Blog

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.

Happy New Year!

I haven’t been very good about blogging regularly but I hope to do better this year. My goal is to write at least once a week.  We’ll see how that goes!

I’ve been struggling with getting good images of the piece, Nascence.  It’s the largest piece I’ve ever done and I can’t get good perspective with it.  Usually, I put the open vessels onto my backdrop on the floor and shoot them from above, but that isn’t working.  All of my walls are textured and full of holes and marks—not to mention finding a large enough blank space—so I’m probably going to have to do something on one of the garage walls.  It’s not ideal but if I can get good images that’s all that matters.

Here is an in situ view in my studio:nascence-cropped-brightened-wm-72-pix

Not bad for a snapshot but not good enough for an exhibition entry.  This piece was originally destined for a basketry invitation this spring but that was cancelled so I’m going to enter it in at least one show this year.

That’s all for this week but I have some good blog topics planned for the next few weeks. 

Stay tuned!

And my best wishes to you and your loved ones for a happy, healthy New Year!

The spark within us

In each (person) is a spark able to kindle new fires of human progress, new light for the human spirit. …  When enough of these fires are burning, they create a new dawn of spiritual understanding; the flame of a great people is formed.

 -– Charles A Lindbergh in Of Flight and Life

 

I have been trying to put how I feel about what happened in the US last week into words, to find some way to move forward after the election.  It’s not that I object overly to a Republican President—though I think the Founding Fathers were correct in their concerns about a strong two-party political system.  We are certainly seeing the effects of that.  But the anger and hatred and denigrating speech that are now, to some people, legitimized concerns me greatly.  I hadn’t planned to write about this here, but I can’t pretend it did not happen, either.  The quote above, which I read this morning in my daily meditations book*, sums up better than I ever could what I would like to be a part of going forward. 

We cannot rely on one person or one institution or any outside force to create the world we wish to live in.  As Gandhi said, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.  I try to do that in my small way through my art practice.  I believe that the energy we feel and which we share in every moment of our lives with those around us affects the very energy and atmosphere we live in.  Each moment is an opportunity to change the world through the choices we make, in how we live each day, and how we interact with others.  The spark, the fire we carry within us can light the world and make it brighter and more beautiful … or it can destroy everything we hold dear. 

I began this blog as a way to share my perspective on the positive aspects of art and art practice, to share what I do with a larger audience because I believe that we each need to do our part, in whatever way that we can, to counteract the anger, violence, hatred and aggressive energies which seem to permeate the world today.  I call on those of you who read this to add your light to the sum of light, to help bring about change, peaceably through cooperation and understanding.  A lot of what we have seen in the past year has been building for a long time and it is a reflection of the ways many feel left behind in our society.  We must honor those feelings and find ways to bring people together to find solutions that work for everyone, not through mandates and top-down policies, but in our communities, in our neighborhoods, one relationship at a time. 

I don’t have the answers.  I only know that we need to do something, so I’m doing what I can and I hope it helps

May peace be with us all….

*Gifts of the Lotus: A book of daily meditations 1974 Compiled by Virginia Hanson Published by The Theosophical Society.

YEAR END SALE!!!

Hello all,

Yes, it’s that time of year again–time for holiday shopping!!  

I am having a sale on my website.  All available pieces are 20% OFF!!!  

Just send me an email about the piece you’d like, and I will send you a PayPal invoice–you don’t need a PayPal account to make a purchase.  And, as always, FREE SHIPPING within the USA!

In other news, I am putting the finishing touches on the piece I have  been working on and will post images and final thoughts in a few days.

Until then….