Spring comes slowly
Spring comes so slowly in Minnesota. It forces patience upon you, however unwilling you are. Every morning you wake up to another sprinkling of snow, no matter how much you long for the flamboyant beauty of your crabapple tree in full bloom. You are tired of the waiting. You say, “I can’t take it anymore. I cannot handle this for one more day.”
Especially after such a long winter. A long, bitter winter filled with trials and tribulations that scraped your insides out and left you raw.
Don’t you deserve some easy beauty? The hot sun on your shoulders, flowers blooming, butterflies floating through the garden.
But the world owes you nothing. If you want to find beauty, you’re obliged to notice the simple, subtle beauty of spring coming slowly. So, fine. What else can you do? You take your walk in the cold, blustery day and you notice the loons are on the lake. That’s spring. And you see that the fat robins have eaten every single berry on the tree since the last time you looked. That’s spring, isn’t it. And by the time you walk around the entire lake, and your thighs are numb with cold, you are entirely sick of trying to notice the simple things.
The subtle beauty is actually making you angry, because why does it have to be so hard.
Then you see something, a stalk of dead grass blowing in the cold gray air, waving to you, holding a beauty so understated that it makes you want to cry. And you walk past it, thinking, “no I won’t stop and acknowledge this. I want the gaudy in-your-face-ness of summer.” But it comes slowly. And the simple beauty is so touching that you retrace your steps to try to capture it in a photo.
Of course, the photo cannot capture what you see, what you feel – but it is there; you cannot unsee it. You must continue your day being grateful for the small things, because what else can you do. There is no forcing spring. It owes you nothing. You take what you can get.
I keep them in my bathroom.
For most of the summer there it is: a mason jar filled milkweed. Caterpillars in various stages of their life-cycle, munching away. I have them in my bathroom so I can shut the door - to keep them in - and the cats out. But the door usually gets left open.
I tend to count them whenever I go in the room. Has a new one hatched? Are they all here?
I discover one is missing, and a heaviness settles in my heart. I count and re-count. It's not there.
Several days later, I find a caterpillar on the stairs. Quite a long journey from the bathroom for such a small creature. I gently scoop it up and bring it back to the milkweed. When I set it on a leaf, it curls up. It doesn't move.
Starved to death.
My heart aches.
I could have done more to prevent this from happening.
The best part of being an artist is also the hardest part of being an artist: there is no job description.
You get to make up the job yourself! - but - you also have to make it up yourself. It's amazingly freeing to be able to figure out for yourself who you are as an artist, but it's also incredibly challenging and terrifying to do this. Yes: both, and. At the same time.
A traditional job comes with a built-in job description. You know what is expected of you in that part of your life. When you're at work, your job is to do A, B, C.
This is a list of some important points I want to remember. A rough draft of my "job" description.
This is my life as an artist; and it's a constant work in progress.
I'm working on another painting about the line between imagination and reality. This is something that has always interested me, but more and more lately I'm understanding what it's all about for me. I've come to believe that, if we practice thinking differently, we will see that the solid walls that form barriers in our lives, are actually bars that we can slip between.
As children, we're so connected to our imaginations. Magic is real, unicorns and fairies really do exist. We're filled with wonder about the world and excited because we know anything is possible. I'm reading "The Secret Garden" to my daughter and it's this idea, that there's something magical and secret lying in wait just behind the wall that I'm really interested in conveying in my art.
As we grow up, we have to learn the rules. We're taught the structure of society, the way things need to be, and we learn our place within that structure. Rules are necessary, of course, but we forget that all things are possible. The rules forms walls around us that we think are real and solid. We live with those wall surrounding us for so long that we aren't able to see any other way. They are our reality.
It takes a new kind of thinking to snap us out of our adulthood, to give us back our imaginations and to realize the rules are just rules, not walls. In fact, if we remember how to truly see the possibilities, how to follow our hearts, we'll find a key. If we listen to ourselves, deep inside, we'll find the door. We can get through the wall, to a secret place that was there all along, just waiting to be discovered.
Here's what I'm reading and listening to as I work on my current artwork.
