Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Most Beautiful Thing in the World

Once upon a time, it was a necklace; it was a pretty, token of affection that a young man selected and presented to his young wife. It was special, when he bought it; a beautiful golden trinket, enameled in green and decorated with pearls, imported all the way from France. She treasured it and wore it on special occasions and then handed it down to her daughter. Her daughter passed it on to a grand-daughter when she turned 16. That grand-daughter wore it in her wedding and later passed it on to her daughter. She still has it, for now.

Five generations, over a hundred forty years. If only pearls could talk...

Even before I knew how old the necklace was or anything about jewelry, the piece had become mythic. My mother kept it safely tucked in the back of her dressing table drawer. Sometimes she would take out different pieces of jewelry and tell the stories behind them. When I look at the necklace, I still hear the soft squeak of the wooden drawer followed by the rustle of jewelry boxes and tissue paper. I feel the heavy clank of the wobbly iron piano stool (with a lump under one cheek) that served as a dressing chair. I smell the feminine dust of cosmetics and old perfume cards and feel the heat of the make-up mirror lights that would scorch, if you touched them. This was a safe place of confidence, womanhood, and history.

I look at this necklace and strands of memories and aspirations begin to unwind. To sit on that stool was to be a woman (if only my feet touched the floor). To wear the necklace was to be a special woman on her way to a very special party. Every once in a while, I was allowed to put it on for a minute... I was transformed from a gangly, mop-headed goof to a statuesque, responsible person, capable of protecting such an extraordinary object.

The first time I was allowed to wear the necklace out of the house was for a high school dance. I attended the dance alone. I wore a hand-me-down dress and borrowed a pair of mom's old shoes. Around my neck was the necklace and it imbued me with a sense of power and confidence. I was a fearless, Amazonian Cinderella marching into that dance; I had no need for a Prince Charming because the magic was all for me.

On my wedding day, my mother presented the necklace to me and placed it around my neck. It was a right of passage. Not to womanhood, as I believed all those years ago, but to a shared history of women. I have become a part of the necklace and all its past is a part of me.

In the beginning, it was just a necklace. Five generations ago, a woman (Mary Catherine) thought it was special enough to care for it and share the story. It is not really a necklace anymore, it is a history of four lives connected through time and space by a tiny bit of gold and pearls and the slight shimmer of green enamel. It is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Uncomfortable Truth

It is funny how a simple comment from someone can change your entire outlook. If you are anything like me, the change is painful and even shocking. A friend, coworker, and person I hold in high regard once told me that I needed to "stop playing the victim". It was an offhanded observation about my personality that almost brought me to my knees (I was sorely tempted to go cry in the bathroom). Even now, I feel echoes of the physical pangs evinced by that seemingly minuscule comment. It was an uncomfortable truth that I desperately needed to hear but no person in my life had ever dared to point out. That comment has haunted me for three years now; it has forced me to face some of my personal demons and begin creating a life that I want to live.

I recently read the book Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. You can find out more about the book here, including a link to download it for free. It is a book of uncomfortable truths that any of those of us trying to survive as creatives need to hear. In our affirmation based society, it is all too easy to surround yourself with yes men and those who will confirm that we are A-okay just as we are. In the book, Pressfied dares to point out that you are not good enough, you can be better- do better- be more. He highlights the pitfalls and obstacles that prevent all of us from becoming better people. Doing the work is a massive and painful undertaking that pushes us to get past stagnation and obstacles. It is a small book of uncomfortable truths that we all need to face. Read it and be grateful that there are people out there willing to point out the flaws we need to overcome in order to be great.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Too Many Thoughts

There are times when the ideas in my head far outpace my ability to build the objects. The sketchbook makes a useful repository for the ideas; I can siphon off the ideas rapidly and store them for later exploration. These are a series of sketches for a new series fermenting in my head and on the pages of my sketchbook.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Doodle-a-Day: March 30

Having a Ball

Remember to play. This key idea behind the Doodle-a-Day project heavily influences my new line of investigation. This new series is growing out of the "what if I do this...?" game. It is an easy game to play with paper and pen (cheap and fast); the game is a little more challenging to play when I start working in silver and gemstones (expensive and time consuming). It is an essential and sometimes rewarding game.

