Fateful Meeting at the Pence

The Scene: Downtown Davis on a Saturday afternoon. We had just raided the "money machine," it was a lovely spring day, and I needed to use the restroom. "Oh Mom!" my daughter kvetched, "really?" "Really."

We headed despite complaint into the nearby Pence Gallery where I ran into my artist friend Chris Beers. "Hey, Hannah, long time, no see, what's up?" Now I couldn't just rush past him to the bathroom, so I told him about my upcoming exhibit at the USE Credit Union  and asked his advice on e-mail announcements.

As a designer for the Pence, he has a lot of experience. As he explained the details, he suddenly said "Why don't I make one for you? If you like it, then you can hire me next time." A moment of grace I couldn't turn down.

You can see his lovely announcement above with all the details about my show. I'll be sharing some more about the title of the show "Striking A Balance" in my next two posts.

May Days in the Studio

"The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."

-   Philip Larkin, The Trees


 There is nothing like the days of May, blowsy, mild and open like a peony bursting into blossom. I have to step around the alstromeria and creeping hyacinth growing around my studio stairs. As I walk up, I feel a giddy sense of anticipation. I'm  'beginning afresh' in the studio; larger collage works on panels (12" x 24"), letting myself loose after a series of tightly composed smaller works. The colors in the new work echo the garden colors: red fingerprints the color of cyclamen, bits of sari fabric capture the glow of alstromeria and paper strips the inimitable gold of California poppies.

All this in preparation for an upcoming exhibit as part of our town's monthly "ArtAbout", a festive occasion that takes place once a month. Local artists take over different businesses for an evening and fill them with art. Musicians congregate and the town echoes with the sounds of blues, jazz and the occasional outburst of loud rock from nearby fraternities. It all adds up to a lot of people on the sidewalks, moving from one venue to another, eager to see the night's offerings. I'll be showing my work June 11th at the USE Credit Union, which serves the local universities.   I wish you all could be here so I could meet you in person and talk of art and all things visual. In lieu of that, I'll keep you posted about more works coming out of the studio heading towards the ArtAbout.

Pictured above: Pattern Redux, © 2010, detail and Red Chrysanthemum, ©2010, detail

How To and How Not To: Setting Up a Workshop

Have you ever wondered how to set up a workshop? At the end of a recent SoulCollage® class in my studio, my students asked to extend the class. I wanted to keep my Sunday afternoons open. What to do? I remembered what Alyson Stanfield had said about collaborating and asked for suggestions. One student who worked at a cancer center suggested using a space there. What a divine idea! I thought. "And you could offer it to cancer patients and their peer navigators." she continued. 

 Discovery #1In need of new ideas? Collaborate with others.
My friend spoke to the outreach coordinator at the cancer center and soon, I had a meeting set up to discuss the possibility. 

Discovery #2•Follow up on ideas pdq/asap/stat.
The next piece was a bit trickier. I planned to offer the class free to cancer patients and their peer navigators and charge a fee for other folks. Win-win: I would be paid and the cancer center would be able to offer a brand new service. The tricky bit: could I use their facility (which opens you to great publicity channels) and still charge a fee? 

Discovery #3 (similar to #1)If in doubt, ask until you get an answer with which you are comfortable. I ended up calling their compliance office and discovered exactly which policy allowed me to offer the class and charge for it.  I also e-mailed all the students to find out if they were still on board. Here I met my first whoops. I'd assumed
I had enough participants so I had not done much outreach.

Discovery #4 Always do your outreach, no matter what. Seek out all possibilities for spreading your word. Even if, like me, you are an introvert who would sooner crawl under a rock than pick up the phone. So what to do now? I read Rebecca Crowell's post about an entire day spent working on upcoming classes. I flew into action, collaborating with my husband and other colleagues to make a great flyer. Ready to go? Well, almost...
At the same time that I created a flyer, I'd written an article for an on-line newsletter and now I heard from the newsletter editor telling me about an error in my dates. 