The Man with the Blue Guitar by Wallace Stevens
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens
Between the Bars by Elliot Smith
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Blackbird by The Beatles
This piece is now finished! After struggling with two title ideas, I decided to go with "Between the Bars". The original is available, prints will be available at some point. Contact me for details.
Material Honesty is a term I learned while studying architecture at the University of Washington, Seattle. They were very big on teaching us future architects how to be true to our building materials.
Although I'm not designing buildings now, I do think about material honesty quite a bit while I work. I've come to love the idea of hinting at my process and using materials in the way that works best for them.
Using the idea of Material Honesty in my art
If I'm using pastels atop a colored paper, then when I'm finished I feel that one should be able to determine that I used pastels and a colored paper for the piece.
Here are some ways that I accomplish the idea of material honesty with pastels, illustrated with details from my artwork "I Dare You".
Being expressive; not photo-realistic
For me, my art is about expressing a mood and getting at the heart of what inspired me in a subject in the first place. For the painting shown here, I had taken multiple photos of my model. In one of the photos, her eyes really drew me in. They seemed to be almost daring me, the viewer, to take her on. I absolutely love the strong, determined expression on her face. Of course, the gorgeous sunlit hair only added to my desire to paint the image.
I'm not interested in creating a photographic replica with my work. It's much more interesting to me to express myself and the media I'm using. For this piece, I used a specific set of colors and very expressive mark-making to get those original inspirations down on the paper. In the end, I do feel that I captured the ideas that prompted me to paint this image in the first place.
With each new piece I paint, I'm learning more and more about pastels and their specific abilities. I hope to continue to add to my list of ways to use them honestly.
Of course, the best thing about art is there are so many different ways to approach it! What do you think? Do you think it's important for artists to be "honest" with their materials? When is it fun to fool people by being "dishonest" with materials? 😄
I realize that I haven't been at all outspoken about the body of textile art I'm currently working on. Lately, I've been thinking about what I want to say in my artist statement for the upcoming exhibition of my work. It seems an almost impossible task to get down all the thoughts I have while I work into a one-page, 18-point-font statement!
Yesterday I wrote down a sentence I heard Joshua Johnson say on the radio: "How you see the world depends on where you look." It's a timely quote for me.
I'm interested in viewpoints, and humanity, and creativity, and how we're interconnected, and how we each see the world. Thoughts about these ideas float through my head while I work. I take little notes about things I hear and read, and somehow, they all seem connected to a larger idea I have forming in my mind. It's hard for me to put these ideas into words, so I put them into my art.
Everyone sees/experiences/understands the world slightly differently. I don't know if there is a right way or a wrong way to see things. I think maybe there are just different ways. Together, all these different viewpoints add up to create the world of humanity.
Personally, I think we probably need them all. Who is to choose which ones we don't need? Everyone has a different viewpoint. Everyone has a different opinion.
Maybe, instead of thinking one way is right and another one is wrong - if instead we're open to the 'other' - that is the best way. Listen to other people, learn from their experiences of the world, ask them what they see, what they notice; hear their opinions, respect their viewpoints, be curious. If you can be open to the other, your world can only expand.
I invite you to see my textile art in person at the exhibition "Orient, Disorient, Repeat". The opening reception on May 23rd starts at 5:30pm with artist remarks at 6:00pm.
I hope to see you there! I'll be more than interested in hearing your viewpoint.
Individual things can be fine on their own,
but are we missing something?
When separate pieces are designed to work together,
we get another thing entirely: the whole.
I visit a certain large Midwestern town every year or two. This particular town is really just your average American place. It's filled with chain stores, traffic lights, cars, and parking lots. The buildings are all individual businesses. Each one has its own usual look, arranged on its own property, allowing for easy access into each parking lot, without regard for much else. The overall look of the town is haphazard.
When we drive through the town, I always feel sad about the place. I used to think it was because I was being a bit pretentious, with my background in architecture and design. On first glance, I dislike the order-less-ness of it all. The buildings are all over the place. Nothing lines up and nothing goes together. There’s a lot of asphalt and concrete. Green space is absent. I hate all the traffic lights.
