Saturday, September 18, 2021

Hope is the Thing With Feathers (and Glitter)

When you know someone really well or for a long time, sometimes your communication starts looking a bit like a secret code. Inside jokes, shared memories and references, concocted signals, and old secrets weave their way in. My husband and I have our secret codes. I have secret codes with my family and my best friends. God and I have secret codes, too. 

God knows if I want him to make something abundantly obvious (because I'm a dummy and I don't pick up on his hints very well), I'll ask him to "hit me with a 2x4." Obviously that's not literal. 

We also understand that when I see a dragonfly, I know he's with me and taking care of me.

My husband and I have had our share of struggles over the past months, adjusting to marriage, figuring out finances and whatnot... finally it felt like things were getting a bit better over the past month or so. Until the past two weeks, culminating in a really, really bad day on Thursday. 

Not like, "I overslept, stubbed my toe, the milk was spoiled, and my favorite team lost" kind of rough time. Well, my favorite team did lose... but I'm talking tragic car wrecks, lost jobs, terrible illnesses, and several deaths among my family and friends. A really, really rough, emotional time. 

However, God arranged for me to be off work Thursday, thanks to a randomly-scheduled doctor appointment, so I could spend the day with my husband. And God sent a couple dragonflies my way, flitting around my car as I parked outside our home after a late lunch out.

Now it's Saturday, and I was just sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee, talking with God about everything that's been going on. I asked him for a more tangible sign of hope because I feel like hope keeps slipping through my fingers, or flitting away on the breeze. 

God immediately pointed out that I am an artist. I can make that tangible reminder. He's given me all the materials I need! As I was praying and writing in my journal, I even saw these feathers on the balcony floor, perfect for little dragonfly wings. 

Emily Dickinson, a favorite poet of mine, wrote the famous poem beginning "Hope is the thing with feathers." Her metaphor was a little songbird... obviously dragonflies don't typically have feathers! Their wings are more like sparkly tissue paper or something. 

But if you're talking with God, asking for hope, and you two have a secret code involving dragonflies, and he points out two feathers on the ground and quotes Emily Dickinson to you, the whole birds vs dragonflies thing becomes unimportant. You don't question it. You just pick up the feathers and wash them and get on with things. 

Like ok God, I get it, you're right. Enough with the 2x4, geez, don't give me a concussion!

I always have random, unplanned works-in-progress waiting around for a real purpose; paint slathered on canvas in a fit of restless emotion. 

One of these random canvases is a little 8x10 piece I'd begun on a restless evening back in April, something randomly collaged together with scraps of paper, colored thread, and little sun decals, with no plan or purpose in mind. It would be the perfect background for a funky little dragonfly!

I rummaged about in my collage materials for dragonfly parts, finally landing on a bit of crocheted ribbon, an amber button and a little wooden bead, some translucent vellum paper, the feathers I'd just found, and... glitter. 

I know... I know. Glitter. Yikes. What is glitter, known as the herpes of the craft world, doing in my art studio? 

I don't know. I never bought it, so someone must have given it to me. I haven't worked with glitter since I was a kid! But dragonfly wings are sparkly, and God told me I had all the materials, so somehow I had glitter. God works in mysterious, sometimes glittery, ways.

Check out this bad boy and his funny, glittery wings!
The finished piece came together like magic, no hesitation or waffling or getting stuck. Not even a glitter mess. And it is exactly the tangible thing I needed. Light, color, seeming serendipity, all coming together in a tangled-up, perfectly imperfect, unplanned image of hope. 

God often works in seeming serendipities, the things we couldn't have planned if we tried. Like this collage that I started months ago with no plan. 

Is everything from the past couple weeks magically fixed? No. Everything is just as rough and emotional and difficult as ever. Thursday still happened. I'm still crying at the drop of a hat. But God reminded me that hope doesn't have to dissolve or flit away. 

Hope can be tangible, because God made me an artist and artists can capture all those things that flit and dissolve and slip through the cracks. 

"Hope is the thing with feathers," and hope can be a thing with feathers and glitter, glued on a canvas covered in string.

Hope is the thing with Feathers and Glitter, September 2021. Paper, feathers, string, a button, a
bead, and glitter on canvas, 8"x10". Sorry about the bits of white glue. I tried to wait for it dry
clear but I was too impatient... 


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Cailey's Back: Wheat and Sunflowers, Changes and Mistakes

After about a year off blogging, ya girl is back! Last year was probably the craziest year ever. I know,  I don't even need to go into all that, it was a crazy year for everyone. But seriously. I'll share more later but let me just give you the cliff notes: 

Nick and me dancing at our
In January 2020 I was happily single, living in my parent’s house, working full-time, planning a visit to Kherson, Ukraine, and enjoying my best mental health in years. 

Things were looking good, I was a few months away from paying off student loans, hoping to move into my own place by the end of the year, and working on an October deadline to publish a poetry novel.

