Monday, November 29, 2010

The Quality of Light

It starts in late August every year. I notice the golden glow on trees and lawns and houses, then gradually through the fall that beautiful, soft, clean aura becomes an all day filter over everything, making life seem like it's stage lit and special.

Lines For Melly

I had been stressing over the line challenge until I looked at these photos and realized how interesting lines are everywhere.

She greets you at my front door; soft lines and cold
texture warmed by the golden light.

Lines: straight, curved, diagonal for me to draw.

 Sunset from my front porch.  I am a lucky person to live
with this beauty.
I know people wax morbid over the dying of the light and the year, but I quite like the late autumn when the leaves have fallen, been gathered and carted off for composting. There's an elegance to the landscape, not stark, but simplified and modern. I like driving West on these days (even just a trip to the mall), the bleached blue of the sky, the bare branches in silhouette, shaved cornrows of the fields surrounding me, while the low sun catches my eye with a wink and a crooked finger of light as if beckoning me somewhere I should be going.

There is something about this time of quiet color and stripped down scenery that makes me feel calm and clean inside, like I can see my life more clearly too. For me it's a time of renewal, of making way for new plans, new adventures. The holidays will go by in a blur. The older I get the less important the individual traditions become. What matters lately is the realization that the years of my life will only accommodate just so many adventures: I mean to have the ones I really want.

I just finished my first serious trip back to my artist self. I found that the talent for seeing with the artist's eye, and the desire to interpret with my own vision are still intact. I'm primed to move forward. Now it will be a matter of keeping high the enthusiasm without my daily cheering section online; about making goals and keeping them, and not getting lost in someone else's vision of my life again.
First continuous contour drawing in ink.
No Pencil, no erase.

Machine Made Objects make for travel memories.

My first flower has to be my favorite one.

We decided against putting up a tree this year. Normally this is the central symbol of our merry December celebrations, even though it is a thoroughly non-religious one for us. But with no plans for at home entertainment, it just seemed like one more burdensome activity, and how easy it was to cross it off the list. Instead we are making plans for quality time in the windy city. Literally, windy. It always rains, snows, blows or numbs, but still we love December in Chicago. We are getting ready for a dinner dance with other "steel guys" and their partners. My recent inspirational drive ending at the local mall resulted in some purchases of festive attire, where the store seemed to be paying me to take the merchandise off their hands. I did my part in relieving them of inventory, but I'm not sure how I helped with the bottom line. I found some girly clothes that makes me feel special, and if I somehow do damage during the revelry, I won't feel bad about it.

My new week brings a new focus on the needle and the cloth. I am taking Jude Hill's C2C3 (Cloth to Cloth, No.3) workshop online, wherein she will share a bit of the techniques behind her poetic needle arts. In the midst of my sketching and line challenge projects last week, I had made two possible woven bases for the workshop, but they are much too safe, too predictable for this work. I will need to turn a more artistic eye to making something worthy this week. We'll see if I can find inspiration in the golden light of late autumn.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Case of the Creative Overachiever

Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. I know you hear me. You're probably one of us: all the A-type artists out there. You have yet to meet a creative outlet or medium you can live without. That 40% off coupon for Hobby Lobby or Michael's, you need it every week. Always some collection of art or textile supplies that needs a little filling out. And don't get me going on joining up. It was bad enough when classes came in the form of adult ed at the local high school or community center, maybe the yearly convention of your preferred art form --quilters, beaders, painters, multimedia dabblers--come to town, and there goes a week and a week's pay!

But nowadays, what's a starving artist to do, when the computer that faces you down every morning starts whispering your name: "'s a pattern for that thing you always wanted, here's a challenge that's been designed just for you, here's a class by that renowned teacher (and there might never be another!), a book you must read, ten new blogs to follow...heck, Cheryl, the world is waiting for you to write a blog!"

I started this current endeavor just a few weeks ago with a schedule and all good intentions, and already I'm falling behind. So sue me! I'm drawing and painting and sewing so fast and furiously, I don't have time to write about it. Even on my one day off last week from the relentless schedule I've created, I started a new project in yet another of my favorite past times, bead weaving. (And even now I can hear the sound of those tiny glass voices calling me!)