Apart from a few grumbles to my husband, I always kept my thoughts to myself. But lately, I've been reflecting more deeply on my feelings about the place. I’ve uncovered what is it about the town that makes me feel sad. It’s not what is in the town, but what is missing from the town, that gets to me. I see all of the lost opportunities. By developing in this aimless way, without regard for an overall plan, so much is lacking. Sure, you can live in a town like this. But what are you missing?
Let’s say you live in this town and you need to do a bit of shopping. You get in your car and drive toward the business area. Multiple stop-lights try your patience as you frown at the rain and wish the light would turn green. Finally, you pull into the parking lot of the store. You park your car and quickly walk across the asphalt expanse to the door. You go in and get your shopping done. On the way back to your car, you see an acquaintance coming out of her car and you say hello. The drizzle prevents you from chatting and you both dash away and get on with your day. As you drive away, you notice a new store and you consider going to check it out. To get to there you’ll need to go through another traffic light, park in another parking lot, and walk through the drizzle again. The thought of all that bother prevents you from stopping. Instead, you drive home through all the stop lights, annoyed at how long it’s taking. You arrive home feeling stressed out and slightly angry and you aren’t sure why. You snap at your spouse.
Consider, instead, a town with a cohesive, overall plan. All the individual parts are still there, but they work together as a system. It's almost magical the difference it makes. Here’s another scenario:
You need to do a bit of shopping. You drive downtown and park your car on the street and walk the half a block to the store. Along the way you pass trees and greenery planted alongside the sidewalk. You breathe in deeply and feel a connection to nature. You notice a new shop and pop in to check it out. You realize this place is the perfect place to find a gift for your hard-to-shop-for relative. You feel happy to have discovered it. As you leave, you see a friend coming out of the cafe next door. You sit together on the bench outside the door, conveniently kept dry from the day’s drizzle by an awning, and chat about your lives. You smile at each other and wave good-bye. You are enveloped with a feeling of well-being from seeing a friendly face, and you’re prompted to say hello to the next person you pass on the sidewalk. He smiles and says hello back and makes a comment about the rainy weather. As you continue on, you feel a warm sense of community at having shared a common moment. You go about your day, get your shopping done, and go home, feeling calm and happy. You don’t even realize why you feel this way. You smile at your spouse.
Sure, we can live without good design, but when it’s there, things are better. Organization, order, and planning get a bad rap. Spending the time up front to to put a plan in place is sometimes seen as a waste of energy and resources. And I get it, when resources are short, corners need to be cut. Design seems the likely corner to trim, because most people do not even notice good design when it’s there. Design’s job is to literally be in the background, to make things run smoothly. The outcome of good design is a feeling of calm, ease, and happiness. And since humans are a social species, that feeling is passed from one person to another. And life is better for everyone.
What do you think? Do you ever notice when some things are combined thoughtfully together, the resulting combination is even better?
How about an orchestra? Each individual player is an excellent musician and each instrument sounds great on its own. But, with a conductor to guide them to play as one, the resulting music is amazing.
What about colors? Yes, the color blue is lovely in and of itself, but when you place a certain shade of yellow next to it, well, together the combination simply sings!
Even pictures on a wall can benefit! Photos and artworks are wonderful on their own. Hang them up any which way and you’ll get to admire some of your favorites. But, take a little time to arrange them thoughtfully in a group, and the whole room benefits beautifully.
What wonderful whole can you create with a little organization and a plan?
Human beings are a confusing species. There is such a duality to us. Consider the two opposing human desires of predictability and exploration. How is it that a species can desire both? They are opposites. But yet, they must be two sides of the same coin, because we do.
On one hand, we love to fit things into boxes. We want simple explanations; we want there to be absolute answers, we want things to be black and white. We like predictability. It makes it easy for our brains to process information if we can quickly name it and file it away.
It is comforting and comfortable to live with the known.
Contrast that with the human desire for exploration. Humans crave the new. We love to learn, make discoveries, and explore the vast unknown. We like a challenge. We are curious beings. We strive for creativity and originality.
There is joy to be found by stepping into the unknown.
