figuring.

I sat on the floor for a long time today, sheets of paper spread out before me, some large and some larger, jars of water, a few paints and a brush or two.  Barefoot.  Painting a little, sitting mostly.

Considering.

I made a big mess and I listened to Alicia Keys “HERE,” and I took notes: 

·      It doesn’t have to look like anything

·      There is no instruction book

·      Soften into the resistance

·      Dissonance

·      Find a new language

·      “What if love was holy and hate obscene?” ~Alicia Keys

·      Maybe I’m doing it right

·      Maybe I’m doing it wrong

·      Does it matter if I’m doing it right or if I’m doing it wrong?

And then I made a list of things I love in my work:

·      Bright colors

·      Carving into paint

·      Flowers

·      Horizons

·      Imaginary flowers

·      Vessels

·      Partial vessels

·      Spreading paint with a palette knife and making little clouds in the trailing paint

·      Color matching, color mixing, color surprising

·      Flower forms - O U V

·      Suggestions of stems

·      Drippys

·      Scribbling – back of the brush, pencils, charcoal, chalk pastels, oil pastels

·      Incorporating words

Yesterday, at the art supply store, when I went to pick up a few more yards of the primed canvas I’ve been painting on un-stretched, I fell in love with some giant Sennellier oil sticks in a whole rainbow and then some of colors.

I was drawn to their size, and their wild colorfulness.  I treated myself to two – they’re not cheap! – and I’m paying attention.  What are the oil sticks telling me? 

Sitting there on the floor, it became clear to me that the daily bravery paintings weren’t serving me.  Not the bravery part, I am craving that now, but from trying to fit myself into a box that isn’t the right size.

Maybe the paintings were too small?  Maybe my own parameters weren’t clear enough to me?  Maybe I wasn’t clear enough to me.  Do the paintings stand alone?  Are they parts of a whole?  Are they working things out?  Or part of a process?  So many questions, and I’m listening for the answers.

(Incidentally, five of the six have sold and are off to their new homes.  The fourth sits on my work table, reminding me of the power of the project.  I'm not letting it go.)

Courage.

My first gallery show was almost 10 years ago now, in a local gallery that was also an outpost of a high-end frame shop.  The gallery faced the courtyard in a fancy outdoor shopping center filled with carefully curated little boutiques and restaurants, a few benches, a fountain.  It was a spectacular location once I got comfortable with having my artwork on display for all the world to see.

I had done some framing at that shop, of my own work, and the gallerist was quite complementary of the paintings.  I didn’t tell her were mine until I went back to pick them up and I summoned every once of my courage and asked her if the gallery accepted submissions.  It turns out she was the shopkeeper AND the gallery’s curator, and she encouraged me to submit some sample images and an artist statement for consideration.  I was both thrilled and terrified at the prospect.

Thrilled – a gallery was interested in seeing more of my work!  And terrified – a gallery was interested in seeing more of my work!

I had never done anything like this – never submitted my work anywhere for consideration, never prepared images in Photoshop or burned a CD (ha!  A CD.  Remember those!?), never written an artist statement; the exercise exposed every one of my vulnerabilities, it laid me bare.  And I did it anyway.

I generally consider myself to be one of the least courageous people I know; I steer clear of the edge of the trail at all costs, literally.  I wish I had a video of us, hiking at Yosemite, with me hugging the mountain the whole way up, saying to my kids, “One day, when you tell your children about how scared I was hiking up this mountain, make sure you tell them that I did it anyway!!!”  And I did do it – hike up the mountain, and prepare that packet for that gallery.  I don’t remember the ins and outs of making the CD or writing the statement, and I don’t remember delivering the packet to the gallery, but I can summon the angst like it was yesterday.

What I do remember clearly, and now we’re getting to the crux of it, is picking my kids up from school that same day – Lucy must have been in Kindergarten, Bennett in 3rd grade – and telling them on the car ride home that I had done a brave thing.  I distinctly remember telling my children that it didn’t matter if the gallery wanted to show my paintings or not - and I think I meant it - that what mattered was that I had pushed the edge of my comfort zone, that I tried.  I think I felt brave that day.  And proud.

