Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Comparison, Criticism, and the Work We are Here to Do

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how easy it is to get distracted from our work.  Sure, I can get distracted walking from one room to another, but what I’m talking about runs deeper: I’m talking about getting distracted from who we are.

We’re all here to do our own unique work, to contribute our individual gift.  It can be hard to pin down exactly what that gift is and we might find the way it is expressed shifting as we move through time and our lives change.  Yet, our purpose is like a skeleton, giving us shape and supporting our every action. Even the word “backbone” has become synonymous with courage or will – the determination to do what we need to do.

As artists, we can get distracted from what is really ours to do when we fall prey to comparison or criticism.  This doesn’t mean that we never allow ourselves to be influenced by the work of others, nor does it mean that we never listen to honest feedback; both of these things can help us learn, grow, and become more skilled.  It means we need to stand solidly in who we are, and use that to help us decide what to take in and what to release.

When we compare our work to the work of others, there is an opportunity and a risk.  We risk dismissing the other person’s work as worthless and we risk idolizing the other’s work. By dismissing the other person and their work, we minimize what it is that they are here to do. We risk invalidating their perspective because it doesn’t match ours, because we are afraid that what they do might invalidate what we do.  By idolizing the other person’s work, we risk hiding our own gift as we try to make ourselves over in another’s image.  We risk invalidating our own work. Either way, we get distracted from what is ours to do.   

 "Comparison is an act of violence against the self." - Iyanla Vanzant

The opportunity of comparison lies more in simply looking at the work of other artists. We might discover something that we want to integrate into our own work or, we might discover the thing that makes our work uniquely ours.

Criticism can be another kind of comparison.  When done poorly, criticism can tear us down and judge us based on criteria and standards we never aspired to.  It can distract you from what is really yours to do.  When done well, it can lead us to ask new questions, build skills, and clarify our purpose.  The artists of the Impressionist movement were criticized for painting common subjects and using bold color; but the Impressionists were concerned with capturing a moment in time and studying the effects of light.  The Impressionists had completely different goals than the established art community. After being rejected by juried salons, they staged their own showings of their work and stayed true to their intentions. Yet, even among them, there was disagreement about what made a “good” painting.

The more afraid we are, the more unsure of what we want our own art to say, the easier it is for us to be distracted by comparison or criticism. Life is an exercise in discovering the work we are here to do, and then sticking to it. Comparing ourselves to others - who are here to do different work - is a distraction; learning from them is a gift.

Friday, September 27, 2013

DEMO! Blueprints on Fabric

I have always been a sucker for fabric.  And lately, I've been a big sucker for nature printing - making impressions from natural materials. Earlier in September at the annual Nature Printing Society workshop, I learned about a kind of fabric that makes it easy.  

It's called Blueprints on Fabric, and you can get it in squares or yardage from Dharma Trading.  It's a cotton fabric that's been treated with a light sensitive emulsion, and it comes in several colorways: dark green/light green, blue/white, blue/turquoise, dark green/golden yellow, and blue/magenta. It's easy to use, and I'm going to give you a quick tutorial right here - and show you samples of all the different colorways!

1.  Select your fabric and your objects.  The fabric looks weirdly gray when you pull it out of the package; don't worry.  The color will shift when it's exposed to light.  The areas that are covered will be the lighter, brighter color; the areas that are exposed to light will be the darker color.  What you get are silhouettes, so objects with interesting shapes work best. 

You can also use objects with semi-translucent areas - it's not predictable, but you can get some shading or color variations.  Objects that lie flat against the fabric work best.

Pressed leaves, cut shells, feathers and lace all work well.  Prepare a board slightly larger than the fabric you're working with.  One made from thick foam core works well - you can easily move it and you can stick pins in it if you need to secure lightweight leaves. 

2. Experiment with your design. You'll want to have it figured out before you open up the fabric.  Unless you have a darkroom, you'll need to work fast. 

3. Arrange your materials on your fabric.  Any time you have the material out of its package, you need to be careful about light exposure.  UV light is what develops the emulsion in the fabric, so you'll want to work with it as dark a room as possible.  When I can't get the room really dark, I work under heavy black trash bags.

