The Grass IS Greener: A Life Changing Artist Experience

Happy New Year to you, Art Bite Blog fans! I thought I would start the new year with an inspiring story that will hopefully move you in a good direction for 2018. If you are stuck or need prodding like I did when the events in this story took place, it might help nudge you out of your rut. I have shared this story in bits in pieces, but never in full. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did in recalling and writing it.

In 2014 I was awarded my first month long residency at Jentel Artist Residency in Banner Wyoming. I applied for this residency in 2013 out of utter desperation. I had been grieving the sudden loss of someone very special to me and as a result, I hadn’t been in the studio or made any work for over two years. When I did receive an invitation to this residency, it was manna from heaven. I drove from my home in Philadelphia to Wyoming-a first for me to travel that far on my own. Although I had been out west many times, I had never traveled at ground level, witnessed the marked changes in terrain, the changes in the light from blue to green to gold or watched the sunset for three hours as I drove due west. As I made my way further away from my home, I felt the mountains of guilt, grief and depression fall away from my shoulders and as each mile passed, I felt lighter and more free.
The residency is located on a thousand acre working cattle ranch with trees, foothills, desert flowers, a lovely creek, rattlesnakes, deer and porcupines. I was in love at first sight with the raw beauty of the land and the huge sky that I could see for forever. Behind the house was the tallest mountain on the property and for some reason, I got it into my head that before the end of the month I would climb that mountain. This was a ludicrous thought because for one, I’m afraid of heights and two, I had never climbed anything resembling a mountain. However, these pesky logistics didn’t matter to me. Come hell or high water, I was going to climb that mountain and I was also going to break my two year slump and make some work during this residency.
During the month, I hiked those thousand acres, exploring each foothill, memorizing the curves, drawing the contour of the land against the sky with grasses I collected and dipped in ink, hearing nothing but the wind and my own breathing as I walked and worked. This strange, brown and barren land was healing me step by step as I hiked, line by line as I drew, breath by breath as I listened to the wind. I kept an eye on my mountain nemesis behind the house, everyday assessing the height, the verticality, the rocks. It loomed and taunted me, just as the challenge to let go of my depression and get out of bed everyday seemed to loom and taunt me.
It didn’t happen for me right away but by almost 3 weeks into my month long residency I finally had a breakthrough in my work and it all started to flow. I made about four paintings, a ream of drawings and about 1000 digital drawings by the last week. I was definitely on fire, determined and inspired. The residency had done for my studio work all I had hoped for and more.
But. I. Still. Hadn’t. Climbed. That. Mountain.
Ok, so I never told anyone I was going to do it. I never made any promises to anyone, except myself, of course. It certainly wasn’t a requirement of the residency program that I climb it. Who would know if I didn’t do it? Well..I would know..and I would feel like a total failure even with all of the studio success I had achieved.
So…On the second to last day before I was to leave, it was now or never. It was a lovely day for a hike and just as I had done most days, I woke up, put on my backpack and hiking shoes. But instead of heading out to the thousand acres, I went behind the house and started up the mountain. It was much steeper than I thought and at some points, it was almost vertical with nothing but scree in most places. I had no climbing equipment and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing from a mountain climbing standpoint. I just started, one foot in front of the other… grabbed, slid, sweated and breathed my way up, paying close attention not to look down. To pull myself up the sheer verticals and to stop myself from falling when I slipped, I held on to the the tall grasses, they were my lifeline-just as they had been in the studio when I made those first drawings in ink.
At one point I did look down and immediately panicked.
I had climbed so far, there was only a short distance left, but what lie ahead of me was nothing but rock and a sheer vertical, I had no idea what to do. My heart started to pound and I couldn’t breathe, I had to sit down. As I sat there on the rock, crying, paralyzed with panic, contemplating the embarrassment of butt sliding back down in defeat…or worse, having to be rescued, I heard something breathing behind me…it was a deer! She was pretty close and seemed a bit skittish, but more confused at what I was doing all the way up there on her turf. She quietly turned around and went over the top of the mountain. I kept an eye on her path and followed it..hand over hand, step over step, gripping anything I could, even digging my fingers into the dirt to pull myself up and finally I made it to the top. I turned around to look at the ranch below me and snapped a picture ( shown at the top of this article) so I would never forget that moment. I still remember how victorious I felt and it was then that I knew everything would be okay. I was strong and I could get through my grief and depression and move forward. I would never be the same as I was before, I would never make the work I was making before, but everything was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.
As I turned to continue down the other side of the mountain, I was relieved to see a green meadow with flowers, a clear path and an easy, gradual descent down into the valley.