By December I was engaged, had a new sister and a new nephew, had spent April and most of May off work for quarantine, I was finally getting ready to move into an apartment, I'd paid off my loans and completed my book, and was still enjoying my best mental health (aside from the stress of planning a wedding during a deadly pandemic!). 

With everything going on last year, adopting a sister and dating during a pandemic and whatnot, something had to give... so this site drew the short straw.

Now I'm happily married, happily vaccinated, and ready to come back to See Cailey Color!

It seems right to begin with a painting that, like this blog, also sat dormant for a year:

Wheat and Sunflowers, May 2021. Acrylic and gold ink on canvas, 14"x18". 

Early in the process...

Like I said, I planned to go to Ukraine for a week at the end of June last year. 

I got my passport, our group purchased plane tickets and started learning about the culture, everything was on track for us to travel... 

Of course you already know that didn’t happen. Covid-19 threw a major wrench in everyone's plans. 

When I began making arrangements for the trip, I did some research on the country, planning to make a painting inspired by what I learned. Wheat and sunflower oil are two of Ukraine's largest exports, and the area we were going to is very agricultural. 

I've always loved sunflowers and the color yellow... Toss in a shameless obsession with Vincent Van Gogh, and this painting just had to happen!

So I spent hours googling images of sunflower fields and wheat fields, considering my composition and colors, and thinking about techniques. 

Check out that empty foreground, waiting for inspiration!

I wanted to use a paint brush as little as possible on this one, so I used a painting knife for the underpainting and and the sky, and a sponge to paint much of the sunflower field. I only used a brush on the sunflower details and the wheat!

Anyway, coronavirus reared its ugly head, the trip was cancelled, plane tickets refunded, and my painting slipped to the sidelines. It was almost finished except for a strip of foreground that I just couldn’t get right.

The painting sat in a stack of unfinished work for a long time. I was seriously stuck on that foreground. I loved what I'd done with it thus far, especially with the sunflower field, but I just couldn't work it out.

Finally, just few weeks ago I decided I wanted to finish the painting. Feeling determined but still not exactly inspired, I made a big mistake by attempting to add a large pine tree to the foreground, with the trunk stretching up the right side and branches arching across the top, neatly framing the sunflower and wheat fields. 

I didn't even want to show you this picture but I felt
obligated to share my shame...

My gut told me not to, but I was stubborn and added that darn tree.

I hated it with the first brushstrokes, but I just kept painting and painting, like a mad woman. 

By the time I finally put down my brush, I was stuck with this very ugly tree marring the whole right side of the canvas. It was awful. I hated it.

I mean, look at it! That's like.... the worst thing I've ever painted. I hate it. 

Finally I put down my brush, but the damage was done and I wanted to cry. I felt like it was ruined. I was so mad at myself. 

I hated the thought of trying to go back over it and fix everything. The sunflowers would never be the same. The big puffy clouds and deep blue sky could never be fixed. I even considered cutting the unmarred rectangle from the middle of the canvas to use in a collage. 

But I didn't do anything drastic (the first thing I did right that night!). The next day, I painted back over the tree. Everything would be fine. 

It strikes me that this painting is a lot like life. Sometimes, you ignore your conscience and do the wrong thing. You know it’s wrong and stupid, you know it’s ruining everything, but you do it anyway, all the while your gut is screaming at you for being so stupid and stubborn. 

I’m thankful for a God who forgives mistakes and works things out for the best! 

Almost done!

That doesn’t mean the mistake never happened; there are always consequences. 

It's true that the sky and the sunflower field will never be the same. And I’ll always know that underneath the yellow and blue paint, there’s an ugly tree that should never have happened. 

Overall, however, the painting is actually more beautiful because it's finally finished!

June 2020 came and went and I still haven’t been to Ukraine. I have no idea if there’s a landscape like this anywhere in the country. There probably isn’t! I just know two of their main industries and enjoy using a paint knife. It’s hardly even about Ukraine anymore, but about mistakes and a hope for redemption.

Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, oil on canvas, 1890.
I've always loved this one. Can you tell it was big inspiration for my painting?

I still want to go to Ukraine someday and see what it actually looks like. But I’ll need to change the last name on my passport!

-Cailey Lazarus

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Dear Bus Artist: An Open Letter

An Open Letter to an Artist I Met on a Bus in 2009

Dear Bus Artist,

The summer before I started ninth grade, my youth group did a "stay-cation"-style mission trip.

In other words, we camped out in the back yard of one of our youth leaders and did various service projects around the city.

We did things like painting and playing with kids at the Salvation Army youth center, working at an urban garden, and working with other local ministries. Each day, we took the city bus to a different work site.

For me, this was an eye-opening experience on many levels.

I had no idea the need, or the important work being done, in my own city!

Here I was, a timid, awkward freshman girl, hopping aboard a bus each morning and evening with a group of 20 other high school students. Have I mentioned I'd never ridden a bus before?

