November sky at dawn

November sky at dawn

A new day dawns.  What is the most important thing I need to do today?

I have been thinking lately about my yearning to paint and my ongoing failure to make this happen.  Once again, I need to re-commit to making art a higher priority in my life.

So often I find just the right advice I need in the book I happen to be reading.  Yesterday I reread Ted Orland’s The View from the Studio Door:  How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World, and I was inspired by these quotes:

“Art is mostly a product of hard work. . . . it’s more important to be productive than to be creative.”

He says that to be an artist “means finding a way to live your life so that you can engage again and again the things you care about the most.”

“. . . to make your own place in the world, you’ll probably need to create a life in which working on your art becomes a natural part of your everyday life. . . . There’s no predicting how any individual life will play out, but there is a guiding principle for reaching the best of possible outcomes: stay at work on the things that are really important to you, and you will reach your potential as an artist.”


“I don’t think all buildings have to be iconic, but the history of the world has shown us that cultures build iconic buildings for their major public buildings.”
— Frank Gehry, architect

Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis

Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis opened in 1993

As a followup to yesterday’s post about interesting buildings, I offer these photos of the Weisman Art Museum on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  I made my first trip there last March.

I like the intriguing sculptural shape of this building, which was designed by Frank Gehry several years before his more famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997) and Seattle’s Experience Music Project (2000).  It stands on the east bank of the Mississippi River and its fluid shape and reflective skin seem appropriate to housing creative works of art, which also often stretch the mind.

“Creativity is about play and a kind of willingness to go with your intuition.  It’s crucial to an artist. If you know where you are going and what you are going to do, why do it?”
— Frank Gehry









I Wonder as I Wander

December 19, 2013

Foggy morning at Green Lake

Foggy morning at Green Lake

I feel misdirected these days, as if I am wandering in a fog.  So my postings are likely to be sporadic until I figure out what I am doing and where I want to be heading with this blog.  I am ambivalent about how I want to use this communication tool.  I still view it as a sort of online journal, but I am sometimes tired of doing the same things with it.

When I started blogging, I had hoped the posts would be a day-to-day reflection of a Pacific Northwest year, and I think I accomplished that.  I’ve used the blog to document the small, ordinary moments in the life of an ordinary middle-aged woman, and I think I’ve done that as well.  So there have been lots of posts about nature, and cooking (with recipes), walking, books I’ve read, day trips, and some longer journeys.  I’ve used the blog to show my slow, gradual growth as a watercolor artist and to show the photographs I like to take.  If I revisit certain themes again and again, it’s because they reflect my interests, which don’t change that much over time.

But sometimes I don’t feel that I have anything to share.  I need to live a more interesting life to have interesting things to blog about day after day.  That’s not always happening, of course.

So I’m questioning how I want to manage this blog in the future.  I’m finding myself getting tired of documenting and writing about my daily activities.  I want to spend more timing actually doing things, and less time reporting about them.

I’m questioning my photography, too. Just this week I read an article in the Wall Street Journal called “I Snap, Therefore I Am.”  The article talks about the widespread practice of taking photographs with camera phones, a proliferation of picture taking that has become almost an addiction.  I feel this way, too.  I take photos many times so that I can illustrate a blog post, but the photos are often neither fresh nor unique.  I want to be more selective about making photographs, to approach photography with artistic intent instead of merely taking pictures to show that I’ve been there.

I sense that it is time for a new approach, new practices, more time just for me and not always shared in a blog post.  There may be gaps in my posting as I work through this.







“How lost do you have to be to forget which day it is?”
— Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World

Disappearing into the distance, into the fog.  Skagit Valley in October.

Disappearing into the distance, into the fog. Skagit Valley in October.

The other day as my husband walked out the door to start his day, I reminded him that we would not have a DVD movie to watch that evening.  But instead he could watch Monday night football.  He gave me a quizzical look and said, “It’s not Monday.  It’s Saturday.”

Oh, my.

This is the life I grapple with.  My library job, like so many in the retail and service sectors, is a seven-day-a-week affair.  That means I work every other weekend and have my days off sprinkled across a work schedule that repeats every 14 days. It’s an irregular, fragmented life, and I just can’t seem to get into a smooth rhythm.

