Weekly Roundup

Mal | Universal | Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Conference

What I worked on this week

  • Some collages
  • Spectating at the marathon
  • Finishing touches on an upcoming giveaway prize. Tune in tomorrow!

5 comments worth reading

I really appreciate the conversation that is generated in the comments section, and each week I highlight 5 thoughts that were particularly keen.

Honorable mention goes to fellow art therapist Megan of When We Were Made who writes:

i had a dream about you! you were getting married and your hubby was carrying you in your wedding dress. which is funny because i don’t even know what you look like.

i know that seems odd, but i think it relates to seeing your turning*turning name in my blackberry inbox in the middle of the night. i have weird dreams :) but your dress was amazing!

First off, any comment that talks about me getting married totally wins. Unfortunately, in spite of my better efforts, that blessed event does not seem to be in my near future. Megan, if you can scare me up a husband, I promise to make your dream come true! Don’t any of you have a kind, smart, 30-something brother that you want me to meet!?

Back to business, then.

(Read on for more…)

What to do: Set your priorities

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Thursday, May 28th, 2009

On the fence 3

When I wrote my About page, I laid out out my intention for this blog.

This is not a blog about one particular medium or another. This is not an assembly line of amazing and flawless creations. This is not a business site designed to promote a book or a business or a product. This is a place for exploring, discussing, and considering the creative process — the power of making — and its place in modern life.

In recent weeks, you’ve seen me trying to puzzle through this business of modern life and how to fit creativity into it. But what exactly do I mean? What is modern life and why is it so difficult to make time for making?

I guess by “modern life” I mean this whole fast-paced thing — this overscheduled, overcrowded, convenience-driven attitude that is popular in our culture.

On the rail 1

In the old days, people created because they had to. Women quilted because their families needed warmth. They baked because their families needed food. Men fashioned their tools and laid out their farms so that they could eat. Women cared for children, men cared for plants and livestock. All were involved in the slow, steady work of nurturing life, and of making things, and of getting through.

Nowadays, why cook when we can pick something up at the drive-thru window? Why make blankets when we can buy them at Wal-mart for $3 a pop? It takes so much time to cook, to quilt, to paint or string beads or write poetry. Why labor over a hand-bound book, a tile mosaic, or a plein air painting when you can so cheaply pay someone else to do it? Paying will surely free up our time. But what do we do with that time? Well, a lot of us work harder to earn more money so we can pay for more conveniences.

Turquoise in tree

Money will buy time. If I could pay someone to do my laundry for me instead of sitting in the laundromat for 3 hours a week — to do my cooking and cleaning, my car maintenance, and my dog walking for me — why, I could travel the world with my sketchbooks and do nothing but create. But, the only way for me to have funds to pay for convenience is to work more. Working more means less free time. That must not be the solution.

As it stands, you and I and everyone make small decisions every day. For the most part, we give time to those things that are important to us. I say “for the most part” because if we are going through our days without examining our priorities, it’s very easy to fall into some cultural traps. How much time do I spend watching television? And why? Is watching television important to me? Well, no. Not really. But culturally, it is the popular thing to do. It is an easy thing to do. It is a fairly brainless thing to do. It lulls me into thinking I have done something. (Hint: I haven’t.)

On the fence 6

If I wish to dedicate more time to things that are important to me, I first have to know what those things are. I have to set my priorities according to my values and be prepared to make decisions every day — every hour — to keep myself in line with those priorities.

One of my values is a core belief that making things enhances and improves my life. I have worked this year to make making a priority in my own life, and not just in the lives of my art therapy clients and patients. And so, even when I’m tired, or have had a long day at work, or am being jostled about on the subway, I try to make something. When I am upset or sad or sick, I try to make something. When I am happy, excited, or anxious, I make. Making is my priority.

In the tree 1

I’m not a self-help author. There are plenty of people out there who want to tell you how to set your priorities. I’m not going to give you a numbered list of steps or suggestions for what your priorities should be. But, here is what has worked for me:

  • I separate my values from my priorities. Values are things I believe. Priorities are things I do. They are the areas where I choose put my time and energy. Knowing my values helps me set my priorities. Priorities are my filtering system. They help me organize my time so that I can live a life in line with my values. Is that circular enough for you?
  • I try to limit my list of personal values, priorities, and such to only 3-5 at a time. That’s not to say that I only believe in 3-5 things, just that I don’t want to actively be working on more than 3-5 areas at a time. More than this just gets overwhelming and probably sets me up for failure. I don’t like failure.
  • My list is always in flux. What is important to me today may not be as important tomorrow, so it’s important to revisit it frequently. If I were to have children, for instance, this list would be likely to change.

I’m currently in the process of re-examining my list of values and priorities. Certain things have become less important to me and are being jettisoned. Others are making a re-appearance. Here is my current list of priorities — the places where I am trying to spend time:

  • Health
  • Creativity
  • Prosperity
  • Relationships

What about you? What are your values? Your priorities? Where will you spend your time and energy today?

The view from here

Mal | Handmade,Here and Now,Prosaic,Works in Progress | Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Markers

Pictures from around the studio — lots of works in progress right now.

Blue and green

A little something to look forward to.

Beads

Another little something to look forward to.

matisse

A month ago, Victoria of Bumblebeans issued a challenge to make a quilt based on this Matisse painting called Interior in Aubergines. She encouraged us to “turn off your brain” and work quickly, intuitively. I wasn’t able to participate in the challenge at the time due to great disarray in my workspace, but the idea stuck with me.

Last week I was given a stack of home decorating magazines and, well, add in a little late-afternoon migraine medicine and the rest is history.

