The first few days of a challenge are exhilarating. Pictures emerge, I try out different techniques and there is a splendid newness. The real work begins when the shine wears off. Fortunately, there are also dreams. All last night as I alternately slept and woke, the outlines of leaves and flowers arose before my eyes. I recognized this as the blessing it was, grabbed a pencil and paper and began drawing.
Last night, as I lay in bed, wind lashed at the trees, and sheets of rain streamed down the windows. "California dreaming indeed!," I thought. And as I thought about "Day 6," and what kind of background I might use, I imagined using my gelli plate to print paper with gray droplets and layer the plant forms on top of that. Gray droplets however, soon shifted to aqua skies and a strange amalgam of a lauhala tree* emerged. Keep the rain coming--I'll create the blue skies in my studio!
*The lauhala tree is native to Hawaii.
Today, I decided to experiment with a background akin to the one outside of my studio: dark, rain soaked and blue gray! I challenged myself to use opaque watercolors on top of the ground, seeing what I could accomplish with layers of paint. I feel that I've made a start and want to investigate further. The delicate nature of the watercolor needs a lighter ground, but I'm game for it, as a much as for a sunny sky--at least for a few minutes.
Finally today, rain, and we here in the West are truly grateful. As I moved about my studio today, cutting small squares of paper into shapes like large wet drops, this poem from my childhood looped through my mind: The rain is raining all around, / It rains on fields and trees, / It rains on the umbrellas here / And on the ships at sea. ---Robert Louis Stevenson
Today after a week in San Francisco, I headed home to Davis in the early morning. As I drove over the Golden Gate bridge and into the green hills of Marin, a rainbow spread itself over the hazy blues and grays of morning. That contrast of brilliant color with gray found its way into this collage.
My husband and I took a walk several days ago in the botanical gardens of Golden Gate Park, both of us absorbed by all of the whimsical and, to my eyes, magical shapes we saw. This collage came about after our outing. It wasn't until later that I looked at it with my art therapist eyes and said "oh my!"
It's not often that I take up a challenge like this but when I heard about the 30x30 challenge from my friend Linda Johnson, I clicked and jumped. I want to try exploring collage in a tactile way with luscious mediums, creamy acrylics and pieced together botanical imagery. My studio for Day 1 is a dining room table in my friend's San Francisco flat. Compact and perfect, it's just blocks away from the SF Botanical Gardens where I'm gathering inspiration.
To imagine that I could spend six weeks drawing almost every day is unbelievable. Like a stubborn goat, I pitted my hoofs against the pull of the assignments.Read More
Recently I had an opportunity to teach a master class for the California Art Educator's Association (CAEA), convening in Sacramento for their yearly conference. I'd put together a description for the class months ago when I had some rough ideas of what I might teach. As the time grew closer however, possibilities multiplied like rabbits due to a new book I discovered; Surface Treatment Workshop: Explore 45 Mixed Media Techniques.
Explore I did, buying containers of strange substances and trying them out in the studio. I loved the sound of the different techniques; embossing, embedding, inscribing, faux encaustic.
How to narrow them all down? I did a beta workshop with willing friends to test out my ideas. They dove into the materials with the zest of people who haven't had a meal in days; paint, papers and gels filled the surface of the ground paper. Shapes were torn, embedded, lines inscribed and we discovered the power of used gift cards.
Finally, I chose 3 techniques that I thought would be easy, inexpensive, adaptable and if carried out, would end up in some pretty great compositions.
The winners? Expired plastic cards to spread paint like a palette knife, gesso washing, embedding, and inscribing as well as a nifty technique involving two layers of contrasting paint, topped with a sprinkling of water droplets. (Recipe below.)
The only missing ingredient was a volunteer. I prevailed upon my friend and artist, Linda Clark Johnson, to join me for what I promised would be a good time. She graciously accepted and we set off for our art escapade.
A retired art teacher, Linda knows the ways of the educators. She promptly arranged the room into table groups. The conference room quickly filled to the brim with art teachers and their many bags of paint, paper and tools.
I'd never taught a group of teachers before and was delighted to find that as soon as I gave instructions, they dove in with an enthusiasm that was energizing. Table groups mixed, sharing paint and special papers they'd brought, as well as appreciative glances at each others' work.
