How It Was
"We never really grow up. We only learn how to act in public."
In these troubled and challenging times, it's my deepest hope that all of us are supported by a network of unconditionally loving people in our lives. I'm defining these "beloveds" as very dear friends, mentors, and special family.
Unfortunately, we are not all lucky enough to be born into families with members who end up becoming beloved. But in my family there were three people who fit this category.
Today I took some time to re-frame the first of them, my beloved maternal grandmother, or Nana as I called her. She died over 50 years ago, but I think of her and send her my love and thanks to her every single day. She is never far from my mind. Oh, how I loved that woman. She taught me every good thing I have become, or hope to become. Here she is.
The photo was taken in 1937 when she was about 60. I have only two photographs of her because she absolutely hated having her picture taken. As a young adult I was shocked to discover that she'd gone through our family photographs and cut her own face out of every one of them. I never had the chance to ask her why she did this, and it puzzles me to this day.
My understanding is that she was forced to quit school around age 12 in order to go to work, and later on she raised a large family single-handedly after her husband became extremely ill and was hospitalized for decades. She had a lot of shame about her lack of formal schooling.
And yet, she was the kindest, funniest, most loving and smartest person in my childhood, and created a strong family foundation for me. She lived with us until her death when I was about 16. Lucky me! I got to spend every day with her for sixteen years.
I never stop asking myself how I was fortunate enough to have her in my life.
Rest well, Nana. And thank you.
I've gotten back into continuous line drawing, which results in curious, wonky images and is enormous fun to do. It's also very easy to slip into the zone (meditate) while doing it, as it calls for careful attention to the object being drawn--while never lifting your pen from the page.
This wonky Buddha was drawn from a clay wall decoration. I am enjoying the way his uma (the dot on the his forehead) has migrated over to one side. I never know how these drawings will turn out; all of this was done without ever lifting my pen, as one very long line, retracing along itself when I needed to move to another area. Try it yourself--it's great fun and the results are always surprising and often humorous. Somewhat like meditation.
Making this piece was quite the challenge. I started on it in 2008 or 2009 and got as far as completing the face, but then was waylaid by life. It sat on a frame for another seven or eight years (!) and haunted me.
Although I was determined to finish I was also intimidated, because while I was punching the forehead, the foundation suddenly collapsed and my needle plunged all the way through, leaving a large hole in the fabric.
Yikes. What to do?
What I did do was put it away for the next several years. I couldn't fathom how to fix it because the spot was too tiny for a patch. Finally about a month ago I took it up again and closely examined it, realizing that you couldn't really see the hole.
So I left it there and finished the piece, hole and all.
You have to look really hard to find the problem spot (though it probably cannot be seen in a photo; likely only in person).
Lesson #1: Use the Right Materials
This was one of those major learning pieces. Whether I like the end result or not--and I'm still trying to decide how I feel about it--I learned a ton from doing it. For one thing, the foundation was the PITS. I am guessing it was cotton muslin rather than the sturdy weaver's cloth normally used for punch needle embroidery, and that is why it collapsed. It was sold to me as weaver's cloth; the lesson learned is to pay attention to my own instincts--it felt flimsy right from the start. I should have listened to intuition and returned it or thrown it away.
Lesson #2: Make Notes
Another lesson was to make notes, extensive notes, if I am going to put a piece away for awhile. How many strands of embroidery floss had I been using? How had I adjusted the length of my needle? What exact shade should I use to continue? Any other notes I need to make in case I don't get back to it for awhile? I didn't do any of this and had to reconstruct everything when I started work on it again.
Lesson #3: What Would You Do Differently Next Time?
A third lesson was in the use of values to convey visual planes. I would do this quite differently now, but I needed to work through this portrait in order to learn that.
Lesson #4: Revise!
And then there's the lesson that hair is hard to do well in embroidery. Such a different format from pencil and paper! A friend told me my initial efforts made the portrait look like a photo of Dilma Rouseff of Brazil. She was right, and I had to rip out the "over-hair," but at least I was laughing as I did so.
I could go on... In the end, it was a challenge but it was fun as well, and now I am eager to do some additional portraits.