I was terrified of sitting next to a stranger, terrified of getting lost or missing my stop (yes, I was in a group; no, that did little to calm my fears), terrified that I'd make the wrong move and be mugged in the street.

At the time, I didn't realize these fears had a name: anxiety. As an adult, very aware of myself and my mental state, I can look back and point out all sorts of symptoms I had. As a young teen, I had no idea. I thought I was just a typical, if shy, person.

Of course I also had the normal teen girl fears, like not wanting to look stupid in front of my crush... Anyway, moving on.

By the end of the week, I was exhausted, probably stank from not showering enough, and was only slightly less terrified of the bus.

That Friday afternoon, we all piled on the bus and to my dismay, I was the odd one out. I was forced to sit beside a stranger (horror of horrors!).

This is where you come in, Bus Artist. The strange I sat beside was you.

As a child I had an unexplained fear of men, particularly old men. Well, all old people. And strangers. And sick people, and people who smoked, and people with facial hair (my dad was clean-shaven). Or people who were loud and rambunctious. I had a long list of fears!

In light of all that, I hope you weren't offended by my silence or my unwillingness to even let our clothing brush, though we shared a seat on a bus. I was a dumb kid, and you were an older man with a 5 o'clock shadow and the lingering scent of cigarettes.

But from the first moment, I noticed your clipboard and thick stack of paper. As we rode along on our jerky, stop-and-go way, I was intrigued to find that you were drawing on this makeshift sketchbook. I didn't want to pry, but I couldn't resist watching.

You sketched our fellow bus-passengers without a word. One, two, three pages, filled and flipped over the clipboard.

I would have never said spoken if you hadn't spoken first. I would have sat in silence the entire way, sneaking peeks at your sketches.

I'm so glad you spoke up!

You asked if I liked art. My response, still nervous, was less than enthusiastic. I admitted I liked to draw sometimes.

I wish I'd had the guts to speak freely, to tell you I'd been wondering about pursuing a career as an artist. I'd always loved art, poring over drawing books trying to absorb every word of instruction. I'd moved on from Crayola markers and crayons to "fancy pencils," charcoal, and ink-washes. I specialized in horses, copying all my favorite pictures in my horse books. Yes, I liked art!

You spent the rest of our bus ride showing me how you did gesture drawings. We talked about shading, and the direction of the light. Several times, you told me to get the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I tucked that title away in my mind.

You asked if I drank or smoked, which I, being a sheltered homeschool kid, was somewhat shocked by. I answered "no" truthfully. You smiled and said that was good, and not to try those things. You said drinking and smoking could ruin someone's life. I wondered, but I didn't ask whose life they'd ruined--yours or that of someone you loved. I've wondered ever since... and I've prayed. Whatever your story, I wish life had been a little kinder to you.

As soon as I got home, I borrowed Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain at the library. You were right, it's a pretty insightful book!

I'll admit, I largely forgot about our little encounter until a few years later when I stumbled upon that book in a used book sale.

I opened the book, a hardcover, unlike the paperback library copy I'd borrowed years earlier. The spine was stiff from sitting unopened on someone's shelf.

Turning the pages, it all came tumbling back to me.

Your gruff but kind words, you rough clothing, calloused hands cradling your scrap-paper sketchpad. Your sketches, so expressive and full of movement. The way you explained drawing perspective, shadows, and keeping in mind the direction of a light source.

I was wildly glad that long-forgotten drawing book popped back into my life so unexpectedly, at a time when I happened to be feeling pretty frustrated and uninspired in the creative department.

I don't know if I thanked you for talking about drawing with me. I don't remember our exact conversation, if I said anything when we reached my bus stop. You removed the sketches you'd made during our ride from your clipboard and handed them to me. They are the drawings in this letter.

We parted knowing almost nothing about each other, except that we shared a love of art.

Looking back, I wish I'd asked your story! I wish I'd asked you what you did for a living, what lead you to sketch your fellow bus-riders, or when you first started drawing. I wish I'd asked you if you knew Jesus.

When I got off the bus with my friends, clutching the stack of pencil gesture drawings, I started crying. Weeping. I felt as if I had seen a glimpse of God, and in the most unexpected place: a 50-year-old artist riding a bus. I cried because I could suddenly see how much God loved you, and how much God loved me.

That was in 2009. 

Today, eleven years after that bus ride, I wonder where you've ended up.

What's happened in your life since that Friday afternoon? Do you still ride that bus route? Do you still carry your makeshift sketchpad of scrap paper?

Thank you, sir, for speaking first. Thank you for the book recommendation, it's a great book!

Thank you for reminding me that every person is a story, a poem, a sketch of dreams, mistakes, and memories.

Thank you for reminding me that art exists to bring people together. I pray that I may grow to become the one who speaks first, myself, and touches the heart of a young person.


The Teenage Girl on the Bus

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Fear, Unfinished Art, and COVID-19

Work-in-progress collage (untitled)
Hey all! I hope you're staying healthy, safe, and sane during these strange times...

