A new direction; a new focus

For quite a while, my art practice was drifting. I didn’t quite know what the next phase was going to be about and I felt like I was just repeating myself–doing the same piece over and over without moving forward.

Last year, I worked on a piece that was inspired by some photos a friend sent us of the hibiscus she grew on her patio when she was living in California.  It started as just another piece and I set it aside because, again, I felt like it was just another piece in different colors. But, I picked it up again and began playing with the shaping. And, it became this…

111718112611171811271117181127b The piece originally made me think of the happy glow I would feel thinking about the Pacific Coast, but I had to put it aside a second time during the terrible wildfires there because it was too painful to think about the destruction and devastation.  When I finished it, I realized that it had become a symbol for me of the two sides of nature–the peace and beauty side and the destructive power side.  I have named it Coastal Glow.  We can love the beauty of nature but we must never lose sight of her power.

When I returned to work on the piece, I began to see a new avenue for my work.  I have always focused my process and designs on positive energies, beauty and grace which are still very important to me in my work.  Now, I have added a new element, a new focus to the work:  I realized that it is necessary to not only balance the many negative energies in the world with art that focuses on positive energies, I need to add my voice to the work necessary to advocate for change.

About this time, I happened upon a message from Doris Florig about a five year traveling fiber art exhibition to create global awareness about the degradation and destruction of coral reefs and other ocean ecosystems.  I joined the Save the Reef  team and I am creating a lionfish for the project.20190407_11565020190416_07484120190627_15185720190627_151904

This has been the most challenging piece I have ever worked on.  The raw cordage you see sticking out along the edges will become the ribs of the fins of the lionfish.  There are still several technical issues to overcome and I am not sure how I will solve them, but I will.

I am really excited about this new direction in my work.  I know I have been radio silent for quite a while, mostly because I was in this internal struggle about the lack of direction I was feeling and I have had continued health challenges that interfere with my productivity.  I keep moving forward little by little, knowing I will eventually get there.

Many years ago, I came up with a phrase: Patience plus persistence equals perseverance.  The patience is hard to come by some days but I am persistent.  And, the work, though slow, keeps me sane and brings me joy.

I hope that your work and life bring you some joy today!


Summer days

It’s amazing to me how fast time moves. I don’t know if it’s me or the world, but it moves too fast most of the time.   Years ago, when I was experimenting with writing poetry–since abandoned–I wrote one short poem with a line that has stayed with me since then: Even on the longest day, nightfall comes too soon.

The main thing that keeps me grounded in this whirlwind is my studio time.  Time slows down here and my thoughts can take their natural, slow winding course, even if only for a few minutes or an hour.

I don’t usually write about things I’m reading etc, but I wanted to share a blog I’ve been following for a while.  Steven Pressfield writes about the process of creating art and he’s been sharing a series of posts the past few months about his new book, The Artist’s Journey.  If you haven’t read him, check it out.  I wanted to share today’s post particularly because he shares an important point about creativity and the journey all of us can take, if we choose.

Best wishes for a more creative life.

A belated Happy New Year!

So, as usual, I am about 2 weeks behind on emails etc and I’m just getting around to doing some New Year’s greetings.

This past year has been transformational with a new job that has allowed me to restructure my thinking and my energies. I am in the studio more–though I still need to do a better job of documenting the work in progress–and I have some exciting new ideas for the work going forward this year.  

Last year, I spent a lot of time on a major writing project that I will share later when it’s a little further along. 

And, I completed a new piece:

Staccato Flow 1 72 px
Staccato Flow 2017

Here’s a piece I completed in 2016:

Long Winding Road 2 72 pix
The Long and Winding Road 2016
Long Winding Road 4 72 pix
The Long and Winding Road 2016

Also, a  nice piece of exposure on the web on HAND/EYE!

I hope this new year will bring you and all those you love good health and happiness!





Catching up….again

This year is going by too fast!  Not a great revelation, I know, but it’s where my mind keeps going lately.  For the past week, I’ve been writing July instead of August–just can’t believe we’re in the 8th month of the year already!

I have always felt like a turtle living in a jackrabbit world.  I’m not a quick or bright thinker, everything takes time for me.  Working in a slow medium like fiber suits the way my mind works.  I like letting things simmer and percolate, letting them develop in their own time.  So, it’s probably no surprise that I am still working on a piece I started last November.  It’s nearing completion–I’m working inward on the neck and it should be done by the end of this month….but don’t hold me to that; too many things can get in the way.   

This spring, for instance, I was going strong on this piece when I put it aside to work on research and prep for a workshop/lecture I did on Puebloan weaving in the Southwest in late March.  While I was working on that, I came down with shingles.  Which isn’t so bad if you realize you have it and get to the doctor for anti-virals, but I didn’t know I had ever had chicken pox.  Took a while to get over that! 

