Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How about a story?

"What do you do?", someone asked recently.
"I'm an artist", I replied.
"Oh, an artist! What KIND of artist?"
I smile. "I tell stories."
"Stories?" Confusion. "I thought you said you were an artist."
Still smiling, I explain: "I see the extraordinary in the ordinary and I tell their stories.

The Wind, the Wild Spring Daisies, and the Old Gnarled Tree

"Look at me! Look at me!"

One glorious spring day the wind was passing over the land, its touch first gently moving the grass then swirling around the leaves of the trees. It heard a noise at odds with the peacefulness of the day.

"Look at me! Look at me!" shouted a chorus of voices.

"Aren't I beautiful?" asked one voice.

"I'm just as beautiful," said another.

A shrill third voice cut in. "Well I am even more beautiful than any of you."

"We're ALL beautiful", sang the chorus again. "Look at me! Look at me! Look at US!"

"Who is making that racket?" The wind sighed, then moved in the direction of the noise. Cresting the hill the wind saw the source - wild spring daisies.

As the wind moved around the dancing flowers, they preened and swayed in a flamboyant greeting. "Hello Wind. You're making us dance. Aren't we beautiful? Look at us! Look at us!"

"Harrumph", replied the wind.

It was then that the wind noticed that the daisies were near an old friend, a twisted, gnarled tree that looked out over the river. While it is true the wind was as old as time and seldom even spoke to the creatures that lived on the land for such a short time, the tree had been there for so long that over the course of the months and years they had struck up a friendship.

Brushing up against its old friend in greeting, the wind grumpily asked, "Doesn't that noise bother you? As if they even matter. How long will they last? A few days? A week at the most. Yet listen to them, as if their beauty means anything."

The old tree chuckled and stretched its smaller limbs with the help of the wind's lift. "Ah, my old friend, leave them be. They make me smile."

"What?" The wind wailed. "How can they make you smile? All they think about is what they look like. Do they appreciate or even notice you? You who have been here longer than most, giving shelter and support to those who only think about how young and beautiful they are! They know nothing."

"Ah, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, my friend," replied the tree, stiffly stretching its limbs out over the grass. "It doesn't matter if they realize how we support and nurture them. It brings me joy and in return I get something of youth back from them. We compliment each other, even if they are too new at life to understand. You and I, my friend, we understand."

"But it will pass so quickly," argued the wind. "Next week there will be new wildflowers to take their place. Shouldn't we make them realize how inconsequential they are, compared to us?"

"How would that help us to be more?" asked the tree. "You are doing what you were created to do; you don't need someone to tell you that what you do is important. You know that it is. Just as I know that what I do is important. And, I get the pleasure of enjoying others doing what they were created to do, like our young friends over there, and even you, my old friend."

"How did you get to be so wise for such a young creature?" laughed the ageless wind as it tickled the old tree's branches and moved out across the river.

"Look at me! Look at me!" Came the shouts again a few days later.

The wind paused in its journey and went to visit the daisies. No, not the daisies. The wind saw that the daisies were already gone. In their place blue wildflowers were dancing, calling out, "Look at us, Wind. Aren't we beautiful?"

"Yes, you are, little flowers," the wind replied kindly, swirling around them helping them in their dance. "You are indeed."


10 1/2" x 14"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Building bridges

When I leave the studio, I often forget the way back.

Even if it is just the space of time between the closure of one day to the beginning of the next, I have a hard time returning. The longer the time away, the more difficult it is to even remember the melody of who I am and the possibilities of that song I was working on before I left.

I've never been good at transitions, but I'm sure that this has to do with fear.

So, I am becoming a bridge builder. Before I leave the studio, I build a bridge for my future, lost self. I set up one or two simple, fun projects. That way I fool the voice that tells me "You will never be anything but mediocre - so trying will only bring you rejection and pain", into a comfortable place of play. "It's just playing," I tell that voice. "No pressure."

The bridge may be setting up a drawing in my sketchbook of my son's beautiful dog, Stella. I get out all of the supplies and leave them for myself.

Or, it may be a fun, silly, no-pressure painting project:

I will need a good, strong bridge this week. Unfortunately I will be out of the studio all week.

Have a wonderful week. Build a bridge if you need to.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

MacGyver would be proud

We're talkin' duct tape in the studio today.


