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Monday, December 16, 2013

A Jolly Winter Festival

The creative life extends to all aspects of living, not just the creation of works of art. Something as ordinary as setting out holiday decorations can be a pleasant outlet for my creative energy.

Did you know that the Latin word for hearth is "focus"? The mantle in our dining room has become a monthly focus of seasonal festivity and celebration. I take great care with my choices to create a special showcase to welcome and delight my guests.

This antique mantle with its oval beveled mirror and pillared overmantle becomes a stage for our favorite Holiday Characters. Vintage pieces mingle happily with modern interpretations. Rock crystal icy branches, delicate evergreen boughs, fine tulle lit by a string of 100 tiny lights and vintage plastic icicles provide a setting for tinsel trees and the cast of jolly revellers. The larger marble bust on the overmantle wears a holly wreath at a rakish angle to join in the festivities.

This year's dining room mantle is a celebration of a vintage winter carnival.

These jolly revellers belie their cold snowy nature. The scale of the smaller figures invites a more intimate inspection. Vintage pieces mix with modern ones. Dennis has an eclectic collection of hundreds of Santa figures, it takes careful editing to choose which pieces will grace this special mantle. The auditions were time consuming, but the results are a joyful combination of old and new, of country primitives and vintage characters. We are privileged to have them join our Winter Wonderland Celebrations.

Here's a closer view of the the mantle piece. The beveled mirror gives more depth to the scene. Three cake stands tiered allow me to showcase smaller figures which might otherwise get lost. It's all a matter of scale and color and light.

Crystal encrusted branches are highlighted by the glitter of this tiny bird cage and the mercury glass bird inside.Vintage plastic icicles from my own childhood Christmas trees suspended from evergreen branches on the overmantle actually have a realistic look here. On the large Christmas tree in the library they become lost in the tinsel, but here they sparkle like the genuine icicles which hang from the porch roof outside the windows.

This winter fairy reigns supreme over the display. Fine white tulle over clear lights imitates an icy overhang.

Larger pieces at the sides and smaller pieces arranged in the middle invite a closer look. The color theme is winter whites. Snowmen predominate, but a few Santa figures and elves bring some festive color to the scene.

Bringing creativity into every act enlarges our hearts. I spent two days designing and assembling this mantle piece. It embodies the joy of my childhood Christmas memories, and I am pleased to share it with my holiday guests. Let the festivities reign!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Committing Art

It is risky. 

It is scary.

It is mysterious and magical.

I still don't understand how it works.

I pick up my pencil, my crayons, my pen, my brush, and the Art happens. It flows out of my hand onto the paper.

My teacher Sarah Reader once said that the mark you make on the paper is the sum total of everything you are at that moment...every input, every influence, every inspiration has been saved inside your subconscious mind and it all coalesces in the moment you make your mark.

That is a powerful thing. 
If people don't like my mark, do they dislike me? 
Of course not. 
They dislike the mark. 
I am not the mark. 
The mark was once me, but I am the moving finger, I have moved on, and now I am someone, something, different. 
Having made that mark, I am something more.

Let go of the need to be liked.

Abandon the desire to be loved.

Lose yourself in your Art.

Allow the Art to become.

Technique is vital to this.
Good materials are vital to this.
A good subject or message are vital to this.

You choose these things.
Having chosen them, you begin, make your first mark, and Commit Art.

It is an act of Confidence.

It is an act of Courage.

It is an act of Faith.

Committing Art is the act of creation, in which you most become like the Creator.

It is Holy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Creative Acts and Anarchy

So what constitutes a creative act?

When I was a child I used to spell naughty forbidden words in my alphabet soup. It was a minor mischief, that could be easily undone with my spoon if my mother approached. It was thrilling, an act of disobedience, of a sort. I was never specifically forbidden to write bad words in my soup, but I knew I was transgressing an unspoken rule.

When Senator Jesse Helms succeeded in eliminating American government grants to individual artists because he considered some of the funded works to be obscene, I assembled 100 female dress dummies in a gallery, and placed black rectangles of paper over their breasts and groins, reminiscent of old medical journal photographs. The mute message was summed up in a statement in the front of the gallery, addressed to Mr. Helms: You cannot censor art.

Some creative acts are by their nature transgressive. They hold a stark mirror to the viewer. They say, "See, this is what you may think is wrong".

