Friday, April 24, 2009

Pure Inspiration

Where do ideas come from? Everywhere. I believe that the key is leaving yourself open to every idea, every color, everything you see, hear, taste, feel. Distraction from experiencing the world around you is the thing that kills inspiration. We get too busy, life gets too hectic and our attention is requested by too many tasks. Take time for yourself and what you create. Don't feel guilty about it-- you need creativity like you need food, air, water, love.

We all need pure inspiration, those moments in life when we witness a performance, a painting, a sculpture, a piece of craftsmanship, a lecture that we will never forget. Such a source of pure inspiration for me is Sha Sha Higby . How to describe her? For me, she is a person who literally IS her art, the woman and what she does are inseparable. Her performance is moving sculpture that she wears—she calls it “costume art” and her jewelry pieces are small sculptures and both are so keyed to each other, you just know that the connection is not forced, that one is the natural outgrowth of the other. It makes me think of the jewelry of Alexander Calder which borrowed so much stylistically from his sculptures and mobiles.

When my sister, Bonnie, invited me to join her at a Sha Sha Higby performance as part of a San Francisco dance festival, I was less than enthusiastic. All I knew was that it was basically a woman divesting herself of a handcrafted costume to Indonesian music. For an hour. Ok, so she has also talked me into attending a bagpipe concert but that's another story. My sister has always been ahead of the cultural curve-- she was listening to Dave Brubeck as a freshman in high school, snuck out to one of the first concerts the Rolling Stones did in the US and was decorating with refurbished antiques as a young married mother in the late 60s. I accompanied her to the performance, which was in a small, intimate venue and it was mesmerizing-- I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time. I was calm, yet energized and full of wonder at the intricacy and complexity of Sha Sha's artistic vision and expression. Here's an excerpt from her Artistic Statement:

“I approach dance through the medium of sculpture. Using the painterly manipulation of physical materials and textures [that] I make--one by one--from wood, paper, silk, ceramic and gold leaf, interwoven with a labyrinth of delicate props, my work strives to create a path where movement and stillness meet. Shreds of memory lace into a drama of a thousand, intricate pieces; slowly moving, stirring our memory toward a sense of patience and timelessness. Every time we move about, the space around us is filled with drawings, colorful sketches and complex patterns. Our thoughts blend into the air and space about us.”

Sha Sha Higby - "Stone"

"With these 'costume sculptures', I want to show how we are embraced by the elegant complexity of the atmospheres about us. Emotions and thoughts cluster on the surface of our bodies and then break away, fly, and float off. Each bundle of emotion becomes yet another entity in itself, splitting into many facets again, and gathering, and returning again to their source.”

Sha Sha Higby - "Before Light"

Sha Sha Higby - Copper & Bronze Mask

Sha Sha Higby - detail of copper & enamel sculpture

But as in any visual medium, words can't begin to express what's really there. Here's a video with part of a performance. Have an inspired weekend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Desperately Seeking Color

When I was a little girl, some of my favorite dresses were navy blue, cinnamon brown and bottle green. I don't know if I was trying to avoid being noticed or maybe my early taste was influenced by my classy, fashionista Aunt Ethel whose clothes were all dark, city-sophisticated tones and who never wore bright colors, except for shorts and polos in the summer. I have a classic dorky teenager snapshot of myself at Easter 1960, wearing a gray suit-- my sister's color choice for an outfit that year was tomato red!

Attending art school for ceramics didn't leave much room for playing with color-- earthy tones and organic shapes were in style in the early 70s and at the temperatures we used to fire the clay really bright colors were impossible. Or at least as I recall-- I hated all the chemistry that was required for glaze recipes and clay body composition and tried to avoid it as much as possible by using alternative methods like salt glazing and raku firing. Lots of texture but not a lot of color there!

When I moved to Berkeley in 1977, my artistic endeavors turned to textiles and in that medium, color became a tool that was user-friendly and easy to manipulate. I started taking classes at Fiberworks, an independent school for all things textile, and my color abilities began to blossom.

A few days ago someone remarked that she thought my beads looked like fabric. I was bemused--you'd think I would have noticed that! As I was choosing things to photograph for my post today, I noticed that I actually do have a color style that is unique to me. It seems that it takes a body of work to discern this. I'm beginning to see this in my clay work too.

To honor Earth Day and all the vibrant colors of Mother Earth, here's a little gallery of past textile work, some dating from 1975 or so. Go take a walk and enjoy Her.

"Vermont" souvenir punchneedle hooked pillow

Crewel Embroidery

Sweater sleeve, natural dyes

Quilt square

"Once in a Blue Moon" punchneedle hooked rug - detail

"Daylily" - detail - original design embroidery - pearl cotton

Monday, April 20, 2009

Just Walk Away, Renee!

