Wednesday, November 18, 2009

As the days get shorter...

I start to think about the holidays. More specifically, I start to think about what to make for the holidays. I can't help it. Starting in October I turn into a very large elf. And I wouldn't have it any other way. And it's genetic because my sisters are all the same.

I remember childhood Christmases. We would make ornaments for the tree and simple gifts at church. One year we knitted simple slippers. We made Christmas cookies and fudge and painted pictures.

I love to shop, don't get me wrong. Shopping is pretty darn fun. All those wonderful things out there, shiny new, wrapped in layers of plastic wrap, packing foam and nestled in their fabulously decorated cardboard boxes, just waiting to be wrapped in more paper, prettier this time and accompanied by ribbons and/or glitter. But the problem is, I only have so much money, so the shopping is pretty short lived.

As for making gifts, now that lasts much longer and is, in the end, a much more satisfying gift giving event. I get to spend hours thinking about the possible gift ideas. Poring through books and magazines crammed with ideas. Thinking about each person on my list and what I think they would like to receive. Then I get to go through my stash of supplies (and believe me, there is quite a stash of supplies to be gone through - sometimes I even find supplies for gifts I intended to make in previous years but never got around to) and pull out the things I will need to make the gifts I've decided to create.

Some years I know I will have limited time. Last year, for example, I was in the middle of preparing for my portfolio show, so my gift making was limited to jam. Other years I decide I must make one item that is so big, so glorious, and so time consuming that no one else will make it onto the home made list. They still get gifts, of course, but the recipient of the one gift is just lucky that year.

After all the lovely planning, which is much of the fun, I settle down to the actual creation. This is when I really start to feel the spirit of the holidays. I put on some holiday music or a fun holiday movie, and start to work. In some ways it's like a magic spell. Hours of labor spent, while thinking about the person who will receive the gift. Pursuing small creative impulses and embellishments. Thinking about presentation and purpose. All of this ties in to the process of gift making and creates a memory that stays with me, long after the glow of purchasing a great gift has passed.

My husband laughs at me because I'm almost always more excited about others opening gifts I've chosen for them, and especially gifts I've made for them, than I am to open gifts for myself. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE getting gifts, but there is something about seeing someone enjoy a gift you've made that just gets me going. I can barely restrain myself. Especially when I really think I've gotten it right.

My parents and sisters and their families all live far away from me. We don't usually spend the holidays together. So it is a little disappointing to pack the gifts in a box and send them off, to be opened unseen, although I do still enjoy the gift exchange. And it doesn't have to be elaborate, or expensive. It's not about that for me. I just like to send my loved ones a little something to remind them that I think about them, even when we're not together.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Quilt Expo Underwhelms

First, let me start off by saying that I would be indistinguishable in a crowd of middle aged women wearing capri pants, sensible shoes, misshapen but comfortable tee-shirts and carrying a bag the size of a small Midwestern town. Which is exactly where I found myself at this year's Quilt Expo.

But for all the trouble I've gone to to develop my Quilt Expo Camouflage, I guess I forgot one key element. An overriding interest in traditional quilting. That's not to say I don't appreciate it. Row after row of lovingly constructed, beautifully executed quilts graced this year's quilt exhibit, a large display inexplicably walled off in the very center of the room, and set up so that you are forced to zig zag back and forth, dodging camera shots and docents. You are given a slip of paper at the beginning to vote for your favorite, but make your decision carefully. Should you decide to go back and see an earlier quilt again it's similar to a salmon spawn.

Some of the details were breath taking. The minute stitches. The carefully pieced intricate patterns. The time consuming and almost unimaginable attention to detail was enough to make even my jaded attention span pause. There was one quilt where the beauty of the pattern was entirely created by incredibly dense quilting of deep orange thread on a lighter orange fabric. Stunning. But I wanted more.

I wanted art. To be fair, I'll amend that to I wanted MORE art. There were some beautifully artistic pieces but most of it was simply perfectly executed traditional quilting. Nice but hardly art.

Maybe it was the booths surrounding the show, more than the show itself. Yards and yards of fabric. More sample quilts. But it's all been done before. I've seen it before. There wasn't anything that I saw that I thought was truely innovative. And that's the problem.

I love quilts. They are both warm and extravagantly time consuming. They can be beautiful and fascinating. But they seem to have reached their limit. There doesn't seem to be anything new going on with the quilting world, other than technical advances that make it easier to make your traditional quilt.