Discovery #5: Check and recheck your dates. So now here I am, flyers corrected (and recorrected), article published, word spread and grateful for all the help I've received. We'll see what next week brings, but for the moment, I'm staying with this thought from Jack Canfield:"When you are in a state of appreciation and gratitude, you are in a state of abundance. You are appreciating what you do have instead of focusing on and complaining about what you don't have. Your focus is on what you have received, and you always get more of what you focus on." (p. 357, The Success Principles) Now I'll start working on my curriculum...
Top photo courtesy of Lynn Cohen

Mother's Day at the Hospital

My department, Child Life and Creative Arts Therapies tackles holidays, planning the best way to make them celebratory for both the kids and the parents. Each holiday presents (no pun intended) its own special challenges and Mother's Day is no exception. When I think about Mother's Day in the hospital, I think about sacrifice, sacrifice that is made without thinking. As a mom myself, I spend a lot of time observing the mothers I work with. They sit all day with their child, forgoing food, sunshine, showers and the rest of the family. They often sit for so long that sometimes the rest of the family has to pull them away. How do you acknowledge the greatness of this love? We're going to try this Friday. In addition to a spread of chocolate muffins, savory croissants, and a variety of coffees and teas, the volunteers and I have created this tray of paper corsages. Each colorful twist of tissue paper, carefully layered, represents a child for whom the mother is caring. As I printed this picture, I noticed that it divided along a diagonal line into light and dark. It speaks to me of the task of motherhood, that implicit promise to stay with our children through all of the darkness, shepherding them, we hope, into the fullness of life. On this Sunday, I honor all mothers, everywhere.

Virgo Goes Back to Basics

Last week I wrote about my desire to strip my work back to basics as my friend Beth suggested (or, as she put it, "how about just painting something you want to keep?")  I wanted to go in a new direction, but wasn't sure how to get going. Being an ex-multitasker but practical Virgo, I was also thinking about how to come up with new work for an upcoming exhibit. I cleared up my studio, (always a good first step), reminded myself that I could keep whatever I made, and began. I put all my work in process up on the wall and decided to work on each one only as long as I wanted, so that I could flit from one to another much like the hummingbirds outside in my garden. What fascinates me now, a week later, is that by giving myself permission to keep the work, a strange paradox occurred. I was able to free myself of "Ms. Practical"  and instead, a more romantic, fanciful and humorous side of me found her voice. By the end of the week, I had accomplished more in a playful way than my alter ego, Ms Practical could ever have. Here is one of the pieces that emerged: April Rose, ©Hannah Klaus Hunter, 2010

Back to Basics

Have you ever had that experience where you try to sort out what part of your art is driven by the desire to "show and sell"--and what part is just you, pure and simple? (As if one could easily separate those parts.) I'm at that point in my collage work. Just for right now, I want to strip my work down to basics. I want to remove the glaze of "made for exhibition." In order to figure out a plan, I spent an hour in conversation with my friend Beth Rommel. Beth lives in Florida and we met in Alyson Stanfield's Artbiz Blastoff course where we discovered we had the right mix of things in common; two twenty something children, a certain whimsical bent in our artwork, and the same intense commitment to art that we brought to raising children. Beth, always the mistress of new ideas, came up with one that I'm going to give a trial run."How about just painting something you want to keep?" she asked. As she said this, I saw myself at eleven, crouched down on a creek bank in back of our house, digging out clay and discovering that earth clings to itself and can be shaped into vessels. It's that purity of discovery that I plan to pursue. Stay posted. Literally.

Generating Ideas

How do we come up with ideas? Where do they come from? Today our assignment in the Blog Triage class is to come up with at least 20 ideas about which we can blog. In the spirit of sharing that is the hallmark of social networking I decided to write them down here, in my blog, and share them with all of you. I have only one proviso: if you want to write about any of them yourselves, PLEASE GO AHEAD! These are ideas that I am curious about and either want to tackle, or, just as much, read someone else's take on them. And if you think about it, no two people are going to write about the same subject the same way.

