On Freedom

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Now that the 4th of July is over, and all the fireworks have finished over downtown, and all the pop – its have been swept up out here in the suburbs, we can catch our breath for a moment before we head into the real Northwest summer.

In the pause before the rest of the week, I am struck by how precious our freedoms are. This week, millions of Americans won a battle in the struggle towards marriage equality with the Supreme Court decision about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is only within the past century that my parents won the right to be married, that my friends won the right to be free from racial discrimination, that women won the right to vote.

The grip on our freedoms seems tenuous sometimes, with people and corporations around every corner trying to take them away. It seems like we have so far to go sometimes, that there is injustice, inequity, and hate everywhere. Yet, in the midst of the darkness, our freedom is so sweet.

Maybe this is how it’s supposed to work. Maybe the sweetness of what we have is what gives us the bravery to face the dark corners, ready to shed light on what we find, even if it isn’t easy. Maybe we’re supposed to remember the sweetness of what we seek, even if we’re surrounded by the bitterness of dreams unfilled. May we find gratitude for what we have won, may we keep hopeful for what is to come, and may we remember our resolve to fight for what we know is right and good.

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Inspiration Friday: Crazy Quilts

Antique floral CQ-lrg

Have you seen a crazy quilt before? This classic American art form blends embroidery and quilting with traditional frugal values.  Quilters take out their scrap bag, and piece the materials together into a haphazard design.  No square corners here – it’s all crooked squares and triangles and odd shapes, like fitting a puzzle together when you don’t know what the final picture should be.  These works are a perfect place for those tiny scraps of fancy velvets and satins that would look out of place anywhere else.  Different styles of embroidery tie the whole work together, creating beauty out of the bottom of the scrap bin.

Image via www.crazyquilts.ca

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The word from the trenches: Show Season

Shoreline Booth photo

If I haven’t been here as much as I thought, it’s because I’ve been in the middle of show season, and making product, re – packing my boxes, and updating the books like a crazy person. At the beginning of the year, I decided that 2013 would be the year that I focused on local sales and shows. It’s been a steep learning curve, but so far, it’s been a hoot.

I’ll be heading back to the Shoreline Farmer’s Market this weekend, and to a few other local shows this summer and fall. I love being surrounded by vendors who love what they do. Whether it’s the bicycle driven smoothie guys, or the organic farmers bringing garlic scapes and orange carrots, everyone is there because they love it. True, everyone has a business to run, but almost nobody is going to become a millionaire from selling carrots. You have to love the craft of it, the process of making your products and bringing it to the market. I leave the shows re – energized to work harder and to try new things back in the studio when I get home.

Best of all, I love the shoppers. I love hearing what people are up to, what they’re looking for, and what they think of my work. After months of working in the studio, it can be a little disheartening to see slow sales on Etsy, not knowing whether people even see what you’ve got. But in a show, I get to see people pick up the work, hold it, turn it over. I get to hear what something reminds them of, what they like about it, what they had hoped for. Better still, folks ask for what they want. “Do you have any irises? I wish the butterfly was in a card.” Finally! I get a new idea, or a new way of looking at an old one. Just what I’d been waiting for.

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On learning to love what you do

These days, it seems like there is a whirlwind of things I should be doing to live a simpler life. Things that will save me money, save the planet, get me moving, and slow life down. Every new thing seems just as important as the last thing, and I get stuck trying to figure out what I should really focus on, and end up not doing anything.

Perhaps what would be better for me is to choose the option that I love. Do the things that bring me joy, just on their own merit, and see what happens. In the end, maybe it’s better for me to make my own bread because I love cooking, not because I want to save money. Better to carpool when I can because I love the conversations with my husband, instead of just because it’ll help my carbon footprint. Even the small things make a difference over time. I’ve been so busy convincing myself to do things because they’re good for me that I’d forgotten that learning to love them for what they are would work better in the long run.

Today, when I’m cooking dinner at home, and packing the leftovers into the freezer for lunches, I’ll be saving money. But really, I’ll be doing something I love because I love it.

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Music to Cut Paper By

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So the thing about cutting paper, is that it’s slow. I mean, I’ve gotten faster since I first got started, but it’s no letterpress or computer based graphic design. There’s still the limitation of the hand holding the exacto knife, and the person sitting in the chair doing it.

And the thing about cutting paper, is that the knife is sharp, and you can’t un – cut paper. So you have to pay attention, which means that watching movies doesn’t work very well. I used to watch documentaries while I worked, but the catch was that if it had an interesting bit, all work would grind to a halt, and I’d come to as the credits rolled. Not a winning strategy for finishing projects.

My compromise has been to play music, podcasts, and other audio while I work. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve been listening to:

1. Radiolab  You might have heard these science shows on NPR in the car, depending on where you live, but I ran into these as podcasts. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich spend an hour examining different scientific topics by talking to scientists, doctors, and people on the ground. Fascinating stuff. The production quality is amazing – something like an old fashioned radio drama meets Nova.

2. Stars of the Lid  If you’re someone who can’t concentrate if there’s talking going on, you should check out any of the Stars of the Lid albums. This Austin duo creates vast wordless soundscapes that stretch seamlessly into each other for hours and hours. Beautiful, haunting stuff, and provides a sound backdrop to the studio without sounding like Muzak.

3. Langroise Trio I ran into one of the albums of the Langroise Trio, “Volante”  at the library when I was looking for some background music for an event I was helping with. Apparently, this group resides at the College of Idaho, and has been creating haunting music together for twenty years. “Volante” tells a spare story over the course of the seventeen tracks, weaving more abstract works with a more narrative style.

