Sunday, January 31, 2010

Refreshing a Creative Practice, Week 2

I had a private coaching session with Leslie (see previous post) on Monday that is a bonus to our online and phone conference call class. Since I am so aware of how fast time flies, I made a short list and e-mailed it to her before we started talking to try and help keep me focused. Here’s my list:

2010 Desired Result: Completion of powerful new work that resonates authentically and uniquely. 

1. Use art to explore a new paradigm of cooperative living that is INCLUSIVE and not EXCLUSIVE
2. Connect to my deepest, truest artistic inspirations with confidence and courage to act on them.
3. Connect and refine the visual imagery that continuously repeats through my work; inscribed marks, cracks, aging and worn surfaces, fragments of personal histories and the connections/intersections between them all.

Leslie and I talked about these and my vision for artistic “inclusiveness” and suggested that I was in a way sending out an invitation to the universe about this desire. We talked more specifically about this inclusiveness and what it looked like. It seemed to involve connecting to a group of like-minded people who desire to pioneer a different way of being artists in the world.  She suggested that I am not alone, that others will resonate with my ideas, that I don’t totally need to invent this myself. At the close of our time, she gave me an assignment, to work on a piece of art that is an invitation to others to join me in a paradigm of cooperation rather than competition, a network of artists who share with one another in strength, believing in aspiring to excellence and willing to support each other’s abilities and talent.

I agreed to let the ideas begin to flow, to consider the theme of an invitation to connect and to start working out the ideas with some small samples and studies.

That was Monday.

On Tuesday, Leslie gave us our time assignment. That threw me a curve, since all my time is spent in some way relating to art, either mine or others. What could this assignment about time offer me, I wondered?

I wrote, “new body of work” at the center of my circle. That’s what I want my time to revolve around. Then I wondered what to put in each spoke as a perspective. Did I want Ernest Hemingway in mine? Or Picasso? Here are the archetypal characters that emerged as I wrote and a few of their attributes that I listed:



1. Child self

Loves to be outside near water, finds “secret places”, collects rocks and shells and fungi and other magical things, delights in doing, loves and wants everything she sees, band-aids on knees and mosquito bite scabs on her legs, loves attention and ruffled party dresses and praise and is always excitedly tugging a sleeve to say “look at this, look at this”

2. Scientific genius

Collects data, samples, trials, lab full of equipment and tubes and Bunsen burners, white lab coats, Albert Einstein hair and mustache and glasses. Serious, scholarly, combines bizarre ingredients into strange concoctions that sometimes explode, sometimes fizzle, sometimes invent a cure for polio.

3. Famous Artist

Peak of her powers, fabulously unaware of fame and devoted to her work, a consummately skilled technician with great clarity and vision and confidence. She spends a lot of time in her villa in Europe, walks exotic beaches,eats fresh delectable foods, surrounded by incredible colors, vistas and people.

4. High-powered Diva Artist

Commercially successful, lives in a huge urban loft in a major metropolitan city, slender and physically stunning and lives a life filled with verbs: Network, socialize, position, manage, leverage, influence, advance, publicize, promote, project.

5. Buddhist master

Often found in a beautiful Japanese water garden, being mindful and smiling. Every sound magnified, aware of each stirring leaf, each moving insect and bird and animal, every sense alive, mind and body still, receptive, poised. In her hand a brush and before her rice paper and sumi ink. She sits a long time and then makes a flowing, powerful mark on the paper. In each stroke there is a whole story.

6. Isadora Duncan dancer

The dancer lives in a large, open studio surrounded by other dancers. One full wall is mirrors, the other windows. As the music starts, the choreographer works with each person present to build the dance step by step. Hours and hours fly by in repeating, refining, practicing, perfecting, polishing. The body is the canvas.

7. Centenarian

This is an old woman who speaks Polish and Yiddish and wears a babushka wrapped around her head. “Oy” she laughs, I do not need to work at anything. I just sit in the sun and enjoy. The children come and play with me and we tell stories. On day I’ll fall asleep and I will wake up in a new place. That’s life.”

Wonderful characters all and as I named them and began to describe them, I realized they ALL live inside me, that I can choose any one of them as a perspective from which to consider “creating a new body of work.” They became incredibly real.

Next I did our writing exercise in my journal. The second half filled two pages.



I am willing to let go of:

  • distractions
  • interruptions
  • discouragement
  • doubts
  • insecurities
  • self-criticism
  • unhealthy foods
  • judgmental language about myself or others
  • comparing myself or my work to that of others
  • imposing limits on myself or my work.

