Tag Archives: inspiration

Sequence: Bach Cantatas for Sunday


As an artist, I love the idea of work made for a certain setting – installments in airports are meant to be viewed by the very tired, grand works are commissioned for a certain opera diva to sing, sculptures are built into a certain mountain.

About a year ago, I heard a concert of Cantatas by Bach.  Beautiful, rapturous things – short pieces meant to be sung by a church choir during Sunday services.  As the story goes, Bach got a gig writing choral works for the church, and churned out more than 200 in his lifetime, each written to be sung on a certain Sunday of the year. Of course, you can listen to it on the “wrong” day, but I like to think that by hearing it on the day it was written for, I am sharing something with the artist. Something small, maybe, like the way that the sunlight looks on a Sunday morning in February compared to the way it looks in a hot August morning.

The husband got me the boxed set for Christmas a few years ago.  It’s completely overwhelming – all of them in one place, ready to go.  So they’ve sat on the shelf, as I work myself into a tizzy about which Sunday is the “right” one to start on, whether or not it matters if I listen in the daytime or the evening. Crazy stuff. But you know how it goes – in the moment, this seems essential to The Art.

I think I’m over it. I think I’m ready to get started again, to put in the disc that has today’s cantata, to just listen, and love the moment it’s in.

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Inspiration Friday: Observation

starlings images

In biology, there is the practice of systematic observation. You draw a square on the ground, and learn about everything that happens inside this one meter/one foot/one inch square of earth and sky. It is the practice of knowing the names of every creature the walks through the soil, flies over it, or craws through it. It is the practice of knowing the names of the plants and fungi that grow there, of knowing the migration patterns of creatures and plants through it.

One spring, I spent a series of very early Friday mornings walking through the damp grass of one corner of one park, and taking stock of all the birds I could hear and see within. Two robins that way, one pine siskin in the tree, six crows, about a million starlings under the tree. Each time you look, you see the same thing in a new light, and new things that you didn’t notice at all before.

Pay attention to how your vision changes over time. Suddenly, the difference between one snail and the next is completely obvious. The shadow under the juniper is dark purple, not brown. That one crow seems to be in charge of the other crows. To observe, whether for art or science, is to hone one’s mind, to see with new eyes, and to be simply be amazed.

Photo via the RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch.

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Meditation via Process

pasta images

At the end of a busy week, it’s easy to just keep up the pace and sweep past the details. Just trying to keep your head above the water seems like enough, all the little stuff can wait for another day. Eventually, I have to stop, pause, and catch my breath. It’s a bit much to expect someone to keep with the flow all the time, even if it’s yourself.

I’m finding that getting back into the kitchen gets me to slow down, pay attention, and re – calibrate the rate of everything. Making pasta is a good one for this. You can’t be in a hurry with making a batch of homemade pasta. If you rush, everything gets stiff and dense. If you don’t let it rest, it won’t have the right texture. But if you can take your time, do each step in the right order, at the right pace, you can have long, silky strands of fettuccine resting in nests in the refrigerator. It might take a few batches to hit the right groove. Thankfully, the ingredients are cheap, so if you flub a batch, you’re out about $2.50. Then you can start over, try again, and see if you can get any closer. You find your pace, slower than you thought, quicker than you’d feared, and everything becomes clear. All the little problems that you’d been stuck on in the week work themselves out. The rough spots of the day seem smoother. And the pasta? Delicious.

Photo via Joy The Baker.

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Inspiration Friday: Strawberry Season


At the market this week, I was sitting next to the berry farmer’s booth. I ended up buying a box of their local, organic strawberries and eating them for the better part of the morning. The berries were small, deep red, almost purple. Most had deep folds and puckers, definitely more homely looking than the bigger California berries at the grocery store.

As it turned out, this was the last week of strawberries – blueberries and blackberries were just getting started, but the strawberries were almost done in the fields. The strawberries are at their best, right now, and would never be as good until next summer. You could eat them today, and feel the red juice drip all over your fingers, and not taste another that is as delicious for months and months.

I think this is my lesson for this week. I’m learning how to follow the rhythms of what is most present, right now, and to enjoy it deeply, instead of pushing for what I’d planned. To pause. To enjoy what I am doing, right now. To taste the sweetness of this bite, this moment, and love it for what it is, not for what I wanted it to be.

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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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Unplugged Sundays

Orcas 11 2010 ed

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

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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gallery-Crowd1 mead fest

This weekend, I’ve spent some time in the company of artisan mead and cider makers. In a tent in the middle of the farmer’s market, you can buy $20 worth of tickets that you trade for mouthfuls of delicious hard cider, mead, and fruit wines. It is extremely delicious.

There is something powerful about talking with an artisan maker. These are the people who care deeply about the details that the consumer never sees, the ones who stay up nights dreaming about the perfect way to make their product. These are the people that travel around the world to learn from the masters, and then come home to sink all their money into making art through doing.

In the middle of all the messages about making the things that the people want to hear/see/use, and in the middle of all the noise about marketing/market share, it is so good to sit in the quiet of making one thing really, really well. I visit their island, and I am refreshed, ready to return to the hard work of making better things than yesterday.

What refreshes you this week? What gives you the motivation to keep going in your own creative work?

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Inspiration Friday: Wasteland

I struggle between two directions – first, to make art that stirs the viewer, that makes them see the beauty that is already around them.  Second, to change how we see each other, to change the horror and injustice in the world.  This week, I wanted to share the work of an artist who seems to do both.

Lucy Walker’s 2010 documentary, “Wasteland,” follows Vik Muniz, Brazilian artist living and working in New York, in his project to work with the recyclable materials pickers at the Jardin Gramacho landfill.  The pickers spend their days finding recyclable materials out of the garbage at the dump and hauling it in barrels to pickup trucks, which take the materials to be sold to wholesalers.  They live in crowded, improvised favelas in the shadow of the largest landfill on the planet outside Rio de Janiero.  His work was to make portraits of the pickers out of garbage, with their help to assemble all the materials and place the items in the final work, and then to sell the work at auction to support the pickers’ union.

Watching the film (available on Netflix, doncha know), I was struck by both how simple it is to create positive change, yet how important it is to unwind the tangled threads of the ethical, artistic, and financial aspects of the project and its participants. “Wasteland” is well worth a watch for all of us working in the arts, it’s a beautifully told story about a collaborative approach to making art and making change.


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