Seeds of Joy

At the beginning of this year, I chose JOY as my word for 2019. At the time, it felt a little cliche', but I kept coming back to it. In January I said, "Hearing my daughters laugh is one of my favorite things. Of course, it cannot be all joy all the time, but I live for sharing joy with the people I love. We have to have trust and patience that joy will come."

Fast forward 7 months later... In a few weeks, our oldest daughter goes off to college. During this bittersweet time, I choose joy. I worry and fret, but then realize, this is a joyful time. It's her time, but also it's my time to enjoy some of the rewards of having an adult child. 

And apparently, it is time to open an artist cooperative gallery. I came in on the tail end of the planning stages, but just last week in a huge leap, three other artists and I opened a gallery in our town. It is called Studio 176, and it is truly a joyful space! My recent Seeds of Joy, 8" painted collage panels, now hang in Studio 176, as well as other recent work by three artists that I admire and respect. 

The title Seeds of Joy comes from my list, Why do I make Art? The first list item, "To plant the seeds of joy, hope, and my truth." And new to the line-up, actual almonds (sealed with a finish), Lake Superior stones, and air-dry clay assemblages on wood panels. I've had the sculpture itch and wanted to include actual seeds, so we'll see where that may lead. As I said in January, "Joy is the opposite of my least favorite words: greed, hate, shame, hopelessness, fear, cynicism, and despair... Joy is an antidote." Making art is a hopeful state of being. At times making and selling art is a struggle, but I been doing this long enough to know that these seeds that will sow joy.

Seeds of Joy panels, top left (acrylic paint & my wallpaper designs)

Arc-Nest panels, air-dry clay & Lake Superior stone
Arc-Nest panels, air-dry clay & Lake Superior stone

Arc-Nest panels, air-dry clay & Lake Superior stone

Why do I make Art?

In July during an art retreat at the Grand Marais Art Colony with Minnesota artist and mentor Lynn Speaker, we were asked to answer the question "Why do I make Art?" Recently, artist Ursula von Rydingsvard answered this question with honesty and candor; her straight-forward answers filled a gallery wall at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. this summer.

So, that got us thinking. Over a few days of making art and walking around beautiful Grand Marais, Minnesota, here are my answers.

Why do I make art?
  • To plant the seeds of joy, hope, and my truth
  • To make connections and meaning
  • To connect to other people
  • To simultaneously lose and find myself
  • To step into the unknown without a plan, and simply trust
  • To show my daughters (and students, and others) what it looks like to live the life I want to live
  • To be a nicer, healthier version of myself, because I really do start to get irritated and then physically sick if I don't make art
  • To be open, listen and keep learning
  • To be free and make my own rules
  • To have something of my own, and then share it
  • To destroy, recycle, and build into something new
  • To fail, try again, and face fear
  • To touch and leave an imprint


What's in your box?

Creativity is about thinking outside conventional boxes, but what if it's your box, and you decide what to place in it? Your creative practice/mind/space is yours. Artists often feel like they helplessly ride art-making waves, with little control and input. I mean, it is great to give up a little control, and be open to chance and ambiguity. But, it's your work and somehow you steer it and own it.

What if you grab what inspires you (small objects, images, articles, song lyrics, books of poetry, old sketchbooks, small works of art, photos, ideas or doodles that you write on diner napkins or meeting minutes) and place it in a project box... then, respond to it by making art? Sometimes either ideas seem scarce or overwhelmingly abundant; the box is a way to contain what inspires you, organize it, and connect seemingly disparate ideas into something new.

The project box isn't a new idea, but it has recently worked for me, especially when I reviewed the writings of Twyla Tharp (choreographer and project-boxer) and the art of Joseph Cornell (assemblage artist).

“I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance.” 
― Twyla Tharp

 If you know about Twyla Tharp, and her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, you are familiar with her bank box process of collecting inspiring materials--one box per project. This has worked for her for more than 50 years as a productive choreographer. I am not a dancer or choreographer, but what is brilliant about the box for me is that it's a way to short-circuit both overwhelm (too many ideas) and block (no ideas at all). Through some kind of a creative osmosis of the objects being next to each other and being in physical contact with you, new ideas form.

What was unexpected for me with using the Twyla Tharp's project-box idea, was how the box, the items in it, and then spontaneously photographing the arrangement of those objects on the box cover, became art, itself. And then, I thought back to Joseph.

