LEARNING TO SEE

LEARNING TO SEE: An Art-Making Class with Kristina Wentzell

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This story originally appeared on artist Kristina Wentzel as a guest post on her blog in June, 2014, the year we moved to California. Kristina and I organized our first city-wide open studio tour in Keene, NH. Working with her (and her skill sets!) was terrific, and I knew I was going to miss her. She had created a series of wine-and-vineyard-painting classes, and offered me a free session as a going-away gift. I learned more than I had expected. It was a good thing!

Last night I sat down to an easel for the first time in 45 years.

And I created a painting that I LIKED for the first time in my life!

How did I get here?? It’s a miracle!

I was part of Kristina Wentzell’s painting party at the “Art, Wine & Fun Night at Walpole Mountain View Winery” in Walpole, NH.

Kristina started these painting workshops awhile back. Known for her own vibrantly colored, cheerful landscapes and still lifes, she works with groups to introduce them to the pleasures of painting.

Kristina showed us how to recreate one of her original paintings-in this class, a view of a vineyard. (The best part of this class? You could look out the window in the sunroom/tasting room where we worked, and see similar mountains and vineyards!)

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina's painting!

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina’s painting!

She broke it down into a step-by-step process, guiding us all the way. When we were ready to get to work, we sat ourselves in the sunporch/tasting room, with gorgeous views of the vineyards on three sides. Easels were already set up and ready to go with a primed canvas, along with brushes (two), paint palettes (a paper plate with the eight colors we’d need) and a waterproof tablecloth (which was useful almost immediately!)

Here's where it all starts: Orange!

Here’s where it all starts: Orange!

Kristina showed a finished sample of her painting-the one we would recreate– along with versions of each step. As she explained each technique, she demonstrated on each appropriate sample painting.

We started with a light charcoal sketch, which allowed us to play with our compositions until we got one we liked. Then we mixed our first wash of color and painted over our sketched lines. We continued to mix the colors Kristina introduced, adding layer after layer of hues, moving into different areas of the canvas.

I do like my mountains!

I do like my mountains!

As we worked, Kristina came by with encouragement and suggestions. When I got stuck, she was right there, guiding me gently along. When I ran out of green (about three times!), her assistant Kat, a Keene State College art student, was right there with the paint tube.

Kristina 6

âKristina worked with everyone, to make sure no one felt left behind!â

The hardest part? I was surprised by what I thought would be the easiest step: Mixing colors. Kristina showed us how to work the pigments together, creating a little “mound” of color. It’s actually harder than I thought to mix pigments into such a small, neat “pile”. I tend to mush it all over, which not only takes up a lot of “real estate” on my plate, as Kristina put it, but also makes the paint dry faster. I believe I’m the only person who had to ask for an extra plate. The result was, I had to constantly stop to mix more color, which meant a subtly-different color mix each time. Hmmmmm⦠I’m gonna have to practice that! (See my n.b. at the end of this article for why that was kind of a bad thing….)

Still need to master the "little mound" method of mixing paint. I used up all my "real estate" on the plate, as Kristina put it

Still need to master the “little mound” method of mixing paint. I used up all my “real estate” on the plate, as Kristina put it

âI was graciously given a second plate. â

âI was graciously given a second plate.

The second hardest part? Like any work of creativity, what we make doesn’t look like much until we’re completely finishedIt’s important to keep that in mind at all times. It takes patience and confidence to accept each step as “what it is”, moving on to the next step, and the next. Until finally, we’re ready to tweak here and thereâ¦.and voila! A miracle! (Defined by my good friend Melinda LaBarge as a “change in perpective”.) Instead of cartoonish drawings and blobs of color, a lovely landscape emerges. And there is our finished painting. I carefully signed “LU” to the bottom corner, not trusting my skill at painting my whole name.

The beauty of this process is that I never felt I’d “screwed up”-at least, not irreparably so. Sometimes I made course corrections. Other times I shrugged and said, “No, it doesn’t look exactly like Kristina’s.”

Because it shouldn’t look exactly like Kristina’s! As each person bravely held up her piece, (and the admiring “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” started) it was so obvious to all of usâ¦.

We had all painted “the same thing” in a style that was uniquely ours.

All of our color choices were similar-but also very different. Some of us had limned gently rolling hills. Others had mountains that seemed to dance. Some of us had painted a soft sky, while others had skies that rolled and glowed.

We had all created a version of Kristina’s painting. And we had all created something very different and unique.

I like my trees....

I like my trees….

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

I’ve learned the power of good framing. Tomorrow I’ll mosey on down to Creative Encounters in downtown Keene. I know Karen Lyle and her staff will help me choose the perfect frame for this piece, at a price that’s affordable for me. It will join the other works in my collection of new and vintage landscapes, painted by talented professionals and eager neophytes. (Of which I’m firmly the latter.)

I had a wonderful evening out with delightful people. I sipped local wines, munched on incredibly delicious cheese and met up with old friends. I now own an original painting by Luann Udell for the price of a few good bottles of wine.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

And I came home with an incredible sense of accomplishment and joy. I have lost my own fear of painting. I’m not giving up my day job to become a painter. But I now see the attraction of the process. And I’m delighted with my modest results.

Thank you, Kristina!

(n.b. Later I wondered why my painting looked slightly garish, very vivid colors. That was another learning moment. The room we worked in had dim lighting, suitable for wine-tasting, perhaps, but not for painting. As the sun set, the room became darker and darker. So I unconsciously over-compensated for what I “saw”, and that’s what happened.

A small lesson in realizing what we “see” is not always “true”, nor the whole story. We have to consider the light. The circumstances. And our assumptions.

Later, I gave the painting to a sweet next-door neighbor on the Old West Side when we moved to our new rental home on the east side of Santa Rosa. She loved it!

Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments

Luann Udell shares how making the work we love, is a working meditation.
Luann Udell shares how making the work we love, is a working meditation.

Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Our brains are amazing! But we have to make sure we don’t overthink it….

After a full month of packing, one day of intense moving, and another month of unpacking, sorting, arranging, and making an empty room my newest creative space, my brain backfired Sunday.

I got to the studio nice and early. But my heart just wasn’t in it. I wandered around restlessly, moving a few things, put them back, and finally went home. I called my husband before I left, asking him if he wanted to blow off work and go for a drive. “YES!!!” he said. (He’s been working nonstop for months on a creative project, too.)

I thought that would take care of my ennui. Nope. Today is one of those days my editors, past and present, hate: I just couldn’t figure out what to write about.

And so here I am, typing furiously, to share the “aha!” moment I had today. (Technically, it’s still Monday on the West Coast….)

I got to my studio late. Yet again, I just wasn’t feeling it. I did sort a few things out, labeled some drawers, etc. (I organized my sticks. Yes, I have a picture.)

Yes, I sorted sticks today. DON’T JUDGE!!! 

But I just couldn’t get any energy to really set out my framed work, my jewelry, etc. (Most of the shrines are at a two-month long show at a gallery for another few weeks, which was a blessing during the packing and moving part!)

I couldn’t figure out why I was so unmotivated, after weeks of incredible energy and focus. And suddenly, it hit me.

I can’t figure out how to hang my work!

Bear with me here. I have quality picture hangers, I have just as much wall space as the old studio, and I’m pretty flexible about where they should go.

But the first time I hung one, I couldn’t hammer the nail-and-hanger into the wall!

At least that section of the wall is a sort of painted-over old paneling, the kind that has a lot of give, and probably isn’t real wood. I banged, and the wall bounced, and I got nowhere.

Okay, I thought, I brought in all those expensive stick-on hooks, the kind you can pull out the sticky strip later, and reuse. I was a little nervous about using them, because they have a tendency to not work well in cold or damp weather. But I gave it a long time to “set” and hung the first framed work. It look great!

It didn’t look so great an hour later, when it popped off the wall and shattered the frame. Dang!!! (That’s not what I actually said, but I’m trying to keep it clean here.)

The worst thing is, I couldn’t figure out what to do next.

Try another version of the same brand? Look to see if any of the walls are “normal” and “hammer-able”?  Check in with another artist there, to see if they had the same kind of walls? Check in with the building manager to see if he had any ideas??

Consciously, I thought I was “solving the problem”. But today, after two days of not coming up with a solution, I realized I felt “stuck”. And I couldn’t get myself to move forward.  It didn’t help that the next thing on my to-do list were taxes.

Oddly, that morning, at the gym, on my way out I said something to one of the employees. She was feeling a little off, she said. Me, too, I said. Maybe because it’s Monday?

But then I realized, Mondays don’t mean anything to me. They aren’t the day I “have to” go back to work I don’t care for. Monday is just another day where I decide what I need to work on. And it was sunny, after the “atmospheric river” that’s been hounding us for months. And it was actually almost warm. Why were we so down??

