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.
From my journal. After a few years I’ve realized that the “new abnormal” is the new normal. As if the old normal wasn’t challenging enough! Here are my strategies to navigate this ever changing world, subject to change of course.
I enjoy working with clay bodies other than white (see my post The Color of Clay). In my work, mostly sculptural, glaze functions as an embellishment rather than the main attraction. This comes from my aesthetic and my dislike of the glazing process! I find the contrast between the glazed and the unglazed piece quite interesting, especially with a toasty or reddish clay. Two years ago I started working with this black (actually a deep chocolate brown toned) clay body.
Clay gets its color from certain minerals and pigments. Iron oxide is what makes terra cotta clay red. In the case of black clay, the color is from burnt umber. It is a pigment in short supply these days so a bag of clay will cost you a few dollars more. Any highly-pigmented clay is messy to work with and this is like working with black mud. Wearing a good apron is key. Regardless, the end result of this clay is worth it.
My work is primitive. The pots are formed from strips I have coiled up. The little goddess figures are pinched forms, the larger from small slabs. I have fun dressing them up with wire, beads, and feathers after they are fired. The arms on the larger figures are from juniper wood I gathered in New Mexico.
Here are a few pieces I created this fall for gifts, for a gallery I am in, and for myself.
I have some of the small and large goddess figures left. If you are interested in purchasing one please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two years ago I started a daily doodle practice after challenging myself to do something artful every day. I’ve written about this before on this blog but I thought it worthy to bring around again being the New Year .
I decided about the only thing I could successfully commit to doodle in the 2” square of my day planner since it wasn’t being utilized for anything else. The ground rules I made- use pen, no erasing, no self-criticism, go back over it later and add to it if you want. Be spontaneous and just see what comes up. Often I only see the merits of an entry until I let it sit for a day or weeks later. Sometimes I take the previous day’s idea and make a different version of it.
This is the painting I wake up to in the morning and go to bed to at night. It brings me a sense of peace and order when I look at it.
Why did I paint this?
The migration of birds fascinates me: What inspires them to leave? How do they navigate their journey? How can their tiny bodies withstand travel of thousands of miles of such rigorous travel? Then there’s nature- always an inspiration.
In this painting with a base of sponged, brushed, and stenciled acrylic on a 12 x 12” dimensional artboard, we look down on a flight of white birds over forest. Stenciled ferns are below the abstracted trees. The symbol of a river is collaged on the upper left quadrant and the collaged 4 negative triangles in the lower left quadrant symbolize direction. Most of my collage papers are made up of “failed prints.”I bless my failures as they never fail to add the perfect touch elsewhere. Rain is represented in the upper right quadrant by stamping a painted piece of corrugated cardboard.
To add a little sparkle I added a bit of gold leaf at the top. A stamped Asian symbol on the lower right quadrant adds a zen quality to the piece.
I took a larger cradled artboard, flipped it over, and painted it black. Then I mounted the painting inside of it to add a dimensional frame. This is an intuitive painting meaning I paint by what inspiration shows up at the time. The color palette was inspired by another artist’s work and then I tweaked it to make it my own.
Even when I can’t travel, I look at this painting and I can go somewhere else. I’m so glad no one purchased this at my last studio sale. It is called Spring Migration.
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.”
Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.Mary Oliver
I notice small things. This probably started when I started birding and identifying plants in college. Little brown birds become wrens, those spikey white flowers in a bog become bog orchids, rocks in a canyon tell stories.
As I slow down and notice things around me, the world becomes less chaotic. When my cell phone is left behind and the portal to insanity shut off I can sit on the porch step and notice the honey bees probing in the flowers of autumn joy sedum and the variety of clouds in the sky. Noticing helps me to be a more imaginative writer and artist.
A book, The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, recently came to my attention via Austin Kleon’s blog. I checked it out from the library recently and have been impressed by the plethora of unique activities that will get the novice and experienced noticer into prime form. Enjoy taking a color walk, documenting odd things from a road trip like gas stations, writing a review of manhole covers or fire hydrants, start drawing, write a field guide to the dogs in your neighborhood, write a poem about the items for sale in the check out line of a store, stop talking and inventory what sounds you hear.