And that's okay, it's just not for me.

And, as a side note. $5.50 for PARKING? Are you kidding Alliant Energy Center? Really?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Head Cold and a Mad Men Marathon...

Sitting in the television room, watching a mini Mad Men marathon and fighting off a vicious head cold leads to places I probably wouldn't normally go. I began to wonder, watching the women characters all struggling with their own places, what kind of person I would be, or would have been, had I grown up in the forties and been an adult in the sixties.

Would I be the same as I am now? That seems unlikely. I am as much a product of my time as anyone. So if not, who would I be? Would I be pushing the envelope like Peggy, trying to use her brains and creativity despite an unswerving wall of indifference from the men around her? Or would I try to resign myself to being a good wife, whatever that means, like Joan Holloway, all the while knowing that I was better than that. Or would I be one of those multitude of women in the steno pool, just trying to pay bills and find a husband. Pretty sure I wouldn't be Betty. She's just plain too crazy for me.

Deep down I don't think I'm the steno pool sort, but then again, times were different then. Women had few choices. Those lives of quiet desperation were part of what lead to the sixties and the Women's Movement. I have a sneaking suspicion I'd be a Joan. Damn good at what I do and letting it kill me that men got the sweet end of the deal just because they could pee standing up.

I know that Mad Men is a television show. It's a drama, with character development suited to making interesting story lines, not a documentary about a time now gone. But the question remains relevant. What kind of person are you? What motivates you? What makes you either part of the norm, or makes you break out of it? And women still have issues to resolve.

We're all a lot more PC now. We don't say and do certain things in the work place. We, as women, expect that we can do just about anything we please, if we are willing to put in the effort.

No matter what sex you are, using your creative mind is hard. It requires effort above and beyond the simple matter of day to day existence. It requires time and effort, energy and enthusiasm, courage and encouragement. It requires being impractical in many ways, because the payoff for creativity is often the most elusive, sometimes never arriving at all. Whereas, the payoff for practical skills like organization and attention to detail, while undervalued, are rewarded with regular pay and your own chair. And impracticality doesn't feed the babies. It doesn't pay the electric bill. And women generally find it hard not to be practical.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sitting in my Studio

I'm sitting in my studio. The windows are open and I can hear rain as it finds its way through the leaves of the massive oak tree we call Big Ray. (Burr Oak - Raymond Burr - Big Ray) I've come up here to clean and hopefully work, but instead I'm writing this blog post.

I haven't written much lately, mainly because I've actually been working on art. Something, somewhere, has loosened in me and I've started to actually produce work. Not as much as I would like. NEVER as much as I would like, but more now in the last six to eight weeks than I have in many months before this. And it's good. It's very good. Mosaics and mixed media work. Some painting. I'm settling in and creating some of the things that I've been thinking about for a long, long time.

The thing I hate about my studio is that I've got it so crammed full of stuff that I have a hard time finding things. I wish I could be more organized. More respectful of my own, hard won space.

The things I love about my studio are many.
It has a sink. I am so freakin' lucky to have a studio with a sink. And cupboards.
When I look out the window I see leaves and some little bit of sky. It's like having a studio in a tree house.
As much as I hate how much stuff I have in here, it's great too, because almost anything I want to do, I have the stuff to do it in here.
I can do whatever I want in here. There's no one who is telling me that I have to do a certain thing or not do a certain thing, other than the mean voice in my head, which I am trying to still with work.
It's a luscious melony orange color, full of juice and creativity. And while there's not a lot of wall space, there's still some left for things to go up.

And finally, let's face it, the best part about it is that it's a studio. I have a studio. For many years I didn't have one and I limped along, working on the dining room table or in a corner of the living room, with art supplies stashed in boxes or drawers but always overflowing into our living space.

In one memorable apartment, during my quilting and doll making phase, my studio was behind the couch in the living room with the sewing machine right next to the hall that went to the bedrooms. My husband remembers that one every time he thinks about the foot surgery to get the broken needle out of the ball of his foot. I remember that year because my oldest son was two and the only time I could find to work was late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed. Not a lot got done but it was good stuff.

