Deep in the Valley of Drawing

Lines, shapes and angles Nature, as people are fond of saying, abhors a vacuum. Now that I no longer have to go to a certain place at the same time every morning, when an opportunity to take a course in "art practice" with Cat Bennett arose, I jumped in. Well, jumped after some encouragement from my friend Beth Rommel.

I've had an on and off relationship with drawing--mostly off. I came to art through the medium of textiles and in art school, recognized the need to learn how to draw. I took classes in figure drawing as well as landscape, but mostly with the feeling of forced march to them. I never understand the simple desire to pick up a pencil and render the world in front of me.

Although it might seem self-evident from years of art therapy that drawing by any means is a form of self-expression, I haven't always practicing internally what I preached. Until. Until.

I've yearned to bring my loves of yoga practice and art together and with that in mind, have signed up for a yoga teacher's training course at my favorite yoga studio, Kaya Yoga.

After taking that step, I began to listen more attentively to the prompts that teachers were giving us. When Kia recently spoke about each pose as a series of patterns, my ears perked up. Hmm, how could I translate that into drawing?

All lines and angles

What if drawing is as transitory as moving into and out of downward dog? Once you've done your series of poses for a class, and felt great or sore afterwards, or simply experienced them, you go off and encounter the rest of the day; the poses having evaporated in the moment. Could I do that with drawing? Just engage and then let go?

With trepidation and some resistance, I began my class "Making Art a Practice". Sure, I confess, I ripped out some of the studies I didn't like, but honestly, once I began to "lean in" as Sheryl Sandburg so pragmatically puts it, the practice began to be fun. I'm stretching my "tolerance for ambiguity" muscle and it definitely relates to yoga.

Two shapes and some lines

It is clear that around any edge my pencil turns, a drawing may collapse, just like I often do in Tree pose. (I love it when my teacher suggests we can be a shrub if we want.) So here I go. I move with my pencil, often ending up in the wrong place and needing to correct my direction. Yet at times, my pencil and I flow with ease. I look forward to the journey ahead and to wherever it takes me.

Pocket Change Unfolds

Several days ago, I found a rather large white box in the mail. It was bulging at the seams and when I opened it, out poured a tantalizing array of envelopes covered with stamps from far away lands. Artist Trading Cards for the 6 Degrees of Creativity Pocket Change swap! Cards from Australia by Jade Herriman

I invited my sister Amelia over to help with the swap; why not spread the fun? An amazing afternoon unfolded as we carefully unpacked the cards and laid them out on the tables, marveling as each envelope revealed new treasure.

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Oh my gosh, how we were going to choose which cards went where? Amelia took on wrapping the cards; that meant I was going to do the selection. I decided "intuitive" was the way to go. Once I stopped worrying (and honestly there wasn't much of that), the cards seemed to sort themselves.

Cards on envelopes, ready to wrap up and send...

During the time that the cards were laid out, there was an air of expectation and exuberance in the studio, but most of all,  all of the love and caring that had gone into this awesome effort.

A selection of cards headed to Canada

There was no way I could have anticipated the sheer creative goodness shining forth. Thank you so much to Beth Rommel for gathering  envelopes from every corner of the world and creating parcels for Gretchen and I to sort and swap. (The three of us each sorted about 50 packages!) Thank you also to Gretchen Miller without whom, 6 Degrees of Creativity  and Pocket Change would not exist. And thank you especially to every artist and agent of change who participated--I look forward to hearing your stories.

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Mending Walls and Making Change

ATCs on parade At some point in their studies, art therapy students discover the "media continuum." On this continuum, media are placed along along an invisible line moving from point A to point B line according their degree of safety and control.

A lead pencil at one end of the continuum offers a feeling of familiarity and control--and on the the opposite end spectrum, oil paint offers an unwieldy challenge. If you don't watch out, you might find your client who has difficulty with impulse control spraying the paint all over your office walls.

The key is to match the both the media and the intervention to the needs of the client. To non-art therapists, this might sound theoretical and over cautious.

It's not. In my very first art therapy bereavement group many years ago,  an angry adolescent punched a hole in the wall of the hospital in which I was working; his reaction to my misdiagnosis of media and intervention. I hadn't read the signals and had asked the group to attempt something that put this young man face to face with his grief far too early in his grieving process.