I have pretty much followed that hug-the-wall approach in my work since the beginning.  Create, share some, and wait for opportunity to smack me in the face so hard I fall over before doing anything about it.  There have been gallery shows and commissions and studio visits along the way – and sure, I’ve peeked around some corners looking for an opportunity from time to time, but at the end of the day I have hugged the wall, and carried on. 

And guess what?  I’m tired of that approach.  I’m tired of walking so close to the mountain, sweaty palms and pounding pulse, looking down at my own feet.  I’d like to look up for a bit, to see the horizon with its peaks and valleys, and trust that it’s all going to be ok.

A few weeks ago, Meredith Bullock announced on Instagram that she would be making a painting a day and offering it for sale right there in the app, and she invited other artists to join her.  My first reaction was, “that sounds horrible,” and that’s exactly how I knew I had to join her.

Offering my work for sale online, putting a price tag on a painting, suggesting that someone may want to buy it – those things are terribly uncomfortable for me, and I can’t say why.  I’ve sold my work in galleries and privately through my studio for years, so why is it uncomfortable for me to put the work online with a price tag?  I don’t know.  But I’m doing it, by baby steps, I’m doing it.  I’m looking up and out at the horizon, moving my body toward the center of the trail and away from the safety of the mountain.  I’m doing it.

Meredith calls them #dailybraverypaintings, and I’m following suit because that’s what they are for me – daily acts of bravery.  I’ve painted and posted four, of which three have sold, and one has not so far – and I’ll tell you a little secret, I’m most proud of myself for the one that hasn’t sold.  Not that it’s my favorite of the paintings, but knowing it’s sitting out there as an offering with a price tag, unsold, it pushes the bounds of my comfort zone.  It makes me feel brave.

Look for my daily bravery paintings here, and purchase one if the mood strikes you.  And see all of the artists embarking on this courageous endeavor here

This is how we rise.

The current state of things.

Now that I'm writing again, it's hard to imagine how I didn't write for so long; and easy to imagine slipping away from it again, though I hope I won't.  Things to say, things to say.

I made crepes for the kids for dinner tonight.  To order.  Standing at the stove with the butter and tilting the frying pan this way and that.  Egg and cheese, egg, cheese, strawberries and Nutella, Nutella, powdered sugar.  I also raised my voice, because sometimes it feels like nobody listens unless I raise my voice.  I'm not proud of it, and I apologized.

And then I ate a pan of roasted brussels sprouts, rutabaga, and onion drizzled with olive oil, salt, and lemon juice, my current obsession.  Dave and I played four games of backgammon; he one three and I won one. 

Last week I almost burned the house down; I put the kettle on to boil and forgot all about it.  I forgot so hard that when I went back to the kitchen and smelled the burning, it took me a full three minutes to figure out where the smell was coming from.  I ruined the kettle and a favorite trivet (note to self: synthetic material sizzles and stinks!) in the process, and now we have a new trivet and a new electric kettle which blessedly turns itself off when the water boils.

None of these things is in the least bit interesting except insofar as I find myself writing about uninteresting and insignificant details, something I thought I might never do again after January 20, 2017.  It feels like a victory to be ruminating on roasted rutabaga and backgammon for a few minutes, and it feels like a betrayal.

I remember saying, back in November, a few weeks after the election when the world still spun on a familiar axis, that I didn't want to be constantly disturbed and I didn't want to stop being constantly disturbed.  How is a person to live inside that tension?  Inhabit the space between reality and the absurd?  

ab•surd (adjective) wildly illogical, unreasonable, or inappropriate.

A new vocabulary.  A new approach.  Unfamiliar bearings.  Sea legs.  Fall down, get up, try again.  