If you need help downshifting into observation mode this book has the tools to do so. Who needs Facebook and Instagram for entertainment when one knows how to notice? As a new hardback it’s around $15, or check it out from the library as I did. Everyday life will become full of new adventures.
As children, most of us have been told “Don’t color on the walls!”, but it is so satisfying to have such an expanse waiting to be graced with marks made from your small hands.
I did get my chance as an adult. For a number of years I was an artist in residence in an assortment of schools in a three-county area. At times there were opportunities to color on walls creating murals with a cadre of small hands.
Now that I’m retired from all manner of teaching and the monetization of my artwork, I have a chance to color on my own walls. A boarded-up window on the outside of my detached studio building has been calling to me for a makeover. Numerous ideas swirled around my head for months. A cheery window scene was my ultimate goal. I sketched out many thumbnails but nothing seemed totally right. One thing I knew for sure, I was going to paint a black crow on the right side of the piece to disguise a hole that birds had enlarged for a nesting nook. Also I wanted my tuxedo cat, Zander in the picture along with a teapot, cup, and some flowers (I have this thing about teapots). I nixed the sun at the top in favor of a compass, a symbol that shows up frequently in my images.
Ultimately I settled on a basic design, a color scheme, and sketched it out on the wood. Procrastination settled in as perfectionism (fear) took over. Then I decided the worse thing that could happen is I would paint over what I didn’t like. So I got going.
I worked on the mural bit by bit in the cool of the evenings as the heat wave here in Oregon made it unfeasible to work during the day in the hot sun. Eventually, I finished- yesterday! In all I only painted over one vase that was bright orange, changing the color to more of an understated coral.
I love this mural because it is personal to me and adds a happy focal point to an otherwise boring wall My next goal is to doodle all the way up my stairwell. Let’s see how that goes!
There was this magnificent great horned owl that lived in the hayloft of the barn, part of the old farmstead that became the Nature Conservancy field station on the Zumwalt Prairie in NE Oregon. A month ago I spent a week there as a participant of the Outpost writing workshop sponsored by Fishtrap, a non-profit writing organization located in Enterprise (see my previous post, Writing the Zumwalt Prairie).
Occasionally we would see this stately bird from its perch at the hayloft’s opening scanning for prey and looking down on us sternly from above.
Owls are unique in that they can rotate their heads 180 degrees in each direction. Their feathers are constructed in such a way to facilitate silent flight and their eyes are 35 X more sensitive than the human eye needing only 5% of the light we require. Add to that their extremely acute hearing and you have an extremely adept hunter.
Since owls typically swallow their prey whole, they have a daily ritual of regurgitating a tidy package of fur, bones, feathers, and the like into one tidy package known as an owl pellet. When one dissects an owl pellet you can piece together the skeletons of the small rodents, and birds they consumed.
During our writing circles with our teacher /poet Kim Stafford, he encouraged us to always be paying attention with all our senses as we experienced the prairie around us, being mindful not to disregard the other visitors to our psyche as well. He stressed to capture those thoughts and inspirations on paper or voice memo before they escaped us- much like the owl and its prey. These morsels of observation are what feed us as writers. Kim is never without a small notebook and pen. I often saw him jotting things down as he went about his day.
To be any kind of creative it is important to pay attention from wherever our perch may be. Writing, (or sketching) like an owl is the essence of personal expression.
by Alanna Pass
I am learning to write like a great horned owl
I sit on a high perch
so that I may swivel my head in all directions
observing, listening, smelling
for inspirational prey
I leave my perch at a moment’s notice
a presence detected
with a silent swoop I spread my wings
extend my outstretched talons
and snatch my prey before possible escape
I bend head to toes
open my hooked beak, extract this morsel
and swallow it whole
repeating this routine until I feel a blissful sense satisfaction
Then I rest
to coalesce all my inspirational prey into one tidy parcel
I project my written pellet into the cosmos
to land at the feet of others
with the intention that they may also
experience the wonders, the truths, the inspirations
that I have lovingly collected, digested, and presented
In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.
This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.
The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land. It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity. It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests. Careful grazing management is part of the picture. The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.