My only big regret in life is that I didn’t take the time to document my experiences more. I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was 16, which is admiral, but I wish I had expanded my entries to snippets of sensory experience and fascinations other than just emotional spew. But, in my defense, I was a teenager and I avoided language arts classes finding them tedious.
Looking back even recording one thing that made my day would have been such a precious collection to look back on. No one told me then that those little vignettes from my life in Alaska, raising my son, and those hilarious “kids say the darndest things” moments teaching 6th-grade science would be so longed for. Of course, I have hundreds of photos but without some words as accompaniment, they are incomplete memories. I was always too busy, thinking I would remember everything. Then “poof” those clear memories vanish like steam. The same goes with some solution to a nagging problem or those creative inspirations I get as I drift off to sleep.
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be”.
Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”
“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”
I needed a large piece of artwork to hang behind our bed- preferably a painting to put the finishing touch on our Covid bedroom remodel. We started this project wall by wall at the beginning of the lockdownto light up a dark vintage 1940s bedroom in this old farmhouse to something fresh and airy. Off came the dark blue wallpaper and the remnants of an old brick hearth- something I hated for the 28 years I slept under it. Now the walls are a lovely light green with white woodwork and new white blinds. This painting would be the symbol of new beginnings.
I am an artist but not a painter- not my thing. My skills are in printmaking, ceramics, and mixed media. In general I work on a smaller scale than this project required. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of an abstract painting of a rural farm landscape in cheery colors. Extensive research online turned up nothing that I liked. Original art was out of my price range. That left the task up to me to manifest the painting.
Often when I am faced with a large creative challenge my first default is procrastination. That was not an option in this case. I wanted this room to have closure. So I fleshed out my recipe I’ve used before (which with some revision works for writing projects)…
Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
Concept– what do I want to express?
Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
Timer to keep me on task (essential)
I broke down the project into small steps such as…
Figure out the proper size of the painting
A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
Set my trusty timer and paint for an hour straight with no interruptions- no matter how scared I was of screwing up. Keep going– paint until the timer dings.
Repeat the above step over and over until done, make tons of mistakes, and paint over them. Revisit reference material for guidance.
I wish I documented the process to show how muddled the first attempts were but I was too involved with the process and making a mess.
Eventually, I started to find my voice which beckoned me to add familiar media: collage paper, water soluble crayon, colored pencil, paint pen, a little gold leaf to add to the sky, and a few ceramic shards from an old pioneer homestead found closeby. Then I started to enjoy the process and looked forward to visiting my studio every day. To get to that point though, I had to push through my insecurities. In that regard, my timer was my best friend.
The finished piece now hangs in the bedroom. It may not appeal to the eyes of others but that was not the goal. I love it. The design represents the landscape around my home. There are details that are personal to me within the piece. Moreso it represents to me that by pushing through your one’s fears, you can accomplish your goals. Just start and keep going.
Some sort of publication, usually mass-produced by photocopying(in some cases, scanned, put on the ‘net, or copied via fax)on any range of topics, but usually filled with passion. A means of telling one’s story, sharing thoughts, and/or artwork/comics/doodles.
The instructor for the Zine lesson of my year-long Words & Pictures class made a 16 page zine of his favorite mustards. Now there’s a quirky idea. How could I top my favorite mustards?
I took a look back in my sketchbook and came across some silly doodles of triangles. The triangle doodles eventually morphed into silly triangle birds. Then I noticed that all the triangles happened to be isosceles triangles (two sides of equal length). Hmm. How about if I made a zine just about silly things made up from isosceles triangles. Thus I went about writing and publishing my first zine, The Isosceles Triangle Illuminated.
This was a perfect pandemic project. I had a hilarious time brainstorming and drawing my triangle ideas. The hardest part was correctly photocopying the back to back so the pages would be in the correct order. Instead of Holiday cards, I sent them out to friends for a good laugh.
Want one of my isosceles triangle zines? Use my contact page and for only $5.51 I will send you one!
