From Refuse to Reverence

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There are certain materials which have always appealed to me, and thankfully, some of them are upcycled or recycled. One of my very favorites is cardboard. Ever since the days when I would help my mom make theater sets out of cardboard, I have been fascinated with its texture and construction capabilities. It is stiff and needs to be cut in the exact shape you wish it to have, but at the same time it can be broken down into a more flexible and paper-like substance. It is likely that my fascination with cardboard comes from my fascination with paper, and is somehow connect to wood, which is ever so tentatively connected to my love of plants and growing things.

Is it possible that I love one thing and all other interests stem from that one fascination? The natural world is a most fascinating place for me. It is amazing to see a seed create a plant and that plant, in turn, create a fruit which can be consumed. If my materials can imitate any event in the natural world, I am grateful. As I sand the wood, the grain becomes apparent. As I work with a piece of cardboard, it becomes softer and more organic, but still has a memory of its life as a box. This memory creates an unpredictability when I work with it, an unexpected lack of motion that I collaborate with.

It is important that the creation of art does not destroy that which it depicts and upholds. If I paint a landscape, but use materials which are not sustainable, then I am doing a disservice to the very landscape I am depicting. Thankfully, trees and plants can be re-grown as long as it is done in a conscientious manner. I also like to use wood that has had another life as cabinets, drawers, or bookshelves.

Note: I also love Altoids tins. They are great for little paintings.

Do you like upcycled or recycled materials?

How do the materials you use influence what you create?

Why do you think you like the materials you work with?

What memories are linked to those materials?

The Zone

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Here I am trying to pose for painting of a Jester Ballerina. I’m not angry, this is my “focus” face.

The “zone” is this special place where artists go when they are really focused on their work. I have been thinking a lot about this special place and what is needed to get there. Surely it is different for each one of us, but there may be some general similarities. Here are some of the requirements I have for getting in the zone:

  1. It is important to be physically able, meaning moderately comfortable, well-rested, and fed. If my body is unduly uncomfortable, there is no way I am going to be able to make art. If I am so tired that I cannot see straight, I will probably have difficulty making anything amazing. However, it is important that I make sure I am not just making up excuses. (The question here could be: Why do we make up excuses that keep us from doing what we love?)
  2. Freedom from distractions. Distractions can come in any form. Maybe my phone is buzzing, or there is a sink full of dishes. If your studio is in your home, there is always the chance that life will creep in and pull you away from your art. Lately, I have been leaving the house early in the morning and painting before anything from life tries to take over the day.
  3. It is good to be inspired by the subject, or at least like it. Sometimes inspiration comes after liking.
  4. Music is sometimes helpful. As I discussed in the post about sound, music can be very helpful. However, I have found that there is a certain stage of the zone where silence becomes necessary. I am not sure why this is exactly. It is almost as though the internal dialog needs to be heard, but it speaks without words. Perhaps, I am listening really intently to something that does not use words. This sounds odd, but if you create, you may know what I am talking about.

This article talks about how to focus using scheduling, “work zones,” and distraction zones.”  I hope to try some of these techniques to stay in the creative zone more regularly.

What do you need to stay in the zone?

How do you know when you are in the zone?

What time(s) of day are you most likely to be in the zone?

Is the zone important to your creative process?

 

Fear is the mind-killer.

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“The Show Must Go On” collaboration by Lance Wadlow and Nicole Thibodeau

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”-Frank Herbert, Dune

This wonderful quote from the novel Dune has become so famous because it is a useful tool against fear. Fear stops us from doing stupid things, like jumping off a cliff, but it also stops us from wonderful things, like creating art and sharing our feelings.

When I was an undergraduate student, thinking great thoughts at Bethany College, we read Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bales and Ted Orland. At the time, I was very put off by the title because I felt like art was a joyful undertaking. I still feel that way, but I am not sure a book entitled Art & Joy would address so many of the obstacles an artist might face. Perhaps this is a book I need to write after I finish Cats in Bikinis, but I digress.

I must also mention that I was in denial of my fear, and it had not been allowed to age and grow with me for very long. I had grown up in an art-loving family in Taos, NM. I was not aware of the amount of fear that surrounded my small protective bubble. People who do not make art sometimes have difficulty understanding it, or accepting creativity in themselves and others. Even people who make art don’t always understand what they create. The creative act can have elements of mystery and the unknown, that is what makes it so intriguing. However, people are intrinsically afraid of what they don’t understand. It is probably a trait that helped us survive as cave persons. It is still useful for keeping us safe, but sometimes fear gets out of hand.