"My nose isn't big. I just happen to have a very small head."
SEVEN YEARS LATER
When I was a kid, I remember my mother complaining that I never finished what I started. She was right. I would develop some sudden enthusiasm and throw myself into whatever-it-was and then just as suddenly lose all interest and drop it. I had unfinished projects littering the house.
I remember being furious with her for pointing this out--because I knew it was true.
I made a vow to myself that I would "finish what I started" from then on. And mostly I've stuck to that vow. My mother did me a big favor.
After completing a really challenging project last week (more about that in a future post), I had finally cleared the decks of all my recent textile endeavors and was free to think about what's next. I do have one additional rug underway but can finish that as soon as the weather turns cooler and I can get back in the studio.
As soon as I asked myself, "What IS next?" I realized I had two ancient unfinished objects that I truly wanted to complete. One is a quilt I started at least 30 years ago. But that's in pieces in various boxes and will have to wait a while longer, until I can find everything. The other, though, is a punch needle embroidery face that I started at least seven years ago. Here it is.
I finished 9/10s of this back around 2009, and then I had to stop for reasons I no longer recall. Not smart.
This morning I finished the face, despite running into a soft spot in the backing that was threatening to disintegrate completely. (Eeeek! Desperation was only seconds away.)
The piece itself is actually in full color, but I used an app to switch it to black and white to study the values.
I think I could have done a better job of finishing. However: If one has abandoned a project for over seven full years, and one has been silly enough NOT to store it neatly in a bag with its appropriate colors, then "one" will have to spend most of the day guessing at what colors were used, at how many threads were being used per stitch, and at what in the world I was thinking when I put it down with so little to finish. Jeez!
After I got all that sorted out--kinda--I finished the tiny space that remained in less that half an hour. I mean, by dropping this piece to work on something else seven years ago, it just made everything so much harder when I went to pick it up again. Oy!
Perhaps I thought I'd get right back to it. I never did. And I've thought about finishing it ever since. There is still a lot of work to be done.
Next up: punching the hair, then some type of background.
I'm now thinking of a whole series of embroidered portraits. I know that when I finally finish this project and post a color version, it will be clear just how far I still have to go to improve--but that's half the fun of learning to draw/punch/paint/hook. I can only get better!
Or so I tell myself.
And much as I hate to admit it: Thanks, mom.
"Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there."
"The artist uses the talent he has, wishing he had more talent. The talent uses the artist it has, wishing it had more artist."
THE ZEN OF SELFIES.
My first title for this post was going to be "Miserable Selfies." Because so many selfie-sketches (as opposed to selfie-photos, where everyone is consciously smiling) make the artist look grim. But the fact is, I am so far from miserable it's funny. I'm actually incredibly happy.
Oh yeah? Then why do I look so miserable?
Such a good question...I look at a lot of sketching and visual journal websites and I often notice how totally grumpy everyone looks in their hand-drawn selfies. People who don't draw often see these and complain, "But you look so unhappy! I never see you looking that way."
No, actually, what one usually sees in selfie-sketches is a face devoid of any type of expression at all, and that often makes the artist look entirely miserable--because we just aren't used to seeing others with no expression. Think about taking the subway; you often see expressionless people there, and they can look quite miserable (they might be, on a crowded subway), but in fact, we have no idea about their interior states.
In fact, I was in a state of delight drawing this. Not that you can tell! But it has been months, perhaps over a year, since I've spent more than a minute drawing anything representational. This hardly qualifies as a great piece of art; I'm too out of practice and I don't pretend to be a great artist even when I have been practicing. I know I have a lot to learn. I did this on a post-it with a ballpoint pen, in about 5 minutes. When I finished, I looked at it and felt GREAT. It was so much fun to do! Even if it closely resembles a mug shot.
And it does resemble a mug shot--it appears someone has just slugged me in the jaw and knocked my mouth off-center so that it has settled under one nostril rather than being balanced between the two. (I hope that isn't true in real life) And what happened to the nose, which is also migrating to one side of my face and looks vastly white?
Perhaps the cubists were onto something, when you look at that face. Ha.
I DON'T CARE. The point is, I did it. I drew something and I had so much fun doing it. It felt great.