If I hadn't been convinced about the medium continuum before, if my teachers' stories seemed only to be tall tales, I became  a convert and I've employed it ever since.

I use the same principle in my own art. When I'm feeling stretched thin, I stick with materials over which I have more control. When I'm feeling expansive, my work and my materials grow too.

Right now, I'm in the process of sanding the panel edges of my "Mending Wall" series. I love this series, but I don't like finish work. It feels like all the fun and discovery is over and I'm doing the visual equivalent of balancing a checkbook.

Mending Wall 1,© 2012, H. Hunter, 12" x 12," paper, watercolor on panel

Recently, I decided to intersperse the task of sanding with our 6 Degrees of Creativity "Pocket Change" project. My deal for myself is: finish one sanded panel--make one artist trading card.

I've arranged the artist trading cards, in various stages of completion, at a discreet distance from where I sand. I can see them while I work, their bright colors shining, offering the possibility of almost instant gratification.

Mending Wall 1, edges sanded and stained

I'm beginning to love sanding. By creating a new rhythm: hard medium/easy medium/hard medium, I'm finding patience and sanding is leading to new ideas for my next series. I love the smooth, variegated surface of the wood.

Meanwhile, artist trading cards gather at the end of the table, ready to be mailed off for Beth Rommel, collector and distributor for our Pocket Change project.  Gretchen Miller, Beth and I have concocted this project to focus on the power of creating change through making something small (in the form of artist trading cards) and through engaging in simple acts of creative kindness.

You get the picture--help yourself, help others--it's not too late to join us! The deadline is tomorrow,  Tuesday, January 15. For more information on the exchange, click here.

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I also invite to share stories about your own media continuum experiences--whether you called it that--or maybe just "those darn pastels!"

Pocket Change: Or, Small (Creative) Acts Create Meaningful Change

"Even after they are cut down, a sprout may be taken from them and planted in another place, and they begin to grow again." —Mishna

Pocket Change, Badge created by Gretchen Miller

Like a lot of people I know, I've been searching for meaning among the rubble of recent events; both inside our country and out of it.

Though it is easier but necessary, to critique what is going wrong in our schools, our homes, and our countries, I wanted to stretch a little and find a project which contributes to the good in a small but meaningful way.

It began with an idea from my friend, Beth Rommel, who wanted  begin the new year with something positive, something with art, something with others.

In collaboration with Gretchen Miller and myself, we concocted Pocket Change, hosted by 6 Degrees of Creativity.

Pocket Change’s intention is to focus on the concept of creating change through making something small (in the form of artist trading cards) to exchange with one another, as well as to encourage simple acts of creative kindness with others.

I decided to try out making a few of the cards. They were fun to create--simple, without encumbrance. They remind me of mandarin oranges. You pick one up, peel it and pop it whole, or in a few sections, into your mouth and suck out the sweetness.

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photoPocket Change is all about how simple and small acts can create and instill kindness, gratitude, and change.  Think about the power of your mini artworks as a means to express and share a positive image, message, or intention with others (and the world!) that can make a difference, bring hope, or inspiration.

-Gretchen Miller

It reminds me of the Mindful Studio Practice that I offered as part of 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. The beauty of making artist trading cards is the opportunity for quiet moments in which your imagination can stretch.

But wait, there's more: the added bonus of sending these miniatures off so that someone else will benefit from your practice.

Please join us for some pocket size creative goodness and kindness to share with one another and others!  The deadline to sign up for the ATC exchange is January 15.  Learn more about the exchange details and how to get involved on the 6 Degrees of Creativity blog.

A Case for Community

I'm fast approaching the end of  Creating a Mindful Studio Practice Workshop in 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. Regretfully. As I mentioned in my last post, I felt that I'd written the workshop as much for myself as for the workshop students.

But that would be a short sighted view. As Gretchen Miller said in her promotional materials for 6 degrees 2, the workshops are a way to develop community.

And community bears fruit beyond what anyone can imagine. Case in point, I became friends with Beth Rommel, of niftyartgirl.com in another online art workshop series. We began talking to each other 2 years ago, helping each other to solve art problems (and as time passed others as well.) Recently, I'd been talking to Beth about how to supervise student volunteers in the hospital setting.

