Sunday, January 30, 2011

Get Your Motor Running

Sometimes my mind goes quiet for a stretch and I don't have a need to connect in verbal ways. I mentioned this last week, and yet it struck again. It is not to be construed that I am out of ideas or projects or general joy with life. Actually, just the opposite. I am lately in the "Artist Zone". I am full of the doing. I am absorbed by the doing and don't need to justify, clarify, or quantify. Every day seems to just flow lately. The To Do Lists aren't being written, because there is basically just one DO--create something.

Actually many somethings call me daily, but I let them whine and scratch at the door to my attention. I'll open it when I'm good and ready for you! Today is blog day, yesterday was watercolor journaling day. Each session belongs to itself and no other. Each has all of me. So even with the enticement to "do it all", I am gradually coming into a place of focus and concentration.

The one area that still vexes me and gives me that twinge of guilt is the online connection. As I mentioned last week, I am taking two different classes in two different disciplines with at least 150 other creative souls. If you participate in these forums, you know how demanding of your time and attention they become. You are torn between wanting to know these people who stories are so like yours they could be you, or so different and mysterious, they fascinate with rock star aura. Here is the opportunity to make worthwhile and even lasting connections and yet the time spent talking, knowing and commenting often saps the quiet and the space required to create and learn. So I say here today, if you are one of these new friends, and I've not been duly attentive, it isn't for lack of wanting to, it's to be able to keep up with you!

The Strathmore Recycled Journal Pages lesson has come to a completion and I am thrilled with how much I learned in just these three drawings (in four incarnations).  They have given me a leg up on the use of many materials and techniques and an excuse to just run wild. No pressure, no purpose and yet, a lot of joy and good result.

(You'll get the most out of seeing these if you click to enlarge, or better yet view them on my flikr page where they can be framed in quiet black.)

Where Did Pinky Go?
The addition of a whole lot of doodling with markers, white and gold ink completes the craziness.

Fifi and Cow
Same materials and techniques, more subtly done. Really pleased with the outcome.

Deconstructed Hippo
My total favorite of the recycled pages, complex and very satisfying.

My class in Contemporary Woven Boro has produced two new starts. Unlike the drawing activities, most of these cloth designs have no endgame at this point. They are pure experimentation. Some will be embroidered, embellished, quilted, and used. Some will be considered "sketches" and put aside. Either way, they will mostly not be completed within the time frame of this class, so that I can concentrate on getting the most learning rather than the most product.

Initial layout designed in an online program by Jude Hill. After being woven, the fabric strips representing the earth began to grow a tree. That's how things work in this class. That's why you need time to consider and let the cloth tell you what it wants to do or be.

Experimenting with weaving parts of one t-shirt into another, seeing how knits react to the process.

The place I achieve both learning and product is the class designed to teach me how to get started with visual journaling of my daily life, specifically in small sketch and watercolor vignettes. My skill with both has progressed tremendously since I began the first lesson in session one last October, with three pieces of fruit set in a simple single line frame, with no particular journaling or story.

Week one assignment: keys

Lately I'm all about the storytelling

Now we are being required and released to head out to our public lives, to set aside the concept of still life, and bravely draw what we see in front of us in the "real" world. My first coffee shop session yesterday broke the ice and moved me to a new place.  I went to my artist zone, forgot the other patrons and painted. The only distraction was a truly lovely moment of connection with another artistic soul. A young cashier with a joyful smile came to peek and said, "Isn't drawing fun? Don't you just love it?"

I wanted to drink that latte so badly! (No worries, I didn't let it get cold.)

Truly I have taken last week's keys and headed out to the highway in search of my life. It's going to be a blast of a journey.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Out of Words

This week's topic has been elusive. Sometimes I think it's a miracle that I have written fifteen blog chapters of some length since October. I am generally not a person who is good with verbal self expression. Most of my life I tended to keep my opinion on "important" matters to myself. When I think of this trait, then and now, I'm not sure if it's the lack of communication skill, or just the disinterest in having to have an opinion. I think I have always had a part of me just content to be one with things. When I do want to share, it is mostly personal rather than political and social. I best express myself in color and form, and mostly through the years, by ornamentation of myself and my surroundings. 

Naturally, this let to the battle for control over my appearance, both as a minor, and beyond into adulthood.  My clothing called "costume" or just inappropriate, my hair too long, the makeup/no makeup battles, glasses vs contacts. Every confrontation just serving to strengthen my position: being different was my mode and my battle cry. You cannot critique and devalue my expression without showing you feel the same about me. 

Starting early in life, I started the habit of making things on a daily basis. I can't recall when I didn't have a project involving needles, yarns and cloth; cardboard, crayons and glue. Drawing and painting, the 2D things of expression, while generally encouraged by my artistic dad, was not as favored an outlet for me, because I realized early that the results generally ended in large piles of paper in the closet, out of sight and eventually to be tossed. Meanwhile, things that were "women's arts" were more likely to be used or displayed.

Kindergarden: The awards started early, but the actual art is long forgotten.
(Note that the day  I was starting this scrapbook was July 20, 1969, "Moon Day")

First grade art: A little too stiff and defined, true? School art in those days was not so much about originality as about following rules.

By 6th grade I was being recruited for schoolwide projects like designing programs for music events, and gifts to school superintendants. This rug eventually returned to my school and hung in the foyer.

Of course, at that time, there was not the popular concept of journaling or saving creativity in book form, except the occasional scrapbook of paper souvenirs. Only a handful of my high school or college art has survived in a portfolio that somehow was not tossed. But memories do remain. Memories of loving visual self expression of any sort. (And also of being discouraged from the desired path to an education and career in fashion design.)

So here I sit, near the close of my sixth decade of living in this complicated state: no longer interested in a career, but with the great luxury of time and support and self-determination to do whatever I choose. The Internet allows me to "self-publish" both my thoughts and my visual arts. I can take classes and partake in the verbal exploration of the arts we are sharing. I am taking time every day to delve into my new pursuits in ways I never knew I could without formal college classes. I sit for hours now, drawn to the page or the cloth to express with color, texture and form. I thrill as these things pour from me. And the wonderful change is this: I no longer care what results, as long as it is freely done and mine. It does not have to be practical, or fit a definition, or please someone else. It is not a kit, a pattern, a hobby. It is just me, doing what I need to do, finding a way around the words.

The latest page in my hippo collection journal

Week 3 of the Strathmore recycled journal pages
 adds background texture and depth

I have purchased some sequin waste
 and I'm having fun with circular texture

No real plan, just lots of play and fun

I will be starting my two new classes today, one in drawing my world, and the other in finding the  personal story as bits of cloth come together. I will share ideas and energy with my fellow classmates. At the same time, I hope to hold onto my new freedom to not care what they think of me, or let others define me or limit my self expression because of expectations. This is not about talking about art. This is finally about living it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One Man's Trash

The theme of my art life in this new year has been very cohesive. This is a wonder to me, because the source of my projects is coming from many people and places. There must be something in the air. Yes, I do believe that after all the media attention to "going green" and caring for our planet, it has come down to this: you aren't in the proper groove unless your art is REDUCED, REUSED, or RECYCLED!

It all started with an article I saved from "Cloth, Paper, Scissors",  a magazine for mixed media artists that touted the magical transformation of colorful magazine photo pages into abstract backgrounds for collage, or further for the stories that one could read within the blobs and streaks created by the process. This magic happens by treatment with a certain brand of concentrated orange cleaner ("earth friendly"), not easily found in my vicinity. So far my experiments with the dilute product haven't worked, but my husband, who loves a shopping challenge, is on the case of finding it and making this thing reality.

The second experiment involved a common food source for dyeing, some cloth on hand and some patience. Tea dyed fabrics have been around for years, but tea stained tea bags, now that's the new rage! Recently made popular by quilter and painter, Judy Coates Perez, the resulting papers are used as base layers in both paper and fabric constructions. One cheap box of iced tea sized bags brewed up, some leftover muslin, two days of waiting, and then the patience to deconstruct, clean, and iron the bags, and--voila!--dyed muslin, tie-dyed muslin, and a sort of tie-dyed paper for almost free. When I calculated my lifetime consumption as a tea lover, I could have had about 40,000 tea bags by now! I could have gotten rich selling those cute stained papers to people who just can't be bothered fussing with those teeny, tiny staples.

Deconstructing the tea bags which have been sitting for two days dyeing the  "tie-dye" cloth

Three pieces of tea dye cloth and a couple dozen dyed papers

But lest you think I've just been spinning my wheels collecting trash, I've actually been making some cool journal-based art and getting ready for some soulful cloth and stitch. By now you may have read about or participated in the Strathmore visual journal online workshops. Some of us are working on a month long layered project called "Recycled Journal Pages". This is a fine way for newbie artists like me to learn about basic art materials and techniques, and how to take our own ideas and efforts to another level. I have found in just two weeks, I am making images I never would have imagined and stirring my creative pot into whole new recipes.
"Deconstructed Hippo" Week 2: Added layers of gesso, charcoal pencil, and oil pastel 

Two journal pages related to a December visit to Chicago have been combined and enhanced.  Fifi swims in her  world of wine bubbles while the cheese cow looks on.

"Where's Pinky? Greg and Pinky are transformed into little monsters.

I haven't forgotten that I was, in my previous life, primarily a cloth and stitch artist. Part of my reason for learning to draw and paint is to find a more creative and personal voice to bring to that work. Late last year, a new (old) technique and movement of cloth artists became known to me. The term "boro" (mended cloth) is a Japanese concept of reverence for the preciousness of old cloth with history. It is a slow and careful sort of repair and creation of new cloth from old or scrap cloth, instilling story and spirit into the new piece as it is made. One of the leaders of this movement, and the teacher of my upcoming class, called Contemporary Woven Boro, is Jude Hill, the Cloth Whisperer. If you haven't heard of her, you might enjoy taking a look at her work and her philosophy. She is a poet who lives her poetry.

Old linen fabric, dyed, is woven with rust printed fabric.

An unfinished project from the Cloth to Cloth workshop by Jude Hill. A walk on the beach, the waves, seaweed...?

Meanwhile I am off to spend some time learning to hear the story that my cloth has to tell me, so that I may stitch it in, and bring it to life. Ah, the poetry of recycling!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dust in the Wind

New Year's Day, "The Littlest Hippos" painted and shared with my world, my husband and I head out for out first coffee date of the decade. We enjoy the simple routine of hanging about and people watching at the Starbucks across from our mall. Living in the almost rural burbs, we've only got one mall to choose from and a couple of coffee shops worth hanging in. It will be several years yet before we can retire to Portland, and people watch in many new places, even walking to them to burn off the snacks.

The smallest members of my collection: earring, pins. button and beads

After an hour of filling the senses: coffee, sweet treats, the colorful parade of characters, and a general sense of good beginnings, we headed home in the rapidly chilling afternoon. Grey, blustery skies made for a bleaker drive back. On the radio a favorite downer song of the late seventies, "Dust in the Wind" by the group Kansas. The well known lyrics seemed to send a clearer message on this day of beginnings, to go deep and feel fresh: we are only here for a moment and then we are over. What we do here really doesn't last or matter, accept that you as an individual are just not that important. For just a moment, a sense of loss and sadness, resignation to my utter smallness.

But the next moment brought a second realization, the knowledge of how wonderful that concept really is. I, and what I do with my moment of existence, counts just as much as any other soul and their moment. What I choose to do with that opportunity is just as valuable or inconsequential as any other. So why should I feel less important or more afraid to tap my creative forces? 

At home I started cleaning the work station for the next hippo painting. At Dave's suggestion I will draw the unglazed porcelain with the baby and birdie on her back--an Egyptian themed page, probably. As I stored away "the littlest ones" I realized that once drawn, the objects seemed so much less significant to me in their physical being. I realized that if I lost them now, I don't think I'd care so much. If I lost the painting, I probably wouldn't care either. What mattered was having the experience of recording a vision of my life that day--I had seem something fully, and now I could let it go.

On Sunday, I started a lesson on Visual Journaling sponsored by Strathmore Art Papers. It involved a sort of multi-media art I'd never done. This one, Recycled Journal Pages, had us use our previously made journal pages or art, photocopied and cut up to create new images. At first I was hesitant to start, not sure it spoke to me, and then I just let go and fell into the experience. The hippo quilt that I shared in the last post has morphed into something new. This is "Deconstructed Hippo". The process thrilled me and the results even more. It is something I didn't envision doing. It just seemed to happen. I let it flow uncensored.

"Deconstructed Hippo": torn and cut paper and ink

One of my drawing teachers and mentors asked the other day for her blog readers to share a word they will live by in the New Year. What came to mind at that moment, and that I shared there, was: fearless.  Now I understand how true that will be.