Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Western Adventure: National Parks, Monuments, and Sketches

At the end of October, my family went on our long-awaited Western Adventure - a two-week vacation in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. We visited three national monuments and seven national parks, put about 3,000 miles on our rental SUV, and took O-H-I-O pictures at every stop, as Ohioans are bound to do.

The irony of writing all this about national parks and monuments in the midst of a government shutdown is not lost on me. If you're preparing for a visit to any national sites, please try to wait until the shutdown is over! Many national parks are operating on a skeleton crew, or are semi-closed. You may be able to get in, but facilities are not being maintained. Not only will the parks be extremely unpleasant (garbage is overflowing, and many visitors have deemed that the great outdoors is their toilet, since bathrooms aren't being maintained). Already, damage has been done that may never be remedied. Besides that, accidents happen and you or your loved ones could be at needless risk without the usual park staff and rangers available! A few of the parks I'll mention here are open and staffed, currently operating at the state's expense, which is astronomical. If possible, postpone your trip until congress has worked things out and the parks are back at full-staff and proper maintenance, on federal dollars!

El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico
I saw this trip not only as a family vacation but as an opportunity to kick-start my languishing art-making, and it definitely worked. I took along my DSLR camera, watercolor pencils, a paintbrush, and a large, unlined blank book to use as combination journal and sketchbook.

My family and I flew from Cincinnati to Denver, and drove about 6 hours from there to El Paso, Texas, arriving in the wee hours of the morning at my sister and brother-in-law's home.

We relaxed in El Paso for the next few days, enjoying the gorgeous mountain sunsets, Texas barbecue, and Lay's Chile Limon potato chips (my new favorite!) from the Mexican grocery store.

El Paso is a fascinating city, particularly for someone who has spent her entire life in the rolling green hills, forests, and corn and soybean fields of Ohio. I'm pretty sure over the course of this vacation I saw more shades of brown than I ever had before, many of which were in El Paso. Yet I also saw color in some of the most unexpected and beautiful of places. Turquoise trim on the highway overpasses, pale green cacti, and the bright red, white, and green flag marking the US/Mexico border.

Pretty soon, however, it was time to get on with the adventure...

We started with a day-trip to Carlsbad Caverns, spending my brother's 16th birthday trekking into the cavern and through the Big Room.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I didn't expect my fear of heights to bother me inside a mountain, but the birthday boy ended up holding my hand and helping me inch back and forth down the narrow switchbacks as we made our way into the heart of the cavern. Once inside the Big Room, the trail was mostly flat, with only occasional drop-offs on one side or the other. Much more Cailey-friendly terrain!

However, I still found myself clutching the handrails, even on those flat areas. I don't know if my feeling of unsteadiness was the low-level anxiety I have constantly running in the background, or if it's a normal reaction to walking through these dark, stunning, massive, alien-like vaults inside the mountains. I've never experienced much claustrophobia, but maybe it was related to that. I don't know.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a fairly large portion of the Big Room is wheelchair accessible, with an elevator bypassing the steep trail that we took to reach it. If you're an adventurer with mobility challenges, Carlsbad Caverns may be a good stop for you.

The next day saw us off on the big road trip. The nine of us packed into our two rental SUVS and made our way across the gorgeous state of New Mexico.

Taking turns sledding at White Sands National Monument
We stopped briefly at White Sands National Monument for sledding, pictures, and a very messy lunch of barbecue ribs.

View of White Sands from Tularosa, NM
The white sand was enchanting - even in the warm sun, the soft gypsum grains felt cool on our bare feet!

Then we were off again, driving diagonally across New Mexico, our ultimate destination: The Grand Canyon. 

However, we made a couple of side trips...

Horseshoe Bend and the Colorado River
First, Four Corners National Monument, where we got in trouble for playing 4-square in four different states at once... At least Dad got to cross that off his bucket list!

The second side trip was to Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, the world-famous curve in the Colorado River as it meanders its way to the Grand Canyon and beyond. Reaching Horseshoe Bend involves a short hike. The path is well-established and easy to follow, but steep at times, and the elevation (4,200 feet) isn't helpful for those accustomed to about 500 feet.

Following a quick picnic lunch at Glen Canyon Dam, we got back on the road. Grand Canyon or Bust!

Grand Canyon National Park from Lippon Point, shortly before sunset
We got a quick first look at the Grand Canyon that evening, but the next day was to be our Grand Canyon adventure. We walked a few miles along the South Rim, marveling at the vast canyon. When people say the Grand Canyon is big, what they really mean is that it is unfathomable. It's aptly named, because the only proper word for it is grand.

