Monday, August 19, 2019

Giving Birth

Watching my dear daughter go through the stages of birthing a new human into the world is a wonderful, difficult, scary, exciting, joyful experience. But it is called labor for a reason. It is also a huge, overwhelming task that encompasses the entire body, mind, heart and soul. 

I’ve been there. Twice. 

One question my daughter asked me as I wiped her brow and held her hand was, why would I ever think of having two children? Or more accurately, after 24 hours of labor contractions and no sleep, why oh why would anyone ever consider having another baby after this?

I could have laughed it off and said, ‘Oh, I was just crazy.’ Or skirted the issue with, ‘Really it wasn’t all that bad’. Or lied with the tried and tired phrase, ‘Oh, once you see that beautiful baby, you’ll forget all the pain’. But that’s not me, I don’t lie to my children. 

What did I say?

The simple answer is I knew I wanted two children, 3 years apart. And I thought my second birth process would be completely different than my first. That I’d do it better. That it would be easier. That because I’d been through it once, my experience would help. In most of the above, I was completely wrong. 

But I did it anyway. Again why?
Again, simple answer is I wanted to be a mom. Because I wanted to love, teach, watch, and help make babies grow into strong, creative, amazing adult people. 

And I wanted to do it better than my own childhood experience. I realize now that my desire to be a pre-school/kindergarten teacher and all my classes in education, development, nutrition and psychology were my way to learn better ways to parent. 

But there are so many more equally true answers. 

Life is precious. Each and every one, especially the ones you are privileged to bring into this crazy and chaotic world. 

Life is an amazing mystery. From conception to birth, the process the human body goes through to merge two microscopic elements into ears, eyes, skin, body, bones, blood, veins, muscle and mind into a unique, original, individual person is nature’s biggest and most thrilling secret construction project. 

Life is a miracle. Learning to see and feel and hear and touch. To kiss and walk and read and run and eat and sleep and make love is miraculous. Every day, each of us gets to breathe in new air, awaken our body, listen to our mind, hear new ideas and create with what we have in our lives on that day. 

Some days it might be just putting one foot in front of their other. Swinging on a swing. Planting a flower. Throwing clay. Singing. Reporting the news. Teaching. Walking the dog. 

And yes, life is also messy. There are many chills and spills and heart wrenching moments. But I think you’ll all agree it’s a roller coaster that, once we get on, most of us never want to get off.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Hidden History

It all started out with small spot on the ceiling in the bathroom. It was a leak. The leak was fixed  but the ceiling needed re-painting. I ignored it. I had work to do, right?

And work I did: throwing bowls, vases, cups, mugs; building jars, vases, dishes; sculpting faces and bodies and masks. It all came together just in time for a spring show and my first featured gallery show in many years. 

I was happy, energized and relieved. And yet, I knew there was more to do. 

Staring at the ceiling. 

I woke up one morning and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I knew it was time to paint the bathroom ceiling. As we all know, one small step leads to big change. That small spot lead to painting the walls and replacing the light fixtures. 

And then, there was the walk-in closet. The black hole that has never been repainted since we built the house back in the 90’s. I’ve dusted in there and re-arranged and organized over the years, but I’ve never taken everything out. Yeah. 

Oh, but it didn’t stop there. 

Nope. In between painting the bathroom and closet, cleaning all the shelves and cupboards inside and out, trashing and donating unwanted items, I tackled the kitchen pantry. But still did I say, enough? No.

I looked over from the pantry into my utility room and was shocked to realize that room has not been repainted since my daughter was in high school. Hint: she’s married, pregnant and has a master’s degree.

I confess, I’m a candle hoarder. Inside those cupboards, I found stacks and stashes of used votives, tapers, pillars and jars. I found stacks of empty jars without candles waiting in case I needed them. A reformed basket hoarder, I was shocked to find in the back yet another stack of unused baskets. 

Time to recycle. And remember.

My utility room got a new coat of paint. I picked almost the same shade of yellow that’s been on the walls for years. Yellow is not my favorite color. I justified it then because I hate laundry and yellow is a happy, bright color for a small, dark room. 

But after I finished painting yesterday and began putting the room back together I saw what this yellow room really means to me. 