Matisse collage

It’s many weeks late, and it’s a collage (not a quilt), but hey. The other submissions are really neat to look at (scroll down). I’m so glad Victoria got this idea.

What about you? What are you working on today?

What to do: Take small steps

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Current Events,Here and Now | Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Marathon

This week, my city hosted a marathon.

Since I moved here, I have wanted to go downtown and be a spectator of the marathon — to vicariously experience the emotions and triumphs of the thousands of people who undertake this superhuman feat.

So, I woke early and watched the television coverage while I dressed — the starting line of the wheelchair race, the “elite” men and women duking it out to the finish line, the weather reports and sports commentary. But, this is not an essay about the starting line or the finish line. It’s about everything that comes in between.

Once I had my fill of enthusiastic starts and dramatic televised finishes, I grabbed my camera and bound for the train. I had chosen a viewing point for transportational convenience (closest to the metro that I am familiar with) so although I wasn’t sure exactly where I was along the route, I knew I could get some pictures and enjoy the feel of the event.

Mile 24

When I realized that I was standing at Mile 24, just 2 miles from the finish line, I was flooded with emotion.I stood and cheered and clapped. I yelled, “You’re almost there! You’ve done it!” for an hour or so. I comisserated with my fellow on-lookers and enjoyed the live band and generally marveled at the people in front of me who were still running — still plodding one foot in front of the other — in spite of the pain they must have been feeling.

But, I’m not really writing about the pain, either. What most impressed me was that 24 miles ago, the marathoners had started taking steps. That’s all. They just took one step, then another. Most of them in this non-elite group were alternating between running and walking, even sometimes stopping to stand still at the water stations. They ran over to the sidewalks to hug their families and friends. But, in general, they made a gradual eastward progress. They were still at this business of taking steps, long after the excitement and energy of the starting line had past.

And that’s what distinguished them from the spectators, besides their numbered bibs. They were actively moving toward their goal. They took one small step, then another step, until they were done.

Sure, there were a handful of “winners” yesterday who took home special medals and money awards. But, for the most part, thousands of runners were just trying to finish. They were fighting only against themselves and their environment. They weren’t looking to the right or to the left to see how anyone else was doing. They just kept taking one step, and then taking another step, in a solitary journey.

Marathon mosaic

They did this in spite of being older than those around them. They did it with a cause, from a wheelchair, and in spite of all distractions. They slowed down and looked back to see how far they had come, but they didn’t stop taking steps.

Marathon gadgetry

I love this lady. She has all of the fancy gadgets — a virtual Bat-belt of snacks, water, and stride measurers.  But guess what? Even she wouldn’t make it to the finish line without taking one small step at a time.

Last week, I was bemoaning the fact that in my current life circumstances, I can only squeeze in my moments of creativity between meetings, telephone calls, and other obligations. I wrote:

…let’s face it — some days it’s all I can do to make something other than a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dinner. Some days I am happy if I make my bed, wash my hair, tie my shoes. Some days, I feel extremely lucky to have sewn one bead, one green loop, one hexagon seam.

I’m not alone in this. Many of you out there are mothers of young children, caretakers of ailing parents, and working two (or three!) jobs to make ends meet. You have difficult marriage relationships, personal crises and illnesses of your own. With the exception of people like Arlee, who will be creating for 3 months at a summer residency with limited distractions, we don’t, for the most part, work under ideal circumstances. The message of hope that I took away from my experience at the marathon was this:

All you have to do is take one step, then another step.

Someday I will finish my hexagon project. Do you know why? Because I am dedicated to pulling it out for 10 minute spurts on the subway. Because I sew a seam here and there, whenever I get a chance. Because I work on it a little, then I work on it again. I enjoy the process, not just the completion.

This is how most of us fit creativity into our modern lives. For my part, I’m going to stop wishing for a miracle — for a millionaire to marry me and magically remove those limitations of time and space and money. I’m also going to stop looking around me to see just how fast everyone else is moving. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I can do today. And, if it’s just one small step, well shoot. Mile 24 awaits.

What small thing will you do today?

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Roundup | Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Jump straight to:

500comments

Milestone

It was good to have Dee of Dee Mallon & Cloth Company back this week from her short hiatus. You can imagine my delight to notice that she was also my 500th commenter! And such an insightful comment, too. I highly recommend you go read the whole thing, but here’s a taste.

I grew up in a house where my mother deemed her activities ‘creative’ and my father’s not (he was an engineer, she was an art teacher). I have striven not to be so linear and confining in what I consider ‘creative’ — surely building an organization, planning a birthday party, figuring out how to juggle various responsibilities, are all creative acts. One of my sons specializes in making wallets out of duct tape… what’s not to love? … I see artistic/craft endeavors having many categories — super challenging ones that push one’s technical capabilities, stuck ones (that need to go to sleep as another reader mentioned) and peaceful ones (perhaps like your hexagons?), where one can sit and relax and build something with enough time and effort. I think it’s important to have some of each.

Thanks, Dee! You’ll be getting a little prize package in the mail.

What I worked on this week

5 comments you should read

I’m going to experiment with format on this feature — attempting to limit the list of most compelling comments from the week. Then it might be less of a dump of everything that was interesting this week whatsoever and a little bit more of a reward.

(Read on for more…)

What to do: Don’t hold back

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Don't hold back

We’re all clear (aren’t we?) that these “What to do” essays are letters to myself — internal pep talks that I make external. And here is something that I am guilty of doing very often: holding back.

