Reflections

My workspace in the studio.

My workspace in the studio.

Reflecting on my year of weekly collage-making, the one realization that I keep coming back to is this: When I am too tired, too busy, totally lacking in inspiration or over-whelmed with too many ideas at once, I just need to sit down to work, and something will happen. I must simply pick up the pen and move my hand across the page. It’s like turning on a tap and waiting for the water to warm up; it always does. Learning to trust in this process has been the greatest gift to myself. Just begin. Take the first step, then the second, then the third. Baby steps evolve into long strides, then big leaps. At the beginning of 2012 I asked the question, “What is achievable in tiny increments over time?” To answer this question it was necessary to make a commitment to create each week, every week. This process continues for me, and commitment is the foundation.

Hold On, 2009, oil on panel,12 in x 12 in

Hold On, 2009, oil on panel, 12 in x 12 in

Another important challenge of the project was to open up my subject matter to the real stuff of every day life. My previous body of work portrayed imaginary landscapes that provided me a kind of escapism. A small boat navigated a world of high seas and safe harbors, open vistas and dark caves, dense forests and lonely islands. These paintings were my vehicle for exploring different ways of being in the world, and creating visual metaphors for a continuum of emotional needs: the desire for community and solitude, contentment and ambition, safety and risk. In my collage series, I wanted to confront these themes more directly, pulling back the curtain on the imaginary landscape and allowing myself to find imagery directly from the details of everyday life. The imaginary landscapes had no cul-de-sacs and tidy yards, no family members or week night suppers. But this suburban landscape was the reality behind my invented worlds, and their true source of meaning. I wanted to get closer to this truth and see what I might find.

Detail, Everyday Miracles, Week 35

Detail, Everyday Miracles, Week 35

Once I had decided that anything in my everyday life was potential subject matter, my days became infused with a new curiosity and constant observation. I experienced incredible joy in allowing myself to be fully present long enough to capture an image in minute detail. I became enamored with the practice of painstaking drawing. It could be something as mundane as a pile of laundry, or as beautiful as a rose blooming in my garden. I began noticing spider webs and mushrooms, birds nests and clouds, and I couldn’t wait to draw them. I began thinking more deeply about the people I love, and the kaleidoscope of color and imagery that each person conjures for me. Everyday routines like reading to my son at bedtime became as precious and important as recording events like birthdays and holidays. I gave myself permission to explore both humor and sentimentality, allowing the cute and the silly to sit comfortably with more serious and even melancholy themes. This attitude of openness and curiosity brought a new breadth and richness to the playing field of my work, where all emotions and all parts of myself were allowed to play.

Detail, Winters Past and Present, Week 8

Detail, Winters Past and Present, Week 8

As daily observation became an habitual practice, I found myself more able to enjoy being in the present moment, rather than constantly fixating on the past or worrying about the future. At the same time, however, I continued to explore my long time interest in the role of memory in image-making. A close observation of the present often brings with it vivid memories of the past. Allowing themes from the past to bubble up into my work enriched my experience of the present. Images from my childhood surfaced throughout the year, and took a place right beside the images of our present life: my sled and my son’s sled, my childhood home and our home now, my late mother and my own motherhood, and of course, the Christmas ornaments that each tell a story from a different time. Similarly, images of the future were conjured: the black gum grows big enough to hold the swing I dream of having for my grandchildren, and the fantasy of a hot air balloon ride in July becomes a reality in December.

I extended my attitude of openness and inclusion to stylistic choices as well. I allowed myself to make things that I enjoy making, freely combining aesthetics from such divergent genres as scrap-booking, painting, design, and children’s book illustration. It was important for me to break down those divisions and allow all of my influences to come together in my own way. I embraced my love of picture-making, inspired by such diverse influences as Islamic Miniatures, 14th century Sienese painting, Bonnard and Vuillard, Miró, Bemelmans, and E. H. Shepard’s original illustrations for Winnie the Pooh. Collage was the best medium for me to explore the layering of diverse imagery and multiple techniques, fusing the parts into a unique whole.

Grid installation in the studio.

Grid installation in the studio.