We've all been there-- whatever we are working on is just NOT working! This usually happens when I'm on some kind of deadline and I've waited too long to finish my project in a reasonable amount of time. But, for some reason, I'm having to push the creative muse with a little kick in the fanny and she's not happy about it!

I've been working on a special order of beads, trying to copy the one in the photo below but tonight it's not flowing, what I've produced is interesting but not what's needed and I'm ready to start chopping my polymer clay canes into tiny, tiny pieces. What to do??

Just walk away. Take a nap, go for a walk, have a cookie, do some gardening-- give your mind a little breathing space. I used to do contract sewing for designers in San Francisco who did wearable art clothing and their deadlines were always ridiculous. I learned that “when you're hot, you're hot” and you know the rest of the phrase. Some days you should just be doing something else. The little angel of creativity is not sitting on your shoulder right now, and it's not worth ruining a whole bolt of something that was handwoven and took a month to produce. Your mind's in a rut and no amount of forcing it will cause that creative logjam to unstick.

Lately I've found that sleeping on it works best. Right before I fall asleep sometimes a genius idea just pops into my mind. Here's where the notebook-on-the-nightstand is handy. Sometimes I dig out one of my polymer clay books and just read until something jogs an idea. This morning I'm going to get out my Donna Kato's millefiori book and see if I can solve my little bead riddle. I had the kernel of an idea before I conked out last night – let's see if I can work it into a solution to my deadend.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of my Circus Beads-- not what I was aiming for but maybe I can string them into something interesting later on.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Just A Little Green

As in, what's just beginning to peek out from under last year's dead leaves here in Vermont. Fiddleheads are showing in the woods and daffodils too, although no yellow blooms yet-- maybe this week as the temps may hit the 60s.

As far as the color green goes, statistics on color preferences will tell you that the color most people choose is blue-- 42% to14% for green--but lately I've been selling more green beads than anything else. In fact, I was working on a set of special order Apocalypto beads (see my post from April 7) and when I e-mailed the customer with pics of the finished work, her comment was that they “weren't green enough”. I rather liked the turquoise as a complement but alas-- not green enough!

So thinking I might be seeing a trend here, I started to group some green beads that I had in stock to see if there were some similar hues going on amongst my greens and sure enough, there were. One of the things I look for in what I call “art” are surprises-- little elements of the work that grab my senses and rock me back a bit. These beads in the necklace below were all the same hue of green and round but quite different in style and texture, creating that little “surprise” that makes the design fun.

This weekend, I happened upon this information on an older post on Kathleen Dustin's blog. Not only is she talking about green but also about an interesting color blending method I thought I'd pass on. I'd been doing a similar blending process intuitively in developing my color palettes but now that I've seen what Kathleen says, I'll be more conscious of my process.

“I've been spending a great deal of time recently just mixing colors of polymer. For example, I'll mix an interesting green, then cut it up into 8 or so pieces and add a small amount of another color to each piece and mix it in - maybe white to one piece, ecru to another, a teeny bit of red to another, yellow to another and mud to another. So all the pieces work well together because they have the same base green, but yet all are different. The resulting richness of color enables me to achieve a successful organic quality.”

This is the same technique that was explained to me, using acrylic paints instead of clay, when I took a furniture-painting class some years ago. I also noticed, when I dyed yarn with natural plant dyes, that all the colors seemed to harmonize-- must be some chemical in plant colors causing that to happen. Hmmm-- need to do a little research on that!

Well, since I was on the hunt for green beads to play with, I found some of my faves, made with Laurie Prophater's “Ancient Metals” technique from an old PolymerCAFE article. I never put them up on Etsy, because I couldn't bear to part with them so now that I've made a necklace out of them, maybe it's time for their debut in my shop.

Cynthia Rutledge says “a good base for mixing colors [in a jewelry design] is a light, a medium, a dark, a bright and and an accent” so I added accordingly of both old, recycled and new from my stash and and came up with the Lothlorien necklace.

I handforged the silver clasp and, in addition to my polymer beads, I used some yellow turquoise, large silver-plated plastic beads from an African bead mix I got for Christmas last year, and some recycled baroque pearls from an old necklace of my aunt's. Just to break up the balanced design a bit I used some irregular silver nuggets as spacers.

So, if you've never been drawn to green, try it. Experiment with the color blending technique. Spring is for new beginnings and that applies to your creative endeavors too.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Artist's Journal

When I was an art student at NYU, a successful photographer gave me the best artist advice I ever received-- he told me to write my ideas down and keep them in a file so when “the well ran dry”, as he put it, I would never be at a loss for new sources of artistic inspiration. I took that advice to heart and even now I look back through some of my old notebooks and see ideas that can still be re-worked to produce idea “gold”.

