I’m a creative, experienced, multi-purpose artist
who can take projects start to finish in a variety of styles.

Good designs sell – mine sell out!

Friday, September 30, 2011

"Hibernate"

I have cycles, and sometimes those cycles require crawling into my den and hibernating. Sometimes I feel like a bear sleeping away the winter, and sometimes I feel like I'm hidden in my cocoon turning into a butterfly. Hibernating lets me rest and heal from my last burst of interaction with the world.

I’ve been on some employer-enforced retreats too, but it’s hardly an actual “retreat” when you take all of your coworkers and bosses with you. We shivered in cold cabins and bonded over flip charts while trying to make left-brained people understand the point of brainstorming without footnotes. Really, couldn’t we all bond much more effectively over dinner and drinks in a warm restaurant? I’m not quite sure why upper management guys seem to think climbing on ropes suspended on telephone poles is a good idea.

For all that, I’ve enjoyed work retreats. I’m a good camper and enjoy helping the camping-impaired survive campfire songs and toasted marshmallows. I like this kind of thing so much that I managed a retreat center for a year when I told my then-husband to getmethehelloutofIndianaand BACK TO OHIO any way possible. I made bouquets of flowers for the cabins, brushed away the spiders and chipmunk nests, and had some wine by the campfire – then retreated to my house with central heating. Good times. It was kind of like Girl Scout camp for adults, and I got to live in 130 acres of pristine woods overlooking the Grand River, one of two rivers designated “wild” and “scenic” in Ohio. (The other river with that designation is the Chagrin, where I spent my childhood.)

This retreat center is a rich man’s folly/tax write off. He is blind, so if you look closely in the photos, there are posts strung with rope along all the paths. This was a help to him, but also for the groups of blind kids who came out to catch their first fish. Blind kids fishing isn’t exactly a safe activity, but we all survived the flying fish hooks. My lifeguard skills came in handy for the double pools too, because a lot of those kids didn’t know much about swimming. I wanted to wrap some of those kids in bubble wrap during their visits. When guest-free, I liked to float around on my back in those pools at night and listen to the owls hooting in the surrounding woods. Blissed out.

The bell tower bonged every 15 minutes and chimed out every hour. I hated 12 o’clock. Bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bonggggggggg… (Ironically, I currently live by Catholic seminary's bell tower.) The owner said he had his first wife’s skeleton in the basement of the tower, but I checked and it's a plastic skeleton. What's real is the 1500’s executioner’s sword mounted on the wall. You can tell it’s an executioner’s sword because it doesn’t have a point. There’s no reason for a point when you’re cutting off heads. The rest of the bell tower is a vertical art museum. I found that a bit ironic for a blind guy, but he also has a 4 foot tall jade mermaid in there which he can appreciate by touching. It’s a gorgeous sculpture, but very few people get to appreciate it since the tower is locked almost all of the time.

Managing a retreat center was actually quite a bit of work, so when I had the opportunity to move across the street to 100 acres of pristine woods without responsibilities, I jumped at the chance. That place became my actual retreat, and I came out of an artistic hibernation with a prodigious burst of paintings and a new style.

For those of you who read my last post, a big maple tree came down in my yard this week. I got out loppers, clippers, and a bow saw and dismantled the crown on my own. When my next door neighbor John Jr. came out, I offered him firewood for labor, and he came over with a chainsaw. When the tree bested his chainsaw, he recruited another neighbor with a bigger chainsaw. I heaved logs over the fence in a very messy pile while John Sr. filled me in on neighborhood gossip and the evils of government. There’s still quite a bit of tree on the ground, 15 foot long x 5 foot high, but it’s raining and I’m spending time inside with my Epsom salts. Maybe I can get some wet wood to burn in the fireplace?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Flattened"

The angel in charge of my prayer requests has a wicked sense of humor. At various times throughout the summer I have thought:



I want more exercise and fresh air
I’d like to see more of my brother Peter
I’d like my garden to get more sunshine
I don’t want the deer to eat my apples
I wish I had more wood to make a better deer barricade…

I think you can see the general train of my thoughts here. I didn’t realize that wishing for a better garden was going to result in a mature silver maple tree squashing the garden flat. Amazingly, even though an 11 foot circumference tree fell on my cultivations, I think my tomatoes and butternut squash survived the angels’ joke. It's a whole 'nother level of watching leaves fall in autumn!