The primary color palette was used originally in both my children’s baby rooms. On the wall hangs their tiny primary colored handprints. Across are framed cards with encouraging words I received from my husband when I was trying to find my way from full time mom to artist. Above is a line up of my favorite tins gathered over the years, some gifts from my favorite Gram. And on each side of the sink sit hand-built vases with paw prints of my dear departed dog and cat. 

Rooms, cupboards, and closets hide and hold our history. Our memories of good times and bad. Happiness and fear. Like a time capsule or treasure chest, these covered dark places keep our lives preserved for a time when, if we are brave, we can open up, clear out, let in new light and smile at the memories. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Happy Birthday, Darby!

Last year at this time, I would never have believed this day would come. I was at a Guide Dog Puppy Raiser Fun Day smiling in wonder at all the beautiful dogs and their calm, loving trainers. I saw Golden Retrievers bouncing happily and lying down calmly while their people talked. There were black and yellow Labrador Retrievers trotting along watching all the action. 

On that day, I hoped and wished that one of those puppies in training would be mine. Six months later, my wish was granted and Darby came home with me.  

Hello puppy!

As I’ve written here before, I was smitten with Darby at once. His slightly lower left ear gives him an air of curiosity. His bouncy, ‘tigger’-like energy lifts me up everyday. Really I wish I could get a video of him popping up with all four feet in the air next to my bed each morning.

Since joining our family, Darby has learned to pass other dogs without pulling, leave food on the counter where it belongs, bark on command using a hand signal, follow me off leash to get the mail, get into the shower for baths, come when he’s called.

We’re still working on greeting people and other dogs in a calm, gentle manner and not tearing down the bamboo. But he is still just a two year old after all. 

But he’s also a 70 pound, two year old.  

So his sense of space and his coordination are still developing. But that’s one of the most adorable things about him. 

When he plays, he PLAYS. His whole body and mind and soul are one bubbling unit of fun. He can’t wait to get that ball. Greet that person. Sniff those strawberries(and eat them, of course). 

It took awhile for him to trust that the big blue circle on the lawn was his very own pool. He loves the hose. He doesn’t just want to drink from it, he wants to leap at it, get sprayed with it and run around the yard at full speed. 

And he’s a tease. Yes, just like every other 2 year old, he definitely knows what he’s not supposed to do. But he does it just to get my attention. And even though I have to correct inappropriate behavior, I love him all the more for it. I try not to show it, but I know he knows.

I love this sweet birthday boy. 

Today, he got a poached egg after his kibble. He got two new peanut butter bones which he loves to chew. He got his walk to the park and many more stops in new places for him to sniff. And he got his pool refilled and the hose to jump for and his favorite fetch toy bounced in and out of the water until he was soaked. 

Now he’s happily snoozing here beside me. You may think that he’s one lucky dog but I know the real truth: I’m one lucky human. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

“Loosen your grip.”

That’s the message I got this week while leaning on my favorite cedar tree in the woods. As I stood there breathing deeply in and out, I realized I was curling my toes in my shoes. And there was absolutely no reason or need to be gripping the inside of my shoes. As always, Mother Cedar’s words were right on.

I uncurled my toes. Took a few more big deep breaths letting my jaw loosen, my eyes relax and my shoulders lower as I felt the warm energy of the earth flow through me. 

It’s been a tense and busy several months. I didn’t realize I was still carrying it all around. 
New Sculptures: Goddess of the Heart(top left), Goddess of the Trees(bottom left), Bluebird’s House

A show opening. 

My first featured show in years opened last Friday. It was a lovely evening surrounded by family, friends, gallery guests and supportive fellow artists. My talk to the group about my art went well and there were lots of interesting questions about the process of bringing these pieces to life. 
Labor of Art Show 2009, Mixed Media Story boxes

I’ve had a quite a few show openings in my 20 years as a working artist. And I want to point out my term - working artist - because this has been my focus, my job, my life. It is not a ‘hobby’. It is work. It is work I love, yes. Yet it was not easy and it took several decades of study, classes, assignments, practice, hours in the studio to get where I am today. 