All our lives are very busy these days and the idea of keeping track of yet another thing is enough to make you sigh with fatigue.But all you need do is get a little notebook and when you're driving or doing dishes or waiting at the dentist's office, let that little voice of the Muse move your pencil to sketch or write. I usually think in sketches and then append them with some text in case I can't “read” my drawing later. Have you ever seen the sketches of Leonardo DaVinci? I am completely in awe of them, they are art as well as notes! But yours don't have to be pretty or finished-- they are simply physical representations of your mental process. I keep another small notebook by the bed these days, in case I'm visited by a dream that could become something wonderful. I've told myself too many times that I'll remember an idea to find upon waking that it is gone, gone, gone!

Here's a sketch I made of a necklace I submitted for the Art Bead Scene's blog February Challenge based on a painting by Gustav Klimt called “The Kiss”. The ABS editors pick one artwork each month and challenge designers and bead artists to interpret the work using art beads. Below the sketch is the finished design.

The ideas don't always show up in my head full-blown and sometimes I'll even cut the little elements apart and move them around in different arrangements or enlarge them on the copier or trace extras with tissue paper. Not very high-tech but are we really in a rush here? Revel in the sublime pastime of committing your ideas to paper and you might find that good quiet time is not as impossible to schedule as you think.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Host of Daffodils

I use color to lift my spirits, as probably many of you do too. Today is definitely a yellow day, a daffodil day! The weather here is drippy, damp and unrelentingly gray. Maybe I'll look for some at the market, it's too early for them to be blooming in Vermont. But they will be here soon with all the other little early-spring flowers--marsh marigold, trillium, trout lily--their unexpected bits of color showing up in the otherwise dull landscape.

Last week, after looking down the list of offerings in my Etsy shop, I realized I was in a color rut! Almost everything looked too dark and intense so I worked on some blue sky colorways, at the advice of my Vermont clay buddy, Cindy Walcott. That led to red cabbage purples and then to green, since I was working on a custom bead order and messing around with faux jade. I thought about walking in the spring woods and mixed up some caramel, jade, pearl, silver and gunmetal and then did a gold and deep yellow mix as an accent color. The results were very woodsy and with the addition of some repurposed wood beads and lampwork they will make a very nice necklace. I might even do a faux jade pendant to add to it!

So take advantage of the change of seasons to inspire your creative choices. Pushing yourself to try a color that you've never used before or don't use often is a great exercise. I don't have as much yellow in my closet as I'd like--it's hard to find just the right yellow in clothing or fabric. But I can just mix my clay however I like. Here's what I made in yellow-- hope you like it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Color My World

Looking out on a rainy April garden in Vermont at 7 a.m., I find myself dreaming of color—big, bold swathes of color, like the sea off Maui, or sunrise over the Grand Canyon. But inspiration is only a few clicks of the computer keyboard away--in Flickr. Today I wanted to show you my Apocalypto beads, something I dreamt about after seeing the movie of the same name one evening. Our feathered friend here was my inspiration, as he flitted through the ancient jungles of Mexico and later adorned the headdresses of the Aztec—poor parrot!

Color inspiration is everywhere-- even in the frozen winter landscape. You just have to refine your way of seeing and be open to the possibilities, a talent that is developed over a lifetime but something you can start working on today, right now. Go to Flickr and type in “yellow”. It's a good way to wake up your senses on a Spring morning. Make something yellow this morning and if you stop back tomorrow, I'll show you what I made!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Begin As We Mean to Go On

Horrors, am I experiencing “writer's block”?

I've seldom been accused of being at a loss for words-- ok, ok, maybe never--but as I begin my first post on my new blog, ideas come at me with the speed of rush-hour traffic. What to write about on Day 1 of the rest of my life?

So, here it is--my reason for jumping into the “Brave New World” of social networking-- I want to share with the wider world my work and the work of my friends, my love for creating and some things I've learned along the way. I live in a lovely but very isolated place-- central Vermont, USA-- and this is the best way to communicate and network with others who believe that spending time making something with your own hands is Heaven on Earth.

I am a storyteller. For me, life is a process, a journey, a transformation, an unfolding. And as our lives tell a story, so does our art. We – and it-- are shaped by what we've done, who we've met, what we've learned, what we've struggled with or succeeded at. Life is an intersection with other souls, other lives, other ways of seeing, other ways of living. Art expresses that in a wonderful and ever-changing, topsy-turvy marvel of creation and discovery.

Making art everyday is what I live for but my primary goal with this blog is to provide the inspiration for others to discover and express their creative vision too. I have discovered and completely embrace the quote: “The place God calls you is the place where your great gladness and the world's great hunger meet”.

So I'm hoping to keep you entertained (and, hopefully, coming back for more) with a mix of inspiration, humor, lessons I've learned (or not learned) about creating, visits to my studio and insights into my process. I'm not going to teach techniques but I'm going to try my best to communicate how it is that I do what I do--that is, come up with ideas and turn them into reality.

I want to hear from you too-- this isn't a one-way dialog so please don't be shy! I'm happy to answer questions or entertain thoughts you have on what I've posted.