We all agreed that, impressive at the view was as we walked along the South Rim, it was not all that exciting. I think, to truly appreciate the Grand Canyon, we would have had to do one of the hikes down into it. Unfortunately that would have been well beyond the skill set of most of our group.

One of the highlights of our day at the Grand Canyon was simply sitting on the rocks at Lippon point and enjoying the sunset. It was really nice to just sit, talk, laugh, and enjoy the view. We arrived early enough that we had our pick of spots on the point, and the view was incredible as the sun set beyond the canyon walls.

Bryce Canyon National Park
View from Zion Lodge, Zion National Park,
watercolor pencil
As night fell in Arizona, we got back on the road, bound for a rental house in a small Utah town tucked away between Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Cedar Breaks National Monument. We stayed there several days, zig-zagging between the parks, hiking, relaxing, even worshiping under the stars at over 10,000 feet elevation.

Bryce Canyon was beautiful and otherworldly, like it had been nestled in the Utah wilderness by a pack of aliens or elves (depending on whether you prefer sci-fi or fantasy!).

The vivid orange and white sandstone walls and hoodoos were spectacular. We compared them to rows of stone gnomes, nature's answer to the Chinese terra cotta warriors, or the ruins of some massive ancient castle.

We spent the next two days roaming Zion National Park, adventure shoes tied tight.

Zion quickly became my favorite park.

Unlike Bryce, where you can look down on the bowl of the canyon as if from the top of an amphitheater, Zion is entered from the canyon floor. Peaks and cliffs soar above, and if you look closely you may see climbers inching their way up the sheer pink, orange, white, and grey rock. Our visit fell in late October, which meant another layer of color - bright yellow foliage on the trees lining the Virgin River winding its way through the canyon.

The first day at Zion, we hiked a portion of The Narrows, a narrow stretch of the Virgin River with towering cliffs on either side. It was grueling, exhausting, wet, cold, and beautiful.

The second day there, half our group went on some tough hikes while the rest of us (the tired and the acrophobic) took it easy. We finished out Zion with a Mexican fusion restaurant just outside the park.

At the Lower Emerald Pool, Zion National Park. Watercolor pencil and
water from the fall
After leaving Zion, we packed up again and headed toward the city of Moab, Utah, lodged between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.

But first, we had to stop at Capitol Reef National Park for pies and petroglyphs!
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef contains quite a few historic buildings from an early Mormon settlement.

This settlement includes a fruit orchard and a small shop where you can get fresh pies, ice cream, honey, fruit preserves, and souvenirs. It felt as if we were visiting a historic village in some park at home in Ohio, but with great orange mesas in the background instead of more trees.

The home-like feeling vanished as soon as we left the ghost town-turned-tourist-center.

Petroglyph at Capitol Reef National Park
Entering the canyon was like entering a prehistoric movie! I imagined that at any moment, pterodactyls might pass overhead in v-formation or a squad of velociraptors might race past our SUVs on their razor-sharp tip toes. 

Indeed, there was some prehistoric action in Capitol Reef. Ancient petroglyphs mark the orange stone walls, answered by a multitude of carved names and messages dating from two to two hundred years old. The graphitied walls of Capitol Reef look like America's illegal guest book. 

After the breathtaking golden hour passed into a quiet sunset, we got back on the road to Moab. 

Buckeyes will be Buckeyes... even at Arches National Park!
In Moab, we did a doubleheader - two national parks in one day. In the morning we visited the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, the largest and least-visited of the Big Five national parks in Utah.

After a quick lunch at Wendy's, we went to Archest National Park.

Like Bryce, Arches was otherworldly. It looked as if some massive baby had left their building blocks sitting about, some in towers and arches, some left tumbled about on the ground.

These cliffs, gargoyles, spires, hoodoos, and of course, arches seem to obey physics only out of a spirit of generosity rather than the obligation of nature.

Arches was a beautiful way to wrap up our tour of national gems. But that last evening in our Moab rental house, spent relaxing, playing goofy games, and enjoy takeout barbecue and Chinese food, was another trip highlight in its own right. The next day, we'd part company - my sister and her husband bound for Texas, the rest of us bound for Ohio.

Two weeks after first departing from CVG, we arrived back home. It was an amazing trip. We saw breathtaking mesas and mountains, played on perfect white sand dunes, saw horses, deer, cattle, and ravens, explored underground caverns, and stargazed about 20x above the elevation of our hometown.