For well over a month I've been working on a large, colorful collage of sunflowers and bunnies. A few weeks ago I wrote up a basic first draft of the blog post I planned to share when it's finished... It's mostly about my mental health and how good this year has been so far, the symbolism of sunflowers and bunnies, good stuff like that.

The problem is, everything changed in the past three weeks. 

A few weeks ago, COVID-19 was a distant concern for much of the world. For those like me, living a quiet life in the midwestern US, it was barely even a headline in the world news. 

For the first two months of this year, my mental health was the best it has been in years!

I was happy, my depression was creeping steadily backward, my anxiety was the lowest since I don't even know when. My few anxious days each had specific causes, easy to address and move on. I refocused my relationship with God, I was spending more time with people I care about, I had a lot of new and exciting things happening, I was happy and healthy and doing so, so well. The happiest I've been in a long time.

Since COVID-19 developed into a full-blown pandemic, anxiety and depression began rearing their ugly heads once again.

I'm not all that concerned about getting sick (although maybe I should be? We can debate that later). My feelings about the illness itself are more of resignation than fear. I'm washing my hands, taking care of myself and my family, staying home. If I get sick, I get sick, there's nothing more I can do about it. All I can do is pray it would be a mild case. If any of my loved ones get sick, my prayer remains the same. My prayer remains the same for everyone across the world.

What's really caused me anxiety is the social upheaval and uncertainty over the future.

In a matter of days and weeks, businesses closed, restaurants closed their dining rooms, people became afraid, and most days social media seems to be more guilt-trips than anything else.

I felt guilty when I wasn't able to work from home, I feel guilty when I go to the grocery store, I feel guilty for cracking coronavirus jokesbut I need to make money, I need to eat, and I need to laugh in order to cope.

Now I'm off work until April 6th at the earliest, so at least I don't have to feel guilty about going to the office. Instead I just get to think about how long my paid time off will last, compared to how long this pandemic could run... fun thoughts, amiright? And as someone whose mental health thrives on routine, these ever-changing, uncertain times are rough

On top of everything else, I've had a mild cough lingering for the past month, slowly and steadily improving. I feel guilty every time I have to cough or clear my throat in public, worried that my innocent cough is spreading fear and panic. 

Work-in-progress collage (untitled)
Everything feels strange and surreal. On one hand, we're in the middle of a worldwide emergency, a deadly pandemic. People are sick, dying, or losing their jobs, suffering from deep depression exacerbated by loneliness and fear. Businesses are struggling. My heart breaks for those suffering, and I fear the long-term effects this will have on the economy and society. 

On the other hand, the sun is shining and spring has arrived. My 25th birthday is in ten days! I'm making art, writing, baking cookies, exercising. Life goes on, strange as it may be right now.

However, I'm beyond thankful to say that my mental health is holding strong. The week of the 15th I was filled with anxiety and dread. I couldn't paint most of that week because I was too anxious.

This past week has been a different story! I'm still anxious and I dread the turmoil and loss in the coming weeks and months, but I've felt enough peace to paint, and that is truly a precious gift to me.

I've continued working on this collage I started long before COVID-19 was a pandemic. Today I'm doing something I wouldn't normally do on this site... Today I've shared only work-in-progress photos, because the collage isn't finished yet.

I'm hoping to complete it sometime this week, and then I'll edit and publish my other blog post draft sharing the inspiration behind the piece. That is also when I will reveal the title of this piece. I've chosen a title I think we all will be able to connect with...

For now, I hope you enjoy these progress shots. Just as this bunnies and flowers collage is unfinished, remember that this pandemic is not the new normal, this is not the end. This is temporary, and in time the term "social distancing" will become a memory.

Until then, this collage has become my prayer. I pray you remain healthy, safe, and happy. I pray illness, stress, financial struggle, loneliness, and boredom stay far away from you. I pray these bright sunflowers and blue bunnies can brighten your day a little. I pray you enjoy baking sourdough bread, sewing masks for hospitals, binge-watching Netflix, or whatever you're doing while quarantined. I pray you learn new things about the world, yourself, and your loved ones during this time. I pray that we all learn to value our relationships more, and learn to treat others with an extra dose of kindness... especially those workers who are so often mistreated, but are truly essential to keeping our society going.

I pray you remain healthy and safe.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Franz Marc, Laurel Burch, and Me

Franz Marc, Blaues Pferd I (Blue Horse I ), 1911
Another blog post, another note about forgetting to publish this when I drafted it, almost a year ago... I know, my blunder is old news.

Don't worry, we're almost through this old batch about last year's Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse project. I just couldn't allow myself to trash all this content, even if it's old. I really love sharing my inspiration with you. Please stay with me just a little longer?

I'm still embarrassed, but I take great comfort in the fact that you're still here, reading all this. I appreciate the support, more than you know!