I was amazed by the magic that these artists coaxed out of their materials. Although I'd never met any of them previously, looking at the images they'd created, I felt that I knew something about them. And they had acquired some simple tools with which to engage their students artistically and therapeutically.
I like to imagine that they will take these ideas, pop them into their capacious Mary Poppin's bag of tools and share them with their students. Like tiny seeds sprouting, artists will continue to appear.
Water drop recipe courtesy of Linda Clark Johnson
Cover your ground with a brilliant layer of color, allow it to dry, then add an additional layer in a contrasting color. Stick your hand in a bowl of water and sprinkle the wet paint with the droplets, allowing it to sit for several minutes. Finally, wipe the paint with a cloth and the areas covered by water come up revealing a wonderful splash pattern.
People say that there is no fall in California. That's not true. Fall arrives slowly and takes its sweet time once here. Sometime around mid to late October, the leaves begin to turn--first the sycamores fade bronze, the gingkos go yellow and finally the pistache leaves take off like bottle rockets with scarlet, crimson, pumpkin and wine, lighting up the city parkways with their stationary fireworks.
It's a month that calls for poetry and I was lucky enough to receive one of the most exquisite autumnal poems ever.
I was talking with my father. We spoke about our understanding of retirement. His definition, which I love, is that all retirement means is that you have left behind a salaried job with all the fringe benefits. My father has written five books since he retired as an English professor and, in his early eighties, is wading deep into his sixth. As we ended the conversation, he told me that he wanted to share a poem and began to quote from memory, Shakespeare's sonnet Number 73. I share it with you because it says so much about the season of autumn and the turnings in our lives.
That time of year thou may'st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou see'st the twilight of such day, As after sunset fadeth in the west, Which by-and-by black night doth take away, Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the death-bed whereon it must expire Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by. This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Perhaps that is the benefit of retirement. If we are lucky, we burn brightly with all of the colors of our life; the complex layers of experience, relationships and gifts which come together to be set out again in any form we choose.
I can see clearly now the rain is gone. / I can see all the obstacles in my way. / Gone are the clouds that had me blind. / It's gonna be a bright (bright)/ bright (bright) sunshiny day. Jimmy Cliff
For someone who, as my husband says, never seemed to pay much attention to rock lyrics, they have an uncanny way of popping up at telling times. I'm a day short of retirement from my long time job as art therapist at UC Davis Children's Hospital.
It's a graduation, a transition I'm making as I round the corner of my 60th year, while year 5776 of the Jewish calendar approaches and school all around the country begins again.
That's how I see it. As I end this chapter of living as art therapist/artist, I'm beginning again. I'm shifting the balance over to artist/art therapist. My collage box is full, my materials are all ready to go and I've got shows lined up through May. Hooray!
But I can't imagine not practicing art therapy; intending to use my skills to help others heal themselves. I'll continue working with people, older ones this time and not primarily children.
I'm thinking about palliative care. I'm considering hospice and thinking about people who are struggling with or have survived cancer. I can't imagine not witnessing the profound delight in someone's eyes or hearing the enthusiasm in their voice as they discover they have the power to convey something powerful; a profound emotion with their own hands...which brings me to the lyrics of Ben Harper's gorgeous song: With My Own Two Hands. Have a listen and let me know what you think. Music starts at 1:26
I've been working closely with Lisa Call in her Artist's Master Class for the last 6 months. A combination of coaching, goal setting and support from fellow artists, the class has challenged me to examine the parts of my life that do NOT support my art/life.
I've taken classes with Lisa before and the pace, challenges and comradery are exhilarating. I had expected the same approach in the Master Class. But initially, I was frustrated-- I wanted to move full speed ahead with my artwork. Instead, I discovered all the things that got in my way.
On the short list for roadblocks were my health and my job. My health was suffering because I was burning out from the intense pace of hospital art therapy. All the self care that I could muster; yoga, therapy, exercise, massage, you name it, didn't seem to budge my exhaustion or my myriad collection of maladies.
Lisa invited me to slow down and piece together the elements that weren't working. Then, I was to imagine what might help me grow stronger. I put down my ideas: acupuncture, more time with friends and more travel, less time in the studio. A couple of the myriad maladies began to melt away as I put my ideas into action.
My favorite exercise is one that cost nothing in time or money; a values inventory. I thought about the values that circumscribe my life: intuition, stewardship, tikkun o'lam*, healing, acknowledgement, responsibility, respect and compassion.
