Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Muse in Hyper-drive

Lately the muse has been filling my head so full of ideas I’m getting nothing done. Well, that’s not exactly true – I’m just not accomplishing as much as I’d like to. But I’m sure if I had a realistic idea of how long things were going to take me, I’d probably be too overwhelmed to bother. Nothing like hope and possibilities to keep you going.
This afternoon John and David moved my perforator out to the garage. I want more room to paint and a 300 lb perforator takes up a lot of studio space. So I guess we have another satellite art room going again because David has a worktable and his glass-making supplies out there too. (To fit everyone in for Christmas lunch and dinner, I had to abandon the dining room a few months ago).
But I don’t want to leave my perforator in the garage over the winter. I would be really uncomfortable using it out there, and it might rust. My perforator is 137 years old and I feel like its steward (or stewardess), so this has given me the incentive to clear out a spot for it in the basement. But my heart quails at having to tidy up down in the black hole. I freak every time I look at all the stuff we have. To be honest, 80 per cent of the stuff is mine. Do I have the guts to get tough with myself? I guess I’ll have to…and pronto.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Yesterday afternoon I spent several hours trying to tidy up my workroom so I actually have space to paint. I wish I could just twitch my nose like Samantha in Bewitched and presto-change-o everything would be organized intelligently and ready to go. But how do you do that when you have way too much stuff in the first place?
On Friday night, Mary and Carmi were talking about the same problem. Carmi moved her studio space and it’s taken her way longer to get things together than she thought it would. She has my sympathy. Three and a half years ago I spent several months sorting everything out and getting rid of tons of things I didn’t need – just like Carmi. If I hadn’t bought any more supplies in the meantime, I’d be okay now. But of course that’s not what actually happened.
Instead I’ve continued to collect more stuff and to wedge it into whatever space is available. While I basically have a place for everything and I’ve trained myself to keep things reasonably tidy, I’m starting to feel claustrophobic…especially now that I’ve started piling stuff on the floor. (Someone told me recently that it’s not a good sign when you go the floor route…it has something to do with your mind being too cluttered). I could solve the problem by putting up more shelves, but then it would feel like I’m working in a storeroom. Yes, it’s definitely time for another big merge and purge, but I have too much to do right now. I’ll just have to grit my teeth and focus.

Friday, May 26, 2006

My Art Apron

Our art club is tonight and I can’t wait to see what everyone has done with the bottle bib. When I saw it, I didn’t have a clue what to do. But this challenge really proves that given a task and a deadline virtually anything can be transformed.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, my idea for this project was fueled by a dream. It doesn’t look anything like the image I saw, but the basics are there: an apron on a torso. At first I was going to use a bottle, but then I remembered that I had this miniature dressmaker’s form and thought it might work.
What I was after with the bib was a kind of record of the mess you make when you’re painting something. A few years ago I took this great workshop at the Japanese Paper Place where we painted on washi. I had some leftover scraps that had a fabricy feel, and I decided to collage those onto the bib. But it looked too minimalist even for my tastes, so I added the painted head and wings.
Looking at it now, I can see this image is a kind of cross between Winged Victory and what I imagine to be the spirit behind the apron a Mason wears. I’ve always liked the idea that making art is like belonging to a secret society. You just keep working away at it and eventually everything starts to come into focus.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

We’re Back!

I took this picture of John with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop and sandwiched it with a photo of one of the many amazing buildings we saw in Boston. It’s hard to get back into the groove after having such a great time together.
On the way down we hit a snag at U.S. Customs. They took our passports and John had to be fingerprinted and photographed because he’s still a British citizen. He’s says this experience has given him the incentive to finally become a Canadian.
Fortunately the rest of the trip went smoothly. Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was one of the high points. Built around a courtyard, the museum is crammed with tapestries, sculptures, paintings, old letters, books and furniture. There’s so much to discover. The jumble of styles and artifacts is eccentric and overwhelming, not like the galleries we’re both used to that’s for sure.
I loved the Renaissance paintings in particular…Boticelli, Titan and Raphael, as well as several artists from that time period I’d never heard of. There was a spectacular Rembrandt self-portrait there too. I’ve never been a big fan of his paintings, even though I’d read that he used multiple layers of glazes to get his skin tones just right. But then again, I’d never actually seen a Rembrandt in the flesh so to speak. It’s not easy to describe how powerful this painting really is. The best I can do is to say that it just shimmered.
While waiting for the “T’ a couple of days later, we had another cool experience. A guy – well, more like a dude really with all his belongings in a shopping cart – started singing that old Smokey Robinson song Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, and he was just fantastic…really belting it out with plenty of soul. Everyone was ignoring him, but they couldn’t help hearing him. I kept waiting for someone to make a move and give him some money, so finally I walked on over and gave him a dollar. Fortunately this started the ball rolling and I think he did pretty well. I keep thinking about him though. He obviously had talent, but why was he homeless? I guess he took a wrong turn somewhere, but then again so many of us do.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Packing Angst

Nothing gets me gnarlier than packing for a trip. I think it all stems from those childhood summer vacations when I had to cut back on what I wanted to take because we were a family of six traveling in one car.
Here’s what really bugs me about packing:
Making decisions. How do I know what I’ll feel like wearing or reading when I get to where I’m going? For that matter, who knows what the weather will be like? (I learned this the hard way when I went to Vancouver in August – and it was freezing).
Finding clouds of dog hair in my suitcase. I know, I know, I should be a better housekeeper and give up my penchant for black.
Worrying about my dog. Lily has followed me around all day today. She knows something is up. In fact, she’s staring at me now with big haunted eyes. I’m waiting for her to start howling. That just wrenches my heart.
Looking for stuff. While I’m hunting around I come across all sorts of things that I haven’t finished, and I feel guilty about going away.
Losing stuff. I’ve been to Boston seven times. I have a fabulous map and all sorts of info. But where is it? Why did I set up a fancy cross-referenced filing system if I can’t even stick to it?
Housecleaning. Even though I’m a slob, I hate coming back to a messy house. Today this involved scrubbing the bathtub…the number one housecleaning job I hate. I keep hoping someone else will understand how much I loathe doing this and take over. But so far, no luck.
It’s not all bad though. This time I’m traveling with John and we’re driving. His philosophy is that we just fill up the car with whatever we want to take and stop when it’s full.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Play Day

Even though I should have been working and getting organized to go to Boston, I took the day off and went to Toronto to play with Mary. We had a gas! Mary showed me how to layer acrylics on rice paper, and we used her fabulous hand-carved stamps. She knew I would love it, and I did. Now I have yet another addiction to deal with, but I’m rationalizing this one because these papers will be perfect for the mixed media paintings I’m itching to get to.
Mary also gave me a crash course in metal embossing. This is yet another technique I’d like to explore further. But how can I fit it all in? Is there any way I can add more time to my day-to-day life…kind of like adding an extension onto the house, or a trailer to the car? I doubt it. I think I’m looking at giving something up – top choices: cleaning, doing my taxes and weeding.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Analyzing Myself

I know I get way too obsessed about our art challenges. Once I’ve decided on the direction I want to go in, I can’t stop thinking about it. Why do I do this? It’s not that I’m competitive or need to be noticed. Most of the time I’m so immersed in my own little world that it’s a pleasure to step out of it and discover what other artists are doing – or more accurately, when I see how creative the other members of the club are, it enlarges my world and makes it full of possibilities.
No, I think my problem is that I’m too task-oriented. After being self-employed for so many years, I’m geared to deadlines and pushing myself forward to meet them. Once I know what my approach is, I want to focus all my energy on finding out what the end point will be. Instead of researching our trip to Boston next week, which is really more of a priority, I’m making sketches and endlessly digging through boxes of fabric, embellishments and paint. This time I’m trying to control my inclination to complicate things by reminding myself: “What is it that I’m really trying to express here?”

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dream Art

From time to time I’ll have a dream about art. But last night I actually had two. In the first one, I dreamt about a cabinet card that had no image. As I looked at it, a face slowly materialized and I recognized her. It was one of the cabinet cards I’d bought in Seattle, so I had to play with it today. The problem is that it’s difficult to recreate the feeling you had in the dream state. At best you get an approximation. But usually you end up with something completely different – like I did with this image of Maxine. (I’m calling her Maxine because the photographer was Max von Rudiger of Berlin).
If I hadn’t had this dream, I don’t think I would have altered Maxine. I wasn’t drawn to her, and the photograph isn’t a good one. Still, when an image calls to you, you have to respond. Now that it’s finished, I think I like the idea more than the result.The other dream I had was about our next challenge for the Extraordinary Art Club. Carmi assigned us a bottle cover to alter, and I haven’t had a clue what to do with it. For one thing, I’m not supposed to change the shape, so there goes my plan to bury it in plaster…my usual solution when I don’t know what to do with something. I’m also not that comfortable working with fabric. However, my dream presented me with an image I’m going to try and work with…an art fetish object. Not sure if I can pull it off though.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Lucy in the Sky

I’ve had a lot of trouble with Lucy. Not that I know what her real name is, but she reminds me of my great-aunt Lucy who was still mountain climbing well into her seventies. This Lucy must have been a feisty one too because she dug in her heels and wouldn’t let me alter her until I began listening to her. So as usual, it was what I took out that allowed me to finish Lucy, not what I was trying to put in.
One of the challenges of working with an image like this is wondering why anyone would part with it in the first place. Posing for a photographer was obviously a special occasion for Lucy. She’s wearing a lovely dress with a watch pinned to her bodice. Her hair is glossy and poufed…the expression on her face sweetly serene. When this picture was taken, Lucy was a real person with real thoughts and feelings. But somehow along the way she became anonymous. My task was to give her a new identity, and I hope she’s happy with what I did.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Why I don't get more done...