"My boxes are life's experiences aesthetically expressed."
Joseph Cornell

When I was 17 the work of Joseph Cornell captured my imagination, and contained my overwhelm about sculpture. You mean, I can gather some three-dimensional objects and arrange them? From a young age I've loved to physically arrange things--rooms, Barbie houses, table and shelf arrangements. There is an art to arranging. Joseph Cornell's work was and still is like poetry to me. At age 17, I created a boxed assemblage entitled Melancholy Friend, containing a dried rose, an antique looking broach, a few of my drawings, a few sticks, and a hand-written poem I wrote for a friend suffering from depression. Melancholy Friend assemblage was accepted into the student art show in college that year.

Recently, gathering and arranging the objects (below), and then shaking them up, brought me back to age 17, arranging my own little inspiring worlds.
Arranging objects from my project box.

After shaking up the arrangement.

“Shadow boxes become poetic theater or settings wherein are metamorphosed the elements of a childhood pastime. The fragile, shimmering globules become the shimmering but more enduring planets—a connotation of moon and tides—the association of water less subtle, as when driftwood pieces make up a proscenium to set off the dazzling white of sea foam and billowy cloud crystallized in a pipe of fancy.” 
― Joseph Cornell


Water, Sun, Moon, Growth. A Book.

Today, this book, Water, Sun, Moon, Growth, was sent to the Brooklyn Museum.

Taken right before I misplaced the book for 5 days

First day, making an arrangement of inspiring objects.
(SBP book, on bottom left.)
by Carolyn Kleefeld, Climates of the Mind
Random arrangement, after shaking up objects.
In case you are thinking about joining in on the Brooklyn Museum Sketchbook Project, here was my process, January-March, 2019:
  1. January: Accept a birthday gift of a Brooklyn Museum Sketchbook Project from poet-friend, LouAnn Shepard Muhm. (Or, go to the Brooklyn Museum, pay, and order the book.)
  2. February: Register the book online with the Brooklyn Museum and choose Go-between from theme list.
  3. Find out the postmark deadline is March 30th, 2019. Freak out a little, when looking at the blank pages. 
  4. Decide to pull a lot of current creative ideas together (Water-Moon-Growth, Drought-Sun-Decay, the Twyla Tharp project box, and poetry from Climates of the Mind by Carolyn Kleefeld) into one book. 
  5. Still February: Gather inspiring objects in the bank box. Then, make arrangements of inspiring objects on the cover of the box: retro fabric, stones, leaves, almonds, a net, etc. Read some Kleefeld poetry. Take photos. 
  6. Embrace change and chance. Shake the objects to create a random arrangement. Take more photos.
  7. Still February: Begin drawing in book, compositions influenced by poetry, the photos, and above themes. Fall hard for the color and blendability of Prismacolor colored pencils. Create new imagery and compositions for future work on book pages.
  8. March 11-12th: Finish last pages. Name it, Water, Sun, Moon, Growth, and create the book cover image.
  9. LOSE THE BOOK for 5 days. Look everywhere in house and classroom. Text husband, daughters, and LouAnn (poet-bestie), begging for help to find it. Dig through the garbage a few times. 
  10. Give up looking for it for a day, and estimate that 40 hours of labor were put into the book.
  11. Stand catatonic, for long pauses in various places in your house, trying to reimagine where you move things when you clean. 
  12. FIND IT! In a file folder you hastily stuffed with a pile of your 18-year-old daughter's college info, and the book. 
  13. Smile, BIG. Pay for the digitized version of the book. 
  14. March 25th: Get video of flipping through the book pages. Send Water, Sun, Moon, Growth to the Brooklyn Museum.
A few details of pages from the book, in chronological order

The 'project box' of inspiration for the project


Moon, Water, Growth, & Habit

"Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity." Twyla Tharp. EVERY. THING. I know this, but sometimes everything is overwhelming. Everything is raw.

I need to go back to basics when I am stalled or don't have focus on a creative project. More money would help, but money isn't really stopping me; I have most of the art supplies I need since I am working small. A lack of extra time is part of the stall, but I've scaled that wall before with chipping away at creative projects while juggling. Creating motivates others areas of my life, but creating does take time. What I really need are more consistent habits. So, I am re-rereading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, at the same time a fellow artist does too. Thanks for the extra push, Cathy!

