Category Archives: craft

BOXES

Horse in box

I’m feverishly working on a new presentation for my work. It involves boxes.

A lot of boxes.

I scoured junk yards and antique stores for months, compiling a collection of likely candidates. At first it was hard because I didn’t know what I was looking for. (Let me introduce you to my collection of cigar boxes….)

I had no idea how I would restore them, either. I mean, I had a vision of them in my head–worn, beaten, discolored and encrusted by age and dirt.. But how to get that look? Leave them “raw”? (A greasy, dirty box looks wonderful, but real grease and dirt are stinky and messy.) Paint them? (I’d lose a lot of the writing and markings that make the boxes interesting.) What kind of paint? Latex? Milk? Chalk?

I finally hired a friend, a furniture-maker, to let me work in a section of his woodworking shop. I get to use his tools and supplies, while he guides me through the basics of surface treatments and finishes.

It’s been a nice relationship. And most of all, I’m getting a lot of work done. Nobody can “find” me here, and I work for hours uninterrupted.

P1010324 (318x800)

Soon I learn which boxes work, and which ones one won’t. Cigar box walls are too thin for my purposes, though maybe I’ll find another use for them. Some boxes were promising, but proved to take too much work to restore them. Others that looked grungy clean up surprisingly easily. Some have to be washed and scrubbed, then set out to dry. Others just need a little scrubbing with a brass brush and a couple blasts of compressed air. (Note to self: Compressed air would be AWESOME to clean house with!)

As we work on our respective projects, Gary and I have many discussions on design versus technique. Some boxes are extremely simple–not much fine woodworking technique involved. Sometimes just a few well-placed nails hold everything together. But their dimensions and proportions are beautiful, and the wood soaks up the glazes, paints and wax beautifully.

Some of my favorite small boxes are handmade sets, made for homemade storage chests. They are made from cut-down cheese boxes or slats from fruit crates, painted in gay colors that are now muted and worn. Odd specialty nails act as “pulls” on the fronts. They are simple, lovely and intriguing.

Other boxes look intricate and wonderful. But the quality of wood is poor. Or the box has been cut down badly. Or the finishing is bad, or the “faux aging” techniques are faulty (wear marks that are arbitrary, for example.) Or cheap backing materials are used instead of wood. Eventually, I learn which ones aren’t worth my time to refinish or restore.

A lot to think about from an artist’s point of view. Technique or design? Gary weighs in heavily on design, his forte. His techniques are solid, too, but he believes technique is nothing without exquisite design.

As a juried member of the League of NH Craftsmen and other fine craft venues, it’s tempting to go that route. Easy to judge and feel superior. Sometimes my lizard brain goes there.

But then I remember there’s a place in the world for all. I tell Gary about my dad, who took up woodworking after he retired. He claimed he couldn’t make anything unless someone drew a picture of it for him. He needed measurements and drawings to make his craft. Everything he made was well-made, from good wood. It won’t appear on the covers of any art magazines, though.

And yet, when I look around my home and see the pieces he made for me–a table for behind the sofa, lamp tables, a step stool, a coffee table (why do I always ask him to make tables for me??), I know they are as priceless to me as a Van Gogh.

Something made with love has its own inestimable value.

Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory--polymer clay

Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory–polymer clay

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EVEN GOOD CHANGE SUCKS

If I had to choose one word that describes the last year of my life, it would be “change”.

At first I thought it was “transition”. My daughter transitioning from “single” to “engaged” and then “endangered” and now “safe.” Even “happy”. My marriage transitioning from “good” to “awful” to “problematic” to….well, “transitioning”. With glimmers of “hope” and “even better”. (I hate picking just one word.) My son from “independent” to “nearly died” and now “healing”. Oh, and even better, “OMG, has a girlfriend”. (See? I needed four words to say that.) My health transitioned from “pain” to “painfree”. My art/business from “stalled” to “energized”, my cash flow from “steady” to “nada”, but now “increasing”.

But then I realized transition is just another word for “change”. And frankly, change sucks.

Change is hard. Even when good things come of it, it’s still hard. You just get things figured out, you just find a way to get through life smoothly, everything is in its place and that’s that. And then the applecart gets upset. And you have to start all over again.

A reader posted this comment on my blog a few days ago:

I have always been fascinated by loss and “the breakdown before the breakthrough.” as it is called in certain circles.

The breakdown before the breakthrough…. That just about sums it up.

It seems I still have to learn these same lessons over and over again. So many times, the things that seem awful, or stupid, or thoughtless, are still based on good intentions. We have to learn not to assume, but to check out our assumptions.