Make calls; write postcards; make postcards and share them with friends; read the news; take a break from reading the news; spend less time on Facebook; listen to more music in the car and less NPR; donate more money to NPR; put senators' phone numbers on speed dial; rally; buy tag board and poster paint; talk talk talk about values at the dinner table; talk talk talk about politics at the dinner table; long for a simpler time; take up yoga; take up meditation; walk the dog around the block in double time; clean out the basement; find every opportunity to perpetrate an act of kindness; recognize acts of kindness, call them out and raise them up and celebrate them because each one is a spark in the darkness; roast vegetables; make crepes to order; raise your voice; apologize for raising your voice; wash the dishes; read a book; read a political book; read a poem; carry on; resist; persist; breathe.

Tomorrow, a word about courage.

 

2.14.17

I stopped at my beloved local flower shop this morning on my way to the studio.  It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m finding it hard to muster the love. 

I had already cut out a pan of heart-shaped brownies and given my kids their annual Godiva chocolate boxes, and last night’s dinner was all shades of red (purple cauliflower!  mashed sweet potatoes!), but I’m not feeling it this year.  So I stopped by the flower shop to soak up a little beauty and inspiration, and to spread some cheer in the form of those heart-shaped brownies. 

The shop was full of blossoms and goodness, and it was an instant lift to stand there among flower artists and their stunning medium.  Two gentlemen came in to buy flowers while I was there, and the simple act of bearing witness to their intended gestures of love was uplifting.  I bought an entire bucket of tulips.

I told my friend Ellen, the shop’s proprietor, about my struggle to find meaning in my work these days.  She related and we laughed about how we both sell flowers.  Ellen’s are grown from the local ground and arranged into stunning bouquets and mine are painted on paper in response, but it’s not a stretch to say that we both use flowers to bring light - in the form of joy, goodness, beauty, hope and possibility - into the world.

At it’s very essence – and if this is too much woo-woo for you, I understand because it’s almost too much woo-woo for me – I see myself as a light worker, my work as spreading the gospel of light – of hope and joy and possibility and the opportunity to choose those things in this world.  I’ve seen this light seeking and spreading as my work for a few years now, and it’s manifest in my paintings and in my writing and in my daily goings on with family and friends and the person in line next to me at the market and the cashier and the mailman and my neighbor and her dog.  My work is about being the light – about embodying it and reflecting it back into the world around me.  

It’s not easy work, this light seeking spreading sharing thing I’m fumbling around trying to describe - it requires tons of self-care and attention, and in a darkening world it’s exponentially harder.  I have to work harder to find the light; I have to work harder to shine the light; I have to work harder to share the light with others, all the while knowing that the work is more important than ever.  So I push on.

But how?

How do I talk about paintings in this moment of political and social turmoil?  How do I shout cheerfully from the rooftops that there are prints for sale?!  How do I even make pleasing pictures of flowers when I can hardly see goodness through the fog?  How do I begin to convince you that you need artwork on your walls when I’d rather you donate those dollars to help protect and defend the organizations we believe in?  How do I push on?

And how do I not? 

I am horrified by the notion of a world without beauty, it sucks the wind right out of me.  Without color or joy or laughter or light, it’s not a world I want to live in, and so I keep painting.  I keep showing up to the work and pushing on and making artwork that says there is hope and beauty and goodness in this world, there is something bigger than this moment.  I keep sharing my paintings with you because they are made to be shared, to be seen, to be reflected back into the world.  I keep digging deep for the light and buying myself the whole bucket of tulips when it seems that nothing else will work.

DSCF1368.JPG

There is light in each of us.  Find yours, reflect it back into the world, shine what you can on our neighbor and your sister and the stranger in line next to you in the market.  Let your light ignite another if you can.

This is how we rise.

postcards.

In this moment in time when my telephone-shy self has made peace with calling my representatives, and my crowd-averse self has been rallying, I've made some postcards to send to Washington, and I'd love to share them with you.  

There are several different designs for the front - in addition to what you see here, there is: PERSIST, BE A LIGHT, and PROGRESS IS FOR EVERYONE.  

If you have a suggestion for another, I'd love to hear it.  Positive messages only, please.  

