Saturday, December 31, 2011

It Only Takes A Moment

I love all of the arts, particularly musical theater and movie musicals. If I had my dream job and a do-over, I'd be born into the Hollywood heydey of the 30's, 40's and 50's, as a gofer, set designer, costume maven or poster artist, just to be around such talent and exciting performances of the time. As I grew up I was a weird kid going to Catholic school singing the Buffalo Bills rendition of "Lida Rose" from The Music Man and countless other movie musical scores I'd watched on tv or heard over and over from my parents vinyl record collection. In my teenage years, the musical as an art from was changing as society changed in the turbulent 60's, uncertain 70's and then the 80's, and my friends and I were now singing songs from Jesus Christ Superstar as the musical resurged on stage with Andrew Lloyd Webber and co. Julie Andrews, Barbara Streisand, Liza Minnelli-great actors with great voices, who filled in the gap, but movie audiences lost interest.

Still I loved Barbara Streisand in Hello Dolly!. That, too, had a subtle undercurrent of feminist viewpoint. No matter-and mixed in with all of these memories, is the memory of an actor whose face stuck in my head, but his performances were so magic and quicksilver alongside these heavyweights of the theater you'd hardly remember except that he made other actors look really good in comparison. My all time favorite love song in a musical is "It Only Takes a Moment" (used to such great effect in Pixar's Wall-e) sung by this skinny gangly dance man with a goofy face and tenderly shy voice. The actor's name-Michael Crawford. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom...I knew the actor's name who was chosen to play the original role, but the voice that sang my favorite love song doing Music of the Night-I would never, ever have made that connection had I not seen the film clips in a program on the making of the stage musical. I can still remember Michael Crawford running around in a toga in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and here he is, the robust, passionate, serious, sexually charged Phantom with a voice that a body can never forget.

I think I just sat there and took in the information-then I checked it online. I recognized the face as soon as they flashed the old film clips of his performances in movies and on TV pre-phantom. But I thought, no, it can't be...not THAT guy. I'm probably the only person on the face of the planet who didn't know this. Then I giggled and I loved the thought of it. Imagine-an already successful actor in comedy doing a total about-face literally, snagging the role of a lifetime in a Victorian stage melodrama. WOW!! Kudos to Andrew Lloyd Webber for picking the only actor who could have done the part with such powerful expression his name is now synonymous with the role. How did he see the potential in the man? And how did Michael Crawford transform himself? One thing he did upon learning that he was a major contender for such a role was practice six hours a day for two months singing Music of the Night. He already had the acting and stage experience-what most folks did not know, but he did. He knew he could do it. He made himself into the Phantom.

I thought about this, and co-incidentally had been reading about another person who was an unlikely candidate for the fame she achieved in life, writer Erma Bombeck. People tell me I have a gift for writing, so I researched writers I admire and would like to emulate. She is first on my list, and upon taking literature classes in college, failed assignments repeatedly. She re-enrolled in a Catholic college and was finally told by a priest she had a tremendous gift to share in her writing. She married, raised a family, lived the life of a suburban housewife, and created an entire syndicated world in her newspaper column "At Wit's End".

Other people come to mind as I consider this concept...Moses. A baby marked for death, Prince of Egypt, outcast sheepherder and savior of Israel. Huh? Seems God doesn't waste any experience. I look at my life and think-how now? What do I do with what I have learned in my life and my experiences? Erma Bombeck's great prayer to God was that she used every bit of everything He'd given her and not die until it was all gone. I like that prayer. There was another person whose early life was probably very forgettable except that in one incident her life was transformed. She was cast to the ground by an angry mob holding stones, ready to take her life for a sin she'd committed. Then suddenly someone began to write things in the dirt. After a time the crowd seemed to leave. She looked up to see the person writing and He asked her, "Who condemns you?". She replied, "No one, my Lord". He told her, "Neither do I. Now go your way and don't sin any more". I know this is the end of the written story, but I'd like to think this woman went home, scrubbed the streaked make-up off her face like a bad dream, burnt her clothes and walked into a new life. The old just a memory of that moment and Someone who believed in her and gave her a new start. It only takes a moment.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

To Everything

One concept that I'm continually, and right now powerfully reminded of, is the seasonal changes of life. We accept the change of seasons in nature. It doesn't seem unnatural that trees in part of the year have leaves, and then they lose them. It doesn't seem totally wrong that flowers appear and then die and there are none. We know they will come again, bloom again, buds and leaves will appear again one day. The change isn't permanent, but it is very real and it is in its proper time. The winter and Advent signify the coming of certain things. It is not time to harvest, it is time to wait and reflect. The harvest has ended, light and warmth die, barrenness happens and signs of life will not appear again until spring.