4.  Make sure the objects aren't going to shift as you move them.  Heavier things like cut shells should be ok.  Leaves and feathers can be secured with straight pins (as can the corners of the fabrics), or can be secured under a piece of glass or acrylic.  Just make sure that the acrylic isn't treated to resist UV.

5. Now take it outside and expose it to sunlight for 10 minutes.  High, direct sun works best.  If it's overcast (or if you live in the Pacific Northwest, like I do), then leave it out for a bit longer. If sun is in short supply, you can also expose the fabric under a grow light.  

6.  After the time's up,  move the board inside and move the objects off quickly. You'll know it's done because you'll have crisp lines where the objects were.

7. Rinse out the emulsion.  This stops the developing.  Keep running it under the water until the colors look true. 

8. Dry the fabric - ironing works well.  Just don't let the iron rest too long in any one spot; you can end up with iron marks on the fabric.

And you're done! You can see the faint line where the acrylic was - if it covers the entire cloth, you won't get that line.  This fabric also spent a fair bit of time in a well-lit room during the photo shoot.  Because of this, it developed slightly in process, so the colors aren't as bright as they would be otherwise.  Even so, it still gives you an idea of what the blue/purple colorway looks like.

Here's a sample of the green/gold with ferns.

And the blue/white with feathers.

Once you start playing with the fabric, the possibilities are endless.  This is made using an image I printed on acetate.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Little Sunshine in a Grumpy Day

I've been having a grumpy few days.  It's a long story, but much of the grump-inducing had to do with people doing things with my credit cards that I didn't like, followed by doing a very strict paleo program called the "Whole30."  No sugar. No artificial sweeteners. No alcohol.  No canola or safflower oil.  No foods I binge on. And that means no more Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica or Terra Taro Chips for awhile, folks.

So, I went into the kitchen this afternoon to work it off and deal with some of the produce that's been accumulating.  And I decided to try a recipe from the cookbook Well Fed via the Whole30 folks for a peanut-free, soy-free, sugar-free kind-of-but-not peanut sauce. 

It's called Sunshine Sauce, and it's amazing.

Brightened up my whole freakin' day.  I am smiling and dipping red bell pepper strips in the stuff as I write. You can find the original recipe here, on the Clothes Make the Girl blog, or follow the modified one that I used here:

2 TBLS organic Sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds)
2 TBLS lime juice
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 TSP chili-garlic sauce
1 TSP coconut aminos
2 TSP coconut milk
Fresh grated ginger to taste
Water as needed

Blend it all up, except for the water. If it's too thick, add some water and blend some more.  Then, drizzle over steamed spinach or broccoli or chicken breasts or heck, just eat it with a spoon.

And be happy.

Friday, August 23, 2013

ArtMaking on the Road

When you're trying to keep up a regular artmaking practice, travel can really put a crimp in your style! I do a lot of my work in encaustic, and it's a big challenge to try and take a griddle, torch, and wax if you're traveling - especially if you're flying.

But I want to make sure that I keep my artmaking muscles flexing, even when I'm on the road.  Here's the kit I usually take with me when I fly:  It includes pencils, eraser, sharpie pens, brushes with built-in water reservoirs, portable watercolors and a sketchbook. 


I only take scissors and an exacto knife if I have checked baggage (which is most of the time).   If I'm driving, I'll add gesso and encaustics, along with a collapsible water container and a wider selection of brushes.

Here's a collage I made in New York last year - one of the fun challenges I set myself is to only collage with things I can find for free.  In New York, I was attending a book conference and visiting museums, so the freebies were amazing!

 And here's one from an International Encaustic Artists' Conference in San Antonio last year.  All the collage materials were found for free, and I picked up some gesso along the way.

Here's a collage from my road trip through California earlier this summer -all made with stuff found in the Bay Area.

Later on during the trip, I copied it and reworked it with some paint.

Of course, even if you forget everything, you can still make really fun stuff.  I recently flew to the East Coast to see a friend and realized I had left all my art supplies at home! 

So, I picked up a glue stick and some copy paper (even grocery stores will have these basic supplies), and found an old fashion magazine in the laundry room of the place I was staying.  Even without scissors, I was able to piece some things together. 