Sometimes the things that seem problematic, turn out to be the best possible solution after all.

Sometimes, that solution is right under your nose. You just can’t see it til you’ve run through all the other possibilities. And you run through all those possibilities, considering this one, objecting to that one, despairing and lost, until your brain finally goes, “Oh. OH! Yeah, that’ll work!” And sometimes it takes a second person (oddly, who’s also the person you’re arguing with) to see the simple solution.

Sometimes you have to clear the deck (or it gets cleared FOR you) in order for something else, something better, something wonderful to get through.

Changes in marriage suck. But marriages aren’t static. They evolve. They grow. they change. Sometimes things get hard. But sometimes, they get easier, too.

Changing how many dogs are in the house is hard. The idea of managing four dogs for a few weeks seemed insurmountable. And now we find four dogs are actually easier to deal with than just one bored dog. (He’s way too busy to chew our furniture this week!)

Sometimes we lose something we think we can’t live without. And if we’re lucky, we find something even better to replace it.

So I’m sitting here writing this on a Friday morning. Today looked so awful from yesterday’s viewpoint.

And it looks so different now.

Yep. Someday I’ll be able to handle change a little bit better (I hope.) And life will truly be just a dream.

But in the meantime, I’m so grateful I have a way to think these things through–by writing in my journal. By writing a blog post. By arguing with a man who loves me better than anyone has ever loved me. Even if he does suck at negotiating sometimes.

Because he’s learning to deal with change, too, right along with me.

Change. It sucks. But then, the really good things in life are always worth a little extra effort. Or even a lot.

So often, the breakdown is never something we would willingly choose.

But the breakthrough is the blessedly shiny reward that makes it all bearable in the end.

From two dogs….

….to four! (But only for awhile.)

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HOW TO HAVE A PERFECT WEDDING AND A GREAT MARRIAGE

I’m reading TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Chery Strayed, aka Sugar, the anonymous online advice columnist at The Rumpus website.

I read about it in OPRAH Magazine, and something about the article resonated. I bought a copy. When it arrived, I started reading it.

Well, dear readers, it’s such an amazingly wonderful book, I was up til 3 a.m. reading it.

Okay, okay, truth in advertising–I couldn’t sleep last night, and it’s the book I reached for to read myself back to sleep.

There are many lovely life lessons in there, including a few to help me through the situation that kept me up til 3 a.m. But the one I’m thinking about today is the column she wrote to an anxious, anguished, angry bride-to-be.

The last few days I’ve been feeling like I’m not “handling things right”. There’s been a lot of anger and confusion, there is resentment at being manipulated by someone I’m trying to help, there is the thing I fall into from time to time about trying to keep everybody happy, made worse by me operating on my idea of what will make people happy. (You think I’d know by now….!!)

But as I read Sugar’s advice to the bride, I realized I’ve done at least one thing absolutely right in my life.

My wedding.

My mom, with only one daughter’s wedding planning under her belt (she and my dad now have staged six weddings at last count), offered to host and pay for the wedding, if it were a modestly-priced one. “That’s what I want!” I exclaimed. I’d moved away from home twelve years before, but we decided Gladwin, my hometown, was the perfect location.

My dad went into lawn management overdrive. He always has beautiful flowerbeds and a lovely yard, but he went to great lengths to make everything perfect for our outdoor wedding.

The minister at my childhood church refused to marry us, and refused to let us use the church my sister was married in. (I’d moved away long before he came to preside there, so I didn’t “belong there” anymore.) “No worries,” I said. Instead, we would get married in my parent’s back yard. My mom found out we could be married by the mayor of Gladwin. “That’s so cool!” I exclaimed. We asked, and he said yes, he’d do it. It was the first marriage ceremony he’d ever performed. He was elated, especially when we invited his wife, too.

When my mom asked me who we should invite of all my relatives and hometown friends, I thought for a moment and then said, “Anyone who would be happy to come to my wedding.” That actually worked out really well.

When asked about the flowers, I chose the flowers I found in Jon’s apartment the first time I visited him there. He’d picked orange daylilies from someone’s garden. (He didn’t know at the time that people do not plant flowers so other people could pick them. I kid you not.) I’d picked my own bunch, from a ditch by the roadside out in the country, while on a drive with friends. We marveled that we’d both picked the same flowers on the same day. I thought it was sweet he’d picked (admittedly illegally) flowers for me. So we decided that’s what we’d have for my bouquet, corsages and boutonnieres. Most florists don’t stock daylilies, so I picked Stargazer lilies instead.