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, I have four words for you:

You stole my heart.


p.s. the sketches and drawings here ain't nuthin. There's more art from my western adventure and it's headed this way soon, so stick around!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Stars & Seas is 1 Month Old!

Cover image from Stars & Seas
My baby, Stars & Seas, is a month old!

Almost a year ago I started writing a series of poetry that would eventually become my first poetry chapbook, Stars and Seas. It took many hours of writing, revising, editing, arranging, editing, writing, illustrating, researching, editing, and formatting. Many half-panicked texts to my writing buddies. Many google-searches looking for the ultimate self-publishing crash course.

Finally, on November 4th, the book went live in the Blurb bookstore.

To say I'm blown away by all of your support and enthusiasm is a gross understatement. This fall has been an eye-opening experience, and a "well, duh!" experience, for pretty much the same reasons.

Knowing the incredibly loving, generous, and supportive community I am part of, I shouldn't be surprised. And yet, I repeatedly find myself marveling at the number of people who sent me pictures when their copy of my chapbook arrived, asked me to sign their copy, or asked how sales are going.

The "dedication," of sorts...
I suppose this comes down to Impostor Syndrome, the undercurrent of "surely they'll realize I'm not all that" in my inner monologue. Daily I find myself embarrassed by my lack of confidence in the genuineness of my relationships, but anxiety still tells me you all think I'm annoying and you're all waiting for excuses to drop out of my life. Shut up, anxiety! Of course, I have all this doubt, but I also know very well what it's like to be on your side of things, actively trying to encourage and support the artists, writers, and other creatives in my life!  Look, no one ever said anxiety makes sense, okay?

You can imagine my surprise last week when I received an email from Blurb, the print-on-demand company handling my book production and sales.

In one month I made the first $100 of my writing career! 

That's purely from book sales, and doesn't count a few dollars I've made with my Stars & Seas art on Redbubble.

As I look back at the other little milestones in my creative career, I find myself counting blessings I never would have imagined back in 5th grade, when I decided I liked writing...

For instance, my first published poem was in a fun little Christian teen mag when I was 18.

I just dug out that issue of Encounter to peer down memory lane ever so briefly. While I'm not so impressed by my writing, I am glad that I was able to kick of my writing career with 20 lines of worship, and thankful to Standard Publishing for accepting my work. I hope you sense the tone that set in the rest of my written work, because I feel it in every poem I write. Faith is a difficult thing, but no matter how my feet wander, I can't imagine the hopelessness of giving it up and striking out on my own, without God's presence.

Another blessing? Stumbling my way into a job where I receive writing inspiration every single day! I listen to audio books pretty much every day at work, and folks, that (along with a steady paycheck, awesome coworkers, a kind boss, and regular hours) has been a God-send. If you've never read a book, article, or blog post about ways to kick-start creativity and/or become a better writer, let me tell you one tip they all say: read more books. Ladies and gentlemen, Stars & Seas is proof that listening to audio-books also counts!

I was inspired to write Stars & Seas after listening to two different books about space-travel (Scott Kelly's "Endurance" and "A Man on the Moon" by Andrew Chaikin). Since then I've kept a mini yellow legal pad in my desk to jot down bits of inspiration as they come. That pad was basically the first home of Stars & Seas.

A peek inside Stars & Seas, for those who have yet to purchase. No hard
feelings, I love you anyway!
I'm blessed to have found ways to combine my two great loves, art and writing. I've had a habit of weaving back and forth between the two as I grew up. I planned to get a degree in drawing or illustration, and instead I got a degree in English. I ran an Etsy shop for a few years, and closed it around the time I started putting a lot of effort into trying to get some of my writing published (a constant, on-going process; I just received another rejection email two days ago!). Stars & Seas was the first non-academic project that truly combined writing and art. I look forward to many, many more chances to share these two passions simultaneously.

Most of all, as I said at the beginning of this post, I've come to realize how extravagantly blessed I am by the community I call my family and friends. Your support has been firmer than any rock I could stand on, and every day I thank God for you.

All in all, the past few months have been quite a roller coaster ride, and I look forward to what the coming months have to offer!

Thank you all,

P.s. I'm still obsessed with space-travel and I'll gladly accept book recommendations if you know of any other awesome space books. Fiction and nonfiction are both welcome, just as long as it's interesting! I recently finished "The Martian" by Andy Weir, and earlier this year I fell in love with Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles." Maybe my next poetry book with be about Mars? Who knows!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Stars & Seas Details

Hey there, fam. It's been a few weeks since we last talked, and in that time I've been up to a whole lot of good stuff, as far as Stars & Seas goes!