If you are any type of creative person you probably have a cheerleader on one shoulder and your inner critic on the other. My muse is my cheerleader, that voice that feeds me sparky ideas and inspiration. My muse is the positive force in my life. My inner critic, in contrast, argues with my muse. She likes to shout words of discouragement and fear in my ear to the point I quiver with self-doubt. Unfortunately, she’s an annoying fact of my life.
I have come up with strategies to deal with this bitchy pest that tries to drown out the voice of my sweet muse. One of them was to give her a name and draw a picture of what she looks like….
Helga, my IC, is an ample pickle-shaped-figure with spiny whiskers protruding all over her grotesque, gelatinous body. She has a high whiney voice resembling the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. The only facial expression she has is a grimacing frown of disapproval.
Daphne, my muse is a sprite of a being that emits light from her colorful body. She dances with joy and speaks to me in cheerful songs of encouragement. Her voice is softer than Helga’s and can be easily drowned out.
I’ve become more adept at isolating those two voices by putting an identity to each. When Helga gets too annoying I visualize swiping her off my shoulder with a THWACK and then dropkicking her out the door. (So satisfying).
Inner critics tend to love periods of creative inactivity. The best way to keep the beast off your shoulder is to diligently keep up your work on a daily basis in some form. Even 15 minutes a day of seat time can make a huge difference can add up to a full article in a matter of days, a chapter, a painting. Set a timer and go.
You can read about the creative process and motivation all you want but the only way to have to leave your squawking inner critic behind is to build momentum. The bike won’t go unless you start peddling. The muse loves to feel the wind in her hair.
Being a creative soul, my brain is constantly mulling over new ideas and possibilities for my visual art and writing. Being absent-minded really means not being mindful of the reality is in front of me in exchange for the reality I’m experiencing in my brain. My head is often somewhere in the clouds growing flowers. A really annoying side effect of that part of the creative mindset is losing things- constantly. I’m working on it.
A few years ago I welded a piece from junk objects I call ” The Goddess of Lost Things.”On her arms, I hang earrings and I have lost in hopes they will return to me (there have been mixed results). Her headdress is made from a rusted pair of garden clippers, some kind of plumbing fitting for her head and various bits of this and that I came across for her body.
This month”s prompt for “The Nuthatch Society,” My petite writing group was “loss,” a topic that can be explored so many ways. Rather than the serious side of loss, I chose this everyday part of my life.
Where the Lost Things Are
Tucked in burrows, sheltered from the obligations of daily use
I imagine they are gathered
Possessions I once held in my grasp that broke free and claimed their independence
The khaki hat I wore on the Camino de Santiago, left at a resting stop under a tree
How I missed its wide brim as my eyes squinted and my brow perspired under the Spanish sun- such a lucky find for another pilgrim
My prescription sunglasses in a case of mustard yellow, guaranteed to catch my eye, my name address & phone number in black sharpie on the back
No strategy foolproof
The red leather wallet lost years ago that fit so easily in my pants pocket. Where are you little one?
Earrings – always my most cherished
The mates, now single, put into service as zipper pulls, charms, and bling for art projects in memory of when they made such a darling couple
Hats, headbands & gloves fallen from pockets on ski trails through snowy woods- usually the ones hand-knitted by dear friends
Sets of car keys
The scarf that dropped from my neck as I walked through the bonny highlands of Scotland
Then the myriad of expensive striped wool socks that enter the wash as pairs and then exit a party of one
At times the lost return by chance or effort
Like my favorite watch of silver and turquoise from Santa Fe
But not before I bought a replacement on Ebay
Now I have a spare
In the end, it’s the curiosity that haunts me, the perplexing questions of how, when and where the lost were lost
Questions I would like to be answered complete with videos and maps before I die
Have the socks and earrings joined in more diverse pairings?
What new adventures did my khaki hat have?