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is a signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard

The idea of this post came to me in the early hours this morning. It was about 5:00, and the soft buzz of dawn was just beginning to grey. I was curled up with the dogs and mentally reviewing the wins and losses of the past week. The smaller dog wasn’t stirring yet, but the older one had already joined me for our wake-up ritual.

I thought about some of the week’s errors and, in a few instances, regretted holding back. I thought, ”That’s a good idea. I should write that.” And then, “But, why waste it on a Friday? It’s too good of an idea for a Friday.” I stroked the soft, fluffy hair of the old pooch. We were all still pretending to sleep. ”People will like it. They’ll respond. I should save it for, say, a Tuesday when I get more visitors.”

I didn’t have a photo to accompany the post anyway. Surely I would by Tuesday. As I rushed around — showering, brushing, ironing, eating — I cast about for an image. I searched, in vain, for a particular trinket that I thought would work. (Turns out that it wouldn’t — you’ll see it come up later.) As I washed breakfast dishes, I remembered these empty pill capsules and had an idea.

“But, no. That’s too good of an idea for a Friday. I should save that for something bigger — something more impactful. People will think it’s a gimmick if I use it more than once.” Besides, I hadn’t pulled out my trusty old typewriter for ages. I wondered if the ink would even imprint. As it was, I was running the risk of being late for work. “Maybe I should just wait.”

By the third time I caught myself standing in my own way — trying to convince myself to hold back what was clearly a good idea — I knew that this was exactly the essay I needed to post today. Anything else would be false, would be stopping up the flow. To hold back would demonstrate a lack of faith that something equally good or better will come to me by next Tuesday. And, it’s possible that nothing will! But, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

What are you holding back? Are you willing to spend it today?

Phat Quarter Swap: Anatomy

Mal | Embellishment,Finished Projects,Handmade,Media,Sewing,Stitching | Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Anatomy of a stitcher

Here’s my contribution to the Phat Quarter recent swap. The theme was anatomy.

Anatomy closeup 2

I wanted mine to look like an x-ray film, a bit blurry and fuzzy. So I used a single strand of embroidery floss and did a sloppy stem-stitch to give the effect.

At times it was a bit surreal — spooky, even — to look down and see my hand in the same position as the ghost hand, and to ponder the bones and veins beneath the skin. It was a pretty cool process, I have to say.

Anatomy closeup of needle

I even like how the hand looks as though it is sewing down its own binding.

Anatomy tilted

I’m sure my choice of an x-ray image is partially motivated by my work at a hospital. Hope Ben likes it!

Book review: A big new free happy unusual life (2.5/5)

Mal | Resources,Reviews,Universal | Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

bignewfree

 ★★½☆☆ 

Introduction

Nina Wise is a performance artist who has “taught improvisation since 1972.” Her book, A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life: Self Expression and Spiritual Practice for Those Who Have Time for Neither, boasts one of the longest, most confusing titles I’ve ever read! Clearly, this is a book that aspires to be all things to all people.

I have actually owned this book for many years because a good friend (a free spirit, spritely, fairy of a friend) recommended it to me. In all those years, I have never been able to get through reading the entire book. I decided to give it one more shot before I parted with it, read it cover to cover, then sold it almost immediately after listing it for sale on amazon. I guess that speaks to (a) the popularity of the book, (b) the allure of the title, or (c) my incredible ability to miss the point.

You can read an excerpt of the book on Powell’s.com. You can also skip the overview and get straight to my opinion.

(Read on for more…)

Fulfilling obligations

Mal | Finished Projects,Handmade,Here and Now,Prosaic | Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Anatomy closeup

I completed and mailed my piece for the flickr Phat Quarter swap. There’s a sneak peek for you.

Stash giveaway winners

I bundled up and mailed off the stash stacks for the Granny Day Giveaway winners. I ended up sending more than I intended (including some felt because HOLY CRAP with the felt already,  mom!) but it was fun to get the packets together. One red, one blue, one brown.

Baby McGooey

I spent some quality time with the dogs, including a spontaneous photo shoot with a very sleepy puppy.

Plates

And I spent the rest of the weekend manning a booth at an art fair. We were soliciting donations for my department at work. It was a hot, dusty couple of days but I’m glad we were there.

200905178739

Late Sunday night, I found out that my sister-in-law’s father had passed away and I spent Monday afternoon and evening with her.

Sometimes we don’t get to write our own to-do lists. What’s on your list today?

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Roundup | Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Huge stash

What happened this week

  • Worked on finishing up my submission for the Phat Quarter swap. The theme was anatomy. (I’m super excited because MrXStitch was assigned to send his to me!)
  • Made more progress on the sorting and organizing in my apartment. Hopefully after tomorrow I will have good pictures to post.
  • Finally finished up the stash project and got the giveaway prizes ready to mail.
  • Worked on the method for joining my mini quilts into a journal format. Really excited to show you this one.
  • Commiserated with many people have already discovered the magical, curative powers of showering in the dark. Here’s a list of fellow weirdos who’ve come forward so far: Emma of Furrybees, Montse from Kismet-M, Stacey from disco underworld, Deb of Emma Tree. If reading their comments doesn’t convert you, then nothing will!

Blog Highlight

Gorgeous photos and generous tutorials moved Rachel Griffith’s P.S. I Quilt out of my “Auditions” folder this week. (Warning, site plays music.)

Comments you should read

Lots of good responses on my post, What to do: Make do, encouraging us to use what we have and explore the concept of enough.