I learned to mosaic in first house we owned, sweeping small shards of glass off the dining room table whenever it was time to eat dinner. In that house I also took over almost half of our bedroom, with my fabric and sewing machine. But I hated to sew up there because it was always hot, stuffy and the roof slanted down in such a way that the only place in the room where I could stand upright was right in the middle. So I would haul stuff down and work on it in the small living room, with the kids crawling through the work.

Don't get me wrong. Even with a studio my art supplies are not confined here. They bust loose and creep down the staircase with alarming and overwhelming frequency. As I write this there are bags of fabric in the tv room, waiting to be turned into costumes for 3D fairy tale illustrations, a big bag of paint and brushes in the dining room, left over from this week's art date, several tubs of glass shards in the dining room and garage, given to me by my local stained glass supplier, waiting to be sorted and then cut up into smaller shards for my mosaics. And there's always random art tools stuck into drawers or pencil cups, and rolls of paper tucked out of the way in crannies behind the couch or between the hutch and the wall. And that's just the stuff I remember.

And I'm grateful. Grateful for all of it. Grateful for the luxury of space to devote to something that I clearly could never NOT do. Grateful for the patience of the man I married. He not only lives surrounded by my art, but occasionally finds himself wounded by it, and still he doesn't complain. Too much. Grateful for my sons who, maybe because they never knew any different, don't seem to notice or mind that their home is a colorful, patterned mess. Actually, I know they notice, and I suspect they mind, but they don't make me suffer for it, and for that, I am also grateful.

Sitting in my studio. I'm going to get to work now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Done Bun Can't Be Undone

I was wishing today that I'd never learned to play Bejeweled. (I started to write Bedazzled but that's something else entirely, maybe a Ronco product?) Not only is it a time waster but I'm compulsive about it when I get stuck. Stuck on an idea. Stuck on what to do next. Stuck with too many things to do and none of them include a beach, sun and some fruity rum drink.

And then, as I was wishing this, this voice in my head said "What's done can't be undone." and that pulled me up short. It's true of course but I wondered if that came from somewhere. Did Hamlet say it? Or maybe Napoleon? I don't think it's biblical because I can't envision Charlton Heston saying it, it seems a little too homey for him. So, I googled it. And found "A done bun can't be undone." which I like even better. Such nice assonance. (yeah I looked it up.)

So much of what I read today seems to talk about all the things we've been doing that we know is a "done bun." Probably shouldn't have run up so much debt. Really shouldn't have put all our money into things we didn't understand. Definitely shouldn't have trusted people who said "I have a formula." Stuff like that.

But hearing about what we shoulda, coulda done, doesn't change where we are today. It's a done bun. We have to just eat it and move on. So starting today I'm going to work on forgetting where to find BeJeweled. And Zuma.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Day in the Life

Participated in an interesting project set up by my friend Jennie recently. She asked several artists and designers to document the same day, March 6, and then she plans to put them all into a book. I have to say this up front. I was very excited about the project, but that day, that particular day, was about as far from an artist/designer's day as one could possibly get. By the end of the day, I was so discouraged by the mundane-ness (mundanishness? mundundity?) that I almost gave up on the project. Still, I spent some time thinking it over, and realized that any given day is what you make of it. Not all of us get to order our days, and yet, we still have to find some meaning in them.

So here it is, my essay on March 6, 2009 called "So I Took a Picture of It."

At 5:45, Dave the neighbor begins to warm up his truck. It’s 42 freakin’ degrees, so why he’s warming it up I have no idea but the jet engine rumble is more effective than an alarm. I take a picture of it. At 6:30, NPR kicks in. Before bank disasters and layoffs can lull me back to sleep, I get up.

I can’t find my new glasses right away - a week without and it’s like starting over. I take a picture of them. The street lights are still on and shining a pool of orange light through the early fog. The marsh across the street is dark and silent. I take a picture of it.

Breakfast is tea, strawberries and cereal. It used to be Diet Coke and a wince. Getting older. I take a picture of it. Gray heads off to school. I take a blurry picture of him at the door. Most of my pictures of Gray are blurry, he’s growing that fast.

Shower. I don’t take a picture of that. Throw clothes on and head out the door. Frost still on the windows. You can feel that spring is in the air, if you stand still and breath deep. But the quick glance reveals only frost. I take a picture of it.