Let us move away from fear. I am a strong believer in the idea that we create our world. If we focus on our fears, they will multiply and rule over us. Conversely, if we focus on what brings us joy, it will multiply and surround us. I take issue that the word “rewards” is in parenthesis in the title of Art & Fear. Let us take a moment to focus on the rewards of making art, to help bring it out of the parenthesis. If you create something:

  • It will help your brain grow.
  • You will feel a sense of accomplishment. (Even if you create something you dislike, you will have learned something about the materials you are working with.)
  • You will be able to express something beyond words. (Even if you are a writer, the combination of the words you choose has the potential to combine and surpass their definitions.)
  • You will form a connection with another human when they see/read/hear/taste/smell/touch your creation. This connection will be beyond words.

Have you read Art & Fear?

What part does fear play in your creative process?

Are there uses for fear in the creative process?

If you are a creative person, have you been confronted with fear of creativity from others? How did you handle this fear?

If you consider yourself a non-creative person, what experiences brought you to this conclusion? (I think everyone is creative, but maybe that is obvious.)

 

Lessons from the Stage

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Thanks to Lance Wadlow for taking this photo of me as Madame Toodaloo.

Last night I was in a fashion show with the teens at my library (The Hays Public Library), and it was fantastically fun. We wore handmade outfits constructed out of repurposed items like packaging peanuts. It reminded me of other times I have found myself on the stage. Often, I say I am a retired actress because I grew up in and around theatre productions. My mom runs Taos Children’s Theatre, so I was cast in many of her productions. Even if I was not in the production, there was a strong possibility that I would be helping with props or scenery.

Theatre is a very special type of art because, like music, it happens in the moment. We can record the production, but there is nothing that really replicates being in the audience, or being part of a production. It is inspiring to see a production evolve and come to fruition. There are many times when you might think “This is really iffy, I’m not sure it will all come together,” but it does work out eventually. Not matter what, the show must go on!

The best part about being in an event or production, is getting to work with a group toward a common goal. Theatre helps you realize that you are part of something larger. The show has a life of its own, and sometimes it seems as though it has a mind of its own. Like most art forms, the result of your efforts is a collaboration between your vision and your materials. When creating a fashion show, you are dealing with more than just fabric, paper, and cloth, you are collaborating with people and they have great ideas. It is amazing what can be accomplished by working together. We all had a bit of stage fright, but we faced our fears and made the best of our time in the limelight.

There were many different people who helped the fashion show be a success. I am very grateful to our volunteers, the teens, the library staff, The Hays Academy of Hair Design, Andree Brisson, and Scott Rader (the MC and DJ). Also, thanks to my mom for making the most awesome curtains!

In what ways has theatre touched your life?

What are your favorite memories of working with a group toward a common goal?

What is the most amazing production you have seen?

How would you describe your personal style?

Warning Grammar Question: Do you prefer to use “theatre” or “theater,””actor” or “actress”? Why?

Finding Your Tribe

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For a long time, I made art in a secluded bubble. There were people around who understood and supported me, but they were often involved in their own, very separate creative pursuits. I just thought solitude was a necessity for creation, and perhaps that is partially true. I have also learned that you can find or create a community with common goals, which will spur you on to greater heights.

My tribe is The Visage Art Tribe. (Please do not ask me how long it took for us to settle on that name, just be glad we didn’t choose “Sexy Chicken.”) We are a group of painters who like to show together, paint together, talk about art, eat food, and look at art. Sometimes we also garden, exercise, and try to play music together. Only one of us can actually play an instrument, so we don’t make music that often. We are friends who make art.

Working together is much more fun than the solo creative journey. When you are going solo, it is easy to give up more quickly. You may stop entering competitive shows, or you may even be less productive. However, if you know your friends are painting, you will try to keep up with them. If they get in a show and you don’t, you will probably try to paint something more awesome to enter next time.

In addition to The Visage Art Tribe, I also collaborate with my partner, Ironmaster Lance Wadlow when creating sculpture. I am currently in the process of finding financial support for the Taos Iron Pour, which will happen in September of this year. It has been a very interesting and educational journey. I am so glad that Kimberly Henkel has been helping me (or should I say, doing most of the work at this point).

In general, cast iron art is very collaborative because you need a crew to run the furnace. Being part of an iron pour is awesome fun. Sparks, fire, the rushing sound of the furnace, all come together creating a spectacular event. At the end of the night, you are tired and hungry, and you feel like a big family who has just made the trek from hell and back. You have been near iron as hot as the stuff beneath the crust of the earth and survived to tell the tale. As an added bonus, you have also made some art, which will be too hot to touch until the morning.