So hey, no excuses!  Go make stuff - even on the go.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

DEMO: Green Juice, Green Cup

I've recently gotten a juicer, and have been making and drinking a lot fresh green juices!  I take the juice with me in these mason jar sippy cups I made - and everyone has been asking where I got them. (It's not a new idea - there are other tutorials on-line, but I can't find the ones that initially gave me the idea - otherwise, I'd link to them!)  

Folks have been suggesting I sell them, but the great crew over at Cuppow have already got something similar going.  So, instead, I decided to share how to make them yourself!  

I start with pint (16 oz) wide-mouth mason jars with bands and lids, 1/4" rubber grommets, and metal straws. (Follow links to find the items on Amazon).  I like the wide-mouth jars because they're easier to clean.  The pint jars will also fit into a standard car cup holder, which is a bonus for me!

Then, I punch a 3/8" hole in the lid.  I use a metal punch, but you could also use a 3/8" drill bit.  Don't worry if the edge is sharp: the grommet will cover that. I punch the hole close to the edge because I find it makes it easier to use the straw to get the last bits of juice out, but you can certainly punch your hole in the middle!

These are the rubber grommets that I use.

I just push the rubber grommet into the hole.

Once I do that, the back, the front, and the cut edge of the hole are covered by the rubber grommet.  The straw will still fit through, with just a little gap, but won't make an annoying rattling sound.  (This is an especially good thing if you are using the sippy cup in your car cup holder!)

And you are ready to go!

If you need a larger container, say for water, the 24 oz jars that Bionature brand organic strained tomatoes come in work well.  You need longer straws, though, like these. But, they still fit in a car cup holder!  Either way, the sippy cups are grown-up and green, and the whole thing (even the straw!) can be washed in the dishwasher.  Nothing gets thrown away! And the only plastic in the whole thing is the rubber grommet and the lining on the seal of the jar.

And it's so easy!  You could even do some glass etching to personalize the jars. Or, paint the glass and/or metal bands with Pebeo Vitrea paints - after baking, the paints can even go in the dishwasher!

So what's in my green juice?  It varies, but I always juice these things:
  • A bunch of kale (yes, a full bunch)
  • 4-8 stalks of celery
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1 lemon
  • 1" piece of ginger (I like ginger!)
  • 2 granny smith apples
Sometimes, I'll add spinach, romaine, parsley, or even a little filtered water to the mix. And, I use organic produce whenever possible!  The granny smith apples take away the bitterness of the juice without jacking up the sugar content too much.  

Let me know if you make one!  And if you decorate it, I wanna see it!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Sacral Chakra

Last month, I was working with the sacral chakra.  (You can read a bit more about chakras in my February post on the root chakra, and get a summary of the chakras here). This energy center is all about feeling, creative generation, balance, flow, and enthusiasm.  The color is orange . . . I did the collage above last month - the ripe vegetables, the orange rock with the cleft, the boat, the pencils, the jumping figure, the sensuous reclining Mondigliani figure . . . all of these say creativity and flow and passion to me.

I did this one last month, too - somehow Christina Hendricks just embodies everything sensuous! The matches are symbolic of creative inspiration for me.  I was also really playing with the idea of balance in this one - the way I try to balance my desire for contradictory things: nesting and flying, achieving and rebelling, ritual and experimentation, structure and newness, control and flexibility, busyness and calm.

I also updated the altar in my studio, filling it with water symbols and images of ripe fruit.
This is a collage I did for the sacral chakra back in 2009, featuring a bit of an image by Egon Shiele.  I like how simple it is, but how all the sensuous qualities of the chakra still come through.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Photo Safari: Bosky Dell

Last month, I went on a field trip to Bosky Dell Natives - it's a native plant nursery in West Linn, Oregon.  I went with the owner of Independence Gardens, the folks who are helping me put raised beds for a vegetable garden in my front yard. We were shopping for some shade-loving native plants, including edibles to put in the back yard. 

This is not an ordinary plant nursery - it's more like a crazy fairyland garden full of amazingness.