Click on Marv Newland's art (or here) for a movie classic :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Ferocious"

I decided to clean up my neighborhood for the first Earth Day. I got bags from Mom and picked up trash along the side of the road. I was told it was useless, you can’t change human nature, people will just throw more trash after it’s clean. My childish self asserted that people would see that life is better without the trash and would keep it clean. Everyone laughed at me. I’m a ferocious trash picker upper. (Outside anyway. Not so much inside.) I left the bags next to the side of the road so everyone could see how much garbage they were throwing away. Guilt started to seep in. Mom was only willing to sacrifice one box of garbage bags to my environmental concerns, so I brazenly knocked on the neighbors’ door and asked for more trash bags. Guilt hit a new level. Neighbors started picking up trash before I got to them. The Glen is trash free.

Years later, I walked in the woods and found the remnants of a beer party. I started collecting bottles for recycling. After I filled a very large bag, I hauled it to a front porch full of guilty beer drinkers and threw the box of trash bags at them. “I picked up one bag of trash, but this is your mess. Clean it up!” About 10 guilty young men looked at each other and trooped down to the woods with the trash bags.

This year, Penny and I have been taking walks in our current neighborhood for exercise. This got pretty dull, so I combined recycling with our walks and started collecting recyclables en route. Penny thought this was an improvement in our walks because she had more time to smell bushes and pee on things. I thought it was an improvement because I did more bending – but now we don’t have any more trash to pick up. The guilt factor seems to have kicked in amongst these neighbors too.

Some things are clearly right or clearly wrong. People know better than to throw trash out of their car windows. They learned this in kindergarten. Everyone feels better when the neighborhood is litter-free. It was true when I was 9 and it’s still true.

I think about people’s comments before I picked up my first trash bag. “You can’t change things… human nature… nobody cares…” I still hear these messages. We’ve let the littering bullies rule the world. Big businesses blow up mountain ranges for coal and pollute streams and drinking water. Fracking for natural gas without regulations destroys more water. The Chinese have turned their air into a toxic solid…

But we can do things. Think about all those plastic bottles I’ve picked up. Each bottle is made from oil in a faraway country which is shipped halfway around the world so you can drink NYC tap water with a fancy label while toxic chemicals may leach into the water you’re drinking. Oil for your bottle contributes to wars in the Middle East and pollution in the oceans. Even if the bottle gets recycled, it’s probably shipped back around the world to India where the reclamation process spews more chemicals in the air. So, if you want to do one decent thing for the world, quit drinking water in plastic bottles. Put your glass under the kitchen faucet and think about saving the world one plastic bottle at a time.

This art was created for my city’s initial recycling program. I have to admit I was kind of dumbfounded when they gave me a plaque, and it’s been sitting on a book shelf for 21 years because I can’t throw it away, but didn’t know what to do with it either. I also got the city and county park system to use recycled paper with soy-based inks. Obviously my ferocity about recycling isn’t a new thing.

Treat the earth well.
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,
we borrow it from our children.
-- American Indian proverb

PS – I was asked recently about how artists can get printed samples for their portfolios without working for a pittance. This brochure is a good example. I didn’t get paid for it, but I was happy to do it because it was for a good cause. And I got a plaque :) I had plenty of pieces for my portfolio when I did this, so my main object was making an inexpensive, clearly understood brochure. If you’re doing something for the printed portfolio piece, flex your creative skills through volunteering.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Mesmerizing"

I grew up near a large Italian family. I’m pretty sure they had even more children than we did, but they had an unfortunate genetic weakness making all of their kids some variation of blind. It seemed sad to me that they would never be mesmerized watching the ripples in the river, the vultures circling on invisible air currents, or so many other things that occupied most of my existence. I remember holding my breath as the mother led dinner preparation, but everyone cut up vegetables while maintaining their fingers. To tell the truth, I usually bled a lot more in the kitchen than they did. They seemed like a pretty happy family, and the kids walked around The Glen every evening after supper with their hands glued together in a long string of cheerful paper dolls.