7:30, I take Hunter to school. Look at car ass all the way. Take a picture of it. See a dashboard hula dancer. Find myself wishing cars were more interesting to look at. Once I found myself following a van with one of those video screens mounted between the back seats. Pathetically grateful for the 30 seconds of video distraction. No such luck today, just a hula skirt’s gentle sway for the duration of a stoplight. I take a picture of it.

Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. MATC. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Work. 57 degrees. Stoplight. Stoplight. Took a picture of them all.

Lunch is two corndogs, an apple and a plastic bag of tasteless carrots. Michael Pollan wrote something like...“Never eat where you get your gas.” Does Michael Pollan have one car, one son in school 30 miles away with no bus, doctors appointments across town and a schedule tighter than a new pair of control-top pantyhose? I doubt it. I took a picture of it.

Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. MATC. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Not sure where this doctor is but the nurse said we’d know it when we saw it. Saw it. Took a picture of it.

How do you kill 15 minutes in Middleton? Cost Market Plus and Sea Salt and Vinegar Chips.

Stoplight. Roundabout. Stoplight. Beltline. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Car broken down and blocking - you guessed it - the stoplight. Picture. Picture. Picture. Oh Hell.
I snapped them all.

Stoplights turn into stop signs. PDQs and strip malls turn into horse farms and Lake Kegonsa. Almost home.Stoplight. Stoplight. Stoplight. Dear God. How much time do I spend at stoplights?

Pizza for dinner. I took a picture of it. It’s Friday and we’re all wiped. Lay around the TV room like we’ve been drugged. Cheesy doughy drugs. Stopped taking pictures. Tomorrow’s Saturday. Thank God!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Keeping Busy

Still looking for paying work but really my heart belongs to my latest project. An illustrated fairy tale called Tatterhood. It's the story of a girl who doesn't fit in. She's messy. She's contrary. And she doesn't really care what others think. Now what would I love about that, huh?

The folk tale is Norwegian, but I'm retelling it, so I'm adding other elements beyond the basic story. The only problem is, it's getting long. And, you know, it's not really a children's fairy tale. It's more like a woman's fairy tale. So that's my plan for illustration. It won't be one of those cutesy kiddy things, but more a coming of age story. With birds.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Library

I went to the library today and made myself right with the world.

Yes. I am one of those. I am a chronic tardy book returner. And worse, I occasionally lose them. Which means that, on occasion, I am unable to check out books due to the large-ness of my library fines. And sometimes that state of having fallen from grace extends so long that I forget what I like most about the library. The vastness of the supply. The variety of the goods.

I've learned to accept this about myself. I mean, I am, in many other respects, a good person. I am kind to the elderly and small children, mostly. I cook nutritious meals for my family, mostly. And I try to avoid frequenting enclosed public spaces when I'm having intestinal difficulties. I think you know what I mean.

And it's not like I check out two books and lose one of them. When one continuously checks out books two dozen at a time, it's natural for one to slip the corral, as it were, and go astray, once in a while. So, back to today, I decided to go and find out just how bad the damage was, and try to make it right.

In my library, you can ask them to check the shelf for a book you've been accused of losing. It doesn't take too long, but is like asking the ticket clerk at 11, if they are sure you've missed the 10:45 bus. It almost never works but you've gotta do it. And, low and behold, today it worked! As it turned out, all this time, I actually DID return the darn book, and it's been waiting on the shelf, all this time, unchecked in and lonely. And I am not quite the regenerate book loser I can't help but think of myself as.

So I've been curled up on my couch, reveling in my library stash. Books on Norwegian fairy tales, organic gardening, the latest Terry Pratchett and some Dana Stabenow that has somehow escaped me before now. All that treasure, returned to me. Just for the price of a question.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Thin Line

I read an article this morning about Shepard Fairey, the designer/artist who has taken the world by storm with his iconic Obama campaign (and, it appears, now presidency) images. According to this article, Fairey has lifted vast quantities of historic imagery in the creation of his own for profit work.

I'm sure I'm a naive fool, but I've always just thought that he was for real. I loved those boldly graphic images reminiscent of Russian and Chinese revolution posters, and 60's social revolution statements. Now I come to find out that the reason they reminded me so strongly of those things, is because he used those things, outright, in the creation of his own work. He did this knowingly and seemingly without concern about the appropriateness of his actions. For anyone else this is called plagarism.