I feel the inevitability of the change of seasons in my own life. I'm not young any longer. I may have another 30 years upon the earth, but I know they lead to a certain end. Time grows short and every moment seems to possess more and more weight and significance. It is not time to waste precious minutes that can never be returned. The longing to make right decisions, see events and circumstances in the light of the coming eternity and know I've picked the correct path hangs over my days. I can't go back, I can't change anything-I can only make better choices in the future and use the time more wisely, being grateful I continue to have opportunity. And I see a greater Hand in this, even as my decisions perhaps are not the best, but I continue to strive to grow and change for the better. I continue to seek and hope to find fulfillment.

This is a season of celebration for many faiths. It marks the end of an age for Christianity and the fulfillment of an ancient promise. A King for all people was to be born on the earth, and many people waited for the advent of His coming. Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. There is not another time of the year that has the same burst of hope and quite the same feeling of joyful celebration. Christmas carols play in every manner of store and business, filling the air with a very old message-the message that God came to earth as a man. It is a spectacular story that is remembered in song in every style, but the message never goes out of style. It is embellished with myth, but the truth is so unbelievable the same lyrics ring out year after year the same message basically unchanged for a thousand years.

And the same thing happens year after year...people do not believe in a King that would come to them just for them. The message is obscured and lost in the shuffle of daily living. We just don't accept, like so many people of old, what God truly is. One Christmas carol says of the new born King, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Diety, Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel...". That is a lot of really big words that say basically, He's one of us. He's here. Earth is home to this King. The word Immanuel literally means, "God with us". Just think of it! God-with-us. His final promise to people after a short life on this Earth is, "I am with you always". He's still here with us. That hasn't changed in a thousand years.

As the seasons of my life play out, this truth reforms itself and God reveals Himself as Immanuel to me with every change. Some years are pure joy. Some are a great struggle. This past year I was sure that He was not there, or I was so far away from any real relationship that may as well have been the case. But the thing is, the promise remains the same. The truth never changes, not from God's perspective. And especially in the years of struggle, the Lord who is takes my hand has more scars on His. His countenance bears the weight of this life in my spiritual eyes. And the advent of His appearing is completely unpredictable...I see His appearing in a sketch given to a friend, in a simple line typed on the computer, in a backyard on a summer day-in people and places that I frequent daily. So often not in church or not when I'm ship shape inside and out. He was born in a place people of his day were used to. It didn't smell good and it wasn't warm. It wasn't a good day for a King to come into this world. And He left it in pretty bad shape as well. But that wasn't the end of the story or the end of time. When time is no more, He will still be our Immanuel, still here, still with us.

Have a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Guild Shots

If an artist or artisan has any hope of competing in the real world marketplace, self-promotion is essential. For those fortunate enough to have this job farmed out to a gallery, shop, etc, it is a huge time saver. But even in those circumstances, self promotion is critical in absolutely every avenue that viewers will be directed to your work and become potential customers. This entails the artist learning to be business person, photographer, saleperson, social media expert...sigh, the time it takes takes away from the actual creative process, but it just cannot be ignored.

These photographs are of my necklaces, shot for the purpose of being juried in to the PA Guild vendor circuit. Every type of art has its own market. I really don't know of any other field where a person must wear at least three hats continually without the expectations of continual public approval and then necessary sales. You cannot quit. I've done maybe one or two jobs fairly well at times and had a few sales, but have realized in order to have more, I have to be better. It took me probably four hours to get the photographs that I thought might be clear enough and interesting enough to submit to the Guild. I know artists who shoot roll after roll, or now as the case may be, digital image after image, to get exactly what they need, and this is even before the real work begins.

You have to love this profession. It is a must. There has to be directed passion or there will not be recognition, much less any quantifiable success. I know you have to be in it to understand it.
People always tell me how lucky I am to be so creative and talented. I know I am, but the responsibility to the craft is enormous. That is the only way I can explain going to work after work and trying repeatedly for the exposure needed to be seen by the public. And I'm not a public person by any means. My hat is off to the many artists, writers, actors I can call friends who do not give up in a creative endeavor.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

There's a reason...

I'm still here, still busy doing mirrors and jewelry, and working on collage type art with glass, mirror, fabric and drawn elements. I love the challenge. But interwoven with those pursuits come the jobs it seems I was made to do-portraiture is still a love. And some stories should be recorded and shared.