I started this Moon, Water, Growth series last summer. It seems like something I must do, yet I am not sure where to go from here. Tell me, Twyla! Routine & developing habits, she says. Get a bank box and label it with the name of your project, she says. Here is the box, labeled Moon, Water, Growth, and now I will start filling it with what seems even remotely related. Next, sketching, photographing, and chipping away at the mixed media 8x8" panels. My goal is creating 50 Moon, Water, Growth panels, where ever they lead. I mean, even if they become Sun, Drought, Decay, that would be okay. Creating is the goal.

Underwater Red Moon, 8x8" mixed-media on wood panel
Grass on Orange Water, 8x8" mixed-media on wood panel
Water Through Roots, 5x5" on paper
The Creative Habit is the first thing in the box.


Teenagers, Trust, & Tumors

Driving into work on a cold Minnesota morning, away from
my teenage daughters and toward the teens I teach, I was
thinking about how teenagers, trust, and tumors led to
choosing my 2019 word, JOY.
Riding the Storm,
Gouache and Self-Designed Wallpaper

Detail of some of my recent gouache clouds
Teens are this thread that runs through just about every
part of my life right now. I am still learning, but after more
than 20 years of teaching them, 5 years mothering and living
with them, and pretty vivid memories of being one, I know
teens really need to be trusted, as they find healthy, joyful
outlets to learn and grow. Hearing my daughters laugh is
one of my very favorite things. Of course, it cannot be all
joy all the time, but I live for sharing joy with the people I
love. We have to have trust and patience that joy will come.
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the 
morning." Psalms 30:5.

Things like tumors get my attention, jolting me into wonder-
ing why it takes something like that to remember that life is
too short to keep putting off joy until tomorrow. My body is
an overachiever at growing benign tumors with atypical cells
in various locations. Every few years now, I have to have one
or two removed and then my family, friends, and I hold our
collective breath waiting for the result. Of course, every time
I think, this is it, my luck has run out, but in November I got
more benign results from 2 tumors. EXHALE, relief! Then,
guilt... so many do not get benign results. Also, I don't like to
see my favorite people worry, but really, I am not bionic. We
all need support. I have to trust my people to be there for me,
just as much as I want to be there for their struggles and joys.

The joy of playful art-making and not overthinking, just
trusting the process, gets me through a lot. The cloud images
and a few boats getting thrown around got me through this
recent tumor-time. During tumor-times in the past other
images formed: sheep, birds, foxes, water, patterns, Eames
chairs, pears, landscapes, etc. In 2012, I wrote this list,
Here is number from that list:
Well, don't go out and get one. But that is what got me 
started in October. A tumor was found, and I waited 5 
weeks through many tests to find out if it was cancerous. 
In the meantime, I painted as a DISTRACTION from 
the stress and didn't over-think it. It was medicine for 
anxiety, but after I found out that I don't have cancer, 
painting became a CELEBRATION that I get to live. 
Turn the lights down, music up and make art. 

There is so much to celebrate, daily. Yes, right now!
Storm-tossed boats, detail of unfinished acrylic painting


In defense of JOY

My word for 2019… JOY!

That is it. I don’t choose my word of the year lightly. In fact, I think
about it on and off for a few months, asking, “What do I need right
now? It is time for... what?” Joy. I am finding it funny and a little
perplexing that I am feeling defensive about this choice.

While trying to decide on a word, JOY was popping up every-
where last week. A lovely lady named Mary at Target was in a bulls-
eye t-shirt screen-printed “joy." A huge billboard in Minneapolis
said, “FEEL THE JOY, SELL YOUR HOUSE AS IS.” Even though
cynicism about joy may have a connection to the manipulation of
advertising, I was delighted when the word JOY popped up in well-
designed places. Then, I kid you not, as a gift last week, my sister-
in-law gave me a refrigerator magnet that literally says "Choose Joy."
So, I did!

Joy is the opposite of my least favorite words: greed, hate, shame,
hopelessness, fear, cynicism, and despair. Yet, JOY is such a simple
word, all too often overlooked. (Joy, really? What am I, 12? Maybe
My word of the year should be Glitter! Or, Juicy! But, for the record,
12-year-olds are some of the wisest people I know, who bring me
joy in teaching.)

