LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

Sometimes dark times help us see the light within.

(7 minute read)

 

It’s a dreary day today.

Rain. (Not much light in the studio on days like this.) Chilly. (Get the wool socks out again!) Frustrating in the smallest detail (our greediest little cat successfully snagged all the food our frail senior cat, despite me sitting two feet away–again!)

I’m almost out of cream for my coffee, a promised check from a customer has yet to arrive, I just saw how much I spent “stocking up” on supplies last month (YIKES!), and there seems to be no end in sight for you-know-what-I’m-talkin’-about.

I’m down down down with a problematic health issue that literally appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago, and there’s no end in sight there, either. A family member lost their job last month, tempers are stretched, and sitting on the porch in the evening has turned into a yak-fest with complete strangers, as everyone is desperate to talk with anyone else. My studio is a mess, I’ve lost interest in going to it, and I just want to huddle under the covers all day, with a cat or two to snuggle with. (NOT YOU, GREEDY BEAN!)

And yet, as I sit here listing the downers, I’m ashamed. Ashamed of focusing on what is wrong while choosing blatantly to recognize what is good.

We are okay-for now. That’s all we can count on, all any of us can count on. No one in our family has Covid-19 (though I would argue a kidney stone is almost as scary, but at least it’s only affecting me!) Some family members are far away, but they are okay, too.

We have what we need: Food, shelter, silly pets to amuse us (EXCEPT FOR YOU, BEAN YOU BAD GIRL), plenty of TV shows and movies to catch up to, and working internet for work, connection, entertainment, information.

It’s not as cold as New Hampshire right now (NO SNOW!! YES!!) And we really need the rain, so complaining about it seems pretty petty.

As our world feels smaller and more cramped, it’s tempting to compare it to what we had, and what others have, that we do not.

And yet, this weird time has also opened my eyes to a huge truth we all “know”, but never really believed:

All those people who have more-than-us, in every sense, are still people just like us.

I’m talking about the people who live in huge mansions, bigger than every house I’ve ever lived in put all together, who still complain how bored they are.

I’m talking about the famous people we admire, whether they be saints or sinners, movie stars and music stars, the people with fame and fortune we secretly aspire to be, with our own creative work.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have people clamoring for our work? What would it be like to name any price on our art, and get it? Being in that prestigious gallery who would do all that hateful marketing/promoting/selling for us-and we just get a check sent to us, every month?

What would it be like to walk the red carpet, to accept that award, to give that speech, to have people clamoring for our attention, to have thousands, millions of people hanging on our every word?

There are three things that bring me back to my own world this morning:

  • I’m rereading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and reminding myself why being famous has its own dark side.
  • Complaining about the rain when we desperately NEED the rain, right now, reminds me that I may be the center of my own universe, but I’m not the center of anyone else’s. There are far worse situations to be in than mine, health issues not-withstanding, and rather than complaining, maybe I should be looking at ways to help others who are much, much worse off.
  • Famous, successful people are just people like us, with (usually) better haircuts, makeup, and clothes.

As we watch our ‘stars’ perform in their homes, without all the props and makeup that make them look almost inhumanly beautiful, we see them for who they are: People like us.

As we watch them deliver their routines without an audience, we see how hard it is to get that ‘lift’ that comes from an appreciative audience’s response (laughter and cheers).

As we watch them sing, we note that though most do have terrific voices, it’s also obvious who has gained by having a lot of support behind them: Great venues to perform in, back-up singers, sound mixers, amps, etc.

Famous people are just people, perhaps with nicer homes, better support, more money, more options. But they are still just people, as fragile and frustrated as we are, and sometimes dealing with more crap and actual threats to their safety, too.

As we watch how other people handle the current shelter-in-place orders (or how they DON’T handle them), we understand that every person feels put-upon in their own unique way. Everyone is suffering. As a fellow writer exclaimed years ago, “It’s like we’re all on the same lake in a different boat!” And some people don’t even have a boat….