While I was recuperating, I got a call to teach an anthropology/archaeology class during the summer session at the community college. This is my ‘day’ job, when I have a job.  I have been despairing of late about not being able to teach on a regular basis and not finding work anywhere I want to live, other than where I live.  Then, the Universe stepped in and gave me a gift.  

I have been volunteering for a couple of years at a non-profit used bookstore in town that supports several branches of our local library.  In mid-June, the person in charge of bookstore operations asked it I’d like to become a part-time co-manager of the bookstore.   I said yes.  I have been working there for a month now and I love it!  To spend my days surrounded by books while helping to support our public libraries is very rewarding.  It’s not a grand job or an ‘important’ job in the sense most people mean today, but I feel like I’m making a real contribution in my community and earning some money to help support my studio work.  

So, my life took another unexpected turn; this time it was a very good one.  I have a work schedule that isn’t too grueling, and a 3 mile commute.  I have time and the mental energy to focus on my studio work when I’m free. And, I’m living closer to my ‘dream’ life than I ever have…a bit scary, but it’s great!

That’s where things are now.  I hope things are well with you.   And, I hope each of you are finding ways to live your dream life, even if it’s only a little bit.  

The Success of Failure

It’s hard to look at a piece you’ve worked many hours on and conclude it is a failure.  Not necessarily a complete failure, but it has missed the mark you set for it by a significant margin.  This is true of the piece I created last year titled, Nascence.

This piece began as a potential commission.  I talked back and forth with the representative for a potential client about what would work for the space and what the client was looking for.  And, I started making compromises.

This first one was about materials.  Now, I have been doing coiled basketry for more than thirty years.  I know my materials, what they can do and what they can’t. And I’ve developed techniques which work well with the materials I choose to use, the most important of which is that I always use two strands of core material side-by-side to give my vessels stability and to facilitate the positioning of each row to create the shape of vessel I want.  Using one strand of core will not do that.

But, the client wanted something that was large and less than 2 inches deep and they wanted it soon.  Starry-eyed about this possible commission for three large pieces in a public space, I compromised and said I could use larger core material and only one strand so that the vessel wouldn’t be too thick.  Using my standard quarter-inch core material creates a thickness of one-half inch.  Using a thicker core—I had decided on three-eighths of an inch—would have created a core of three-quarters of an inch, almost half the depth of the proposed vessels which have meant a very shallow curve to the vessel.  So, I compromised to speed up the work.  Working slowly is one reason I work in fiber—it’s an essential part of the process for me and so speeding up worked against not only my artistic mindset, but compromised my creative process.  I couldn’t make good decisions about this piece because I was hurrying.

Then there was my second mistake.  When I design a new piece, there is some sort of inspirational moment, whether it’s a yarn I like, a color, a phrase of music—there’s always something that excites me and makes me want to create a new piece.  Here, the inspiration was an external request for a specific style of piece, in a specific colorway, and a specific size.  I compromised my design process to fit the client’s wishes.  Or at least, I tried to.

In the end, they decided to use someone else’s work.  Just as well.  I couldn’t have produced one piece, let alone three, in the time allotted.

But, I pressed on with the pieces anyway.  That was my third mistake.

I had an upcoming exhibition deadline and, again, ego got in my way.  I decided I would do this larger piece, larger than I’d ever attempted and I would do it using the new, thicker core material I’d never used before.  But, instead of listening to my inner voice and using two strands as I should have, I pressed on using just one.  And, I decided to use the sketches I had made for the potential commission—just as they were, without critique or rework.  Just Make It!

The result was useful but painful.

Is it a good piece?  I’d give it a B minus at best.

Am I happy with it?  No.  Oh, there are some areas in the piece that turned out well but overall  the design is awkward and weak and the color gradations aren’t as good as I’d like—some places they’re good, others not so much.

Was it worthwhile?  Yes.  Even after more than 30 years, you can still relearn things.  Like: stick with what you’re good at.  Pay attention to your materials.  Most importantly: Listen when you inner voice says, Stop! And rethink what you’re doing here.

Commissions aren’t bad.  You just have to approach them with a strong sense of what your work is about and make sure they want what you do.  Remaking yourself and your work into something that isn’t yours is never a good idea.

Experimentation is essential to growth as an artist.  It is very important as an artist to stretch yourself, try new materials, and try new ideas.  Failure isn’t all bad.  There is success in failure.  Because, you always learn something that you can apply to your next piece, or the piece after that.

But, it is also important to do this as part of your studio practice with no thought about the outcome and especially without planning to use the piece for an exhibition or a commission.  If it turns out well, OK. Show it in public.  If not, you’ve learned what you wanted to know and some things you weren’t expecting, but it was within your studio.  No expectations; No demands.  Just the work.