I shared with her a story I’d just read in a book I’m rereading, Unseen City by Nathanael Johnson. It’s a delightful book about how Johnson, wanting to share the wonders of nature with his three-year-old in Berkeley, CA, ended up learning—and learning to love—the species of animals and plants most people find offensive. He shares delightful stories about crows, pigeons, ants, snails, turkey vultures, and….

Gingko trees.

One day, as he walked along a street, he entered a mental state of high dudgeon. The world was an awful place. He felt angry, resentful. Then, a block later, he realized how good his life is, and felt normal again. He didn’t think anything of it until the next time he walked down that same street—and felt the same anger.

These bizarre mood swings continued for days, in the very same block, until he finally paid close attention to what was happening when they appeared.

He realized he was smelling a very foul odor, little whiffs. It actually triggered his inner feelings of disgust and anger, but unconsciously. When he looked for the culprit, he realized it was the fruit of a gingko tree, one of the oldest species still in existence today. The female gingko produces a fruit/nut that smells God-awful. (Words like dog poo, rot, and vomit are usually used. Oy!!)

A bad smell gave him hopelessness, despair, and anger.

So, two moments illustrating that what clouds our judgment, creates uneasiness and resentment, feelings of “less-than”, even anger, that had nothing to do with current circumstances.

Our brains are marvelous creations, capable of amazing feats. Our brains are also very ancient. Our brain is hard-wired to keep us safe from danger, like eating spoiled food or anything “disgusting”.  (For me, that’s broccoli!) As I mentioned in a comment in my last article, “keeping us safe” is also why we tend to ruminate over hurtful things people have said about us, or our work, while we forget all the wonderful things people have said. People who say hurtful things can be “dangerous”, and so their words “stick”.

And when we’re “stuck”, it keeps trying to work to find a solution, perhaps keeping us unsettled, unfocused, and vaguely uncomfortable.

When we are being “played” by our unconscious thoughts, we make up a story why we feel that way, just as Johnson thought life was unfair, unfulfilling, etc. before he realized he was being “triggered” by a bad smell. I made up a story about how I was too dumb to hang a picture right, that I felt stupid having to ask others how they managed. I was angry at my cat, my dog, and my husband, and I felt like I had nothing to say this week. (I do, bear with me.)

The solution? It’s another reason artists can usually deal well with adversity and obstacles, and persevere.

Making art, making the work we love, is a working meditation.

Doing work we find worthy, fulfilling, productive, actually brings us joy. It allows us to get into a deep, working mental space—literally, a working meditation–sometimes called “the Zone”. Time passes quickly.  We are immersed in our process. We are restored to our better selves.

So the more we “make”, the better we feel.

That’s when I realized that, though I would love my space to be “perfect” before I actually get back to work, it might be time to actually do some work.

So tomorrow, I think I’ll make something. Maybe finish that new bear I had to set aside two months ago. Maybe a new necklace. Heck, maybe I’ll take my sewing machine out for a spin!

I’ll try not to use my feelings-of-the-day to judge my life, or my art.

Fortunately, it’s not gingko fruit season. Yet!

Have you ever realized your downer mood was actually brought on by hidden thoughts or unrealistic goals? Or a gingko tree? (I don’t mean good goals, I mean like when I thought I could get my new space set up in three days!) What brought you back to your happy place? Lemme know!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our "journey"
Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our “journey”

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Most things in life work themselves out.

There is a saying I learned in my hospice training awhile back: Hospice is full of recovering fixers.

The premise is, death is something that can’t be “fixed” or cured. But conditions, including the state of mind for our clients, and hopefully, for family members, too, can be healed.

I would forget this, from time to time. But my amazing supervisor was always there to walk me through the swamp of good intentions back to solid ground.

I recently read about a scientific study on happiness. To paraphrase, it said most of us hold a major goal (or two, or many) in our life, and believe we will be totally happy when we attain it.

But it turns out our happiness is increased in a big way by embracing the steps we take to get there.

If we stop to consider our journey, then the “arrival” feels even richer, and deeper.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I realized that from January 2018 to January 2019, my life has been a hot mess. Despair, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and uncertainty, all had SO MUCH FUN WITH ME for thirteen long, harsh months. (I used to discount this stuff by saying, “Hey, nobody died!” until that was no longer true at all.)

In addition to all the drama, my studio on South A Street went from “I have lost my desire to create” to “Geez, this is hard” to “Dang, they sure are noisy, glad it’s ending soon!” to “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME??” to jackhammers, sawing, smog in my studio (yep, you read that right), and demolition, to “Now what?!” to “This is really really hard!!” to “Hallelujah, I can’t believe what just happened!!” (In a good way.)

In between were tiny moments of “I am slowly but surely dealing with this move”. Of course, I started out packing with great care, but by the last day, I was just throwing stuff into boxes. Every box from this stage is a huge “Surprise!!!” moment….

Two examples of how things usually “just work out” in the end:

I’ve already written how, in his desire to have me out of there, my landlord offered a truck and two of his employees to get me moved. This saved us the expense of renting a truck ourselves, doing all the heavy lifting ourselves, and cut almost a week off the end of my move.

I had worried for weeks on how this was ever going to possibly work out. I couldn’t imagine how it could happen. I could not even visualize what I wanted, let alone expect any help.

And in two minutes, the entire problem was solved. (Well. The next 24 hours were full of chaos and mayhem, but again, it was just 24 hours!)

The second thing is more subtle.

All my furniture was now in my studio, and I had a vision of how to lay things out. All I needed was three bookcases: One very tall and skinny, one that was tall and very sturdy, and a third that was narrow-ish (under 29” wide), with two bottom shelves that were at least 15” tall. Hopefully, something that would fit in with the rest of my storage/display furniture. And it definitely had to be affordable. I also realized a table we already had that I thought would work for that third workstation was not suitable at all. Dang.

I also needed a wheeled office chair, but I didn’t think that would be hard. (Ha!)

Now, it gets complicated from here, so if you don’t have the patience, skip to the end…..

I couldn’t find any of the five pieces I needed, not even a wheeled office chair. (Was there a run on them in January??)

I searched every thrift shop and antique store around. I looked online: Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, Craigslist. Nada.

In one thrift store known for its huge furniture collection, I found two candidates for the book shelf. But they were literally the only two items that were not for sale. One was being used for displaying shoes, the other (though it had a price tag) was being used by the staff. What are the chances?!

Fortunately, I doubled-back a day later, to my favorite thrift shop again, and found two perfect candidates for the first two bookcases. Yippee!!

But that third one was just too crazy, and much harder to find.

I finally researched “used office furniture” online, and came up with some stores that might work. But most of them were closed until Monday.

On a hunch, and in desperation, I went back to the thrift store that had the first “perfect” candidates that weren’t for sale. Maybe there was something I overlooked?

There was. Off in the book section was a medium-height cupboard with one shelf. It looked a little like my printer’s type tray drawers, but no drawers. It looked wide, but I thought what the heck? I could use it for something else. And the price? $10. (Yes, you read that right, too!) While I was there, I found a desk that might work for my last workstation. It was $15. What luck! I would come back and pick it up later.

I had to wait for the store to open on Monday. I was there ten minutes after they opened. I brought the cupboard back to the studio and it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT WIDTH. (I am now feeling “heard” by the universe.)

But the desk….. I realized it had no “overhang” to clamp on my two wonderful work-lamps. Was that a deal-breaker??

Sure enough, while dropping off a donation at another thrift store, I found a) an office chair for $5 (sensing a theme here??) and the perfect table, in the perfect color, with the perfect overhang, and extremely sturdy. It was big. It might mean rearranging my space yet again. So I reluctantly left it.

And realized that night that YES IT WAS THE PERFECT TABLE. The first choice was not only two small, using tabletop lamps would take up even more room.

So I called the store the next morning, before they were even officially open, thinking I could leave a message to please please please hold the table for me until I could get there after another engagement.

Someone answered the phone! (What are the chances??) And they said, “We usually won’t do that, but we will!”

After my meeting, we picked it up and took it out to the new studio. It fit! I simply put it in sideways to the wall, rather than up against it. It broke up the space nicely, with plenty of room to spare. (I “donated” the first table at the first store back to them. They serve a wonderful cause, and I was only out $15, after all.)

So here I am today, almost done with the set-up. (Yes, I’ll try to get some pics.)


I even found the perfect place for the dolls and puppets so critical for making my art. (Not really, but I love ’em.) 

Everything fell into place. Everything I needed, I found. Everything I found, was hugely affordable. Everything worked out even better than I had hoped.

Today I realized how wonderful I’m feeling again.