The most dramatic change over the course of the project was my idea of how the finished piece would look as a whole, and how it would be presented. My original intention was that the 12 x 12 inch panels would be displayed in a large grid, four panels high and thirteen panels across. I planned on a tightly controlled palette that would read as vertical bands of color that changed with the seasons from left to right as the months progressed. But as I got deeper into the project, I began thinking less and less about the appearance of the panels all together. Each panel became its own intricate world, and I allowed myself to fall deeply down the rabbit hole of each work. Creative decisions were made more in service to the needs of each small panel, rather than forcing it to fit into the larger scheme of the grid. The imagery became so tiny and detailed, I realized that the top rows would not be sufficiently visible if displayed four panels high! Each work begged to be seen close up and at eye level. It became more about viewing each panel at close range and less about how the group appeared from a distance.

Detail, Holly's Escape, Week 38

Detail, Holly’s Escape, Week 38. She makes many appearances in the collages throughout the year.

While the concept of the giant grid fell by the wayside, new ideas about continuity emerged. I still thought of the 52 panels as essentially one large work that needed to be seen together, like a collection of short stories that could be read individually or even out-of-order, but would have the most impact when read from beginning to end. Visual motifs emerged that would be repeated throughout the series: the Lego Spaceship, our dog Holly and Olivia the cat, the mockingbirds, the wild geese, the dogwoods and the rose bushes, my husband and child. I found different ways to make the individual panels relate, connect, and lead the viewer through the narrative, by repeating motifs, extending color palettes across multiple panels, or by using the same textures or collage materials multiple times throughout the series.

Whether displayed in a grid, hung in small groups, or spaced out singly along a wall, the fifty-two collages tell a story that reveals itself slowly, over time. When I look at the panels all together, I quite literally see a year of my life. I see my child growing up and my life evolving. I see moments that I will never experience again. I feel grateful that I have managed to “capture” this year of my life, and yet I also feel more able to accept the passing of time. I know exactly how long a year lasts, in a way I did not know before. I know how many hours of art-making can be gleaned from seven days. I know how the seconds pass when the tiny point of a pen touches the paper, stretching into hours and days, weeks and months, square foot upon square foot, adding up to a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

Weeks 50 & 51: Christmas Tree

Sled ornament from my childhood.

Sled ornament from my childhood.

Every year I look forward to unpacking the Christmas ornaments and decorating the tree. My family likes to pick out a large fir that goes from floor to ceiling and festively commands the room. As I place each ornament on the tree, it whispers a story to me. Some ornaments are thirty something years old and come from my childhood, while others are even older and belonged to my parents. The newer ones remind me of our newlywed years, or when my son was a baby. Each one represents a time and place that is conjured up again every Christmas. The tree becomes a shimmering display of memories that dangle amidst the evergreen boughs and twinkle lights.

Christmas Tree, acrylic collage, 12 x 24 in

Christmas Tree, acrylic collage, 12 x 24 inches

I enjoy the Christmas tree so much that I decided to dedicate two collage panels to this subject, displayed vertically one on top of the other. The ornaments in the collages were drawn from observation of our actual ornaments. A few were refurbished or re-created in the drawings to honor those favorites that were lost or broken. Most are from my childhood. There is a little white elephant who once lived inside a clear globe. One year the glass broke, while the elephant survived. Here I placed him back inside his protective bubble. There is a tiny snowman, a mouse on a red chair, a bird house, a cuckoo clock, and sparkly silver birds. There are red wooden sleds with the childhood nicknames of my sister and I carefully painted in white lettering, with a holiday greeting and the year 1980. I was nine, and Vicki was eleven. There is a gnome hiding amongst evergreens in a glass mushroom, a flat wooden soldier, and a beautiful Japanese Girl with a satiny red dress and silky tassels.

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

My childhood favorite was a plastic Humpty Dumpty, dapperly dressed and sitting on a brick wall, grinning gaily, his hands in the air. While he might seem somewhat incongruous amongst the more traditionally themed Christmas ornaments, for me, it was Humpty who best expressed the joy of the season.

My mother had a special silver globe with a ballet dancer inside, and faceted mirrors that reflected the ruffles of the tiny tutu.