Practice at selfies does allow one to eventually add expression to the face. (Check out Rembrandt's selfies or Frida Kahlo's selfies to see masters at work.) But you know?...this actually WAS my expression while I was drawing, because I was totally in the present moment, totally focused, totally absorbed, and not thinking of anything else.
So I may look miserable, but I am happy, happy, happy with my tiny drawing. I feel more practice sessions hurtling in my direction.
The daily small painting, a small resource and time commitment, is an exercise in absolute focus for that time period. It's like a meditation, really.
- Gaye Adams
All the hot humid weather is making me cranky. Really, really cranky. I don't want to do any substantive walking outdoors or real exercise...I just want to hunker down in the a/c. So now I have an intense case of summer cabin fever. Restless to the max! I just want this heat to break so I can get out there again and M-O-V-E.
I thought I would work on a black tile today since I was in a dark mood and I don't get enough practice with black tiles. It's time to put in some serious work and experimentation with them. I also have a seemingly endless supply of three different types of gellyroll pens in wild colors, and I need to learn what the difference is between the three types. Gellyrolls show up dramatically on dark tiles.
Today I limited myself to a white gellyroll with white and red Prismacolor pencils to do a simple duotangle on the black tile.
At first I just did the white-on-black, but then later added the red to reflect my impatience with the weather.
Contrast this to my tile of August 12th. I think the heat wave had just begun then and I was still feeling chipper. I've been paying with the mirror app on my iPhone, and so after I did that tile and posted it, I ran it through the mirror app and came up with this:
Whoa, I love that! And talk about a different feeling from the tile I did today...I liked this so much I'm having some greeting cards made from it. That mirror app is really fun.
While I'm at it, here are a few more portraits that I did long ago. These are from 2007.
Opening a file folder this morning, I found a number of ten year old sketches, neatly clipped together and blatantly misfiled. Strange, since I looked in this folder as recently as a month ago, read through it carefully, and these sketches were not there then. I do not remember coming across them recently, so how did they get in there?
(Cue the "Twilight Zone" theme music here)
But I was very happy to see them. What surprised me most was that they were dated June and July of 2005, and yet I still like them. They are pretty simple, but they really capture the people I was drawing. Everyone whose portrait I drew that summer was on staff at Omega.
It was the first time I took Omega's annual week-long Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain workshop, which was taught by Lynda Greenberg and was superb. (You can read the book and not do the work, but in this workshop, you have to do the work.) I saw all the participants improve radically in just 5 days. The show-and-tell at the end impressed us all with the dramatic differences between day one and day five. I loved it so much I took it again a few years later. But I digress.
Here was my first attempt to draw a portrait. This is a young guy named Alex who was on the Omega staff that summer, and when I ran across this sketch and the subsequent one, I found myself wondering what he looks like now, ten years later, what he is doing, and how he is faring in life.
The following day we had a chance to try again, and I produced this sketch of a young woman calling herself Nola. Once again, I wonder where she is today and how she is doing. I still love this sketch. What amazed me was how much the finished pictures actually resembled their human models--they really looked like this.
Although I'm hardly a Leonardo, I must say I astounded myself with this portrait and still like it a decade later. I loved every minute of drawing it too, I remember that distinctly. The world disappeared while I worked on it.
Because I was apparently drawing faster than everyone else, I finished first and had time on my hands, so I snuck in another sketch while waiting, using another angle.
The other revelation for me was how much enjoyment I got out of doing the drawings. I remember leaving the workshop wondering if I might become a portrait artist in later life. Something that still interests me--at least, I am still interested in drawing more portraits.
A quote from much-beloved Jimmy Durante on what we think when we see ourselves: "My nose isn't big. I just happen to have a very small head."
I'm a textile artist (traditional rug hooking, punch needle rug hooking, and other textile arts), a long-time meditator, a certified meditation teacher and coach, and focused on learning about the interplay of art, creativity, and mindfulness every day.
SITES TO WATCH:
Insight Meditation Society
Oxford Rug Hooking School
Zentangle: The Official Site
Green Mountain Rug Hooking
Massachusetts Tarot Society