So here goes. Top of my list this morning:
•1) The Middle Age Brain and Art. I just listened to Terry Gross interview Barbara Strauch on "The Surprising Strengths of the Middle Aged Brain. How does this affect art making? How many of us can relate to this?
•2) Taking an artist's retreat for a day
•3) Creating an artist's retreat for a group of like minded artists
•4) Going to an artists' retreats in the Western United States (can you sense a theme developing here?)
•5) Working green: finding and using sustainably made art supplies.
•6) Taking a tour through a local artist's studio and writing about it.
•7) Interviewing my artist friends (you know who you are!)
•8) Asking one of these same friends to interview me (I would love this because I love questions.)
•9)  Interviewing a local art therapist in private practice and looking at what an art therapist can offer an artist.
•10) How to turn your ideas for classes into a reality privately or very publicly. (Working on the latter!)
•11) Creating art programs for underserved populations.
•12) Choosing a medium I love and arranging to tour an artists' studio who works in this medium. I would love to tour a mosaic artist's space and a jeweler's (Lynn and Tracey, are you listening?).
•13) Blogging about our local open studio tour.
•14) Blogging about an exhibition in the making--I've already got mine picked: an art quilters exhibit that will open in 2011. I haven't started on my pieces yet so this makes perfect grist for the mill.
•15) My transformation this summer into a still life painter for an upcoming exhibit.
•16) What do you do when you know you need to go in a new direction, but you're not sure how to get going?
•17) New ways to incorporate art making into the fabric of your life.
•18) How to create a portable studio anywhere you go.
•19) How to incorporate my computer into my artwork without it staging a hostile takeover.
•20) How to fit art making into smaller blocks of time.
That's me in the picture above trying to figure all of this out!

Rx for Weary Artist: Art Opening

Have you ever felt after a long day of encouraging other people to make art ("yes, you can!") that all you wanted to do is go home, crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head? Um hmmm. I know you have. Yesterday, I found a different remedy. After freshening up, downing a pita pizza, I headed out with my sister to the Artery, our gem of a cooperative gallery. Our styles of approaching a gallery could not be more different. My sister loves to spend time looking at each artist's work (and at the Artery there's much to see) while I behave like a red tail hawk, ricocheting from one wall to another, looking for something that speaks to me and all the while, comparing, contrasting and commenting. Out of necessity last night I slowed down. I sipped my lemonade and I discovered a feast for the eyes. As I slowly wandered through, taking in intricate strands of wire jewelry,  a gorgeous raku amphora and the ceramic ware of someone who truly adores cats, I ran into a number of friends. What surprised me (a confirmed introvert), was how much I enjoyed these small snippets of conversation. It was as if, by slowing down, each of these meetings became its own small piece of ephemeral art. I think I'm going to try this scrip more often! Artwork by Melissa Wood, copyright, 2010

Blog Triage in Action!

I began this blog last year with a desire to make my journaling as an artist both manifest and public. Devoted to journaling as a teenager and young adult, I chronicled my adventures, loves and art school experiences. I continued journaling in graduate school, but once the adventure of family began, my commitment to journaling waned. Several months ago, inspired by an on-line course I'd taken with artist business coach Alyson Stanfield (http://artbizblog.com), I signed up for the 4-week Blog Triage class with Alyson and Cynthia Morris (http://originalimpulseblog.com and http://journeyjuju.com). My goal: to build a more vibrant, meaningful and engaging blog for you, the readers.Welcome!