Joy is an antidote. There are serious problems and suffering in the
world. The opposite of joy (see list above) seems to cause more
suffering. Yet, why am I cynical about joy? Pure JOY, not based on
material stuff, is so simple in this over-complicated, overstuffed life.
Seeing joy in others is a huge source of hope and inspiration, but we
hesitate to truly embrace it. Brene' Brown (really, I do read other
authors too) said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy
becomes foreboding.” In other words, we don't want to lose what
gives us joy, so we imagine losing it during the height of joy.
What is wrong with us? For instance, I’m grateful for joyful family
time during Christmas, joy so intense while singing 'Joy to the
World' I went from joyful-bursty-heart to heavy-I-don't-want-
anything-bad-to happen-to-these-people and back to bursty again
in 5 seconds flat.

So, I guess to truly embrace joy, you must be vulnerable. More
joy (and vulnerability) coming up. We all deserve it!


Word of the Year: Connection

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people 

when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give 

and receive without judgment; and when they derive 

sustenance and strength from the relationship." 

― BrenĂ© Brown

By the end of the year, 'my word' often feels prophetic, sometimes it
takes on a totally different meaning than originally intended. So far
this year, CONNECTION has multiple meanings: connections to other
artists, friends & family; connecting my art to reproducible design for
the RockFarm label; and getting closer to connecting to my purpose.
More about purpose later.

I have been asking myself lately, when do I feel most connected to 
others, and myself?
  1. When I spend time in person with someone, not looking at my phone
  2. When I make plans, and then follow through with plans to get together with people
  3. When I don't allow stress to prevent me from time to relax and enjoy the company of others
  4. When I listen to what people are saying, and not get distracted
  5. When I ask for help, or share what is happening with me
  6. When I feel appreciated, and show appreciation for others
  7. When I follow through with things that I know are good for me
  8. When I remember and follow through with things for others


The Power of Maybe

What kid really likes hearing 'Maybe' from adults? I used
to despise it, and I now I say it, repeatedly.

Recently though, I may have figured out why I say 'Maybe'
so often in teaching and parenting. While it may sound like
a wishy-washy reply, the truth is I want to empower kids to
come up with their own ideas and take action. Most of the
time when I say 'Maybe' what I am really saying is, "Great
idea! Now what? How are you going to make that happen?!"
How often do youth passively expect adults to make things
happen?  I want to empower my students and own children,
but that does mean giving up some of the control, and
expecting more self-control and leadership from our youth.
The responsibility of growing up and following-through is
on kids, too.

Below is an example of the power of 'Maybe'.

Once upon a time at the 2005 Fall Open House of Nevis
School, a junior named Micaela told the new Art teacher,
"We NEED an after school Art Club!" The teacher said,
"Maybe." Thinking, 'Show me how badly you need it.'
Then, Micaela and some friends showed up after school,
and kept showing up! They made a lot of big and small
things happen, like huge inspirational banners that filled
the cafeteria, art field trips to Minneapolis, and many
trips to the MSHSL State Art Show. In 2018, Nevis HS
still has an after school Art Club. The same teacher keeps
saying, 'Maybe' to kids who have big ideas, and then
watches them make ideas into art, friendship, and

Art Club cafeteria banner makers, 2006.

2014 meets 2018

For quite a few weeks now, I’ve been driving by this wolf-kill 
deer, not far from our driveway. A month ago I saw it mainly 
in half-darkness as rib-caged crows sat in and pecked at it. 
Immediately, I was brought back to my 2014 illustration for 
LouAnn Shepard Muhm’s poem, ‘Against Violence’. Today, 
walked to the wolf-kill rib-cageno birds around, but the 
sinewy heart shape came in view for the first time. So much 
in life comes full circle and connects; I suppose it is our job 
to keep our eyes open and make some meaning from these 
lessons. 2018-me and 2014-me are connecting with these 
words and images. More connections to come. #wordoftheyear 

"Long Winter", 2018

LouAnn Shepard Muhm's words from "Against Violence", 2014
My rib-caged crow illustration, 2014


Connection, my 2018 word

For five years, I have been choosing a word of the year.
Two years ago I said this:
Choosing one word isn't an easy task, yet that is what I assign myself
to do every year, now. BRAVE in 2014, COLOR in 2015. This one large
word/idea, like a block of basswood, begins the new year with a promise.
If I work at it with both wild abandon and careful hewning, something 
from within will be set free.