I asked them once how they managed to get around without running into trees or getting lost. The oldest boy told me everything has a cushion of air around it. If you pay attention, you can stop before getting hit in the face. I found that fascinating, and since I had nothing else to do, decided to experiment. I folded up a washcloth for thickness and wrapped a bandanna over it, tying the whole thing around my head, covering my eyes so completely I couldn’t see any light through the fabric. I put on my shoes and tied them. Tying shoes becomes a very different experience when you can’t see.

I fumbled my way to the front door and adventured into a very different world. The birds sang louder, probably warning every other living creature to stay out of my way. I felt with my feet for the steps down the porch and steered in the general direction of where the road ought to be. When I hit the crunch of gravel on the edges, I picked a direction and started walking. It wasn’t too hard to stay on the road because it felt different to my feet than the grassy weeds on the sides. A car came by, and I did the obligatory wave. I’m sure whoever was driving waved back and probably laughed at me. Didn’t matter. I was determined to make it around The Glen without dying or cheating.

The road in The Glen is a 1-mile squared circle, or maybe a rounded square. All I had to do is keep track of the corners to know how far I had gone. I felt a little embarrassed when I passed the blind family’s house, but it wasn’t like they were going to see me, and I persevered. It felt like a lot further than usual when I couldn’t see my destination. The sun was hot and my stomach was reminding me about suppertime, but I made it home, made it up the porch steps, and slumped in the chair where my adventure had begun.

I was trying to untie the knot in the bandanna when Dad asked me to explain. I told him about my inspiration and experiment, and he laughed and said it was great. It would be even better if I kept the bandanna on for 24-hours. Uhhh, “But Dad, I’m tired!” Too bad. He thought I should “See it through” to get the full experience. “I won’t be able to wash dishes.” When I got excused from dishes that night, I might’ve considered staying blindfolded for a week or two. I tentatively ate dinner and cursed peas for rolling around so much.

24-hours included going to sleep blind. I was disoriented when I woke up, but it didn’t take too long to remember my predicament. I dressed and escaped to the river. The blind boy was right. There is a cushion of air around everything. I wandered across the field with my hands out and felt the grasses. When I got to the other side of the field, I felt the trees. I backed up repeatedly to figure out the maximum distance I could feel the air. I laid on my back and listened to a mouse rustling through the weeds.

When Dad came home from work, I was liberated. The world was unbearably bright, and I had to shield myself until I adjusted to normal living. I’m not sure if Dad was inspired or sadistic in this story, maybe both, but the experience was important to me. First lesson was to hide my experiments from Dad, but I also learned the power of my own underestimated senses. I feel things more acutely with my hands. I don’t have to look at my feet when I’m walking through the woods. I understand the birds. I appreciate the roundness of peas, and maybe most importantly, I appreciate being able to be mesmerized by all things visual.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Boundaries"

When I first moved into my house, my next-door-neighbors sat in their garage and listened to country music and drank beer. They wanted to chat every time I stepped out of my back door. My pleasantness wore thin rather quickly. I put up a privacy fence which didn’t block the #&*(@! country music, but I thought it would stop Charlene from gluing herself to me while I sat on my deck. No such luck. The neighbors simply turned up the country music and moved their chairs a bit further back in their yard so they could watch expectantly for my reappearance. I added fence. They moved their chairs again. I added more fence. My yard is skinny, but very long. If I needed to add 300 more feet of fence, I was going to do it, but eventually they gave it up and went back to their garage to listen to their wailing songs of how even the dog doesn’t love them and the wife ran off with the best friend but left the kids, and working fingers to the bone

I hate country music. I cranked up vintage Rolling Stones to drown it out.

The neighbors on the other side are just as nosy, but they’re surly and unfriendly. The woman who never talks to me suddenly acted like my best friend when I came out with a date and dressed in my best. Good manners were beaten into me as a child, so I refrained from snarling “It’s none of your business!” while my date happily told her about our theater plans while I gritted my teeth in a painful smile. If she has locksmithing capabilities, she probably took the time we were away to break in and read my diary.

