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.


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.


Surface Design: Hold & Release

Hold & Release Chain design printed large on crepe fabric,
and grandma Ruth's fabric carrots.



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.


Patterns of Curiosity

Dear relentless child, 
Stay curious. Keep questioning, everything. You are not bad; you
just need to find things out for yourself. Dogs will bite. The coffee
will burn. You will make messes, and some adults will frown. Still,
stay curious.

Recent digital patterns made from portions of a painting.


What grows and what kills curiosity? Hint, you.

What kills my curiosity? 
  1. Being busy. Avoiding or not making time and space to think, practice, or play.
  2. Avoiding challenges.
  3. Only skimming and scanning, and not thinking about what I read and see.
  4. Worrying about the results and not enjoying the process.
  5. Not writing down my thoughts, reactions, and questions.
  6. Not sketching ideas.
  7. Not listening to or having time for interesting people.
  8. Keeping thoughts to myself. Or, wasting time with people who do not listen.
  9. Not trying anything new, or not looking at routines and habits in a new way.
  10. Not asking questions. Or, trying to find answers too quickly.
  11. Missing connections, or ignoring them.
  12. Repeatedly ignoring those fascinations that keep me wondering.
  13. Me.

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.
Dream Dots, Digital Pattern for surface design
made from Between Fierce Dreams painting.

Original painting, Between Fierce Dreams, 2016
acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30"


In 2017, stay curious, my friends!

2014 BRAVE
2015 COLOR

2016 FREE


"What is creative living? Any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear." Elizabeth Gilbert

Stay curious, my friends! A fox crossed my path while driving home late on the 31st, a few miles from our home, in the same place where I found a dead fox a year and a half ago. Before that, I had been thinking about the importance of curiosity (and hope, and trust) in life and in the creative process. When the fox crossed my path, I wondered why. Why are there so many fox in that specific area? After the influx of coyote and wolf into our larger area, how do the fox survive in what appears to be a small protected zone? Maybe local farmers aren't protecting the fox, as much as the livestock. Is the food around there what the coyote and wolf do not want?

The metaphor of the fox (Resilient Fox) was important in my work for awhile, and then the wolf appeared (When Wolves Enter, Curious Wolf, for Avery). Now, the fox may be back. A fox crossing your path has many meanings, but what does it mean for me in a new year? With all these questions, my word for 2017 is CURIOUS. We are all passionate and fierce at times, but I think everyday curiosity is what really moves us along.

A year ago I said:
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. 

I don't know where my curiosity will lead this year, but I am convinced that admitting I do not know is the best way to stay curious and engaged, daily.

"We keep moving forward, opening new 
doors, and doing new things, because 
we're curious and curiosity 
keeps leading us down new paths." 
Walt Disney

Working on some surreal door photos that we
took last summer. Need to place this green 
door in the winter landscape next. 
Upcoming exhibit that goes up at the 
end of April is entitled Threshold.