And they all have the same back:

 

If you'd like some postcards, simply send me an email (there's a nifty button over on the left) with your mailing address and I'll send an assortment your way.  In return, you agree to send them to your representatives or to the White House or to whomever you feel needs to hear your message.  

This is how we rise.

Let the work speak.

If you are an artist or a maker, how do you use your art or craft to speak?  I've been thinking hard about this lately.

As artists and makers, does all of our work speak in one way or another?  

I think about my friends who make small-batch clothing or beauty products, or dye with natural materials or do local flower design and I can see - literally - the connection between their clothing/moisturizer/bouquets and a statement of some sort, whether it’s slow fashion or buying local or waste reduction or the elimination of harmful materials, for example.

Visual art speaks too, but it’s different.  What I’m thinking about or exploring when I’m painting isn’t necessarily what you see when you look at my painting, or at a sculpture or a weaving or any other work of visual art.  (And maybe that’s true for my maker friends too - maybe everybody doesn’t see the supply chain when they look at a vase of flowers.)  The viewer certainly thinks or feels or sees something when looking at a visual artwork, but does it matter whether what the viewer sees is what the artist intended?

These questions have been on my mind for a long time, and I’ve often said that I have a story to tell in words that lives beside my paintings.  This has never been more true then it is today, this week, lately, as I struggle to find meaning in the aftermath of a shift in our society that has, quite honestly, shaken the foundation of everything I believe in.

I have long felt that my work is about light; about bringing light into a darkening world, about seeing through a lens of possibility, about opening to joy and hope.  My flowers, brightly colored and bold, I hope say, “this is the light, this is what is possible, join me in looking at the world this way.”  My horizon paintings, entirely similar and altogether different, speak of endlessness, a vast opening, of possibility.  This has been my work these last ten years - flowers and horizons and possibility and light.

And now.  

It is as though I thought we were speaking one language and suddenly we are speaking another.  I find myself looking for a different kind of meaning in my work in recent weeks.  What is it that I want to say?  I’m finding a whole new vocabulary, a whole new language, as though I'm starting from scratch.  Can I still make paintings of brightly colored flowers?  What do those brightly colored flowers say?  And how am I using my work to speak my truth in the world?

As I approach painting in the last few weeks with a different world view, my perspective shifted, with dramatically different imagery on my mind and coming out of my brush, I'm feeling a total unfamiliarity about where I go from here - as though starting from an entirely new beginning.  Suddenly I feel an urgency – I want my work to roar.  It's not enough to make pretty pictures anymore and hope the viewer find solace inside and maybe some meaning, suddenly I want my paintings to shout about action and human interaction, I want to tell stories of hope that jump off the page.  I want to paint about justice and love and kindness towards other human beings.  I want to shout from the paper, not whisper.  I want to bang down doors.  And I don't know how to do that yet.  So I draw flowers and I cover them over with paint.  I draw rudimentary female reproductive organs and I layer on top of them, erasing them too.  I write JUSTICE over and over in charcoal and paint.  LIBERTY and ACT, too.  I write my senator’s phone number in the middle of the canvas with a big fat brush and magenta paint.  I cover it all over again and find another flower form in the wet paint.  I'm going to have to move to painting on canvas or panel soon because the paper just won't hold all of these layers of paint as I figure out how to do my work in this new world.

This is how we rise.

Finding my voice.

I went to work early this morning with the awareness that my list was more appropriate for a week's work than for a single day.  An entire page on the legal pad with items from the mundane (“pick up potatoes at the market”) to “call senators,” “finish the resistance postcards,” “how can I use my art to speak,” “sit down and write.” 

And then I set about rearranging the furniture, which, though not on the list, I have been thinking about for a while now.  But today?  It can only be because I was putting this part off, “sit down and write.”

I feel without a voice these days.  It’s unfamiliar to me, this feeling, and upsetting.  Reading the news in horror and heartsickness, scrolling through Facebook wanting a respite from reality (remember the days when Facebook was full of cute animal videos?) and finding instead more outrage, more heartsickness.

The tangle of words in my head is overwhelming, and I find myself without a voice.

