passed right before the pandemic and I found the sewing, knitting, quilting work that I would come to organize and exhibit by others very healing as it reminded me so much of mom. She could knit a complicated sweater in a couple of days. 

I’ll blog more soon about that and all things art and quilting. For now, it is good to be back…in the office, with others, with family, sometimes in an airplane to France…and here. More normal.

(I did learn to appreciate how much of an introvert I am.)

Sunshine in Early March

Looking West

Looking West Toward the San Mateo Bridge

 

The Salt Building from the West

I love the flatlands of Hayward and how the sun reflects in the late Friday afternoons. The landscape is strewn with industrial accessories – some intentional, like the power lines, and many more unintentional, like the trailers and other detritus. Many buildings, even those new and most recently constructed, remain empty with the sagging economy. My favorite, though, is the old Morton Salt Company building. It is a ramshackled mess, small compared to what would be a modern salt factory. The afternoon sun always makes it glow on the outside, distracting from whatever is going on in it’s dark interior. It will probably vanish soon, now that the groundwater cleanup has been completed. It is in too bad a condition to hope that it might be restored.

Integrating: New Work – Interior Archaeology | Contradictions

I have been searching for my artistic ouerve for years. Almost thirty years to be precise. My first urgings to make art, as a child, were common. Most kids love to create and I was no exception.

Then, as I progressed in school, and found I was good at math and science, my homework consumed more of my time and attention. I knew I wanted to go to college, so getting good grades and taking the right classes trumped any nascent interest in art in high school. Still, I envied friends who took pottery, drawing and painting while I was in calculus and physics classes. I found a certain beauty in these classes, especially geometry, but they didn’t help me develop art-making skills or produce anything of beauty.

After some time as an engineer and mom, I got a set of watercolors and made a painting of something I loved – my 6 month old son, sleeping beside me on the bed. It was a good painting and from then on, I pursued classes in art-making as time permitted. I had four children and a career, so it was challenging to fit that art-making in, but I did.

I worked at printmaking, watercolor, acrylic, collage, ready-mades. I dabbled with oil painting and loved it, but couldn’t get the paint thick enough or dry enough to satisfy me. I thought hot wax encaustic would be my medium but it too frustrated me with its quick “freezing up.”

Then, I discovered cold wax medium (CWM). I felt like I’d found my home.

CWM lets me combine everything I’d worked with to date – paper, thread, textures, oil paints,  and wax – on paper, board or small canvas. I didn’t have to buy anything but a squeegee when I took my first class from Jerry McLaughlin, author of Cold Wax Medium.

From the moment I started working with CWM, I knew it was where I’d meant to be. It flows, it is full of color, luminosity, texture and possibilities. It reveals itself as the painting is worked, and most important of all, the CWM process allows – even forces – patience and communication with the work. The painting tells you what it needs and when it is finished. That conversation has always been central to my work.

New Work: INTERIOR ARCHAEOLOGY | CONTRADICTIONS

My experience is that we are all looking for our place in the world – where we fit and the impact we want to make. And, on some level, most of us are a hot mess underneath it all – dismayed, frustrated, and sometimes lacking faith in a greater good.

My work is an examination of the different paths this introspection takes us down – our personal maps of constantly looking for what is around the next turn and under the next rock – the hope and promise that compels us to keep moving forward.

I use maps as a first layer in all my pieces as a touchstone to ground the journey. Each piece involves as many as 20-30 layers of cold wax and oil paint, including intermediate addition of textures that represent the topography and geography of my interior conversations as I am making the piece.

As I continue to build each painting, adding to and excavating from the paint, I have discovered that the answers to my questions often reveal themselves. This archaeological expedition on the paper or panel is my way of exploring emotions associated with finding the beautiful meaning in what would otherwise seem to be mundane, everyday life.

Please visit the gallery of my most recent work, my artistic home.

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.