Category Archives: doing life

A Good Mess

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There is, I think, loads of potential in being up to one’s elbows in a good mess. I’m not talking about the kind of mess visited upon you on a late Sunday afternoon when the last thing you want to do is clean up, but a weekend of neglect and fun and living has resulted in sticky mugs adhered to the coffee table and muddy shoes piled by the front door, dirty dishes in the sink, and wild tumbleweeds of dog hair blowing gently along the floor (ahem)…let’s call that a lazy mess.

No, I’m talking about creative mess, which is another thing altogether.  Well, it still might result in a pile of dirty sticky coffee cups, yes, but it’s also evidence of being busy and productive, of being in the moment, caught up, and just going with it, not stopping to worry about it. There is a kind of bravado to it.

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My studio cycles through this state several times a year, the sedimentary clutter building up until I don’t even remember what’s at the bottom, everything covered in a fine coat of graphite and glitter and paint. And where did I put that scraper?!

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Things, I admit, can get a little dysfunctional at the tail end of it. Then I’m ready to take a few hours and sift through, wiping things down, putting things away, rediscovering things, rearranging, scraping wax off most surfaces, shepherding spiders out the door.

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So, this is a different kind of potential, isn’t it?  Like a deep calming breath, a pause. The potential of a clear workbench, organized paints, the windows washed, and the graphite found. (Still need to whitewash that wall, though!)

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Ready for the next mess.

Looking Forward 2014

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This morning I walked past my open green waste bin and the discarded flowers that lay at the top caught my eye.  I threw them out last night and they were rained on a bit.

If my last post was about looking backward, this one is about looking forward. January has been such a lovely month.  I don’t really do new years resolutions, but I usually do a big studio clean, take inventory of my life, and make some plans, set some goals.  That sort of thing.  So in that spirit, I’ll share some of my thoughts/aspirations for 2014:

  • Steer myself out of ruts, and try new things.  Small things, certainly.  Large things, hopefully.
  • Draw more.
  • Stay present.
  • Take some road trips with my son.
  • Read more books.
  • Slow down and notice beauty in unexpected places. See above photo.
  • Write more.
  • Experiment more in the studio.

Looking forward…

A Look Back: 2013

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Oh, 2013, you were a weird one. You had your good moments, to be sure, your elevated events and small everyday joys. But you were also moody and difficult.  Hard to anticipate. Unpredictable.

I did not write here a lot in 2013. I did not feel focused enough to write here very often. My energies were spinning off in different directions. It felt like enough to just focus on my studio practice and hold my shit (mostly) together. Yet still, people came and visited.  I spoke to a few of you who read what I write here, and you let me know that it’s valuable to you. That is gratifying to hear, as I often feel like I am hurling words and images into the void…

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So, in the spirit of looking back and catching up, I present to you 2013, in brief.

  • After a hopeful post-heart attack recovery in 2012, watched as my father’s health started to fail.
  • Helped my parents move when his care was moved to UCSF and he was given a place in a heart study. He received a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) that helped his heart pump and alleviated the worst of his heart failure.
  • Found some balance between letting go of my (college and high school age) children and listening/being present/giving help when they needed it.  It’s a moving target. It’s a dance.
  • Moved toward abstraction. I created my first entirely abstract group of paintings. So much harder than figuration. So much less to hold on to.
  • Took an overnight field trip by myself to photograph in Northern California. Wandered for two days on rural roads with numbers instead of names. Saw a dead coyote nailed to a telephone pole and realized I was really in the sticks. Came back with lots of new material to think about and paint about.
  • Taught two classes at Wax Works West in Santa Cruz. Had a ton of fun doing it. Will do it again.
  • Finished a certificate in technical writing. Spent a few months working part time at writing and graphics. Felt like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Wondered why I was so stressed. Wondered why I wasn’t painting more. Started grinding my teeth.
  • Wanted to draw. Terrified to draw. Did not draw.
  • Didn’t paint for weeks on end. Did nothing but paint for weeks on end. Continued like that throughout the year. Stop and go-go-go.
  • Started re-designing my website. Still redesigning my website.
  • Had my first “real” solo show in 20 years as part of the visiting artist program at R&F Paints. Taught a 3-day workshop there and thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Kingston. Thank you, R&F!
  • Froze my ass off in NYC while I visited with great friends, drank gallons of coffee, explored Brooklyn a bit, and said hello to the Vermeers at the Frick Collection.
  • Finally remodeled the 1970′s “Tahoe Style” family room that came with our house. Whew!
  • I cut back on coffee and decided to just focus on my family and my artwork in 2014. Started exercising again. Felt better.
  • My father was placed on a heart transplant list late in the year.
  • The day after Christmas, the phone call: we have a heart. 24 hours later, that healthy strong heart beat in my father’s chest. I’m still trying to get my head around this gift. The amazing humanity, sacrifice, and science of it. Being by my parents’ sides as they’ve gone through this has been one of the most moving things I’ve experienced. A month on now, and my dad’s recovery is strong.