All artists who break new ground risk rejection by the mainstream. To create, sometimes, is to misbehave. We have all colored outside the lines at times.

When I was in Kindergarten, (five years old) my teacher set us the task of covering a circular frame with blue cord, knotting it along the outer edge. She carefully showed us how to make the specific knot. But I was left-handed, and I did it backwards. It looked fine to me, but my teacher took particular pains to show me the error of my ways.  Nevertheless, I continued to do it my own way, because it felt right to me, and the result, although reversed, looked good to me.  She corrected me twice. I ignored her, and for the first time realized that not only can grownups be mistaken, I became aware that my own creative acts carried a strong sense of power.

Sunday painters, with their careful realism, never break the rules. Entire genres of how-to books are written for them, so they can be assured of knowing the right and proper ways to paint. They are taught how to "correct mistakes".

It is important to know the rules, to apply composition, perspective, color theory, brush techniques.

But it is far more important, once you know the rules, to know that it is permissible, even desirable, to break the rules.

It is a powerful thing, to break the rules of art. Only by doing this are we able to be truly creative.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Portable Studio

I've been accused, and rightly so, of over-packing my art supplies on my travels.

So this year, embarking on an annual trek 750 miles away, I have endeavored to limit my watercolor art supplies to what I consider to be the absolute bare minimum.

It was actually a really soft lovely leather bag that enabled me to do this. It is taller than it is wide, so I have the ability to put in it my long landscape sketchbooks. It is  commodious. It is large enough to contain what I consider my essentials, but small enough to easily carry.

Here's what it contains:

My antique Cadbury candy tin containing a half pan of every watercolor color I like.

A pencil box full of my favorite brushes and pens, including mechanical pencils and extra leads.

A plastic container that doesn't leak for water.

A tiny bottle of gesso.

A bottle of ink.

Five sketchbooks I am currently keeping.

Paper towels, and a tiny container of brush cleaner.

For me, this is the absolute minimum.
I feel somehow freed by this very contained portable studio. Not having access to my great hoard of art supplies constrains me to focus my creative intentions.

Now, I must admit I also packed a very large tote bag of my favorite inspirational books. And my large double tray tin of water soluble crayons.

Having limitations and boundaries can be very freeing, especially if you're the kind of artist that works on many projects. It forces you to concentrate on one type of work, one set of tools and techniques. Your creative mind knows that the focus is specific. 

You are working with self imposed limitations.

And the best part is that no matter what, wherever you are, a very quickly assembled studio is immediately available.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting for Rain

There you have it: The Idea.

You're sitting in front of your sketch pad, turning page after page after page, drawing, drawing, drawing. You add a bit here, you take away a bit there, you move this to the bottom and that to the top.

Perhaps you're working from some physical reference in front of you. You stare at it so intensely that your eyes are burning through the object to the other side. Or maybe you're working from something that doesn't exist in this physical universe: it's some thing you have inside your head, a shape, a color, a line.

You draw, draw, draw, you paint, paint, paint, or whatever it is that you do when you pick up your  tools. It's starting to come together.

Maybe you have no clue what it will look like when you're done, but at this moment, what you see in your head and what you see on the page in front of you are starting to coalesce, starting to look like the same thing.

It's starting to look like, well, The Idea.

Something intervenes. The phone rings, the dog barks, you stretch your back and go for a cup of coffee.

When you return to the page, something is different. The momentum you had just a moment ago is gone. That intangible something which you had in the palm of your hand has vanished.

What do you do?

There is a point in the life of every gardener when the seeds have sprouted. They have been fed, they have been weeded. They have been carefully cultivated. All that remains is to wait for rain.

Waiting for rain is hard to do. It never seems to fall quite when you want it to. Irrigation is a luxury, not everyone can afford it. Most of us are stuck in our studios at times like these, fiddling with tools, shuffling papers, waiting, hoping that the magic moment when the idea was a very real thing will happen again. We wait for rain.

What do you do at this point?

Do you keep working at a process that is standing still, refining and rearranging, hoping that incremental changes will bring about the results you desire?

Do you walk away from it and dip your hands into another task, hoping that you will transplant some creativity?

Do you pick up a book to escape, certain that your journey away from your piece of art will lead you back at the end of the chapter?

Do you prowl through a magazine, hoping for inspiration to strike you again?

Do you get involved in some totally mundane mindless task, to keep the rhythm of working?

Do you leave the studio all together, planning to return when the rain begins to fall?

