Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In the Summertime When the Weather is High...

The creative life presents such a quandary. To be creative you have two paths to follow. Practicing your craft is the most obvious: drawing and painting, photography, stitching, time spent designing and recording the parts of your world into interesting new manifestations of your perceptions and feelings. And yet there is an essential and primary path to being an artist: knowing how to be alive in the world. Being both an observer and a participant in the order of things is where you find the meat of your creative vision. There are many ways and places to do that interfacing, but for myself, the recharge comes best from direct connection. And in the summertime that means just go outside and plug in to life.

Looking at life through the canopy of a Japanese maple.
 What was planted as a spindly leftover that lost one-third of it's bulk the first year is now a beacon for my house from down the street.

Life and inspiration are everywhere right now. Sunlight and shadow, soothing breeze and violent thunderstorm. The constant movement of birds and insects across my path. The drone of mowers. An endless stream of golfers in carts and golfers addressing their shortcomings. 

The cool spring was perfect for abundant long-flowering of my azalea.
The garden hippo approved.

Ah, but the birds. They have been my constant companions lately. The drama of the territory and the building of homes. The whole birthing cycle with me as enemy of the peace (sometimes the squirrel gets chased from her new nest). Hey everyone, it's a big tree and plenty of space for all. But in reality, always the sad realization that some will be found lifeless in the grass and others too slow in the streets, and the hawks ever circling and watching. On my walks across the end of the lake, the swallows dive and swoop around my feet as if I weren't there, but the lone great blue heron will be threatened and take off across the water. I haven't seen the trio of swans yet, but they are probably nesting in a cove. At sunset, the entire population of seagulls takes to the sky and circles the big lake, always moving counterclockwise. I don't know why.

One of the backyard nursery occupants. She shared the gazebo with me on a couple occasions (until Mom and Dad wised her up about the ways of humans.)

The last of four to leave the nest. Never leave home during nest building, or robins will take all your favorite spots!

And my garden. Built on twenty summers of love and careful attention, and it's own will to return, expand or contract, give and receive. It has grown mature and lush, and I am continuously startled to know it is mine. And yet it is not, for when I move on in retirement, it cannot come with me, and those who come to stay in my place may abandon or remove it. I cherish it while I can, and try not to feel sad to move on.

Early growth in the formal herb garden: Echanacea and Sweet Woodruff,  plus an interesting planter that will hold mint.

My favorite clematis produces a major cascade of these lavender colored blooms.

Cranberry iris: a week or so of glory, and gone.

Oh yes, summer can fill you up before you ever gather friends to the grill, or head to the beach. So art has slowed down for me on this first summer of my declared art life, and yet I am happy and at peace. More often than not, I am pulling out the camera instead of the sketchbook. I need to record the constant changes of color and light and growth, and I need it to be quick, and not a major project.  In fact, I am beginning a two-week class to improve my skills a notch. Photo Silly is being offered online with Steve Sonheim (and a great assist by Carla). I am excited for the assistance and the feedback of the forum. I am learning to love this ongoing connection to other seekers of the creative life.

This practice assignment involved looking at light sources to begin to understand their effect on the subject. Then we ate the meal and shot the changes. What would life be without peanut butter and jam?

Because flowers are here for the picking, it was a good time to try eco-dyeing this past weekend. I'm not sure I have the big passion for it, since I started studying silkscreen printing last year and expect to return to that after the photo class is over. I like intentional mark making and graphic, bold lines which silk screen can easily reproduce. But it was fun to try after Jude showed us some delightful purple from petunias. I gave it a go after realizing everything was at hand, including a copper mixing bowl I had the foresight not to give away cheaply at my yard sale last week, some gorgeous dark eggplant petunias and grape purple pansies, a bit of habotai silk leftover from my recent shibori class, and some cotton twine. The resulting cocoon sat in some water in the copper bowl for a day and produced a seemingly tight connection between fabric and purple (with a tinge of green and some green cotton string.)

Copper Magic

The cigar is a roll up of habotai silk and flowers. The green comes from the copper bowl.

About twenty hours of contact between flower and silk. Rinsed and ironed.