I promise, new content will come soon. I've got some really exciting things headed your way... more art, more poetry, more everything. In the meantime...

Franz Marc rocks.

Not sure who he is? No worries! I'm going to talking about him today so if you're curious, keep reading. If you're not curious, well... I really hope you keep reading anyway?

Laurel Burch, "Indigo Mares"
Okay, back to Franz Marc. Franz Marc painted lots of subjects, but he was especially fond of animals, and of all the animals, he painted horses the most. As one who has grown up with a love for horses, I can't help thinking of Franz Marc as "the blue horse guy".

Growing up, I tended to prefer realism. As my appreciation for expressionism has grown, so has my enjoyment of Marc and his colorful cubist critters.

Nevertheless, there's a connection which didn't occur to me until I opened this old blog draft. I was preparing a basic piece on Marc and his animals, but I realized that Marc and I seem to have something in common... And we're not alone.

Enter Laurel Burch!

In one fell 16-page swoop starring a blue horse, I managed to accidentally echo both Franz Marc and Laurel Burch.

I would be mad if they both weren't so great!

Detail, "Meeting," Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse.
Watercolor, gouache, ink, and mulberry paper on paper
cloth. March 2019.
Oops, did I say that? Yes, I'm also a Laurel Burch fan! Not the cats; I'm not a cat person, but I'm all over her horses. Her use of colors and shapes is gorgeous.

Between the two of them, Marc and Burch managed to capture animals in entirely new ways, using vibrant colors, shapes, and patterns. They both favored cats and horses and created dynamic compositions with them.

They also both felt strongly about the meaning of art and the feelings they could evoke with their paintings.

"Today we are searching for things in nature that are hidden behind the veil of appearance... We look for and paint this inner, spiritual side of nature."
- Franz Marc

Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky, and some of their avant-garde friends formed an organization called Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911.

This group was deeply interested in spiritual meaning within art. Their mission was to get away from the long-standing art traditions and returning to a raw, primal, spiritually meaningful art. They were deeply invested in symbolism and spiritual representation in art. Kind of a kooky bunch in my opinion, but we all have different beliefs. I won't fault them for being a little kooky.

Cover of Der Blaue Reiter. Design by Wassily 
Kandinsky, 1912.
In 1912 Der Blaue Reiter published a journal of essays by the artists and almost 150 reproductions of primitive, children's, and folk art.

Marc, like many influential artists, had some traditional art training early on. He fell in love with the work of Vincent van Gogh, and left art school in favor of developing his skills alongside other avant-garde artists.

As Der Blaue Reiter focused more and more on the spiritual meanings of color and form, their work continued to drift more and more toward cubism and the abstract, leaving their traditional art education behind.

The start of WWI brought an end to The Blue Rider organization and publication. Franz Marc was drafted into the German cavalry and killed in battle in 1916.

However, Marc and Kandinsky sparked something that lasted far longer. Der Blaue Reiter led the way for the Abstract Expressionists, 20th century "modern artists" like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko.

"My paintings are the most intimate portrayals of all that is precious to me, my greatest joy is to offer them in forms that enhance and brighten the lives of kindred spirits all around the globe."
- Laurel Burch

Like Franz Marc, Laurel Burch felt strongly about the meaning in her art. She used color and form as tools for spreading joy, building her career on that mission. Whereas Marc and Kandinsky were focused on the spiritual and mystical, Burch's focus was on the mythical and fantastical, creating images of cats, butterflies, horses, and other animals in sparkling jewel tones and geometric designs, ignoring fashion trends and instead drawing influences from folk art and her imagination.

Laurel Burch started out as a young single mother making jewelry to sell in shops in San Francisco, but quickly outgrew her humble beginning. She made jewelry, painted, and experimented with many art and craft techniques.

Laurel Burch with one her numerous cat paintings
Burch had a bone disease, osteopetrosis ("stone bone") and passed away in 2007 due to complications from that. Her bones were very hard and brittle, and she broke over 100 bones in her life. She knew pain, and strove to outweigh her pain with vibrant, joyful art.

Like Marc and the artists of Der Blaue Reiter, Laurel Burch's influence went beyond simply painting. Burch was something of a pioneer— she was one of the first Americans to partner with Chinese manufacturers, in the early 70s when China was generally considered a closed market. Burch stood up for the integrity of her work, politely but firmly insisting that every product reproduce her images exactly, with no change or interpretation.

Burch's colorful, fun-loving art and her mind for business led to a worldwide market, expanding to license numerous companies to create products using her original artwork. She made her art accessible to all, with everyday products like jewelry, accessories, and clothing, sold at inexpensive prices. Laurel Burch, Inc. virtually exploded in the 80s and 90s, and is still known and loved today, especially among cat-lovers.

Am I breaking some rule by comparing Franz Marc and Laurel Burch?

Did an art critic somewhere in New York, London, or Paris just start inexplicably crying?

