Inspiration

There are periods where I have lots of time to be in the studio, when I'm in a groove and the ideas keep flowing. I know where I'm going with a project, what my next steps will be, and the entire process feels right. Then there are periods when I'm away from the studio for days on end, and other areas of my life require all of my focus and creative energy. After a spell like that, I will often return to the studio, sit down at my table and draw a complete blank. I'll find I cannot get my head into the space where all my ideas and inspiration incubate. I've learned recently that trying to force the flow usually doesn't work, so I'm developing a system to combat the "artist's block".

Instagram, Pinterest and my growing library of art books are good places to start. I follow painters, mixed media artists, printmakers, fiber artists and galleries. Seeing what other people are doing will often get the juices flowing, and will even help generate new ideas sometimes.

The other thing that really helps - and this is a trick I learned from Bob Siegelman's Figure Drawing Intensives (highly recommended) - is to do a series of quick, small sketches. I try not to overthink the marks I'm putting on the page, and I try not to linger over any individual sketch. Rather, I like laying them all out on the floor as I go so I can view them as a series. I think this is akin to warm-up exercises before a workout. It gets the muscles working in preparation for the more intense stuff.

Last night I did a series in charcoal and graphite, limiting my color options so I could focus solely on line, composition and texture.

Charcoal Sketches

Two Weeks at Haystack

I spent a glorious two weeks in July at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, totally immersed in creativity. The surroundings, my classmates, and the faculty were utterly inspiring. I returned home with a head full of ideas and the determination to restructure my schedule so that I have more time for the studio. Ann Wessmann was my teacher in a class titled "Multiples + Collections: Objects + Installations". I brought my collection of pressed leaves, and Ann helped me think through some ways to incorporate them into my work. While it was a productive time, I realize the physical work that I produced is only second to the thinking and puzzling out that I did. It's so hard to find the clear head space for that kind of looking inward in a daily life filled with a full time job, housework, family demands, etc.

 

Found in the Backyard

Our yard in Jamaica Plain, I'm told, was filled years ago with soil trucked in from coal yards in Brookline. It's bad soil, so we plant our veggies in raised beds filled with organic soil and compost. The bad soil still holds nuggets of coal, which emerge in the spring or after a hard rain. The bright spot, though, is that the soil also harbors these little treasures - shards of broken pottery and china which I collect and save. I'll find some use for it one of these days. My favorites are the very tiniest ones. I think I prefer the small suggestion of the overall pattern - it frees me to imagine what's not there. The mystery, the unknown, is more enticing than the whole story laid at your feet.

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Origami

I visited the Fuller Craft Museum on Sunday to see their recently installed exhibit, Mens et Manus: Folded Paper of MIT. What an inspiring exhibit, and I was fortunate enough to make it into a lecture given by Erik Demaine, MIT professor and Mens et Manus exhibitor. Here's an article about Erik in the New York Times. Math + art. All of these pieces are formed from a single sheet of paper. No scissors, tape or glue. Go see the show if you can, and watch this gorgeous documentary called "Between the Folds" (you can stream it on Netflix).

Mens et Manus

by Brian Chan and Ken Stone. The pattern used to fold this piece is etched into the glass panel behind.

Suigintou

by Brian Chan

Green Waterfall

by Erik and Martin Demaine

Black Forest Cuckoo Clock

Designed by Robert J. Lang, folded by Mark Tompkins

Carpenter Poets

On Sunday afternoon, I found myself marveling at the realization that inside so many of us there are artists, writers, actors, musicians that share equal space with our work-week personas. We spend 40 hours or more at jobs that pay the bills - we pound nails or answer phones; we care for the ill or the elderly; we teach; we head large corporations. All the while, under the surface, we are composing new works and waiting for the five o'clock hour when we can put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or otherwise be reunited with the instruments of our passion.

On Sunday afternoon, the Carpenter Poets read at the Forsyth Chapel at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. The men and women of trade - who build walls and windows and coax form from warm wood using cold steel edges - they also craft poetry that speaks about all of the building they do in their lives: with their hands, with gestures, with words, with one another, and with their families.

On Sunday afternoon, the Carpenter Poets stood under the bending spine of the chapel's great ceiling, each taking their turn against a backdrop of carved wood panels and delicate stained glass to give voice to their written words. As I listened, I imagined the words rising up to those beams long ago sanded smooth by other hands.