Thank you for the reminder. I’d like to think that working with less could increase my creative output but I just get so mired down in lack of. Lack of space, time, energy, whatever. I’m going to keep the words MAKE DO in the forefront of my mind and see if it helps. (Amy of A Commonplace Life)

Although I still haven’t completely conquered the desire to purchase fabric, when DH and I hit a rough financial patch three or so years ago, I developed a mantra w/regard to both quilting fabric and quilting books:

“I don’t have everything, but I have enough.”

What I found was that, if I turn the “I don’t have enough XYZ” complaint on its head–and who on Earth would ever have “everything”?–I do have enough. Enough to get started, enough to do *this* quilt top, oooooh enough to do *these* borders, etc.

And, when I made a concerted effort to use up some thread, I was astounded at how long it took to use up a large spool (like the Star brand cotton thread). So…I *definitely* have enough thread to do *these* quilt projects I’ve already cut out or pulled fabric for! (Cynthia, no blog but wonderful contributor to the discussion over here!)

Love your post. Most of the time I have more than enough. If by chance I think I need something, than comes the question what will also add something special? Use this technique not only when I’m busy with my embroidery but also when I’m cooking or any other creative work. (Elizabeth from Landanna)

Goes back to the WWII chant — use it up, wear it out, make do or do without! One more step to becoming self sufficient! (Melissa from Brinkley’s Place)

(Read on for more…)

Some days

Headless monster

Some days are just like this, I guess. Some days I feel all stretched out and strung — like a too-tight banjo that’s been hammered on for hours. Like a hurricane blowing out in every direction, a circle of destruction. Like that plastic monster from my yard who battled valiantly and lost — plaintive and empty.

Rawr.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do this hour, and that one, is what we are doing… Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern… There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. 

Annie Dillard

I started this blog with a few different aims and purposes. One of them was to have an excuse to be making things — an accountability to myself that I would create art in my free time. I wanted to honor my mission of bringing art and creativity to other people’s lives by also bringing it to my own life. To have that little extra push. To find and make time for creativity.

And, let’s face it — some days it’s all I can do to make something other than a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dinner. Some days I am happy if I make my bed, wash my hair, tie my shoes. Some days, I feel extremely lucky to have sewn one bead, one green loop, one hexagon seam.

Green loop

At work, I am the boss. I head up a team of people who bring the arts and creativity to those in need. I don’t always get to see patients, though in general I wish I could sit every minute of every day, with the suffering and downtrodden. Instead, I sometimes spend eight hours a day writing reports, grant proposals, and performance reviews. Compiling statistics. Oh, and I answer e-mails. So, so many e-mails. I supervise my staff, making myself available to discuss their triumphs and failures. I build bridges in hopes of building bigger bridges. Bigger bridges lead to new lands and unforseen challenges. But, it’s all in the service of a greater purpose. I have a clear vision for where I want to go with my little department, and I chip away at it one day at a time.

I also have a vision for my life outside of work, though it is not always so clear. I try to maintain a social life, courting the someday-fantasy of having a partner. I budget my money, trying to get out of debt. I attempt to eat right and exercise so that I can continue to lose weight. (Last year I lost 80 pounds, but I still have more to go.) I maintain contact with my huge and expanding family. I care for the dogs. I clean and wash and fold. I sit. I rest. I shower in the dark.

Hex flowers

And, I guess that’s what Annie Dillard is trying to say. Maybe I don’t finish a quilt in a day or participate in all the swaps and challenges and trends and movements. But, if I sew two hexagons today, and one tomorrow, eventually they start to build up. Today piles on top of yesterday and forms the base for tomorrow. It all blurs together into a pattern, just like Annie says, and I want the pattern of my life to be about compassion and creativity and community.  

So that even on days when I am only able to do the very smallest thing, it’s okay. As long as I am facing the right direction, contributing somehow to my life’s larger purpose, stringing together my days, my stitches, my pencil marks, and my paint strokes into a life of creativity, then that’s what matters to me.

What about you? What small thing did you accomplish today in the service of your bigger vision? I hope you’ll share.

What to do: Push boundaries

Mal | Art Journal,Art Process and Creativity | Thursday, May 14th, 2009

As I was looking through some old journals, I got a needed reminder about experimentation.

Mexico Wire Play

These scans are from an older journal — artwork done on a Mexico trip a few years ago. I mentioned when I posted some of my Mexico pages a few weeks ago that I had gone on this trip without taking a camera. That’s how serious I was about visual journaling at the time.

But, I didn’t just sketch and paint in my journal. At that time, I was so into visual journaling that I started to push the boundaries of what could or should be included in a journal. In a bound book. On paper, even. The spread above has shapes I made from some colored wire that I found. These are attached to the page with glue. Later in the book, I attached another wire sculpture to the page with stitches. It’s wonderful.

Mexico Swatches

What happens when we push the boundaries between the expected and the unexpected? The possible and impossible? The traditional and non-traditional? We can end up with tin foil, popsicle sticks, and snippets of armature wire stitched into books (as above). Swatches of colored masking tape. A traced-around pair of scissors. We invite happy accidents. We shake off experiments that don’t quite work. We move on.

Mexico Coins

On this page, I remember I really wanted to include some of the Mexican coins in my journal. They were so beautiful — so much more artistic than our boring, patriarchal, American coins. I tried several ways (glue, tape, etc.) but each time, the coins fell out. So, instead, I made rubbings of the coins, cut them out and pasted them into the book. I’ll never forget the cafe where I sat as I worked on this. It’s not something I would have ever done before, but I was experimenting.