This has been a hard year in certain ways. My marriage didn't prove as resilient as I'd hoped, my faith teetering on the brink, at least outward expression of it-I became reclusive, not going to church, not really praying, not really doing things I'd done for the last hundred years of my life. A reformulation of priorities, who I am as a person and an artist and other things were going on inside that simply couldn't be denied. Still are. But in the midst of all of this, news came that a friend I'd known through recovery ministry had passed away. Bonnie was young, but had struggled most of her adult life with addiction, and the struggle finally took her. It is so hard to put into words what her life story meant to me and how the threads of her existence wove themselves into my life at the time when someone who could understand the violent side of life, the unpredictable nature of addiction, the pain it causes and the hope that might be found in the midst of the struggle seemed to come along at just the right moment. I met her mother, Juanita, first of all, and learned from mom Bonnie's story of how she had the choice of jail or rehab, chose Teen Challenge (a Christian based program) and apparently beat all sorts of arrest warrents in various states, not trying to get out of a sentence, but because of the mercy of the court. God's hand seemed so evident, or something beyond herself, in all of these circumstances. She got out of rehab and I met her in person. Her personality was so charismatic and dynamic she was impossible to ignore. Bonnie's laughter, her way of bedeviling me and always finding ways to embarrass me teasingly-she was absolutely unique and just that type of person who could go into the tender spots left by my son's imprisonment without damage, always encouraging-she was so real. You knew she'd seen some hard, hard places and still managed to survive.

When I got the phone call from a mutual friend that she was gone, I was enraged. I just couldn't keep the tears back, couldn't keep myself from feeling how much of a waste it all was...I was angry with the pain of life, at God maybe for not pulling one more miracle out of the basket for this woman who fought so valiantly...she died choking on a cheese sandwich. I offered to do a portrait for Juanita and Bonnie's daughter, Stephanie. My friend Lisa went to Steph and had her pick out the pictures of her mother and herself that she wanted done. Lisa brought them to me and I let them sit for days. Usually I'm on a project immediately, but this one brought nothing but grey to my mind and recurring rage. It tore at my heart and I couldn't look at her picture without weeping. Finally I thought to stretch paper and dye it, a technique I used to frequently use in portrait drawings but hadn't in years. I chose light, heavenly, sky type hues of bright pink, blue and purple. The paper dried like an evening sky. It was really lovely. But I laid it down and didn't do anything for more days.

I began to try to compose the double portrait in my head, and at work, in a random moment, the anger left me and I could hear Bonnie's laughter in my mind clear as a bell. The portrait took shape as I looked at the pictures and started drawing. I spoke to her in my mind and told her I needed help getting her smile, which had to be right! I finished finally, using a mixture of charcoal and colored chalks. Steph's portrait was so easy once Bonnie's was done. I had a frame already put together of a dark grey metal that fit perfectly-I dropped the picture in the frame and let it sit more days facing the wall. I couldn't look at it.

I called my friend Lisa and asked her to come with me to drop off the picture. I was afraid I'd break down honestly, so she gladly agreed and we went the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. I'd never met Steph, who lives with her grandparents. She shared a little upstairs apartment with her mom until Juanita finally asked Bonnie to move out. She started using again. Steph gave us a little tour of her digs, and the tv room she had just redecorated. I looked around the room and could not believe my eyes. It had grey walls, black and white accents and hot pink curtains and pillows. I knew before she unwrapped the picture that it matched the room as if it were made to be hung there. I started tearing up and we were all crying and laughing when she finally realized that it was perfect.

We visited over pumpkin pie and Steph had to leave for basketball practice. After she left Juanita told us that Stephanie had wanted to see her mother's body and the last memory she had of Bonnie was a corpse on a morgue slab. Juanita said Steph could not get that image out of her head. She said the portrait would help to erase that awful memory and couldn't thank me enough. I was simply overwhelmed by all of this and just knew that somehow, in the midst of a terrible tragedy, this gift became blessing. I realized, too, that whatever questions I have about my life and faith, I know the artist is led of God and He approves this message. Chuckle. A great feeling....! In this one area of my life, I know I can surrender my heart and my hands without qualification and they are used.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cut and Paste

This is my next mirror in progress. I am incorporating a drawing of a neighbor's lilly I started and figured I would never use for anything. The drawing already echoes the influence of stained glass. I keep wanting to cut space up in chunks, color it and mix it up. I love the richness of fabric design mixed with the colored pencil images and glass. It just works for me.

I'm resisting the urge to be philosophical about the whole thing. One co-worker told me I have to stop using big words. Some things can only be described with certain words or let me pontificate. (No apologies). This is what my life has felt like. Shapeless scraps in piles on the floor, broken pieces of situations and desires, disparate, disjointed...things I don't understand, insignificant and without overall form and beauty. Lacking cohesion, purpose, co-existence. But something happens when I start arranging, looking for clues and harmony, fluid lines of understanding. It all begins to be something. Rich and complex, pleasing, touchable, strong. I love what I am doing now creatively and it translates into a purposeful path that pulls together everything that has happened before in its wake. And some things don't need to be explained. They just need to be in their right place.