Here's a clip of some of the Carpenter Poets reading at their annual gathering at James's Gate in JP this past November:

Afloat

I have reoccurring dreams of water, of being submerged in a surreal ocean. In one version of this dream, the water is dark, opaque and solid - like a black trash bag. In these ocean dreams I'm usually a short distance from the shore, which looks fair and safe and familiar. Still, I'm in the water and need to stay afloat. I tread through the strange density. I tilt my head back so the waves won't roll right over my head. There's certainly anxiety in these dreams, but also a degree of comfort - the ocean is so familiar to me. The waves are like the embrace of a loved one, though the unpredictable sort who, if in the right (or wrong) mood, might just lash out at you without warning, pull you down to dark depths.

My apartment is on the second floor of a three decker in Jamaica Plain. My bed is in the corner of my room, and on each side of the bed are windows. There's something about the placement of the bed and the configuration of the windows that, when nestled into the very corner and propped up with a mound of pillows, gives me the sense of being in a tree fort looking down on the world.

In the darkest part of night, when the waves are rolling in and I'm kicking my legs through ominous depths, I can pull the curtain back and see the lighted windows of my neighbors homes. I sooth myself with the stories I create about the lives beyond the lighted windows - women stirring pots of soup, children bent over schoolwork at kitchen tables, cats slinking through long hallways, someone plucking the strings of a well-worn violin.

I think, somehow, that seeing the safety of shore gives us the courage to stay submerged and keep treading.

Seer

What if you were to stop in your neighborhood coffee shop on a wintery late afternoon when the sky was just turning dark, and the streets were wet with melted snow, and the shop windows that glowed from within were moist from ovens that were baking breads and croissants and custardy pastries. Would you read the cream that first swirled into your small cup of dark roast as you would tea leaves? What would the milky strings that float to the top mean? What if they looked like a dragon, or a quail, or the face of a worried old woman?

Winter

Winter has been shy this year. Peeks its head out from time to time, breathes a penetrating exhale, but hesitates to step into center stage. There's still time, it's only late December, after all. This morning there was frost on my windshield, pleasing patterns like small, crystalline footprints, the remnants of some secret late-night scurrying. Beyond the frost: a dark, skeletal tangle of dormant trees.

New Blues (and Purples)

I have to say, I really like these new blue bamboo scarves. I made only 3, I sold two over the weekend, and this remaining one will be in Shift by the end of the week.
I really thought this warp was going to be a dud when I saw it on the loom, but I was quite pleased with the woven fabric. Some projects are like that - the ones you think will flop may come out great in the end, so I guess the lesson is to stick with it and be open to the surprises.
These purple guys were a lot of fun to weave, but they sure are hard to photograph. Something about the color and my amateur photography skills, I suppose. One of these scarves will head to Shift this week as well, and the other may find it's way to the Left Bank Gallery. If I don't keep it for myself....

Goat Walk

Preparing for a show can be stressful. Right now I am preparing for a 2 day craft show this weekend (Vendor Bender in Mashpee); Thanksgiving dinner for 9 next Thursday; and a second 2 day craft show (Artisans Guild of Cape Cod) that begins the day after Thanksgiving. In spite of all the work that needs to be done, some days you just need to step out of the studio and get some fresh air, take a walk, and clear your mind. It's even better if you know a few goats who will take a stroll with you.

Minnie and Beatrice

A Simple Task

I love having a clothesline.

My laundry area is in my basement, accessible only through a bulkhead. When I emerge from that dark space with a basket of just-bleached linens braced against one hip, the sun feels brighter and the air is suddenly more fragrant - sweet and spicy with lily of the valley, scrub pine, blueberry bushes and perhaps if the breeze is just right, a hint of saltiness from the ocean which is just down the road a bit as the crow flies.

I hang each item, wooden clip to corner, in neat rows until all are in place, and I offer my efforts to the sun. Drying laundry in this way requires a certain degree of precision and attention that is not normally granted such a mundane task. Perhaps it is the ritual itself, which has otherwise been lost to the now mechanical process of laundering, that appeals to me as well. I can envision my counterpart 50 years ago, 80 years ago, 100 years ago - worlds apart culturally I suppose, but with this simple task in common. We each reach down to a basket, with back to the sky, then clip and stretch and clip. We work in silence, focused.