Here’s the gift of being an artist today:

We don’t need to be famous to have an audience for our work.

We don’t need an audience in front of us to make our work.

We don’t need the approval of others to make our work.

With the internet, we don’t need the acceptance by a specific gallery to share our work with the world.

We don’t necessarily need to make a living at our art, to have it in our lives.

In the end, we are just people. People who have a knack, or talent, or skill, whether it’s an innate sense of color and design, or simply perseverance and the desire to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

We’re people who found a way to have a voice in the world, and we are allowed to use it.

We’re people who, when we make the work of our heart, find we can actually lift the hearts of others, too. IF we share it.

All this ‘marketing-speak’ boils down to this: It’s just a way to get our art-and story–in front of others, without spending very much money, with a certain amount of time and effort, with a camera/smartphone, and access to the internet. That’s all.

And in the midst of all this, though I woke up feeling physically and emotionally down-trodden, just writing this has lifted my heart a little.

Just thinking about my own superpower-the ability to make something that looks like it might be 10,000 years old, with its own mystery and yearning, with a substance that’s only three or four decades old, that only needs a little oven to ‘cure’; the ability to write down my thoughts, to consider my current state-of-mind and ask “why so sad?” and to count my blessings; the self-knowledge that if I go to my studio today, I will definitely find some small but comforting feeling of “I can do this; all of these come from my art-making, my own Throne of Iron. Er…plastic.

I just realized I’m not mad at Bean anymore, either.

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

Today, I can listen to all those little voices, the ones that want to keep me safe by keeping me small, frightened, caring too much what other people think, too worried about a future I cannot see nor control.

Or I can listen to my mighty heart, which knows what I can control and what I can’t, and to embrace the former while acknowledging and letting go of the latter.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which has always known “Not everyone will be a fan” and yet persevere, with what matters to me.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which whispers, “Be the artist you were always meant to be”, and be grateful I know how powerful this truly is. To have the ability, and the power, to choose this.

If we are quiet, if we listen to our heart today, accepting the “no”, but reaching for the “yes”, what would be possible today?

What is getting YOU through these confusing, trying times? Share your happy place in the comments! I’d love to hear them. But even more important….

There may be someone on the other side of the globe that needs to hear what you have to say, today. Right now.

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

Random Thoughts Make a Tiny Miracle During Shelter-in-Place

I’ve made more little critters than ever!I’m sharing a tiny gift I’ve found in this hot mess.

Bear with me, because it comes from a bunch of random issues, problems, frustrations, idle research on the internet, and resulted in my new-found work enhancer.

First: All my life, from the very first 45rpm record I bought (“Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds), I love to play a favorite tune over and over and over. (I can hear some of you screaming already…)

Also, when I am writing, or even reading, I can’t listen to music with words. It just jangles the connections in my brain. Soon I’m singing along, not aware that I’ve also stopped reading/writing.

So I can’t listen to lyrics during those activities. Put a pin there.

More on music: I have a CD player in my studio. Old school, I know. I also have Pandora radio, and I tried to use that, especially because CDs only give 45 minutes to an hour of playtime. I got the internet radio because my husband has had one for years. How many years? Let’s just say it’s a century in “internet years.”

Because he’s used it so long, it now automatically plays even random music that suit his tastes. Mine, not so much. I tried searching for artists, songs, music genres, etc. But it never complied anything I could listen to for more than five minutes.

So I quit using it, and went back to my CD player. At least I can play discs of music I love and have collected over the years.

But there were problems there, too. First, as I said earlier, I’m one of those obnoxious people, the ones who fall in love with a song, and play it over and over and over and over and over until everyone around me wants to scream.  (Have you stopped yet?) (I have my reasons why, but I won’t bore you with them today.) (Unless you ask, of course.) 🙂

So I have to constantly hit “replay”, which means I have to push a button every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Or constantly skip over the songs that annoy me.