Yesterday, class began with our first homework assignment: "Describe the people you want to visit and read your blog." Who are my readers? All of you wonderful folk who've so far signed up to follow are people with a passionate love of art making or a desire to help others, especially children, create art. In spite of that, the question caught me unawares. Today I learned the answer at an awards breakfast for Children's Miracle Network, a national organization whose efforts fund my work as an art therapist at UC Davis Children's Hospital. The room was filled with people who had one goal in common: to create meaning and miracles for children undergoing a myriad of medical challenges. When a teen stood up and told her story of battling cancer three times over, there was not a dry eye in the place. When I drove away, I realized "I want to write a blog that attracts people like you who are reading this now. People who are passionately dedicated to meaning making; whether it is making artwork that is shared in exhibits, or, introducing others to the pleasures and life-saving qualities of art making. I envision you ranging in age from 17 to 100, because art making crosses the lifespan. My personal motivation in making art is "tikkun o'lam," the Jewish spiritual practice of "repairing the world" and I'm looking for you; like minded readers from across the country and indeed from around the world.  I celebrate the differences between us, but I choose to focus on the qualities that we all share in common. You, my readers, might also be avid readers of literature, ancient and modern and enjoy exploring art through the lens of mythology or psychology. You understand the beauty of finding meaning in the smallest details of life and it is my hope that, even if you are not initially comfortable blogging yourself, the desire to share experiences and engage in discussion would help to meet any challenges that arise. (I know that was true for me!) I think that sometimes the desire to express ourselves is strong enough that even we more introverted persons are moved to take a risk and put our fingers to the keyboard and speak.
Pictured above: "Blue Buddha," detail, copyright, 2009

"Friends" Exhibit at the Artery

I have a friend Sara Post, whom I've mentioned before (and am likely to mention again). We met in 2005 at the very first SoulCollage®
Facilitator's Training in the mountains above Santa Cruz, CA. When we discovered that we were both artists, had both lived in the same town for many years and shared a love and appreciation for all things mythological and archetypal, we became good friends and have been exchanging ideas, art and artistic adventures ever since. Recently she asked me to participate in a show at a local cooperative gallery, the Artery. Her subject line of the e-mail read "Friends Show at the Artery." I love the magic of artists' friendships and the art that comes out of them, so I agreed. The show opens this Friday, April 9th at the Artery in Davis, CA and runs through April 20th. There will be an exciting range of work, including not only wall artists but also fabric, ceramic, glass, wood, and jewelry artisans. The following are a few of the other participants: Melissa Wood (oil and graphite), Stella Stevens (water color), Judy Catambay (clay), Anne Syer (giclee print), Naoko Bautista (oil), Beth Grundvig (pastel), Pam Berry (fiber art) and Pat Meade (woven Alpaca).

Pictured above: In Balance, 2010, Hannah Hunter

New Series

I began a new series about a month ago at the suggestion of my friend Beth Rommel. Actually Beth suggested I just experiment for bit because I'd painted myself into a corner (something we artists so often do). The experiments morphed into a succession of pieces each containing multiple images of Buddhas. I began thinking about the  abundance the images suggest, which in turn led me to thinking about abundance in general. Visions of "amber waves of grain" and the goddess Lakshmi began dancing through my head. I'm eagerly awaiting my package of panels from Dick Blick and the weekend, waiting to see where this new idea will carry me.

The poetic object

My friend Sara Post has got me thinking about objects. She's curating a show entitled: "Lesson's from Things: Looking at Objects." She's taking her inspiration from the French, who, with the same excellence they apply to cooking and couture, study the history and development of common objects. (How otherwise can we imagine the writer Collette or the great designer, Coco Chanel? Words and fabric became great in their hands.) In order to wrap my mind around the topic I've dug out my copies of Bachelard's works, the French philosopher and phenomenologist. We read Bachelard's Poetics of Space in my graduate school art seminar and we were all practically levitating back in the early eighties as we read his words. Consider this passage for example: "...I studied a series of images which may be considered the houses of things: drawers, chests and wardrobes. What psychology lies behind their locks and keys! They bear within themselves a kind of esthetics of hidden things." Quite heady no? These days, we are often so focused on the practical side of things (and maybe that's my age speaking), that I think I could use some of this dreaming Bachelard speaks so highly of. So, before I go choosing an object, common or otherwise to render, I'll be picking up my Bachelard and spending some time daydreaming...