This brings me such joy, immediate pleasure, the outworking of the cutting, moving pieces around, drawing into blank space, creating my own textured reality. The only reason it exists is because I'm here to call it into being.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Common Thread

April 16, 2011
I was asked to judge an inmate art contest at a local prison about ten years ago, before I had any experience regarding anything about prison. Somehow I had the gumption at the time to say yes, and brave the barbed wire, the maze of airlocks, the open yard as a lone female and then the task of looking at the art. I was well compensated for the time I spent, and I thought little about it until I got another call last week from the same gentleman, now at another prison, who is again doing an inmate art show and for whatever ungodly reason still had my contact information.

Life's changed dramatically since then and I have repeated first-hand experience going into jails and prisons due to my son Brandon's arrest and now 6 year sentence. As a parent, as someone who did ministry and as a friend, I've been inside often. One thing I can say is, inmates, like us on the outside, when given lots of time and nothing else to do, yearn to express themselves in some meaningful way. When everything else that makes them human seems gone, when clothing is all the same, whether brown, orange, khaki, or whatever, talents take on an immeasurably greater importance. Talents that set apart. The above illustrations are an inmate's colored pencil drawings on envelopes. They are truly unique.

I find myself in strangely a similar position. My drive to start a business caught fire mainly I think when I found myself in the work-a-day world. I'm in a department of many people who all do the same job. There is something about being in a cube, saying the same things over and over, that makes me cry out for more-another means of defining myself. When I had all the freedom in the world to do it, I didn't really distinguish myself or try as I might. Now that that freedom is so constricted and my world is so defined by one activity, I long for the release of something wholly my own.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The New Stuff

I realize the departure seems radical. It was a process of trying, retrying, being inspired by different materials, thinking hard about what I was really about as an artist. I love to paint and draw, but I realized my natural affinity is for structural design and composition. I had hoped to marry the skills of craftsmanship with the esthetic of art, and still include drawing and painting in my finished pieces. I love interior design, art with function...that was the thing that always stymied me trying to be a fine artist. I know I have the skill, but I'm not sure I have the passion it takes to get behind an easel day after day. I also have the entrepreneurial streak. The jewelry and the mirrors I think are a more easily digested art product for the public. I probably will still want to find a coastal gallery that might handle my ocean minis, but for now I'm happy as a clam playing with design. My new business is CandyGlass,, and I have changed my facebook page to include my work, show dates if I have them, and links to Etsy. I'm still working on that site (it is a megahuge art and crafters site offering subscribers an online storefront in which to advertise, show and sell work). I love being a business!

The above photos are the necklaces and my mirror experiments. The portrait of Becky was inspired by Gustav Klimt, but I know I have a LONG way to go to approach his genius of combining incredible pattern and design with realism. I also love the posters of Peter Max. They were plastered all over my bedroom as a teenager. He is another design influence.

Work Related

I feel as though I have lost my audience. I started working for a dental distribution company and more or less lost focus. I am handling in my 50's what I'm sure most working folks do in their 30's-starting out at the 9-5 and seriously considering a career path. I was a stay at home mom for years, working odd jobs, parttime in my husband's business and selling some art, but not with a passionate focus on a path. Circumstances have put me there. This past probably year and a half has been one of the most intense self-searching and questioning journeys of my life. By the start of 2010 I had slowed my painting down and felt directionless. I finally asked a co-worker, whose profile fascinated me, if I could take photos and draw his portrait. That was last summer. I could feel the urge to do SOMETHING overpower me, but up until that point it was like my creative self needed rest and reflection. Another situation that occurred in the spring of 2010 was that I finally, after 15 years of purchasing a pattern and wanting to do it, I made a stained glass kitchen lampshade. Doing the lampshade spurred some new creative ideas, which I will share.

But meeting with my co-worker, George, to do photography, was one of the most unexpected afternoons I think I will ever spend with another human being. I don't know how or why, but those four hours challenged me and changed my path forever. I guess it was the fact that someone else really noticed I was in the wrong place, or at least I should be doing something else. A person with no real art experience, or even anyone who I thought would notice, let alone care, that I had any gifts at all. Up to that point we hadn't really spoken much at work, other than my needing help and reaching out to a superior. But my co-worker told me many things that day, one of which, he would be glad for the day when I left my job. I was rather shocked at that. I guess it was all so unexpected it sort of turned out to be the voice of God to me, or at least one of those "once I was blind, now I see" moments. His face was incredibly challenging to photograph-I thought it would be easy, but out of two rolls of film, only one shot was remotely useable. And that got me back to the drawing board. But it did more than that-it got me believing again, believing as I did when I first started, and even before school, that I could do this. Another thing that happened that afternoon...sharing memories of our childhood experiences and listening to very mellow oldies I hadn't heard in years took me back to the person I used to be, who had unfettered dreams and never even thought I couldn't do what I set my mind to.

So here I am, here I am again...this time thinking as a business person, letting myself be joyful in creation and trying brand new things.