I’m almost finished putting my window display together for Keene’s Art Walk 2013.
I actually added another box soon after taking this picture. I’ll try to get another shot of the completed set-up later this morning.
I finished exactly on time yesterday–I gave myself until 3:30 yesterday, and I finished at 3:35. Whoo hoo!
I was worried, because two dear friends, Jenny and Roma, finally had time to meet for lunch Tuesday. Our joint schedules are crazy lately, and we don’t see each other often anymore. And because I was so behind in pulling this together, I considered skipping lunch with them.
At the last minute, I realized that the pattern in my life for projects is, they take up exactly as much time as I allot them. I decided to risk shaving a couple hours off my prep time in order to spend time with them.
If you’d overheard our conversation that day, you might have thought, “Women gritching again!” We took turns listening about where each of us were stuck. We try not to “fix” things for each other–that never works! But we listen, ask questions, and support each other.
At first, I felt even worse. It’s been a very bad week emotionally and spiritually for me. (By spiritual, I mean when I feel my true self feeling achy and lost, un-centered, unmoored and off-course, that goes deeper than “emotion”.)
And none of our “issues” were easily “fixed”. I felt better when we disbanded, but not for any reason than that I’d spent time with people I care about, and who care about me.
But today, after reading my inbox, I see that everybody feels better. In one case, talking about other possibilities encouraged someone to find out more. Turns out they don’t have to take action on their situation right away, maybe not for a long time. Whew! Something that’s blocked them can now be set aside.
The other person just feels better, and knows no matter what she chooses to do, she will have our support.
And it came to me why I love meeting with these women:
We are always talking about our future, and how we can work our way toward it in an artistic way, with love, with creativity, with integrity.
We are always talking about how to be our best, most evolved self, while still caring and including the people we love.
It occurs to me that there’s bitching, and there’s bitching. There’s the kind of bitching where you throw away everything you thought you cared about into a wastebasket, but a wastebasket that never gets emptied.
And then there’s the bitching where you look at your hopes and dreams, examining them closely with the art of possibility, sharing how to bring them fully into the world.
And putting them back into a precious box for safekeeping, to be taken out and cherished another day.
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.
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.
Last year, a fellow artist and I put on Keene’s very first open studio tour, the Keene Art Tour.
Few things in life are harder than getting a couple dozen artists together (figuratively), collecting checks (Paypal button next year!), gathering images and artist statements for the brochure (“Just take it from my website!”) and everything else entailed in creating a city-wide event. Fortunately, it was hugely successful, for visitors and artists alike.
The only thing harder?
Doing it again.
Artists forget how good the crowds were, how much they sold and how much fun they had. That’s normal. Artists, being human beings, are sort of hard-wired to only remember the hard work, the studio cleaning, and how much we hassled them for said images, statements and money.
I’m learning that as a show organizer, “getting an early start” this year really means, “Let’s spend longer trying to get the same components together as last year.” That’s a good lesson to learn.
Some of the cold feet-itis is understandable, too. The last few years have been hard for creative folks. Some have hunkered down, some have moved on, some have diversified, and others are in that awful stage known as “transition”–moving on from what we’ve done while not quite knowing what’s next. Change is hard, and rarely fun.
“I don’t have anything to sell!” says one artist. Another says, “The kind of work I do, I don’t have ‘things’ to sell. So why would I want to have an open studio??” “I don’t have any new work!” says another. “I might be busy that weekend. When do I have to let you know?” (The answer to this question, by the way, is “Two months ago.”)
So here’s my response to all these questions:
An Open Studio isn’t just about selling your work. It’s about telling your story.
It’s the strongest way to form a powerful connection not only with new customers, but also with current customers, your community, and with future artists. And it’s a way to revitalize your own connection with your art.
There’s one artist who does murals for public places. No ‘things’ to sell in their studio, so they don’t want to participate.
What a lost opportunity! Now, I have no desire to buy a mural. But I’ve always wondered what’s entailed. How did they get started doing this? How do they find out about proposals for public art, especially internationally? What is the design process like? Do they hire other people to help? How long does it take to paint a mural? What kind of paint do they use? How long does a mural last? Where is their work displayed? Do you get to travel a lot? What are the fun parts? What are the downsides? What the heck does their life LOOK like???
There’s a couple who are working on a graphic novel. No ‘art’ to show in their studio. People would be bored.
Really? I can think of a few dozen young artists who would give anything to know that that process looks like. How do you get started? Are you self-published or are you working with a publisher? What does that look like? Do you do the writing and the drawing, or do you collaborate? Is it possible to make a living doing this? Do you teach classes?
There’s an artist in transition who needs to sell their old work before they can can make new work. And they’re not very far along in the new work.
Artists go through transitions? Just like other people?? Is it hard? What made you stop making your old work? What would you like to do next? What do you think will stay the same, and what will change? What inspires you and sustains you through this difficult time?
There’s someone who has new galleries, and may not have any work available for sale.
Actually, this is one of the best problems to have. Do you have earlier work that you’ve kept? Do you have works in progress? And the finished pieces you’re ready to ship–can we just LOOK at them? If I want one, can I commission you to make one? There’s a waiting list?? Oh my gosh, I better get my order in NOW!
Meanwhile, in your horde of visitors (and everyone had hordes of visitors), there are people who wish they could do what you do. They want to meet the people who ran away to join the circus. You are actually in your studio, making incredible stuff every day–how fabulous! Be their art hero.
There are people in transition who need to know there’s a ‘there’ after ‘here right now.’ That perseverance and vision and hard work will get us through. Be their art hero.
There are people who hope someday to be in your shoes. There are artists-in-waiting who need to know that it’s possible to have that life, to make their own work, to carve out a place in the world for themselves. You are living proof that it can happen. Be their life hero.
There are all kinds of creative folks in a community, artists of all sorts who make this town a better, richer, more beautiful place to live. We do more than just fill art galleries or people’s homes with our work. We teach, inspire, enrich, model our values to our community. Be that community hero.
Open your work space, that incredible place where the magic happens, where your vision for your art becomes a reality. Let people see what your life looks like, for two precious days in November. Be that art hero.
Give yourself the gift of seeing yourself through other people’s eyes–the people who see you as creative, gifted, exciting, interesting, fortunate, blessed. Because we are. It’s easy to forget that in the slog of making our way in the world. Let our community help you remember.