Accepting the gift

Last week I found myself musing about gifts. As an artist and an art therapist, I spend a fair amount of time shifting between these crafts, wondering about the differences between art and art as therapy (hence this blog) and trying to balance the quality of effort that I devote to each. I often think that I could be very happy left to my own devices in the studio, but in fact, this is patently not true. I draw, no pun intended, much of my inspiration from the children with whom I work. When we make art together, I learn so much more about what it is to be a human being living and breathing and living on the earth at this time. My heart expands and thus does my vision. It's like the proverbial story of the blind men and the elephant. As the sightless men stand arrayed around the beast, a sage asks them to describe this animal. One man reaches up to the trunk and speaks of its roughness and length, another describes the sturdiness of a leg, another the back and yet another the tusks. Who has the true story? In other words one discipline feeds the other. This came to me clearly this morning after talking with my friend Beth Rommel about the subject. Soon, after that, I turned on the radio to hear Abraham Vergese, the physician and author. What I loved about listening to this man, was his absolute devotion and love of medicine. It didn't just serve to feed and clothe his family so that he could write, it was his wellspring of inspiration. The wonderful intertwining of these two disciplines was apparent in his description of his call to medicine which he relates came from reading Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage." A physician called to writing through a fictional character who is also a doctor! It underscores my belief that art and writing, in particular, fiction writing, serve to tell us truths that we could not arrive at any other ways, truths for which there is no existing image or combination of words.
Photo credit: Lynn Cohen, copyright, 2010.

Recipe for a Collage Salon

For some time now I've been thinking about having a time and space where some of my artist friends could get together and make art and talk and eat and all those fun things that happen once in a blue moon. So today, on the day of the full moon and the Jewish holiday of Purim (not sure how this figures in yet) I'm opened up my studio to a number of artist friends.

In order to get ready, I took a look around the studio. Oh my. Everything must go. Not really. I spent some time arranging mediums & materials so that all of the supplies in view were usable. I wanted it to be inviting, with a sense that you could explore the shelves as if you were in a Moroccan souk or market, peering into this basket or that, taking a shiny piece of paper here, a thick colored pencil there, or perhaps sampling a brightly patterned fabric.

I added one table for tea, coffee, and things to munch on including some chocolate covered cacao beans, roasted almonds and purple grapes. I also laid out several books with good art work by collage artists. Food for the eyes.

What actually took place after the invitations were sent out and the studio readied was beyond my imagination. As people arrived, they carried in bags of brilliantly printed fabrics, hampers stuffed with choice images, baskets of pencils and tiny bags filled with delicacies such as small printed cards of botanicals and birds. Two of the women had made a trip to Chinatown in Sacramento and appeared with joss papers, incense holders (crinkly pieces of tan paper with slits for incense) and delicately cut tissue paper doilies. One woman brought a bag of fresh grapefruits from her tree. What we had was a feast for the eyes and the soul. Introductions were made over and over and people talked excitedly, catching up, discovering connections between each other, and peering at the collages that were forming under numerous pairs of hands. I found myself trying to listen to all the conversations taking place at once.
At the end, each women left with a collage (or two, or three) and, it seemed, a full heart. And, at the end, my daughter came up the stairs and the topic of Purim came up. Lizzie, my daughter told us the story of Esther. Although the few of us that were left weren't in costume (as is the custom), I felt as if the coming together of all the women and their diverse materials was its own kind of celebration.

What's the Real Story?

When I started out this series of posts, I was thinking about the different parts of an artist's statement. What, I asked myself, needs to come together in order to give the reader and viewer an insight into the work that I've constructed?

After I wrote the last two posts, I got to thinking. One of the things I've learned over the years is that for my art work to find it's way to a conclusion, I have to abandon a cognitive understanding of what I'm doing, the subject matter I'm working with and any story lines I might want to tell. I have to continually surrender to the presence and the process of the artwork, because otherwise the art has a way of becoming didactic, of becoming a one-to-one correspondence between my idea and the finished piece where there is no mystery and no middle ground where new ideas have present themselves.