And I’m not done. I’m still learning with every piece I throw or sculpt or build. There’s success with shows and sales as well as failures. No matter what, I keep seeing and making and putting it out there with love. Even this week, as I painted and loaded up the kiln I tried to remember to flow rather than push. 
“Prologue” 2019 

A mortality reminder. 

I am a melanoma survivor. When I was pregnant with my son, a mole on my leg that I’d had all my life was diagnosed as melanoma. I was terrified but luckily it was caught very early. It was removed with good margins with local anesthesia so as not to hurt the baby. I was 6 months pregnant at the time. 

I went in yearly for an overall skin check for a decade but as time went on and nothing went wrong, I let it go. I made appointments every 3 years instead. It was always fine. 

But three days before my gallery show, I had my first biopsy in 30 years. A suspicious area had appeared. I left with a few stitches and a lot of fear. Luckily for me, a few days later the call came to tell me it was not cancer this time. I was safe.

Into the woods. 

It was time. For me, one of the best ways to feed my soul and refresh my spirit is to head into the woods. I’m blessed there is a beautiful park near my home with a lake, big cedar grove and stands of birch. There are herons, geese, fish, ducks, otters and beavers.

That’s where I’ve been this week too. Wandering, leaning and hearing the wisdom that life is precious every day. That whether you succeed or fail or live or die, isn’t a matter of holding on but loosening up and letting it flow. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

About Faces

‘Prologue’ Mask, porcelain, $300

From our very awakening at birth, life is all about faces. Seeing, knowing, loving begins with the faces of those around us. It’s not only a survival tool, it’s our very nature. 

I’ve written about this before. I see faces everywhere. It’s called Pareidolia. So I’m not alone in what I see, it’s an ability we all as humans, share. 

Whether I’m in line at the grocery store, watching clouds in the sky or touching the bark of trees in the woods, faces draw my attention. Happy or sad. Young or old. Spirited or wise. I find meaning and messages and connections and stories in each one. 
‘Healer’ Witch, porcelain, $50

Meeting new faces. 

I just delivered a new group of sculptures to the gallery, Art On Broadway. It’s been a little scary and at first, I wasn’t sure why. I’ve been in many gallery shows, local shows, regional invitationals over the decades as a working artist. 

I realized this week, it felt different because this is the first non-group show I’ve done in quite a while. It’s a dual show with printmaker, Beate Scheller. Her work is lovely in black and white and she, too, loves faces. 

We met on Saturday to hang our show. Again, not something I’ve done in a gallery show. Usually, that task is done by the curator or gallery owner. This time, Beate and I cleared the space, dusted and arranged the pedestals. While Beate hung her prints, I unpacked my new work. Yes, that’s it too. All of these sculptural pieces are new this year and this is their first show. 

Facing my fears. 

Showing my work in a group show is fun and relaxing and easy. My work is on display alongside many other artists’ work. I can hide in plain sight. In this show, I am the only ceramic artist. So not only is my work on display, so am I. 

In this group of work, I started with my love of nature. 

My simple leaf form became a cloak for a group of fairy witches. 

Tree bark inspired a pair of nature goddesses dressed in a combination of natural elements, Celtic symbols and feminine details. Shapeshifters appear again in my work in new forms. 

This group of work has sat around in pieces on my studio shelves for quite a while, staring down at me. I stared up at their faces, wondering. And finally, listening. 

They finally told me their stories and I did my best to bring them to form. But these are not just my stories, they are yours, too. These are stories we have all understood from our first look at the world around us. 

It’s all about faces.   

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Sculpting is Fun. Doing My Own Photography is NOT.

I held my breath as I opened the kiln. Then, I let it out with a smile and a thank you to the clay gods, goddesses and the universe. I’ve been working so hard on this new body of sculptural work. It’s taken months and with some pieces years to get to this point. There is no going back. It’s over for better or worse. 

This time, I am blessed. Every piece came out in one piece, colors bright and the new pearl glaze shimmering nicely. But I wasn’t done, yet. 

It’s time for your close up. 

I am not a professional photographer. I had a wonderful, talented pro who took pictures of my work for years and I admired his excellence and expertise every time. He patiently assessed every piece I’d brought, decided on background, set up and snapped away. He retired. Now I am on my own. 