This extraordinary interest in my doings might make it seem like I do things worth spying on, but I don’t. Okay, I was dressed up for the date, but otherwise I just pull weeds in my garden or brush the dog. A neighbor across the street actually started looking in my windows too. I reported him to the police. Maybe I ought to move.

Boundaries come in different forms. A fence is a pretty clear signal of I’ll stay over here and you should stay over there, but mental boundaries get crossed all the time too. A few months ago I wrote about a disagreement I had with a woman about school lunches. I told her I’m never going to agree with her opinion that we should let children starve and said I don’t want to talk about it with her any more. She won’t let it go. She recently brought it up again in a group setting because she thought she had an ally. I said once again, I don’t want to discuss this with her because it just upsets me. She has sent me multiple emails pushing the discussion and I keep saying “I’m not discussing this with you!” She’s been relegated to the spam folder. I don’t know how I can be any clearer about my boundaries, but she still has a need to throw things at my fence? It doesn’t have anything to do with me or my opinions. She just wants to fight until she feels she’s won.

This is where I turn to Harry Potter. Obviously J. K. Rowling understands dementors, beings who suck the happiness out of people. “Expecto patronum” is a spell where you think your happiest thought to drive the dementors away. If it works in a children’s novel, it’s got to work in real life too, right? If I say “Expecto patronum” at my next meeting or family gathering, at least people will know it’s time for them to back off before I charge at them with a silvery animal protector. Maybe I should carve a wand too? I just don’t know where I’m going to find a phoenix feather or unicorn hair. Oh well, if all else fails I suppose I could just hit my dementors with a stick?

Friday, September 2, 2011

"Mysterious"

I love mysteries. Not so much mystery novels, but the actual mysteries that surround us all the time – and we’re surrounded by them. Why do some cancers spontaneously go into remission? What’s really inside the nucleus of an atom? How does a whole tree come out of an acorn? What really happens to us when we die? How does intuition work? What’s outside of our universe? Is there an end to space? An end to infinity?

Some people roll their eyes and tell me I think too much, but I can’t help it. I never grew out of my terrible twos phase of questioning. There are endless mysteries and conspiracy theories and ghost stories and so many other things for which we’re never going to know the answers. Why shouldn’t I be open to the idea of the Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot, or Chupacabras?

Professional debunkers make me about as crazy as the government policy to spread stories of swamp gas. Debunkers make their living from merely saying “No”, but you can’t prove something doesn’t exist. Scientists used to think a certain fish existed only in fossils and became extinct millennia ago… until someone caught one. If the scientists had listened to the local fishermen, they would’ve known that the fishermen had caught that kind of fish before. If more scientists listened to stories about lights in the sky, maybe we’d know what’s up there by now?

Or for a different example, let’s think about acupuncture. It was mocked in the west as an Eastern superstition until somebody actually dared to ask the question of “Gee, does it actually work?” Well, as it turns out, yes. Now we have a whole new tier of questions about how and why and where can we go from here. As long as people remain in lock step with each other, the world is going to remain flat.

I know I’m not alone. Conspiracy theories and ghost hunters wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people who wondered or saw strange things. Religions wouldn’t exist if I was the only one who wonders what happens when we die. Colleges wouldn’t have research labs if somebody somewhere didn’t ask exactly the same kinds of questions as children before children’s questions are squashed into conformity.

When I was a kid, my dad had a squeaky old oil can like the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man. I thought it looked a lot like a watering can, and I liked the smell of the oil, so I “watered” all the flowers by the side of the house. The flowers didn’t look too good the next week, so I “watered” them some more. The flowers got progressively more sickly looking, so redoubled my efforts to help them. For some reason they eventually gave up the ghost and died. Hmm… Interesting fact. Flowers don’t thrive in oil. Now how would I have learned that important fact if I wasn’t open to experimentation?

The crystal ball is super old art, but it was the first thing I thought of when I saw the word for the week. I made it for a newspaper section about predicting the future of business. I’ll admit it was never one of my favorite pieces, but I liked bits of it like the bird. I could do this piece so much better now. Ahhh… life before computers :)

The acorn is a quickie from today. I often type and free associate when I see the IF word for the week, and the idea of a whole tree in an acorn seemed like a logical visual.