I hope you enjoyed that story. If you have a similarly inspiring story you would like to share, please leave it in the comments section below. If you are interested in applying for a residency, but are unsure about which one, this post may be helpful. I will be writing more about my residency and the transition from my older work to the work I do now, so stay tuned for those articles in the coming months.

As promised, I will be posting to this blog twice a month and my next post outlines my New Year’s Studio Resolutions. Since 2015 when I started making these resolutions, I have shared them with a few people who have found them very helpful and useful for their own studio practice. If you haven’t made your resolutions yet, please make sure you follow this blog so you don’t miss my next post!

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The Pentaculum & Me

Vision, Uncertainty and Knowledge of Materials are inevitabilities that all artists much acknowledge and learn from: vision is always ahead of excecution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue ~David Bales & Ted Orland, Art & Fear

About this time last year, I was invited to attend Arrowmont’s 2nd Annual Pentaculum as part of the Textiles Studio. Spending a blissful week in the Smoky Mountains creating with like-minded individuals was something I was definitely not going to pass up…So without even thinking, I accepted the invitation. As the week neared after the busy holidays, my mind raced about what to pack-what was I going to work on, what can one complete in only a week? I nearly packed my entire studio for a month long residency at Jentel Artist Residency, so I decided that I was limiting myself to only a small suitcase of studio materials. As part of the Pentaculum, Arrowmont generously allows participants to use any equipment housed within their respective studio so I only needed to think about my supplies. I didn’t pack any encaustic because it is what I do in my home studio, it needs special equipment/ventilation, plus I wanted to work on other things. I ended up packing tons of found papers and fabrics I had been saving, paints, brushes, paper, hand and machine stitching materials, canvas, rust printed and drop cloth scraps and 3 books. Thinking that the lightening rod of inspiration would strike me as I entered the Arrowmont studio, I had only an inkling about what I was going to work on so I just sat down and started painting.

If you follow me on facebook or instagram, you have seen my drawings/paintings on Mylar. The skin-like translucency of Mylar references the body and this is why I am so attracted to it. Linking the earth and the body through visual patterns and similarities is the crux of my work, so I am attracted to materials that reference either. The work on Mylar is an ongoing experimental series I that began in grad school and have since translated into stitch, encaustic and mixed media collages. This language of squiggles and looping gestures is part of my signature group of marks and is derived from embroidery, hair, loose threads, maps and landscape. I have returned to this series again and again for inspiration and making these drawings something more than just inspiration is one of my New Year Studio Resolutions (stay tuned for a blog post about this), so this is what I focused on at the Pentaculum.

Because I was part of the Textiles Studio, I was inspired to apply hand stitching to these paintings-this was something I had always wanted to do, but never had the time. I also began deconstructing a muslin fabric that I had brought-this fabric covered the springs of an old piece of upholstery I trash picked years ago. The fabric has been in my studio forever and has aways inspired me with it’s interesting sewn structure, rust marks, holes and history. It took a few hours to deconstruct it and through the repetitive process of ripping out stitches, I got to ‘know’ the fabric’s structure and function. I can’t begin any art piece with a blank slate, I always need a mark on the surface that I can use as a place to respond. In this case, the deconstructed fabric happened to be laying on my Mylar so I used it. I began with pencil tracing the holes, the loose threads and in some cases drawing the threads within the weave structure. Just the pencil tracings alone were simple and beautiful, referencing and becoming a map for my response in paint and stitch. Being limited in my supplies, I worked within a palette of white, black and red paint along with white and black thread. At the end of the week, I was amazed to discover that I had completed ten of these drawings. I would consider none of them ‘finished’, but they are a step in my process that I had always wanted to take. I am so thankful for having been given the time to take this step at Arrowmont. The result of combining the hand stitching with the paintings was more successful than I had imagined and has moved me forward in my creative walk.

Being in the studio was awesome but just part of the Pentaculum experience. There were so many other amazing moments during the week that would take too many words to describe…I took a day to hike in the Smoky Mountains National Park, read extensively in the amazing Arrowmont library, photographed, socialized, ate great food, did yoga and patronized the largest scrapbooking store I have ever seen. All in all, the Pentaculum was exactly what I needed to start off the new year!