The basic question here is ,"What if I try to crochet a ball in silver?". Did it. Did it again. Did it in two parts to get a ball that is more round. Added colored beads to the ball. Now I have a whole bunch of balls and half balls in varying states of completion. And I am having fun.

Playing the "what if I...?" game has brought new vitality and excitement to my work. Tomorrow is torch and anvil time and I can start playing with the support forms for the balls. It will be a whole new round of "what if I...?" and I can't wait to get started.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Craving Time with My Marker

I have completed seventeen doodles today. Before I started this project, I thought that I would have to chain myself to a chair, in order to get the drawing done. Now I find myself looking forward to sitting down with my marker and my tiny sheet of paper. I look forward to doodling the same way that I look forward to a giant double dip sundae with hot fudge and whipped cream. I began contemplating possible reasons behind my rediscovered love of doodling.

First of all, the task is small and fairly easily accomplished. It feels good to finish something. That sense of gratification sometimes eludes me, when I am staring at my giant board of unfinished projects. Significant factors are that the paper is small (I could reasonably finish a doodle in two minutes, although I generally spend much more time on them) and the scope of the project is finite (forty pieces of paper, forty days). I can gauge my progress by simply looking at the diminishing stack of blanks and the growing stack of covereds.

Second, the value of the project lies in its completion. I have neither the hope, desire, nor expectation of any gain of prestige or money from making these doodles. The only things I will gain are the freedom to draw again and the satisfaction of having completed a task. That is all and that is enough.

Finally, letting go of all rules and self imposed pressure to make it "look good" certainly makes the exercise a source of pleasure. I suppose that the rules of good design are important (although I am having a bit of a crisis of faith regarding design orthodoxy; planning a post on that later this week) but the rules are words that ultimately interfere with a physical, non-verbal instinct to create. Not thinking, in words, but rather in the movements of the hand across the page, releases the logjam of creative impulses and allows me to tap into the well of the seeing brain rather than the thinking brain. I find myself seeing the world differently; the way I saw it when I first learned to draw.

Time to take these lessons from and find ways to apply them to other works.

Doodle-a-Day: March 27

Doodle-a-Day: March 26

Doodle-a-Day: March 25

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remember: This is Fun

So, I just finished posting lucky 13 of the Doodle-a-Day drawings. I have actually managed to do one each day and it has turned out to be rather fun. It is a relief to just play and has gotten me back into sketching in my sketchbook. I definitely recommend that you try the exercise for yourself; it is much more fun than a diet.

I caught myself on the verge of reverting back to bad habits, though. As I stared at my little card for today, I began overthinking how I wanted it to turn out. I wanted to work with ovals and wanted them to be dimensional and all sorts of other stuff. The drawing needed to be perfect and convey a sense of depth and blah...blah...blah. That is not the point. I am all for integrity and controlling design and being thoughtful and planning and all sorts of other things. But, these values need to be kept in their place. The doodle is not, I repeat NOT, the place for this.

I took a deep breath and opened my marker and just played. And kept playing and stopped worrying. Sometimes you have to make yourself play; it is good for your soul.

Don't forget to play today.

Doodle-a-Day: March 23

Doodle-a-Day: March 22

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'll Be There. Will You?

40 Days of Doodles Project

A review of my sketchbook from the past year reveals a rather disconcerting shift in my process. At some point in the past, I abandoned drawing for fun. The only sketches in the book explore specific designs or are illustrations of patterns. My sketchbook has become all work and no play. I desperately need to recapture that sense of play within my work and my life.

I used to sit in a park downtown every morning and doodle in my sketchbook until it was time to go to the office. Since I left the architecture firm and committed myself to growing my jewelry business and teaching, I lost my "park time". I didn't even realize what a precious time I had lost until I began reflecting on the character of my sketchbook. Something was missing in the spirit of the book; more importantly, something was missing within me. I, too, have become all work and no play. Every moment of my day is spent producing, designing, planning and it has become work.