I worry about driving my neighbors crazy, especially in my “one-song-repeat-a-thousand-times” mode. (Put a pin here, too.)

Also, I’m in a huge building with dozens of other artists. We all have our individual workspaces, and fortunately, we don’t share air systems or even heating ducts. (No heat.) But I can hear their conversations from time to time, off-key whistled accompaniments to their own music, etc.

I ended up wearing ear plugs, which work great. But now I can’t hear my music, right?

If I play my music loud enough so I can’t hear them, it’s actually TOO loud (because the ear buds don’t fit.) And if I play my music loud enough so I can hear it no matter where I sit in their studio, well, then I’m bugging THEM.

And after the shut-down orders came, I was a little stressed even in my happy creative space. It was harder than usual to focus and dig into my projects.

Put a pin there.

Around the same time, I was complaining to my husband how all my ear buds suck, because a) I can’t get them inserted adequately to get the best sound unless I hold them in place, which is not conducive to doing my art work because I NEED MY HANDS TO WORK; and b) they hurt my ears.

So he gave me his old headset, an inexpensive refurbished model he’d bought for his work’s online conferences, but never used because it didn’t have a microphone.

I love them. The sound is great, they are comfortable, and I can plug into my phone, tuck my phone in a pocket, and move about the studio easily. (Before, I would forget I was “plugged in”, jump up from one work station to move to another, and nearly destroy my phone and everything on my desk in the process.) (Pin!)

A couple months ago, I found a delightful little video by Ainslie Henderson online. I can’t for the life of me remember how.  I think someone posted it on Facebook?

I fell in love with it. He mentions how his little animated figures carry a bit of sadness, and when the little one pulls at the arm of a larger one who’s stilled already at 2:00 minutes into the video, I felt that.

I also fell in love with the music. When I looked up more of his film shorts, I saw how he has collaborated with various musicians over the years.

So I looked up Poppy Ackroyd, who did the music for that little video, and found more of her music. Her work sounds simple, but it’s also complex. How she makes it and puts it together is astonishing.

Then I realized I can “sample” Ackroyd’s album “Leaves”, which has three of my favorite songs on it: “Salt”, “Timeless”, and “Roads”.

They have NO WORDS.

They are hypnotic.

They repeat, in order, over and over and over.

No pushing buttons. No being tied to a three-foot leash. No noise to bother my neighbors. No noise to bother me.

And now I’m hooked.

I get to my studio, set up my phone for Acroyd’s playlist, put on my headphones, and get to work.

I work steadily for hours on end, happy, heart-lifted, and soothed.

All these elements and issues combined and resolved by a $14 headset, and….

A beautiful collaboration between visual artist and music artist.

I never would have found Henderson’s work without surfing on Facebook, which can be a huge time-waster and a hotspot for fake news, etc.

I never would have found Poppy Acroyd’s music without finding Ainslie Henderson’s video.

I never would have found Poppy’s music if they had not collaborated.

I never would have found such a powerful way for me to get deep into the ‘Zone’ without my husband’s suggestion of using a headset.

Today I’m going to send some money to Poppy Ackroyd. I figure I owe it to her.

And I am so grateful all these random little elements, missteps, personal quirks, etc., came together and gave me just what I need right now to reinforce my creative work time.

What have you found that helps you get into that deep creative space that’s so important for our work?

P.S.  Another earworm you might enjoy: Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Emmy Lou Harris collaborating on “Speedway at Nazareth“. (Headphones or whatever gives you the best sound quality. Worth it!)

P.S.S. I was going to apologize for dragging you through tons of “little bits” that all came together to tell a story. Until I realized this is the heart of all my creative work. Little bits that get sewn/knit together, all carrying something intriguiging to me, with lots of tiny details, braided into a story that lifts my heart.

I hope it lifted yours today, to

Lots of braided stories in this new series, too!

o.

The Gift of Color

This little work of art taught me so much about color.