I don’t have other great words of wisdom on this today. As you can see, these pages were made almost 5 years ago. Today I feel somewhat overwhelmed by issues at work, the sort-and-purge project at my apartment, a complicated social life and (of all things) budgeting. But, I am reminded that sometimes experimenting — pushing the boundaries of what we are accustomed to — is a quick little pathway to freedom.

What to do: Make do

Mal | Art Journal,Art Process and Creativity | Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Green Blue Purple

 Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

Things got better when I finally got over myself and stopped complaining about having imperfect conditions — about not having enough time or space or energy to create — and just made do.

Recently, one of my employees has run into the problem of not doing things because he can’t do them “perfectly.” Here’s an example that he doesn’t mind me sharing.

The other day, as lunchtime was ending, I asked him, “What are you going to do in your teen workshop today?” He answered, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been wanting to do a comic book project, but we don’t have any more 11×17 paper.”

Comic strips in the journal

I had to tell him about what has happened in my art journal recently — about how comic strips have spontaneously begun to crop up, and are made with crude pens during jostling, cramped subway rides. I told him about the ugly paper I was using and the limitations of my drawing abilities. I told him to stand up, take whatever paper we had available, and just make do.

The truth is, very few of us will ever have enough time or space or energy. We will, for the most part, not build a perfect studio space (though some of us will),  or have a perfectly encouraging family, or be able to quit our day jobs in pursuit of art-making.

The trick is to make do with what you have. The painter, Paul Klee, actually felt that working with limited options increased your creativity.

 … to adapt oneself to the contents of the paintbox is more important…

Paul Klee

Maybe the perfect shade of green would turn your painting into a masterpiece — but it’s 2 weeks to payday and all you’ve got are yellow and blue. Make do. You’ve been wanting to start a journal, and spend hours online researching leather-bound notebooks, expensive pens, and carrying cases. Stop it. Make do. Maybe it’s time to help out the planet by making cloth bags to take to the market, but you are worried that the fabric in your stash is not sturdy enough, it doesn’t match, or you need 4″ more. By the way, there’s enough fabric in your stash to make two hundred market bags. Make do.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about having enough and making do. Here are a few more examples, if you’d like some further reading:

Journal Quilt: Showering with the lights off

Journal Quilt: Showering with the lights off

Last week, I wrote about eliminating or reducing input from one of my senses — vision. As part of these experiments, I’ve been taking showers at night with the lights off. Although the idea is to reduce the chatter of visual input, the experience is still visual: the way the moon hangs in the upper corner of the window, the silhouette outline of the neighbor’s tree against the night sky, the invisible (but present) droplets. I love how the moon makes a halo of light around itself. It all adds up to a calming and soothing experience. I think I have finally found my insomnia buster.

Journal quilt: Showering with the lights off

I think I’ve also found a way to bind mini quilts into a book. The Art Journaler and Book Binder in me is so excited! Journal quilts! In an actual journal! Awesome.

Journal Quilt

This is my submission for Malka’s (of A Stitch in Dye) Mini Quilt Monday.

Mini Quilt Back

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Resources,Roundup | Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Life is Short

What happened this week

  • I’m so pleased that turning*turning.com was honored as a “Website to Watch” in the latest issue of Disco Underworld. I’m doubly honored that Stacey, DU’s editor and creative force, has offered to write a guest post for this site! Disco Underworld is a beautifully written and visually captivating magazine honoring the life and work of everyday people around the world.
  • I finished re-reading one of my favorite books again, The Time Traveler’s Wife.
  • I’m still stuck in the organizing/purging phase of my apartment overhaul, but I have carved out more space and time to be making things.

Comments you should be sure to read

On the DVD Review: PBS Craft in America, I gave 4 stars. Lois said:

I think we all love to ‘listen in’ on what others are doing and absorb little bits here and there. Sometimes it is with complete awe when the process or result is so different than any I have ever seen. Other times it is with a warm sense of the familiar and it is good to know someone else sees, thinks, or creates in a similar way.

On Seams Behind the Scenes, I showed progress on the mini hexagon project (finally!) and talked a little about the psychology of hiding my stitches. Wendymoon is in a different place than I am right now:

Haven’t started joining them together yet, so not sure about stitches showing or not. I think I don’t mind in this case. After doing a bunch of machine sewing, I’m glad for the change and wouldn’t mind the hand stitches showing.

On What to do: Embrace Mistakes, lots of people responded. Here are some of my favorites:

(Read on for more…)

New sight

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Here and Now,Simplicity | Friday, May 8th, 2009

This is a bit of a long story, and it ends with my date thinking that I fell asleep on my feet at a Bruce Springstein concert two weeks ago. But don’t worry — that’s not the punchline.

Springstein Concert

I started wearing eyeglasses in 1st or 2nd grade. Since then, my eyesight has gotten steadily worse and my vision prescription has gotten steadily stronger to compensate. I don’t want to be overdramatic — I’m not legally blind. But sometimes I do emit a little bat noise to make sure I don’t hit anything in the dark. Without my glasses, I cannot see my own shoulder clearly. Everything from my mid-sternum down is blurry, so I would guess I have a sight range of about 6 inches.

I’m a very visual person. In fact, you could say that a natural proclivity plus years of art therapy training have made me hyper-aware of visual details. But, something odd happened a couple of months ago as I was leaving work.

I don’t know that it was a particularly long day at work, but I was tired and a little stressed. I stepped out of my office and, without thinking, took off my glasses and perched them on top of my head. That’s an odd thing to do, I thought, but kept walking through the blurred haze. In fact, I walked all the way to the subway in this near blindness.