Then, came FREEDOM in 2015, and CURIOSITY in 2017.
In 2018, it is CONNECTION.

Last September I wrote this in my sketchbook.
I really don't know what I was thinking about
at the time. It could have been so many different things.
Really, it is a NOTE TO SELF.

In 2014, a little tongue-in-cheek, I started choosing a word 
for the year. It felt cheesy, but making resolutions 
has always felt like instant failure to me. I was skeptical 
of the word of the year thing, too. Wouldn't I forget 
about it? How could it make a difference in my life and 
art? And, it has made a difference. Words have power, and 
well, words and images are power x power! 

What is art but connecting the seemingly unconnected into 
something new? Stay tuned. More connections in the works. 


2017, Curious Patterns & Questions

On January 1, 2017, I chose CURIOSITY as my word for the year. 

Like each year since 2014, I didn't know where the ideas 
surrounding my chosen word would take me, but somehow I 
knew it was the right time.

Later in January, I made this list: 
What grows my curiosity? 
  1. Making time to think, and space to practice and play.
  2. Taking on new challenges.
  3. Reading and intensely observing, and then thinking about it.
  4. Wondering 'what if', and not worrying about the results.
  5. Writing down my thoughts, reactions, questions.
  6. Sketching thoughts, reactions, questions.
  7. Listening to inquisitive, curious people.
  8. Sharing ideas with people who really listen.
  9. Trying something new, or something old in a new way.
  10. Asking big and little questions, and then allowing time to ponder them.
  11. Making connections, and then making more.
  12. Repeatedly following those fascinations that keep me wondering.
  13. Me.
Now, with a few weeks left of December, I am looking back at 
this year, a pretty great year for my own creative productivity. 
Keeping curiosity alive is essential to staying motivated as an 
artist. When you are curious about something, it isn't about 
following a goal or plans, as much as it is needing to find out 
what is around the bend, and then the next bend, and the next.

This mystery keeps you moving: through the tamarack swamp, 
across the highway, through untouched pine woods, into a tiny 
town on the edge of a lake inhabited by amazingly self-sufficient 
people, onto a highway that follows the continental divide, onto another highway that crosses a mighty river and leads to a large 
city of many bridges, that lead to parks and small boutiques owned 
by brilliant small business owners, and onto large box stores with 
great discounts in the suburbs next to more lakes, and then back 
home on top of a gravel vein on the edge of rocky fields and thick woods, where the exploration doesn't stop. It has just begun!

Home is a place of rest, and work, family and safety, but this year 
keeping curiosity alive at home was the gift of 2017 for me. I love 
to travel, and often wish we could more often, but maybe I am maturing into not only being curious and engaged in novel 
places. Everything is novel, even repetitive patterns. This, too, 
was a year of designing patterns and then getting them printed 
onto fabrics and wallpaper, unexpected discoveries that kept me wondering what was around the next bend. 

Also, this year I gave a presentation with my photographer 
friend Laura Grisamore, entitled Curiosity Cured the Cat at the 
Art Educators of Minnesota Conference in November. In that 
presentation, we shared our creative processes, and talked about 
the healing power of staying playful and curious. In that 
presentation I talked a little about the gift of giving yourself 
challenges, like my Curiosity Journal Challenge. We simply have 
to prescribe our own curious questions. We need to keep asking, 
"What if" and "I wonder." We need to keep saying, "I have 
always wanted to," and then give ourselves the permission to 
do those things. 

So, thank you 2017, you had many challenges, and you were 
a gift. Thank you to my family and friends. I was thinking about 
all of you when I said this at the the THRESH. HOLD. exhibit 
opening. "Life is beautiful. Then, messy. Then, beautiful. We cannot
be so afraid of the next mess that we don't appreciate the beauty, now.
Art is my response to the mess, and to the beauty."

Stay curious.



To finish off the #BeCreativelyCourageous challenge for the 
month of October, I am using scraps of self-designed wallpaper
for designs, surreal landscapes, and surface design patterns. I love
the scrappy-gritty-scavenger-survival nature of using every last scrap. 



I have these surreal landscapes and collages from cuttings of self-designed wallpapers bouncing in my head, so that is where I started 5 days ago, on October 1st, for this month to #BeCreativelyCourageous.