I really don't know, and that's the thing about the art world. I've barely dipped my toe in with a few art shows and that awesome RAW: Columbus experience, but from the outside I see so many unspoken, unwritten rules. So many "shoulds."

As a child I fell in love with Norman Rockwell's paintings, and as a teen I discovered that many artists and critics claim he was "only an illustrator" or "only a cover designer." Apparently he didn't count as a a "real artist"...whatever that means.

Detail, "The Dance," from Silhouette Girl and the
Moonhorse. Watercolor, gouache, ink, and mulberry
paper on paper cloth. March 2019.
As if being an illustrator or a designer is somehow not being an artist? Somehow, I don't see the logic there...

For a long time I grudgingly believed that pretentious, long-held, harmful idea that if an artist is not devoted to making it in the fine art world of galleries and agents, cocktail dresses and auctions, they don't belong. Grudgingly, because I don't like the idea of being boxed into that role.

Finally I found my mistake, and suddenly I felt free to have an Etsy shop and design on Redbubble, and still call myself a serious artist.

I had spent so long wanting to "be an artist" as if that were a dream job to work toward, not realizing that I was an artist simply because I made art!

I now believe the purpose of art is to build bridges and bring people together, not divide them. Art is meant to open the eyes of those who cause hurt, and to heal those who are hurting.

Whether the artist is Franz Marc, Laurel Burch, Norman Rockwell, Leonard da Vinci, whoever - our art exists to try to bridge the gaps between all of us.

I believe that when two people who are otherwise opposite—upbringing, nationality, age, religion, class, education, values—become lost in the same painting, feeling the same emotions, longing for the same things, utterly eclipsed by a single painting, song, book, or movie... that is why we make art.


Some sources on Franz Marc, Der Blaue Reiter, and Laurel Burch:

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Arches National Park, Ohioans, and the Moon

Delicate Arch from the upper viewpoint. This is the closest we could get
without a strenuous hike, and I don't have a telephoto lens!
If you read my post before last, the one about Mars and Bryce Canyon, you know I recently found a batch of unpublished stuff all about Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse, and some of the creative inspiration behind that project. Well, today I'm coming at ya with another of those forgotten blog posts... the inspiration for my depiction of the moon. Good ol' Luna, Earth's beautiful moon...

But before I get started, I want to share a quick note of thanks to the first person to look at Moonhorse in the Brooklyn Art Library! Last week I got an email notifying me that someone looked at it. Thank you, Audrey, wherever you are! I hope you liked my fanciful little story!

Okay, back to business... One of the highlights of my family vacation in 2018 (yes, you'll be hearing about that trip as long as I live; no, I don't feel bad about bringing it up all the time) was seeing Arches National Park. Arches is located in Moab, Utah, one of the "Big 5" national parks in Utah, and a must-see if you're visiting the area.

The entrance to Arches is dramatic. The visitor center is at the foot of huge cliffs rising up around it.

To enter the park, you have to drive up and around the sides of the cliffs as if the road is gradually curving and switch-backing up the sides of a funnel. The visitor's center is 4,085 feet above sea level, the lowest elevation in the park. By the time you reach the top of the "funnel" and are truly inside the park, you've gained over 500 feet.

At the top you're met with Arches' beautiful natural spires, walls, fins, columns, of course arches.
Tall, narrow fins of rock, aptly named Park Avenue in a double-pun, rise above the entrance road like skyscrapers. Much of the rock in southern Utah is bright orange and golden-brown sandstone, and the colors only push the drama further.

Arches Entrance Road curves deep into the park, with numerous viewpoints and other roads breaking off from it. Most the sites are easy to see from the car, and there are lots of short trails up to and around the enormous stone features.

Of course we were all eager to see the famous Delicate Arch, a beautiful, free-standing arch near the eastern edge of the park. Unfortunately, getting to the arch required a more serious hike than any of us were up to at that point. This was the last real day of our grand adventure, before driving halfway across Colorado and flying home. Between our exhaustion and the elevation, we settled for the sight above, from the upper Delicate Arch viewpoint.

Balanced Rock, Arches Nat'l Park, Utah. November 2018.
Detail from Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse.
Balanced Rock, Earth and Mars. Watercolor, ink,
gouache, and mulberry paper on paper cloth.
Nine miles in, Balanced Rock is easily recognizable from the main park road. Balanced Rock is what inspired my drawings of the moon in Silhouette Girl and the Moonhorse! I wanted to convey the near-weightlessness of the Moon, while echoing familiar terrestrial nature.

I imagine rock formations which would be impossible on earth might in fact be plausible in lower gravity. I'm no physicist, but I like the idea that the moon could have a response to our Balanced Rock. Don't you?

There's something almost surreal about finally seeing these things in person after admiring photos all my life. It's entirely changed my perspective.

One amazing rock formation we got to see is the Parade of Elephants. This is a series of massive rocks that really do look like a heard of elephants.

