Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Surviving the Artistic Process

As I mentioned in another post, I am reading Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales, a book introduced to me by my brother. We share a great love for the wilderness. We also share surviving a difficult childhood. But it was a surprise to me when writing in my last post (Truth) to realize the artistic process is a lot like the survival process. Diving into art is a bit like a walk in wilderness. Sometimes I know where I'm going, often I think I do, then the landscape changes dramatically. Sometimes the harder I stick to my original vision, the more lost I get. Sometimes I need to "remap" to get where I'm going. Sometimes I'm just plain lost.

According to Gonzales, research suggests when a person gets lost, he or she goes through five general stages, similar to the stages of grief and dying. First is the denial "that you're disoriented and press on with growing urgency, attempting to make your mental map fit what you see." Second is the realization "that you're genuinely lost, the urgency blossoms into a full-scale survival emergency." In the third stage you struggle to "form a strategy for finding some place that matches the mental map. (It is a misguided strategy, for there is no such place now: You are lost.)" Stage four is where you "deteriorate both rationally and emotionally, as the strategy fails to resolve the conflict." And stage five, is where "you must become resigned to your plight. Like it or not, you must make a new mental map of where you are... To survive, you must find yourself. Then it won't matter where you are."

Here's what I get to learn during my walk in my artistic wilderness. To be true to myself, find myself, and trust myself. It might be tough sometimes, but geeze, the view is incredible!

Friday, January 25, 2008


It's time for real life. I've been sharing personal triumphs and artistic revelations in an "ain't I cool, tell me I'm cool" way. But I believe in nothing if not balance and the wholeness of the Universe and Yin and Yang. So here's what's happening.

I am blessed with ideas. I carry around a small notebook, and when I get a vision of a new art piece I write it down, complete with thumbnails, copious notes, and lots of options and ideas. This can be tricky sometimes since I'm usually driving. I'll be careful, I promise. My ideas usually start with a personal issue -- something I'm sorting out in my own life, etc. -- and then the visual concept starts to bubble to the top.

I have a day job. I have a family. I have several four-legged critters. In other words, my time is not always my own. I'm also an expert at finding reasons for not going out to the studio. It's butt-freezing cold and rainy. There is no electricity out there. It's dark.

Also. There are roadblocks. There are technical/mechanical issues with one piece. Things are not going as planned. (Note to self. It's time to mentally remap. If you don't know what that means, read Deep Survival. I'm half way through and starting to get it. The artistic process is not unlike wilderness survival. Perhaps that will be another entry.)

There's more. There's the fact that I am taking on an uncomfortable subject right now. It's a strong powerful vision and I'm excited. It also involves snakes - OK, just one snake - but that's enough. I am not snake-phobic, but I am afraid of venomous snakes. Rattlesnakes in particular. Really afraid. And I know how powerful snakes are. They show up in my dreams whenever I'm going through a particularly difficult transition in my life. So right now I am in the squirming stage of the artistic process. I think that comes somewhere after denial and bargaining, but definitely before acceptance.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

If it was a snake...

Some lessons you learn over, and over, and over again. You'd think I'd finally get it...

I spent several years away from my art, using it only as an occasional diversion. Then, as the result of a very difficult time in my life, I came back to it only knowing I needed to open the door again, but not knowing what that would look like. So I cast about for a while trying to figure out how things should manifest and what kind of art I should do -- all the while sitting quite squarely in my head instead of my heart. And behind it all I knew I really love collage but figuring it just wasn't cool and "real art" enough. I can be such a snob sometimes.

Then, "for fun" I took a one-day collage class through the community college extension program and a choir of angels was heard. OK, not really. But I had a blast and came out of the class incredibly inspired and fired up. I realized what I had been looking for was there all the time. Right in front of my face. And in my heart. Same old lesson again and again.

Here's the piece that came out of that first class, constructed from elements provided by the instructor. My style has definitely evolved and come into it's own since this was done, but this one is very important to me. What started as an instructional exercise became a personal affirmation on how to move forward on my artistic journey -- and through life in general.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Girls and Horses

Yes. I was one of those girls. Horses everywhere. My walls were covered with posters of horses, my shelves crowded with plastic horses (each with its own name and familial relationship to the others), I drew horses all the time, and when my best friend and I played, we were horses. I wished on every star and dandelion that some day I would have a horse of my own -- and I actually got one!