I have known for a long time that I am committed to creating art. However, recently I am increasingly aware of my wonderful friendships and the many ways they strengthen my belief in the importance of a life filled with creativity. Thank goodness I have found my people.

How have friendships strengthened your creativity?

What do you think about working as a group? (Leading question?)

What amount of solitude is the right amount?

What are some of your favorite things to do with your friends?

 

 

 

Lists to Combat Listlistness

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At one point in my adult life, I found myself without a job and, at the same time, financially supported. Great, I thought, I can make lots of art. While I did make some very good paintings, I also found out that when I didn’t have a job, time opened up into this difficult mind-numbing void. I needed social interaction, and a schedule would have been helpful as well.

These days, I have a wonderful part-time job, and I am still able to paint. It is really the best of both worlds. I have also learned a few tricks that change how I interact with my free time. I make to-do lists. They can have anything on them. Today’s list includes: take a nap, take a walk, garden, blog, clean desk, grow cat grass, work on frames, paint. Even if I am not able to accomplish all of the items on my list, it is possible that I will accomplish at least one of them. The satisfaction I have when I cross off an item on the list is amazing. Making a list also helps empty my mind of all those nagging thoughts, reminding me of what I have to do. Once I write them down, there is no fear that I will forget them.

Another tactic that I have considered, yet never had the courage to attempt, is creating a schedule. The idea is that you include everything in your schedule. If you need time to stare out the window, or drink tea, you put that on your schedule. I guess I would fear getting off-schedule, but since I am the one who made the schedule, this seems a little odd.

While lists do help a lot, I also make plans with other people, exercise, and use the reward system with myself. I am strict and sorta stingy because I will tell myself, “If you work on frames for one hour, you can garden for one hour.” See how both of those items are on the list? No sweet incentives here, but then I’m not overly interested in candy anyway. Also, I cheated in my favor because “grow cat grass” and “garden” are both gardening.

How do you schedule your time?

How do you keep a sense of fun and freedom while meeting goals and deadlines?

Does exercise help you meet your goals?

What is your favorite incentive?

 

On a Train

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Traveling is great. It opens our eyes. We experience new customs, accents, faces, colors, types of light, smells, foods, and unique textures. When we return home, we see our home in a new way.

When I was a student, I loved traveling, so I figured out how to travel while I was studying (and get loans or scholarships to help with the funding). I studied at Lacoste School of the Arts in Provence, France (now SCAD) and SACI in Florence, Italy. Both places were exceptionally beautiful, and I was privileged to have inspiring teachers. I took photography, painting, stone carving, poetry, art restoration, life drawing, and more painting. France was a great place to take photos. There were cobblestone streets, gnarled trees, shaded pathways. Everywhere I looked was an opportunity, but the feeling of being in another country was something more elusive and difficult to capture. Noticing that I had relied upon eavesdropping as a form of entertainment without ever realizing it was a surprise. Suddenly there was only a patchy guesswork of what a conversation might be about. I was pretty sure the man selling me watermelon was saying that he loved watermelon too, but I wasn’t entirely certain.

I remember coming back from Venice on the train. I was on my own, as my traveling partner had gone ahead. I was observing the hand gestures of the people talking, thinking, “Yes, I know what they are talking about.” I thought they were talking about a shopping trip… or maybe a friend they had visited. Then, I found myself included in the conversation and realized they were talking about the Vince Biennale, which I had missed seeing that very day. At the time I didn’t realize how absurd it was to go to Italy and study art and then miss the Venice Biennale. I was grateful to learn about the Venice Biennale, and look at the catalog, but more than anything I was grateful for that momentary connection on that train ride.

Traveling leaves us with a special sensation. Our minds have been opened, and somewhere in us there is a longing for common ground. We look for faces we recognize, but we don’t find them until we are home again, or make friends on the road.

We are all looking for some form of connection. In the process of creation, we confront the longing for connection, and sometimes, if we are lucky, make peace with ourselves.

Where have you traveled?

How do you think traveling has inspired or changed you?

What has traveling taught you about yourself?

Is there somewhere you are longing to go? What would you do when you get there?

 

 

Plein Air Where?

20151023_142220When I started plein air painting a few years back, it was all chaos and heavy things. It is still a bit chaotic, and there are still some heavy things, but I have learned along the way. Here are some tips and ideas in case you are interested in oil painting in the great out doors:

The Location (subject)

  1. You are going to need something interesting to look at. Vistas are good. Roads draw the eye through a composition pretty easily. Fences can be fun. Abandoned buildings are something to consider. You will probably encounter trees and get to know them well.
  2. You need to park off the road.
  3. You may need shade. The shade may move as the sun changes position.
  4. Lovely nature sounds can be inspiring. I once painted next to a golf course that had a lovely tinkling fountain. I felt like I could stay there all day listening to the water.