After coming up with my list, I decided to bring each of these values, one by one, into my art work. I was amazed--because I actually began to relax.
Although I have deadlines for exhibits. I've began to be more thoughtful in my process; less let's get it done! and more what is it that I'm doing?
And slowing down is good. It's hot, it's summer, but beyond that I'm simply enjoying the ride, curious to find out how my ideas about art will change as I do.
How do your values affect the art you make?
*A Jewish principle that means to heal the world, to fit the broken pieces together, and in modern terms to talk about fixing what is broken in society.
It's the hot hazy days of summer here with temps scrolling over the 100's, grass crisped to a dull gold, trees and bushes thirsty for whatever moisture may come their way. The best places to cool off are low at the ocean or high in the Sierra. Failing that, I'll take my studio, fortified with air conditioning, glasses of ice tea and mineral water.
Recently, my friend Linda Clark Johnson* joined me there for an afternoon. Hauling her Mary Poppins bag of art supplies up the stairs, she commented on the virtue of stairs as an exercise device. We'd planned this day together for a month and neither of us stinted as we placed double lines of acrylics, brayers and paper on the tables. Linda sifted through prints with primary layers, pondering her next move for each, while I tore thick, white sheets out of my notebook.
There's something wonderful about sharing a space with another artist for a few hours...a time of no specific agenda, no attempt to forward the "serious work," simply experimenting, to see what might happen working side by side.
Walking down my back alley to gather plant materials, we discovered some bounty of the Central Valley spilling over the fence: grapes, figs, oranges, and pomegranates.
Wishing I could simply place a ripe fig on my printing plate and squish it, I experimented with dried seed heads of fennel, using color combinations of mustard, tangerine and rose.
Linda enjoyed some time with fuchsia and pink, bringing in purple shades, which reminded me of the dusky blue grapes ripening on the hot wooden fence.
We worked until we'd covered a good portion of my floor; we noted the hits, the misses and the sweet surprises. I discovered that the seeds of the fennel created little spots that remind me of using salt with watercolor. Linda tried out a new color, warm gray, and found that it worked elegantly as a top layer for the subtle underpinnings of purples, blues and greens.
Later, harvesting a bag of succulent figs for Linda to take home, I reflected on the afternoon, thinking how important it is to make things in the company of others. Perhaps the artistic variant of jamming, working together stirs up ideas, offers new perspectives and a rich exchange takes place. What kind of artist jams carry you away?
*If you'd like to see more of Linda's gorgeous prints, you can catch her at the Sacramento Open Studios Tour, the weekend of September 19th and 20th. to find out more information, click here.
Recently, people have been talking a lot about Mercury Retrograde. An event that takes place 3-4 times a year, the planet Mercury appears to slow down and actually move backwards. It's an optical illusion, because the planet continues to move forward, its just doesn't look like it from Earth's point of view. It's like when you're in a slow train and a much faster one speeds past. It seems like you're not moving at all.
One of my favorite commentators on astrological events, Cathy Coleman, wrote the following about Mercury Retrograde:
Mercury symbolizes communication, and its retrograde motion beckons us to pause and re-think, re-organize, and purge the Inbox and remnants of lists undone rather than start new endeavors. Communication can get snarled and confused, so be patient with mistakes and with those who make them.
My own adventures have been limited to garden variety computer glitches (how come I can't log into the electronic medical records with the same password I've used for 2 years?) the i-phone (no matter how many pics I delete, I still can't take any more??) and my favorite one, the studio.
When I made it up to the studio this past weekend, I thought that I'd successfully set up four panels with monoprint collage bases. I used 12-4" squares on a 12" x 12" panel and 24 squares on a 12" x 24" panel. Um hmm. I completely forgot that those squares I planned to turn into segmented circles were actually supposed to be 6." I didn't remember that part of the plan until I'd glued on almost all of the circles, and dammit--they looked really small!
The central question of a warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?...We regard disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, jealousy, and fear as moments that show us where we're holding back, how we're shutting down. Such uncomfortable feelings are messages that tell us to perk up and lean into a situation when we'd rather cave in and back away.
Indeed. I calmly peeled away all the little quarter circles, measured and began again. And here's what I found. Rather than screwing up my plans, the confusion between my math facts lent the work in progress a kind of complexity that I could not have planned. Working with the difference between multiples of 4 and 6 was like working with music in different time signatures--fun, exciting, stimulating. So I'm going with it. Leaning in and discovering what happens when I welcome the random challenges of Mercury Retrograde.