I am willing to say YES to:

  • attracting the right and perfect venues for exhibiting the body of work I create
  • creating new connections with those who wish to support and exhibit my work
  • attracting associations with other artists who are passionate and committed to process and making
  • honoring these various new aspects of myself that I’ve discovered
  • being willing to work steadily
  • enlisting the support and feedback of other, trusted artist friends that I will draw to my inner circle
  • developing new associations and potential collaborations
  • inviting new methods, materials and mediums for expressing my ideas
  • inviting new insights and perspectives on my work
  • nurturing a healthy, fit and energized physical body
  • affirming my own worth and right to be visible, valued and recognized
  • opening to the idea of limitlessness – limitless time, limitless resources, limitless creative and physical energy, focus, inspiration, clarity, presence and productivity
  • dancing each day
  • smiling and celebrating my beauty, power and creativity each day.

As I was working on this exercise, streams of ideas began to flow about the idea of creating an invitation. Since I already had added the escape clause that I didn’t need to complete it this week, I felt free to experiment and “be” with the ideas and process, so I chose to work with my Scientific Genius and my Buddhist Master to generate and explore ideas.

Here are just a few of the ideas I generated, wrote down and have started to flesh out both at home and in my studio. I’ll try to explain more about them in the next post but here’s the bare beginnings.


The idea I like best will take a lot of work and time to sample from this rough sketch if I choose to commit to doing it. For this idea, I write the letters that spell the word “connect” in large dots with sequential numbers on each dot like a children’s activity book. It “invites” the viewer nonverbally to try and connect the dots. When you do, you get the word connect. My image invites the viewer to connect the dots that form the word connect. Thank you to both my scientist and Zen master for this idea; it also appeals to my child self.


For the next idea, I enlarged a number of letters from the dictionary word “connect” and made them into silk-screens and screen printed them on lutrador. The light silvery printed areas are the dictionary definition of the word. Next I’ll cut the words and letters apart into strips and then reconnect the strips with various joins and materials so the word “connect” will be able to be read. Whether this will actually work or not remains to be discovered. A scientist doesn’t formulate outcomes; they just present a hypothesis and then seek to prove or disprove it!


I also sampled two other ideas using French knots to create letter outlines and satin stitching negative spaces surrounding each letter. More interesting samples.

I still have four or five other variations to sample still for mixed media ideas and will share more  next time!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Refreshing A Creative Practice

What better activity for the first month of a year than to join a small group of fellow artists in refreshing our creativity with exercises and discussion? Artist and coach Leslie Avon Miller is providing that opportunity with a six-week online class that I joined  called “Refreshing Your Creative Practice.” I discovered Leslie first as an artist and then found out that she is also a coach, a very intuitive and fine one.  I signed up to help loofah and polish my creative skin and CONNECT  with my creativity in new ways for 2010.

Our small group met for the first time through a teleconference last Tuesday. We are talented and diverse. What powerful, accomplished,  expressive women to share with – a gift in itself.

We introduced ourselves, shared a bit and then at the end of the session we received our first “assignment”--  create and carry out a personal ceremony of any kind to unite with our creativity and then post about the experience on the private group blog.

As I started working and focusing on this partnership between my creativity and myself, she began to take on an actual persona of her own.  So I let go and let her. Here’s the post I wrote for that assignment:

Me and Cree Celebrate 60 Years Together


Me and Cree, my creativity, aka, "the happy couple"

Me and Cree (she says everything is abbreviated in the 21st century and it's lucky that any of us still know how to speak in full sentences) had our first real out loud chat after Leslie posted this assignment. We've been together all my life and I love her dearly, and she me, but we never officially spoke about our union. However, since we've been a couple almost since the advent of color television, this celebration isn't a new marriage, it's a 60-plus anniversary renewal of vows and all-around excuse to Make Stuff.

We started the ceremony in my studio. This is our special place and where we spend the most time together. I took charge (she says she admires it when I do that). "We need to make a symbol of our relationship that we can look at again and again, one that will remind us both to be lighthearted and also of how much we mean to each other."

"You love James Castle's work," Cree said. "Outsider Art! Let's make Us out of whatever we can find right here." So we pried apart empty packaging, drew and cut out shapes and created the two of us. We savored dividing the words, "I Am She Who Is Loved" between our paper doll bodies. That was day one.

DSCN5044Once I made the choice to let out my inner outsider artist, I had to drag out whatever items I could find at hand to utilize. That was  fun – and messy of course!

DSCN5049First I created “US”, the happy couple, drawing and cutting out paper doll-like shapes from random packaging, fasteners and collaged magazine papers. Look, we can dance!

On day two we improvised a backdrop. The negative shapes that remained in the reclaimed packaging from which we cut out our bodies seemed important to include.

It all relates, Cree announced as we worked, "The positives, the negatives and all the in-betweens come together into a perfect whole when we are together."(Cree is a bit of a philosopher at heart.) I wrote passionately on the surface all the deep feelings I have for this most Beloved presence in my life and then layered over them. Secret words only to be shared by the two of us.