It was a year where I, I felt so drained of energy, I did not even go to my studio for weeks at a time. Even working on my art could not restore me to my happy place. That was hard.

And here I am today, realizing that this week in February is the most amazing week I’ve had in a loooooong time. (YES, successful shopping helps!)

I am restored to my better self. My studio is lookin’ good! Yesterday I set up some of my artwork for the first time in ages. I have an extra work station. I can’t believe how cohesive all the bits and pieces look, too.  I can still hardly believe I found the five perfect components to complete my studio layout, within three days.                            

                                                                    

 It’s starting to come together!                                                      I’ve actually got artwork  up!                                                                                                               And bottles. Old crusty                                                                                                                            bottles…                                             

Yesterday, my new art community had a meeting about a major event we’re having in a couple months. It sounds full of promise, and I got to watch how folks participated and interacted. It sure looks like a roomful of grown-ups!

Today the sun is out, and cherry trees are blooming. Today I realized I don’t need any more infrastructure/ or furniture. Today I realized with a bit of luck, I can be back to work by the end of the week.

As I write this, I marvel at all the things that simply fell into place, beginning with that second offer of studio space from Julian and Anna those first few days in 2019. I see the “change in perspective” that constitutes a miracle, a change that lets me breathe, and relax (figuratively speaking!). I can finally let go of the anger, angst, resentment, and fear. I am ready to embrace my new situation and my new community.

I am focused on enjoying every minute of unpacking and setting up, even those boxes full of haphazard stuff I threw together in panic. It feels good to realize not everything has to be “forced” into working. Sometimes it all just falls into place, despite our worst fears and doubts.

Today feels full of promise, and hope.

And today, I hope for you, when times are harsh and dark, to find your own beautiful moments of light and grace. Somewhere, someone wishes you well, someone or someplace has exactly what you need, and something will remind you of how beautiful life can be. Embrace it!

There is never really an end to “the journey”. But I am back to enjoying the steps along the way.

Do you have stories of things that worked out better than you could have ever hoped or dreamed? Or a goal you set that you savored all along the way? Please share! We all need to be reminded of the possibilities. Someone may simply need to hear your story today!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Patience, grasshopper!

The latest installment in moving my very densely packed mixed media art studio is a bit confusing.

I was about halfway through packing up the studio, when I realized there were so many packed boxes, I couldn’t even navigate my space. So I had to move several dozen boxes home for safe-keeping.

Then I thought, with the extra space I’ll have, I should also pack up some of the supplies I’ve stored in our garage. That added a few more dozen boxes.

There was no place in my garage for those, too. (Why does packed stuff take up more room than when it’s just “out”???)

So we found a half dozen pallets, set them up on the porch, and tarped the stack just before the next round of drenching rainstorms hit last weekend.

It looked like we could do the actual truck rental/moving the first weekend of February. Unless it rained….fingers crossed!)

Then my darlin’ hubby reminded me he had a three-day conference to attend that same weekend. And the weather report? Three days of rain. Three days. Of rain.

On that Wednesday, January 30, late afternoon, my landlord asked me when I thought I’d be totally out of my space. I explained it might be an extra week. (I had previously offered to pay for the extra week, if it came to that, and he agreed.)

That’s when he said, “What would it take for you to be out of this space by tomorrow?”

Uh…..

He then offered the use of a truck, and the aid of two of his own employees, if I could move the next day.

Of course I said yes.

The next 36 hours were a hot mess. I entered that stage of packing where you just grab stuff, throw it in a box, and tape it shut. By the next morning, I wasn’t even taping boxes shut.

The truck was huge. Jon says it was bigger than my studio! It had a sign on it about “Junk Removal”, which, in other circumstances, would have hurt my feelings.

The two guys were wonderful, and thorough. The only thing that broke in the process was one light bulb. They even loaded my box of packing supplies, and a bag of garbage.

The actual long-dreaded move took less than three hours. (Yes, I tipped them generously.)

And so here I am, in my wonderful new space, filled with empty shelving racks, my desk, my sewing table, many many many boxes, and said bag of garbage.

    

        Old Studio                                                                          New Studio (in progress!)

(Don’t cheer yet, we still have to move all those tarped boxes on the back porch!)

I should be cheering, though. I should be thrilled. The worst part is over, right?

Not so fast, cupcake.

The configuration of my new space is totally different. While my husband was gone, there was only me to move heavy furniture and such.

My biggest roadblock?

I can’t figure out where to put my desk.

I pushed it here and there, up against this wall, back out to another wall, placing it perpendicular to a wall. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I gave up and left it sitting in the middle of the room.

How did I get this far, and get so blocked, so quickly?? I felt like an idiot.

Here’s how I finally got through it:

I pretended I was talking to a good friend.

If a good friend had just gone through a major, last-minute move, with almost no help, from a noisy (ongoing construction, jack-hammers, regular hammers, buzz saws, etc.) and tightly-packed little studio, to a slightly larger studio, in the middle of the rainiest California winter we’ve ever seen, would I call them an idiot?

If a good friend had gone through a year like mine (loss of both parents, my daughter’s loss of her first child-in-the-works, making five trips across country to be present for all three, and a sixth trip already this year), would I criticize their lack of energy and brain-capacity?

If a good friend had done their best to meet all commitments, gallery openings and receptions, special orders, etc. and now could barely find the time and energy to even unpack their supplies, would I chide them on their work ethic?

If said friend collapsed (in between the oh-so-many-stacks of boxes) in the middle of their studio because they couldn’t figure out where their desk should go, would I make fun of them?

I think not.

So why was I being so harsh on myself?

We all do this. We all believe that everyone else is “doing it right”, and we aren’t. We all believe that we should be doing better, even when circumstances won’t allow it. We are all kinder to our friends, even strangers, than we are with ourselves.

One compassionate friend and blog follower left a comment for me about their moves (office and house.) They made note that it took them 12 weeks, in both situations, to find the perfect place for everything. (Thank you, Susan!)

Twelve weeks.  I’ve unconsciously allotted myself three days.

I may not find the perfect spot for my desk for awhile.

Heck, even if I do find the perfect spot for it, I’m gonna have to move stuff around again anyway! I realized I need a big rug in the new space. (It’s echo-ish, and the floors will be slippery if they get wet.) So of course I put myself in a tizzy searching thrift shops for one, thinking I had to have it in place before I set up.

But then I found a super-cheap room-size rug on eBay for under $100. It also ships for free! It’s attractive enough, subdued enough not to distract from my artwork, and certainly not “precious” enough to worry about spills and stains, too.)

So today, I finally went to the gym, for the first time in weeks. It was good to be back!

I got home to find another offer, from a good friend, to help move more stuff. I always hate to ask for help, but they insisted. “I always enjoy our talks, so I’m doing it for myself, too!” they said. I’m taking them up on that! (Thank you, Laurie!)

And here I sit, sharing my slowly-untangling thoughts with you today.

I hope, if you are also facing something overwhelming in your life, that you have good friends to help you through.

And even if you don’t, I hope you are as kind to yourself as I’ve learned to be, today.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Your Next Studio

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

It doesn’t get easier. The life lessons just keep coming, and that’s a good thing.

I hope!

Here we go again. I’m moving into a new studio later this month!

I got an offer on a new space last week. It’s the same space I was offered almost exactly a year ago, when events at my current studio nearly blew my sacred, happy space into smithereens.

Last year, it was so tempting. It’s a large old building in the middle of a field, a five-minute drive away. It’s one of two buildings next to each other, both full of artist studios, both managed by good people. The rent was affordable, it offered twice the space, and the co-managers really, really wanted me there. “We love your art!” they exclaimed. “We’ve always hoped you’d move out here!”

At the time, there was still hope for my old space. New management, new potential, in a once-shabby neighborhood that’s turning the corner, mostly due to a swanky new restaurant that opened a couple years ago.

Filled with hope that things would work out, I turned it down. I stayed in my still beautiful little space.

And here I am, a year later, one of only two artists left in the building, everyone else gone, one new biz moving in (eventually) and another biz space almost ready to rent out. The building is now managed by the owner. Major improvements are in the works. There’s already a beautiful new wood fence where jasmine used to bloom.

Trouble is, I already miss the jasmine.

The last 10 months have nearly driven me mad. The uncertainty, the noise (renovations and other noisy stuff), the lack of foot traffic because the coffee shop next door closed.  Mostly, though, the uncertainty. I’m pretty sure my rent was going to go up, too.

My wonderful little studio now feels like a cage.

I started looking for a new studio space, but everything was either too small, too expensive, too far away, or not easily accessible by the public. I kept hoping things would work out, but couldn’t keep the dread out of my heart.

Finally, I got the call last week that the exact same space in that big building was available again.

And this time, I leaped at it.