As in, what is a good idea - what "sticks" with people?

I've been reading this book

and it has me thinking about my art in new ways.

For the past year I have been working to define my art - what makes it unique? What sets it apart? I've been wrestling with my artistic vision; it is a process of pruning - subtraction of that which might be wonderful but does not align with the overarching concept, all the while trying to define the concept in concrete terms.

Reading this book helped me to understand why I was so successful as a teacher even though I felt that I was not really "wired" for this profession. I intuitively brought "sticky" concepts to my teaching. I boiled down the big concepts to clear, simple ideas and made them relevant; I offered concrete examples, told stories, and was often unexpected. It worked.

It has been harder to apply these principles to art. I know that what sets me apart is my ability to see more - to make connections, especially things that others don't notice, hence my tag line on my web page: Bringing the unnoticed into view. After reading this book, I have pruned this idea to: Revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary. This concept feels more "sticky" to me because it's at the core of what I do and is very concrete. (Because this process is a work in progress, I give myself permission to further tweek it.)

How do I apply this to each piece I am working on? I'm using it like a checklist:
Does it fit the core vision?
Does it tell a story?
Something unexpected?
Then, of course, being art it must be designed and executed well.

Here's an example of this process:

I shared photos from the Centennial Trail this spring that told a compelling story about the beautiful flamboyance of youth contrasted with the less glamorous, abiding endurance of age. The painting above is a resulting study.

But it is a bit ho hum. Applying my checklist, I have a couple of thoughts. My idea is not concrete enough, does not tell enough of a story. I have decided to add a couple of figures - a grandpa with a young child, symbolized in the painting with the age-old sturdy tree and the spring wild daisies.

I've done a value study and I like the design. Now we'll just see if I can pull off the technical aspects of the actual painting.

Speaking of books - here is another thought provoking book you might be interested in:

It actually also inspires me to persevere, to not be complacent, to level it up. It's what MacGyver would do!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

We're talkin' FORM

Form in running - not form in art.

Just a little break from the studio - although I have come to realize that taking good care of this home I live in (my body) is critical for everything else I do - including my art.

Look at that bad form - is it any wonder I have back problems?

So I've been working on my form. I discovered my love of running late in life, consequently I never had the benefit of P.E. instructors or track coaches to help me understand the basics of how to run. I actually hated running. P.E. instructors in those days (I am hoping this has changed) were most often former athletes who morphed into intolerant drill sergeants, belting out belittling criticism of anyone who did not fit their idea of what people should be able to do. Fellow students, especially the athletically gifted, followed suit in their disdain of the athletically challenged. I grew up fearing anything remotely connected to exercise, convinced that I was a dismal failure.

I honestly can't remember what made me start running. All I know is that at some point I realized that running took me somewhere else - an incredible place where I have such a sense of possibilities and fantastic ideas - and even more wonderful - the realization that THEY ARE FOR ME, just waiting for me to grab hold of them and DO THEM!

So I run. Predictably, because I don't know what in the heck I am doing (running is easy right?), I get injured. Then I can't run. Which is bad. Very bad...as my dearest friend who has to live with me can tell you.

I have searched magazines, Internet posts, and running sites for relevant information but it is either confusing or not applicable to me. Finally a couple of fellows published the Rebel Running Guide. It is for the beginner to intermediate runner.

There was great rejoicing throughout the land.

As a disclaimer I can tell that I found it to be overwhelming, even for someone who runs already. My aforementioned dearest friend helped me through my whiny frustration with some good advice: start small. Do what you can do. Work up to doing all of the warm ups, strength training, cool downs, different types of runs etc.

What did I start with? Yes, you probably already guessed: form. I tried two simple things - keeping my feet under my body (rather than out in front), and shortening/quickening my stride (kind of goes with the feet under the body thing).

Workin' on our form (please note...Super Sprecka already has excellent form)

Oh, and I began with SOME of the warm up exercises. And I don't do the core workout after the run, I do yoga (my quest for a good yoga tape/book is another story - this yoga tape is the best I have ever found), because inflexibility of my spine is a MAJOR issue for me.

Dreaded warm-ups (or in this case, because I AM a rebel, using a warm-up as a cool-down)

I am excited to take my running to a new level.