I was frustrated. Often, it seemed that these bright premed students saw their time in the hospital playroom as a chance to return to childhood themselves. I wanted to find a way (without reverting to my own past days of mothering) to convey to them the gravity of these children's situations and how important it is to give each of them pure, undivided attention.

There is a lot going on with kids in a hospital playroom, some it obvious, some of it not. An iv pole or long scar on the head are hard to miss. Emotional distress is often invisible at first glance.

Beth had an unusual suggestion. She told me that she was listening to "The Martha Rules," an audio CD of Martha Stewart's. In it, Martha lays out a framework for success in starting, building or managing a business.

Despite my misgivings about Martha because of her conviction for insider trading, I purchased a copy and began to listen. Martha presented a succinct and understandable paradigm that I could easily adjust for my students.

But that wasn't all. Yesterday, the book literally saved my life. I was on my way to visit my artist friend, Linda Johnson, who lives a couple of blocks from the hospital. As I drove, I listened to the CD, paying close attention.

Martha stated firmly that sometimes bad things are going to happen and that while you can have strong feelings, even overreact, you cannot panic. She firmly reiterated that whatever happened, not to panic.

Suddenly, smoke started to creep out of my hood. 2 seconds later it was billowing and the car crawled to a halt on the exit ramp to the hospital, located in a rough part of town. Cars started to swerve around me.

"O.k., Martha says not to panic," I told myself and took a deep breath, thanking God for cell phones and AAA.  Long story short, a kind gentleman helped to push me down the ramp and around the corner to relative safety. I was scared, but hearing Martha's words moments before gave me an inner certainty that everything would work out.

And it did. The tow truck came, Linda arrived and we ended up having time to paint together before work. I am extremely grateful to both of these friends, who are part of my artist's community. Beth lives in Georgia. I live in Davis, CA and Linda is in Sacramento.

These days, people talk a lot about whether connections we make through the internet can truly help to create bonds of friendship. Although we are separated by distance, the connections that I've made with these two friends through my artwork has created more than good artwork. It has created a network of community that I can count on in good times and in bad.

I'd love to hear your stories about serendipity in your art community.

A Different Kind of Summer

Still Life With Orange, 2011, H. Hunter, 28" x 32," quilted fabric

It's been a different kind of summer so far. Though it's been many years since the summer was mine to fashion as I wish, the illusion that I can do so stays with me.

Part of what makes this summer different was a decision I made to focus my energies on an art quilt show taking place in October at our local art center.  Accepting the invitation was big; prior to this, my forays into the quilting world have been few. I've taken inspiration from quilt patterns, but to put pins into cloth and stitch one piece of fabric to another--now that is another feat altogether.

All of the normal fears and then some attended me (and I know that you know them well enough from your own work that I don't have to detail them here) but despite all of that, the process has been amazing. I made a goal of creating one quilted piece per month for six months. These are works in which I can exercise my love for detail and create small areas of fascination while working at a pace I can sustain with my art therapy practice.

I'm aided by the sheer hypnotic flow of long weekend afternoons accompanied by the sound of the fan and audio books: Ape House, The Coral Thief, The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo to name a few. While my mind is captured by a good story line, my eye is free to wander and choose patterns that the more critical part of me would probably veto. My focus is also sharpened by my long time partner in art crime, Beth Rommel. We met over a year ago in Alyson Stanfield's Blog Triage class and have become fast friends, going on take part in the Artist Conspiracy. It surprises me that sharing a goal with someone over the phone (Beth lives in Georgia, I in CA) creates such a strong degree of accountability, but there it is and I'm delighted by it.

Hallie, lending gravitas to our home

In the same vein, earlier in the year, I made a goal of creating a new website; one that I could fashion and refashion according to my artwork at the time. Spurred on by an art and wine event in August, Pour for Prevention, I decided to nudge my visual ducks in a row and explore WordPress. Re-writing my artist's statement and bio was challenging (I mean how many ways can I say where I went to school? And, since my children are grown, is it too much to add cat to the description: "She lives and works in Davis, CA with her husband and ?...")

So, as the current idiom goes, it's "good stuff," a rather rough way of saying that although this summer is different; no trips to the beach or lazy afternoons reading almost a whole book, it has been wonderful, and, and at this time of my life, a dream come true.