For one thing, I knew if I did have to move again later in 2019, these kind people may not reach out again. I was number one on their list of takers both times, and I’m not gonna blow that again!

Secondly, in addition to the advantages I mentioned at the beginning, there is a teaching space available in the building. My biggest hassle when I teach is gathering all the supplies and tools I need. I want to be prepared for every contingency, and in the end, I almost always leave something critical behind. Now this won’t be a problem, because my studio will be 30 seconds away!

Another artist already in the building assured me the building is well-managed, and safe to work in at night. Not the case at my former space, for the last year, anyway.

The additional space means I can move more framing supplies and display out of our cramped garage, which will free up much-needed home space.

But it’s still hard.

I will miss my “show window”, where people walking by could see my work any time, any day.

I will miss my view of public artist Bud Snow’s lovely mural just outside my door.

I’ll miss being able to run next door to grab a hot chocolate or coffee.

I will miss the “drop-in” factor, the people who just happened to come by, and became passionate supporters. In fact, people can’t just come into the new building—the entrance is locked. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just….different.

I will miss my husband being able to just walk down to my studio with the dogs, to take a quick walk around Julliard Park and look for minnows in the creek.

On the other hand, parking is free. (Street parking at my current studio is so tight, I paid to rent a space in a private lot.) There’s another open studio event I can now participate in annually, based on this new location. And did I mention classroom space?

The final realization is what nailed it for me.

Our art neighborhood is changing. It’s going a teensy bit upscale. Not big time—yet. But the writing is on the wall. A few buildings have changed hands, rents are going up, and that will be the kiss of death for many artists. Artists colonize “unsavory” spaces, because they are affordable. They also subtly change the neighborhoods for the better. Soon, the studios AREN’T so affordable anymore. And we move on.

So I believe I’m getting out while the going is good. Yes, I may regret it. But I’m guessing not.

As I look back, I’ve always believed my current studio is the best one I’ll ever have. One of my early mentors, textile artist Deborah Kruger, listened to me fretting about what would happen if I lost my second studio, almost 20 years ago. I said, “What if I have to move?! This is the best studio I’ve ever had!” And she replied, “Until your next studio.”

My next studio….

Some of us are fortunate to have home studios. I did, for almost 20 years. There were pluses and minuses. It’s hard to ignore the dishes when you have to walk through the kitchen to get to your studio!

I’ve had studios outside the home. I thought they were wonderful! Looking back, I can now see they were not easily accessible to the public. That’s a deal-breaker for me now. One was not private, just a space inside a larger room. That’s a no-no for me today.

And if my life lessons hold true, I will grow to love my new space. I will remember my old one fondly, but with no regrets. It worked until it didn’t work, and then I moved on.

My buzzy brain is still at work, though. So those of you who have had several studios, please chime in! How did you deal with such a major change? What worked out well, and what didn’t? What would you do differently about choosing studio space, if you knew what you know now?

Gotta go….several weeks of packing ahead. Wish me luck, and lots of wine!

 

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE Part Deux: Giving Stuff Away

My column at Fine Art Views on how to ease the pain of letting stuff go. Enjoy!

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CRAZY TIMES

How to relocate without losing your sanity. (Actually, I don’t know how to do that.)

Moving is a bitch difficult experience.

At first, it’s kinda fun. I pick out a few things I can easily let go of, and donate them to a thrift store. Oh, look! I just helped pick-a-good-cause-that-has-thrift-shops!  That works for a few days.

Then I start packing what I call the low-hanging fruit. Extra dishes. Winter clothes. A few pictures from the walls, and some knick-knacks.

Then it gets harder. WHY DO I HAVE SO MANY DISHES?? Didn’t I purge dishes during our BIG MOVE from New Hampshire less than three years ago?? Why do I have not one, not two, not three, but FOUR vintage pitchers? (I donate one–ONE–to the aforementioned thrift shop.) Don’t get me started on the tea pots.

Then it gets really hard. There is now a couch in our living room. One couch. That’s it for sitting. We fight over who gets to lie on it to read every night.

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Near the end of packing, you end up with odd stuff looking even odder. No, I am NOT giving away my trailer truck!

As the deadline draws closer, I get a little more panicky. I pack more boxes. As I unpack them at the new rental, I wonder why I packed THAT and put it in the give-away pile. As I slog yet another box of stuff to the now-overwhelmed thrift store, I guiltily pull out one or two things, and sneak them into the new place.

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My attention span is shorter than the time it takes to pack one box.

And now we’re at the point where the new place is more welcoming and home-like than this place. Probably because the stuff that’s left to pack is the important stuff I don’t really want to deal with. And once I pack them, we HAVE to switch home base to the new place.

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Once you pack the sugar, salt, and toothpicks, you really have to move into the new place. But the bowls of rocks and shells, and odd pots? They can wait a day or two.

As I lay awake at night, reviewing all the things I still have to do/pack/unpack/give away, I console myself:

At least we’re not moving across the country again! (We’re just moving across town.)

The new place is smaller (which means downsizing again), but that’s a good thing at this point in our lives, right? (Please reassure me on this.)

We have had a whole month to do this!  Er…maybe it would have been better to do the oh-God-we-have-to-do-this-in-3-days! thing. More painful, but we’d be done. (Ha! I’d still be looking for the box I packed with the printer toner til the end of days.)

Lest you think I’m getting off easy (in which case you are not my friend), add this to the pile:

I took our 2006 Toyota Scion in to get an oil change.

That was nine days ago.

Every day has added $400 to the bill. Because the worn bushings finally tore. And when they replaced them, they found an oil leak in the transmission. And when they took it to the transmission people, the t-people found a crack in the case. And when they pulled that, they discovered we need a new transmission.

Our oil change people lent us a loaner car, a sedan that didn’t hold many boxes. Like, maybe two. The gas tank is on the opposite side from the Scion, and it unlocks in the opposite direction.

After four days, we got bumped up to an SUV, which holds a LOT of boxes. But the gas tank is on the opposite side of the sedan, and it unlocks in the opposite way of the sedan.

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Thank you, Hahn Auto, for the loan of an SUV that holds a lotta stuff.

At the same time, the front door lock on the new house jammed. After two different people tried to fix it, the second, a locksmith, said the whole lock and handle set needs to be replaced. (Jon had to climb over the fence to let us in from the back yard.)

So I have two sets of different house keys, which ALSO unlock in the opposite directions; have driven three different cars in the last nine days and three different sets of car keys, with different ways of unlocking and gas tanks all over the place; cats who keep trying to trick us into packing them into boxes so they don’t get left behind; two dogs who are alternately bored out of their minds for lack of long walks, and anxiety over moving again….

And yesterday I set up for a new show at Graton Gallery in Graton, CA, a wonderful gallery I’m so excited to be in. They showed amazing patience when I had to make three trips. One to get the jewelry cases I thought I’d forgotten. And another to bring the cases that a friend found IN THE ALLEY WAY where my studio is. Because I’d set them down to talk to a friend, and forgot to pick them back up again. (Thank you, James!)

Meanwhile, my South A Street studio is full of everything that didn’t fit in my new, smaller home studio (which is also stuffed) and I’m feeling a lit-tul bit overwhelmed with it all.

The bright side?

Friends with trucks! Thank you, James, Cory, and West Coast Greg Thompson!

A nice new neighborhood! We’ll be in the charming (Luther) Burbank Gardens neighborhood. Where almost every single resident there has already stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood.

We have two hyoooge, beautiful porches! More opportunities for large gatherings of friends and neighbors.

We’re even closer to my SOFA studio, and it’s easier than ever to get outta town.

We have a few more years to figure out our next stepswithout worrying about the house being sold out from under us. Good friends own the house, but they won’t be moving up here for a few more years. This works out to everyone’s advantage!

I’ve also discovered that a mixed drink in the evening does wonders for easing my busy, buzzy brain these days. (Don’t worry, I’m not normally much of a drinker. Desperate times call for desperate measures.)

So if you see me, and I seem confused about how to gas up the car, or strangely reluctant to pick up the restaurant tab, or my key ring seems to baffle me, or you here me muttering about “pitchers” or tea pots, or wondering where the paper towels are, please have mercy.

And when the dust settles (from dusting all the knick knacks that never got dusted during our 30 months here on Boyce Street), come on by and see us!

Er…bring bourbon. Jim Beam’s Red Stage will do just fine.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE Part Deux: Getting Smaller

This links to my Fine Art Views column for today, with all the good things about moving.

Enjoy!

CLEAR YOUR CACHE

TMI can overwhelm. Start where you are, let go of what doesn’t serve you anymore, and take one step forward–today!

Today’s column from Fine Art Views:

Clear Your Cache!

THE FIG TREE

The fig tree, doing its best to feed everybody. EVERYBODY.
The fig tree, doing its best to feed everybody. EVERYBODY.