So, there’s a dichotomy. We want to feel comfortable; comfort is such a warm and cozy feeling. As for the unknown, there is discomfort there. There is fear: of uncertainty, of failure, of insecurity; there is stress.
It doesn’t make sense to always be outside of your comfort zone. It would be utterly stressful to never have the comfort of the known. It also doesn’t make sense to always be comfortable. Boredom, perhaps even regret, is sure to follow.
It can’t be one or the other. In fact, I think it’s actually the contrast between the known and the unknown that is most beneficial to us. We can’t have one without the other, because it's the contrast itself that provides the enjoyment. If there is too little contrast, what is life but monotony?
We need to allow ourselves to go through the uneasiness of the unknown, so that we can find the delight of discovering new things; about ourselves, about our world. Once we push ourselves through this discomfort, the unknown is unknown no longer. We will find our minds expanded and we will become comfortable with this new way of being.
Then we can begin again. Push and expand, understand and relax. Both, and.
I never planned to be a stay-at-home mom.
Nope. After many years in school, I was finally logging my intern hours at an architectural firm, just as I had planned. I was following The Path I had set out for my life. I was on track to becoming a Licensed Architect. (Such a long process.)
Of course, I had also planned to be a mom. I always wanted to be a mom, but I hadn't considered how the two would work together. Architecture is an historically male-dominated field; at school, as we learned about the process of becoming an Architect, no one ever talked about how becoming an Architect would work together with becoming a mother. I never considered it either. Even though they both happen at the same time in one's life -- you know, biological clocks and such.
Who knew once I had a baby - and then another just 18-months later - that my planned path would suddenly, and completely, change direction? I took 6-months off work for both babies. A dream! Then I went back to work, but worked only part-time. It wasn't great, I didn't like it. I cut back to even parter-time. Still not right. After so much internal debating, I quit.
What a tough decision. I worried, "How will I ever get back on track to becoming a Licensed Architect if I stay at home being a mom for several years?" There was no guidebook for those questions. I didn't know what to expect. All I could do was toss my plans. I decided not to think about my planned path, not to worry about the future. I needed to be with my babies.
I loved it. It was wonderful. I also didn't like it. It was so many things: monotonous, chaotic, ordinary, extraordinary, amazing, and amazingly difficult. (Being a mom is full of contradictory feelings, I learned.)
I didn't think about architecture. Except: deep down inside I craved to be creative, to be my own person apart from being a mom, to have my own space even. I was quietly jealous of my classmates from school who were building their architecture careers, while I stayed home. In the back of my mind I thought, "Why did I spend so many years in school - for this?"
Slowly, I carved out a space of my own in our spare room. I didn't know what I was even going to do with it, but I felt the need to have a space. My own creative space. I tentatively, quietly, referred to it as my studio.
My baby boys got bigger. I started playing around with fabric. I borrowed my mom's sewing machine. I designed my own bags, and made fun stuff for my kids. I accidentally started a business! It began to thrive and it took up more of my time. My boys started preschool and kindergarten and I thought, "What will I do now? Should I try to grow this teeny-tiny business of mine? Or should I go back to work? How will I get back on the Architecture Track after being away so long?"
But our family wasn't complete, I didn't need to consider that next step. I became a mom to a lovely baby girl. I took time off from my teeny-tiny business. And since my daughter wouldn't nap anywhere but in my arms; I didn't have much opportunity to sew. I held her for all those hours of forced quietness, and I loved it, I savored it (my last baby!), and I resented it (again with those contradictory feelings). I still craved to do my own thing.
As she got bigger, I knew I had to grow my business. We decided to try daycare a couple days a week to see what I could do if I had more time. I had two days a week all to myself! I worked in my home studio and got to do my own thing. My business grew a little. It was thrilling!
Unfortunately, it was also limiting. I still had all my same duties as a homemaker, as a mom to three growing, changing kids, as the planner, organizer, everything of our family - but with less time to do it all. I learned to become a great juggler, as all moms do, I'm sure. But I also became stressed. And I became bitter. Why did I have so many responsibilities? I was working, even if my workplace was in our home.
It was time for my husband and I to talk. I needed him to help carry the load if I was going to be working. He agreed. We rearranged some chores, I felt better. Things were going well!