We did end up buying plants for the garden, but I also had a wonderful time taking pictures.  

 And thus, a household errand turned into a full-on artist's date.   

We were there over an hour . . . and I found these sheets of corrugated metal that are in the process of oxidizing - it looks like the metal is being rusted or patinated on purpose, to be used for siding.  I was struck by the colors.

And the amazing textures.  I love these warm yellows, oranges, and reds mingling with the cool grays and turquoise and minty blue-green. 

 I think this is likely to turn up in some encaustic work sometime soon!

Monday, April 1, 2013

No Octopus was Harmed in the Making of this Cardigan

Can you tell I'm wearing an octopus?

A while back, I saw a black and turquoise octopus sweater at Think Geek - and I wanted it (along with a bunch of cool Doctor Who gadgetry!).  But I really didn't want to pay for it. And then they sold out. 

All hope seemed lost until I remembered that I had an old black cardigan, lightweight and tightly knit, along with a love of applique and massive fabric stash . . . a plan started to come together.

I put a piece of butcher paper over my old sweater and started sketching out an octopus. I was inspired by the cardigan I saw online (which you can see in the picture above), but mine quickly took off in a different direction . . .in part because I wanted the mantle to look at least somewhat realistic.  I based my drawing on images of the Giant Pacific Octopus, like the ones here.

I labeled and cut out the pieces of the sketch to create a pattern.  I raided my stash for some old t-shirts and stretchy fabrics and used the pattern to cut pieces of fabric out. I used a lot of fabrics with dots as a way of referencing suckers.  

I used Lite Steam-a-Seam 2 (a fusible webbing with a light tack) and my iron to attach the fabric pieces to the old cardigan. 

I love the way that it came out almost as though the octopus is camouflaged, and a little tough to see, since that's part of how octopus hunt and survive in the wild.

I stitched around the edges, just to secure it, and to outline the mantle and the curling of the tentacles. One of the tentacles wraps around the arm, and a few more curl around to the back.

Now, of course, I'm wondering if anything else needs an appliqued octopus on it . . .

Monday, March 11, 2013

Creating With Limits: Part Two

I blogged a few days ago about how awesome self-imposed limits can be when it comes to creativity.  So what happens when the limits aren't self-imposed?  It's one thing to choose to work with 1" square pieces of paper; it's another thing entirely to be forced to work with 1" squares because it's all we've got.

The limit can be money, or time, or space, or materials.   No money to buy any good brushes.  Only ten minutes a day to make stuff.  My "studio" is a folding table my bedroom. Can't find the shade of blue I always use.

Last year, to deal with chronic health problems, I was given some limits regarding what I could eat:

No gluten.
No grains - yeah, no corn, no oats.
No dairy.
No soy.
No processed sugar and minimal natural sugars.
No legumes, no beans, no peanuts.
No oils from processed grains or grasses - canola, safflower, out.
Minimal alcohol and caffeine.

What did that leave?

Nuts and seeds.
Fruits and vegetables.
Oils from fruits and nuts (olive oil, coconut oil)
Lean, unprocessed meat.
Herbal tea.

Oh yeah.  I put up a fuss.  And then . . . something shifted.

It started to be fun.  I was exploring books on eating Paleo, searching grain-free recipes on line, finding ways to eat more vegetables, adapting recipes, using my food processor like a madwoman, discovering new Portland restaurants with me-friendly menus . . . in short, I took on cooking and eating as a creative challenge.

Most of my creative energy last year went into learning how to cook - and eat - all over again. And yeah, my health is better now.  I still have chronic challenges with fatigue, but the symptoms are way more manageable now and I've identified and cut out a lot of the things that triggered the problems in the first place.  Generally, I've even been able to stick with it.

I don't share this because I'm looking for dietary solutions and health fixes (there are plenty of other folks blogging about that!).  

I share this story because it proved to me that it really is possible to re-frame the limits not as excuses, but as questions, questions that lead to creative thinking.  The limits - whether they're self-imposed or thrust upon us by necessity - can serve as a starting point rather than a stop sign.

Consider any of the limits that keep you from creating or making art - how might you change those limits into a question that challenges your creativity instead?