We were so excited about the orange tree in our new backyard in Santa Rosa, we almost overlooked the fig tree. The orange tree had reverted to less appetizing oranges, probably from a failed graft, though one branch continues to product delicious oranges. The blossoms are sweet, and the oranges that are edible are wonderful. They ripen all at once, though, so there’s a feast of oranges for a day or two, and then….nada. (Although the orange tree also keeps its leaves all winter, so there’s that.)

The less-romantic fig tree, though, is quietly becoming more important to us. And I’m amazed by the also-quiet, yet deep life lessons it’s teaching me.

It loses its leaves in the fall, then leafs out again in the spring. I don’t remember the flowers. We had to learn when to pick the figs, though we’ve also learned that some people like figs at any stage of their ripening-ness. One friend even likes the withered ones that fall to the ground. He pinches out the insides and cooks them down a bit to make a jelly spread. I like the idea that the fruit of this tree can please so many people, all along its timeline.

It produces figs for well over a month or two, and lots of them. Every morning, I venture out to the back yard to harvest a small bowlful. Then a large bowlful. Now I’m at the grocery bag phase.

So the fig tree is generous with its fruit.

I give them to our neighbors, to friends of our neighbors, and to the crew down at Atlas Coffee Co.. Atlas Coffee was the first place we stopped on our first visit to Santa Rosa, in the heart of the city’s art district ( SOFA Arts District)long before we knew we’d be moving there. It was also our main station to look for our next home. We could hang out, chatting with the owner, James, and Sean, Cody and Ian, the coffee meisters. It was were we saw a sign in a window on the alley leading to the coffee shop, saying a studio space was available for rent. It was availabe soon, which is unusual for these popular spaces. I jumped at the opportunity, and I’m so glad I did.

So the figs are a wonderful way to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who first made us feel ‘at home’ here.

There are some drawbacks to a fig tree. But there are lessons there, as well.

I’m slightly allergic to the sap, which is milky. So after a round of fig-picking, I have to wash off my arms and face, anywhere I’ve had contact with the fruit or the leaves. It also drops a lot of overripe figs, which have to be picked up before the ants and flies go too crazy. And what’s really frustrating is, the best figs are at the very top of the tree, way out of reach without a ladder.

I’ve learned a little itchy is worth the quiet, calming pursuit of fig picking. It reminds me not to take blessings and gifts for granted.

The ants and the flies, well, they have a place in the world. (Just not in my house, please.) And the birds can have the figs at the top, because they’ve been so good about not eating ALL the figs.

And here’s the incredible thing I’ve learned about fig trees:

At first I used a small ladder to try to get more figs. But after a couple near-falls, I realized I was risking a lot just to gather even more figs than could be eaten in a day! I gave it up.

But those branches I can’t reach? As the season progresses, the tree branchs actually begin to bow down, a bit more each day. Soon, the figs that were out of reach, are close enough to snag. The branches are often small and supple, too. I can use a hooked stick to pull some of them down even further, and gather those last ripe figs.

It takes my breathe away, that the tree actually bends to my desires. Yes, it could be the weight of the figs, of course. Except that not every fig-laden branch lowers itself.

Here we go with my fig tree metaphor. You knew it was coming, right?

As my brain buzzes with fears of lack (“I’ve lost my best, most faithful customers!” “I’ve lost most of my income, even the other things that brought in a steady bit of money!” “I have to PAY for a studio space now, what if we can’t continue to afford that??”), I think of the fig tree. Simply doing what fig trees do, growing into its space, adapting, and making enough figs for everyone I care about.

When I’m worried I’ll never achieve my dreams of fame and fortune, I think of this single fig tree, hidden behind a modest little house in an old neighborhood, giving us, and other creatures, shade, food, beauty, every single day. (And to be truthful, I know now I don’t WANT fame.) (Although a LITTLE fortune would be nice.)

When I envy the success of others, and when I think my slice of pie is smaller because theirs is bigger, I think of how the tree makes enough figs for everyone.

When I feel like I’m not in synch with the universe, when I’m anxious because I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do next, I think of how that tree brings its branches just a little lower, so I can pick more figs. Just like the universe has a way of bending just a little, to meet me halfway. Or, in the case of this California move, bending more than just a little! That generous nature astonishes me. It lifts me up when I stumble, and soothes me when I’m fearful.

I don’t know how old our tree is. Our house is just over a hundred years old, in a neighborhood originally settled by Italians. So its probably been around awhile, and hopefully has many more years to go. It’s surely been here before I was born, and be here long after I die.

I hope its lessons will continue to ripen, like its delicious fruit.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Change: The Movie (The Move continues)

Even tiny changes can reflect big ideas.

Even tiny changes can reflect big ideas.

My head’s been in a whirl the last few months. I think I’ve entered that stage in a move where it feels like my life feels like a dream. Not the great glow-y kind. The kind where I find myself picking up dog poop and I keep finding hamburger patties in the dirt and I think, “Geez, this is weird. Wait a minute…..Am I dreaming?!” (I was.)

On one hand, there’s all the wonderful, heady stuff that comes from a major life change (the good ones, that is.) We go for a drive and suddenly remember this is an incredibly beautiful area, and the ocean is half an hour away. There are the marvelous moments, like learning our resident hummingbird darts into his nighttime resting spot in our little tree in front of our front porch, at exactly the same time (relative to sunset) every night. We sit and watch for him almost every night, and get a tiny frisson of joy when we catch him in the act. (It helps that he sits in exactly the same branchlet on the tree, too.)

On the other hand, there is the sudden realization that there’s no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go out for a drink!” Not that I could, anyway. Since we’ve been here, I can barely stay up past 9 p.m. Sooo…no one to call up and say, “Hey, let’s go to Happy Hour for a drink!”

I miss lakes, and rivers. There are lakes and rivers here, but not so much after four years of drought. I miss thunderstorms.

(OTOOH, I don’t miss mosquitoes, black flies, humidity, nor the season of funny smells.)

A few days ago, I had the scariest change of all.

I should preface this by saying my “year” tends to begin and end at my birthday. That sounds pompous, and I don’t mean it that way, really, I don’t. It’s just that when I realized the cave of Lascaux was discovered very nearly on my birth date, and other big events that cause me to stop and gasp (my birthday is 9/11), I often have reason to stop and take my measure. This month has been the same.

I was making a ‘batch’ of horses, as I usually do. Over the years, I built up to making my animal totems in batches of up to, oh, a couple dozen or so at a shot. It made for real efficiency, shaping them all, doing all the manes at once, all the eyes at once, all the markings, etc. (Even in a good sales year, I average about $2 an hour. Maybe I should go work at McDonald’s…..) (Nah.)

Lately, the batches have gotten smaller, down to one dozen, then half a dozen.

This time, I stopped at one.  A feeling of revulsion overcame me. I was overwhelmed with this awful, awful thought:

I didn’t want to make any more batches of little horses.

That stopped me dead in my tracks. WHAT??!! What…is up with THAT??!!

But instead of panicking (what would I do without the heartstone of my work??!), I got quiet. I asked myself, where is this coming from? And what do I mean by that?

And thank the powers that be, it came to me:

I want to make one little horse at a time.

And so I did. I made two little horses that day. Each one, totally one at a time. Each got its own shaping, then its mane, then its eyes and nose, etc.

I then made other artifacts that take less ‘soul’, if you will, easier work, and popped the whole bunch in the convenction oven in my home studio.

This may not seem like a big change to you. It sure started out as a big change, but ended up being a very small change.

Or is it?

My horses have always ended up as completely individual and unique. For years, I’ve been telling folks how collectors look for ‘their horse’ when shopping.

I don’t know how to explain this, except that this, for some reason, feels even more important than ever. So important, I felt the need to slow down, to get calm, to get centered. To really see the power, and the blessing, inherent in everything I do.

There’s something growing here in California, something big. When people are attracted to my work, they fall hard. The things they tell me about it, are powerful. My internet sales are growing, from people back in New England who are either missing my work, or have recently discovered it. More and more people are telling me about how the work feels, on many levels.

It’s scary. Someone asked me why, and I couldn’t say. It’s something about, with my work having that power, comes great responsibility, something I don’t know how to handle personally. It feels like the time a bigger-than-life visitor exclaimed, “You’re a shaman! You’re a shaman!” when he first saw my work–like my work is bigger than I am. I’m not putting that right, but it was exciting, and wonderful, and scary at the same time. It was a powerful experience, and propelled me forward in ways I could not have imagined.

Something like that may be growing now. All I can do is listen. Pay attention.

The past year was all about realizing the harm brought into the world by people who don’t know what they don’t know.