But there were always summers to sort out, days off from school to take my time, a kid home sick, or this-that-and-the-other-thing, and all the responsibilities kept falling to me. I was over-whelmed. I told myself I could handle it, I was used to being a stay-at-home mom. Yet, every time my life got complicated with being a mom, my business was put in last place.
This past summer was especially intense. It has reminded me that I am an artist, and an introvert, at heart. It's challenging to put myself into creative-mode when my time is fractured into small segments, or when I'm continually interrupted. I love my family and I love being a mom, but I also need space and time to do my own thing. Putting my business last means putting myself last, and I can't to do that anymore.
School has started again. We're getting back into a routine. I have more hours to work on my business, my daughter is in preschool and daycare most days, and my boys are in school.
My husband and I continue to talk about sharing responsibilities. Which can be very hard! Many things that I had done as a stay-at-home mom, I continue to do out of habit. Luckily, my husband is an understanding guy, and he's willing to change as I enlighten him on the many responsibilities I can no longer do on my own. I'm learning to be an advocate for my time. If I don't place importance on my business and my art, who will?
Next year all three of my kids will be in school. I'm excited to have even more time to explore my artistic side. I'm considering moving my work to a studio outside of our home. Maybe I'll be able to hire an assistant if I have more space. It would be nice to separate family space from work space -- finally. It would also make some things more difficult. There's always another challenge to figure out.
I never planned on being a stay-at-home mom, but I got to do it twice. In two different ways. And soon I'll be moving on to the next chapter of my life. But this is something that I've learned: There is no path. I'm making my own path. Readjust as necessary.
Does this sound familiar? You make large goals and work hard to reach them. You imagine after all the hard work, you'll celebrate. However, if - like me - when you've finally reached that goal you've been on the path for so long, it barely feels like an accomplishment anymore. You may even already be planning your next goal. The fact that you've reached one goal is barely acknowledged; celebrating gets put off to the future when you've reached some other success.
Or maybe you can relate to this. You have a to-do list that's a mile-long. You imagine taking a moment to stop and sip your coffee while admiring your garden when you finish the last thing on the list. But, whenever you check one thing off, you add three more. You never get to that imagined moment of savoring your coffee and admiring your garden. There's always something more to do.
I've decided to stop putting off the celebrating. My new motto is "Celebrate more!"
Happiness and celebration
I recently finished the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It was a great read. It's got me thinking about the idea that you can't go searching for happiness. Happiness can only be found within yourself.
How do you find happiness within yourself? Well, you should try to do all those things that are summed up in little life quotes. You know the ones:
Stop and smell the roses
Enjoy the little things
Those are great, but you know what? They sometimes make me feel bad about myself. They come across a little preachy. Do this, do that. I think I'd be happier without the stress; trying to be happier should be fun, right?
Then, a couple of days ago, I read a post on the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree about not celebrating enough. That was the clincher. I think all those little life quotes can be summed up nicely in one idea:
And I don't mean only the big things. I don't mean we should celebrate major goals with a fancy dinner and a glass of champagne (although do that, too! Yum!). But I mean:
Celebrate more things, and celebrate in more ways. Celebrate the little things. Celebrate the daily things.
Every time I hear the Cloud Cult song Through the Ages, this line gets to me. Why? It's because there is magic all around us. The magic is the everyday things, those little things that we might let pass by without realizing they're happening.
If we put off the celebrations, the smiles, the good jobs till some distant future, that future all too quickly becomes the past. We will end up living our lives without enough smiles. And without enough dancing. And without enough good jobs. And without enough YAYs!
Today I'm celebrating! This morning I smiled at my garden and how it's growing so nicely from the effort I put into it so far this spring. I'm celebrating that I finished four new Beetle Pouches. I smiled at myself and played the radio loud while I photographed them. And now I'm going for a walk outside in the sunshine. And I'm going to laugh, and smile, and say YAY! when I get back -- both to congratulate myself on getting exercise, but also to congratulate myself for acknowledging that work, though I love it, isn't everything and taking a break to enjoy the warm sun is good.
What are you celebrating today?
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.