Today I found a little mixed media art pin in my “treasure trove”, aka “Luann’s Big Pile O’Stuff”.

I can’t remember when or where I bought it, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an art/craft show. A gift shop or gallery, maybe?? It’s signed “Joan Considine” on the back, and “winter ’95/’96”.

At this time, I was on the cusp of stepping up to my art career. I was a) making doll quilts and fabric toys for my kids; b) knitting sweaters for my kids; c) making beaded jewelry; d) buying odd/broken bits of vintage jewelry from thrift shops and antique stores, and reworking them in new, refurbished pieces; 3) buying odd fabrics at thrift shops and antique stores and embroidering them into Victorian-style “crazy quilted” Christmas stockings; and f) beginning to work with polymer clay. I was beginning to rethink these “individual” craft categories, using polymer to make buttons for quilts, adding beads to the mix, and expanding my ideas about jewelry. A sea change was coming!

I have never liked some of the more popular color combinations. Pink and purple, for example, or magenta and teal together. They just seemed too…exuberant?…for my taste. I still shudder when I browse through the Sundance catalog at the jewelry pieces that combine lapis, coral, rose quartz, amethyst, and labradorite. It just feels like a riot of color to me.

When I started making art quilts with my little faux ivory horses, I actually stuck with the actual cave art palette, too. Rust, red and yellow ochre, black, brown, white. I wanted to be true to the real history of these cavees echoed in my work. And when I began to make jewelry with the same theme, I limited myself to this same palette, too.

But one day, as I was browsing my old college art history books, I remembered lapis was a pretty popular color with artists throughout history. I thought, “I bet if those artists had had access to blue, they would have used it!” That was my first step outside of the “rules” I’d followed. I realized my work, to be truly mine, had to have authenticity and a mystery of its own.

And yet, I still resisted using purple, even though its cultural heritage as a hue was almost as deep as those other “authentic” colors.

And then this little pin showed up.

What’s so special about it?

Hmmmm….the subtle beauty of the artist’s use of color.

This is a rectangle of good-quality matboard or cardboard (the deep muted gradient purple), a layer of heavy paper painted slate blue, and three smaller rectangles stacked, of olive green. The beads reflect these colors perfectly, with subtle jumps: Deep indigo, steel blue, olive, deep plum, taupe. And the beads are beautifully stacked, with subtle but balanced combinations in color and shape. Even the jump rings that attach the dangles to the pin are deep blue. And the two largest round beads are hung separately, a dangle on the dangles.

So. Color. Gradient. Complementary hues muted to work with each other in a way that doesn’t jar. Beaded structure. Movement. Subtle sheens in paint and bead coatings to play with light.

My studio supplies–fabric, beads (glass and gemstone), paints–now reflect almost every color of the rainbow, though similar to this pin. No neons, except to mix with other colors to get a little “pop”.) I’ve gotten past “matchy-matchy” and strive for “look how this color makes that one sing!” I still prefer a warm palette.

I still don’t like “color riots”, and I still prefer colors that play well together.

But now I do use blue.

The last few days have reminded me of that fateful day in 2001, the day I questioned why I even bothered with my art, making something as meaningless as “little plastic horses.”

And like that day, not only am I restored to myself by making my art, and hearing from others that my words and work have helped them, I can’t help thinking about this jewelry artist. I can’t find them online, and so have no way of knowing them or their work.

But their little paper pin has brought beauty and joy into my life for over 25 years. It helped me step outside my (color) box comfort zone. It broadened my horizons, and still I marvel at it today.

Know that what we do, whatever creative work that’s in us, is important. Not just to us, but to someone else out there in this wide, sometimes scary, often jaw-droppingly beautiful and kind world. Someone who will be inspired by what we do. Encouraged by what we do, or say. Someone who will find solace and/or joy in our music, our dance, our designs, our gardens, our words, our vision.

Whatever is in us that heals us, will heal someone else.