I don’t know how to speak about what’s happening here, about these acts of aggression toward everything I hold dear.  I don’t know how to scream or rail or rant; I’ve worked hard to modulate my voice in my adult life, to temper myself, to be slow to anger.  I don’t know how to do this.

I don’t know how to do this. 

I am watching closely as my friends lead the way, vocal and strong.  They lift me up and light the path.  I’m signed up for every call-to-action email-newsletter-website I know about, and I’m doing all the things I can - and trying to do the things I think I can’t. 

Which brings me here, to find my voice.

In what can only be another act of procrastination or sabotage, I ask myself, “So what if I do find my voice?  Where will I speak up or speak out or speak at all that might make a difference?” 

I am caught up in the thought that Facebook is an echo chamber, it’s own sort of reality (it can’t be the only place we get our news or share our views - Facebook is not the arena – thoughts for another day).  When I speak there does it make any difference at all?  My friends are outraged too, they speak more loudly than I ever will, they are more clear than I might ever be.  Why does my voice matter? 

And yet.  I know.  Each voice alone is but a whisper; when we speak together we have volume, we have power, we have each other.

We laugh in our family about what we call Lucy-isms, the words that Lucy “discovered” with delight during her younger years (“I know why we call it upstairs!  Because we go UP the STAIRS!”).  I had one yesterday, a Lucy-ism of my own - I had never given a moment’s thought to the relationship between “courage” and “encouragement,” until a little light bulb went off in my head last night and whoa.

Courage: Bravery, pluck, valor, the ability to do something that frightens one

Encouragement: The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope

Bennett took an English class last semester called “Etymology and Semantics,” in which he learned that the meaning of words can change over time.  I’d like to know what his teacher would say about this one.  Encouragement has always meant just this to me – a pep-talk or kind words.  But maybe it’s more.

EnCOURAGEment: To help another person to do something that frightens them

And this is perhaps what we need most right now - courage, and to share it with each other.  It is a form of kindness, is it not?  To hold out my hand and say, “Come along with me.” 

I don’t consider myself to be a brave person.  I don’t ride roller coasters or enjoy rock climbing, I can hardly hike a narrow trail up a mountain, or watch a person do it on TV.  To say that I’m not a risk taker is an understatement, but I am beginning to see that this moment calls not on what we have historically been, this moment calls to ask what we can possibly be.

So I look to my friends with admiration and appreciation.  Friends like Claire, who is a guiding light, speaking out loud and strong for what she believes in and against the injustice she sees around us now, and bringing the rest of us along with her.  When Claire posts on Facebook or emails me about her convictions, about actions to take, when she stands up for what she believes in and when she encourages me to join her, I am lifted up.  Quite literally, lifted up.  I am emboldened by Claire’s courage and her convictions.  It is as though, in speaking out, she shines a light on a path previously hidden to me, lighting the way forward.

Claire is not the only one.  Jessica and Corey and Ellen and Jennifer, Melissa, Jonah and Sarah, and there are so many more friends who are out there doing hard work.  My friends are my beacons right now, lighting the way.  And so I see that this is precisely why it matters. 

The very act of saying THIS MATTERS TO ME is an act of resistance.  Sharing my values with others – even likeminded others – is an act of resistance.  Speaking out against hatred and injustice is an act of resistance.  Every action, every word, every call, every sign, every time I reach my hand out and say to you come along with me, every time I shine a light on the path – even if the light is faint, even if it only lights the way briefly or it’s only two steps ahead – every act of courage, of truth, of hope is an act of resistance.

My voice does matter.  Each one of our voices matters.  It is incumbent upon us to speak up and speak out wherever we can.  To say the truth regardless of whether it’s comfortable to do so. 

I am going to figure out how to do this.  Let’s do it together.  The time is now. 

This is how we rise.

Words.

I have a lot to say.  It's noisy in my head and starting is hard, so baby steps.

"Name your prejudices; admit what you do not know; and then master those mysteries. Challenge yourself to NOT accept easy answers, but rather search for what is most common in all of us. And then tell THAT story." ~ Amy Ellis Nutt