Here are my top ten time wasters:
  1. Sleeping in. Technically I’m not really doing this because I usually only sleep about six hours a night. But this may be why it takes me so long to get going in the morning.
  2. Emailing, calling and socializing with friends and family. Do I really need to talk to my sister nearly every day? Probably not, but I want to.
  3. Dealing with unexpected things that come up. Why does Lily always head for the living room carpet when she needs to throw up?
  4. Looking for things I can’t find. Yesterday John and I spent ages trying to find my black dye re-inker. He called me while I was out grocery shopping to tell me he thinks I might have left it at Mary’s. (How many weeks has the poor guy spent helping me find things over the years? And really, how can he stand it?)
  5. Not being decisive enough. I waste an incredible amount of time worrying about whether or not I’m making the right decision about something. Then when I finally do commit, I waste even more time obsessing about it afterwards.
  6. Being distracted by bright shiny objects. Or muted ones as the case may be. Life is so interesting; it’s hard to resist the lure of everything going on out there.
  7. Puttering. Personally I think the art of puttering is highly under rated. I get so many ideas leafing through books and rummaging through art supplies. If I had a dollar for every idea I’ve come up with, I’d be a millionaire.
  8. Staring at the wall, or whatever. This morning I lost a half an hour sitting on the back porch basking in the sunlight and drinking tea. Can’t remember what I was thinking about, but I did see a cardinal and admired my lilacs.
  9. Cooking and cleaning. Seriously, there are many people I know who do this so much better than me.
  10. Making lists like this one. I have lists of places I want to go, favorite books and movies, art techniques I want to try, novels I want to write, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. (Apparently making lists is not only a sign of being an oldest child, but also of Attention Deficit Disorder). What can I say? Today I’m thinking that who I really am is how I waste time.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

David & Art

Here is a photo of one of David’s glass bricks for sale at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery in Toronto. I love this piece because of the cuneiform alphabet etched into the glass. When light shines through the back you really feel like you’re looking into a window on the past.
On the way back from Mum’s birthday party last night, David and I got into an intense conversation about art. He told me he went through a long period of wondering whether or not he should be adding more objects to a world that already seemed to have too many. Then his friend Sally (also a glass artist) said she’d gone through a similar period of doubt herself. But she finally decided that doing art was her way of giving back what she was experiencing about life.
David also mentioned he finds it difficult to part with what he’s made. I know what he means. The pieces we create act as markers along the way. We like to have them around to fondle, to remind us that our ideas really can become tangible. I told David that I look on the pieces of art I make as children. One part of you wants them to stay and home and never leave you; the other part is anxious for them to spread their wings and explore all the possibilities. Fortunately there’s always a new child wanting to be born, so when we part with what we’ve already made, there’s more room in the creative nest for our ideas to grow.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Process of Journaling

I haven’t been doing much journaling lately, although I think my digital work is really a form of keeping track. If I arranged everything according to the date it was done, it would certainly present a visual record of what I was doing, thinking and learning.
For the last few days I’ve been reading The Creative License by Danny Gregory and it’s chock full of interesting exercises about drawing and journaling. He says: “Your journal shouldn’t be a dumping ground, but a place to create, recognize and celebrate beauty and joy, that which is in all things. It should be a friend you have a great time with, not a shoulder to whine on. Commemorate the positive. Eliminate the negative.”
Even though I’ve had marathon whining sessions in various journals I’ve kept over the years, I’d have to say the ones I treasure most are those where I really get deeply into my own creativity – and in particular, when I combine stamping and drawing.
I also find it inspiring to look at what other people do. Jeanne Schedler emailed me several pages from her most recent journal and I love the way she spontaneously incorporates what I’d refer to as high end doodles with her observations about things. Last night Susan Wilkie came over for a visit, and she showed me her process journal. I was intrigued by the way she makes no nonsense notes about techniques she wants to try and images she’s drawn to.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's Her Story?

On the shuttle to Artfest, I sat next to Maija Lepore. She told me about her article on altering cabinet cards in the latest issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. By a weird coincidence, I’d just bought a number of cabinet cards in Seattle the day before intending to alter them in Photoshop. Well, I finally got around to playing with one of the images today.
In her article, Maija mentions that the first thing she does is to ask herself what the story is behind the photograph. I didn’t do that…mine just sort of evolved. But now I’m thinking that it would be interesting to write a story about this mystery woman as evolution always has a purpose in mind.
The lotus flower suits “Margaret” because she has a contemplative expression. She’s dressed plainly too, so I’m thinking she might have had to earn her own living…hence the border of Pittman shorthand scanned from a Charles Dickens’ novella, The Battle of Life, that Mary gave me a few sheets from. I don’t have a clue what the story is about though. I read the first couple of paragraphs online, and all I can say is – it was obvious old Charles got paid by the word. (You work it, boy!) So now I have the beginning of Margaret’s story. Will it be a mystery? A metaphysical romance? Will I be interested enough to find out who she is and where she’s from?