Comfort

  1. Posture and comfort matter. If it is absolutely important to have back support when you paint, you may be lugging around a largish camping chair. I found that if I was not comfortable, it effected my ability to paint. The desire to sit in a comfortable chair is one reason I don’t venture too far from the car.
  2. Temperature matters. If it is going to be really hot, try painting in the early morning or late afternoon. That’s when the light is the best anyway. Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and water are a good idea in the summer. If it is winter, you may want to experiment with layers, insulated pants, down jackets, and painting in a car. Once I start painting, I don’t move a lot, so it can get very cold.
  3. Bugs can be seriously treacherous. I paint in Kansas a lot. Kansas has chiggers, mosquitoes, and ticks. You do not mess with these critters because you could get really itchy or worse (Lyme disease). Usually, I am all into natural things, but I get covered with chemicals and clothing to avoid bugs. If anyone out there has found something that really works (especially for chiggers), let me know.
  4. Always try to bring less stuff. French easels are cool looking, but sorta heavy unless you have one of those mini ones. My friend paints out of a hunting bucket seat. Although I have not yet converted, I think he is pretty cleaver. He puts his paints and supplies in the bucket, and sits on the cushioned lid. Lightweight aluminum easels can be good too, but then you must consider the wind. You can lay out your paints on your palette ahead of time, so that you don’t have to lug them with you.
  5. The wind can be very strong. If you have hair, you may want to secure it. If your easel is lightweight, you may want to weigh it down. Also, make sure your painting is clamped tightly because there is nothing like having it go face-down in the dirt after hours of work.
  6. Snacks make it fun. It is nice to have a high-protein snack after painting.
  7. Have fun! I love being outside, especially when I am well-prepared.

What are some of your favorite places to create?

Do you like to create in nature?

What are some of the obstacles you have encountered, and how did you work around them?

Have you ever been bitten by chiggers?

Cats in Bikinis

 

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When I was a kid, I used to draw cats wearing bikinis. The cats were sunning themselves on towels. They all had Cleopatra haircuts, umbrellas, and a tall glass of lemonade. I knew that cats had six boobies, but it looked odd to give them three bikini tops, so usually they only had one bikini top, like a human. They were drawn in pen on the back of my notebooks along with the other thing I loved to draw, which was an eye with impossibly long lashes.

Yesterday, I was talking to another painter, and somehow we got on to the topic of my cats. I have always been sort of embarrassed about that time in my artistic career, but as I began talking about the cats, I started to realize they were pretty cool. The other painter made the suggestion of dressing them in vintage one-piece suits to deal with the nipple problem, which is a great idea. Now I am thinking, cats in swim suits! How original! How cool! I think I will write a book about it.

It is also important to note that most cats do not like water, so putting them in swim suits seems like a crazy idea. I never actually thought they would go swimming, even though turquoise tropical waters lapped the shore nearby.

What did you draw when you were a child?

How do your childhood subjects relate to what you create today?

How do you keep your inner child alive and well?

How do you find your inspirations, or connect with the imagination?

Where are you from?

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I am originally from a small town called Taos, in northern New Mexico. If you are familiar with this place, you will know that it is full of artists and many other creative types. Many people ask me how and why I came to the Midwest. My answers vary, but basically many small steps eventually lead to the larger step of living in the Midwest. It was not where I thought I would be, but I didn’t really know where I would end up after all, and the Midwest has been good to me. It is quiet, and everything tends to run the way you expect it should. People are very polite and helpful.

However, it is odd that I find myself learning to play a didgeridoo. I am pretty certain that I would not be as enthusiastic about this instrument if I still lived in Taos, as there are plenty of didgeridoo players already in Taos. If you do not know what a didgeridoo is, it is a long hollow wooden instrument from Australia. You blow on it while making a raspberry with your lips, which produces a low vibrating hum of sound. My choice to be an artist, is a very Taos thing to do. Often, I find that the subject matter in my work has a mystical/spiritual southwestern theme. My enthusiasm for the didgeridoo just proves that you can take the girl out of Taos, but you can’t take Taos out of this girl.

What parts of yourself are influenced by where you come from?

Is there something in your creative life that relates to the place you were raised?

Is there somewhere you have traveled that has influenced your creative life?

How does location play a part in your creative practice?