When asked about the food, I said, “Let’s keep it simple.” Mom ordered hors d’ oeuvres, and fresh strawberries, and a wonderful wedding cake. I was so busy mingling and talking with our guests, I never got to eat anything. Except yummy wedding cake, so I was happy. (I LOVE wedding cake.)

When asked about the colors, I named my (at the time) favorite color, pink. When Mom found out there were no pink linens to be rented, I said, “What colors DO they have?” Well, there was white, and…..well, just white. (My hometown was very small, with one caterer and one rental source.) “Okay,” I said. “White it is.” When overwhelmed with the wedding cake choices, I chose white cake with white frosting, and fresh flowers for the cake’s decoration.

Flowers for the reception tables? I went out into the fields surrounding my old home and gathered wildflowers. They only lasted the day, but that’s all we needed. They were beautiful.

The weather had been cold and rainy right up to the day of the wedding. One hour before the ceremony, the clouds dispersed and the sun broke through. It was a bearable 68 degrees and sunny right up to the end of the whole shebang. Then the clouds regathered, the warm sun disappeared again, and the drizzle resumed.

We splurged and ordered a case of champagne, which in the end provided most of the wedding entertainment. My two youngest sibs were in charge of opening the bottles. They took turns exuberantly popping the corks and watching them fly right over the roof of the house. Several men in the family “went to see the new tractor mower” in the garage, (which to this day is man-code for “Let’s go drink some champagne!”) right before the ceremony. Jon’s memories after this point are rather hazy.

My dress was an off-the-rack white summery prairie dress (in my defense, it was trendy at the time) I’d bought on sale at a regular clothing store. And a white hat.

I had no bridesmaids, no maid-of-honor, no grooms or best man. It was impossible to choose among so many candidates without hurting someone’s feelings, and I also didn’t want to put anyone through that expense. (Let me tell you about my bridesmaid’s dress collection. The dresses I bought, when times were hard, that every bride assured me could be worn again as “an ordinary dress-up dress.” HAH! I’m just going to say two little words: Hoop. Skirt.) Instead, we had two of our best friends be the legal witnesses on the paperwork.

I lost my wedding license the day before the wedding. One sister and I were very much on the outs at the time, and (I can hardly believe I’m writing this) I suspected her of hiding it. By some tiny miracle of self-restraint, I managed to keep my mouth shut and not voice this opinion. A dear friend who was attending from the same far-off city Jon and I lived in, managed to get a legal copy and brought it up the day of the event. A few days later, I found the lost license right where I’d put it–on top of a file box. It had fallen in and “filed” itself. And a wedding or two later, that same sister extended the hand of reconciliation to me, and I took it, and we have not had an “out” ever since. And I am so grateful that something in my heart, on that day before my wedding, overrode my pitiful lizard brain and I kept my mouth SHUT.

I was very nice to my new mother-in-law, even though she was behaving very oddly throughout the marriage ceremony. She was not a fan, let’s leave it at that. But again, something stomped my lizard brain long enough for me to realize I was surrounded by love, more than enough love, to overlook and forgive anything and everything that day.

We hired the son of a family friend to play guitar for the ceremony and reception. He got sick right after the wedding and left. We were having too much fun by then to miss him much.

My favorite teacher from high school read a poem for us.

My only regret is that we have very few nice photographs from the wedding, which were taken by someone who offered to take pictures for free–a sister, I think. But I’m also glad we were spared the endless line-ups and staged assemblies that usually hold up the reception for hours. And to be fair, there WAS no local professional photographer available. If there had been someone like my good friend Roma Dee to photograph my wedding, I know there would be more amazing, intimate yet unstaged moments captured. (If I have have to go through a nerve-wracking, soul-strapping event that needs to be photographed, I pray I have Roma at my side. She is so warm and chill–the good kind of chill–at the same time. She is intuitive, grounded, sane.) But I have enough images to spark many good memories.

I do know that an hour after the ceremony, Jon decided to go for a swim in my parents’ pool, which we all still laugh about. He doesn’t remember much about the rest of the day. Too overwhelmed, and too many visits to the tractor mower. He remembers thinking it might have been a little too chilly for a swim… I remember thinking how buff he looked in his swimsuit.

I do know that the casual, stress-free, easy-going wedding we had, set the tone for the next four weddings in our family. The rest of us all were married in my parents’ backyard, too, and they were all delightful, low-key events. My all-time favorite photo from those is one of Jon, after visiting the mower in the garage a few too many times, sitting in front of a doghouse with my folks’ dog Cammie, offering her a sip from his glass of champagne.