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Sadly, this treasured ornament was lost in a move, and I’m still not sure what happened to it. In the collage, I was able to bring it back. Another lost ornament was my husband’s childhood favorite, a stout little Viking man with a shield and sword. We don’t know what fate befell him. He too makes a come-back in the collage. Since he was lost before my husband and I met, I never saw the Viking, so my drawing is based entirely on Ken’s descriptions and my own imaginative conjecture.

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

When we were first married, a dear family friend gave us a beautiful set of painted glass ornaments that included characters from The Nutcracker and other Christmas stories. These became very special to us. We had gone to see The Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet on Christmas Eve of 1999, the day before my husband proposed to me. I remember that experience each time I hang Clara, the Nutcracker, and the Mouse King on the tree. Another favorite from this same ornament set is a kindly Santa Claus wearing an elegant red cape and holding an evergreen garland. He’s one of the larger ornaments and always gets a prominent place on the front of the tree.

I asked my nine-year old son to pick out his favorite ornament so I could include it in the collage. He chose the bendable beaded candy canes which are fun and flexible, easy to hang, and impossible to break. A wonderful choice! He can enjoy these for many years to come.

The practice of drawing the ornaments was very painstaking. I fell deep into the process of observing every detail, noticing both the perfection and the flaws, the sparkly sheen and the dulling of age. Some are quite fragile, or near falling apart. Some will break one day in the future. Creating the collage was a way for me to preserve the ornaments and the halo of memory that surrounds each one. At the same time, there is something about loving them fully and completely through the process of drawing that will allow me to let go when the time comes.

Christmas Tree (top panel), acrylic collage 12 x 12 in

Christmas Tree (top panel), acrylic collage 12 x 12 in

Christmas Tree (bottom panel), acrylic collage, 12 x 12 in

Christmas Tree (bottom panel), acrylic collage, 12 x 12 in

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Week 40: Wild Geese

Every Autumn I hear the musical honking of the wild geese, as they pass through Virginia on their way south for the winter. The sound always stirs something in me, like the changing golden light of shorter days and the burnt orange and red of falling leaves in October. The call of the geese weaves itself seamlessly into the fabric of Fall, my favorite time of year. The sound brings back memories from my childhood, when my father taught me to observe and listen to the natural world. We teased apart the honks and warbles of waterfowl and shore birds, and looked for the identifying white patch on the face of the Canada Goose. Our family liked to visit a nature preserve on the eastern shore of Maryland, Blackwater Refuge, where we climbed the observation tower to look out over the ochre landscape of cattails and marsh grasses, the wild geese calling to each other, flying in their characteristic “V” formation. My young mind thrilled at this sight. “How do they choose the leader? How do they know which direction to fly? How far is their journey?”

Thirty something years later, I hear the sound of the geese flying overhead, and remember that feeling of wonder and curiosity. Our neighborhood sits up high on a ridge, a small network of quiet tree-lined streets, cul-de-sacs, and well-tended lawns.  There is a spot where the entry road climbs the steep hill to our houses, cutting open a clearing that reveals a long view to a wilder place. There are layers of open field, farm, and woodland, the Rivanna River winding its way in between. As the leaves fall, we can see a widening band of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The Canada Geese congregate in the field at the bottom of our hill. Sometimes I see their tiny black shapes rising up in a graceful “V” through the clearing, other times they fly directly over our rooftops, calling loudly. I think of my son, who is inside playing on his iPad, and I remind myself, “Teach him to listen for the wild geese. Don’t forget.”

Wild Geese, acrylic collage 12 x 12

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Week 39: Fishing

Fishing with my Dad, circa 1980

Fishing is a tradition in my family. I grew up fishing with my father on the Chesapeake Bay and the Little Choptank River. I liked to sit on the bow of our boat, watching the sun’s quivering reflections on the waves, as we sped out across the water to where the river meets the bay. The open bay was so vast and beautiful, like the boundless presence of my father’s love. We spent many happy hours together on the water, side by side in our own world, casting for bluefish.