As you probably realize by now, there are no correct answers to these questions. Every artist, over time, and with much experience, develops techniques, little tricks, to restart the process. 

For some artists, and perhaps you are one of them, simply staring at the piece of paper for a long enough period of time is sufficient to seed the clouds of their souls so the rains may begin to fall.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Finding Your Fun....Creating Public Art

Some years ago I used to walk down the same street every day, morning, noon and evening.

Here in the UK, people who live in terrace houses on the ground floor frequently have a little bay window in their front sitting room that is easily seen from the sidewalk. It is expected that anyone can look in, so these windows are either concealed with lace curtains or else decorated with a collection of items which presumably reflect the occupant's interests.

One day I noticed that a particular window displayed a miniature room identical to the real one behind it. It intrigued and amused me.

In my daily trek past this window I began to observe that every day there were subtle changes in the miniature room: a newspaper on the chair, which I discovered was a photocopied miniature of that very day's edition, and a cup of coffee that was gradually emptied as the day wore on, a plate of biscuits similarly diminished.

Sometimes a little jumper was left over the back of a chair. On rainy days a tiny umbrella leaned against the wall near the door. In the winter there was a coal scuttle near the tiny fireplace.

Occasionally a pair of spectacles were left on the side table. On Saturday mornings there were cleaning things in the tiny room...a broom, a featherduster, things like that.

I was enchanted and intrigued. Someone knew that people stopped to peer in. Someone was having genuine fun.

There is a small book by Keri Smith called "Guerilla Art ".  In it she offers inspiration on creating unexpected art in public places.

I created the Faerie Garden at the Lisson Grove Moorings to engage young children in a process of art which they could own. I planted it in an old porcelain sink, at a height convenient for young children to reach in and touch. I put a tiny house at the end of a gravel footpath. I posted a little sign: "Faerie Garden in Progress". I included a few tiny plastic fairies.

From the privacy of my boat, I observed that many children stopped each day to play with the garden.

They began to insert their own special objects into the garden. My favorite addition was a tiny mirror ball, which a young visitor told me was there because "Fairies dance at night". There were pieces of colorful tiles, shards of floral tea cups, a plastic holly pin, painted rocks, bits of colorful ribbon and shiny paper. The gravel path was rearranged several times. They planted new plants, a horsetail fern, thyme, clovers.The children began to take ownership of this tiny garden.

I repeated this effort in an old washtub outside my house in the States. Again, local children play with this garden.

I remember very well the pleasure I had as a young child playing with a tiny Winnie the Pooh figure in a planter in my home. As I arranged these Faerie Gardens fifty years later, I reconnected with that childhood joy.

Art is not always a private process. And it doesn't always hang on gallery walls.

I urge you to engage in public art making. Invite strangers in, and rediscover your inner child.

Have FUN!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stealing Time

Life conspires to crush the artist. There are bills to be paid, phone calls to answer, emails to read, accounts to update, gardens to be watered, dishes to wash, life to be lived.

So how do I find time for my art?

The answer is simple, you never find it, you must create it.

You must schedule it, in bold indelible ink, with alarms on your phone to tell you to ignore the pile of mail for this next hour, or two, or however much time you dare to carve out of your life's ever-increasing demands.

My house is dusty. Before company comes over, we frantically dust it off. My art is more important than shiny surfaces.

My bed is unmade. It occurred to me long ago that few people ever see my bed. Why should I take the time to make it only to slip back into it 16 hours later? I do make it when I change the sheets, because there really is something nice about a clean crisp set of sheets. But the rest of the week, I pull the duvet back and let it sit there. My art is more important than a made bed.

I steal time from my frenetic life for my art.

I create little piles of works in progress, so if I feel I don't have enough time or energy to commit to a complicated painting, I can always work on something at hand.

I draw while I am waiting...on hold with the bank, in line at the grocery, sitting at the dentist. I have shed all self consciousness about drawing in public. In an up-market restaurant, I try not to spill ink on the table linens. And I usually leave a small sketch with the makes the staff even more happy to serve me next time. After all, business execs pull out paperwork and tablets, why shouldn't I? I am also working.

If I keep a sketchbook and pen with me, in my hands, at all times, I am more likely to use it. It is not a big, complicated, deep and meaningful Work of Art....or is it?

Hey, it's MY Life, and I will make it as big, complicated, deep and meaningful as I like.