I wonder what this next year holds for me.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Voices in My Head

Holy cow, where did that last month go?? Into the land of forgotten things, apparently. And so, to get back in the swing of things, a very tiny thought for today.

I have not one, but TWO chests of printers’ type tray drawers. The second one is special to me for the main reason that my son offered to refinish it for me. He did a beautiful job, too.

This is the printers type tray chest my son Doug refinished for me. Didn't he do a good job?!
This is the printers type tray chest my son Doug refinished for me. Didn’t he do a good job?!

Except for the drawers, and I don’t blame him for not going there.

Someone had started to restore it–half the drawers have their original type dividers. But half have been removed. And although the outside looks great, the inside is dirty/dusty/oily as only a type tray drawer can get from dirty/dusty/oily metal type.

When I moved into my new, tiny studio here in Santa Rosa, I decided to use this piece to store my inventory of polymer clay beads–animal artifacts, shell and tiny bone artifacts, and all sorts of beads in different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Yep, my artifacts inspired by prehistoric fox teeth are in there. Somewhere.
Yep, my artifacts inspired by prehistoric fox teeth are in there. Somewhere.

Visitors are amazed when I tell them to open the drawers. And they love to look through all the tiny treasures, and pick them up and hold them in their hands.

The only problem is, over time, those same beads are picking up the dirty/dusty/oily crud. And it’s hard to get it off. So it really wasn’t such a great idea to store them that way.

In the 8 months I’ve been in that space, I’ve agonized about what to do. Remove the polymer clay items? But it’s such a great way to have people interact with them! Use Q-tips and gently clean each tiny little section? That would take years. I mean it. And several bushels of Q-tips, and it wouldn’t completely clean them. And I hate cleaning stuff like that, and I don’t have time, and it will therefore never get done.

I kid you thought, I’ve thought about this every single day I’ve been in that A Street studio.

So the last two days, I’ve been moving into my new NEW space, into the larger, brighter, cooler (temperature-wise, but yeah, cool cooler, too!) space just vacated by my studio mate. Exactly one week after I realized my own teeny-tiny space was a bit claustrophobic for most visitors, she announced California was too hot for her (temperature-wise) and she was going to move a thousand miles away.

I felt very sad to lose her (she’s been wonderful!), but secretly elated I could now have her space.

So this is the third studio I’ve had in 10 months.

Setting it up feels just as daunting.

“Don’t worry,” say my artist neighbors and my coffee shop neighbors. “These things take a little time. Then it all comes together.” I know this is true, and for a moment, the panic ebbs.

It ebbed a little more tonight, for a funny (funny-odd) reason.

I remembered my friends in Keene tonight.

Today I heard a woman talking, and I thought, “Oh, that’s Julie!” But it was our new neighbor Jackie, who for some reason sounds like Julie today.

A hour later, I saw a woman walking to a car, and I thought, “Oh, there’s Jennie!” But it was someone who looks like Jennie (who is three thousand miles away).

Later I smelled the coffee my husband was brewing, which happens to be Prime Roast Demon Roast coffee, and I thought, “Oh, I’ve got to get Jon more coffee from Judy today.” But Judy has already mailed us the Demon Roast. It’s sitting on the counter, waiting for me to find a jar for it. And suddenly, I could hear Judy’s voice, too.

And tonight, after taking a wall clock apart to glue on a second hand that kept falling off (don’t ask), I heard someone else’s voice, in my head. Someone who, when I told them three years ago that I loved the look of old, worn, oily-black wood boxes, but hated the smell, and what could I use to seal the wood so it wouldn’t smell yucky, said, “Luann, you can’t do that. You need to WASH those boxes first.”

So at the very end of today, I also heard Gary’s voice, giving me the good adivice on restoring wood boxes that eventually led to a six-month informal apprenticeship for me.

Gary had one place for every tool in his shop. I'm trying. But it's hard.
Gary had one place for every tool in his shop. I’m trying. But it’s hard.

Now I know how to clean those type tray drawers. It will take half a day, or perhaps just a couple of hours and some time in the dry California summer sun.

Soon those drawers will be clean and dry, and able to safely hold my precious artifacts: horses, bears, otters, birds, antlers, stones, shells, and stones.

Someday, we’ll realize we’ve made deep new friendships here in California–because we always do. Change is hard, but change is good, and eventually you learn that change becomes normal in its own good time. We will laugh and cry with new voices, and make new memories, even right now.

And visits ‘back East’, and phone calls and emails,Facebook posts and pictures, will help keep those lovely, loving voices of old friends and good memories, alive and well.

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Blessed Clarity

Here’s a link to today’s article at Fine Art Views, LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Blessed Clarity”.

Looks like I accidentally wrote “Blessed CHARITY” instead of ‘CLARITY’. But both work.

Enjoy!

CATCHING YOU UP On My Fine Art Views Columns

Once again, I’ve neglected to post links to my columns at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog. So I’m putting all the links since April 24, 2014, here in one place.
David Letterman counts down from 10. Me? I have a lot of catching up to do.
Pace yourselves!

21) April 24, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It Gets Easier
Insights gained while preparing for a life-changing cross-country move.

20) May 8, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Send Me A Postcard!
Advice on how to build your mailing list.

19) May 22, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: My Customer Base Isn’t Local!
Dispelling some of the myths surrounding open studios.

18) June 5, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: People Around Here Don’t Buy Art
You know who says this? EVERYBODY says this!!! Hint: It’s not true.

17) June 19, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: For Heaven’s Sake, Accept Credit Cards!!
It’s easier than ever to take credit cards, and it WILL increase your sales. Here’s how.

16) July 3, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Timely Time Payment Plan
Trust me, this tip is worth its weight in gold.

15) July 17, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE OPEN STUDIO: Don’t Say No!
When you and your studio say “NO”, your customers will say “NO” right back.

14) July 31, 2014
TEACHING 101
Tips for improving your teaching skills.

13) August 14, 2014
TEACHING 101: It Gets Better If You Try
You tell your students to practice, right? You should, too!

12) August 28, 2014
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 1
Encountering the difficult personalities in your class.

11) September 11, 2014 MY BIRTHDAY!!!
TEACHING 101: Crabby Students Part 2
Managing the difficult personalities in your classs.

10) September 25, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: It’s Not as Hard as You Think
Most of the things you’re afraid of, aren’t going to happen.

9) October 9, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Settling In, Getting Centered
Things I wish I’d thought of before the actual move….

8) October 23, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: You Can’t Get There From Here
We need a plan to help us get where we want to go. But as our needs change, the way we get there changes, too.

7) November 6, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: I am Blind (er….Lame) and My Dog is Dead
When the blues hit you, mix it with a little green to make turquoise!

6) November 20, 2014
WHEN THANK YOU ISN’T ENOUGH
When you get a compliment from a customer, don’t stop with “thank you.” Turn it into a conversation.

5) December 18, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: California Dreamin’
It turns out my heart knew we were California-bound before my head did.

4) January 1, 2015
YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT TO DO
Time for some tough love!

3) January 15, 2015
BIG EFFIN’ FENCES
What you make, how you make it, and why you make it, matters. Don’t let anyone talk you out of that.

2) January 29, 2015
300
Who’s missing from the history of art?? Everybody but dead European white guys. Let’s change that.

1) February 12, 2014
LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Hard, Harder, Hardest
When you realize it’s not gonna really be over for a looooooong time…..

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: The Story of the Hutch

A very useful piece of furniture, this hutch has been with us for 26 years!
A very useful piece of furniture, this hutch has been with us for 26 years!

It’s been less than a week since Cap’n Ben’s words of wisdom on moving. And it’s been a busy one. There’s been a flurry of paperwork. Many listings of our belongings on Craigslist. A yard sale or two, with more in the works.

I’m a collector and a mixed media artist. That means almost every object that crosses my path has “potential”. Possibilities abound. I have drawers of decorative papers and specialty glues, paint in every form you can imagine, beads, fabric, yarn and books. Frames and canvases, paper cutters and miter saws, waxed linen and silk tape.

And I have a thousand containers for all of them. Including….

The hutch.

It’s a beautiful wood hutch, three glass doors up, two drawers in the middle and three wood doors below. Pine stained to cherry. Nicely made, not those clunky ones that always end up in the thrift shops.

We bought it the first year we moved to Keene, 26 years ago. Our daughter Robin was five weeks old when we moved in. In the middle of a heat wave, and us with one window fan. My husband went to work in an air-conditioned office every day, complaining how cold it was. I would lie on the floor in front of the fan, begging the weather gods to please, please, please remove the maddening 95 plus degree heat.

After six months of staring at my craft supplies sitting in boxes, my husband proposed we set up some sort of organizer for them. We ended up down at Winchendon Furniture, in the clearance section of the second floor. We found the hutch and fell in love with it. It adorned our dining room for twelve years, and another fourteen when we moved to Roxbury Street.