That blurry walk was so relaxing, so carefree, so quiet that I felt completely renewed. I was free from the need to process everything, to catch every detail, and to see. The stress of work seemed to fall away from me, like so many chunks of broken crust. 

So, I began to experiment.

I walked blind to the subway nearly every day after that, and each time I did, I felt refreshed. When I deprive myself of visual acuity, it disengages a part of my brain that chatters at me non-stop. I no longer wonder Where did she get those shoes? or Why did he look at me that way? or Is that person in pain? or They look lost; should I help them? Instead, I get reconnected to breathing and centering and just walking. Sure, I think a little bit about not tripping or stepping on invisible-to-me gum, but only a little bit. I think about the basics. I eliminate the distractions and am left only with myself.

I’ve started  to experiment with un-vision-ing in other settings. To unwind before bed, I now take my shower with the lights off. This intense experience reduces the sensory input to an almost raw and primitive state. I become hyper-aware of my body sensations, the pounding rhythm of the water, the steam and the shadows. I shampoo, soap down, rinse, and all the while am relying on my body to judge my place in space and time. I don’t know exactly why, but this not-seeing quiets everything down and I sleep marvelously well. 

When I was invited to a Bruce Springstein concert a few weeks ago, I decided to go even though (a) I’m not really a Bruce fan per se, (b) it was on a weeknight after a long day of work, and (c) the tickets were general admission which meant close proximity to the stage in exchange for two-and-a-half hours on my feet. My date was a rabid Springstein fan who has never missed a Boss concert within 100 miles.

By the time the show started I was already tired, and a little cranky, but I was determined to enjoy myself. It wasn’t too hard — there was plenty of good people-watching and my date was a really nice guy. Soon, my therapist-brain began to formulate theories about the people around me based on body language, clothing style, and interactions. The show itself was visually interesting — lots of lights and staging and imagery. I was hearing each of the songs (even old classics) for the first time so I know I was missing a lot of the messages and meanings. Although I was entertained with these little games, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like an outsider in the sea of fans — each singing along to every lyric, jumping up when everyone else jumped, and pumping their fists in the air.

I sighed, long and loud. I tried to exhale the stress of my workday, my aggrivation at myself for agreeing to this event, and my hyperawareness of the clock. Only 142 more minutes to go. As I exhaled, I shut my eyes. When I did, I felt a surge of electricity.

Woah.

I did it again. Within moments, I was caught up — swept away in the same unifying undertow that had already washed over everyone else. No, I didn’t know the lyrics. I was still tired. But I was lost in a surge of rhythm, beat, vibration, release. I felt my body in the midst of it all. I was aware of my skin — the place where my body meets the world — but I lost my sense of self and became part of the rush of the crowd. There was only me, and my breath, and my vibrating sternum, and the balls of my feet, and the roar of the crowd, and the energy of ten thousand people all riveted to the same purpose. I danced, and crooned, and roared, too. And then I stood very still, eyes closed, leaning against my date.

What happened? Is it like the proverbial blind woman whose other senses are heightened? Do I rely so much on my sight that my other senses have atrophied? Can this new skill be used to my advantage in my therapy work, my art-making, my relationships with others? Whatever it is, I’m curious to follow this path where it leads. (I just hope I don’t trip on anything along the way.)

What to do: Embrace mistakes

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Attempts

What to do when everything is coming out wrong? What is wrong anyway? Is wrong inherent? Or does it just mean that things aren’t lining up according to my preconceived (and perhaps somewhat pompous) expectations?

Pencil roll

I made this pencil roll for a friend of mine. I thought it would be neat to have this reminder be really present (like, literally present) every time she went to make art. It’s an awesome idea, except for the fact that of the two of us, I’m the one that needs the reminder.

Mistakes

Are mistakes inherent or perceived? What do you do with yours? Do you even make mistakes? Am I the only one? HELP!? (Okay, just kidding with that last little bit, but you know how slippery the slope is.)

Seams behind the scenes

Mal | Handmade,Media,Quilting,Sewing,Works in Progress | Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Hexagons sorted

I had been randomly stitching hexagons with whatever scrap fabric I could find. The result was a large collection of tiny, penny-sized hexes but no intended design.

Hexagon planning

I got to feeling a little bit lost in the project, so I printed off a hexagon page (from the graph-paper generator) and got to work with some colored pencils. Now I have some order and a direction. Now, with some structure, I am able to begin the long process of joining the pieces together and creating something cohesive.

200905058622

I’m using the ladder stitch to join the into little flowers. It’s awesome because you can barely see the line of stitches. They are all hidden away — tucked into the folds and creases of fabric. They hold things together, but you don’t think much about them. This is a very interesting concept, psychologically.

Sometimes you want your stitches to show. Jude of Spirit Cloth writes about intentionally showing stitches on her What If blog.

For some reason, on this project, I want to hide them away. I think it has something to do with my process on this blog, actually — the way I reveal some things, but not all things, about myself and my work. Even still, burying the process a little bit from time to time is valid as an artistic and therapeutic choice.

What about you? Are you in the mood to show your process, or hide it? Visible or invisible seams?

DVD Review: PBS Craft in America (4/5)

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Resources,Reviews | Monday, May 4th, 2009

craftinamericadvd

 ★★★★☆ 

Introduction

The PBS Series Craft in America is available on DVD and I rented it through Netflix. It contains one DVD with three “episodes.” I’ve caught snippets of the episodes on my local PBS station, but was under the impression that the only way to get your hands on a DVD was to pony up during the pledge drive. Silly, silly Mal. It can also be bought on Amazon.com.

If you like, you can skip my review of the content and get right to my opinion on it.