Do your work, and know that it is a gift to the entire world.

Do your work, and get it out into the world.

Do your work, because it is yours, and this is why this gift was given to you.

Some work still calls for those “old colors”.
My son loved the color orange when he was young, and I grew to love it, too!

 

Little Daily Miracles

Sometimes, teaching others actually educates ourselves.

I’ve been answering a lot of questions on Quora lately. (Quora is a place to ask questions, find answers, and write answers.) Mostly on blogging, for some reason.

Most of them are pretty annoying. “How do I make money from my blog?” “How can drive people to my blog posts?” Some are so vague, I don’t even know what they’re asking. So I skip most of these. I don’t try to make money from my blogging anymore, it gets to weird. (Of course, I would never refuse money!) (Seriously, go buy something from me on Etsy if you want to support my work.)

But sometimes, I see that someone really does need a tiny bit of encouragement to do the work they yearn to do. Those I’m a sucker for!

Only a couple of answers have gotten serious upvotes, but I’m still grateful for even one upvote. Just like I used to swoon over a single “like” in my blog’s comments section. (Actually, I still do!)

But here’s the upside:

It gives me a chance to encourage people to do the work of their heart.

It gives me a chance to actually write something.

And now I realize I can simply repost some of these answers as blog posts.

So, for today, here’s a Quora post answer I answered today, with a link to a poem I wrote years ago that actually made me tear up. I’d forgotten about it!

Enjoy!

Question: How do you gain inspiration to write in your blog each week?

Answer:

I pay attention to anything that catches my interest. Especially anything I realize I’m STILL thinking about.

There are a jillion things going on around us, every day, if only we paid attention to them. In fact, there’s so much going on, our brains have evolved to limit our attention. (One reason why LSD creates powerful “trips”. We are suddenly aware of everything which is amazing, overwhelming, and potentially scary.)

The trick is is make a note of these “interest catchers”, and think about why they caught our attention. (In fact, “why” is often the start of all my inspirations!)

This is why I have such odd series on my own blog. “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer” when I realized people ask odd questions when they are interested in my work at art fairs, and how to respond without getting angry and taking offense (which shuts down that connection.) “Lessons from the Gym”, where I overhear the physical therapy staff engaging with their clients. “Lessons from Hospice”, where I share the insights I gained in my five years as a hospice volunteer. “Life With Pet”, where I realized that accepting the foibles of silly pets teach me how to be a better human. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The other big suggestion I have is, when you find these little, daily sources of inspiration, write them down. I keep a couple very small notebooks with me at all times, but sometimes I just use my phone to email myself. Maybe it would be even more efficient to keep them all in one notebook. (See that? I just inspired myself to do it better!)

There are great things to be found in tiny places, if we take the time to look.

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Gathering very small pebbles at Point Reyes is still one of my favorite, most soothing pastimes.

MY HANDS

This article originally appeared on my first blog site, Radio Userland, on October 27, 2004. Two things astonish me: 1) I don’t remember writing it, and I love it even more today. 2) I sound like Seth Godin

My Hands
I wrote a book on stamp carving for Lark Books a couple years ago. The oddest thing about the process was when it came time to do the photos for the how-to pages. The editor had me fly in to Asheville, NC to do the shots, and my hands would be in every photo.It was exciting, in a way, but stressful. I became very conscious of my hands and how they looked. They are very capable hands, but they certainly aren’t youthful-looking anymore!

For a full month before the shoot, I took extra good care of my hands. I tried not to chew on hangnails, I used hand lotion every day and beeswax every night. I scrupulously did cuticle care. I used tools instead of my fingers and avoided situations where a nail could be broken.

I remarked to my sister how important taking care of my hands had become. She told her husband later and he exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s like that Seinfeld episode!” (Apparently George gets a chance to be a hand model and my obsession was mild compared to his.) Life, indeed, imitates art.