Is it any wonder that I’m feeling discombobulated?  I can see this is truly not just my own private issue, but a public one.  “Shift work, it is now clear, disrupts circadian rhythms, fosters insomnia, and induces inattentiveness, memory loss, and depression, especially when the shifts are irregular.”  (Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World)

One of the biggest challenges presented by my personal time patterns is sustaining any momentum with my painting.  I am doing a pretty good job making painting a top priority on my days off work, but those days occur so irregularly.  It’s frustrating, but I do the best I can for now.

“The abnormal effort necessary to produce a true piece of work is not an effort that can be diverted or divided.”
– Jeanette Winterson, Art [Objects]:  Essays in Ecstasy and Effrontery

“. . . haste is the enemy of art.  Art, in its making and in its enjoying, demands long tracts of time.” (ibid.)

“With a moment snatched here and there, it’s hard to achieve that feeling of being in the swing of something, the self-forgetfulness that psychologists call flow.”
— Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World

I know I am in good company with my struggles.  Mason Curry’s book, Daily Rituals:  How Artists Work explores how artists make time each day to be creative and how some earn a living while making art.  One of the blogs I follow, Gwarlingo, posted an excellent review of this book here.  It’s worth a look.

Pursuing the Impossible

September 18, 2013

“The main problem with turning the world into language is that it’s, well, impossible.  The word is always less than the thing it is meant to represent.”
— Stephen Dobyns, Next Word, Better Word:  The Craft of Writing Poetry

Watercolor and pencil sketch of yarrow

Watercolor and pencil sketch of yarrow

I’m convinced that art is a worthy pursuit and that if I persist, if I practice painting on each of my days off from my paying job, then I will eventually become a good artist.  This may take years, thousands and thousands of little paintings, and I am okay with that.

Right now, I have many dissatisfactions with my work.  And if I read Dobyns correctly, I can expect to always be searching and reaching for improvements.  He says, ” . . . I also thought poetry was something from which I could always learn more.  It was a country whose boundaries were never fixed, that always seemed to expand.”

The challenges of painting are intrinsically interesting to me.  I seem to be the kind of person who needs to learn by doing, by reading and looking at others’ works, and then by trying again.  I need to learn slowly.  So far, I am largely self-taught.  So there is a danger that I am repeating bad habits.  Maybe someday I’ll take a painting class, but for now, as long as my dissatisfactions do not turn into discouragement, I need to struggle on my own, charged by hope.

to be imperfect
in all the ways
that keep you
— Alice Walker, from “Hope to Sin Only in the Service of Waking Up”

So when my paintings fall far short from the things they are meant to represent, I hope to stay hopeful and take up the brushes again.  I expect perfection to always elude me, but there is beauty in imperfections, too.



Why Do We Make Things?

September 17, 2013

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

I seem to be all over the map (again), wondering why I am spending my days the way I do.  Why do I take photos, again and again, of flowers and leaves, etc.? Haven’t I done that already?   Why do I spend my time creating blog posts after all these (4+) years, and would it make more sense to live my life off stage?  Especially when there are (many) days when I seem to have nothing to say?  Why am I taking up a paintbrush?  What am I trying to say, if anything, with my little watercolor sketches, such as these oak leaves and acorns?  (Maybe the value is in taking the time to see rather than in having something to say?)  But am I just replicating in paint what I am stuck with in photography?

So I maunder through the days and trust that I am learning something from the struggle.  And if I use these blog posts to natter, it is a reflection of my unsettled mind, and I hope you will bear with me.

Last week I went to a lecture entitled “Why Do We Make Things,” part of a series presented by Seattle’s Town Hall Arts & Culture.  I left after a few minutes, too antsy to listen to this panel of four artists talk about how they played in their Dad’s workshop or cut out paper dolls.  I wanted to hear some deep thoughts about the existential why.  I unfairly, perhaps, decided I wouldn’t learn anything from these artists’ personal stories.  I know I learn better from books, which I can ponder at my own pace.

