May 26, 2012

Doing Art vs. Making Art

Yesterday I re-read the aforementioned article by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer and decided it was time to take action beyond reading the article.  Thinking about the advice to "do" art as opposed to "make" art, I picked up a small blank canvas and just started painting it.  With the tub of paint tubes within easy reach, I just started squeezing blobs of paint on the canvas, squeezing on a blending medium, and moved it all around.  The idea of creating a collage on this first canvas occurred to me, and I thought about the fact that my sister-in-law is celebrating a milestone birthday this summer and it would be fun to make something for her.  While that canvas dried, I grabbed another and just started putting bright colours on it.  My intent was not to create a masterpiece.  My intent was to smear paint and have a good time doing it.  How fun to ignore chores and make a painty mess without the pressure of a deadline or having to have a finished project.  This is my happy mess, phase 1.

On the mom front, I've got two kids at home now which means bigger messes and more chores.  I say kids, but they are 17 and 27.  I find studio time easier now that it's out of the house, something I thought was going to be a major inconvenience.  It is inconvenient at times, but at other times proves to provide a necessary separation of home and creative time.  This summer we will be college shopping for Kevin, which means a lot of time away from home.  Finding time to work in the studio is going to take planning.  It is time for me to start being more serious about it and make it as routine as when I went to an office every day.  Being creative definitely makes me a happier person, so I'm going to tell myself that I'm doing it for my family just as much as I'm doing it for myself.  Does that sound like a big fat fib?  ;-)  It's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

May 22, 2012

Throwing in the Towel

There comes a time when there is no choice but to accept that a piece of art is, in fact, an epic failure and that it is time to throw in the towel.  This piece is just NOT going to happen.  I will never be satisfied, I will always be annoyed with the fact that no matter how much I paint it, attach wires, or change the mount, I just hate it.  This piece has been torturing me for almost two years.  I made a mistake in the form the day I made it, then tried to make the form work.  It doesn't work.  It started off beige and grim.  I tried incorporating fiber and wire and, as I observed back then, the result was a terrorist in a fluffy skirt.  It was horrible.

Next came more paint, removal of fiber, addition of wire, then more wire, and little metal bits.  I tried too hard to save a piece not worth saving.  Tossing this piece won't mean total failure for me.  I've learned what doesn't work, to trust my first instincts, but to also just keep handling a variety of materials in an effort at getting better with those materials.  I can throw in the towel and not feel as if I've completely wasted my time.  Well, I can try to talk myself into believing that if I say it enough times in my head.  In any event, I'll never feel free to do something else until I can just give up on this disaster. 

This last month I have tried harder to find that balance between mom and artist.  It's hard.  I still feel like a fraud when I call myself an artist.  I make stuff, but not even enough stuff to justify the title of artist.  Maybe I'm just a slow crafter.  But I'm spending more time than ever in my garage studio, hoping for continued moderate weather so that I can work in here in peace and mentally begging for creative juices to flow more freely.  Now all I have to do is make a sign for the back of my chair so that solicitors don't feel that an open studio door is an open invitation to interrupt with their efforts to sell me meat from a truck (seriously, it's disgusting) or their fumigation services or their religion.  Time to sport a holster loaded with an air horn.  It works on teenage boys...

Time to move on.

May 6, 2012

I Thought I Was Swedish (at least a little)

Do I ever take my own advice?  Just get into the studio and make something instead of doing housework or run errands?  Today I did.  It was time to do what I know I should and just go to the studio to play with no plan.  It's amazing how just picking up a piece of wood, cutting it (and thankfully not terrifying Tabitha the Studio Cat into a fuzzy frenzy) and picking up the gesso.  I figured one of two things were going to happen.  I'd either come up with an idea as I worked blind, or just get messy and enjoy the process.  It worked.  The messing around resulted an epiphany about the figurative piece I've been working on for months, following my cyber mentor Debbie's advice to just let it happen and let the ideas flow.  I'm sketching, jotting downs ideas and actually having a hard time watching paint dry so I can move to the next step.  But step one and the ideas for step two have caused a flow of other new ideas that, thank goodness, are coming from my long-dormant brain and not one of my magazines or reference books.

Last week my husband took me to a museum in Los Angeles that featured an exhibit of women Surrealists of Mexico and the United States, knowing that I am a huge fan of one of the featured artists, Frida Kahlo.  The autobiographical nature of her work always impressed me, particularly her almost unkind but honest portrayal of herself.  It dawned on me that the piece I've been struggling with has been slow in the making while I was constantly distracted by a recent revelation about my own family, now an inspiration as I plot the completion of the work.

I grew up with one side of my family having been in America since the late 1700's at which time they immigrated from Ireland.  But on the other side of the family, I am a first generation American.  My grandparents immigrated from Finland and Sweden to Canada, and when my father was young, they immigrated to the United States.  I always felt very connected to my Scandinavian family.  The frequent visits by aunts, uncles and cousins from Sweden were fun and I loved listening to the elders struggle with English while they taught me a little Swedish (about one phrase of which I remember!).  I adopted many of the Swedish traditions in my holiday cooking and decorating, trying to teach my children about that part of the family, many of them long gone.  I was proud to insist on retaining my maiden name when I married, compromising by hyphenating it with my husband's very English (and sounding like someone with allergies) last name of Hewitt.  What a strange thing to be 51 years old and find out that the man that I loved (and still do) as my grandfather and whose name I carry is no relation to me whatsoever.  Maybe there was never a time for them to feel they should or needed to tell the truth about the family?  Absolutely never?  I discovered that my father came to the U.S. two years later than we thought (no big deal, I know) and that his younger brother was also born in Canada, not New York.  What else do I think I know that is wrong?  My last name doesn't quite feel the same to me and, frankly, I think I would like to have known that a long time ago and maybe even had the chance to choose.  Some things will never change, like the fact that I loved my grandparents to death and miss them every day.  But I'm not Swedish.  I didn't have an answer to, "Where did you grow up?" because I was an Air Force brat, but I always had an answer about my family heritage.  They didn't exactly lie, but I feel like that was a pretty big piece of information to keep under cover for a lifetime.  If it weren't for the internet, I'd never have known.  I resent it just a little bit.  However, I will think of my glass as half full and, inspired by Frida Kahlo and genealogical research results, I'm ready to work.

I'm not Swedish.  Not even a little bit.  That's a bummer, but fodder for thought while I work at expressing how I feel about it in wire, wood and clay.  If I'd carried on my father's real last name, I'd have been spelling it and correcting pronunciation for my entire life.  At least everyone knows how to pronounce Carlson.  There, the silver lining.