Eventually I had a room and then an entire studio for my projects. The art supplies in the hutch made way for our pretty wedding china

Nope, it's not going to California, either. Earthquakes. Remember?
Nope, it’s not going to California, either. Earthquakes. Remember?
, and eventually my McCoy pottery collection.

Now it’s 26 years later. Where did the time go?? The kids are grown and nearly on their own. The house is sold, and here we are, emptying our home of a lifetime of memories, getting on our way to California.

It was strange to see the hutch empty. And though we priced it to sell, it survived three indoor tag sales this spring, and even a yard sale. “Maybe it will go with us to California!” I said hopefully. My husband was pretty sure it wouldn’t.

He was right. Eventually someone saw it on Craigslist, and an email conversation ensued. The woman said her husband loved the hutch, and he would pick it up that day. When he arrived, though he paid us less than we expected. “But we agreed to the price!” I cried. “Let it go”, said Jon. And so I did. But I couldn’t watch it go, and hid in my studio.

Now it wasn’t just an empty hutch I had to look at today–there was a huge empty spot in our living room. And there was the funny gap in the molding surrounding the room we’d completely forgotten about.

Mind the gap!
Mind the gap!
We hope it won’t kill the sale.

Today we received one more email from the hutch’s new family. The dad was chagrined to get home and realize he’d underpaid us. The mom promised to send us a check for the difference. I told her how grateful I was for that little extra to help us on our way.

But the best part of her email was the picture she included….

Their two very young children, already exploring inside the hutch.

Our hutch with its new family.
Our hutch with its new family.

My heart leaped into my throat for a moment–how like my own young ones at that age! And I knew the hutch was truly in its rightful home.

We came to Keene with not too much, and made a life here. I became a mother here, and an artist. We made friends, we made a home, we became a family.

Now that time is finished, and something new begins. Jon will lose his job any day now. The layoffs at his company are massive, and he’s already been told it will be soon. We don’t have a home yet in California. We simply remember the quality of light when we were last there, and how light in heart we felt.

I do not know what lies ahead for us in California. Our friend Julie says when she looks at us, she sees light. I believe her. We are becoming lighter, letting go of what we don’t need to hold onto anymore. We don’t need sweaters in California, nor snow shovels and ice skates. I don’t need my beloved salt-and-pepper collection in a city of earthquakes.

I didn't have THAT many salt-and-pepper shakers....
I didn’t have THAT many salt-and-pepper shakers….

Some days it’s hard to let go of so much. And some days it’s easier.

But through it all, I know this:

The memories are in our hearts. We need very few mementos to keep them bright.

And new memories are waiting to be made, in California.

A SHIP IS SAFE IN HARBOR…

Suitcases, anyone?
Suitcases, anyone?

A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.

Well, we heard “the call” again this weekend. Right in the middle of our huge yard sale. (Our yard sales are funny. No matter how much or how little we sell, we always make about the same amount of money: $350. And we always seem to have even more left over than what we started with.)

This “call” was an offer on our home.

With a closing date of August 27.

Yep. You read that right. We have one month to get everything outta here and get ourselves to California.

Four. Short. Weeks.

My sense of anxiousness and ennui has been totally replaced by a sense of panic.

Fortunately, an old friend came to visit that night. We’ve known Ben since the days when Jon worked at BYTE Magazine. He has always been “a friend in need and a friend in deed.” That is, the first time Jon was laid off with 2 days’ notice, Ben was the guy who traveled over from the coast to spend time with Jon, listening to his fears and worries, encouraging him to believe in himself, and also bringing lots of rum. Really good rum. He and Jon sat on our beautiful porch on the second floor, and helped the sun set.

Ben is an artist, too, and you can see his lovely watercolors here

As always, Ben brought good cheer, funny stories, fond memories and new hope for the future. And just before he left the next morning, just as the numbing reality of what lies ahead hit us, he gave me the exact words I needed to hold in my heart for the month ahead.

Ben has always been a sailor. He and his family spent a number of years on a sailboat, traveling around the Canary Islands and later the Caribbean. He still pilots a research vessel for UNH in Portsmouth, NH. And he knows about ships and harbors.

“There are two really hard things about living on a boat,” he said. The first is mooring. “You arrive at a new place. You don’t know the harbor, you don’t know the rules, you don’t know the protocol, you’re not familiar with the moorings.”

But even harder is the un-mooring.

“There’s so much to do before you leave port,” he explained. “I gotta do this, I gotta do that, I gotta dump this, I gotta pick up that…. The list is endless. It’s really daunting.”

So daunting, he said, that soon come the excuses for staying: “It’s not so bad here. Maybe we should stay a little longer.”

And so many folks never leave.

We were silent a moment. Once again, just when things seem really really hard, someone crosses our path and tells us exactly what we need to hear to take the next step.

It is uncanny. It is surprising.

It is a gift. No, more than that.

As my friend Melinda LaBarge would say, “It’s an effin’ miracle!”

Quietly, I said, “Ben, thank you.”

This morning we awaken to yet another thunderstorm, a wet and cloudy day. We find it hard to get out of bed, but finally we do. We create a flurry of posts on Facebook and Craigslist: Canoe for sale, hot tub for sale, kiln for sale. Cat and dogs? Nah. Just kidding.

We take a deep breath and plot out our day. The thunderstorm cools the air somewhat. A good time for me to split stuff the barn attic into two piles, “keep” and “let go”.

I find myself thinking about what we’ll leave for the new family that will live in this beautiful house. The antique flag. The original brass house keys. Maybe the wooden doll house?

I’ll be sure to tell them where the pets are buried, behind the garage in the back yard. Rex, beloved collie of the family before us. Leia and Puffy, our hamsters. Gus and Max, our elderly cats. Mavra, the sweetest rat in the world. Various injured beasties that came into our care for a short while, as we gave them a safe place to die in peace.

I am so thankful for the years we’ve had in this town, in this house, in this safe harbor.

I am so thankful another family will fill the rooms with laughter, and tears, and joy.

I am so thankful for the miracle of a few well-chosen words, at just the right time.

And as I work, I calm the frantic thoughts and the powerful beating of my heart. I say over and over to myself….

A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for….

Me, Melinda and Stacey Herlitz, manager of the the Craftwear exhibit at the League of NH Craftsmen's Fair.
Me, Melinda and Stacey Herlitz, manager of the the Craftwear exhibit at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair.

WHAT I’M UP TO

What am I up to right now?

Well….every single day, I face a shifting landscape.

Tomorrow is my last chance to deliver artwork for two exhibits at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair. I just finished putting the last touches on two “boxed pieces”, and my feral coral necklace is ready to go, too.

Everything is polymer clay, except for the single antler and the antique wood boxes that I cleaned, repaired, painted, refinished and waxed.
Everything is polymer clay, except for the single antler and the antique wood boxes that I cleaned, repaired, painted, refinished and waxed.
I made the deer last year, but I didn't know what I was going to do with him til a few months ago. Everything in this display is polymer clay (except the antique boxes.)
I made the deer last year, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with him til a few months ago. Everything in this display is polymer clay (except the antique boxes.)
I've nicknamed this the feral coral necklace, but it will have a beautiful new name by tomorrow.  All polymer clay. I made an armature for each piece of faux coral.
I’ve nicknamed this the feral coral necklace, but it will have a beautiful new name by tomorrow. All polymer clay. I made an armature for each piece of faux coral.

It’s a bittersweet day. This will be my last League Fair, and I won’t have a booth. I knew our lives would be in major upheaval by now, and it is. And to complicate things even more, I told a friend I would take a woodblock printmaking class with her last weekend, and I did! How crazy is that?! Well, actually…..

I loved it. And I found the carving very soothing. My not-quite-finished block is below. (I’m doing a reductive print, which means I have another “layer” to carve, to add a third color–raw umber.)

Sorry for the floppy picture. There is truly not a single flat surface in my studio right now....
Sorry for the floppy picture. There is truly not a single flat surface in my studio right now….

Someone is also interested in our house. They called out of the blue on Monday afternoon. It might be perfect for them. And if they decide to go for it, we’d have to move before the end of August. So. Do we go into general panic mode and heave everything into a dumpster? Or wait and see, and run the risk of having even less time to pack everything up??

I dunno. And shortly, I won’t care. I’m celebrating the completion of my three exhibit pieces by making a pitcher of mimosas in ten more minutes.

If you need me, I’ll be sitting on the second floor porch, trying to drown my anxiety in sparkling white wine and my daily dose of Vitamin C. Tomorrow is another day, with a whole new game plan. And since I won’t know til tomorrow what it is, why waste another moment worrying about it?