My reward for the extra minutes spent on this task is a cotton shirt, a pillowcase, a sweater infused with the scent of lily, pine, sea and sun. There is no sensory experience that can compare.

I will walk past my bed countless times today, sun-dried sheets tucked in, folded down and exhaling that remarkable scent. I will anticipate the end of the day when I can finally enfold myself in it, lay my face on the cool pillowcase and sleep surrounded by that simple sweetness.

Layers

We are redoing the new (to us) home that we moved into just over a month ago. We've traded easy-going, sandy-floored beach digs for 1930's Cape Cod holiday-away. Our old house was shingled in thick layers of weathered, silver cedar; this house is painted in a slightly jarring pastel. And I like it.

Have you ever stripped wallpaper? I hadn't before this month. I am currently tackling the dining room which, until very recently, was adorned in stripey strawberry paper.

Under the stripes we find yellow paint. Cheery, in a way. Then comes the realization that the yellow was painted over the loveliest gray and white wallpaper - presumably dating back to the house's original construction in the 1930's. We peer at it up close, noses to the wall, because it's so faint now, hiding behind the yellow and a bit damp from all of the steaming. We wish we could strip away the strawberries and the yellow cheer and salvage the elegant old paper. Alas.I'm contemplative while steaming and scraping and stripping the layers away. What went on in this dining room during the gray paper days? Who put this wallpaper up, and how long did they live here? Who painted over it with the cheery yellow?

Finally, Rugs!

It seems like this project has taken ages; why does it sometimes feel like trudging through mud in a heavy pair of boots with certain projects? It's not like I've been avoiding the rugs, it just seems that I've hit snags along the way (running out of warp yarn, for example) that have slowed the whole process down, plus all those other pesky details of everyday life keep interfering: taxes, housework, my other job, a social life, etc. Hopefully I'm on track now and will be cranking these out for the next couple of weeks.

These rugs are being woven from the wool gathered from the sheep that are kept by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. So far I have completed the sage green and cream rugs and now I'm on to white and blue. The green and cream were woven on 8 harnesses in a diamond twill pattern, this next batch will be on 4 harnesses also in a diamond twill.

I've also finished and photographed the linen scarves, these will be posted on Etsy sometime this week. I experimented with beads in the weft, and I like the results.

Ah, Spring!

Yes, it's here! Know how I can tell? My taxes are done, the daffodils are up, there are newborn lambs at Squam Farm, and visitors are starting to appear around the island on the weekends.

The arugula and lettuce seedlings have punched through the soil in my garden. It always amazes me that these delicate little sprouts can survive such chilly weather, but they actually thrive in it. The peas have only just started to gingerly poke through, slightly behind the greens.

I wish there were more colorful signs of spring in my garden, but without heroic efforts involving wire, deer netting, and foul smelling sprays, tulips and hyacinths are little more than convenient snack foods for our neighborhood deer. To be honest, I just don't have the energy. For reasons that are beyond my understanding, the deer will not eat the daffodils. They eat everything else, to be sure, including my chives and lilies, both of which will rebound when the deer move on to what must be more delectable greenery later in the season.

Did I mention the lambs?

Some of the sheep in this flock provided the wool that I am using to weave rugs for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.

Nature Walk

It was a beautiful day today, the kind of day that could almost fool you into thinking that Spring is just around the corner. In truth we are so far from Spring, all the more reason to take advantage of this weather while it lasts.

I went for a long walk at Squam Farm today and brought my camera along. This is one of my favorite areas for walking on Nantucket - acres of conservation land and some days I can walk the entire property without seeing another human being. What I do look forward to seeing, in terms of living creatures, are the sheep that the Nantucket Conservation Foundation are keeping on this property. The sheep are here as part of an effort to maintain the grass plains environment that is so prevalent on the island, an interesting project.

The advantage to walking these trails in the winter is that with all the foliage gone, it's easier to follow the deer trails and get off the beaten path. These little exploratory adventures lead me to the most surprising places - meandering streams, a stand of Tupelo trees, a hidden kettle pond.