So long 2013… hello, 2014!

PS: The images above were taken on that field trip I mentioned. The land and water glowed at sunset.

Double Life, and a Studio Clean-Up

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January is just whizzing by me.  Surely, time moves faster as you chase it.  And I feel as if I have been chasing it, with so much to do, and trying to fit it all in.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to just stop, and breathe.  And slow down the moment.  And pay attention.

For months now, I’ve been simultaneously preparing for war and peace, so to speak. ( I think it’s an Einstein quote, and he actually said, ” You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”)    For about a year, now, I’ve been going to school part time to complete a certificate in technical writing.  I’ve also been trying to increase my hours in the studio, ramping up my practice, trying to make a go of being a full-time artist.  The sensible fall back plan, and the big dream.  I feel like every day I get up and just throw myself at it all.  There is rarely a sense of completion, because there is always something more to do.  I just keep setting little goals, and moving forward.  Inch. By. Inch.

There are financial pressures.  I don’t know if the artwork can answer them. It seems to be gaining traction, but I have to wait and see how it all shakes out.  I really want to be able to jump in with both feet into… something.  But for now, I must simultaneously prevent and prepare.

Painting and technical writing might seem at odds with one another.  And it does feel like I’m living two lives, or preparing for two futures, or even two potential selves, sometimes. Each activity exploits different parts of my personality.  But the two things also compliment one another in remarkable ways.  When I was working my way through my foundation technical writing courses, I was struck with how the skills I was learning could be directly applied to all of the writing that I am required to do as an artist- statements, bios, website copy, etc.  Active voice, defining audience, elegance, efficiency, specific language, direct style.  My studio notebook has become my constant companion, and I’ve learned to just get it all down, and edit later.  My editing class sharpened my attention and further developed my appreciation for brevity and specificity in my painting practice.

Right now, I’m taking a course in Information Graphics, and I find myself asking different questions in the studio.  Questions like “What is the question that the work answers?” and “How do I shape the data to answer the question?”.  It’s all pretty interesting stuff.

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One of the things I always do in January is clean my studio, and this year was no exception.  I also tried to create a “clean” area, over to the right, for a drawing space.  I’m trying to have a corner that isn’t covered in wax and paint splatters! (I know–good luck!) I’ve also added the memory foam mat on the floor, because all the standing takes it’s toll.  If you don’t have one of these in the studio, get thee to thy computer, and order one.  They are heaven.

Well, then, back to work!  I have a data set to download, and some paper cutting to do!

Hunting the Unseen

A few days ago we had a low, low tide- the kind of low tide that only comes once in a blue moon (literally, this time…), and so we all bundled up and headed for Maverick’s beach by the harbor. The sky was dark, the clouds low and threatening. It was windy. But I was so glad we went out.

There is so much beauty in these gray and blustery days, and this particular day, we had the pleasure of seeing what is usually hidden by the sea. We walked on rocks usually submerged. We could see the kelp anchored to the rocks, starfish clinging, and crabs backed into the deep cracks, staring out at us, as if we had crashed their party, and they were utterly annoyed. The beach becomes unfamiliar, foreign, and all the more beautiful for it.

It occurred to me that this is often the work of the artist- hunting the unseen; making it seen. Finding unnoticed beauty, and bringing it to the light. And sometimes a low tide is just what we need…

Here’s to 2010, a new year, and a new decade. May it bring you all light, love, and prosperity!

Catching Up

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We don’t get a whole lot of fall color here on the mid-California coast. But I am savoring fall, anyway. This is my favorite time of year. 