Thousands of tiny glass beads will some day be a bracelet.

These large glass rhinestones are called rivolis. I'm sewing
them into bezels of tiny glass beads.

So it's any given day...And Wow!...all the picture taking and scanning and uploading; naming and tagging and commenting and replying to comments. I can hear my blood pressure rising. I can feel my left brain taking over my right brain, and.. Ouch!...squeezing the creative joy right out of me. Must breath! Must slow down! Must update my Etsy Store. After all, the holiday shopping rush has begun this week and there are unlisted items to be added.

Whoa, horsey! What we need is balance here. The opportunities are so great to learn and interact and practice our skills, but the payback is the loss of uninterrupted time for real creativity to flourish. Real art is not just another task accomplished, or is it? Maybe being too leisurely all these years didn't help either, didn't encourage me to gain the necessary skills that having nose to the grindstone seems to produce. I have gotten the impression from my recent reading of Danny Gregory's "An Illustrated Life" that talent is only a small part of the equation; that putting in the daily work is what brings about the confidence to get the goods out from the creative place and into existence. Six weeks ago I didn't have a flikr account, and now I have a "photostream" of some thirty-six items, some of them even good, all of them a step closer to real art.

Week two of sketching class: leaves

Week four of sketching class: flowers

Week five of sketching class: shoes

This is the final week of my sketching class with Jane. Time to pull out the Moleskine sketchbook I bought for Melly's class last August and used only that one time. Time to take a deep breath, set aside the frenzy, and accept my artistic destiny. I'm going to draw and paint! And maybe do a little beading as well. Or start a new sweater? What about the quilt in the closet...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Can You Say "Synchronicity"?

Just a week ago, I brought up the concept that opening oneself to the possibilities that life offers may result in a surprising number of offers from life. Last Thursday, Melanie Testa, one of my favorite artists, teachers, and all-around artist boosters, blogged about a challenge she had set for herself for the next month or so, and invited us all to join her. The object, as I see it, is to have an open heart to the possibilities of what may come from drawing lines on fabric on a daily basis.

Here was a relatively quick and easy opportunity to continue my drawing practice and relate it to textiles in a direct manner. The supplies needed: fabric, a permanent marking medium such as paint or dye, and a  means of making the marks, a particular sort of pen nib called a ruling pen.

Since I had done some preliminary explorations in early autumn with screen printing, I had on hand leftover soda soaked cotton, and a number of bottles of thickened procion dye. Perfect! Only problem was, I live nowhere near a good art supply store and was not likely to find this "esoteric" tip at the craft chains. What to do? Meanwhile busy with the arrival of out-of-town guests, I put the thought on hold.

The next morning saw us off to Michigan City for sightseeing, a chance for photography of our gorgeous Indiana Dunes and maybe a few dollars lost at the local casino. An outrageously balmy day found us wending our way down rural Hwy 12 through woods and National Park land and past unseen communities tucked away in the dunes. Suddenly, out of the "Myst", rose a mysterious, unassuming structure tucked at the side of the road, promising ART SUPPLIES! We doubled back, thinking, "not likely, but what the heck?" Inside, a rabbit warren of crowded aisles overflowing with wonderful enticing art stuff. A slightly eccentric-seeming clerk knew of what I inquired and dove in to try to locate one. Alas, all that was available was the compass set, that I figured was more than I wanted and not quite right.  I thanked him and went on with my company to enjoy the day.

Looking Northwest form Mt. Baldy toward the Chicago
skyline shrouded in the "Myst".

It may look like November, but it felt like September.
It's usually quite windy atop this five story sand dune, but this day
it was totally calm.

Looking East to the Michigan City's coal fired power plant.

The wonders of nature: who'd think that trees could grow in sand atop a windy hill.

The boating season over, their summer home all empty and quiet.

The lighthouse, a symbol of Michigan City.

Many hours filled with beautiful sights, a great Reuben sandwich, and a terribly rare event for me: I actually walked out of a casino with new money in hand! (Hey, no fortune, but $25 on a half hour of penny slots isn't so bad.) Again, a sort of omen: I had to go back for that ruling pen, even if it meant getting a compass I didn't need. But it was now ten 'till five, and surely they would be closing shop. But no, lights still on, and the manager in his easygoing helpful manner, saying no to the compass, pulling out catalogues to show me what I needed, and then...finding a lone replacement tip to sell me for...just four dollars! Use it as is, or attach it to a handle of something else, he suggested. Sold! 

As I stood at the register to pay with my winnings, what should my eyes fall upon sitting in a pile directly in front of me, but a packet of sepia tone pens I had been craving after just seeing them used that week by a journaling classmate.  A bit scary and magical the way the universe has reached out to get me what I wanted and needed, and for free, too!

The simple tools for the line challenge, ready to roll!

Here is my first line study. Thanks Melly for the challenge; thanks universe for stepping up to assist!

Five and a half inches square. Black procion dye on white cotton.

The means and the booty. And the change!
Note the lighthouse on the store logo.
By the way, the nib fit nicely into the handle of an old foam paintbrush.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The "Way" It Began, Part II

When you have banished the negative voice whispering all the reasons you can't become an artist (or a teacher, or a lawyer, or a travel writer), you begin the process of finding a direction in which to go. In a big connected world like this one has become, where choices get expanded every day through Internet travel, we can see that the possibilities are probably limitless.

Another early aspect of Julia's program (if this makes no sense, please see my previous blog entry) lies in the concept of being open to accepting the possible. The idea that when you ask, there will be an answer and when you seek, you will find. The term she uses, synchronicity, was first conceived by the psychologist, Carl Jung in the 1920's. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, or the answered prayers of organized religion, the concept is intriguing, and, for myself, has had a great amount of confirmation in reality over the years.

There were two synchronous events that happened for me at this juncture. At the very moment of making the decision to follow The Artist's Way, two casual friends from my quilt guild decided to form a small private club that would be dedicated to exploring textile surface design and embellishment techniques. Additionally, withing months of the group's formation, a new magazine, Belle Armoire, dedicated to the same topic, would premiere and serve as a kind of textbook for us.

A meeting was scheduled for that December (as I was beginning my morning pages process) and in January, 2001, Designing Women, met for the first time, and became my creative support system. 

I came to consider them my "sacred circle". This is the artist's close community whose job it is to behave as the spiritual support of her path and work, who will consider "any gathering of artists be in the spirit of a sacred trust." (AW, pg. 205)

I became the group scribe and detailed our meetings and projects for "posterity"
Our first project:
Collaged Fabric

Early surface techniques: Foiling
The photo shows several pillows with foiled leaf motifs inspired by the print of the chair

Into the third year: Needle and Wet Felting Hats 

For ten years now we have taught each other and learned and experimented together, laughed and shared our highs and lows both artistic and personal. We have held and nourished the creative force in each of us to the degree we are able, and that each has sought, and I probably wouldn't have gotten to telling this story without them. Thank you, girlfriends, artists in spirit.

Just this summer: Revisiting Rust and Tea Dyeing

We meet at the December holidays for lunch and exchange of handmade gifts each year.
Mine to the others that year were polymer clay letter openers in hippo bags.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The "Way" It Began, Part I

It was ten years ago, early December 2000, that I was feeling dissatisfaction with the stultifying boundaries of my life, and itching for change that would take me somewhere larger and fuller. What or how this transformation would be, I had no clue, but  I did know it had something to do with my wasted creative potential. As often seems to be the way in my life, when I have really needed something, it has found me as  much as I have found it. This is how, while perusing the shelves at Barnes and Noble, a book of massive import to my life practically fell into my hands. The title was The Artist's Way:  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. What it appeared to be was an accessible twelve week course I could take at home to jump start the journey to "creative recovery". 