So, I’m not sorry I made Nascence.  I learned three important things:

1-A thicker core material can help with larger pieces but using two strands is always necessary.  Also, I used sisal cording which was firmer than the jute I am used to.  I thought that would help with stability but it was much harder to work with and much heavier.  So, I will try using thicker jute at some point and see how that works.

2-I advanced my understanding of color blending techniques.

3-I wanted to create a spiral which worked against the natural spiral of the coiled vessel.  This worked in one area but not the other.  I am still interested in exploring this tension but need to do a better job of understanding how to create a spiral against the grain.  More work to do in this area.

Here are some images of Nascence.  What do you think?

Nascence 72 pxNascence 5x7Nascence detail 72 px

New Articles about my work

Hello all,

There is an interview about me and my work on the Arts Business Institute website published today. Also, the upcoming issue of the NBO’s Quarterly Review will have an article about my journey as a basketry artist.

I’m very excited to have my work go out into the world in this way.  Many thanks to Carolyn at ArtsyShark for the ABI interview, and to the editors of the Quarterly Review and the National Basketry Organization.  Support from organizations like these is vital to working artists today!

Spinning plates and Spring’s horizon

We all have so much going on in our lives and it’s hard to keep track/keep up with everything.  I have a spreadsheet with the different projects I’m working on, broken down into manageable steps to help me keep everything straight.  But, it seems every week a new challenge, project, or task arises and I need to rethink my strategies for handling it all.  A lot of the time, I feel like I am managing spinning plates.

When I was growing up, I saw a juggling act on TV where they would spin several plates on thin poles.  It was exciting and scary and that image pops up every once in a while when I feel overwhelmed. (There are a few videos of this on YouTube as well as images and cartoons online—Google ‘spinning plates video’).  What seems most appropriate to me about this image is that the plates are breakable.  Most of us talk about juggling tasks in our lives, but thinking about juggling balls doesn’t really illustrate what we’re feeling; balls don’t break if they’re dropped, but plates do.  In our anxiety, every task seems fragile and breakable and keeping them all spinning seems perilous at times.  And sometimes it is.  If we take a moment to step back from the panic, we can look at all we are trying to do and, hopefully, think more clearly about what is a precious porcelain task and what is a paper plate.  Most of our tasks fall somewhere in between, but you get the idea.

Getting back to my spreadsheet, I learned when I was in graduate school that the only way I would make it is if I quite obsessing about how much I had to do, how many books I had to read and annotate, how many project notes I had to write up.  If I looked at what I had to do TODAY and only today, to map out what I had to do THIS WEEK, I could function.  Not only did my anxiety level go down, but I actually accomplished more.  Multitasking actually works best when you do several things a day, but only one thing at a time.

I don’t have the heavy deadlines and outside expectations I had then, but I do have self-imposed deadlines and long term projects I’m trying to work on.  I have nine anthropological research projects going right now in addition to my coiled and loom studio projects as well as a reading list that will take me another 150 years to complete. I also teach anthropology at the community college when they need me, teach weaving and basketry in the community and volunteer at a non-profit bookstore that supports our local libraries.  Lots of spinning plates.  The spreadsheet really helps!

Spring’s Horizon

Another thing that helps is taking time each day to smell the roses.  An old cliché, but an apt one.  I do this by following the turn of the seasons.  Being an odd duck, I don’t subscribe to the seasons the way most people do; spring does not start for me on March the 21st.  Thinking of the movement of the earth around the sun works a lot better for me.  I think of the calendar and the seasons as a circular round we travel.  March the 21st is the spring equinox, a point on the circle but between the spring equinox and the winter solstice is a midpoint that I think of as spring’s horizon, a point we pass around the 6th of February.  In this round, as in the orbit of our planet, the equinoxes and solstices happen at different points and their horizons are equidistant between them: Feb 6, May 6, Aug 6, and Nov 6.   This probably works better for me in the desert of West Texas than it would for those of you living further north, but I have noticed in the many years I’ve lived here that nature starts waking up around this date.  Over this past week, the birds have begun their mating dances and have started gathering materials for their nests.  The sun’s angle has begun bringing more and stronger sunlight into my northern windows.  When does nature wake up where you are?   When does the sun come in more strongly in your windows?  Take a moment each day to note where the sun is in relation to your home, where you work etc.  Begin to track its yearly round. 

I hope that each of you has developed some way to help you cope with your spinning plates.  Decide what each of your plates is made of. Find a few plates that don’t need to be spinning right now, but make a note of when you need to spin them up again.  And, most importantly, find a way to take a deep, calming breath each day and watch the seasons in their round. 

Peace be with you.