This week I checked some books out of the library about the craft of writing, shaping words.  My daughter will be teaching her fifth grade students about voice, word choice, etc. and I thought I might stumble across a book or two with some ideas for her.  And I found one gem, Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns, that spoke directly to my heart.  What he said about poetry applies equally to blogging, painting and the arts in general:

“I think when I first started writing in my teens and became increasingly committed to it in my early twenties, I wrote to be a contributing member of some great community . . . And I did it to be noticed, to be loved and authenticated.  I did it to be important.  I did it to give myself a voice.  I did it to be published.  I did it to have a job.  I did it to earn a merit raise.  I did it to push back the night.  I did it to sing.  Oh, I wrote for all sorts of reasons.  Then those reasons began to drop away, and now I do it mostly for itself.  I do it because I love it; I do it because I have no choice.  But the act of letting the poem go, of sending it out to be published, is now something I must make myself do.  And I do it to maintain my tenuous connection to the world. . . .  This connection, however, might be to only one person, one reader with whom the poet feels an affinity.  Nowadays I write for quite a few people who are no longer living.”

And I especially like this next Dobyns insight into why we make things:  “Writing a poem is one of the ways to love the world.”

And loving the world is always a worthy thing.



The Fertility of Chaos

January 23, 2011

Untitled painting

“Chaos is fertile, and failure may be the mother of the chaos.”
     — Thomas Moore, A Life at Work:  The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do

And here is the secret of the chaotic:  “It allows change and development, whereas a clear and fixed job or position might blind you to future possibility.”
     — Thomas Moore, A Life at Work:  The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do

I don’t know about you, but my life sometimes seems like a series of bumps in the road.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another.  I wonder why I expect life to be otherwise.

When life is not going smoothly, the challenge is to sit with the chaos, with the uncertainty, the imperfections, and adjust your perspective to see the good in all of it.  And console yourself that a perfect life would likely be boring!

Art Retreat at Home – Day 7

September 6, 2010

My mini-retreat is over.  I’m proud of myself for taking time — each of the past seven days — to paint a small watercolor or two.  I feel that giving myself an art “retreat,” a short-term project, helped to make my unpaid furlough special and meaningful.

I saw the actor and writer John Cleese give an interesting talk about creativity on one of the blogs I follow.  He’s learned that creativity requires no interruptions, which means that you have to set boundaries of space and time to do your creative work.  You can watch his 10-1/2 minute talk at this link:

It certainly was much easier to find the time for art this week than during my regular work week.  Tomorrow the libraries are again open for business, and I’ll be returning to work.  I hope I can maintain the momentum to paint and draw as I transition into a more normal work schedule.

Here are my paintings from Day 7:

Yet another attempt at painting hydrangeas

Watercolor sketch of hydrangea

Watercolor sketch from a photo

Steering Around a Rut

May 18, 2010

I’d like few things better than to be able to draw and paint from nature, to create art like the poppy prints I’ve collected (see my post of May 16th).  But while this dream is important to me, I have yet to carve time in my life to develop my skills and talents.  I’m having a hard time beginning. 

It’s so much easier for me to snap a photo of a flower than to sit down, really study it well enough to draw it, and then translate my vision to paper or canvas.  Drawing and painting will take a much bigger investment in time to create one image.  How do I find this time?

I got some tips from a book I just finished reading, Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art by Rice Freeman-Zachery. 

Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art

The author interviewed several artists who shared their ideas for finding time to pursue art and grow in their craft.  Here are some quotes and tips I copied into my personal notebook:

  • Instead of “To-Do” Lists, make “To-Do” Drawings/sketches
  • Carry around a small notebook and sketch everything
  • “There are things you’re going to have to give up to have time for creativity.”
  • “I think that daily practice of at least a month on a project is needed.”  — this is a quote by artist Roz Stendahl who gave herself a homework project of painting thirty birds in thirty days.  She set the following parameters for this project:  1) had to use only supplies already on hand; 2) had to be small; 3) had to use acrylic paint; 4) had to paint from drawings she’d already done in her journals; 5) had to work on a color theory issue; and 6) had to work more loosely than normal.
  • “Doing something new takes more time and energy than doing what you know.”
  • “Let go of perfect.”
  • Give yourself permission to just play
  • Schedule art dates, appointments for getting out and exposing yourself to inspiration
  • Write and draw for yourself as the only audience
  • Use all of your senses
  • Set mini-challenges, such as learning one new technique, exploring one aspect of color theory or design, trying to create something that has never been done before, giving yourself an unusual color combination to work with, setting a theme for a series of small works
  • Just show up at the table and START!

Perhaps being without my camera while it has been sent for repair is really a gift from the universe to “force” me to get out the drawing pad.  Can I live up to this challenge?