All your amazing responses to the announcement of my little book turned me into an emotional wreck for about a week. I am so blessed to be surrounded by this community of friends and family!

Anyway, let's get down to business. I promised more details to come, and here's a whole big load of details regarding Stars & Seas, purchasing, etc. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and questions; this blog post should answer most of the questions you've asked.

I'll start with the question on everyone's mind...

When is the release date?

Sunday, November 4!

That's right, exactly a month away. I can almost smell it! Can you?

 ...oh wait, that's probably the proof I smell... It's sitting right next to me as I write this.

Can I preorder? 

No. It being my first time through this process, I'm keeping things simple. But you can order the minute it's released, so be sure to reserve a few bucks in your bank account!

Where can I buy?

Link to come, fam!

For now it will be available exclusively at my print company's online bookstore.

How much will Stars & Seas cost?

$7. That's a few dollars to cover publishing costs, a few dollars for me, and a cute little book for you!

Speaking of publishing, who's your publisher? What is self-publishing? How does this all work?

My publisher is me, baby! Well, with the help of a friendly company called Blurb.

Blurb is a print-on-demand self-publishing platform. This means I didn't have to write query letters or pitches, work by anyone else's timeline, or have to publish and sell a bulk order of books upfront. I also don't have to print and bind them myself.

The way it works is that I wrote, edited, and illustrated it all, and formatted a PDF according to Blurb's specifications. A few nerve-wracking clicks later, and the proof was on its way!

I found Blurb's process to be pretty easy, and I'm pleased with their services and costs. I haven't run into any issues requiring customer service, so I can't speak to that end, but I've found their FAQs to be very helpful throughout the process.

There are so many options in today's publishing world, but it comes down to one main choice: traditional or self-publishing. And in the case of little chapbooks like this, there's a third option I like to call "super-self-publishing," which involves a home printer and either a stapler or needle and thread.

I chose self-publishing for a few reasons. I'd love to go the traditional publishing route someday! But for this project, it was important to me that I handle the entire process myself. I enlisted the help of a few good friends for editing, but that's about it. I needed to carry this baby the whole way through.

Will it ship internationally?

Heck yeah! Blurb ships to about 70 countries around the world, and also APO and FPO addresses. But if you can't get it where you're at for whatever reason, let me know and we'll see if we can work something out.

Why wait until November 4, if it's ready now?

Ooh, I was hoping you'd ask that question! Well... one of the poems included, Panic Attack, is being published elsewhere this month!

You can find it in volume 18 of The Healing Muse, a literary and visual art journal centered on the topics of the body, medicine, illness, and health. The Healing Muse is put out by Upstate Medical University, out of State University of New York (SUNY). Copies of the journal will be available for purchase online.

I've signed an agreement with The Healing Muse allowing it to publish Panic Attack first. Rights will go back to me immediately after publication, but until then I have to keep it under wraps. It's the way of the publishing world, guys. If you're impatient, just blame the ol' Panic Attack.

I've had a few poems published in various journals, and it's thrilling to get that email, "Dear Cailey, we are pleased to accept              for publication."

It takes hours to wade through submission calls, identify which poems to submit to which journals, fit all submission requirements, and finally hit the submit button.

It seems like they all have different format requirements... blind (anonymous), single poem or a group of 3-5, single document or multiple, address on each page, nothing longer than 20 lines, nothing shorter than 20 lines, Times New Roman or Courier New, I could go on... and there's tons of competition. But it's so rewarding to discover that gem of an acceptance in the middle of a bunch of rejections! The rejections don't really bother me now; they motivate me. But acceptance is an even better motivator, for sure.

What are some other ways to support you?

Great question! 

  • Share with others! Share the purchase link online, show the book to your friends, and make a big deal about having suddenly become a poetry fan.
  • Check out these Stars & Seas products on Redbubble! This design is a combination of several illustrations from the book, all original ink drawings by yours truly. There's more than 50 different items, including t-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs, wall art; even duvet covers. Personally I think it looks super rad on the pillows, the hardcover journal, and the travel mug.
  • Keep in touch! Whether it's through this site, social media, or however we interact, let me know what you think about the book. One of the purposes of art is to engage in conversation between the artist and the viewer.. So let's extend that conversation!
  • Most importantly, pay attention to the people around you. You'll never know if they're afraid, hurt, or feeling hopeless unless you show that you care. Be a listener, be a giver, be an encourager. We're made to be in community, not in a vacuum, but it's so easy for us to isolate ourselves when the world seems so dark and scary. Be a light.