On day three Cree stood back and squeezed her eyes almost shut and squinted at our creation. "We look beautiful," she declared, "but we are lacking the Wondrous Patina Of Age that is ours in Real Life." And so we weathered and aged ourselves. We had commandeered an old frame and mounted our testimony to Us inside it and hung it on the wall.


"Shouldn't we have some hair or clothes?," I asked her. I could imagine inventing some wonderful outfits for all the various occasions we might choose to celebrate. "Maybe another time, " Cree said. "For now, we are Perfect Just As We Are."

And as we worked, the gray cloud cover began to dissipate and the sun beamed through the studio windows. Honest.

Shyly, I pulled out my journal. "I wrote this for you this morning," I said. Cree clapped her hands and laughed in that amazingly contagious way she does. " I was there too, of course, and wrote it with you!"

And so, in unison, we stood before our paper selves and read these words aloud:

"Bless this union, universe; may it ever continue, deepen and grow in our perception and understanding of grace and beauty.

May our work together bring forth abundant and authentic expression.

May our creative practice flourish and our hearts always be open to touch and be touched by others.

May we share our joy in Making freely and fully with others.

May our works be received, supported and valued by others of like mind.

May we smile at the end of our labor, look at each creation and be able to say sincerely, "It is Good."

May we always appreciate the love and companionship that we share together.And when we come to the end of our time together on this earth, may we fly away easily with joyful enthusiasm for all that awaits us next."

"That was truly magnificent!" Cree said. "My little paper hand will hold yours forever."

"Mine, too."



Monday, January 18, 2010

Contemplations and Marks


Have you launched into 2010 and the new decade  with a triple somersault Olympic high dive? Not me,  I am easing into these new waters.

These stones from my collection remind me of times spent walking creeks and streams, gathering the most special ones to bring home.  Rearranging them and appreciating their unique marks and colorations is a pleasant activity on a gray, mid-January day.

Artistically, I’ve been considering hand stitched marks this past week. I’m trying to finish this piece that I began before the holiday season.


At first it seemed to me that it might benefit from something reflective on the surface. So I tested out silver foils and silver metallic paint accents –they were too heavy or opaque. Neither passed the testing stage. Then I experimented with different stitched accents on the surface testing a variety of rayon, metallic and cotton embroidery threads in both color and grayscale ranges from black to white.


I’ve settled on adding some long, straight varying length stitches in black and white as accents.  At least today I think they will complete this piece (tomorrow you might find me ripping them all out!). Then the work only needs the facings hand stitched down after completing the hand embroidery, so completing the first new piece in 2010 is nearly accomplished.

While slowing down is allowing more time for contemplation in my design choices, it  also sometimes feels panicky.  A part of me has thrived for many years on constant motion and  variety.  Slowing the pace creates time to ask questions that are not easy to answer. 

Without goals and ambitions and deadlines and images of large accomplishments to motivate productivity, what desires and dreams remain?  Life filled with activities and appointments and schedules feels purposeful and engaged –although sometimes too much activity can also be a smokescreen that keeps deeper questions of meaning and purpose at bay.

Perhaps my January contemplations will lead to balancing and transitioning from a mindset of apprentice to journeyman. Can it be that I actually know what I am doing and do it well?!?!?

The first stages of learning about art feel much like the labor-intensive work of digging a foundation and erecting a house from raw materials; the materials, techniques and how-to’s dominate. The later stages involve honing and refining one’s vision and process with each original design and then completing them with carefully chosen details. 

I have spent many years doing the heavy, rough construction and carpentry work of  building one skill after another. Perhaps the desires and dreams that will propel me forward at this stage will be more subtle and less dramatic, but hopefully will be as stimulating and satisfying in their own right.

Friday, January 8, 2010

“Filaments, filaments, filaments…”

For the past two years, I’ve picked a theme word at the beginning of each year representing an idea or quality to focus my intentions on for the year. This year’s word is “connect” and although it presented itself as The One only three days ago, the choice has already brought a surge of energy, new resources and surprising insights .


“A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman ( The Complete Poems, 1975)

It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Even unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,Till the bridge you will need be formed, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O, my soul.

Musing on the image of my own soul patiently sending out filaments to form bridges led to furiously writing down waves of ideas about how I wish the theme of connecting to run through my life.  Rewriting the list in my journal, they already number 23 –quite a manifesto! -- and more ideas keep flowing, so the list will no doubt keep growing.

If you feel the same desire to connect on many levels, you may find my focus this year of personal interest. If so, please share your insights and comments. Connecting with you through this blog is a continuous source of insight and growth for me!

Here are several more great quotes on this theme:

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”  –Chief Seattle

“Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in a human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear line persists. The strands are all there: to the memory nothing is really lost.” –Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings, Chapter 3 (1984).

This bears repeating. The strands are all there. Hope you’ll join me in looking for the clear lines of connection this year.