Be sure to read this blog post about the other Textiles Studio Participants and their amazing work.

 

 

Team Textile @ The Pentaculum

I happily spent New Year’s Day packing my suitcase and part of my studio, so excited to drive down to Gatlinburg, TN for The 2nd Annual Pentaculum. I was honored to have received the invitation to participate in this exciting event at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts last year and as the event approached I just couldn’t wait to get there. I have previously taught workshops at Arrowmont and the facilities, food and staff are consistently top notch. The Pentaculum invites artists and writers at various stages in their careers to participate for a one week residency utilizing the studios, collaborating, socializing, etc. The five participating studios during this Pentaculum were Ceramics, 2D Painting, Sign Painting in the wood shop, Jewelry/Metals, Writing and Textiles. The event began with a slide show of all participants’ work, I was so impressed to be among such amazing artists and writers-just simply amazing PEOPLE. To spend a week working around them was an honor.

Of course the textiles studio is where I spent most of my time. Each artist in the studio with me was as individual, accomplished and amazing as their work. Most impressive is how much work each person produced in only one week-this is what uninterrupted time can do for an artist! I am pleased to share their work made during the Pentaculum with you here, please click on their names to visit their web sites for their complete body of work.

Stay tuned for my next blog post describing my personal experience and work created during the Pentaculum.

Loo Bain, who I am privileged to work with at Tyler spent her time repetitiously cutting, drawing 2d and drawing in space with fluorescent vinyl, mylar and other sparkly, shiny fabrics. By the end of the week, her colorful and tactile studies just begged to be touched.

Erin Castellan, our fearless studio coordinator, did a great job herding us cats all week, answering our questions and stitching, stitching, stitching. I have long been a fan of Erin’s work, which translates constructed fabrics of all kinds, thread and other embellishments into stitched paintings. The week of the Pentaculum, she meticulously stitched and beaded an lovely, intimate piece that I secretly covet.

Orly Cogan’s work is instantly recognizable-unabashed, large scale, stitched, collaged, painted pieces exploring feminine myths, identities and relationships. Orly was most at home collaborating with the 2D studio, where they created air brushed magic on her pieces.

Naomi Falk, sculptor & materials wizard, uses performance, clay, fabric, wood, stitch, paper and myriad other materials to investigate personal identities. During the Pentaculum, she experimented with many materials and made all of us in textiles studio amazing hand cut paper crowns!

Sonya Yong James’ work explores repetition, ritual and transcendence through simple felted forms, which become complex through multiples and repetition. During the Pentaculum, Sonya worked to combine felt and horse hair, making quiet, intimate samples-so impressive was her magnificent collection of various colors of horsehair!

Colleen Merrill was extremely prolific during the Pentaculum, especially considering that her constructed pieces are mainly hand sewn. She completed or got a good head start on a new series of soft sculpture pieces entitled ‘fawn’ exploring her new role as a mother.

Valerie Powell’s fun, colorful and approachable work is made with painted, stitched and sculpted shrinky-dinks! Too. Much. Fun. Just as fun was watching a wonderfully detailed, patterned painting take shape, along with some funky sculpted pieces during the week.

Karie Reinertson, owns and operates a multidisciplinary design studio with her partner husband. One of the specialties of the studio are exquisitely hand crafted leather handbags. Karie brought with her some beautiful buttery leather that she cut, braided and sculpted for a new fine art leather piece.

Rebecca Siemering works with paper-found, handmade, stitched, sculpted, constructed. During the Pentaculum, she continued work on her “Lottery Project”, created by stitched and constructed found lottery tickets collected from daily walks in her neighborhood.

Brooks Stevens turns straw into gold with an on-going project entitled ‘Mending Gold: Cloth, Architecture & Landscape’ in which she mends/repairs or simply highlights the essence of the object with stitched gold thread. During the Pentaculum, she methodically stitched a pair of jeans-mesmerizing was her meticulous process.

Melanie Wilder is a weaver who also creates naturally dyed weaving yarns with plants from her own garden. During the Pentaculum she dyed, stitched and labeled a wonderful dye sample book of various plants and mordants on cotton and wool yard and fabrics.

LM Wood collaborates with her computer to create quilts or quilt inspired works that speak to memory, time, history and narratives. Inspired by the photographic image, both found in thrift stores or through searches on her computer, and working with a wide variety of materials, she explores the many forms of narrative the photographic image can provide.