P.S. To be safe, we’ve decided to have a yard sale every Saturday for the rest of the summer. (I’m not joking.) I’ll keep you posted!

GOING WEST: The Story of the Bear

Bear beads I sold recently. Yep, I lined up right in front of my keyboard!
Bear beads I sold recently. Yep, I lined up right in front of my keyboard!

From my Animal Stories page:
Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I haven’t written much lately because it seems like very day, the landscape changes. The things that have to happen before we can move seem obscured. Some days it’s hard to put on a happy face.

We’re wishing desperately for clarity. But getting clear on your next step doesn’t necessarily mean a clear path.

We know we want to move to California. Unfortunately, the support we think we need isn’t there. A new job to replace the one that’s disappearing in a week or so may not be so simple to find. The house has to sell, and there’s not much we can do to to make that happen. Plans in place for family members that don’t want to go with us are still up in the air.

We keep thinking those obstacles have to be overcome before anything else can happen. When they aren’t happening, we think we’ve lost our way.

But it just occurred to me that we have the real blessing in hand. We know what we want. The simple idea that drives everything for us right now–going west–is more clear than ever. Everything–everything–points us west.

Jon called from the coast today with a powerful insight: He already knows the work he wants to do. And though perhaps no one will hire him to do it, maybe it’s time he took it solo. I could hear the excitement and happiness in his voice when we spoke. Yes, it’s a risk. But no more of a risk than anything else we’ve ever pinned our hopes to.

I realized that all the doors we thought were closing, leave the hallway clear and open. The “bumps in the road” are simply streamlining our purpose: Get west. Go to the place we want to be.

Trying to fix everything, trying to put everything in place first, gets in the way of what we want: So maybe it’s time to think slow.

Sometimes looking for the “safe” way to accomplish our dreams, will actually constrict our dreams. So we will dream big.

Sometimes the people we think we need to take care of, can actually take care of themselves better if we give them the chance: Let them know we will always love deep.

So many wise people in my life have told me, over and over, that whatever I yearn for, whatever I need to know, is already in my heart. It’s true. We wished for clarity, and we already have it.

In my heart, I am singing a prayer of thanks for remembering the story of my bear spirit artifact:

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

THESE bears' story is "Make a lot of noise and maybe some of it will be music!"
THESE bears’ story is “Make a lot of noise and maybe some of it will be music!”

FINDING YOUR PLACE IN THE WORLD: The Story of the Pusher

No, not that kind of pusher. Let me explain.

Years ago, I came across a collection of science fiction stories, one of my favorite literary genres.

One story really grabbed me. It’s stayed with me for decades.

An alien ship is stranded in space. Its crew is an assortment of life forms, all serving in extremely specific roles: There is a Brain, who oversees the mission; the Eye who charts their course, the Ear that listens for messages from other ships and planets, and so forth.

It turns out its Pusher–the life form that actually makes the ship go–has died in an unfortunate accident. Unless they can find another Pusher–fast–they will all die, too.

Fortunately, they discover they are very close to a planet of rogue Pushers–Pushers who have cut off for so long from their fellow Pushers, they don’t even realize they ARE Pushers. Having no knowledge of their true place in life, they vent their frustration and and anxiety by waging war on one another. This horrifies the crew. But they know they have no choice but to try to enlist one of them to Push.

They find a lone Pusher and somehow get him on the ship. He’s a human being (of course) from Earth.

He’s terrified of the strange creatures on board. He’s angry he’s been kidnapped. He can’t believe what the aliens are telling him–that his true calling–humanity’s true calling in life–is to “make spaceships go”. He can’t believe that war, conflict, murder, violence among his people are all because they are not able to do what they are meant to do. That humans are deeply unhappy and feel misplaced and unbalanced, because their purpose in life has been untapped for ages.

The aliens beg him to consider their offer. Turns out there isn’t much keeping him on earth-no family, few friends, hates his work. It might be an amazing adventure! They can even bring him back to Earth, if he desires. Or he can explore the universe with them. They assure him that there are many other planets of (ushers, so he will have lots of company. They will reward him if he signs on.

He begins to feel at ease with them. He sympathizes with their plight. He wishes he could help.

But he still protests. He has no idea how to “push” a spaceship.

They guide him to his post. “Just try,” they plead.

The last sentence? “Slowly, the ship began to move.”

I’ve never found that story since, and I have no idea who wrote, or when. But every time I think of it, a little shiver goes through my heart.

Now, I don’t really believe that my main purpose in life is to push a spaceship. At least, I’d hate to give up my art and my writing to even push a car. (Now, if they had needed someone to hunt-and-gather lovely objects from thrift shops, beaches and antique stores…..)

But I love the concept that there are reasons for us to be here, even if we cannot always see the reasons, or understand them.

I love that this story is one way of explaining that.

And I love that even if we don’t think we know how to Push, it is in our nature to recognize when we need to Push.

I know when I finally stepped up to being an artist, something in my life began to move.

I know when I overcame my fears and became a martial artist, something in my life shook loose.

I know when I realized I was not too old to learn how to ride a horse, something in my life became richer.

I know when I became a hospice volunteer, something in my heart expanded.

Now it’s California. I don’t know what that’s about yet. I think I know, but I really don’t.

But I know when it’s time to Push, I will.

P.S. I just found the story! (I love the interweb….) It’s called “Specialist” by Robert Sheckely, and was published in 1953–one year after I was born!

HERO’S JOURNEY part deux: Answering the Call

We’re still moving to California. But things have slowed down.

Well. Not really. Jon originally said we would be gone by winter. We got a little carried away by the thought we might make it much, much sooner. Then life through us a few hiccups which I won’t go into because I’ll start whining again. Some of the hiccups are major. Some are wicked hard. But none have changed our original goal–to be outta here before the snow flies and the ice slides again.

In our initial enthusiasm, we blabbed and bubbled a lit-tul too much. So now, when people see us here in Keene, they exclaim, “You’re still here?!”.
It’s embarrassing, but inevitable. We feel perhaps we’ve outstayed our welcome.

And of course, now I’m working my way through my studio, picking things to keep, slowly sorting things to sell or donate or give away. Couches are replaceable. A printer’s type tray chest is not easily replaced. But it’s not easily moved either.

One of my TWO chests of printer's type tray/drawers. And the box of creepy doll heads.
One of my TWO chests of printer’s type tray/drawers. And the box of creepy doll heads.

And slowly, understandably, our dream of California is fading. It’s hard to remember what set us on fire to move, as the reality sets in: living in a stripped-down home, packing up box after box of books, winter clothing, art supplies and sorting through a lifetime’s collection of wonderful knickknacks.

Last Friday, I wrote Hero’s Journey, sharing how a friend’s words of wisdom got me back on track. A few days ago, I found my own words of wisdom to describe where we’re at.

We went to California, as we had so many times before. We’ve always enjoyed it. But we never felt we could live there. We had so many reasons why it wasn’t possible: The traffic, the density of people, the sky-high cost of housing.

This time, it was different. It created a powerful sense of yearning that I couldn’t ignore, and couldn’t forget.

Weeks later, when Jon shared he felt the same way as I did, I felt a rush of joy. I realized we had BOTH heard the call. And we could both choose to answer it.

That’s it. That’s what all this life upheaval is about.

Only afterwards did we layer our choice with explanations and rationalizations. Yes, it’s the chance of a lifetime for both of us to reboot–professionally, physically, emotionally.

When people challenge you about your decision (“Are you crazy?? Why would you ever want to leave here?!”), they will accept that your husband needs to do it for his work. And that he needs it for his mental health. (Seasonal affective disorder and the Northeast climate do not mix. Trust me on this.)

We eventually grew quite a list of excellent reasons why we needed to do this. I could rattle them off right now for you. But this is all you really need to know:

We heard the Call.

And we are answering it.

The first time I heard the Call in my life, I felt like a great wave had engulfed me (in a good way.) It was a clarion call to take up my art, and assume my place in the world. I answered with my full intention, with my heart and soul.

The times I’ve heard it since, I’ve done the same. I answered. I acted, with my full intention.

I have never, EVER regretted it.

Each time it has opened a door in my life. When I walk through, everything falls into place. When I look back, I see miracles and angels. Sometimes, I have to “lie down in a dark room” for a bit, because it is so powerful.

My only regret? The one time I ignored it. It was “too hard”, “too far away”, and I “didn’t have the time.”

That’s it. It’s that simple.

We heard the Call. And all our intentions are focused on answering it.

How do you tell it from an ordinary whim? From an ordinary “post-vacation buzz?”

I don’t know what to tell you. Except that maybe vacations are trying to tell us something, and we’ve simply gotten used to ignoring them.

We didn’t want to come home.

Because suddenly, wonderfully, we already were.