Unsolved mysteries that will most likely remain as such
But for now blessings to all my lost possessions
Thank you for your service and blessings to the finder if there was a lucky soul
I am captivated by tide pools. They are little worlds unto themselves full of creatures and plants of all sorts that seem to thrive at the restless edge of the ocean. Some organisms are attached like anemones, barnacles, rock fucus and, mussels. Some move slowly like starfish, urchins, and chitons, Then there are the quick and nimble tiny crabs and fish. Always there is a palette of color full of glowing greens, oranges, and reds.
Recently I gave myself the challenge to capture the wonder of tide pools in my art process.
Unfortunately, all my prints like the one pictured on the right either wound up in the recycling or in my collage box to be cut up for later use. Rather than doing more of the same, I knew I had to come up with a different creative solution. Instead of interpreting a tide pool in a literal sense I decided to capture the essence of one as I felt viscerally- that is in terms of color shape, texture, and feeling.
This piece on the left as pictured is what I came up with using that other creative solution. I collaged bits of my failed prints into this finished piece giving them a bit of reverence. Without those “mistakes” I would not have been ultimately successful. Overall I am very pleased with this print- it conveys what I feel.
So what does all of this have to do with math scores? After I finished this piece was finished a blurb came up on the radio about Oregon’s math scores being among the lowest in the nation. I stopped what I was doing, listened and pondered that information. Memories of teaching 6th-grade math for 2 years came flooding back and all its frustrations. A majority of my students entered my classroom without a clear grasp of basic math facts yet they were pushed onto higher-level math prematurely. Because of that many struggled, especially with fractions and division with the designer, scientifically based curriculum we were given to teach. (Not one of my 6th-grade students knew how to measure correctly with a ruler at first yet most could operate a smartphone). Yet the powers above pushed harder with more rigor and more testing.
So back to art. There is an amazing amount of problem-solving and creative thinking that occurs in the artistic process. In my baby boomer education, I started using a ruler in first grade for art projects (think required margins) on up through the higher grades We played the recorder and learned music. In secondary school, there was required cooking, sewing and shop classes. All of these required applied math in terms of measurement and understanding of rhythm in music. We understood fractions. In today’s educational environment the arts have been cut in favor of the core subjects, especially math.
My “out of the tide pool” solution to low math scores? Look for a less literal solution. Put the arts back in education on a daily basis and give students something to apply their math too. Oh…and let them have a little fun. Children need creative outlets! And to that old adage I heard so many times, “You can’t make a living as an artist” I say right back, “Most can’t make a living as a mathematician either!” Maybe have students visit tide pools too. Who knows what that kind of experience might inspire?
Every October the Art Harvest Studio Tour provides an opportunity for local artists to open up their studios for the public to get an intimate look at their work and process. Thirty or so juried artists about Yamhill County, Oregon participate. Studios are open for the first two three day weekends in October. Some artists are clustered in the local towns and others, like me, are peppered about the wine country in quaint settings. Art Harvest is in its 27th year. To visit studios there is an $8.00 fee for a button which acts as a wearable ticket to gain entry to the studios
For some Art Harvest is a purely recreational experience, making a fun day with friends, buying a few small items and going out for a nice lunch in between. Others are serious art buyers looking for unique pieces to purchase directly from the artist. Some drive as far as 200 miles away to make a weekend of it or fly from across the country to visit relatives during tour time.
For artists, it’s a chance to have a more interactive experience with people while avoiding the commissions and control that galleries levy. Often being on the studio tour can lead to other sales and contacts. I made sure I had items such as magnets and notecards of my prints that were only $5.00 for “takeaways” and for gifts. Most of my things were in the $20 to $50 range on up to a sculpture for $380.