We climbed up to get a closer look at it, and it really was marvelous to stand up close and realize just how enormous these rocks were. They weren't just rocks or boulders. They were immense.

They say everything's bigger in Texas, but if my whirlwind tour through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado is any indication, I actually think everything's bigger west of the Mississippi. Photos can never show just how massive these things truly are. In photos, Balanced Rock looks like something I could reach out and tip over with one hand, but it's actually a 55-foot boulder naturally cemented onto a 73-foot base, reaching well over 100 feet into the air. Compared to many of the rock features in Arches, Delicate Arch stands relatively small at 52 feet.

Arches National Park, November 2018.
Walking around these stone structures that absolutely overshadow Ohio's forests, plains, and foothills, I could hardly believe that the stone of Arches is actually wearing down, shrinking away over time, thanks to the constant (believe me, constant) wind on the high plains.

Arches is composed mostly of mudstone and sandstone, which crumble and wear away easily. Delicate Arch is, in fact, becoming more delicate with each passing day. One day, Balanced Rock may fall. The Parade of Elephants is very gradually crumbling, tiny grain by grain of sandstone.

We often believe stone is as close to eternal as anything can be, but the truth of the matter is that even rock wears away, falls, shatters, turns to sand and dust. This was a sobering thought, a faint shadow at the edges of our visit at Arches, and the buffeting wind served as a constant reminder.

But Arches is also a reminder that you shouldn't dwell on that distant future. All you can do is enjoy what is here now, and do your best to conserve and not harm the environment.

With that in mind, we had a lot of fun. We took goofy pictures, peered through ginormous openings like windows, enjoying every moment. We stuck to simple hikes, but had no regrets.

O-H-I-O pose!
Buckeye Fans at Parade of Elephants. Pen on paper, 2018.
As Ohioans will, we had to take plenty of pictures posing with our arms spelling out O-H-I-O.

My brother-in-law, who hails from Florida, was thoroughly unimpressed by our repeated shows of state pride, but that didn't stop us from doing the O-H-I-O pose every chance we got. His scoffing wasn't going to stop these devoted Buckeyes.

There were so many reasons to be excited for vacation, and one of them was my hope to get reconnected with art after a long time of feeling unable to draw, paint, or even look at art. I was burnt-out and dealing with heightened anxiety after some major life-events.

Indeed, this trip out west was the reset I needed! I came back physically worn out but creatively refreshed. It's like the art centers had my brain had been numbed for months on end, but this trip woke them and got me back on track.

It felt amazing to come home and finally paint again.

Sometimes a major change of scenery and break in routine is all that's needed to cut the burnout and creative frustration. This trip was such a big deal for my family and me, and such a big creative boost, that you'll just have to deal with continuing to hear about it more than a year later. I hope you'll forgive me...


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Calm, Comfort, Courage

I know, I just posted a few days ago! I'm trying to get back on track posting regularly. Yay for starting the year with good intentions!
Calm (Still). January 2020. Collage on canvas, 8"x10".  

On Monday I went home from work planning to spend the evening tidying up, crocheting, and catching the latest episode of Saturday Night Live on Hulu.

Instead, the evening became a mad rush to create. I haven’t had a strong collage urge lately; I started a couple of very small pieces a few months ago, but nothing large or elaborate. But by the time I got home Monday evening, I felt it. 

I needed to make a collage!

Then "a collage" turned into three collages. Why hold back?

I started by looking through some photos and pulling out three that I wanted to use. I can’t describe why I picked them over any others, they just had the right feelingThen I dug through my extensive collection of painted and textured paper, old maps, feathers, bits of lace, and odds and ends I’ve saved on the off chance they’ll come in handy for a collage. 

Eventually I pulled out several different-colored sheets of mulberry paper, some scraps of a Chinese newspaper, and some pieces of an old world map, and set to work.

Comfort (Small). January 2020. Collage on canvas, 8"x10". 
After organizing all the materials into three stacks, one per photo, I got out three 8x10 canvas boards. I might have done larger if I had any, but that was the only size that I had three of. We look for a lot of meaning in a piece of art, analyzing everything—subject, color, symbolism, composition, size, media—and I generally think carefully about everything, even the canvas size I want to work with… but sometimes an artist’s choice is as simple as what she happens to have on hand!

I lined up my three small canvases so I could arrange the collages simultaneously. I started by determining and laying out the key elements: the photos, three squares of paper that felt meaningful to me, and three rectangles of paper to coordinate the colors within each piece.

The first, Calm (Still), features a photo of the beach on Tybee Island, Georgia. In this collage I used a lot of silver, soft blue and bronze-y grey.

The second, Comfort (Small), has a photo of a quilt that was handmade by my great-grandmother, then finished and given to me by my mom. For this one I focused on the colors in the quilt, like soft blue, warm tan, and golden red-orange. In the corner I used a piece of paper inscribed with a definition of peace written by a dear teacher of mine... 

Contentment. Calmness. Assurance of "it will be okay."