4. The Moth  Now, if you’re the kind of person who can deal with doing art while listening to words, you should also be listening to The Moth. The Moth is an open – mic story telling event and podcast, where the only rule is to tell the truth, with no notes. You get everything from the hilarious to the heart wrenching, and all of it is really good. Really, really good.

What about you? What are you listening to in the studio this week?

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Stay on target… Stay on target…

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Momentum is a tricky thing. Too little, and everything slows to a halt. Too much, and everything spins out of control. And then when you’re tracking more than one project, everything really can get a bit out of control. Just in time for the craziness of the summer craft fair season, I’m starting to get the hang of tracking multiple projects at the same time. It’s something like letting one slow down a bit, speed up another, keep the third at a steady pace. Checking, rechecking, calibrating, re – calibrating. A cross between a switchboard operator and the Wizard of Oz.

These days I’m tracking a few major projects in the studio – developing a fine art portfolio, maintaining a product line for the business, and staying inspired by writing the blog. The current approach is pretty simple – an adapted Getting Things Done  system, merging a paper system with monitoring on the Iphone and Cozi – but so far, it seems to be keeping me on top of most things, most of the time.

The most powerful tool towards keeping the momentum at a sane pace has been balancing Next Actions with Tickler actions. Keeping the option to either actually do something about the project, or to remind myself to follow up on the project in a few weeks has been huge in the studio. It means that I have permission to set some things aside, so that I can follow where my energy is pulling me. It makes the creative steps more satisfying – I can doodle and design drafts without spending a third of my bandwidth on worrying that I’m forgetting something.

I’ll keep you posted as the summer cooks along – with any luck I can keep this going and maintain my grip on reality too. What about you? What systems are you using to keep track of your creative projects?

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Covenant

Utah_25_2010 ed

Over the past few years, my church started a new experiment – to choose one topic per month for the church, its youth and adult groups, and its ministers to focus on. It’s been a grand success, and one I recommend for any team, family, or group of friends.

covenant: n. An agreement.

Summer is just getting started out here in the Northwest. Which means that it’s still gray and cloudy most of the time, but we’re getting enough dry sunny days to put away some of the polarfleece and go out into the world. Everything is waking up, sprouting parties and meetings and productions like crocuses.

And as everything gets more busy, it’s easy to forget what we have promised – those offhand comments that we’d help with that project, or do the publicity for another, or help run that meeting on Tuesday. Everything else always seems more important – something about how the newness of what’s popped in front of us is always more interesting than what we promised to do yesterday.

This is the hard work of keeping agreements, to notice the pull of something shiny (but out of scope), and to step towards what we’ve promised. To try and stay conscious enough to notice when things have gone astray, to choose to take stock of the situation, and then to choose to take a new action that might be less comfortable than what we were doing.

Today, I’m clearing house on promises over here. I’m going through it all, remembering what’s actually on my plate, what I want to add, and what I want to release to be dealt with another day. So far, it feels good, lighter. Just in time for summer.

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Inspiration Friday: “Superabundant Atmosphere” by Jacob Hashimoto

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Check out Jacob Hashimoto’s 2005 installation, “Superabundant Atmosphere“, an amazing installation of thousands of white paper kites hung from the ceiling. I ran across this one via fubiz, and I’m in love.  After a week of being stuck in the static world of paper art, when nothing really moves, it’s a beautiful thing to see the same material set to motion.  In my mind, I’m lying on the floor, looking up, watching the kites move with the air currents.

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Unplugged Sundays

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Tonight, I’m unplugging the router, turning off my cell phone, and going to bed. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up when I am done sleeping. I’ll probably make breakfast for The Hubs, feed the guinea pigs, and see what happens from there. At our house, we started unplugging Sundays, and it’s been amazing to see what develops.

I cook more of the fabulous things I read about online. I fritter around in the studio, get a few projects started without worrying about meeting a deadline. I dig in the garden. I go for a walk. I sleep. I write. Maybe even on the computer.

But mostly, we reset the rhythm of our days. We turn everything back to zero, stop listening to all the buzzers and alarms and alerts, and listen for what emerges out of the silence. It takes the first hours of the day to get used to the idea. Then it takes an hour to get over not knowing what’s happening on Facebook, over missing a text message. After that, we’re too busy enjoying ourselves to know anything different.

What I am discovering is that there is something very simple, very clean, about listening to what you want or need, and then doing that. There is nothing more delicious than looking up, thinking that you are tired, and then toddling off to bed for a nap. Or remembering a scene from a book, and then spending the afternoon reading the whole thing. The rest of my life is so structured, by work, by home, by outings and errands, that this island of peace is very precious.

So I’ll see you all again soon. But not tomorrow. I’ll be busy out in the garden, or walking in the neighborhood, or sleeping. Yes. Definitely sleeping.

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Illustration Friday

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Ever been in a rut with your work? I’m tired of making the same old thing, I know I need something new, but I can’t come up with anything. I start fishing for new ideas, nothing seems to work.

Creative constipation.

If you haven’t found it already, one of the best resources for getting unstuck is a project called Illustration Friday. Every Friday, they release a new topic for artists all over the world to work on for the week and submit on the website. One word, any interpretation counts, any medium, any size. The work is beautiful, and there’s nothing like a topic and a deadline to really get things rolling again.

Check it out, or better, submit some work, and see what happens. Sometimes, it just takes one good idea to get things started.

*The lovely work above was for the topic, “Liquid.” By Clyo Parecchini, check out the rest of her work. Beautiful stuff.

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