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?

Path to the Tamaracks, 2017
A path of hope & healing,
in memory of loved ones.
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.


Art & Thinking in This Century

Recently, I shared this updated Bloom's Taxonomy (below) with my secondary Art students. Bloom's Taxonomy shows levels of thinking skills. This pyramid aligns with what has been identified as the most important skills needed to succeed in the 21st Century: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. No wonder such a high percentage of Nobel Prize winners in Science have training in the Arts. 

My students' current winter art show displays how they are applying art techniques, using critical thinking skills, and communicating with originality and humor. Like life, the art process is messy. There are a lot of rough drafts, paint spills, restarts, and ideas lost if they aren't written down or sketched out. With humor, persistence, courage, and usual teen energy, students can find their voices, develop skills and confidence, and tell their stories in Art. It's their time!


You Deserve Joy, and Challenge

We are veiled with the usual cold and darkness of November in Minnesota, and it's time to reflect on my word of the year, JOY! (Yeah, irony.) Like many, I tend to associate joy with light, color, warmth and relaxation, but when I dig deeper I realize that joy is inextricably linked to challenge, and some struggle. Cannot know the light without knowing some darkness.

Recently, I did a 5-day artist challenge on social media, a photo a day of my artistic highlights over the years. These 5 days proved to be an exercise in gratitude. As I reminisced, I realized just how far I have come--thanks to the help of family, other artists, and friends.  These snapshots of moments in time were each the culmination of responses to challenge. By the end of these 5 days, I realized just how much I enjoy the challenge of the art process, and how many opportunities and adventures art-gigs have given me, my family, and friends.

Also, at the end of this artist-photo-challenge-thing, I realized how little time I took to celebrate big and small victories. At the pinnacle of an achievement, I tend to downplay it, and immediately push myself to the next goal. Do I feel like I don't deserve joy and satisfaction? That seems ridiculous. 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!

Here are the 5 days of posts:
DAY 1: 2004, Normandale Community College, the exhibit "Fruit & Labor"
Our young family, Dan's log-work with my sewing pattern & wax layered pear forms

DAY 2: 2007, SOHO20 Gallery, NYC, right before my exhibit "AMBIOTIC"
came down. Photo was taken by one of my parents who came to NYC with me.

DAY 3: 2014, Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA, artist talk for "Reassurances"
LouAnn's words and my art have traveled the country, and given me many great challenges and fun times!

DAY 4: July 2017 in Grand Marais, MN, my happy art place where I get stuff done!

DAY 5:  August, 2019 at Studio 176 in Park Rapids, Mn. In August we opened up a small gallery. I’m grateful to show my work closer to home and share the gallery experience with artists I respect!

My recent work is pretty joyful (light, playful, airy, warm); there is tension and contrast too, end even a little snow in a few recent paintings! What?! More joy and recent work in my next post.


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


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