How does an artist keep making art when the flow of life brings a series of not so fortunate events? That's what's been happening to me lately. From a fractured foot to a persistent virus, not to mention getting rear ended, was life conspiring to keep me from the studio?
With little time and less energy, it seemed that the obvious solution was to make smaller work. "But I don't want to make smaller work!" an inner voice whined. "O.K.,"-- I answered the voice, "but smaller work can add up." It occurred to me that I could use the same journal format that I'd been practicing in my recent work.
I approach my work in an additive way anyway, creating one print or collage and building on that with the next one, and so on; day after day. At the end of a run (determined by season or plant material), I curate them into a composition that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
This time, although the size would be smaller, I could still use a sequential format. Then, the words "Tiny Desk Concerts" came to mind. I remembered that these were intimate musical events performed live at the desk of one of NPR's music hosts, Bob Boilen.
Great idea! I figured that I could work the same way. During a break at the hospital or lunch, I could stack the key board on my computer monitor and employ the resulting 13" wide open space for art making. Tiny desk art indeed. But my patch was large enough to fit a cutting board. And where would I keep my materials? I slid open my file drawer, revealing a box of jasmine tea, some almonds and chia seeds, and added a pencil box of collage materials and a folder of colorfully printed papers.
There is a sequence of 3 letters: prn, medical shorthand for the Latin phrase: pro re nata, or, "as the thing is needed."
I love that phrase "as the thing is needed," meaning not always, not every hour or even every day, but when you need it. And that, for the time being, is how I'm making art.
One week left to the Davis Art Studio Tour! This past weekend I cleared out so much unwanted "stuff" that I'm certain I'll feel psychically lighter for the next 6 months.
I love the spacious white feeling of my studio. Now, like materials are stored with like (easy on the memory). Unlabeled boxes have large black letters stating their contents. Artwork sits stacked, ready to be hung, displayed and sold.
For all this, I owe kudos to my sister, Amelia, who helped me to carry heavy objects down the studio stairs, cast away unused collage fodder and grab pictures of my leaf collection. Her openhearted support helped me to keep a stiff upper lip as I carted numerous armloads to the recycling bins.
The act of clearing a space is of course both a physical and mental task and requires me to take a stand; I'll let go of this and hold onto that. And, when it's all done, I can focus on "closing the circle," returning to where it all began; the artwork itself.
I'm happy and excited to share the prints that have come off the Gelli plate in the last year. There are many of them and some wonderful cards that they've inspired. I'll have two of my good friends serving as wing persons so that I can show you just how how the magic happens.
If you're in the Davis area, I'd love to see you this Saturday or Sunday!
Several weeks ago when I was coming down my studio stairs, I tripped on the second to last step and went flying, my hands holding a mug and several brayers and my feet imbedded in unwieldy Dansko clogs. I was barely able to twist myself around so I'd land on my foot rather than my shoulder.
I discovered the next day that it was a clean break of the 5th metatarsal. Bumping around the house in my new Bledsoe boot, I earned the name "Mama Pegleg Pirate."
Two days later, I came down with a virus that has taken my voice hostage for two weeks. Since that time, I've spent rather more time looking out our upstairs window at my studio, rather than in it.
I've often thought that nothing occurs in a vacuum, and that for most things there is a good reason; this accident being no exception. And there's something definite about a break. It insists that you pause, that you look at the world in an unaccustomed way.
I began to dream. Ideas that previously floated beyond me felt within reach. I created a retention plan to capture "waiting for warm" water from showers, bath and the kitchen faucet. With the help of my husband and daughter, we installed a family of buckets in strategic locations. Despite no winter rainfall for the past month, we've been able to water the plants with what we've collected.
I also decided to take a more proactive stance toward the studio. I wrote out a plan for the Davis Art Studio Tour, printed some calendar pages and scheduled tasks and events, so that I could see them clearly in front of me (rather than having them creep up from behind). I made a list of posts for social media, searched for frames for my monoprints and in an inspired moment, asked for help.
We often think we have to do everything ourselves, but in the last several days, I've asked both my husband and sister to be shopping ambassadors. Monty headed off to Dick Blick's in Sacramento and when they came up short there, Amelia, my sister drove me into Berkeley so that I could visit the well stocked DB's on University Ave.