Alright fam, that's all the questions I could think of to answer (with a couple of tangents on publishing). If you ask more, I'll do my best to update this post with answers so we're all on the same page!

But one last thing... I just want to say that I am blown away by your enthusiastic support. Absolutely overwhelmed.

I feel this weird mix of pretentiousness and teenage angst when I tell people I write poetry, so it's amazing to look at the number of page views on my announcement, and the reactions to my social media posts about Stars & Seas. It's really overwhelming to think about how many people love me and are excited to read what I wrote.

It's also scary, since this is by far the most personal work I've ever released to the public. This feels wildly different from all the art I've sold or shared online. It almost feels like baring my private journals to the world. I want to thank everyone who has made my community feel safe enough to do this... You mean the world to me. Thank you!


Thursday, August 23, 2018

A BIG Announcement: See Cailey...Write?

Wow, wow, wow I have some exciting news to share and you all have no idea how long I've been waiting and how badly I've wanted to break the news!

I keep hinting about it on Instagram, posting pictures of fish drawings, and papers covered in editing notes, with captions vaguely referring to some project I'm working on... But I think I've done a good job of keeping it mostly on the down-low.

Do you know how hard it is to be excited about something for almost a whole year and not talk about it?

I did tell a few friends, and they got more than their share of all-caps hype texts along the way... Thanks for the encouragement and the all-caps responses!

Okay, have I built this up enough?

Have I given you a proper taste of what I've felt all year? Yes?

Am I just being mean now? Yeah?

Okay, okay. Drum roll please...

I'm publishing a poetry chapbook!

Stars & Seas will be released in the beginning of November! 

More information, such as where to purchase, will be coming soon as I finalize details.

Over the past year I've written, edited, and illustrated over 40 pages of poetry. Wrestled with Microsoft Word, googled countless questions about formatting and self-publishing, and read books on space travel and deep-sea exploration...

Illustration for "Song of the Ginkgo Tree," page 33
  • Did you know space smells like burning metal? At least, according to NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent almost an entire year living in the International Space Station. He shared his experience in Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, published last year. 
  • Did you know the deepest known point in the ocean is Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench? It's about 36,000 feet deep!
  • Did you know that just this year, PhD candidate David Nadlinger of the University of Oxford won an award for his photograph of an atom? It looks like a tiny blue dot, not unlike the famous Pale Blue Dot in space, also known as our own humble Earth, photographed by Voyager 1 in 1990. 
  • Did you know a group of jellyfish is called a bloom?

These are a few of the things I've learned along the way, and they've all slipped into my poems in one way or another. This book compares space and the ocean, using imagery from those two realms to connect with and illustrate my experiences with anxiety and depression.

"Self Portrait," 2017. The Stars & Seas cover image!
Stars & Seas is about my first panic attack, which I experienced a couple years ago.

It's about my ongoing struggle to figure out how much of who I am is actually me, and how much is the anxiety which I've only recently realized I've probably had my whole life.

It's about the passing of my grandpa in April 2017.

It's about trying to be an artist when the art just isn't coming to me.

It's about coming to terms with faith and fear. 

Creating Stars & Seas has been an extremely therapeutic journey, and finally publishing and sharing it with all of you is a big, exciting, and scary final step. It's been a labor of both love and catharsis.

I hope you enjoy this book, either to take a peek into the life of the mental health-challenged, to hopefully find something you can relate to and find comfort in, or just to read some half-decent poetry about space-jellyfish. 

I love you all and I can't wait to share this with you! Like I said, I'll soon have more information regarding cost, where you can purchase, and other ways to support me...


Monday, July 16, 2018

See Cailey Make Some Changes

Folks, I have an announcement to make.

Last November, I put my Etsy shop in Vacation Mode, essentially closing it temporarily. I’d been an Etsy seller for 4 ½ years at that point, and I was feeling worn out with the lack of sales, and unmotivated to put any more work into it. I didn't want to tackle the Christmas season with that kind of attitude.

After keeping it inactive these past months, I’ve decided to officially close the shop.

Etsy was a big learning experience for me. Going into it, I had no idea how to price my work, how to handle online customers, how to promote a business, even what to charge for tax. I put in hours and hours of research before opening the shop, and many, many more afterward.

