“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Only press on: no feeling is final.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours
At the beginning of every year, I like to take a look backward at the previous year before looking forward. Last year, I said that 2013 was weird. 2014 kicked my ass. Things, as they say, got real. Winter is always a time of introspection and generation for me, and it’s in this spirit that I offer this look back:
- We kicked off the new year with excitement about my father’s heart transplant. It was successful, and his recovery was strong. My parents lived with us during his early recovery, and I was able to have lots of quality time with both my mom and my dad. What a gift.
- I continued to teach, and I even took a class myself, with Laura Moriarty. It was such a treat to be a student again, and to use wax in ways so different from my own. I’ll be learning more from others in 2015.
- My son and I visited schools in Southern California. I can hardly believe he’ll be going to college in the fall.
- I took a wonderful trip to New York in July with my husband James, and some really fun friends. Walked the high line. Checked out the gallery scene in the lower east side. Walked the Brooklyn Bridge, drank too much coffee, and generally had a fantastic time.
- I started drawing again. I drew and painted a series of 50 tiny images in 50 days.
- Started running again, after a break of many years. I had forgotten how much I love it.
- In August, a sad thing: my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly from an embolism.
Okay, I just sat here for half an hour lost in thought while the cursor blinked on the screen. What can I say? Most people I know have lost someone close to them, and a lot of my friends have lost parents, so I don’t feel alone in this experience at all. For me, it felt as though I’d tripped and fallen into a very deep dark hole for several weeks. Reality felt a little slick, and time seemed to slow down for a few months. There was a lot of business to attend to, and family to check in with, and my mom to worry about.
And then, slowly, things returned to sorta-normal.
But they haven’t, not really. And that’s where the lines from the poem above come in. My main message to myself throughout this ordeal was the same one I try to hold with making art: Stay with yourself. Stay with the moment. Pay attention. It’s all okay. It all passes by, and we come out the other end. We are rarely the same person, though, if we are really paying attention. I see that as a good thing. I’m still sad sometimes, and I miss my dad, but I feel more settled in myself as well- more present in my mind, more attached to my bones, with more gravity in my heart.
Life (and art) changes us, if we let it.
I’ve been sensitive to the rhythm of my work lately. More so than usual. I think it’s because I’m pushing out in a few directions beyond my habitual territory—photographing more, drawing, experimenting with new mediums—and it’s uncomfortable. Starting something new is exciting, yes, but it’s also emotionally difficult.
An idea is only a beginning, and what follows the initial rush is usually heavy with failed attempts, self doubt, resistance, and moments of profound lethargy. Sometimes, if I am persistent, this awfulness is followed by hints of something good. This stage is filled with intuitive changes of approach. If I keep going at it, the cycle of thought and action come together with integrity, and a new direction emerges. Then I know it’s time to get up and run with it. Until then, it’s a bit like wading through deep mud.
These ups and downs…I’m starting to embrace the idea that this is just part of the ebb and flow. Adding new things to my creative practice also shakes up my routines, and I find myself re-negotiating my work rhythms, both energetically and emotionally. For instance, I have to be rigorously honest with myself about the difference between procrastination and giving a certain work some space to settle or develop.
When I’m trying new things, procrastination turns into a proper noun. Meet Procrastination, capital “P”. It takes a lot of self-honesty and dedication to have any kind of creative practice. Add fear and doubt to the mix, and Procrastination, and it’s evil twin, Resistance, become my constant companions. So I am daily having to tell them to piss off. I’ve got work to do.
It’s been a while since I wrote here in this space, but I wanted to share a few upcoming events with you… the first is a brief artist talk I’m giving this Sunday:
This is very casual and fun, a quick thing to drop into on Sunday afternoon. If you are in the area, come by and say hello!
The second announcement is that I am teaching a second 3-day class this year at Wax Works West. In my classes, I focus on control, layering, and transparency, and my students have a lot of time to practice and work in the super supportive environment that Judy and Wendy provide. I know this seems that this is really far in advance to be announcing this but my prior classes have filled fast, so if you are interested in joining us, don’t hesitate- check out their website schedule.
Maybe I’ll see you soon…
Working hard on paintings for an upcoming 2-person show in May at Hang Art in San Francisco. This series of paintings continues to move forward, and continues to inspire me with new veins of ideas and symbols. The paintings always refer back to the experience of being outside, in nature, in the open air, in all seasons and weather.
I’ll post more information about the show later… so stay tuned.
I came across a great quote by Henry Miller that alludes to uncertainty, though Miller uses different terms. I knew I had to share it here. The life preserver analogy is especially powerful to me; again, no risk, no art.
“I had to learn to think, feel, and see in a totally new fashion, in an uneducated way, in my own way, which is the hardest thing in the world. I had to throw myself into the current, knowing that I would probably sink. The great majority of artists are throwing themselves in with life-preservers around their necks, and more often than not it is the life-preserver which sinks them. Nobody can drown in the ocean of reality who voluntarily gives himself up to the experience. Whatever there be of progress in life comes not through adaptation but through daring, through obeying the blind urge.”
*Quote via Brain Pickings.
Specifically, embracing uncertainty. Something I’m working on, because I’m generally not a big fan of uncertainty. Uncertainty is… uncomfortable.
I do believe, however, that uncertainty is a vital part of making art. Starting something new, how are we to know what will come of it? “Is it going to work? Where will it lead? Will it be total shit? Why am I even doing this?…” That is the sort of thinking that tends to take over when I start new things. It’s a vulnerable feeling. But here’s the thing: without risk and exploration, things dry up. Art requires movement. It requires progression. It requires risk. It requires action.
Most of the time, the experiments don’t work out. Every now and then, they do. Sometimes, they trigger a cascade of work that can last years. But it all starts with willingness to embrace uncertainty. So, that’s something I’m working on right now: setting some time aside to just play with different materials, play with different ways of thinking, play with failure, even. Cultivating uncertainty.
Above: Some of my current experiments (playing) on mylar.
Tools and materials are my partners in creativity. It’s sometimes easy to forget how important they are- how, often, it is a newfound tool or a deviant accidental mark that sets me down a new path of image-making. Some of these tools have been with me so long, but I’ll try to recall how I collected each one, and what I use it for. Left to right.
- Ace blade. Newest tool here. Used for paper cutting and stencil cutting.
- Tiny screwdriver. Lifted from my husband’s toolbox. Used for intarsia and mark making.
- Ice pick. I’ve had this forever and ever. Used for piercing and intarsia mark making.
- Metal brush. Hardware store. Makes interesting marks when heated.
- Sewing snips. A gift from my local embroidery shop owner. Used for detail trimming of paper and thread.
- Drill bit. See thievery, above. Great for drilling through wax. Or wood.
- Sewing marker. Actually, don’t know what this is really called. Found in old sewing box in thrift store in Modesto, CA. Used for mark making.
- Metal eye dropper. Bought at Encaustic Conference in Massachusetts a few years ago. It’s great for filling in empty marks with hot wax for intarsia.
What about you? Do you have favorite or unusual tools that you use in your art practice?