“Passionless design (read ART here) is like a grill with no propane. If you’re not passionate about what you do, your work will show it, your character will show it, your life will show it, so find some charcoal or do something else.”
The above quote is from a blog I read on occasion called Layers of Meaning put out there by textile artist/ designer Serena Fenton. Visually it is beautiful and the content is always thought provoking and inspiring.
Meanwhile, my friend and fellow artist Tina introduced me to an artist she found named Lisa Kokin who’s use of mixed media in her sculptures and installations is brilliant. Her use of found photographs has me thinking about my own personal family photos and a potential long term project involving the use of these photos printed on fabric… more to come on that later.
Next week another dear artist-friend, Lisa, is going to show me how to make some blank books. This is exciting as not only will they potentially make great gifts but the skill will also be a natural progression in my sketchbook work as artist and teacher.
I am fortunate to be surrounded by passionate artists in my sphere of friendship who are constantly inspiring me with their work and abilities, which they readily share with me. And often it is through my friendships that I discover artists whose use of materials or content inspire my own work.
Go find your passion….
The past day or so has been jam packed with ideas, inspiration and wishful thinking (i.e. crafting the future with positive thoughts). I spent yesterday at Green Ridge Stables, home of Roy Powell and his Rocky Mountain horses.
Roy employs two blue heeler dogs in his work at the farm, which involves the breeding and training of these beautiful horses. Arp and Gizmo are his, handsome, hard-working, well-behaved heelers whom I drove down to visit and photograph for the afternoon. The dogs displayed their ability to help Roy get horses to do things they may not want to do, at least at first, such as getting into a trailer for transport. Instead of more forceful, human derived forms of persuasion, Roy’s dogs run around and bark at the horses “telling” them what they need to do. I watched a horse get into a trailer with seemingly little work on the part of the dogs – and it was only her second time. Thanks to the work of these scrappy little dogs, she was already getting the hang of it.
Arp and Gizmo look to Roy for commands and guidance and they are always ready for work. I was impressed by the sense of purpose in these dogs and am now loaded with images and ideas to draw on for my potential book idea.
For further book inspiration, this afternoon I attended a panel lecture at our Main Library downtown, which featured ten local picture book artists on hand to talk about their work and answer questions. What I came away with was a comment from illustrator Loren Long that the most important thing in this line of work is that you have to love what you are doing.
Last night, after an amazing dinner and rich talk of art, story, teaching and travel opportunities, we each lit an Ameritti label and watched it burn then fly up into the air carrying with it our hopes and wishes for our future plans… I’ll keep you posted on mine!
Today my friends Lisa and Anna and I left the peaceful, chicken-ey atmosphere of Lisa’s place and headed to Oxford, Ohio to see Miami University Art Museum’s show entitled Tanks, Helicopters, Guns and Grenades: Afghan War Rugs of the 1980’s – 2007. On display were hand woven, pictorial rugs depicting the images relating to everyday life in Afghanistan. Most often these rugs have been woven by people, mostly women, who are on the move as refugees, fleeing from war torn areas of violence.
Rugs are used in Muslim culture for praying, sleeping, birthing, even to cover tombs. Often, rugs are one of the few possessions refugees can carry with them when displaced. It is sad to see how once common iconographic images of nature, animals and people have been replaced or at least joined by the imagery of war – helicopters, bombs, airplanes, guns. Yet also in these rugs there is woven a strength that is palpable, to me at least, upon viewing them. On some rugs, the artist mixes in her own image as woman into the image of a warplane. These rugs have been discovered in the Western markets and so there is commercial value in them. However, I think their greater value is the message these images bring to the world outside of Afghanistan. I was deeply moved by this collection.
After being slightly overwhelmed by the vast number of War Rugs on display, I was a little disappointed in the lack of number of quilts on display in the Hiestand Galleries across campus in the show, Pieces of Power: a Selection of Quilts from Gee’s Bend. That said, the ones that were available were simply wonderful to see.
I have only seen Gee’s Bend quilts in books over the years and have always been impressed by their graphic design quality and use of colors, but quilts should be seen in person, up close, where you can feel their coziness. The women of Gee’s Bend made these quilts to use – to cuddle up with, and this is evident upon seeing them. I am grateful for the opportunity to see at least a few of them and will certainly jump at the chance to see the larger show if it comes around to my corner of the world.
My daughter Madeleine is quite a piano player. She acquired her love of music from her first piano teacher, Ms. Pat. Ms. Pat patiently nudged Maddie through her first struggles in music and taught her that slowly, with a little practice every day, she would get over those hurdles and move on to newer challenges. She coached Maddie when it was time for auditions to get into the School for Creative and Performing Arts, giving her the confidence to go in there and do her best. (She made it in).
Today we met up with Ms. Pat at Pleasant Perk to celebrate Veteran’s Day. Pat underwent surgery for breast cancer a couple of weeks ago, and is now, thankfully-miraculously, cancer free. She is a veteran of sorts I think, and it was wonderful spend the kid’s morning off of school with her, celebrating her new lease on life.
After coffee we all walked up the street to the Earth Toy Mall for a little playful retail therapy. Anyone who knows me (or has ridden in my car and seen the dashboard shrine) knows that I love Yoda, and especially his philosophy. My favorite line in Starwars goes something like “Do or do not, there is no Try”.
