After Graduation: The journey of an artist after art school – Part III

This is Part III of my online story: After Graduation: The journey of an artist after art school. If you would like to start from the beginning, here is the link: Part I

The overnight hours allowed a cool front to settle over Nested Lake and along with it were heavy, threatening clouds. According to the meteorologist, who was announcing the forecast on Mel’s radio, the rain would be infrequent and with the highest chances in the afternoon. Just as he finished saying his well wishes for the listeners, Mel watched two engorged drops of liquid explode against the windshield. Five more followed. She pulled her key from the ignition and looked at the bookstore, which was only a few running steps away. The drops began to thud with more rhythm. Taking a quick glance around, she didn’t see her umbrella in its usual home behind the passenger seat. Though her hands felt all around, even scooping under the seats, the turquoise and navy blue protector was no where to be found. Her head fell against the headrest just as the memory of her former roommate, Kaylie, crossed her consciousness. At the end of the school year, Kaylie had needed the umbrella while they were in town for something, something that seemed important then but was unremarkable now. She watched as the miniature puddles accumulated and dripped down the glass.

Then the splotches on the windshield stopped momentarily. Mel knew it was best to take her chances in case the torrent grew worse. Plus she couldn’t wait much longer. An artist was going to be meeting her in half an hour – unless he was scared away by the rain – and she wanted to look ready, not drenched, for his arrival. With a clean motion, she slid from behind the wheel, grabbed her purse and slammed the door shut. Her feet crunched against the white gravel. The car’s lights blinked twice as she clicked the lock button, but she didn’t glance back to see their glimmer. Her feet were already hastily rounding the building and throwing open the bookstore’s side entrance. Only a few drips had trickled from the awning onto her arms.

Inside, the bookstore’s lights were dim, but there was evidence of Tilly having started the morning early. The first exhibit greeted her at her feet. Three brown boxes were stacked up and from the top box, half of the paperback books had already been removed. ‘Whispering Lane’ was a popular request in their shop, according to Tilly, ever since it rose to the #1 position on the New York Bestsellers list back in March. It was labelled a perfect vacation read with romance, secrets and murder that tangled together five families all who happened to live on a small suburban street. Mel had a difficult enough time not laughing at the description on the back cover. Thankfully for the book’s author, most people did not share Mel’s taste in fiction. She picked up the packing slip that had fallen to the ground and continued forward.

The next stop on the ‘Evidence of Tilly’ tour was retrieving a neon yellow coffee mug from the top of a nearby bookcase. It was waiting for its owner to return along with a single copy of ‘Whispering Lane.’ Mel embraced the bright mug’s warm handle, leaving the evening suburban street covered book behind, and moved the mug and packing slip to the cashier’s desk. She glanced over to the reading nook where a single table lamp shined a warm yellow hue. Two ‘Whispering Lane’ books had been set under the lamp and two of the reading chairs had been rearranged so they were closely facing one another. A notepad with barely legible notes rested in one chair’s seat. With the clouds outside defusing any sunshine, this would be a wonderful place to spend a rainy day. It seemed that Tilly had the same presence of mind.

“Tilly?” she called out knowing the owner was around somewhere. As she walked towards the back staircase, she pulled from her purse a schedule of the day’s interviewing artists, two in all. Suddenly there was a quick burst of far away laughter, Tilly’s voice mixed with another; his was a deeper tone. They were in the gallery.

After setting the schedule down next to the neon mug, she shouted a bit louder. “Tilly?” Mel pulled back the plastic construction curtain and tried to adjust her eyes. The lights were off in the gallery. The windows were paper-covered and the three skylights were of no help on such a cloudy day. Mel was about to turn around when she heard a commotion in the back storage room. Tilly’s laugh burst again and was moving closer to the main room. The rain began drumming against the skylights and roof. The reprieve had been short lived. The drops pounded in irregular rhythm as though they were warming up for a big show.

Tilly’s voice rang out, cutting through the drums. “Mel! You’re here! What a surprise you had for me this morning.” Tilly nodded her head in the man’s direction. At first he was obscured behind Tilly’s figure and further hidden by the shadows until he drifted to the side. As the two moved closer, any breath that was inside of her body had completely vacated her lungs. She ceased to hear the rain. Her vision had become like a tunnel. There was no more Tilly or gallery, there was just a man who moved in a slowed down version of reality. Her mind was absent of thoughts. Never before had someone caused her body to react in such a way. Tilly was explaining something and laughing, laughing more than normal, but Mel’s brain was fixated as the man moved ever closer. He was reaching out his hand, her eyes moved down to watch it extend closer to her body. His was a hand flecked with paint splatters; the lighter hues stood out against his tanned flesh. A different hand was reaching out to accept his; it was her own hand, so much smaller than his, but the act was not conscious. She was too awed to do that on her own. She could feel rough edges on his palm, which were intensified by his firm grip. Her eyes left the handshake and bolted to his face. He was many years older than her, perhaps close to thirty, or if he was a hard partying artist, perhaps twenty-five. She had been surprised by artists’ ages before given that their intense lifestyles left worn, wrinkled skin as evidence. He had enough wrinkles to be older than her. And did he have gray hair or was that paint?

Sounds started coming back fully. Tilly’s voice was infiltrating just like the pounding rain. Mel suddenly wondered if she was smiling, or was she giving any hint of a response? What had overcome her? Her face flushed with the realization that she was staring at his kind face; a wide, perfectly set grin was looking down at her. Mel looked over to Tilly who was staring back with curiosity. She dropped his hand knowing she had held it for far too long. He hadn’t wretched it away though.

Tilly’s hand rested against Mel’s shoulder. “Did you bring your laptop with you?”

Her eyes gradually looked over to Tilly as her brain registered the word. She was asking about a laptop. The laptop? “No, I left it overnight in the bookstore. It needed to be charged.”

“Great, we’ll look at the other gallery’s photos over there.” Tilly was first to glide to the partition, pulling back the curtain, as the two followed behind. The artist motioned Mel forward.

He spoke to her back. “I know I arrived earlier than my appointment time. With the rain,” he pointed to the bookstore’s side window that showed a thick gray sheet of wet, “I didn’t want to risk it.”

Mel glanced over at the appointment schedule sitting next to the laptop. “But only by a half an hour, right?” The name James Wright was in the first block.

“Yes, but early is early. Sometimes it’s not a good thing.” He ran his fingers through his hair.

Tilly didn’t look up from the computer as she spoke. “I’ll speak for everyone when I say we don’t mind one bit. Like I said, your work is amazing. Look at this, Mel. He’s in other galleries around the area and I can see why.”

Mel leaned over, curious to see what this paint speckled man created. What was appearing on the screen was the exact art she had envisioned for the space. Landscapes of lakes and hills were the most plentiful, but there were plenty of paintings depicting rolling countryside. The colors were the best bold colors of nature, but tame enough to be used within any décor. Modern, but natural, and accessible for artists and non-artists, which was the perfect combination for this tourism-driven town. A breath escaped both her and Tilly’s mouths when a sunset painting appeared on the screen. The lake was reflecting the colors with passion and every tree within the painting seemed to be standing proudly that it was able to be included in such an image. She could fill the gallery with just his art and sell enough to stay in business.

“The landscapes sell the best. The tourists seem to like them. I earn my living mostly during the summer season.”

Mel glanced over at him as Tilly scrolled by a painting of her parent’s lake. “Did you bring any with you?”

Tilly answered. “Oh, that’s what I was putting back in the storage area. I already told him we’d take his work. I mean, look at it! I’m completely stepping on your toes, I know, but I already bought one. If I love it, how can other people not love it?”

Though she was glad James had agreed to be in the gallery, she also felt a twinge of annoyance creep up her spine. She stared at Tilly, who was still enraptured in the images. “Great. So you’ve gone over the pricing, signed the contract, percentage of space that we’ll offer him in the gallery?”

Tilly waved her hand towards Mel in a dismissive way. “Sort of. We agreed to the 60/40 split and for all I care he can take the entire gallery and arrange it – wow, look at his one. How did you get the water to be so, so…?”

James leaned over and chuckled lightly under his breath. “Full of depth?”

“Yes, that. I know it’s a painting because I can see the brush strokes, but it just looks like, wow… you artists amaze me. You give me the same colors and…” She paused for a few moments before jumping away from the computer. “Well, I’ve really got stuff to do.” She reached for the packing slip. “Mel, seriously, go look at his pieces back there. James, I’m so glad Brett introduced us. Thanks again. Good luck you two.” Tilly walked away, doubling back to grab the neon mug. Mel was unhooking the laptop, James had already gone back to the gallery, when Tilly called from midway up the narrow spiral staircase. Mel stared up at her boss, not doing a great job at hiding her frustration, as Tilly winked at her and mouthed, “For you.” Mel rolled her eyes, smiled slightly, and found her way back into the gallery with the laptop cradled in her hands.

James was leaning against the covered marble counter with one hand scratching his chin as though he was analyzing the space. He glanced up at the skylights. “This will be excellent as a gallery. Tilly said she put in the skylights to help with natural light.” If it was even possible, the rain had turned up the pressure and was spewing drops as fast as bullets.

Mel put the computer down and reached around to plug it into an extension cord. “She says she doesn’t know anything about art, but I think she knows more than she’s letting on.”

“She agreed to take my work, so that is saying something.”

Mel looked up at him unsure if she should laugh or agree. It wasn’t an incorrect statement.

“That was a joke. I’ve been called egotistical, but I’d like to believe it is mostly untrue.”

Mel smiled and nodded. “Well, your work is incredible.”

James repositioned himself so that he was leaning both elbows on the counter. His hands were clasped tightly. “Tilly said you’re an artist. What work do you do?”

Mel laughed and copied his position after the laptop whirled to life. She stared at the empty wall on the far side of the gallery. “I just graduated from art school a few months ago. I can’t say that I’ve picked up a brush since my exams. And I haven’t wanted to either. For now I’ve resigned myself to sketching.”

“Fair enough. What was your concentration then?”

“I was in art education so I needed to know a bit about everything, which meant no concentrations. My dream was to become a high school art teacher and teach my days away, shaping the youth of America.”

He chuckled again. “That seems a bit idealistic if you ask me. High school art seems more like keeping a balance between trusting kids with sharp objects and remembering that you’re not the idiot they think you are.”

She sighed at the truth of his words. “Sounds like you know from experience.”

“I shadowed my high school art teacher a few years ago. I give him all the credit for having the patience of a saint. We need good teachers.”

“Yes, we do.” She watched as he walked over to a nearby gallery wall and rubbed the dust from the surface. He seemed to be measuring it with his hands. “You went to Clemson?”

He methodically wiped the white powder in circles against the wall. “For my MFA. SCAD for my undergrad.”


“Savannah was nice. I’d love to go back, but I think it would just bring back too many college memories. Plus I think I’m still banned in a few bars.” Her eyes grew wide though he couldn’t see them. What did you have to do to get thrown out of bars in a college town? “I had my fun, but grad school grew me up. There wasn’t any time for anything except art and getting inspiration, which apparently doesn’t come from the inside of a bar.” He seemed satisfied with the wall and meandered back to the desk.

“Did you get your MFA in painting?” She was scrolling through more images of his work. His ability was unlike any artist she had seen before. Raw and natural, not unlike the man’s exterior.

“Yes, but I also merged some of my painting with ceramics. One of the girls I was dating was incredible at ceramics. I don’t have the skill to make a living at it, but I’m glad I learned it. What about you? If you aren’t going to teach, what about an MFA?” His eyes were boring into her as though they were telling her there was only one correct answer.

She looked back at the screen pretending to assess his work. “The thought overwhelms me right now. I think I need a better body of work if I were to apply. No one would accept me.” The truth was simply she had never let it cross her mind. An MFA? Why did she need that? She was going to be a teacher. That was her script all through college.

“Hey, if you need the help or want some coaching, I’m happy to be your guide. I have an extra easel in my studio. Do you have some of your work on here?” He pointed to the laptop.

“I think, maybe I do.”

“Great, let me see it.”

“I, uh, shouldn’t…” He put his arm on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. His scent wafted around her, one of a freshly showered person. It should have been a refreshing smell, but on him, it ventured somewhere further. She fought hard against her feelings in order to concentrate.

“You can’t be self-conscious if you want to grow as an artist.” His hand squeezed before letting go. Once she was free of the paralysis, she opened her portfolio folder and let him browse through the collection. He lingered and pondered. Every so often he would mumble something incoherent.

“Mel, this is a really great base. Your digital work is incredible, by the way.” He closed the folder and looked up at her. “Your portfolio is where it should be for your training. You have some impressive base talent there. But if you want an MFA, then why not take this time and work on some pieces? Let me give you tips to move you further into your style and then you’ll blow the admission committee away. You might even get a full scholarship. I really think you have that potential.”

She stood staring at him with thoughts that were reeling in her mind. She found the word exiting her mouth before she gave it permission. “Okay.”

He leaned further into the table, now covered in fine dust particles, especially in his hair. “Great. I have plenty of canvases, just bring your ideas. What about Sunday, in the evening?”

Again she said automatically. “Sure.” The back of her mind was screaming too quietly, What are you doing? Do you even want help with your painting style?

He etched his information on the back of the artists’ schedule. When he slid it back against the kraft paper, she glanced through to make sure it was all there: phone, address, his website. He added, “Time to go check out the pieces I brought for you?”


© 2014 Cortney North. All Rights Reserved.


Something needs to fill that space behind the bed

Today I’ll be focusing on writing the next installment of my internet book. I said in my previous blog post that I was going to work on it yesterday. I did, but not enough to call it complete and post it up. This is why I am writing these words instead of ‘Debuting the next chapter after a few months off!’ It’s still summer in my head so deadlines are a bit hazy much like the horizon up here in Ohio.

Yesterday my husband and I did accomplish a major goal, which was narrowing down where we want to live for the next year. Most of our stuff is packed up in boxes at the moment. These items have been packed up in boxes for the past 4 years and as a result, we have very little memory of what we own. There are also those items we decided not to keep for the sake of not wanting to haul them. One item was our enormous couch that weighed as much as an elephant. I hope Goodwill found it a blessed home. Another item was our headboard, which I had constructed out of birch branches. I was tired of it so we disassembled the branches and used them as kindling.

This being the case, we are in need of a sofa and a headboard which leads me to the reason for the following images. I’ve seen a full range of headboard ideas and most seem do-able, but some seem cheesy, while others are just nonsensical. I want something creative, not expensive and I would prefer it to be interesting. There is the option of buying a headboard, but we will be moving in another year – possibly across the country – and I’m all for the less is more mantra when it comes to hauling stuff.

I’m not a person who is scared of a DIY project so I might go that route. I just need some sparks to get my creativity flying. Perhaps I’ll even put the DIY headboard on the blog. You will get to see me sketch the idea, cut the wood with my power tools, run to the hospital to reattach my finger…I’m kidding. I’ve taken a few shop classes (had to for my degree) as well as some metal working classes. I’m what they call a professional. Ha!

Without further ado, here are some headboard ideas I found:


I enjoy the rustic simplicity here, but it might be expensive to find a plank of wood like this. Plus it would mean moving a heavy object in a year.

I have seen using old doors, barn doors, shutters, everything behind the bed, but I like that these shutters have some interest at the top. The curved tops add a polished feature that most other options don’t have.

It would be easy to stop over at World Market and buy some room dividers like these and stick them back there. I’d have to make sure the design would blend well with our comforter. Mental note: I need to look at the comforter because I have forgotten its pattern.

This is one I felt drawn towards. It would be easy enough to construct, easy to stain using pine from the hardware store and easy to mount on the wall. Plus it gives me the look of the first picture’s plank of wood, but with a more economical twist.

My husband would never be on board for this, but I threw it in for whimsy. It’s well done, I’ll say that.

The possibility of no headboard and just a collection of pictures? Maybe? Maybe…I’m a hard sell on this idea, but I don’t hate it.

I’m intrigued by the bamboo blinds behind the bed, which act like a block of color. It opened up some of my creative channels. My wheels are turning.

I think I could get on board for this type of picture collection. Fun colors with bold graphic images. Maybe… But I do love that art.

Similar to the bamboo curtains, hanging a curtain behind the bed to soften the wall is a nice touch. I realize there is a window behind this bed, but you wouldn’t need it to be there to justify a curtain. It’s acting like a tapestry.

Mirrors are always great for reflecting light and adding the illusion of space. It falls into the pictures-above-the-bed category for me. Maybe I like it? Maybe?

The good thing is that I have plenty of time to mull this over. It’s a very good thing, indeed.

Working, reading, watching and hiking – this weekend was a bit of it all

The 5:30 a.m. wake up call came a little early this morning, which is why I slept in until 6:45 today. I just couldn’t force myself up a minute earlier. Do you do this too? I hope so. It would make me feel comforted.

My husband and I spent the weekend being balls of energy. Friday night I made a grilled Mediterranean salad, which was quite yummy if I do say so myself. After dinner, my husband had some larger web design projects to work on so I took the opportunity to continue reading a book I started earlier in the week, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. This book is leaving me with some weird feelings, but I want to finish it in hopes that the weirdness will be righted before the last chapter. Before bedtime Friday night, we sat outside in the very cool temperatures and enjoyed hot beverages; hot tea for me, hot chocolate for him. We lit a few tiki torches and talked about theories with dark matter and black holes. What evening could be complete without some talk of the larger issues within our universe? It was fun to discuss the larger issues that seemingly may never have concrete answers within our lifetimes basically because you can state many theories and who is know if your theory isn’t correct? Perhaps the universe is made out of a dollop of ice cream that is constantly being churned by a larger being? What is that? I’ve lost you. That’s okay. I’m lost myself.

After I got off work on Saturday, we headed off to look at apartments, which seems like a larger issue in the universe than the mystery of dark matter. Why were they all at 100% capacity? Who are all of these people suddenly needing apartments? Either way, we were able to narrow down some options and I’ll make a few calls today to help make that list even smaller. We ventured out to eat at Melt for the evening and had a grand time with our grand sandwiches. My leftovers are going to provide me exactly 2 extra meals from just the one sandwich. If you just ran a half marathon, this seems like a good place to stop afterwards. We rounded out the evening with my husband watching ‘Lone Survivor’ and me continuing my quest of reading ‘What Alice Forgot.’

Sunday morning we walked around Prairie Oaks park and it was just as beautiful as always. Something about that park stirs up all of the writing energy inside me. It’s the water, the trees, and rocks, the streams, everything is just so reviving for creativity. I’ve been working on the next edition of my graduated artist story and the time walking around the park really gave me some inspiration with finishing up the next chapter. I plan to utilize that energy today after I’ve had another cup of coffee! But back to the weekend. We came home from the park feeling good that we walked many miles, but we also needed to get ourselves ready to go visit some friends for dinner. It was wonderful to see our friends who we haven’t seen in ages. There was so much laughter and excellent food. I count it as one of the many blessings in our lives to have friends that we care about as family.

Once we arrived home we hit the sack. With all the apartment searching, walking and socializing, we were tired. So that is why Monday morning’s alarm at 5:30 a.m. was a little too harsh. When you have such a fun weekend, you simply don’t want it to stop.

But I am feeling that coffee beginning to work so off I go to (hopefully) finish up a chapter and get it posted. Here’s to you having a great Monday too!

Beige Living Room

In defense of beige

I had a conversation with a friend about her desire to live in an all beige home. She seemed to believe there was something wrong with not loving bright, vibrant colors. She kept repeating, as if a mantra, beige is boring. (I find that with me being an artist, people tend to say such things.) I ignored her statement and asked what appealed to her about having a beige or taupe room. She replied, “The simplicity of the color makes me feel calm and at peace.” If I were to guess, she would love a living room that looks like this:


In contrast, the room below would probably send her to the hospital for color over-stimulation.


Both are beautiful designs and well composed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either design when viewing the rooms from a design perspective. But there is something wrong with the more colorful design when I apply it to her tastes.

Her assertion that ‘beige is boring’ and then her further assertion that there is something wrong with her liking beige just didn’t sit well with me. It’s been more than a week since she shyly told me her opinion. I’ve pondered why her apology of liking beige saddened me so much and I’ve come to a conclusion that is actually a prompt:

Why is it bad and embarrassing to like beige?

I’ll state for the record as an artist, designer and color-lover that there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking beige! It’s a color too.

I know a lot of this embarrassment comes from HGTV, the DIY network and the plethora of other networks that have jumped on the quick-renovation highway. The viewers want to see what is new and different and, I’ll make an educated guess here, colors are the cheapest, simplest way to make something look different.

It’s easy for a designer to go into a home and say, “There’s builder grade beige counter tops, classic Eggshell White on the walls, white ceilings, beige carpet. Let’s totally re-do this room!”

But what if you like your Eggshell White on the walls? Or your beige carpets because they can hide kids’ wear and tear? What if you enjoy the neutral and don’t want fire engine red in your kitchen? What if you just want help with artfully arranging those family photos? What if you want tips for how to integrate your treasured family heirlooms with some modern pieces you’ve been saving up for at Ethan Allen? You like how the beige color stays in the background and allows the other treasures to be center stage. But somehow in the process of watching that show, they demean the beige and eggshell colors and, though you’ve been given tips about hanging your art, you are now looking at that eggshell wall with embarrassment.

A designer’s job is to help make your space comfortable and about you – not about them. They aren’t living there, you are. Your artistic tastes are individual and can’t be easily duplicated in every home. That’s just the simple truth. Designing isn’t a one size fits all product though I’ve been running into people who believe that it is. HGTV makes it look easy, but let me tell you as a designer, that isn’t real life. For example, they may encourage you to try out that DIY project of making your own concrete counters, but let’s be honest: They are experts in this field, which is why they have that show. They’ve had some disasters, or rather times of learning, but those times of learning came before the home you’re seeing on the television. It’s only as real as the 30 minutes will allow. There has to be footage cut out; it isn’t as easy and simple as what they are making it seem. Those counter tops will require some of your trial and error to get it right. And it may take more times to get it right than you initially think. This can lead the way for some discouragement and lost money.

In a similar way, they’ve created an illusion that beige and taupe are boring and not acceptable as choices in your home. That’s marketing, but not truth. If you like an all beige room, I want you to embrace that. You are set free and allowed to like what you like! Don’t feel bad about it because, I’ll say it now, beige is a great color. It’s a beautiful neutral that is found plentifully in nature – trees, stones, mountains, clouds and more.

I feel as though I also need to add these technical thoughts:
- Yes, beige can feel boring in a room if you use all the same value (the scale of lights and darks) of beige. One color in one value will feel flat no matter what color you use. Our eyes enjoy contrast, but that doesn’t mean you have to infuse a lot of varying colors for contrast. You can use a light beige with a dark beige and have a beautiful effect.

- I will also say this: my friend mentioned that a beige room was soothing to her and she was astute to notice that. Yes, a room that has only one or two colors is monochromatic and that is soothing to our eyes. When you have limited amounts of contrast to deal with (for example, the room only has a value contrast) versus multiple contrasts (competing colors, values, textures) there is a noticeable energy difference in the room. Artists use this concept in their paintings and sculptures. The more of these contrasts you use, the more energy emits from the art piece. Your eye is dancing, hopping and venturing from one bold focal point to another. That is an important concept to note. In our world, which is hyped-up on colors, ads, noise and distraction, I am not surprised at all that my friend wants a monochromatic, color-quiet room. The noise of our daily lives can provide too much stimulation and a color-quiet home may be the perfect respite. Given this, I wonder how many people crave a beige room for sanity. Probably more than I would believe.

To end my monologue, I will leave you with some beautiful, color-quiet rooms that I found on Houzz. If you are a lover of beige, monochromatic items or peace-inducing spaces, please enjoy this visual retreat! If you love these and want some tips for how to achieve the look, let me know and I can do a separate blog post on the photos.












Celebrating the person who is creative

For how ever many months, or possibly years, I’ve believed myself to be in a dry spell of artistic gumption. I’ve written about it multiple times hoping that expressing my frustration would be the cure to ridding myself of the plague. It never worked because creativity is a much more complex beast than that. It is a shy beast, which only prefers to make itself known under certain times of day, during certain weather conditions (at least for me), under specific emotional environments and cannot, under any circumstances, be demanded out of its cove with the desire to chain it up in to submission. If it is chained up, it does not submit, but rather shrivels and dies. It does not act like other beasts. But the fun of this beast is that once it is catered to and appreciated for the benefits it brings, it springs forth from its cove and changes spaces into new and wondrous places.

I can state for the record that the creativity beast is alive and roaming in my life right now. At times it threatens to overtake me because of its massive energy. The well of ideas, energy, motivation, visions have been set loose on my brain in a way that I’ve never had before. Before, as recorded in many blog posts, I had to force drops from the creative well. Now I am finding it nearly impossible to hold back the flood. There aren’t enough buckets to hold all of the droplets.

So what caused this sudden flood in my life after such a terrible dry spell?

I came to terms with my art business. A few months ago I couldn’t face it; my art business was a burden and a weight that was causing a great deal of unhappiness. Mutually my husband and I agreed it was time to put the shop on vacation for a few months so that I could take a break. We also agreed that when, or if, I felt ready, I would open it up again. During the time off I indulged in the art of reading. I wrote a great deal in my fiction novel and was inspired to begin an internet book as well. I took the pressure off myself. I acquired a part time position to make up for the lack of funds from my art business.

During this time, I took days to analyze what went wrong. First, I asked myself if I was simply doing the wrong job by creating art. Though initially I thought this might be correct, it wasn’t. Second, I asked myself why, if I enjoyed doing art, did I dislike it so much right now? The answers were ones that I knew, but didn’t want to admit. I pushed myself too hard for too long. I expected my creative energy to be constrained and operated when I demanded it. As a result of years of pushing like this, it finally retreated for good, leaving me with a dry, creative well. I couldn’t feel proud of my art. Though I had so many compliments, the words felt empty. I had stopped respecting my talents as gifts and rather saw them as servants that needed to perform.

There was another aspect of myself going on at this time and that was my discovery of me. I couldn’t have told you when I was in high school what I truly wanted to be when I grew up. I could give you a list of top five careers, but to narrow down an area was difficult. I enjoyed helping people the most, which is one of the most difficult ambitions to have because in almost anything you can serve others. There was also the blessed issue of me being talented at so much; art, science, psychology, languages, writing. The exception came when I was faced with math. I only recently learned that I have dyslexia, which explains much of that math struggle. Back then it looked like math was my only difficulty, though I still earned very hard fought A’s within it.

Since taking that time off of my business, I was able to reset and discover the answer to so many questions that I had begun to ask when I was younger; the questions that I wasn’t wise enough to answer at the time. It was one of the most painful times of my life; to look back and analyze the walls I had built up to survive in school or in the working world. Over the past month I’ve been furiously ripping them down. Everything I had built up to compensate for my dyslexic tendencies; gone. The need to please others to earn an A: gone. Feeling as though there was a ‘working person’ model that I needed to fit inside: gone.

Then I found freedom. I also found my creativity. It had been hidden behind the self-constructed structures that were meant to help me be like everyone else. But lo and behold, I am very much not like everyone else. My mind loves science – deep, intriguing science – as well as art. I don’t get math or money ‘stuff’, but when it comes to psychology of people, I’m naturally intuitive. I’ve predicted business trends and have been correct based on my observations of psychology. I am deeply interested in company structures that promote employee happiness and efficiency; it is one of my biggest passions at the moment. I love computer programming and seeing the art that is held behind the frontend. These interests are varied and though they don’t instinctively fit together, they have found a unity inside my brain.

After discovering my many passions, I was left with this: Where does all this come from and how do I piece together these ragged parts? I still don’t know the answer, but they all make me move and groove so I don’t want to hide even the smallest part. The world wants to tell me that I can be either creative or science-minded. For those powers that be in our business world, they want me to fit into their understanding of people. Creatives; weird and untamable. Get them in a box to squeeze out some useful marketing material then run for the hills because they might get paint on you. Science nerds; should be scientists and doctors and they speak gibberish which the rest of the world can’t utilize. Writers; they want to be hermits so let them be hermits, but their books are good. A question that I wish I could pose to a business forum is: Does this system work anymore? Or perhaps the question is rather, should this system work anymore? But that is a different tangent for a different day.

What seems to be the final culmination of my introspective learning time (after reading Richard Branson’s inspired books on business) has been reading Ed Catmull’s book ‘Creativity, Inc.’ He is the CEO of Pixar and I cannot express how much this book means to me. I was never told growing up that I could like art and business; I was told the opposite actually. I don’t blame anyone for this because it is a widely held belief. But Ed Catmull is championing the way for those of us who think differently and are pulling for a different way of doing business. Richard Branson, too, is leading the pack when it comes to putting people first and business second. This business model helps those people like me who want to use all of our abilities to the benefit of a company, but find it constraining or suffocating to do so in the traditional model. My belief is this: Celebrate your employees and your employees will celebrate your company. It’s a simple idea, but has massive positive implications.

But back to my point. After those months off, I opened up my shop again with a renewed fervor. I have new business rules that I adamantly abide by. They are all positive and they all focus on protecting my creativity. My art is coming out exactly how I want it and I am so proud of it. I wake up each day excited by the possibilities of what I can create that day. It has been a long time since that feeling has woken me up, but despite how long it has been, I am so thankful it has returned.

Weekend? What weekend?

I was hoping to spend some time this weekend to get a sense of what is fun within the interior design world. I was also hoping to pick out a few beautiful pictures and place them here in this blog.

What truly happened was that my weekend was a great blur of fun, family and not so much of the interior designing searching. Life does have a way of intervening.

Friday was a great day of chores and by stating this I mean, 1) the chores were accomplished before 12pm and, 2) I didn’t slack off while doing them. A win! Laundry, ironing, grocery list, vacuuming, attending to my bearded dragon. Check, check, check, check and check. On a normal Friday the sheer want to end the chores as quickly as possible motivates me to get them done, but this particular Friday I knew I wanted to get a painting finished. I was also hoping to get it photographed, but the clouds decided against it. The lighting wasn’t stellar thus I pushed the photo session to a later date. In the evening, my husband and I watched the Grand Budapest Hotel by director Wes Anderson. We love anything Wes Anderson directs and this was no exception. It was certainly more serious in tone than his other movies, but we were entertained greatly.

Saturday I worked in the AM, but once I got home, my husband and I needed to run to the store before heading off to a restaurant with my parents. It is a known fact in my family that I love Key Lime pie though after moving to Ohio from Florida, I have discovered it is a dessert that doesn’t often grace an Ohio menu. If it does grace an Ohio menu, I am leery of what neon green concoction I might see presented on my plate. I was feeling brave Saturday night, possibly due to a glass of White Zinfandel, and I ordered one slice of Key Lime pie. The result: deliciousness! All was right in the world when a petite pie came rolling in my direction with the lemony hue of a correct Key Lime pie. So far there are two restaurants that do it right up here – blessings abound! We rounded out the evening with a small fire, while watching the setting sun.

Sunday, also known as yesterday, was spent up at my niece’s birthday party. We had so much fun throwing the football, frisbee, basketball and baseball with all of the kids. My right arm feels a bit like rubber, but I exercised this morning in hopes of working out the lactic acid. While we were hiking near the woods with our nephew, my husband spotted a caterpillar that was well camouflaged as a stick. How he saw it I have no idea, but it was only two seconds later that my inner nature presenter came out. For years I was a wildlife instructor to children and apparently the skills are ever-present, ready to teach to the masses in a moments notice. There were six children surrounding us, mostly those from our family, who seemed captivated by this little caterpillar and perhaps by my teaching. My husband says they were so I’ll go ahead a claim that they were fascinated by my words too. I guess you could compare me to the likes of Jack Hanna except I am lacking a show, former zoo director experience and nifty safari hat.

Once we were back at home, I made a BBQ ranch chicken salad with lots of veggies to cool us down from all the activity up at the park. I’ll be honest when I tell you that I haven’t slept so well in months.

So that brings us to today, which is Monday. The lighting is great so I am planning to commence a photo session with my newest piece of art and get it posted online. After that? I’ll probably start a new painting to be turned into a print. Back to work, I guess. Happy Monday to you!


Mighty deep milliliters to fill

Yesterday my pink Camelbak water bottle dropped onto a slab of concrete. It was as if it happened in slow motion; the water bottle was loosed from my hand, it plummeted full of water to the gray ground below. It hit with a dull thud and prompt explosion. Water gushed from the newly formed stress fracture, which had opened at the bottom edge of the container and snaked its way around the thin, pink belly. When I collected the injured vessel, the remaining water sloshed and oozed from the fissure. It was still dripping when my coworker opened the door and remarked, “What happened?” She was focused on the puddle of water spreading across the concrete. I told her simply, “I dropped my water container.” I held it up as as if it were an item for show and tell. Her response was simple, “That sucks.” Walking inside the door, dripping bottle in hand, I remarked with a plain voice, “It does.”

But my sympathetic coworker didn’t understand just how much this event ‘sucked.’ That water bottle was given to me by a coworker from a previous job. It was a bridal shower gift. Whenever I looked at the pink container I remembered the shower, I remembered times at my previous job spent with those friends. We’ve somewhat lost contact now, but I know how to get in touch, just as they know how to find me. We haven’t needed to be in contact, but it was convenient to know that we could; we’d probably pick up right where we left off. In other words, it was a place of limbo, not in the past anymore, but not maintaining a relationship in the present. In that moment, as the water gushed and spread in every direction, my mind knew what my heart had been telling me for too long: it’s time to let go.

There were cheerful memories from that previous job: impromptu antics of coworkers, time spent with exotic animals, days spent teaching inside while the weather broiled outside. There is nothing I regret about having that job for the years during high school, college then post college. But it is also my past. Years and years of growing up, all of those same people watching as I went from a high school student to a college intellectual to a graduate who realized I knew so much less than what I thought. It was a second home. Eventually I did leave due to my husband needing my help with his web design business. I left the nest, but I took mementos with me. The friendships, the pictures, the items such as my water bottle and I held on to them tightly. Every year since, the friendships have begun to change and spread apart. There are children in lives that previously were full of parties. The pictures have begun to fade or have been hidden under layers of folders on my external drives. The items have disappeared from being packed, unpacked, packed, unpacked. Most had lost their meaning except the water bottle. It was the lasting relic that was used daily both during my previous job and beyond it.

But it had been keeping me rooted in the past and I wonder if even relics know it is time to move on. My hand had a firm grip on the container, but it fell anyways, sacrificing itself and the water across the pavement. It knew it was time to stop peering over my shoulder looking at how it used to be and, instead, to look at what is to be.

I would be lying if I said that a piece of my heart didn’t ached all of yesterday as I spent the six hours at work without the bottle by my side. I could say I wanted water, which I did, but you and I both know it was about more. The water bottle was a token that could open my memories and for the first time in six years, it was no longer there. It has moved on like everything else into the past.

Now I need to find a new water bottle, preferably one that isn’t pink. It will hold with it all the potential for the next leg of the journey. What will it store? Memories of my husband traveling through medical school? Memories of times spent writing my next books? Memories of children entering our lives? The pink bottle was able to witness the start of our marriage, the start of a new career, the opening of businesses, but it also saw heartache. Many newlywed fights, unfortunate job loss when the market turned sour, lost friendships, struggles that accompany any life. Six years of life all in one bottle, but it is time for the new to enter and in so many areas, I am ready for the new to begin. But it is still painful to say goodbye to the past and begin again.

I will go tomorrow to pick out the new bottle. I truly hope I can find a turquoise one, that would be my favored color. Turquoise is the color of tropical waters, it is found most commonly in my art. I can make room for a new turquoise item in my life. It will be a fine new addition for the next six years. Let’s hope it is ready for what’s in store because it has some might deep milliliters to fill.

Camelbak Bottle

What a summer day in Ohio looks like to me

This past Sunday my father, my husband and I packed into a Jeep Wrangler and went to the Ohio State Fair. The evening prior we had decided we wanted to arrive at the fairgrounds early, as in 9 o’clock in the morning. This decision was made with the weather forecast in mind because storms, according to our meteorologists, threatened to invade central Ohio later Sunday afternoon. The morning held the greatest chance of avoiding soaking rain drops, which seemed all around ideal for visiting the fair.

As it turned out, there was one brief downpour that served to cool us down midway through our trip, so it was a welcomed visitor. Also welcomed visitors were the clouds and wind. Here’s a tip we learned from our time there. If you see that there will be windy conditions, cloudy skies and a chance for rain, this is what it means for your visit: a fresh, consistent breeze, no blaring sun and a mist to cool you off from your trek around the acres of asphalt. Who would have guessed it would turn out to be a major bonus?

The fair is always a ‘I can only go once every few years’ event, but when I go, I do enjoy it. For me the adventure is mainly about the animals. I love cattle, which admittedly is a genetic trait coming down from my mother’s lineage. I especially love Jersey cows; sadly our day at the fair produced no Jerseys but rather the closest breed to a Jersey, a Guernsey cow. I was able to pet her. They are cute, sweet and soft, but not the same.

During the one rain storm of our trip, we happened into the cow barn and watched the judging of Ohio Shorthorn cattle. They are quite an adorable breed with their stocky bodies, fluffy coats, large eyes and manageable nature. In other words, it would be difficult for me to not turn this breed of cattle into a pet. They are bred for their meat, but perhaps I could add a few to my future herd and tell everyone they are a new type of dairy cow.

We ventured around for what most people would say is the main staple of the fair: the food. I will hide nothing from you and admit this was my second motivation in visiting the fairgrounds after visiting the cattle. I wanted to get some delicious fried food. I will also hide nothing from you when I say that my ability to consume vast quantities of fried food does not exist, except in my imagination. This being the case, I knew I had to choose wisely. How could I resist deep fried mashed potatoes? They were delicious by the way. And deep fried red velvet coated Oreos? Ah, certainly worth trying because the cake-covered coating provided a pillowy exterior that was far superior to the ordinary fried Oreos. The final celebration of food was an elusive funnel cake with Bavarian cream topping. It used to be so popular, but the deep fried gummy bears must have pushed it out of the category. Side note: Deep fried gummy bear? Who considered this? They are giant gummy bears if you are wondering because I certainly did when I heard a DJ talking about them on the radio. The idea perplexed me far longer than it should have. Back to my point, the funnel cake was my final tasting adventure of the day and it was well worth seeking it out back behind the helicopter rides, haunted house and kiddy roller coasters.

To work off the fried goodness, we walked back to the dairy area to check out the butter sculptures, which were a fun assortment of Ohio animals such as a salamander, whitetail deer and cardinal as well as the ever-present, always popular butter cow. As a sculptor, I appreciate having to work in a medium that would be as challenging as butter. Plus, is that a good way to begin a diet? “So you’re commissioning me to make 5 sculptures out of how many pounds of butter?” I think I would need to cook with olive oil for the next year after that project. Either way, I’m so glad there are willing artists because the sculptures are fun to see.

Last on our agenda was the Agriculture building. My dad is growing pumpkins in his garden this year not because he planted them but because they sprouted themselves from the Halloween pumpkins of last year. That’s a testament to those seeds that they overwintered despite the ridiculous arctic temperatures. Because the gourds are growing at a rapid pace, I was curious if the fair would have a few on display. I was also curious if his pumpkins could rival the ones other people brought in. We went to the Ag building, but alas there were no pumpkins. They must be arriving this week for their competition. His potential in winning a gourd competition will have to go unanswered for 2014.

All in all, it was a fun time with my family, lovely animals, mild weather and good food. We came home and rested, I finished reading ‘Mrs. Poe’ just as the weather radio began chirping about a tornado watch in our area. The fair, summer reading and tornado sirens, is there any better way to mark summer in Ohio? I think not.


The interesting being that is creativity

It’s been an exciting time in my studio…for the dust bunnies. Truth be told, I haven’t been working on my art like I should be. And by ‘working on my art’ I exactly mean I haven’t been working on it at all. No paint brush has been utilized, no graphite pencil has been grasped. There are many excuses I could list to explain my distance. Here are a few: getting a part time job because it was too tempting of an opportunity, working on two novels, enjoying the outdoors to the point of thoroughly exhausting myself after a long hike. Those are all true and perhaps they are excuses or perhaps they are not. I’ll be in the camp of ‘yes, those are legitimate excuses!’ because I can be.

The funny thing about creativity is that it springs up on a person when one least expects it. I’ve been applying my creativity to my writing, but not to my visual art. Due to this decision, a battle has commenced in my mind; it’s become downright ferocious too. I suppose it’s my brain’s visual art side that is demanding attention in much the same way as a great sibling rivalry. I absolutely love my writing time, I cherish it beyond all other time I have. Leave me be in a quiet room with my pen and paper and I need nothing more for a few days. Maybe some water for survival and some bits of food; sustenance is required, or so I’m told. It’s bliss. But when I get into a painting mode, ah, the time slips away and the colors invigorate me. They tell me where they want to go on the canvas and it’s also a blissful, serene time. Of course I know colors don’t control me, but it’s nice to spend time letting my visual side take over.

But here’s where I find my biggest dilemma: I can paint for less time than I can write. It takes more out of me, which is to say when I am working with any of the visual arts, I feel physically drained as though I just ran a half marathon (I write this having no working knowledge of what one feels like after a half marathon, but I’m sure one feels a certain level of fatigue). I am not sure why but for some reason this exhaustion makes it more difficult to gear up for the journey of transporting colors from the palette to the canvas. Similarly, this also might be the reason I have never participated in a half marathon: the impending exhaustion negates the will to begin the process.

There does come a point, however, when my visual side doesn’t want to listen to my excuses and it grips me without letting go until I commit to it. That’s where I am right now. If I had my preference, at the current moment I would write. But I’ve known for some time that when the weather is in the H2 range – that is hot and humid – my creative ability to write fiction evaporates like morning dew on grass. It sizzles up before the day has begun. As if in response, my visual art creativity comes to life when the seasons are in the H2 range. It’s a perfect balance of sharing two loves in my life, or should be.

By writing this, hopefully what I am working towards is an explanation that you can expect to see some new art on my website. Through some self-analysis, I’ve realized that my visual art needs to be more sacred to me and needs to be more of an expression of my joy, life and creativity than what I’ve been allowing. If you are an artist, maybe you know what I mean by that. If you aren’t an artist and aren’t sure what I mean, well, neither do I so you’re in good company.

Creativity is not something that can be controlled. True creativity is a gift that comes to a person as if they are divinely inspired. Sure, I can prepare the conditions to help creativity find me, but to truly be inspired is something I can’t control. I was attempting to explain this to my mother who is a mathematically-inclined person. In other words, she is the exact opposite of myself. She operates on schedules, on bank schedules specifically, where there is a certain amount of predictability. I think that is often how our western world wants to work. We are trained in a classroom from an early age to be on a schedule. Even in college with my art classes, there were deadlines and rubrics, but I understand there had to be constraints. As a result, my creativity needed to be constrained and fit into a mold in order that grading art assignments would be quantifiable for the professors. Only during my independent study classes did I see my creativity begin to pop outside of that molded education box.

Related to this, I once heard an artist state that she needed to unlearn what had been taught to her in art school. At the time I assumed that her assertion was crazy. Just crazy! But now I’m beginning to understand the importance of this. It isn’t that she needs to unlearn her education because logic dictates that being impossible. Rather she was stating a need to peel back some layers of the box that is called education. Once you learn the foundation, learn the proper techniques, then you can start to see where your personal creativity wants to take you. The skills are there, the rules are very apparent, but it’s when you know the rules that you know when you can break them.

I think that is where I am with my art. I also believe this to be the root of my frustration and hesitation. My education has served me so well, but now I need to jump onto the path of ‘my own way.’ It’s scary and intimidating. How do I know what will be a mistake or a leap of inspiration? Education would have told me which was which without requiring my further analysis, but if they taught me well – which they did – then I should have the confidence to know I will eventually answer that question. I want to push my art and push myself, but I can only do that by deciding to explore my own path.

That’s been my ultimate excuse for letting those dust bunnies take over my studio. But no more! I choose to take up my brush and beat them away. Hopefully the flurry of inspired activity will encourage them to live somewhere else. Under my easel is officially reserved parking for my blobs of paint and shavings of pencils only.

Creativity OnDemand…If only!

It’s Thursday, which is my day to vacuum and do laundry. I was able to get both of these accomplished by 11am so I’m marking that as a win.

In other news, I’m not sure I have other news. There were some great stories I wanted to mention in other posts, but didn’t because the post would have become a book. And now I’ve completely forgotten all of those great stories. Every single one! My memory must have made an impromptu decision to place those stories in the shredder, which was probably run before 11am just like my vacuuming and laundry. This is not a win.

But I do have this to offer. There has been something on my mind that I wanted to share and – bonus! – I remember it vividly. This is probably because I have been mulling it over and over again.

It concerns this post from I stumbled upon it on BooMama’s site and it addresses the quandaries creative people face with living in a world that is not in sync with the way our brain is structured. I’ll go ahead and say for the record that I struggle with this nearly every day. While in college, I had classes about how to fully engage the right brain, i.e., setting aside hours of non-distraction, minimizing noises that contain words or numbers, but every now and again I need to be reminded of its importance. It has been more evident recently as I find myself asking, Why is it so difficult to write, right now?

My schedule has been a bit erratic as of late and with the mid-day appointments, calls, meetings and other, it has been a feat to sit down and put the fingers to the keys. I may have an appointment at 11am, which means I can write in the evening, but with making dinner and not knowing what time my husband will be home, I find myself in limbo. Then there are the emails that ‘bloopety bloop’ and, because I treat them as though they are a Christmas present, my brain starts repeating ‘I must look!’ They are never a Christmas present in case you were wondering. They are sometimes spam, sometimes business-y stuff or most of the time informative updates. Nary a present to be found, so sad.

Taking this behavior into account after reading the creative people outcry (aka, the blog post), I wondered why I was letting so many behaviors alter my creativity. If I know better, why do I let it occur? Oh, a loaded question. At this point in time without having done much delving, I’ve come to this conclusion: Somehow in the midst of running this art business, writing and managing a life, I’ve found that I need to keep up on these ‘little’ things as they happen. Is this a theory I’ve read or a business tip I found on some billboard that I, for some reason, do not recollect? I do not know. I have no idea where this theory comes from. It does make a lot of sense to take care of issues as they come in – put out the fires while they are small, if you will. And combat those emails as they arrive so you don’t peek at the inbox at 5pm and see 100 new messages. That might equal an instant coronary. However, this is a schedule for a different person with a different work environment and brain than me.

But, as I think about it more, the time demands aren’t the only distractions for me. I find that when things are causing me grief in my personal life in one way or another, such as moving, money, marriage, and/or friends, my creative well dries up like a desert. There are tumbleweeds rolling and cacti establishing their roots in my right brain as I type. Not really, it’s not nearly that bad, but I might have seen some sand building. There might have been some burrowing owls flying around, scoping out a nice spot to set up shop.

The impact of emotional dilemmas on creativity is something they neglected to mention in art school – but perhaps my professors subscribed to the belief that frustration leads to better artwork? I doubt it because my professors knew what I know: That theory is a myth; rich artwork has been made by rich artists and poor artwork has been made by poor artists.

But I still find myself in a pickle about this topic on finding creativity amidst busy schedules and emotional glitches. Situations are going to arise. Marriage is a ‘learn as you go’ up and down journey. Money is both wonderful and the bane of my existence. Moving, ah, that’s just, ah – there are no words for that right now. But this is life and the roller coaster of life goes up and down, and if I wanted it to stop, well, I wouldn’t get much writing done under the ground. I need to find peace through the storm (remember how I said I prayed about this recently?), which is taking on a whole new meaning when it begins to reach into the area of my livelihood.

As with most things in life, I know it’s going to work itself out. I may be out of rhythm, but it will find me again. That problem won’t be solved instantly, but that’s okay because I finished vacuuming and laundry before 11am. Still a win.