What is it about girls and horses?

Here's what I think. The medicine cards teach that horses are about power. As young girls growing up in the 60's and 70's we struggled to find our own power. We knew it was out there, and certain factions were encouraging us to find it, but we weren't welcome in sports yet, it was assumed we weren't good at math, and our Barbie dolls still had dream dates and weddings, but no careers. (Take note younger women -- you are reaping what your mothers and grandmothers sowed.)

When I was pretending to be a horse I was independent and powerful and usually wild, or at least "high-spirited". When I was drawing horses I wasn't worrying about what society said I should look like (oh yes, I drew lots of really skinny, big-boobed girls too...) And when I was riding my horse it was one of the few times I was really on my own, just the horse and me in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains.

Creating this piece was one of those spontaneous words-as-elements things. In this case the words came first and the images formed around them. I love to use old topographic maps in my work (a backpacker's best friend) and the blue and gold seed beads carry the motion I was trying to convey. The words are tricky to see online -- but if you click on the image hopefully the larger image shows the words better.

I think of this piece as an affirmation and encouragment for me to go ahead and live. Get dirty, take risks, break the rules, work through the fear, be uncomfortable, trust your vision.

And people wonder why girls love horses.

Wolf Pup

Never take a job on commission. Especially when it's for family. Especially when it's for your teenage daughter.

OR - Go ahead and take the job. Then throw out everything they say they want and do what you want.

I have a word box. I cut out words and phrases from magazines, comic books, and catalogs and keep them in my word box. It's best if I keep this a totally right-brained activity (tricky since I think language is left-brained in origin) and not have any expectations for what I cut out. I just snip what jumps out at me. Then, when I'm constructing a piece I go through and see who wants to come out and play. While many of my smaller pieces incorporate these words, I haven't used them in my larger pieces -- yet.

My daughter, Mara, saw the words "No Accident" one day and asked that I create a piece for her with these words. After picking her brain for some inspiration I realized I couldn't work with her vision -- I had to work with my own vision for her. Wolves are important to Mara (I sometimes call her Wolf Pup) and the rest of the words chose themselves. I really wanted more of a street or graffiti art look for this piece -- something less polished and little messy. I'm not sure if I achieved that but I'm pleased with the end result. I worked with acrylic emulsions, medium, and many, many layers of different paints and papers. The digital image really doesn't do this piece justice (it's too big for my scanner -- this is a digital picture. As soon as I can get it scanned I'll repost). There's a lot of texture going on and I can't look at it without touching it and experiencing the textures. This piece, called "Mara's Wolf", is 9X12 on canvas board.

Some folks have been
puzzled by this piece. Mara and I both really like it -- so both client and artist are happy.

Things I learned:
- Feel the force, Luke. Trust yourself, you know best.
- Composition, composition, composition. It doesn't really work here, I know.
- Life is messy sometimes.
- Wolves really are teachers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Outing the Artist...

OK, OK... here's the deal. People are asking when I'm going to post more entries and art. I seem to have a billion excuses, including lack of scanner access for my bigger pieces. The truth is, coming out of the art closet is not easy. The point of this blog is to share my art and my process, which is a big step since I am most comfortable operating in stealth mode. It's a long, personal story, but there have been several incredible people who continue to support and encourage me in the process of reclaiming my art. One of them is my gypsy-pirate friend, Shawna, so here's a little something I did for her.

I've learned so much from watching her live her life and she seems to be my personal cheerleader no matter what I do! In fact, she's partly responsible for the name of this blog. When she announced she was moving out of Northern California -- again -- I couldn't let her leave the state without a small piece of art from me and my wishes for joy on her journey and the many gifts life brings.

Joy for Shawna is completely right-brained and only makes sense to me if I don't try to make sense of it. This is a small piece, just 4X6, on canvas board, with acrylic paint and medium, blue tulle (in honor of the tulle queen herself), clip art illustrations, and comic book excerpts.

So the closet door has been opened just a wee bit here, but I'm looking forward to seeing sunlight soon.