Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Art Camp or Bust

When I was a kid, summer was all about the out-of-doors: enjoying the weather (never too hot for a kid), the friends in the neighborhood (real face-to-face friends), playing in water to keep cool, using your imagination and savoring the sweetness of something inherently fleeting. Times were simpler and we were of average means. Water might mean the huge community pool with mobs bobbing, then sunning on towels on the hard concrete, the foot deep baby pool in the backyard, or most especially, running through the lawn sprinkler. We built forts under trees, caught fireflies in jars, drank pitchers of Kool Aid and waited every day for the pied piper music of the ice cream truck. Life, in short, was great.
Our favorite past time, beside art, is observing nature and the garden.

Chillin' after a wild storm played havoc with our nature.

Sunset on the front porch is one of the best times of our camp day. Work done, satisfaction registered.

But for some we knew, there was a different sort of summer routine. People with more money then we went away to "camp" where they took lessons in the arts, rode horses and played team sports, put on plays, sang around the campfire, and engaged in myriad mysteries we just knew belonged only to that special society. We were given a taste of camp several times in our youth, but that meant a two week session at a nearby day program, or the endless overnight misery of Girl Scout  camp, with latrines  we not only used but had to clean, sleeping bags in wet fields, tents with huge spiders on the ceiling, and more chores than fun.

Chores still need tending.

July 1 ? 
I thought I had found my final chance at real camp the summer after my freshman year at Penn State (sweet 1970). I was recruited with a lot of other foolish dreamers in need of a few bucks and a place to continue escaping home, to be a counselor in the Catskills of New York, in a little town called Bethel. If you're old enough, you might recall that's where the original Woodstock music festival had taken place just the previous summer.  I went with high hopes that quickly turned to homesickness and desperation after realizing I was neither cut out for camp life, nor was I the camper. I was a designated slave for ten weeks at slave wages and almost no free time, and nursemaid to five year olds who wet their beds and didn't like sports in the sun any better than I did. I broke out after two and a half weeks (along with about a third of the staff who felt the same way), returned home to work in a factory assembling riot control guns in a time when I was likely to be marching and in need of "control". But those were days when you did what was necessary to be independent of your parents, and I was trying the best I knew how.

In "Shoot Your Art" with Steve Sonheim, I learned about the magic of a couple of shop lights and a level. This quilt, called "Dancing Solo" was made specially for illustrating the design technique, blind painting, for the book "Design Explorations for the Creative Quilter" by Katie Pasquini Masopust.

Getting psyched for summer camp with Carla, we drew on our imaginations and sidewalk cracks.

Fast forward to my current life in "almost" retirement. In a sense, every summer day is camp. Sure I have many household responsibilities to fit in to the mix, but I can craft a day to take advantage of sun and summer opportunities. This year I have been doing what I would have if I could have as a kid: attending art camp.  Of course, it hasn't been the sleepover variety, but that would've involved a lot of travel if it did. You see, my teachers and fellow campers are kind of spread out around the world. So we meet each morning at the computer to get our schedule, go off to a day of creative sessions (with some responsibilities squeezed in) and return at dusk to share around the campfire, although our fire is the flame of "flikr" or Yahoo groups or our counselors' blogs. Works great except for having to make your own s'mores. But I don't have to take swimming lessons (not a water baby), I get to sleep in a private air conditioned room, eat when and what I want. For exercise, I choose to walk every day for 4-7 miles  instead of having to sit on the sideline of a hated team sport, have iced coffee breaks on the porch and a grownup beverage, if I desire, at day's end. I don't have to drink bug juice in a saggy wet suit or be bullied by mean girls. I do miss the story time around the fire, but some days the stories on campmates blogs are far more captivating, and I get to choose which ones to read.

Learning to loosen up and be expressive, these one-liners were so much fun.

As was scribbling.

Coffee  breaks are important in a hectic camp schedule.

Just a little shout-out to my great counselors: thanks, Steve and Carla Sonheim (calling in from Seattle, USA) for photography and drawing lessons, and happy attitudes. Thanks to Sharon Boggon, stitcher extraordinaire (all the way from winter in Canberra, AU) for her excellent lessons in creative embroidery design, the art of discipline with freedom. You can check them out for your next summer camp. But why wait, when summer is a state of mind, and it will soon be summer again in other parts of the camping planet.

At the end of week one, four paintings entirely from imagination, with the help of Carla's techniques for discovery.

Never a plan, just working from the "gut" and having fun.

When you finally like them, they are done, and not a minute before!

Oh, and as counselor Carla says is the first order of business: "spring out of bed enthusiastically!" You know that I always do!
My "blob" creatures are full of joy!