I laughed all the way through Sugar’s response to the racked-up, anguished bride-to-be about her own mishap-laden, chaotic, wonderful wedding full of what’s really important about a wedding–friends, family, your community watching you and your partner promise to make a go of this complicated, amazing, scary and joyful thing called “marriage”.

I cherish her last words:

….We all get lost in the minutiae, but don’t lose this day…..Let your wedding be a wonder. Let it be one hell of a good time. Let it be what you can’t yet imagine and wouldn’t orchestrate even if you could. Remember why it is you’ve gone to so much trouble…. You’re getting married. There’s a day ahead that’s a shimmering slice of your mysterious destiny. All you’ve got to do is show up.

Okay, I know there’s more than “one thing” I’ve done right in my life (there I still wish there were many, many more.) But I know that one thing I did right, for sure, was our wedding.

Oh, and June 26 was our 30th anniversary.

So what’s the secret to a good marriage?

1) Marrying the right man for the right reasons.
2) Through thick and thin, and through the very, very thin, realizing I would marry him all over again in a heartbeat.
3) There’s a lot of luck involved.
4) Know that it’s not a “thing”, it’s always, always a work in progress.
5) When you need help to keep the work-in-progress working, get help.
6) Remember the wisest thing my husband ever said about our relationship: One day, after listening to a friend share how she and her husband were trying to save their marriage by taking up tennis so there was one thing they could do together, and working myself into a fever pitch about how little he and I had in common, and how few things we did together, and worrying that it meant our marriage was shaky, he commented, “But we’ve never actually done lots of things together. We just like to be together.”

Recognize the times when being is more important than doing.

Years later, my dad still rues the fact that our special day fell during a late, cold, rainy spring. “None of the flower beds I planted were blooming yet!” he says.

“I don’t remember that,” I tell him. “The only flowers I remember are my pink lilies in my wedding bouquet, and the wildflowers I picked that morning. All I remember is how perfect everything was that day…..”

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STARING AT THE SUN: Thoughts on What Makes a Rich Life

I made these earrings (one of two sets) when I grew past fearing what anyone would say about them, and they are my favorite ones to wear! (A professional classical violinist bought the other pair.)

I’ve been doing a little digging on death lately.

Maybe I should backtrack and explain.

I always thought I was the only person obsessed with death and dying. I think about it all the time. Partly because I’ve had a few brushes with it, partly because I’m anxious in general.

I worry about what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Whether I’ll achieve any of my goals or not. Whether I should just be happy with the goals and blessings I already have. Whether anything of me will last (beyond the world’s largest and most interesting garage sale). Whether I’ve done right by my kids, my family, my husband, my art, my writing.

Becoming a hospice volunteer was part of my exploration about death. I’ve learned so much, grown in so many ways. Still learning. Still growing, with every single client.

Many people think people who do hospice work are “better”, or “braver” or “more noble” than your average person-on-the-street, that we have a better, more evolved understanding of death. We’re not, and we don’t. When our own loved ones are in danger, or dying, we are just as much at sea as everyone else.

We’ve simply learned a little bit more about being as opposed to doing, or even worse, fixing. (Though, as my incredibly grounded volunteer supervisor Lorraine would say, “Hospice is full of recovering fixers…!”)

I’ve been reading an odd book called STARING AT THE SUN by Irvin Yalom, a therapist who deals with death anxiety. Working on the assumption that our fear of death is at the heart of most of our anxieties, he works to assure us that understanding this can lead to a richer LIFE. He talks often about the basic needs we humans have, and how even the best therapy–a sharing of healthier ideas–is enormously improved when the therapist deeply connects with his patient. Because ideas-plus-connection is an incredibly power force for healing and reconciliation.

Connection. Such a simple word, and one whose strength we can easily overlook.

But everything we do, everything we yearn for, is to garner for ourselves love, and meaningful connection.

When I’m fighting with my husband, what I am pushing down deep inside me is how much I yearn for his good opinion, for his love and respect. When he accidentally breaks the connection between us with a clumsy comment or a snitty response, I am devastated. But I cover up for that devastation with anger.

Vice versa, too.

Why am I yammering on about death, and connection?

Because this is why I make my art. And this is where the power of my images, the power of my story, the power of the cave that inspires me, comes into play.

I try to shine a little light on the wonderful, and frightening, and sad, and awful things that make us human. I try to figure out what holds us all together, while still allowing each of us to dance to our own unique music.