Thank you @artiststrong for challenging us for this month to be creatively courageous! I start this month with knowing that courage in creativity has nothing to do with appearing tough and strong. I don't talk about rejection much because rejection really is just part of being a creative. Sometimes it is hard for my ego to admit that I have run into so much rejection lately from galleries and grant applications. But, this is all part of the creative ebb and flow, and I have to learn to deal with it, especially if I want to keep growing as an artist. Now I am realizing that not really talking about and admitting to these rejections, may be part of what has been holding me back. I have read a lot of success stories of people who didn't give up in the face of repeated rejection, but the part of the stories that is often left out is how each one of them had to embrace and accept their own vulnerability and self-doubt. We are not superhuman, rejection hurts. So many people wallow in self-pity and/or work hard to avoid rejection, and sometimes I really don't think I can take anymore of it, either. Then, I remember the joy and hope art gives me and others. I remember how I feel physically sick without making it. For me, quitting isn't really an option. The best option is to lean in, acknowledge all of the self-doubt and vulnerability, gain traction and move forward to do the work I need to do.

Carrie from Artists Strong brought up the word 'grit' as it relates to continuing to make art. I agree, and here is how I define it: 
True grit isn't the superficial appearance of strength and courage; it is persisting with honestly and vulnerability. In fact, arrogant people who appear confident all the time are hiding (and not dealing with) their weaknesses. Those of us who honestly admit to having weaknesses and insecurities are much more likely to have the support we need along the way. Without true grit, we wallow and ask everyone to feel sorry for us. Without actual courage, we may act strong and tough, but do not admit to the vulnerabilities that connect us and make us human.

Landscape with Winding Stream
Wallpaper cuttings, marker, acrylic paint on some wallpaper

Digital pattern from water paper cuttings with some acrylic paint

Digital Design from wallpaper cuttings

Putting the Pieces Together, 
Wallpaper cutting collage, after the Las Vegas shootings

Taking Flight
Digital Design from wallpaper cutting collage

Putting the Pieces Together 2, 
Wallpaper cutting collage with acrylic paint, 
after the Las Vegas shootings

Putting the Pieces Together Pattern, 
Digital pattern, after the Las Vegas shootings


Feed That Curious Cat, 30 Days

When I write my first book, it will most likely be entitled, Curiosity Cured the Cat. Just want to throw that out there, now. Each year, for a few years now, I have chosen a word as a theme for the year, something that shapes my art and life that year. Or, does the word/idea choose me? This particular year is CURIOSITY. As the year moves along and I read more about it and practice it, I am witnessing the healing power of curiosity and play. It turns out that play and curiosity are serious business in staying healthy. As an art teacher of 23 years, I have long been concerned about students losing their curiosity and creativity and do all I can to encourage it. As I turn the lens onto myself, I realize now more than ever that the curiosity-play prescription cannot be prescribed to me by anyone else. The curious questions that are imposed upon me are okay, but not my own. In 2008 I started an artist blog with the question, “What will happen if I drag these sculptures that I exhibited in New York City into the Minnesota winter woods, expose them to the elements, and document what happens?” The big and little, self-created what-ifs have so much power to awaken curiosity and purpose.

My Curiosity Journal idea started on a June family trip in Washington D.C., one of the days we went to the National Gallery of Art. In the NGA gift shop, a rainbow-paged “Bright Ideas” journal by Chronicle Books sparked an instant idea and a burst-y feeling welled up, “What if I draw on these brilliant colored pages with black and then turn the drawings into digital patterns?” I had already been on this patterned path, creating digital patterns from photos of my paintings. I had already started to have these patterns printed on fabric and wallpaper, and some had been in a recent gallery exhibit. This colorful journal was a quick way to infuse color into drawings and patterns, right? I needed new artistic motivation, right?  Right, although the great, and often frustrating, thing about curiosity is that you cannot really have a plan for it. When fully embraced, curiosity must be followed, and the only plan is to keep up with it, wherever it may legally lead. (As a mother and public school teacher, I feel like I must always have a legal disclaimer. Lame, I know.)

Full disclosure: as an exhausted middle school/high school art teacher on summer break, an artist whose exhibit had just come down and without a big art deadline, and a person needing some new sparks of motivation, the timing was right and ripe for this challenge. This was a self-created challenge, setting my own guidelines and playing as I sketched and made patterns. The idea of adding photos of the Minnesota summer surroundings came on the 3rd day. Sitting outside with the journal and iPhone each day became therapy. Artist heal thyself.