Looking back, I know plenty of things I could and should have done to improve traffic and make sales, but for all my research beforehand, I was still jumping in pretty blind.

Some things I learned about business and about myself:
  • I learned that I hate dealing with the post office, determining shipping costs, packaging and labeling items to ship, and dealing with items lost in the shipping void. Unlike certain shipping companies, I do not love logistics.
  • I learned that the key to customer service is treating the customer the way I always want to be treated when I'm the customer. Going above the expectation, beyond what's "fair." I sincerely hope that my efforts to do so were received as such!
  • I learned that all the little promotion materials like business cards are expensive… and I have a tendency to say things like “ooh, there's a sale, let’s get these really great personalized stickers to put on the ends of the mailing tubes! I’m investing in my business! No problem!" But it is a problem when profits are outweighed by the cost of those fun marketing materials.
  • I learned that sometimes you’ve got an awesome custom order in the works, you’ve worked with the buyer to make sure the product is perfect, invested in the best materials, and nearly completed everything……… only to have the order fall through at the last minute. It happens, and you just have to cry about it for a few minutes and then figure out what to do with what you have left.
  • Most importantly, I learned how hard it is to be true to the personal nature of my art when personal art isn’t what sells… and how hard it is not to “commercialize” and just make art that will sell.
That last point was the hardest lesson to handle. There were many times that I started a painting, drawing, or collage, only to feel a sharp twinge of guilt because I knew it would never sell in a forum like Etsy. Conversely, there were many times that I started a piece only to feel a sharp twinge of guilt over "selling out" and making something trendy and kitschy.

All that to say, running an Etsy shop is a lot of work and a lot of money. For some, it’s well worth the investment. Etsy definitely has its perks, and I have to admit that the company does everything it can to make the buying and selling experience a good one. But for me, the costs outweighed the rewards.

When I opened the shop I was a full-time college student, working 20+ hours a week, trying to make new art, keep a handle on my mental health, and still try to socialize once in a while. I didn’t have the time to devote to building the business. By the time I graduated and had a little more time (or rather, the illusion of time!) to put into my shop, I found myself burnt out.

So, that’s where things stand. I’m closing my Etsy shop after five years. I need to get back to my personal art, in my time, on my terms. I need to remove shipping and marketing from the equation.

I need to stop trying to be a “professional artist” for a minute and focus on trying to be an artist in the first place. 

You: “But I love Tornado Girl and I want to buy a print!”

Me: "Well, you can always contact me about buying my art!"

Only this way, I won’t be paying Etsy any listing fees or commissions.

You can also still find my work on t-shirts, phone cases, coffee mugs, and lots of other household objects at Redbubble, where all I have to do is upload the art. They handle production, shipping, and customer service, and in my experience as both buyer and artist, they do a really great job at all of those things.

Finally, this will not affect my blogging - you’ll still hear from me here at See Cailey Color! There will just be fewer sales pitches, so you should thank me.
All kidding aside, thank you all for your support, my friends. I couldn’t have done any of it without you, and I still can’t, moving forward. I depend so much on my family, friends, and internet-friends for encouragement and inspiration.

Thank you.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Broken Teacups: Thoughts on Pain, Art, and Love

I follow several artists on Instagram, and @ByMariAndrew is one of my favorites. Her illustrations are outwardly simple, but she pours intense meaning into them. Her work has made me laugh, made me cry, made me feel all kinds of feelings. It always gets me.

She recently released a book, Am I There Yet?. I have yet to read it (sorry!) but I'm already in love with it. You can buy it on Amazon, or probably anywhere else you buy books.... 

Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood by Mari Andrew. Buy it. 
Mari Andrew's home page

Is the order confirmation in your email? Okay, good! Now let's move on...

The first image you see on the homepage of her website is actually a great introduction for what I want to talk about today. I didn't even know this illustration was on her homepage, I just visited her site while writing this post and that image fit perfectly!

It depicts a young woman (Mari) holding a beautiful vase... 

Which is broken (in a moment of weakness, distraction, heartbreak, sweaty hands; the cause is immaterial). 

But then, she proudly displays a mosaic made from the broken shards, just as beautiful as the vase. In fact, maybe more beautiful, because of the love poured into the making. 

Anyway, today she shared the image below, which struck a deep chord in me, and inspired me to write this blog post....