That mode of working has it's downside. I realized that after many years of working this way, I don't stop to figure out what the story is that I've told. "Oh my goodness," I thought to myself, "there lies undiscovered riches." I mentioned compost in the last entry. I think that unless I stop to reflect on the finished piece of art work, I'm missing the valuable "compost" for the next.

Day's End

At the end of the day, ideas gather. The hours of February 13th lay unfurled behind me and all of the things I wanted to do or dreamed of doing collect into this wonderfully rich compost. The ideas I've been holding inside of me combine with my regret that I didn't try them out--and I'm off. This is where inspiration begins.

Where do ideas come from?

Where do ideas come from? I've been pondering this question in my mind, turning it over in my mind like a gem. Finally, I decided that in order to answer it, I'd break that big gem down into many smaller gemstones (and thus many new gems!) I'm looking at my subject matter first--followed by inspiration, points of departure, choice of materials and finally style--because style becomes the lens through which we understand our subject.

That all said, when I think about subject, it often feels as if the subject chooses me rather than the other way around. Often my subject is a path of inquiry that I want to investigate in my art work. When I first became interested in studying Judaism, I began exploring the religion on thick creamy sheets of BFK Rives, working with Jewish symbols long before I visited a synagogue or met with a Rabbi. My quest begins in the studio. My subject can also be something that is tugging at me, weighing heavily on my mind and heart. Most recently that has been my work at the hospital. The recent deaths of a number of children we'd served took me to the edge of burnout. As part of my own grieving process, I began work on a series loosely titled "Remembrances." Small 6" x 6" collaged panels commemorate children the children I knew and loved. As I finish this series, I'm looking around for clues about the next one. I'm not sure yet where I'm going, but trust in my curiosity and where it will lead me.

Putting the Pieces Together

In my studio the other day, I caught sight of an exhibition catalogue that lay on one of my work tables. The exhibit featured a seventy year old South Carolina artist, Aldwyth, who had never before shown her art, but had an amazing store of work reminiscent of Joseph Cornell with a slightly darker flavor. The piece that I fixed on featured a collection of puzzle pieces stained shades of umber and burnt sienna with the printed word "WORK' on all of the pieces. They were glued in a seemingly random pattern inside a wooden box whose narrow lip had fragments of sentences glued to it. As I looked, I began to ruminate on "how things fit together" and decided to put that idea to work in my art therapy group at the hospital. That afternoon, I took four 9" x 12" sheets of watercolor paper and drew curving lines that divided the paper into four pieces. The volunteers and I cut up the paper and quickly realized that we wouldn't be able to put them back together unless we wrote a number on the back and noted "B" for back. Otherwise, people might end up drawing on the back! After we'd cut the pieces up, I wanted to mix them up so that people would not know which piece they had or how it fit back together.

 I could not have anticipated the reaction of both the children and the volunteers. They loved it and covered the pieces with geometric designs, stripes, mandalas, teddy bears and flowers drawn and painted with markers and watercolors. What is it about separated pieces of cardboard or paper that makes someone want to put them back together again? Before the paint was dry, the children and adults eagerly tried to glue them down. The wish to heal, to fix, to mend, to become whole again within the walls of the hospital was made manifest. That wish strikes me as the motivation of most of us; we want so much to gather the puzzle pieces of our lives and see what we can make of them.

Interview with Jan Ferris in Sacramento Magazine

Art Therapist: Hannah Klaus Hunter
“Davis 7” by Hannah Klaus Hunter

February 2010 If you click on the title above, you can read an interesting view of my work as an art therapist. The interview with Jan Ferris, the writer, took place at time when I had lost many children whom I was close to at the hospital. All were girls, all with some form of cancer. The interview reflects my feeling of darkness at that time and, simultaneously, the capacity of art to carry me on. Using the cloth, bits of paper and paint, I've created panels for each of these children. As Jan noted, I want to express my belief that these lives do matter and do live on in all those who knew them.