I took it seriously, as if I were in a weekly class with Julia, and she did not let me down. The first and most important exercise was to write, to keep a journal called "The Morning Pages": three handwritten pages (for me, single spaced college ruled paper) stream of consciousness ramblings every day before doing anything else. I allowed myself one cup of tea, and in my quiet kitchen I wrote.

Of course it wasn't easy to begin. My first page starts with a whine from deep within the years of stored negativity, self doubt, and fear:  "I don't really feel like writing yet. I've got a headache and now my morning routine is broken." Then the flood began. I continued to write those pages every day for at least six months, and then sporadically throughout the next several years. 
Their purpose was not to start something new, but to release the negativity and the pain about creative failure from my head and onto the page, so that I could move on to other exercises intended to foster positive action. This writing was not for the eyes of others, and I rarely ever reread what I'd written. It was meant to be a purge. Although, upon revisiting some of those pages ten years on, it is very revealing just how much that purge has taken, how much I've changed since then.

So why publish a journal (in the form of a blog) now? Obviously what I intend to share here will be a different sort of record of self-expression. I feel I have long since come out of the darkness and I'm ready for sharing and feedback of a more supportive and practical nature. Those among you on a similar journey will understand. Hopefully you will follow, comment, and supply links of interest. I'm looking for some of you to become part of my new support team, or what Julia calls "The Sacred Circle".  More on that next time.

The girl on the left always dreamed of becoming an artist

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Art vs Arts and Crafts

Somehow we all intrinsically know that there is a difference between "art" and "craft",  yet the real question is how and when and to whom does it matter? Sometimes I care a lot, and sometimes not at all.
During the last few weeks of drawing from life, I have begun to glean the difference for myself: art has something to do with finding the voice within, to make an original impression or expression. 

And yet for most of my life I have been what may be called an "artisan"--someone who crafts fine things by hand. Hey, isn't "artisanal" the word of the day for good foods? Well, I've always had an artisanal home and life. Whether my clothing, my food, my decor, or the gifts I gave--they came from my heart and my hand. So I have to believe it's only a small leap step to expressing my heart and my intellect in a form that may be called "art".

While I work on getting to that place, I often get my fill of great art by visiting the wealth of it that resides in Chicagoland.  I am fortunate to be a member of the Art Institute of Chicago and one of its affiliate associate clubs. Last month we took a trip to see the collections of an obscenely wealthy family (think major corporate CEO) on the North Shore who happen to own a mind bending stash of artifacts from the Arts and Crafts period of home decor and art, primarily but not exclusively, Gustave Stickley. Their property, Crab Tree Farm, is a restored, working farm in Lake Bluff, Illinois, and only gives docent led tours to non profit groups like the AIC. You will never get closer to a museum quality collection (literally walk around rooms filled with stuff, just don't touch) than a personal tour such as this. I was both joyous and queasy to be there, thinking about weighing my good fortune with the morality of how any one family gets to have so much power as to own and control a piece of history like that. But I can't deny I was thankful for the opportunity.

Back home in my garden, inspecting the recent maintenance on my gazebo, I reflected on my own good fortune to live in a "hand built" home of my husband's and my making. The gazebo we built together is a sanctuary of sorts graced with my stained glass skylight. Because you only see the glass when standing close, I often forget how special and beautiful it is.

Six hand built panels, all the same design, but uniquely sized
to fit the spaces of a hand built roof

Everywhere inside my home are pieces of unique craft: stained glass windows and lamps, hand dyed sheets, hand built staircase with unique wrought iron balusters, tiled walls and posts and mantle, and quilts, quilts, quilts everywhere.

What to do with all the leftover dye at the end of a dye session:
Voila! "autumn splendor"

When you have an ugly pole, cover it with tile.
These homeowners are not afraid of color!

Custom made wrought iron furniture by two Michigan  artisans. Nothing is too special for a beloved cat to sit on.

Yes, and although I didn't realize until now, I live in a home inspired by the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement: that people need to surround their daily lives with handmade beauty. 

I live in handcrafted love.