Hope in 2020

2014 Brave, 2015 Color2016 Free
2017 Curious, 2018 Connection, 

2019 Joy, 2020 HOPE

Since 2014, I have selected a word of the year. Like I said in 2016, "This one large word/idea, like a block of basswood, begins the new year with a promise. If I will work at it with both wild abandon and careful hewning, something from within it will be set free." Now at the beginning of 2020, I want to add that approaching one chosen word for a year opens me up to chance and synchronicity, as well as building trust, confidence, and patience during difficult times. 

In 2019, I've found that authentic joy must not be pushed down or ignored as it bubbles up. And, I am learning to celebrate the view when I reach a goal. This leads me to my word for 2020, HOPEAllowing yourself to feel joy grows hope. I think both joy and hope die with excess anger, anxiety, and fear. 

What else grows hope? I will explore that in 2020, although I am open to hope having a life of its own. Most growth does have a life of it's own. 


Joy grows HOPE, my word of 2020

Recently, after picking up our older daughter from college, we started with a lively conversation, driving home in the December darkness. Twenty minutes into the drive, it got quiet. I turned back to see our two daughters snuggled up to each other, one with her head on the other's shoulder, sleeping. My nest was floating home. Instead of imagining all of the things that could go wrong, or reviewing the long to-do list, or feeling the weight of the winter darkness, I simply felt joy--and took photos, of course. Maybe in 2019, my year of JOY, I have learned to sit in vulnerable, joyful spots and be still, although not so still that I go without taking photos.

In other 'joy' news, my large painting Path to the Tamaracks, below, sold last week from our small artist-run gallery. Wahoo! I must celebrate, right? Especially after saying in my post just two weeks ago, "At the pinnacle of an achievement, I tend to downplay it, and immediately push myself to the next goal... I like to have goals, and it is okay to stay humble, but girl, take a breather and enjoy the view every once and awhile." The view is good. Thank you, art collectors and patrons! ALSO, a big thank you to my gallery partners, Laura, Dawn, and Jeremy (who sold my painting)! My first instinct, again, is to downplay the sale or worry about how I can repeat good things in the future, but why not be still in this vulnerable, joyful spot and enjoy the moment?

In 2019, I've found that authentic, unforced joy, must not be pushed down or ignored as it bubbles up. I also learned that joy is usually the result of overcoming challenges and struggle. This leads me to my word for 2020, HOPE. Allowing yourself to feel joy grows hope. I think both joy and hope die with excess anger, anxiety, and fear. What else grows hope? Hoping to find out in 2020.


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've been doing this long enough to know; these seeds will sow something nourishing.

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


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.


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


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.

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.


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.


Life is Beautiful. Then, Messy. Then, Beautiful.

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.

Each of these doors was painted in memory of someone, and the color of each was selected by a loved one who knew them best, a color that reminds them of that person. I painted each vintage door the chosen color, and then with some information about each person, created a thoughtful, hopeful mixed-media painting, with most of the larger metaphorical imagery at eye-level and the painted surreal doors incorporated into the painting. Half way through the painting process, I took photos, created a digital pattern, and ordered the pattern to be printed on wall paper. Next, I continued to paint, when the wallpaper arrived it was attached and integrated into the overall painted design on the door, with some final painting on top of some of the wall paper. Since the pattern was created before the painting was finished, the wallpaper patterns are mysterious hidden images within the painting, resembling the painting, but hidden underneath the final layers of paint.



Currently, 7 of my paintings, 8 pattern designs on fabric, 1 pattern on wallpaper, 5 mixed-material paintings on vintage doors, and a video, are on display in the 2-person show THRESH. HOLD. at the Great River Arts Main Gallery in Little Falls, Minnesota. I am honored to share this show with friend and amazing photographer Laura Grisamore of Lauralee Photography, and pleased with how our work complements each other! 
Just after installing the the show.
Between Us and Morning Light painting, lower right.
Also, the two fabric designs that were created from that painting.

Sheila's Flames, mixed-materials on vintage door.
Right, Dream Dots pattern on wallpaper.

Just after installing the show.
Painting on bottom left, Between Summer Warmth & Quiet.
Top, Summer Strata pattern on fabric created from the painting.
Bottom right, Laura Grisamore's digital photo fusion.

Artist Statement, Tiffany Besonen

For me, creating metaphor is a process of rediscovering how everything and everyone is connected. My work for THRESH. HOLD. is diverse in materials, but all deeply connected.

Doors in my work began during a time of grieving for our family. As I photographed, drew, and began to paint doors and thresholds, I discovered that the 'space in between' of a threshold isn't inside or out, here or there, but a connection (or division) of the two. Later, I rediscovered a photo that our daughter had taken from behind my husband and me, as we overlooked a lake. All of the paintings on canvas in this exhibit began with this visual format, our silhouettes and the space in between. The watery shape in between us has intrigued me for years; like a threshold, that space connects us, yet reveals our differences. Repeating that visual format in all seven of these paintings, freed me to be more spontaneous with color, line, shape, and motion.

When the ‘space in between’ paintings were done, I photographed details, and digitally created patterns. Eight of these patterns have been printed on fabric and one on wallpaper by spoonflower.com for this exhibit. I have always wanted to design fabrics! There is something soothing about patterns, and something especially uplifting about colorful patterns on soft fabrics. Creating these patterns digitally has been a great lesson for me in giving up control; beauty is often revealed in the most spontaneous and unexpected ways. The short film Thresh. Hold. Release. became an extension of that lesson in spontaneity, with the contemplative and hopeful music of Mark Hartung (1971-2015) completing the film.

My THRESH. HOLD. work culminated with the five mixed-material, free-standing doors. I am giving each one of these doors to a different family, in memory of someone they have lost. Each door began when I asked the family to choose a color that reminded them of their loved one, and from there I began painting on the vintage doors without much of a plan, only positive thoughts and memories. Half way through the painting process, I took photos and made the digital patterns that became the patterned wallpaper on each door. For me, these doors have become celebrations. When we find ourselves on the threshold of loss or change, may we be kind to ourselves; may we accept what we can not control and somehow find freedom, beauty, and hope in that.