It's discouraging to see, not only the article, but response to the article, where people say things along the line of "well, that's what graphic designers do." That is NOT what graphic designers do. Graphic designers, good ones, struggle and strive to find a new way to say what needs to be said. They may be inspired by work from the past, how could they not, but they know that what they create needs to be as original as they can make it. They may use echoes of the past but they do not just copy it line for line and plant it in their own work with no acknowledgement or compensation for the original artist.

Being a collage artist, I've struggled with the thin line between using work to create new work, as many collage artists do and stealing. I've always tried, very hard, to stay on the correct side of that line, and, in many cases, have simply decided not to use an image if my use could be construed as stealing the image. And this is for personal work that may only be seen by my friends and family. I know the joy of an original creation and the nagging doubt when too much of the piece owes itself to someone else's work.

How is it then, that someone of Fairey's public stature, can be so ignorant to the ethics of the situation as to feel that he is entitled to the use and even subsequent copyright of such material? Have we lost our moral compass? Shame on you Mr. Fairey. Shame on you.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about abundance lately. There's a school of thought that says that if you visualize abundance you will receive it. Sure, there's an element of magical thinking there, but I'm all about magical thinking. What makes it relevant today is this:

I've been waking up to NPR pretty much every morning for the last few years now, and I've never heard such an unending string of negativity as I've heard recently. The economy. Corruption. Death. Greed. War. More corruption. Failure. Poverty. Layoffs and bailouts. Rising unemployment. Who deserves help. Who doesn't? Where will the money come from? Where did the money go? Why are people still behaving like greedy scum? (My question here is, what made us think they were going to stop?)

I found myself becoming more and more depressed about the state of the world as I listened. The problem is, I don't see how I can do what I need to do while focusing on these things, most of which I can't even wrap my mind around, let alone change. So I've stopped listening to NPR in the mornings. Sorry NPR, I still love you. It's not you, it's me.

What I'm going to do instead is this. Exercise. Eat a good breakfast. And focus on creating abundance. The world is a vast and glorious place. Still. The sun rises in the East. Every morning. Still. Every day (for the next six months or so) each day will get a little longer, a little warmer. And for every greedy bastard out there, trying to hide his ill-gotten gains, there are a hundred people doing little things to help a fellow citizen of earth, be they human, animal or plant. A thousand people, doing what they can.

For all the big horrible stories that glow and pulse with a sort of sick fascination, there are lots of small stories, quiet and unprepossessing, that glow with the creativity and humor and beauty of the human spirit. I'm going to focus on those stories for a while.

I know that it's seen as important to see what's going on in the world. To make yourself aware of things. To read newspapers and magazines to educate yourself about what's happening. But for all this awareness of evil, there ought to be some sort of flip side. Some sort of acknowledgment of the good. I don't mean to say those in trouble should be ignored. Their pain is real. But we focus on it excessively. We wallow in our bad news.

I believe in focusing on abundance. On bending my thoughts towards the positive, in order to help the positive become stronger. This sounds pretty metaphysical but look at it this way. Visualization is an accepted practice in sports. Top athletes visualize themselves doing their thing, over and over, with successful results. They know that if they think they can't do it, if they allow negative thoughts, thoughts of failure and despair to dominate their minds, they will not succeed. Studies show that when an athlete is successful at visualizing, they are more likely to be successful when the actual event arrives. I'm suggesting that the rest of us take up this practice as well. To visualize ourselves succeeding. To visualize and focus on the good in the world, the things we want to succeed.

Pretty Pollyannaish stuff. I know. But it's worth a shot. Visualize abundance.

Friday, January 2, 2009

More on the Altered Books project

Beginning any art project can be hard. Deciding what to do, getting past the fear and really committing yourself to the work, can all be daunting. Combine this with three other sisters and trying to communicate a basic sense of guidelines for everyone to work within, via posts to a family website and you've got our Altered Book Project.

To help my sisters out, as none of them have done an altered book before (and to be honest, I've only done a couple myself) I researched some websites for them. Don't worry, I'll share. This list is far from complete. In fact, I know there are so many out there, I almost don't even want to commit to just this list, but I will because the beginning is important. And by "beginning" I mean "starting". You have to start.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
So I begin, as I always do, by looking at what others have done. Not to copy, but for inspiration.

And best of all, a site called Recycled Words, by Will Washford.

There's more. There's so much more. But here's a start.