Overview

The three episodes, beautifully and cinematically directed by documentarian Dan Seeger, are called Memory, Landscape, and Community. I was especially touched to find that the intricate theme song of the series is Simple Gifts — the lyrics of which are the inspiration for my blog’s title.

It’s interesting to note that the series won a Peabody Award. So did Stephen Colbert, so you have to take that for what it’s worth (Hi, Stephen! If you’re reading this, call me!) Here’s a nice summary of the series from the good folks at Peabody:

“Craft” is a term packed with many meanings. This series of three interrelated, one-hour programs sets out to unpack those meanings and to explore the history and continuing significance of craft work. Each of the three topics provides unusually specific focus for this task. Memory examines the history of craft movements in America. Landscape situates craft and craft workers both geographically and in terms of the materials used in creative activities. Community again places people and objects within contexts, in this case the very special networks of schools, mentors, pioneers and practitioners. But all this conceptual elaboration is presented through the most exquisite visual framing, the focus on the works themselves. Clay rises on the wheel, formed into pots. Glass melts into stunning shapes, fiber is woven into fabric, scraps of cloth are sewn into quilts. The treat for the viewer is in what is seen, in watching beautiful objects emerge, and what is said, as craft makers explain what it means to be so intimately involved in these creative endeavors. For examining processes as old as human experience and as fresh and vibrant as the latest local craft fair, a Peabody Award goes to “Craft in America.”

Before we get going, it’s important to mention that when this documentary speaks of “craft,” they are not necessarily speaking of pompoms and glitter. These are not camp crafts or kits or any other type of “quick and easy” projects that you can buy at Hobby Lobby. Rather, the emphasis is on practical, durable, hand-made items and the artists who make them. It is a documentary about hand-made products which highlights the making process. That’s what I ultimately like about it.

Content

Part 1: Memory

This episode features two furniture makers, two basket makers, and a blacksmith.

Glass, clay, wood, fiber, metal. Human hands transform humble materials into works of function and beauty, creating objects that hold the memory of who we are as people. How are the traditions of craft kept vital by today’s finest artists? And how has the legacy of craft been re-imagined as a modern art form?

There is discussion of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the Arts & Crafts Movement. I appreciate its emphasis this episode places on learning from (and breaking with) the traditions of the past.For instance, at one point the blacksmith, Tom Joyce, talks about how he spent years learning the traditional skills and techniques of metalwork before he could branch out into more modern and ”artistic” applications. The basketweavers are both grounded in the traditions of their ancestors (African American slaves and Native American Indians, respectively) but have found a great personal meaning and purpose in their modern creations.

As may be expected from an episode called Memory, there is also a lot of talk about handing down traditions and questioning those who came before.

Part 2: Landscape

This episode features two jewelry designers, another woodworker, two ceramic artists, and a ski lodge. Seriously.

Sweeping pastoral vistas. The refuse of city streets. The limbs of a particular tree. The headlines over the morning paper. Artists look to the world around them for inspiration. How does landscape influence the act of creation? And how do artists translate this influence into a landscape shaped by their own hands?

We are invited to reflect about our surroundings and how they contribute to the process of making art.You might think that this episode would be locked into discussions of trees and flowers, but I was highly intrigued by the work of Jan Yager, who uses drug paraphernalia found in her rough Philadelphia neighborhood and transforms them into visually interesting pieces of art. Her commitment to using materials found in her immediate vicinity — no matter how ugly or rough — is pretty inspirational.

A break in the documentary’s form occurs when they highlight Timberline Lodge — a ski lodge built after the Depression by the Works Progress Administration which employed not only welders and brick-layers, but also apparently artists and craftspeople. It seems like a strange inclusion in the documentary, but it (mostly) works.

Part 3: Community

This episode features glass artists, ceramicists, quilters, two more jewelry artists, another basket weaver, and a roster of craft schools and organizations.

A quilt made for a loved one. A piece of jewelry passed down from one generation to the next. Crafts connect us to other times, other places, other people. How do simple, beautiful objects bind us together and how do they come to embody our sense of community?

This episode sticks most closely, in my opinion, to its theme of community. It shows artists working in residences, schools, and other group settings. Readers of this blog will be glad to see that a modern quilting-bee community, Mississippi Cultural Crossroads, is highlighted. Not surprisingly, with the exception of the glassworkers (a craft which I imagine is extremely difficult to complete in isolation), most of the artists featured in this episode are women. This makes sense, given what we see of women finding communities of creativity even here online in blogland.

My take on it

The people and products in this documentary are so lovingly and generously filmed that it will sometimes take your breath away. I frequently wished that I could reach through my television to caress a particular curve of a rocking chair, or feel the weaved texture of a basket or a rug. Fortunately, the camera does a pretty good job of caressing for us. Truly, these episodes are shot with a cinematic view and there is plenty for the eye to take in.

As someone who truly enjoys learning about not only art but also artists and their process, these episodes are jam-packed with gems. Please remember, however, that I am an art therapist and I could sit and listen to people talk about their artwork and their creative process all day every day. (Oh wait. I do. But, I never get sick of it.)

There are things about the documentary which fall a little short for me, too. For instance, I found the organizational structure of the episodes a little baffling. The worst offender of the episodes in this sense is Landscape — which inexplicably (and jarringly) leaps from highlighting artists who are making art based on their physical surroundings to an artist that makes art in protest of war. Huh? This episode also features Timberline Lodge, which is a cool collaboration of artists that came together during a difficult time and… therefore… wouldn’t it fit better in the episode called Community?