Because I'd rather stare out the window and daydream, I have resumed a pleasant UFO from the late '90's to complete. It needs much rambling stitch for a ribbon effect, and them some simple free motion quilting. The blank powder room wall has been waiting two years to receive this quilt, and I will soon enjoy looking at the Finished Object every day.

"Almost" as good as being in the garden. (Not really.)

Machine embroidered ribbon detail.

Another set of curves.

I am also continuing to practice telling stories in stitch by embroidering a woven piece I started just prior to becoming a member of Jude Hill's cadre of slow cloth storytellers last winter. I loved it mightily before the stitching began and it is very difficult for me to use it as an experimental learning place, but how else can I make art or learn to be better, except to do that? I recently shared the story with my SEW forum buddies. It involves years of self doubt stemming from childhood. You see, as a kid, all I wanted to do in life was be an artist. But family and teachers without my vision steered me from this path, and onto none in particular, wasting a lot of creative time trying to fill the void. Before the Internet, a person's world was considerably constrained to family and friends of a local nature, and sometimes that wasn't a wide enough support group. So this piece is entitled "I'm Tall Enough to Do This Work" (a reference to other's unfair stereotypes laid on my shoulders.)

In the just pinned stage. The piece is currently being hand embroidered to continue the story.

The weave is built on the shortened hems cut from my jeans, and many types of hand painted cottons, recycled kimono silks and a bit of linen napkin.  The journey to today plays out from left to right with childhood in fresh green, thwarted by black through some muddled and diffuse middle years, and on to a time of upward growth and warming self-acceptance on the right. This piece came to me in a flash--probably my first stab at conceptual art. It started my journey.

A sculptural teak root bench on the front porch.

This summer I will absorb life, and I will practice new skills. I will think about how far I have walked in less than a year. I'm going to "chase right up and touch the sky."  And then maybe a picnic at the beach.


  1. Thank you for the garden tour...lovely! So many wonderful elements there and in your life. May the summer open you even more. Plunge in and let the experiments unfold. Trust your process!

  2. what a wonderful post. chock full of great words and photos. just love that pot with the lips and you got great results with the dyeing. i guess i need to plant purple pansies for next year. you are and always have been an artist.

  3. Great food for thought, Cheryl, and delightful photographs, too. I'm always glad when you post.

  4. Fabulous post. I rarely read through an entire blog post, but you captured my attention, and I quite enjoyed your beautiful photos, your story, and of course, that beautiful quilt! I am quite certain you ARE and ALWAYS HAVE BEEN an artist.

  5. This is a lovely post with beautiful and interesting photos to go with it! nancy

  6. Wonderful words. Thank you for the peek into your garden. I love the hippo and the lips planter. The teak root bench is beautiful. I love this time of year. For some reason it feels more like a time of renewal to me than January. Your journey to your artist self is similar to mine. I am so grateful that I found that part of me, as I am sure you are that you found that part of yourself. As I said before, your woven quilt is even more beautiful because of its story. Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. what a glorious shot-in-the-arm of inspiration :)

  8. funny....my parents had the opposite push with my brother and i, but then they were both artists, so i guess that doesn't count. their parents didn't have a problem with them being artists either...so double-don't count. sorry.

    anyway...i really like the added hems! clever you.

  9. cheryl, i am really taken with your weaving and its story... and i commiserate and celebrate with you. i have been in the same boat. but isn't retirement age wonderful? somehow everything gets so relaxed! i am not beating myself up anymore and am enjoying what i want to do! you are obviously an artist. you have the sensibility ... i can see that already in this one post... have courage!!! and see you in jude's class.
    namaste , nance

  10. Interesting that so many have a similar plight/struggle with wanting to be artist and yet being discouraged .. I could easily speak to this and yet art has always been a vital part of who I am. Today I recognize and can state emphatically that I HAVE to create art/photos/stitch/garden/mess it doesn't really matter which it is as all are necessary. Sometimes it's good for me to think that all the labor of pushing through the hard things in life make doing what you love all the more sweeter. I'm glad that you've found your truest self and are holding on to that!! Love your garden and I'm with Deanna .. love that face pot.. so kewl.!!! :)Tammy

  11. What a rich and thoughtful post. For me the garden is just as much of an art form as the rest...and yours looks beautiful.