While I'm still frustrated that I can't stand up for very long and that I haven't been able to get in a good block of time in the studio, things are moving along for the Davis Art Studio Tour coming up April 11th and 12. Most of all, I'm grateful for the love of family and friends and my long suffering husband who amiably smiles when I say once again, "I'm so tired of being sick and tired," and simply says: "I know, Sweetie."
During the winter holidays, our pediatric unit is festooned to the nines in greenery, glittering balls and ornaments. Stately trees decked with stuffed animals and toys grace each alcove on the floor. In my early days here at the hospital, there was always some acknowledgement of Hanukkah too; a garland of dreidels or decorations made of cobalt blue and white. This week marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the 8 day Jewish festival of lights and it's been a long time since I've seen any blue, white and gold decorations on our floor. By the first day of Hanukkah, I was growing weary of Santa visits and a pervasive sense of Christmas as the ruling paradigm. I didn't think I could do anything about it; I just observed my irritation.
But later that day, one of the nurses came up to me saying: "A surgeon just called me and asked me if the Art Lady could come up with some kind of Hanukkah decorations. The surgeon is Jewish, it's her birthday and every time she comes on our unit and sees only Christmas decorations, she's sad."
Was the doctor reading my mind? I decided to make some decorations STAT in Art Group, although I was a mite concerned about parents becoming upset when their little girl or boy set to cutting out Stars of David or dreidels.
And that's when the tiny miracle happened. That afternoon, most of the children were confined to their rooms on isolation, but one family staying close to the playroom rolled in. I explained that we were making a paper chain with stars for Hanukkah. They became very excited, sat down at the table and the dad asked me "Do you know why they use that dark blue for one of the Hanukkah colors?"
He explained that the cobalt blue was inspired by a kind of dye that was used in ancient Israel. I was impressed, especially when he told me that scientists were still trying to figure out the origins of that dye.
A wonderful hour of linking one paper ring to another followed, with stories and memories exchanged. More people came in and they too, got excited. When we finished, we had a 30 foot-long chain dripping with brilliant yellow stars and blue rings.
I gathered the collection of stars and rings in my arms and carefully placed them in the nurse manager's office. When I arrived the next morning, I wondered whether they would still be sitting there or hanging in the entry way. I entered, turned around and saw them, signaling in their unique way, the miracle of the season.
The world has, for far too long, traded upon exclusivity instead of inclusion and it seems to me, that at this time of year, is there any better time to honor our traditions? Everyone's traditions.
When you're in a yoga class, the teachers often refer to "your practice," a phrase that both personalizes one's practice and places the responsibility for it squarely on one's shoulders (or should I say palms and feet?) When my teacher was directing a complicated pose the other day and used the phrase "if you have it in your practice," those words that simultaneously reassured and challenged me.
I'm taking them to heart and applying them to an event that's just up the road, my first Open Studio event in several years. I always get excited about the idea of an open studio, but as the date gets closer, the idea of opening my house to people feels like the proverbial dream where I look down and realize I've forgotten to put on my shirt. Exposed.
But here's the thing: I love being up in my studio and making my work, watching it fill up the walls. But there's another part to the process of making art that I struggle with: sharing it. Its a way of completing the circle, to bring what is internal out and allow the world to see it.
I do want to share it, but that feeling of exposure is uncomfortable. And that's where yoga comes in. Perhaps, I thought, I could see the whole thing simply as a continuation of my art practice, something that is actually a natural extension of making the work.
In a practice, whether it's an art or yoga practice, the important thing is to show up. As I thought about this, I began to feel more confident and I got curious about this idea of practice. I read different yoga blogs to get a feel for what different teachers meant by practice. While they generally agreed on the physical benefits, I collected different tips about how to maintain a practice:
•Set an intention or goal and set aside time for that each day. • Stay positive -- know that it is possible. • Be patient with myself; honor my body. •Acknowledge my accomplishments, big or small. • Continue my practice. Combine these points with a heaping portion of non-judgement and compassion, and I've got a good recipe.
So far, so good. I've been staying tuned into Art Hannah. I think that the most exquisitely difficult and simultaneously most rewarding part of the practice is this: I can't make my art or my home or myself anything other than 'what it is' or 'what I am'--and that if I am completely myself and my art is too, there isn't any better place to be.