Illustration by Mari Andrew, 2018. Used with permission.
The text reads, 

"Last week I broke a beloved teacup I bought myself 10 years ago for my first apartment. It was so special to me. It's silly, but I was so sad. It's not what I would have chosen. But now I have a choice to make:

1. Throw it away. It's useless realism with optimism. 
2. Try to repair it with glue. Optimism without realism. It will look like nothing happened. But I know coffee with seep through, if not now, at some point. It's broken; it's not the same. It won't function the same way every again. 
3. Take its two broken pieces and display them as is. Realism and optimism. Here is something that mattered to me then, and matters to me now. It can no longer work, but it was once useful, is always special, and can still be beautiful."

Of course, as she pointed out in the instagram caption, this is about a lot more than a teacup. 

As I scrolled through the comments, I noticed three trends:
  • A number of people commented with the story of kintsugi, or kintsukuroi, a Japanese technique of repairing broken ceramics with gold, resulting in an even more beautiful object. An absolutely beautiful sentiment, but not a practical one. I can't image she has a bunch of molten gold sitting around to repair her teacup.
  • Quite a few advised she repair the cup and make it into a candle or plant a little flower, cactus, or succulent in it, redeeming it with a new purpose. Again, a lovely idea, and probably a longer-lasting and more successful way to tackle Option 2.
  • Finally, a number of people suggested, possibly thinking of her earlier illustration with the broken vase, that she create a mosaic from the broken teacup. This is an option... and it's one that requires time and creativity, and a lot of emotional willpower.
These are all beautiful and have their place. I don't want to say that any of those comments were wrong or unhelpful or stupid or unfeeling. The fact that these people shared their advice and ideas shows that they care and want to help. If they didn't, it would be a whole lot easier to just scroll on past. So don't get the impression that I'm bashing those people or their ideas. 

But I think, a lot of times, we don't know what to say when someone is hurting. 

We end up sharing something unrelated or impractical as we try to lend deeper meaning to their pain, or give helpful advice that addresses the specifics while missing the point. Or, we unknowingly offer advice that jumps several steps ahead in the process.

She may very well choose to create a mosaic from her broken teacup. It would be a lovely way to display it. Sometimes, artists can use their pain immediately and create powerful art with it. It can be extremely cathartic to make art from pain. 

But mixing pain and paint can sometimes take a lot of time. Sometimes, the will to create feels weak under the weight of that pain. Sometime the inspiration sticks in the slow lane and doesn't arrive right way. 

Sometimes, we need to simply take our pain, our broken treasure, and let it rest. Put it on a shelf and let our emotions recover. 

Allow time for our hands, cut from picking up shards of porcelain, to heal. 

My grandpa passed away last spring. He and I were close, and it was very painful. Still is. In the days after my grandpa died, I started painting a copy of this photo. 

Tractors were his favorite things, after God and family. He spent countless hours attending tractor shows and working on old tractors. He worked as a minister and an auto mechanic, and after he retired, he continued serving his church by taking his tractor out and mowing the church lawn. 

So I wanted to paint this image of him (taken when he was smiling at the antics of his daughters, my mom and her four sisters, at a family reunion a few years ago) overlaying an image of a tractor. It just captures him, in my eyes. 

I started the painting, but couldn't really get past a simple wash - a super watered-down underlayer of paint which blocks in the basic sections of color and ensures there won't be any white specks of canvas peeking through the paint. It was just too much for my heart to handle. 

Maybe someday I'll turn that teacup into a mosaic, but for now I'm letting the pieces rest on a shelf in my heart (and in the drawer where I stash my small canvases for future use). 

My favorite comments on Mari's post spoke to the deeper meaning (the "it's not entirely about a teacup" part). These comments, of which there were only a few, were the ones that said something along the lines of "I love you, and your metaphoric teacup may be redeemed one day, but it's okay to pause at Option 3 for some time." Some of these people shared brief stories of their own metaphoric broken treasures, but they all simply accepted Mari's loss and loved her where she is - a woman with a broken teacup*.

If you've got a broken teacup, you don't have to turn it into art right away. I would love if you turn it into art, but you can take your time. 

If you know someone with a broken teacup, just love them. It may take a long time for their heart to make that mosaic... and that's okay. 


*that's not entirely a teacup.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Feeling The Pressure: An Open Letter to Artists

Once again, it's been a while. I promise I've been working on some creative stuff, I'm just not quite ready to share yet... be patient. Anyway, I'm taking to the virtual page again to talk about something that's been on mind for a while.

As an artist, I often feel pressured to create something powerful. Something that speaks to major social issues, something that encompasses everything I'm feeling, and everything everyone else is feeling, all processed in this amazing combination of art materials. I feel pressured to create something that the entire world will see and say "ohhhhhhh, so that's what it's all about."

I think social media has really increased that pressure - can an image really affect society if it doesn't go viral on Facebook and Twitter?

Leonardo da Vinci, presumed
self-portrait, c. 1518.
In fact, it almost feels as if we artists are obligated to produce work that is world-changing. After all, we spend hours talking about how important and influential the arts are! We advocate for keeping the arts in schools, we write blog posts about why art matters, we create hashtags like #makersmovement. We hold up images of famous artists throughout history - Da Vinci, Mozart, Dickens, Shakespeare - as proof that art matters, that it changes the world...

And then we feel obligated to create powerful, world-changing art to show that our advocacy is worth it. 

I've talked with other artists, and I know I'm not alone in this. It's pretty hard to spend every day talking about how much art matters, and not follow it up with making art that "matters."

Actually, I have a feeling that sense of obligation is a big part of artist's block. Not only do I have to tackle coming up with ideas or motivation, I also feel as if I have to try and scale the ginormous mountain of influence, conflicting voices, and hashtags; to reach the top of that mountain and hold up my little painting and let it scream its message for all to hear. For all to hear.

And if all do not hear my art's cries, I must have failed.

Boy, have I failed...

Calling all artists! Painters, poets, hip-hop dancers! Filmmakers and sculptors! Chefs, designers, music composers, novelists, and guitarists! Listen up:

You are not obligated to create viral art.

You are not a failure if your work doesn't circulate beyond your closest friends and family.

You are not a failure if your art doesn't end racism, abuse, hunger, or the stigma surrounding disability or mental illness... or whatever other causes your heart beats for.

That pressure you feel to create something which breaks through the clamor and directly impacts the course of culture and social justice is immaterial and paralyzing, and therefore, should not must not force its way into your creative process.

Should we then, as artists, intentionally make art that does not speak to current social issues? No. Please, seek to make art that adds to the dialogue surrounding the social issues that are close to your heart! You're a person in this world. You're not unaffected by social issues. And you're probably not entirely compassion-less, either... Odds are, as a human being, you care about at least one social issue. So make art that speaks about that. Just don't feel as if your work is not valuable and worthwhile simply because it doesn't reach the top of that mountain.

Original cover of Timequake, published
by Putnam Publishing Group in 1997.
I recently read Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. He's a brilliant author. One of my favorites. His work is pretty much the definition of creative - absolutely unpredictable, wildly original, and his style and voice are unlike anything else. I mean, there's no mistaking a Vonnegut book!

Anyway, something I love about him is that he had a lot to say about the arts. In Timequake, he writes,

"Artists... are people who say, 'I can't fix my country or my state or my city, or even my marriage. But by golly, I can make this square of canvas, or this eight-and-a-half-by-eleven piece of paper, or this lump of clay, or these twelve bars of music, exactly what they ought to be!”

This struck me like lightning. When we make art, we must acknowledge our inabilities as much as our abilities. I am one person. I am an artist. Try as I might, my voice is limited. Try as I might, my work circulates about as far as friends-of-friends. Try as I might, my work isn't leading any social dialogues. Yet, I will make my art.

And by making it, I think, and making it exactly what it ought to be, my art has value.

Do you see it? I can't single-handedly save the world. But if I make a drawing, make it to the best of my ability, pour my voice into it and hold it up from my nook at the foot of the mountain, someone will hear that voice. And forgive my hubris - maybe my art is exactly what that one person needs.

As Vonnegut writes elsewhere in Timequake, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

In fact, let me take this a step further. Even if no one hears your little voice but you, your work still matters because you will have made it exactly as it ought to be. Exactly as you need it to be. No one can tell you how to make your art, and no one can tell you if it's wrong or right... only you. If it expresses your heart, or challenges you to grow in some way, you've won.

I will continue to hold up a picture of Da Vinci and I will continue to use his legacy to vouch for the power of art. But maybe I'll hold up his picture with one hand and my own art with the other... and not pour so much effort into climbing the mountain, but focus on making my art exactly as it ought to be here on my little foothill. Exactly as I need it to be, to change me for the better, and hopefully to empathize with the one or two people around me. 

Artists, release yourselves from the pressure to the change the world. Don't let the perceived obligation for your art to reach the social mountaintop paralyze you in front of a blank page. If the people around you pass your work up to to the top of that mountain, that's great, and I'll gladly do my part to give your work exposure. But your work has no less value if stays in the foothills. By golly, you made your art exactly as it ought to be!