Also, those of us who are trying to incorporate art wherever we can in our modern, average lives may have to dig a little to find useful ideas from these full-time, studio-based, livelihood artists. I believe the gems are there, but I had to kind of commit myself to not being jealous of their set-ups. That said, the quilters are of course just everyday women. None of us should find this to be much of a surprise, I guess.

I was also struck by what is missing from this documentary — as I alluded above, it lacks a taste of everyman, of common folks who are using art or craft to enrich their lives. Because of this, there are great swaths of media that are not discussed. The episodes deftly avoid highlighting fine artists (painters, sculptors, and the like) in favor of crafts-people who are creating beautiful (yet largely practical) art. However, I would have liked to have seen more time devoted to things like embroidery, sewing, paper arts, bookbinding, and other more accessible media. I found myself wondering more than once, “Really? Another furniture maker?”

Finally, the “episode” format of this documentary is very tantalizing. My one remaining criticism is that there are only three episodes, with  no apparent plan for continuation. If they could reduce the production value a little, we might get fewer sweeping vistas and perfectly-lit images of glazed pots, but if it would have resulted in a longer-running examination of art and artists, I would have been glad of it.

Rating

 ★★★★☆ 

Overall, I give this DVD 4/5 stars.

The pros: Gorgeously filmed, beautiful work. Lots of artists are highlighted and they talk at length about their lives and their creative process. There’s an emphasis on getting back to handmade, simple objects and moving away from machine-made.

The cons: Organization is a bit loose and, at times, jarring. Many of the arts and media highlighted are out of reach of the average Joe. Potential for an interesting, ongoing series is somewhat wasted with only 3 episodes.

If you’ve seen this documentary (or choose to watch it in the future), please comment on it below!

Weekly roundup

Mal | Resources,Roundup | Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Studio Corner Sneak Peek

What I worked on this week

Out there in Blogland

Some Challenges/Swaps to consider joining

 Recent comments you should read

On What to do: Kill your darlings, there was some good feedback about editing your work. 

Lainie takes me to task and gives me my favorite phrase of the week:

I’m ambivalent – not because ruthless and unsentimental editing isn’t necessary, but because we’re not always our own best editors or judges. I’ve thrown paintings (and ideas) away only to have someone else rescue them, and later these became some of my favorites. Maybe we should put our darlings in the rest home for a little while, so to speak, and check back for signs of life before pulling the plug.

Arlee wisely suggests:

I regularly go through my UFO languishers and CANNABALISE them—if *i* worked on it, there has to be parts i like, or i wouldn’t have done them to begin with, so why not just use them elsewhere?

On Life in the Shadows, many responded about what makes a “real” artist.

Cynthia (no blog) says some of the things I wish I would have said:

From the quote you’ve given in Julia Cameron’s book, it looks to me as if Ms. Cameron is a purist. There’s nothing wrong with being a purist in your own life, so long as you don’t put other people down when they don’t (or can’t) abide by your precepts.

I particularly keyed in on her sentence, “Remember, it takes nurturing to make an artist.” It also takes instruction, whether one on one or in a class (which takes $), time–to develop one’s skills to the professional/mastery level (living expenses during those years), and supplies (which take $). Many “artists” (vs. “shadow artists”) also feel that, unless one has a dedicated studio (more $), whatever one creates cannot be art, but is craft. And, of course, in the “pure” art world, craft is just…craft.

Yes, it would be wonderful if we could each follow our path of artistry in our dedicated studio and earn a living doing it. In reality, very few people can do this relative to the number who would deserve to do it based on their level of skill. Was William Carlos Williams a “shadow” doctor or a “shadow” poet? Given Ms. Cameron’s requirements, he wasn’t a full doctor OR a full poet. Hmmm…

And, lest we forget, those composers of yesteryear, like Mozart and Beethoven, died in abject poverty. Music was the only way they had of earning a living. If they didn’t have a patron to cover their living expenses, then that period of their life was very difficult, since even Mozart didn’t earn a decent living, much less a comfortable one, strictly from his composing, performing, and conducting activities. Even when he added tutoring and his wife gave private vocal instruction, Herr und Frau Mozart lived in very straitened circumstances.

And what about writers like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, who lived as single women with their families but never earned a living with their writing? In Dickinson’s case, she wasn’t even known to have been a writer until after her death! I suppose this is OK with Ms. Cameron: so long as the artist lives in abject poverty but is pure, that’s OK. Or, in the case of Austen, so long as the artist is denied a full life (dying, ill and single, at the age of 42, never able to lie on the family couch because it was her mother’s “place”), she is a pure writer.

There’s something wrong with this kind of mean-hearted analysis. I leave it to others to determine exactly what.

Judy is going through a struggle that is close to many of our hearts:

Personally, I am wrestling about whether to give up something that I’m good at and that people want to buy (painting) and go with something that I love to do (sit and stitch). When I see ancient and folk textiles covered in hand stitch in museums I am overwhelmed by their power – this emotion is what makes me want to go with the hand stitch and leave the painting to others who are more passionate about it. The fact that I am a music teacher – well as well – I don’t even consider. I just do that like I make dinner for the family. My heart is in my hand stitch.

On Getting back to it, I asked what people do to motivate themselves out of creative slumps.

Lots of you came out with great advice about how to get the creative wheels turning again. My favorites are from Elizabeth (here), Emma (here), Stacey (here), Rebekah (here), and Leslie (here).

Next Page »

Powered by WordPress | Theme by Roy Tanck | Free SEO by Court's Internet Marketing School | Get Tranquility White WP Theme

Technorati Profile SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline