Out of the Darkness, Germination

In December, it does help to remember that a lot of great things need no sunlight to germinate. I see seeds in some of my recent digital patterns, and so this is where I start the next 100 days.

Today I joined the "100 Day Project" creative community, lead by the lovely and lively Michigan artist, Cathy Benda. We met in July at the Grand Marais Art Colony. Last July proved to be one of my most productive art times, and now, I need some of the same mojo. In April,  the two-person exhibit, Threshold, that I share with Laura Grisamore is going up. There is a lot to do before the end of April.

I struggle with lack of sunlight during this time of the year, so when I read more information about the "Solstice to Equinox--Out of the Darkness Into the Light" project that started yesterday, I decided this is just what I need now! Taken from the100dayproject.com, this, right here, is what convinced me to commit:
"The 100DayProject is a creativity excavation. It’s about unearthing dormant or unrealized creativity by committing to a daily practice everyday for 100 days... Creativity is a skill. The more we practice, the more skilled we become. Practice takes time. Practice takes commitment.  Practice is a radical act in this speeded up world. Through practice, we develop a creative habit. Through habit, we reconnect with and know ourselves again as a creative being."
Week 1, so far:
Maybe memories of summer get me through this time of year. The last few weeks, I have been really into and making more of the Summer Patterns series, digital designs made from portions of my painting Between Summer Warmth & Summer Quiet. 

December 20: I ordered two of my pattern designs from Spoonflower.com to be printed on wallpaper sample pieces. Who knows where that may lead, but we will see how they print.

December 22: Signed up for 100 Day Project, Out of the Darkness Into the Light, and now, writing a blogpost.

Between Warmth & Summer Quiet, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24"



Teaching Art is a big, mixed, dripping, colorful, lumpy bag. Art Teachers are always carrying something, especially from the car into school. We are good at making an entrance, or
tripping over the entrance, in my case.

This year when I left the Art Educators of Minnesota conference, I was reassured that I teach Art because it comes from a place of joy. Joy ended up being the theme of the conference for me. Right after Brian Frink and I finished our presentation, “Big Magic: Following Joy and Curiosity in Your Art”, performance artist Gabrielle Civil with her commanding presence got up in the large ballroom and suggested that in the face of injustice and suffering we need to practice 'Experiments in Joy'. Joy is a pretty powerful and underrated antidote, really.

Bad days, bouts of exhaustion or sickness, and piled-up paperwork aside, students know if we are doing our work from a place of joy. Our family knows it, too. During our presentation, Brian and I shared images of our own work and inspiring words from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I explained that I make art so I can stay generous, and get some street cred with my students, too. We challenged other art teachers to dare to make art again, allowing themselves to be curious and play without plans and restrictions. We agreed it can be scary, but the joy of making art is what led to carrying this big, lumpy bag in the first place, right? Joy lightens the load.

Me and Brian Frink, after the presentation,
"BIG MAGIC: Following Curiosity &
Joy in Your Own Art"


Grateful for My People

Last February, Carrie, Artist Strong blogger and artist interviewed me. Today, I am looking back at the response to the question, What inspires you?

"I need words and ideas. And trust. And stories with texture that follow childlike curiosities. And brave color. And subtle earthy scents. And the freedom to be in that space where I do not worry about money, or the history of art, or the legacy of my life, or pleasing anyone."

I was in that space in July when most of these recent paintings came out. Today, I want to add, I need people. I need my people, who understand and celebrate the things mentioned above. Yesterday and today I am especially grateful for the people who inspire me, and others who encourage and support. If you're lucky, you will have a few people who do all of that, and you will do the same for them. I am finally at the stage in life when I have learned to really appreciate those people, and not worry so much about the opinions of the rest.

My word for 2016 is FREE. Like I said in January, 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 it (or me) will be set free. 

Especially grateful for this guy!


How to get ready for your own art reception

1. Dig out all of your black dresses. 
2. Stare at them. Ask, what would Georgia do?
3. Grab the one that has a retro vibe, not too mainstream, but won't scare your mother. 
4. Put it on. Tell yourself that it isn't edgy enough, but agree with yourself that being an artist AND a public school art teacher is your excuse. 
5. Make up, not too much like The Cure, but a little nod to the 80s is okay. Skip the lipstick. 
6. Hair, cannot look too coiffed, must look like you were distracted by other things. Absolutely do not look like someone Axl Rose would hit on. 
7. Step into dressy but comfy shoes. Wish you were close personal friends with Sarah Jessica Parker. 
8. Oops. Overdid it. Look like I am ready for parent/teacher conferences at a private school. 



An exhibit of my paintings is up through September 30th at Great River Arts, Little Falls, Minnesota.

by Tiffany Besonen

Space in between us can connect or divide. For me, creating personal metaphor is a process of rediscovering how everything and everyone is connected. These paintings are formed in the space in between restraint and wild abandon, before and after.

Doors in my work began when I was at a workshop at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, during a time of intense grieving for our family. While the aged doors were interesting, it wasn't until I opened the doors and sketched the thresholds that the spaces came alive, connecting me to energies of what moved through before. The 'space in between' of a threshold isn't inside or out, here or there, but a connection (or division) of the two.

Overlooking Bearhead Lake, 2010, photo by Anna Besonen
Later, I rediscovered the photo our then-9-year-old daughter had taken from behind my husband and me, as we were overlooking a lake. All of the large paintings in this exhibit began with this visual format, our silhouettes and the space in between. The watery shape in between us during an intimate moment has intrigued me for years; like a threshold, that space connects us, yet reveals our differences. Using the visual format of this photo, gave me the freedom to play with movement, color, line, as well as ideas about memory, identity, and our interconnectedness. While painting the first of this series, a wolf appeared in the silhouette of a shoulder. A fierce mother wolf and a manmade door both provide protection. Yet, in the space in between, I know that we can not protect and be protected from everything. We must live with fierce hope and trust. 

The list of influences of this work has grown, but all important to the process: movement in Art Nouveau design, playful pattern in Australian Aboriginal paintings, the vibrant energy of Finnish fabric designs of the 1960s, the sensual forms and lines of Eva Zeisel’s pottery, the mystery and metaphor of Surrealist painters, and spontaneous pattern and mark-making of modern and contemporary artists I admire. And always, family, friends, students, and nature are important influences. A special thank you to Minnesota artist and teacher Hazel Belvo; she gently mentored me and the remainder of these paintings spilled out.
Between Memory & Mother Wolf, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24"
Between Cleave & Release, 2016, acrylic paint, 30"x24" 
Between Us & Morning Light, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24"
Between Before & Ever After, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24"
Between Peace & Pleasure, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24" 
Between Fierce Dreams, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24"
Between Hunger & Play, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24"
Between Warmth & Summer Quiet, 2016, acrylic paint, 30" x 24"
Curious Wolf, for Avery, 2015, acrylic paint, 30" x 24" 

After writing the March 2016 blog-post
Curious Wolf, for Avery, Avery’s
mom, Brenda, shared it with him. Soon 
after, he was placed in hospice care. 
Then, I knew this painting had to be 
his. When some of his classmates
delivered it, Avery was amazed that it
was his and I didn’t sell it. I hope it gave
him some joy in those last days, when
he was more concerned about his family
than himself. I want people to know
about this brave, curious young man,
Avery Goeddertz (1999-2016).


Happy Wednesday, Playful Patterns

More patterns. Happy. Playful. All of these patterns are
digitally created from repeating parts of my paintings.


More Patterns

Here are some more patterns from parts of paintings.
Haven't painted lately, but this is feeling closer to
art, or something like it. Would be nice on fabric,
but wondering about digitally printing on other
surfaces too.


Sorting Through (Thank you, Dawn!)

Recently, one of my students, a 16 year old boy,
passed away. Heartbreaking. That, along with
work obligations, and a gnawing feeling of
disconnect from other artists, have put my art-
making on the back burner for a few weeks.
The dreaded back burner can fester some scary
blisters or incubate some great ideas.

For me, creating a body of work for exhibition
should not be done in complete isolation. Some
feedback from peers is so essential. And, I am
so grateful that I saw fellow artist and art
teacher, Dawn Rossbach, this week for some
badly needed feedback about my recent work
for the August exhibit Spaces-in-Between. 

And now, instead of starting new paintings
and over-painting on existing ones, I am
digitally playing with parts of my painted
images with the Layout app, exploring the
forms and colors, and finding some of the
threads that connect the work.

A body of work is a story. My exhibit is my
story, but like life, it cannot be all planned
out. It must be lived.

"We are made to create. We feel useful when we
create. We release our 'stuckness' when we 
create. We reinvent our lives, tell new stories,
and rebuild communities when we create. We
reclaim our esteem, our muse, and our hope 
when we create." Pamela Slim, from Body of
Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your 
Story Together.

The threads that tie my work together are
appearing: blues, oranges, motion and patterned
lines, doors, wolves, dots, land forms, water,
thresholds and other spaces in between.


Pushing Through the Web

"I came from a family of repairers. The spider is
a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, 
she doesn't get mad. She weaves and repairs it."
Louise Bourgeois

So Louise, what if I am stuck in your web? You
were brilliant and bold, but I am making my own
way during a different time, now. Or, what if I
bash into and destroy my own work, because I
do get mad?

This light orange and deep blue painting started
and then abruptly stopped. I sit and wait in the
space-in-between, telling myself to trust the
process. Today, I am looking to my nature
photos, old work, and new friend the Layout
app to push me forward.

Feeling caught in a space or content in a space
are often so close. But, I need to keep pushing
through. And, making. And, repairing. And,
knowing when to listen and learn from the art
masters. And, knowing when to blast through
into making my own history. 


Curious Wolf, For Avery

Last fall the wolf moved in through a door and into 
my paintings, around the beginning of the school 
year. Like most septembers, there was a flurry of 
activity here at our school. And, we met a new 
student in 10th grade, Avery. Avery was in my 
study hall and every day in October he would walk 
in, go straight to my painting to check the progress, 
and then ask questions, or give suggestions. I told 
him this is my first-ever wolf painting, so I need 
suggestions. He seemed drawn to it. He showed 
keen eye for art and had some great ideas that 
helped shape the painting. I recommended he 
take an Art class in the future. He shrugged, 
maybeAs fall moved along, flying orange leaves 
appeared in the painting, and I was wondering, 
why a wolfNow I know, the wolf is a metaphor 
for a stronger, fiercer hope and trust. 

Little did we know that Avery and his family and 
friends were going to enter a brave battle with an 
aggressive cancer this winter. And now, when I 
look at this painting will always think of Avery. I 
will think of his curiosity. I will think about how we 
are all connected. I will think of the word BRAVERY 
that is on the t-shirts we wear in his honor. will 
think of Avery, but also the fierce love of his family 
and friends. Love never ends.

I decided to title this painting, Curious Wolf, for 
Averybut it is just as much for his family and 

Avery, you have touched our lives, for the better.

Curious Wolf, for Avery


When Wolves Enter

Recent 8"x 8" right panel of a diptych, in-progress.
Much to the excitement and agitation of our
dog, Wimpy "The Protector", we now have
wolves in our rural area. I mean, close! We can
hear them howling on our land. They are most
likely having a feast on the many deer who have 
been very comfortable here. For the 17 years we
have lived here, this is a first.

Knowing how the wolf population is increasing,
it isn't a surprise, but this is a synchronicity that
an artist can not ignore. Wolves entered my
work just a few months before they entered our

Fox have been on our land and in my work for
many years, but the curious nature-intimating-
art and art-imitating-nature event is that the fox
left my work around the time that the wolf
entered. Coincidentally, the same thing happens
in nature, when the wolves move in the fox are
no longer around. Or to be more precise, the
coyotes often enter in-between the fox and
wolf, which did happen on our land, but not in
my work.
The coyote are in the space/time-in-between,
the ones pushed out by the wolves and then in
return push out the fox. And, in-between spaces
are a theme in my paintings recently. Maybe
coyotes need to be examined further in my
paintings. Or maybe I just need to shut up and
paint, and see what happens in our woods next.


Is Originality Free?

The act of viewing and reading art & poetry 
is usually pretty free and easy, but is making art 
so free? I don't mean the cost of supplies or the 
investment of time to make it, although those are 
issues. My poet friend and sometimes collaborator 
LouAnn Shepard Muhm's recent blog post has 
me thinking about the cost of putting your work 
out there.

Detail of recent painting in-progress.

No more free-bees, only details of my 
paintings before my August 2016 exhibit, 
'Spaces In Between' at Great River Arts in 
Little Falls, Mn. My word for 2016 is FREE, 
in its many implications...

Detail of recent painting in-progress.

To put truly new work out there is daunting,
and few do. In her post Muhm says, "And then 
you will go back to your comfortable life, to think 
your comfortable thoughts, to bite your tongue 
when you think it is prudent, and to answer 
your 'crazy' dream with silent admonitions to 
be realistic and to focus on achievable goals." 
Next, I cracked open the new book Originals:
How Non-Conformists Move the World
and Adam Grant states, "The last time you had 
an original idea, what did you do with it? 
Although America is a land of individuality and 
unique self-expression, in search of excellence 
and in fear of failure, most of us opt to fit in 
rather than stand out." Grant does go onto say 
that the most successful originals among us 
"know in their hearts that failing would yield 
less regret than failing to try." Are Muhm and 
Grant conspiring? Okay, okay. I will get to work, 
and free myself to make bigger messes. I won't 
be like the others who do not dare.

Both Muhm and Grant, pose a challenge. Have 
an idea or something to say? Do something 
about it, but do not expect it to be easy. One 
thing I know for sure is that when your art is 
shared, it really doesn't belong to only you 
anymore. It is out there, and people do with 
it what people do. 


Fresh Art Friday

Digging into FREEDOM, light, and the
spaces in between, now. Getting closer to
finishing this one, as can not be afraid to 
get these hands dirty and make little 
mess. Finger-painting was needed today, 
for texture, for connection to the 
materials, for trust without a plan. Next,
can not be afraid to make a BIG mess.


In 2016 FREE us to not know, but trust anyway.

Choosing one word isn't an easy task, yet that is
what I assign myself to do every new year now.
BRAVE in 2014. COLOR in 2015. This one large
word/idea, like a block of raw 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. 
Unfinished acrylic painting started in December. 24"x 30"
Free me to not know, but trust anyway.
I need words, and ideas. And trust. And stories
with texture that follow childlike curiosities.
And brave color. And subtle earthy scents. And
the freedom to be in the space where I do not
worry about money, or the history of art, or the
legacy of my life, or pleasing anyone.

So, you see, my word for 2016 has to be FREE.

That is the raw material I need right now. Free-
dom to push and pull, and dig out the weeds to
expose something new. I can not be afraid to get
these hands dirty and make a little mess. I know
that I can not be too afraid of what will be
excavated, because by now at age 45 soon and
after all the bravery of 2014 and the color of
2015, I know it is much scarier and messier to
hide or deny what is within us. Free us to trust
and not always know.

Thanks to the work and words of artist Kiyomi
Iwata in the article Always Unfolding by Joyce 
Lovelace in American Craft magazine, for 
jolting me out of a winter funk and shaking 
my 2016 word FREE free. 

Joyce Lovelace reports, "Curiosity, creativity, 
and optimism guide Kiyomi Iwata in the evolu-
tion of her life and her art... Her artmaking is
fluid and free."  "I am totally open," she 
[Iwata] says, "And because I'm open, I can
float. For me, that is an exciting process in