But my world got very small for that month. Every action and opportunity was considered for how it would affect my hands. It was a relief when the shoot was over and I could return to my normal, active, haphazard lifestyle again.

Why am I writing about hands today?

It occurs to me that we need to be careful of giving too much focus to anything that makes our world smaller.

Whether it’s our physical self, our emotional self, our spiritual self, our professional self, we need the focus that allows us to put our time and energy into our highest priority.

But in return, that investment should make our lives bigger somehow. It should enable us to connect more powerfully to the world, through our art, through our actions, through our relationships with other people.

After all, the book got published because of me taking advantage of an opportunity offered by a book editor. And because I created a relationship with her. And because I carve good stamps and make good work. And because she knew she could count on me to do a good job writing the book. And even more importantly, she knew she could count of me to finish it.

I wasn’t chosen because of what my hands looked like, but because of what they can do.

  

LEARNING TO SEE

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

paintclassimageprimo

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!

WHAT WE LOST: Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks
Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

What We Lost

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

(8 minute read) 

I had a great idea for this week’s column. “Had”, not have. Because….where do I start??

Six months ago, I tried to clear my computer of old emails, because Google said I was “out of storage space.” My husband said it’s mostly photos that take up most of the space, so at first I only deleted emails with images already stored on my computer.

But the numbers didn’t go down much, so I began to delete more and more. At one point, my actions were moving so slowly, I thought I was doing it wrong, so I would hit “delete” several times before I’d see messages disappear. Which resulted in me accidentally deleting EVERY SINGLE EMAIL before 2018.

I didn’t think it would matter, until I realized a) that meant every single article I’ve sent to various magazines and online venues by email was also deleted; b) important conversations I wanted to refer back to were deleted; c) orders to companies for critical goods and services I only use every few years, were deleted.

Every week, there’s something I think of, and go, “Oh, I’ll search my email for that!” And then realize it’s gone, gone, gone.

Six weeks ago, I also got clarity on how to move forward with a project I’ve long carried in my heart. I needed to create my own “mounts” for displaying artifacts. I actually took an online class on mount-making for museum mounts just before we moved to California. I still have the book, I’m sure I saw it around that time, and went to look for it last week.

I can’t find it anywhere. I looked at home. Nope. I thought maybe I took it to the studio, but can’t find it there, either. I searched all my storage space at home. Nada. So I looked for it online, but it’s out of print. And Bookfinder.com, which usually comes to the rescue, only showed the folks that sell out-of-print books for thousands of dollars. I thought, “Oooh, I could search my emails for the rich conversations I had with my online teacher!” Then remembered….Oh, poo.

About that great idea for this column. I wrote it down, as is my habit, in my notebook, where I write down everything I need to remember: chores, appointments, commitments, insights, and yes, ideas for columns. I typically get 2-4 months of entries in each one, so that’s how much time is represented in each one.

Last Friday, I lost that notebook. I’ve searched high and low for it, even home, studio, storage. I’ve looked under furniture, car seats, inside backpacks packed for the fire evacuation, etc. I even called places I visited that day, asking if anyone has seen it or turned it in.

I feel like my brain is breaking!

And my biggest fear: This is a metaphor for the biggest fear for many of us, as we age, the loss of our memory. Scary stuff!

But is that the best metaphor?

Are we living computers, with memory that prevails for ages until injuries or conditions take them away? Is everything we “remember” even true? Are all our judgments and decisions that important over time?

Even as I wrote that, I looked once more on Bookfinder.com for the book, and found a copy that was affordable.

I visited a great hardware store that sold the brass rods I need to make those mounts, bringing samples and images of what I needed them for. A customer service rep assured me that making my own L hooks would be time-consuming, and there was an easier way to make those mounts with glue.

Yes, I miss the emails, still. But the articles aren’t actually “gone”, because they are somewhere in my documents file, even though it’s increasingly hard to find them. I will always regret some of the wonderful email conversations I’ve enjoyed over the years, but the healing, wisdom, and care I received from those are still with me.