In an effort to recapture my "park time" and regain my sense of play, I have started my Doodle-a-Day Project. My goal is to create one doodle each day for forty days. I have cut 40 3 inch by 3 inch bristol cards and keep them with my black marker. I am letting go of all of the "rules" of good design and drawing. The only rule is to engage in the act of drawing. Every day I will doodle something and share it with you: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Doodle-a-Day: March 15, 2011

Doodle-a-Day: March 14, 2011

Doodle-a-Day: March 12, 2011

Doodle-a-Day: March 13, 2011

Doodle-a-Day: March 11, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Thoughts of a Naive Economist: Technology's Dream

I used to have a vision of a beautiful future, when I was quite young (around 11 years old). My family had a computer at home with a spinach green screen; the computer started up in dos and required the entry of a series of complex codes (written out on a notecard and taped to the desk corner) in order to use the word processing program. We had an Atari and we rented a VCR from the grocery store in order to watch movies at our birthday parties. Home computer technology was in its nascency; we were at the edge of the dream that technological advancements would bring a brighter future for all.

I had my vision one day while sitting in literature class. The teacher's name was Ms. B and I can picture the giant chalkboard at the front of the room. The memory of that daydream is so vivid that I can smell the pencils and paper wrapped textbooks tucked in my plastic desk bin. It is a dream I have carried with me and pulled up again and again with slightly less optimism at each review.

In this dream, technology is pervasive and the technology is beautiful. Technology allows for free time. Technology makes food to be plentiful and nourishing. Technology allows knowledge to be freely shared. Technology renders war, scarcity, and contentiousness obsolete. Technology makes acquisition of money and personal property unnecessary. Material goods are so plentiful that every person has exactly what they need.

Each person in the world has a useful job but need only spend one day per week doing that job. The rest of a person's time is devoted to reading, writing, drawing, creating art. Families enjoy spending time together and possess ample free time to do so. Everyone wears togas and long draped Grecian gowns in soft flowing white. The grass is green and the buildings are elegant, refined, and inviting. My dream world is a world of intelligent people pursuing knowledge and beauty and making the world better each day.

In the dream, people no longer define themselves by their material possessions. Rather, people define themselves by their knowledge and by their ability to create beautiful thoughts, songs, and art. The only source of competition is for greater understanding.
Such was my childhood dream of the possibilities of technological development.

As I think about the state of the world today, I wonder how technology could be so advanced and yet the state of the world be so very backwards. People (who have jobs) work more and more. Each day brings more contention and incivility in social interactions. As a society, we embrace and celebrate ignorance. We encourage relentless egotism and lavishly reward selfish pursuit of corporate revenues at the expense of the environment and the psychological health of society as a whole.

I know that my childhood dream was born out of a naive idealism about human society and human nature. It is a place that will never exist. But, it is worthwhile to hold on to pieces of that dream. We should do better. We can do better. It is just a matter of figuring out how...

Friday, March 4, 2011

In Frisco

In my grand effort to get out and see more of the world, I made a trip to Dallas this week. Go, me! On my way home, I stopped in Frisco at a boutique called Sussie's. All I can say is, forget the mall mess and go to Sussie's. The store is on the East side of Preston Road a few blocks north of the mall.

I am not really a brand name connoisseur and, therefore, can't really make informed comments specific to a particular brand. There is an list of brands they carry on their Facebook Page, if you are curious. What I noticed was an impeccably curated selection of clothes that ranged from beachy and casual to sophisticated party dresses. They definitely have an eye for well cut clothes and wearable fabrics. The design of the store is very fresh and modern. The atmosphere is welcoming and warm.

Owner, Rory Boyd, welcomed me the minute I walked in. She was helpful and knows her inventory inside and out. She knows exactly how items fit and advised me on which brands would work for my body type. Ms. Boyd pointed out several different pieces for me to try on; I felt like she understood my style without my ever having to say a word. Throughout my visit, I received excellent and friendly service without feeling pressured. It felt more like shopping with a girlfriend.

With such impeccable service and selection, I highly recommend visiting Sussie's. I have a wedding to attend in April and Sussie's will be the first place I visit, when I start looking for my outfit.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Magic and Ballet

I am always awed by the performance of ballet dancers. Their work is truly the synthesis of technical mastery and artistic expression. Each dancer must perform to the highest degree of excellence while conveying the emotions behind a piece, all without use of words (obviously). The Mixed Repertoire performed by the Texas Ballet Theater truly highlights this synthesis. I had the pleasure of seeing the show at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth but I am really tempted to go see it again this weekend in Dallas. It was a moving, beautiful show that illustrates three very different styles of performance from one troupe.