Courage (Voice). January 2020. Collage on canvas, 8"x10".
Finally, Courage (Voice) features a photo of myself—that is, myself a few years ago, when I had very long hair. You can’t see my face, only my hair tumbled down around my heart, with a few feathers woven in. For this one, I used mostly black and gold. 

The paper square in the lower corner is cut from the table of contents for an old book entitled The Emblems of The Holy Spirit.

Even though each individual piece contains some different colors and motifs, I wanted the series to be easily recognized as one image. A triptych, technically. Arranging them all at once and placing certain parts so they lined up perfectly with one another helped to create this feeling of oneness.

If you were paying attention to the parenthetical titles and the symbolism of three in one, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that this was a very spiritual project.

I’ve always struggled with what it means to make “Christian” art. I’ve written about this before. It’s an ongoing point of tension in my work.

Over the years I’ve drawn Bible scenes, made collages of what the Church or Christian community means and does, and made pieces inspired by certain Bible verses. This one doesn't contain a single piece of scripture or Bible story, but for me, this triptych is as deeply faith-based as anything else I could make. 

Comfort (Small) detail.
With each scrap of paper I glued down, I thought and prayed about my relationship with God.

My faith has been difficult for me; I won't lie. It’s not that I struggle with belief—I can’t see any way for me to stop believing! I absolutely believe that the Bible is true and that God made us, loves us despite our flaws and mistakes, and defeated sin and death so that we could be with him. 

The trouble for me has always been the challenge of spreading my faith from my mind to my heart.I can see his works, the things he’s done that no coincidence can explain. I know how to read the Bible, I know a lot about its history, about theology and what some of the different Biblical concepts mean. 

The truth is, knowing about God is different from knowing him, and knowing him is different from having a relationship with him.

When I first started making collages, my art teacher had a rule: no matter what other materials I used, I always had to include something I drew or painted myself. I break plenty of art "rules", but that's one I have kept.

Courage (Voice) detail. 
So I set these aside for a few days, not sure what to draw (and I was busy! It's hard to balance full-time work, some semblance of a social life, writing, and art!). But all the time, that last, all-important element was needling at me. I needed one, single image to draw across the three and make them really, truly one artwork in three pieces.

The answer came when a friend shared a few song lyrics on Instagram. 

The song was from my long-time favorite band, Relient K. I don’t remember which friend it was and I don't remember which song they shared, but it called to mind a different song. This is one of my favorite Relient K songs, "Prodigal." 

"Prodigal" is about returning to faith after periods of stagnation, or times when life seems to take over and push God aside. One of the verses begins, “Sweet Jesus, I was coming to pray, but Lord, I’ve been so busy and I kept you away.”

Oof. If that line doesn't hit you in the gut, I don't know what will. I don't know why, but it's just so easy to let busyness get in the way of the more important things! Whether it's your relationship with God, your significant other, your best friend... I know I'm guilty of this on several accounts. 

...I seriously love good bread....
The chorus of the song goes like this:

“I am the champion of wine,
you’re the bread on my tongue.
I am the last one in line,
the prodigal.”

It probably helped that the night before, I ate some delicious homemade sourdough bread... 

Regardless, there it was—the image I was looking for. 

Bread and wine.

Of course, if your church is anything like mine, bread and wine is translated to be wafers the size of your pinky-fingernail and half a swallow of grape juice.

I’m not looking to bash my church—I love my church! They are a group of people who worship and serve God with a passion, love each other truly, and try to live according to the Bible. I love the community, the preaching, the worship, the teaching... but I’ve never loved how we do communion.

Once in a while, I wish I could walk up to the communion table and rip a hearty, wholesome chunk from a crusty loaf of bread and dunk that bad boy into a nice glass of… well, I don’t like the taste of wine. The daydream stops there. I guess I’m glad my church serves grape juice, after all.

And due to food allergies and intolerances, I know those minuscule wafers are a better option.

My point is, communion is an act of remembering, with all your senses, the sacrifice Jesus made to redeem us all. When I really take the time to fully experience it instead of going through the motions as I so often do, this rejuvenates my faith like nothing else can.

Three in one: Calm, Comfort, Courage (Still, Small Voice). January 2020. Collage on three 8"x10" canvases (24"x10").  

Sometimes keeping faith feels easy, and sometimes it’s really, really difficult and I revert to simply going through the motions. But no matter what, I always come back to my core beliefs, like that song Prodigal. I always come back to communion... 

Soft, crusty bread, bread that’s hard on the outside but nearly melts on the tongue, warm and oh-so-sweet, symbolizing Jesus' teaching: difficult at times, but oh-so-sweet. A glass of wine—Jesus blood, his life, his spirit—that tastes like swallowing a sword, but is capable of easing the spirit and resting the heart. 

This year I've decided to make some changes and actively work to strengthen my faith, starting with this collage (and the little daily devotion book I received for Christmas). I hope you'll join me!