After a long bout of illness this summer, I “came to” sometime in early October, and realized that my blog (among many other things) had been sorely neglected. So in the spirit of catching up a bit, here are some things I’ve been up to. I somehow managed to pull together my show here in town at Enso; we had a wonderful opening and I received loads of positive feedback. I’m now busy preparing for another show coming up in February. So, I’ve been working in my studio, if somewhat sporadically. Earlier this month, I attended the IEA retreat in Carmel, and got some wind in my sails. The retreat was wonderful, and I met many other artists from all over the country. The speakers were great- hearing Tony Scherman speak was definitely a high point for me- and members demonstrated techniques, which was also interesting. I came away inspired and full. On my drive home, I pulled over several times, because I had to write down everything I was thinking before it got away. Just download into my notebook. Somehow, talking with and listening to other painters helped me crystalize some of my own goals, which have been fuzzy for a while. 

And now, after the buzz has worn off a bit, I realize that it is fine and well to think about painting, but a time comes when it is painfully obvious that I’m doing more thinking than painting. And that it is time to shoehorn painting back into my life, an hour at a time, and re-set some priorities. It’s never ending- the process of picking oneself back up, brushing off, and walking back into the studio.

Inspiration: walking and seeing

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“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”   -Rumi

One of the trickiest things, I’ve found, about making images is the simultaneous need for experience and innocence. On one hand, we want to bring our years of experience to bear in the studio. On the other, we want to be able to see as if for the first time; an adventurous and inventive eye must not be hobbled by what it thinks it knows and sees.

This summer, I’ve been walking the same route through the fields, almost daily, and like to practice seeing things with a fresh perspective. A few times, I’ve taken my camera, and it has been so fun to look through that magic window and see how limiting the view can sometimes expand how I see. 

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Artistic perception is this great elastic thing that must be exercised to stay limber and responsive. Ironically, doing something repetitive is sometimes just the thing to practice keeping things new.

Leap…..

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Sometimes, the hardest thing is simply beginning.

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And once I begin, it is rare that I want to stop. As I approach a painting session, or a block of time in my studio, or begin a new painting or body of work, my doubts and insecurities often crowd me, beckoning me toward some other soothing activity like working in the garden or reading a book. Baking cookies. Catching up on email. Cleaning the toilet.

No, really, it is fascinating to me that after 20-something years of painting, that I can still have these feelings. It’s like that squirmy, resistant feeling you get right before jumping into a cold lake or swimming pool. After jumping, I always get a little rush of adrenaline, and then have the thought that it’s really quite nice. Wonderful, even. 

How do I get to the other side of those feelings with my artwork? I remind myself to just begin.  Then I give myself permission to do something other than painting in my studio if I just do not feel the flow after a little while. I could tidy my studio, or do some preliminary drawings, I could go outside and photograph, make some color charts, write in my art journal. Whatever. But almost always, I find myself caught up in the riptide of creative momentum, and I paint. 

“Leap, and the net will appear”

-Unknown

Momentum, Revisited: Routines and Habits

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What makes a routine work? 

When I first started writing this blog, I had recently been to a yoga workshop, taught by Rod Stryker, called “Yoga of Fulfillment”. One of the most powerful things I came away with was the idea of a “Samkalpa”.  Samkalpa means a resolution, a resolve, or an intention. Mine is defined by my desire to have momentum in my studio time, and to feel the thread of fearless creativity running through my life, weaving what then seemed fractured, together. Since then, I’ve supervised the building of a studio in back of my home, to better integrate painting into my busy family life. I’ve been much more productive than I’ve been in a long time, and have at times felt the momentum running strong.

I’ve always gotten my household and homeschooling “work” done in the mornings, and eked out a few hours of painting in the afternoon. Most days. Much of the time, this works great, and I love the way my studio warms up in the afternoon, and the sun through the skylights. But lately, I’ve been thinking about how the first things I do in my day pretty much always get done. I don’t find myself wondering first thing in the morning, “hmm….. I have time to either take a shower or brush my teeth. Which one do I do?” But I do find myself having that mental converstation with myself over, say, painting and exercising at 4 in the afternoon. Or painting and seeing a friend. It dawned on me that the things I do first are- literally and figuratively- the things I put first. So I’m experimenting with getting out into my studio earlier (after I’ve brushed my teeth, of course!), and working a bit longer. It feels strange and different. But productive. 

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of it is not checking my email before I go out to work. But if I do, before I know it, I’m reading the New York Times online, or catching up on my blog reading- and there goes an hour. Or two. Ahem.

So I’m curious about you artists out there- what habits and routines do you have that help you get your creative work done? How have you changed unproductive habits to productive ones?