In this age of cell phone photography, it’s easy to think that shooting pictures is as easy as a click of a button. It’s not. 

Good photography is a complex dance between light and shadow, foreground and background, composition and editing. These days you need a digital camera with double digit megapixels, zoom, computer downloadable and a good editing app or software. Add a tripod, seamless background, table set up and lights. Whew.

Let there be light. 

Lighting is the key to good art photography. My photographer did a wonderful job and I now try to emulate his technique as best I can. I use this set up in my garage which is the only place I can have the kind of complete darkness which is necessary to get good lighting. 

I know it sounds crazy but starting in complete darkness is the key to good lighting. When I first attempted my photos, I had too much light and the background was too light, too flat and dulled the colors in my pieces. This time I really tried to get more contrast between the background and my work. I was aiming for gradation from top to bottom of dark to light in each picture. I think I did better this time. But I know I need to learn more. 

Learning is lifelong. 

Yes it is. It’s not always easy and I’m not the most patient student. Technology overwhelms me sometimes. Playing with lights and camera makes me act a little crazy. I’ll admit, my dog heard a lot of bad words that day. Sorry, pup. 

But all in all, I love learning. Even when I get frustrated, I never want to stop. I truly believe that the key to a long, healthy life is learning. Maybe one of these times taking pictures of my work will become as easy as building with clay on a good day.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

My Saturday: Gallery Sitting and Art Making(and fun)

Photo by Michelle Barnett

I am not a ‘sitter’. By that I mean, I don’t like to sit for long periods of time. Physically, mentally and creatively, I just like to be moving. I walk everyday, do yoga, stand while I hand build and most of my best ideas come to me while I’m moving around or leaning against my favorite tree. 

As an Art On Broadway artist, I staff the gallery once a month. This is called ‘gallery sitting’ and today was my day. Gallery sitting turned into gallery standing, gallery creating, gallery selling and gallery meeting and greeting.

Gallery standing. 

When I arrive in the morning, the first thing I always do is housekeeping. I sweep the floor inside, entry way and sidewalk in front of the gallery. Then I dust the shelves, cubbies, pedestals, glass art, ceramic art, wood pieces. I wipe the finger prints off the door, clean the glass desk and water the plants. 
Photo by Michelle Barnett

Then I look around and see what needs ‘fluffing’. This is a term another artist uses to describe moving things around in a space. We have wonderful art and artists who work to set up displays but as she explained to me, moving even great displays around creates energy. That energy attracts people to look and see and buy the art. So I fluff. 

Gallery creating. 

This week I worked in my studio hand building new vases and jars. I love making. What I don’t love is waiting. Clay is a unique medium that requires you to work quickly and slowly and patiently. Clay has to sit but not too long. 

I made the body of these jars on Thursday, then they sat. Next lids need to be cut, tops and sculptural elements need to be added. Depending on the weather, the sitting time is anywhere from a day to a week. Summertime means the jars needed attention by Saturday at the latest. 

So I packed them up and took them to the gallery with me. 

Gallery selling, meeting and greeting.

I had very few visitors in the morning, but after I set up my workspace and starting working people walked in instead of walking by. They came in and looked all around the gallery. Some were interested in what I was doing. Some were not. But they all had more interested looks on their faces, asked more questions about the art and artists in the gallery. 

Happily, I did sell art. It wasn’t mine, instead it was a piece by one of our newest artists. I made the sale, wrapped it up and found a new piece to hang in the empty space which required a little more fluffing to make it all look good again. 

Standing and working on my jars, fluffing the art and cleaning all sent out good energy. That energy brought people in to look, talk and take home something beautiful. Gallery sitting, standing and art making made for a fun day. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

An Appetite for Creativity. And Fun.

Are there times when you feel restless? Like there’s something there and if you just put your hand out, you’d catch it. But you don’t know what it is? Instead there’s a space like that feeling you get before you know you’re hungry. But you don’t want food for your body, you want food for your spirit. 

Creating feeds my spirit in many satisfying ways. It’s play. It’s work. It’s problem solving and it’s mystery. Even as I complete something new, I find a new sound, smell, color, shape, texture to puzzle and entice me. I wonder if I’ll ever really be finished?