The first piece is by Choreographer and Creative Director Ben Stevenson and is titled Four Last Songs. It was as if I had been transported to the Classical Sculpture wing of the Met at night and all the sculptures had come to life. The dancers flowed and moved fluidly through each other and would then freeze in beautifully composed groupings. The magic of geometry, movement, and composition flowed through the piece and united to convey complex sadness and longing.

The second piece, choreographed by dancer Peter Zweifel (definitely an artist to watch), is called Love Always Remains. This was a fantastic contrast to the first piece. Zwiefel uses the body in a way that is completely different from the movements in Stevenson's piece. It's as though the dancers were charged like atoms with force fields attracting and repelling one another as they told a story of interaction, passion, and loss. The choreographic style pushes towards modern dance but definitely expresses the grace and technical skill of ballet. I enjoyed the use of contemporary indie rock in the piece. It was surprising but not jarring or discordant.

The final piece, George Balanchine's Theme and Variations will definitely please those who enjoy a more traditional performance. There are tutus, tights and sequins galore. The piece is energetic and fun with wonderful solo and troupe sections that highlight the technical strengths of the TBT.

I found the show moving and inspiring. If you are in Dallas this weekend, I highly recommend attending one of the performances.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Denton Life is Pretty Darn Good

The sun came out and the weather warmed up to just right this afternoon. I decided it was time for me to get out so I headed over to Downtown Denton. Clearly I have had my head in the sand for far too long because there was much to do, see, and impulse buy.

First stop was Sleeping Lizzards just off the square. Everyone who has ever lived in Denton knows Sleeping Lizzards is a fabulous collection of jewelry, clothes, and just fun stuff. I absolutely love the typewriter key jewelry by co-owner Beth Klein. A fun new addition at the store is the button making station. You can make your own buttons for $1 and there is an ample supply of cool books and magazines to cut up and incorporate in your very own creation. Express yourself and go make a button. Plus, there are some supercute, floaty summer dresses on sale right now.

Next  I dropped in to A Creative Art Studio on Oak Street. It is a fun mix of works by regional and local artists. I love the cast resin Buddhas by Denton artist and educator Jennifer Leigh Jones and the paintings by Mariko Frost Kostreva. I will have to start saving up so I can take the class in mosaic making taught by owner Robin Huttash. There are so many interesting classes on offer right now. I will definitely have to head back over there for First Friday to see the Big Rig Dance Collective. Check out the events page here for more information.

A relatively new addition to the area is the Howe Unique Boutique. You can find their facebook page here. They have a varied collection of gift and housewares that includes work by local and regional artists. They have some great greeting cards and really cute locally made handbags. I am bummed I missed the Vintage Pinup Themed photoshoot; that looks like fun. I will be following their facebook feed so I can go to the next one!

I popped in to The Courthouse Collection to see what's new. There were some cute flip flops that caught my eye but then I walked through to the back and was utterly surprised by the Country Kitchen City Cooks shop. There were so many tempting treats on offer back there! I splurged on a bag of Super Graham Crunch coffee beans (hopefully the coffee goodness will motivate me to get my bum out of bed in the morning). This will be my go-to place next time I need a sophisticated Texas themed gift. There were Texas made candies, jelly, honey, salsa, pasta and lots more so look out ya'all. Be nice to me and I might send you a present.

I always thought the UNT on the Square was just some conference space that the school took over but then I went inside. Guess what? They have art in there. On exhibit right now are paintings by Elaine Pawlowicz. The space is lovely and a pleasant surprise. I am thrilled that there is an actual art gallery on the square. What a brilliant move by the Art Department at UNT.

My favorite find by far was 2nd Street. You can follow them on facebook here. It took me two years to make time to visit and I feel like I have been missing out. Inside you will find a fabulous collection of clothes, shoes, and other tchochkes. The merchandise is a blend of new, recycled and vintage; all of it cool (but not inaccessibly so). I bough an awesome doormat made out of recycled flip-flops and had a great time chatting with the owner. She is really wonderful and an ardent supporter of local musicians.

I have been suffering from city envy lately but I am over it. There is so much going on right here in my hometown. The food is good. The drinks are affordable. The people are friendly. The weather is nice. I am glad I live in Denton; life is pretty darn good.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is Important?