I’m reading another book about prehistoric art called THE CREATIVE ICE AGE BRAIN: Cave Art in the Light of Neuroscience Written by an art historian who is also an artist, it celebrates the unique nature of this human thing called art. The things Ms. Alperts says about ancient art could be said about almost any art being made today: It is unique to the maker as it simultaneously reflects the culture the maker lives in.

I’ve always felt that these artists of the distant past had something to say, something so powerful it reaches across eons of time to touch us today. Creating “…echoes in our modern hearts”, it is something that has lasted far, far beyond the original intentions of its makers. It is the ultimate connection that arcs across 30,000 years, perhaps more.

Don’t we all wish we could leave such a legacy?

At the same time, the message (not being written to us) will forever remain lost, an enigma.

And someday, the knowledge of these paintings, this works of art, these carvings, and our study of them, will be lost forever, too. Because nothing lasts forever.

Such is the mystery of life. Such is the mystery of death.

Oddly, the most moving comment I read in Dr. Yalom’s book was the idea that “ceasing to be” in death is remarkably like “not being yet” before we are born. In both spaces, we will have no consciousness, no sense of being. Why is one frightening, but not the other? Because now we know what we’re missing! (A little death humor here….)

I don’t have a great wrap-up for you today, or even a great thought. It’s just what I’ve been thinking about the last few days, as I stumble my way through this amazing, challenging, beautiful, sad, tragic, happy, confusing, astonishing life.

I’m also starting to de-clutter my studio. That always makes me think of death, too. (See the remark about the world’s biggest garage sale above.) I promise you a lighter piece tomorrow!

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TOO HOT TO BLOG or WHY YOU SHOULDN’T DITCH YOUR SLOWEST SELLER

Now that I reread that title, it looks like I’m saying I’m too hot (as in physically desirable) to blog. I’m not. I’m too hot (temperature-wise) to blog.

So I’m doing the lazy blog thing and giving you a good summer rerun.

Actually, I look kinda hot in that photo. But I don’t look like that anymore. Sorry!! And….

Enjoy!

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INSIDE AND OUT

Here’s my latest column on the delicate lines between copying and being copied, and inspiring and being inspired, written for Fine Art Views, a great resource for marketing your artwork. Enjoy!

Years ago, an artist friend said something that threw me for a loop.

I was just starting out as a full-time artist and craftsperson. I was open to everything. How-to books, craft magazines, patterns, you name it, I had to have it. I wanted constant inspiration and distraction, and I wanted it NOW.

She said she didn’t read many books or magazines about art or craft, and didn’t go to many exhibitions or shows. Her work was highly original and personal, she said. (It was, too.) She found that if she looked “outside” at what others were doing, it distracted her, and muddied her personal vision.

Her words made me rethink that practice. No, I didn’t turn the creative faucet off completely. But I learned to recognize the times where I needed to isolate myself from the rest of the pack, and simply focus on my own work.

Of course, it was a LOT easier to hunker down and stay focused in those days before the internet. That faucet of ideas and inspiration has turned into a fire hose.

Read more here…

The inspiration for my current exhibition necklace. 30,000 years old, no copyright issue!

My intention transformed as I worked. Lion is now a bear.

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POLYMER ARTIFACTS APPEAR IN POLYMER CLAY DAILY!

Today I saw an update in my inbox from Cynthia Tinapple’s delightful blog, It was titled Polymer Artifacts so of course I had to take a peek.

Even more delightful, it turns out it’s about MY polymer artifacts!!

It’s an honor to be featured in PCD, as Cynthia scopes out the best work in polymer clay around the world. Thank you, Cynthia!

There’s a nice balance between focusing your work and being inspired by others’ work. The last few years, I’ve been hunkered down, focusing on keeping my vision clear, and trying not to envy the incredible work being made by other artists. Lately, I realized I’ve hunkered down too much. Cynthia’s blog helps me see a bigger picture of the world. It’s time to explore and see what else is out there.

I also see it’s time to update my images on my website. My beloved photographer, Jeff Baird, died of lung cancer three years ago. I owe a big chunk of my success to his beautiful images of my work. It’s been hard to admit that he’s gone, and I’ve been reluctant to switch out the pics. But Jeff would be the first one to tell me it’s time to do that. Wherever you are, Jeff, know that you are deeply missed.

Enjoy!

Shaman mask pins in faux soapstone–polymer clay

Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory–polymer clay

Gaia artifact with faux soapstone bird–polymer clay

Ivory and green soapstone artifacts–polymer clay
I love mismatched earrings!

Ivory bear and pendant, soapstone pebble–polymer clay artifacts

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