I was on the tour 20 years ago and then had a hiatus for a teaching career and raising my son. Now in retirement, I thought I would give it one more shot. It’s a huge undertaking and expensive for the artist. The entry fee is $300 which pays for the glossy catalogs, advertising, buttons and a part-time coordinator. Artists must also volunteer on one of the many committees to make the tour function. On top of that, I had expenses of at least $200 for art supplies and display materials. That means I had to earn $500 before I would start to make any type of profit (For anyone wondering why art can be expensive, this is why!) Here is a timeline of the tour experience for the artist…
March– Submit application, images, and fees
April– juried in. Continue to amass a volume of work in ceramics and mixed media monoprints.
Summer– attend committee meetings. I served on the education committee to facilitate school children visiting participating studios. Make more art!
August– drop off two pieces of work to be in the Chehalem Cultural Center show running for the months of September and October. (Many stop by this exhibit first to decide which studios to visit). Be filmed by a local cable access show called Arts Alive. (See video here. My spot starts about 15 minutes in)
September– distribute signs and programs to local businesses and organizations. Get work framed. Clean out the studio with a dear friend who offered to help me. Drape tables, add lighting, hang wall pieces and arrange ceramics on the tables. It’s a huge undertaking to get a studio from a workspace to a display area!
October– Price all work. Place bright yellow At Harvest signs along the routes leading to my studio. Oct. 4-6 AM and Oct 11-13 open my studio from 10 am to 5 PM.
Fridays were very slow so I had time to finish up items not yet completed. Saturday & Sunday could get quite busy. I tried to spend as much time with people as I could to visit and answer questions. In between weekends I made a new herd of ceramic sheep as the first one was almost sold out. The following week was spent in recovery mode. I’m not used to that much talking and being “on” since I taught middle school!
Overall, the studio tour was a great success. Beyond making a respectable profit, it was so sweet to get such validation of my work. I had numerous visitors make a beeline for my studio after seeing my pieces at the Cultural Center show or seeing my page in the program. My new work is quite eclectic and unusual. Working alone as most artists do, I
have to work hard at times to keep my insecurities at bay so having such positive feedback was food for my soul. Thematically I range from whimsical to spiritual depending on what needs to manifest. It’s not for all but there were a fair number of people that resonated with it and gave me positive feedback. It was a great time to make new friends and connect with old ones
I let a few favorite pieces go during the sale. Thes beautiful pieces were kept in storage as I had no place to put them in my house. I was surprised at the twinges I felt as some of these were purchased and left the studio with happy customers. But art should be seen and enjoyed, not hidden away so they needed a new home. I was especially pleased when they were adopted by friends.
If you have not participated in a local open studio tour, try it! Lookup for them online in your area or afar. It will take you on a mind-opening adventure with not much expense.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali
So you walk into an art gallery or an art festival and there is the fruit of the artist in all of its magical glory, looking like it was created effortlessly. What you don’t see is the plethora of mistakes and sometimes heartaches that go into making art. It’s a part of the process. If you aren’t willing to fail, you are not going to learn. This is especially true in the medium of ceramics. There’s no way you can work with mud and transform it into permanent objects without running into some challenges. There are so many variables to contend with in the making- construction, drying, firing, glazing, and firing again at a temperature around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I opened my kiln to find my share of disappointments. The beautiful grape leaf plate on the upper left (traced from one of my grapevines leaves) has a crack down from the notch of the leaf shape. It’s still lovely but not saleable. I’ll use it though. No one will notice under a pile of carrot sticks. Those three lovely bowls with incised grape leaves rubbed with iron oxide all cracked. This was a puzzle. Maybe they got jostled when I removed them from the press mold? These will become part of a mosaic on my future walkway. Then there was the barn owl sculpture with hairline cracks in two places – maybe from cooling too quickly in the pit fire? I love this piece though and I am not sad to keep it.
The failed prints I have cut up and am using in other incarnations such as “quote blocks,” little sculptural pieces with collages.
Thankfully, there will be plenty of other lovely things to look at my studio sale- but the invisible mistakes will be just as much a part of it for me.
They are the cracked
The not quite right
Products of my hands
Victims of experimentation
Or forces beyond my understanding
Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart
Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others