Some of the things I spend my time on: walking the dog and training the dog, cleaning the house, caring for the cats, making food, making jewelry, surfing the internet (especially twitter and facebook), reading about business and economics, listening to NPR, paperwork, watching TV shows, talking to my husband, reading novels and other books.

Things I should spend less time on: paperwork, surfing the internet, watching TV, reading novels (depending on the week).

Things I should spend more time on: going to art shows, talking to my husband, attending cultural events, marketing my jewelry, drawing, coming up with new designs.

What is most important? Family. Friends. Pets. Enjoying my work. Understanding how the world works. Being responsible. Being kind to every person with whom I interact. Living a beautiful life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Accountability and Discipline

I have a problem. I am sure that many of you suffer from the same issue. I am a wicked bad procrastinator and am addicted to deadlines. I can find about a million other things to do around the house (clean, laundry, nap) or on the internet/phone (twitter, facebook, games, reading articles). In the absence of any deadlines or shows, I fall apart. I become unfocused and unable to accomplish any jewelry making. I need to change this pattern of behavior.

One remedy I am exploring to improve my time management is using a planner. Each day in the planner is marked out in hours and I am determined to write each activity for each day into the slots. At the end of each month, I will make a graph of how I have spent my time (not sure I will ever share this chart with anyone). I expect this will be a humbling experience but it will also encourage me to engage in activities that I want to write in my planner. Really, who wants to see two hours of nap, every day?

I want to make a living doing what I love. Some days it is really difficult to get motivated. My lack of self-discipline could cause this whole enterprise to fall apart. As my little pothos has taught me, I can change. I have to change and my planner is just one of many little steps on my path to succeeding as an artist and a businesswoman.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tiny Steps

I finally made a Work Log Form today. This way, I can neatly track my hours for each project in one place. This seemingly tiny task has been haunting me for nearly a year. I find myself getting hung up on these tiny bits of business and they keep me from accomplishing much larger, more important things.

I think the whole hangup about the form stems from a larger fear. I want to think of myself as an artist and, somehow, doing things like efficiently tracking hours spent feels like "not art". In fact, it feels like business. And "business" feels less meaningful than art.

I am an artist and a businesswoman. I have to be both. I want to make art all of the time. I need to make money to live and buy materials to make more art. I refuse to perpetuate the notion that one either makes art or makes business. It is not a useful dichotomy and, given the large number of MFAs seeking an ever shrinking number of teaching positions, one that many fellow artists are going to have to reject.

Is it possible to make business and make art without "selling out"? I sure hope so. I am going to give it a try. I took a little step forward today.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lessons from My Pothos

For most of my life, I have been plagued with a black thumb. I couldn't keep cut flowers fresh for more than three days. And potted plants, forget it. Within a week, I could turn a beautiful, healthy houseplant into a pot of decay and mush. My dad was always giving me flowers and plants; to me, they were sad exiles to the punishing death row of plants that is my house. They were just another hopeful gesture doomed to remind me, within days, that I am an irresponsible failure (or a swift executioner).

One day, my friend Becky gave me a little pothos she had rooted and potted. Becky is a kind and magical individual who seems to have a deeply rooted connection with nature and the living world. She is a portrait of self-renewal and proof that people can choose to change themselves for the better. Simply put, she is everything that I am not. I thought to myself, "this poor little plant is doomed," even as Becky was extolling the virtues of the pothos.

In honor of Becky's faith in me, I decided to really make an effort to not kill the pothos. A week went by and the plant was still alive. Then a month. After about six months, the little guy had outgrown his pot and I took some clippings and gave rooting a try. It worked. A few more months and I had enough plant to try rooting a bit in water. Then, brimming with self confidence, I acquired a few more plants. Now I have a window full of semi-healthy, growing green things. Although there have been a few casualties along the way, including a supposedly indestructible aspidistra (thanks, Dad), most of the plants continue to grow.

Each time I look at that little pothos, I am reminded that I can change. I can be a better person. It hasn't happened overnight and I still make mistakes but little pothos reminds me that, no matter how old I get, I can still change myself. I, confirmed plant killer, can turn my black thumb to green (well, brownish green). I just have to keep trying; it helps to have friends who believe in you.
The original pothos (right) and some of its children.
Who, or what, has helped you become better? Please feel free to comment!