Throughout the 30 days (July 5-August 3, 2017), I kept going back to these 3 ways to feed curiosity:

  1. Keep asking, “What if...” Also known as, “What happens if…”
  2. Keep saying, “I wonder… if, why, what, where, how, who, when…”
  3. Keep following through with, “I have always wanted to…” Really, what is stopping me?

Days 1-6:
Day 2: What do I care about?

1. People. 2. Images. 3. Ideas.

I guess I like to break things into threes. Being consistent and not too perfectionist with this journal thing is hard, but what happens if I allow myself to jump into drawing each day without much of a plan, allowing some pretty crappy sketching. You know, as Anne Lamott says, “Shitty first drafts… Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it.” Thanks, Anne. Drawings happened, some crappy ones never shared, then patterns from the drawings, and then three posts on Instagram. Okay, I can do this. For how many days? We’ll see.

Day 3: Seriously, 3 days may be my limit! But I sat there, on the Walmart-outdoor-foldable-lounge chair (because we live too far from a Target and it's comfortable), and it happened. I was drawing on the “evergreen inspirations” page, after I changed it to “evergreen vibrations”. When the drawing wasn’t happening, I was taking photos of the gorgeous Minnesota morning before it heated up and started to get humid. On day 3, I starting to add a few photos of the surrounding beauty into the digital collages of drawings and patterns. I still wasn’t sure how many days I could keep this challenge going.

Day 5: Deep Reflections blue. This dog and cat will not leave me alone! Okay, I will photograph and draw them. For years I have been fascinated with wild animals in my drawing and painting (fox, wolves, and crows), but this dog and cat are right here staring at me (creeps), crawling all over me, and then laying on the ground like reclining studio models. I have been looking for new ideas, and they were laying right here. My adorable muses were hungry for food and attention. I was hungry for muses and maybe just a little attention on Instagram. My followers were slowly growing with new posts, and they loved the animals. I decided to shoot for 30 curious days in a row. The hashtag list grew each day, #curiouspatterns, #mycuriosityjournal, #curiosityCUREDthecat, #ArtByAWoman, etc. on @ti_besonen.

What if I don't really have a plan, and allow myself to do
some pretty crappy drawings that I trace onto the next pages
into something better? What if the shadows on the 
journal pages (from the trees above me, like tie-dye) 
become part of the pattern?

Days 7-12:
This cat seems unimpressed, and judgmental.
What if I ignore those inner critic voices, the cat, and my insecurities and just make art without hesitation? I am an artist. Artists make art, not perfection.

What if my limit is 10 days? 
OR, What if I draw variations of days 1-10 
for the next 10 days?

Days 13-18:
Since I have already made a lot of art in my life, the single idea of creating variations of former subjects and ideas can easily fill the rest of my life's work. Wow, onward. (How many times do we have to relearn that?)

Little One-eye, another muse.
Days 19-24:
What happens when I don't have an exhibit deadline, but allow myself to play with paint and self-created wallpaper patterns at the Grand Marais Art Colony? What if I meet the powerful work of other artists with gratitude instead of feeling threatened? What if I ask to place the powerful paintings of Janice Andrews all around me and sit in the middle? Dan has always wanted to fish on Lake Superior, and did while I was making art! What if I cut up small brushstroke-sized pieces of wallpaper and paint/collage with it? What if I create patterns from actual botanical samples on the colored journal pages? (Thank you to the generous artist and teacher, Hazel Belvo. My gratitude for her work and mentorship is boundless!)

Sitting in the paintings of Janice Andrews at Grand Marais Art Colony.
Dan and Mike, after a week of fishing with perfect weather.

Larger work on canvas, 
done at Grand Marais Art Colony.
Work in progress in a Grand Marais Art Colony studio. 
Photo by Hazel Belvo. 
Days 25-30: 
These days brought me back home in the outdoor spot with the cat inspecting my work, and me asking, what if I blind-contour clouds and an orange snack and create patterns? And, I have always wanted to place a door in the middle of a field.

Sitting outside with the journal and iPhone camera each day became therapy. Artist heal thyself. Like I said, the big and little, self-created what-ifs have so much power to awaken curiosity and purpose. We are never done being curious.