I know so many amazing people in my life that remind me of the truth in this life philosophy: Ms. Pat and my sister in their cancer survivorship; all of the musicians in my life, (young and not-so-young) who don’t try to play music, they just DO; the artists and writers I know – every day, DO. I look to these Doers and I draw inspiration and hope for my own fumbling through life.
Here’s to the doers – there is no try.
This week I am gearing up for my first of hopefully a long line of Family Saturdays at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, KY. I am planning to have plenty of kid friendly art projects on hand for folks to try inspired by the art currently on display in the galleries there.
One of the artists showing this month is Anne Straus whose work uses many natural materials and evokes a somewhat primitive and tribal feel. One element in a work by Straus is that of a doll which is covered with beads. I was reminded of the corn husk dolls of the early Native American/ Pioneer days and figured that might be a fun project to try this weekend. So I have been practicing putting some husky figures together as examples then maybe we’ll decorate them….
Meanwhile, my friend and fellow artist Dan Carlson turned me on to a relatively new comic book series called Mouse Guard. The illustrations in these books are really beautiful and I enjoy being swept away into a new world by David Petersen’s delightful characters. I have never before been much of a comic book reader, but this is a series I may have to collect over time.
Yesterday I took the day off from my usual to do list approach and went on a little field trip. This fall weather has had me in the mood for homemade apple pie so I went in search of some local apples and sights unseen.
After dropping the kids at school, I headed west down River Road to the Anderson Ferry to hop a ride a cross the Ohio River. Why I don’t treat myself to this crossing more often is a mystery to me as it is a lovely way to spend a few quiet minutes enjoying the river, and a convenient way to get to Northern Kentucky.
I found a great little fruit and veggie market in Bromley, Kentucky where I got some locally grown jonathan apples for my pie. Next I headed back east toward town and stopped off at Devou Park in Covington.
I have often heard that Devou provides the best overlook of Cincinnati and shamefully, in all my years of living here, I had never been to this park until now. It is well worth the fairly lofty car climb up the hill – the view is, indeed, magnificent.
It’s a worthwhile thing to get out of the studio for a bird’s eye view of my home town and a little perspective of all this area has to offer. Today, I am nibbling on pie and enjoying renewed studio energy. Who knows where it may lead?!
It is my belief that anyone can draw. Like most languages, some people are naturally better at the language of drawing than others. But we are all capable of doing it. It just takes the right outlook and some practice.
One of the most exciting things for me as an artist is to spark some inspiration in someone who is just discovering their own artistic nature. Below is a Daily Dog drawing by my friend Olivia who is in the 2nd grade (I think that’s right…) She shares with me a love of all creatures and, from the looks of it, is already developing her own style of drawing.
I went to a music workshop once and the featured guitarist, John Doyle, made a wonderful point about the development of style in playing music, which I think applies beautifully to drawing or art-making in general. He said that it is not what you can do that makes up your personal style, it’s what you can’t do, and how you get over that hurdle, that really creates your signature sound.
So whether or not you consider yourself an image maker, drawing is really just a wonderful way to meditate on something or someone you find interesting. (For me, that is often the nearest dog.) If there is something you think you can’t draw, try anyway. Through this practice, you might very well begin developing your own artistic style. Just like Olivia.
“All your life you are told the things you cannot do. All your life they will say you’re not good enough or strong enough or talented enough; they will say you’re the wrong height or the wrong weight or the wrong type to play this or be this or achieve this. THEY WILL TELL YOU NO, a thousand times no, until all the no’s become meaningless. All your life they will tell you no, quite firmly and very quickly.
AND YOU WILL TELL THEM YES.” (from a Nike ad)
For the past two years I have been learning to play the Irish Tin Whistle. I have no previous musical training or experience but love the tunes and feel like I am waking up this whole other part of my art-brain that didn’t even know it existed. Although the whistle is, in and of itself, a wonderful instrument, I have often wondered if I could step it up a notch and learn a more complicated instrument, like the flute.
Today I had my first lesson on a borrowed flute with amazing flute player/teacher John Skelton. The subtleties will take years to manage, much less master, but it felt really good to just begin with the basics. When I first started the whistle, I wanted so badly just a be able to play a few tunes in a session with my friends. I now do this on a regular basis and it brings me a ton of joy. Maybe a few years from now I will be able to do the same on the flute. ‘Til then, I am enjoying the process of learning something of which I never thought I was capable.
This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure to attend a celebration marking the publication of a recent book by my friend and talented author/ researcher/ professor, Anna Klosowska. The book is the culmination of some years’ research and digging into the poetry of an aristocratic woman named Madeleine de l’Aubespine who lived and wrote poetry in France during the sixteenth century.
Anna discovered some academic references to this poet’s lyrical work and followed threads all over Europe to further discover and then translate the complete works. At the party, guests were treated to Anna’s recitation of Madeleine de l’Aubespine’s somewhat racy (for their time, at least) poems in their native French language.
The translations are lovely and allow non-French speaking readers to get the point of the poems, but nothing compares to listening to them in French, read by someone familiar and enchanted with the work. As an artist, I find that the passion and visual imagery provided by both women’s work is an inspiration for my own work.
The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.