And of course our most recent experience with our California wildfires helps put this all into perspective…..

The Kinkade fire was similar to the Tubbs fire in 2017 that destroyed 5% of the homes in Santa Rosa, except it wasn’t. Winds were less sustained, fire crews had more support, and they learned from the Tubbs fire. Almost 3,000 homes (over 5,000 buildings) burned in the Tubbs fire. Only 150 homes were lost in the Kinkade fire. There was more information available, because the lessons learned from 2017. Still not perfect, but a lot better. And most important? 22 people died in the Tubbs fire. The Kinkade fire? Zero.

This time, we had more time to think about what to take and what to leave behind, should we have to evacuate. I found it harder to leave my studio than our home!

These losses, real and imagined, concrete and anticipated, all sit in my heart today. Here are the gifts I’ve found there:

It’s hard for us to think about our unsold work, especially if it tends to outnumber our SOLD work. But at least it will go somewhere. It might sell after we pass, it may be gifted, it may be found in antique galleries and thrift shops, or heck, a yard sale! But that’s still better than having it all destroyed, for all time.

I’m frustrated at all the information I lost in that notebook. But I can find some of the more vital information (for taxes, etc.) I usually have a separate notebook for my more emotional/spiritual/blorting writing, and I still have all those! In fact, as I came across them while searching for my last journal, I’ve been pulling them out of storage and rereading them. My favorite so far is the year I recorded every funny thing my kids said. So many things I did not remember, until I read them again! So many setbacks and recoveries. So many problematic people for me to complain about, and so much insight gained on some, from good people.

The self-doubt I thought was new? Turns out I’ve had it since I took up my art! Yes, I was fearless in practice. But I still had to write my way to that place of power, over and over and over.

It was poignant to reread all my “biggest visions” and dreams I had for my art, that seem pretty small compared to the ones I’ve made in the last few months. Maybe I’ll surprise myself again, with even bigger ones!

It was empowering to read of the “dream galleries” I yearned to be accepted by, and so I get to contemplate the ones that worked out, and the ones that didn’t –and why.

We tend to think our lives, and our art career, as constantly moving forward, building and growing, or, if we’ve lost hope, stalled and pointless, when in reality there are peaks and valleys, profits and loss, insights and changes-of-heart, every step of the way.

Some of the things that felt like enormous roadblocks at the time, I usually referred to as “that incident”, or initials (if a person), and I can’t even remember who or what those were! They felt monumental at the time (and were!) And that stuff still happens, and will continue to happen. Hopefully, I will continue to move past them, and maybe even forget these, too.

And in the last year, several dear friends from my artistic path have popped up on my radar. No need to have those email conversations from decades ago! We now have new ones to savor and cherish.

That great idea I had for a column? It will either pop again, or it will be lost forever. No matter. Losing it inspired me to write this one instead.

I have a lot of unsold work in my studio. No matter! If it’s still around after I die, somebody will enjoy it, somehow. (I tell my kids how to manage my art and supplies when I’m gone: Give everybody a big bag to fill and charge them $250. They’ll make a mint!)

Even trying to jot down every idea, inspiration, question, isn’t proof against forgetting something, even something important.

Every day we will overlook an opportunity to get better, do better, find better, help better.

 And every day, we will find a new one.

As you make the work of your art, know that we can never be completely in control of our hopes, our thoughts, our intentions, our efforts.

We can only do our best. Because we are only human. Imperfect, inefficient, bad memories, displaced anger, trying to see our path in a firestorm of life events. 

It’s our greatest flaw, and our greatest super power.  Especially because we are artists, makers, creatives, constantly striving to use our work to have our say in the world, to tell our story, in ways that are good for the world. 

Embrace it! Go to the studio today, and make something that brings you joy.

And hold on to your dreams. Even one small step today will bring you closer to their fruition. You won’t know until you try.

If you enjoyed this today, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it, too!

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