Then an answer popped up my inbox:

“You created something amazing, and now you get to do it again.
And you get to do it again and again and again and again your whole life long. It is natural to feel a creative hunger for the next thing when we have completed the arc of creating the thing before. It is healthy. It is for the good. In fact, it is how life keeps us in the flow of life. We need to give ourselves permission around this. Permission for creative appetite.” Author, Tara Mohr

Completion and beginning again. 

Two sculptures I’ve been working on are ready for the last phase: glazing. Instead of feeling that satisfied feeling, I got restless. Instead of glazing these two sculptures, I started looking at two different sculptures on my top shelf. 

I took them down, held them in my hands and wondered. What to do? What colors did these pieces want? How to reveal the textures? Where was the story? 

I knew I needed to finish the other pieces and yet, I yearned to work these two, too. Instead of forcing myself to completion, I let them show me their colors as I painted. I let my creative appetite lead me. 

The result? Now instead of 2 sculptures glazed and fired, I’ll have 4. 

Fun in the sun.  

It was hot, hot, hot here. Although Darby came to us from California, he was hot too. Instead of hiding out with my R2D2 room air conditioner, I decided Darby and I needed to do something different. Like a Dr. Seuss book: it was too hot to play and too cold to stay, so Darby and I decided to go out and play. 

He was not sure what to do with this plastic pond. He sniffed it. He circled it. He ran around it. When I threw his ball in it, he delicately put one foot in to reach his ball. Finally, I used his favorite thing, the hose and got him in the pool. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Adventure. Progress. Fun.

I wouldn’t say I’m an adventurer. I think of myself as a home body. But when I look around at where I am and where I’ve been, I clearly see the risks I’ve taken in my life. And that to me is the definition of adventure. 

Have you ever had someone tell you, “Well, you can’t do that. You really think you can just apply for that and get it?”  I applied anyway. Quite a few times in my life, someone actually said that what I wanted to do was not possible. (Because I was young, and a woman?) That it was not easy. (So what.) That it took time and talent. (So I’m out of time and talent?) That it was, well a good idea years ago, maybe. (Because I’m too old and a woman?)

I did it all anyway. Was I always successful? No. But most of the time, I not only surprised the naysayers, I surprised myself.

Take this week for example: Tuesday, I sat down to throw a few cups and vases which I usually do with no problem. But that day, I wound up with mush and one small bowl. Frustrated and determined, I sat down at my wheel the next day with a few more chunks of clay. I threw a cup, a bowl and played around with a new tool making a small cactus planter. Better, but definitely not great. 

Later, I walked into my studio and saw not just 4 small clay pieces but 4 shelves filled with a dozen thrown clay pieces all done in the last 3 weeks. So this week I surprised the biggest naysayer of all, me. 

Progress is not a straight line. 

I know I was taught to get from one place to another, you had to move forward. But the reality is progress is made in fits and starts. Two steps forward and one step back still moves you ahead. 

These sculptures sat on my studio shelves in pieces for months and years. I didn’t have a head for one of them and the other was a vase that didn’t want to be a vase. Now both are in the kiln again this week with another layer of color. If all goes well, they will get a final glaze and be finished at last. 

A summer of fun. 

That’s what I set as my goal for the next three months. I could hear myself saying loud and clear, “Well, that’s setting yourself up for failure, now isn’t it.” But being the stubborn adventurer that I am, I’m giving it a shot. 

The first week, my fun was going to the beach and running through the waves with my new pup, Darby. Sipping a Heff with lemon and munching on a big piece of fresh baked delicious pizza. 

This week, it was strawberries. There is nothing that says summer to me more than eating fresh just picked berries, especially if I don’t do the picking. I also love to cook. I have fun coming up with new ideas and making delicious new dishes. One day it was apple bacon strawberry waffles. Another day it was pork tenderloin and strawberry salad. Yet another day a strawberry galette. Fun and delicious. 

Here’s what I learned this week. Adventurers aren’t all mountain climbers, some are living among us making progress one small risk at a time and hopefully, learning to have fun a long the way.