Another favorite fishing spot was in Georgia, where we would often spend a few weeks in the summer visiting my father’s relatives. The best part of the trip, for me, was fishing for catfish around a big pond with my Dad on his family’s farm. I loved to hear stories about his fishing adventures in the creeks and ponds of his own childhood. I was proud that I could absorb everything he taught me about fishing and I was never squeamish about holding up my little fish for the camera!

My boy on a fishing trip with his Grandfather

I loved mastering the flick of the wrist that sent the line flying out over the water. I loved the anticipation of patiently watching the bobber for any signs of a bite. I loved the thrill of reeling in a good catch, even if we tossed it back. Most of all, I loved being outdoors and spending time with my Dad. Now my father takes my son, Max, fishing, and I think Max loves it for all the same reasons.

This collage is a tribute to fishing, but it is not only about the catching of fish. It is about the special experience of being quietly absorbed in the rhythms of the natural world, and the connection to the loved ones with whom you share that experience. I included a treehouse in the final piece, which has been a recurring motif in my work, symbolizing childhood, sanctuary, and the possibilities of the imagination. In the quiet hours spent around a pond, love grows, ideas are born, and you just might reel in the big one.

Fishing, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Fishing

Detail, Fishing

Detail, Fishing

Detail, Fishing

Week 28: Eat Local

Paper elements ready for collaging.

This week’s collage is inspired by our local farmers market. We spent a delightful Saturday morning there browsing the stalls and feasting our eyes on all the different colored tomatoes that are now in season. My father taught me to love tomatoes, and I have great memories of the big juicy specimens we would buy at a roadside stand on the way to our beach house in the summertimes of my childhood. We always enjoyed them simply prepared, just sliced out on a platter with salt, pepper, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and maybe a drizzle of olive oil. My family had such reverence for peak season tomatoes that they could almost be considered the main course, but were usually accompanied by corn on the cob, zucchini and onions, and the fish or crabs that we had caught that day on the Little Choptank River. The taste of a good tomato will always remind me of those happy summer days.

Farmers Market drawings

My process for this collage involved some new ideas and inverted techniques. Normally I draw by hand with ink pens on paper, then scan the drawings into my Mac, and manipulate them in Illustrator. I may re-size the drawings, and multiply the images. The drawings are then printed out onto collage papers with an ink jet printer, torn by hand, and collaged onto a panel in combination with acrylic paint and additional hand-drawn pieces.  This week I scanned only one drawing (the cluster of cherry tomatoes.)  The rest of the tomatoes and the market stalls were all drawn directly into the Mac using my Wacom pen tablet.  It is a little odd to say these are not “hand-drawn,” as I drew them with my hand, while holding a pen… the only difference being that the drawing first shows up on a computer screen instead of on a piece of paper.  I also colored the tomatoes using the pen tablet and digital tools in Illustrator.  The images were then printed out, torn by hand, and collaged onto a panel with acrylic paint. If you looks closely at the market stall drawings, you will see that there are only a few unique drawings. The rest are simply re-sized or reversed versions. When collaged together on the panel and individually colored, you get the impression of a large and varied market scene.

Farmers Market, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Farmers Market

Detail, Farmers Market

Detail, Farmers Market

Detail, Farmers Market

Week 9: Mom’s Treasure Box

Mom dances the lead in Snow White, May 1959

This week’s collage is in honor of my mother, who passed away 20 years ago. Her birthday is today, March 4th.  In preparing for this work, I found myself returning to my childhood, searching for visual metaphors that could embody my memory of her. I began drawing bits and pieces of experiences we shared, toys she gave me, and anything that reminded me of her. She was a ballet dancer in her youth, and I was always fascinated by the graceful pictures of her performing.  This image of her persisted through my childhood and I always thought of her as a ballerina. I once had a jewelry box with a little toy dancer inside who would twirl to tinkling music when you opened the box. I imagined finding this box again, and opening it up to find a treasure trove of my memories of Mom. This idea became the basis for the collage.

As I began creating the work, I looked to my five-year-old self, reconnecting with the sense of security, play and discovery that I used to feel around my mother as a small child. I unearthed some imagery that surprised me.  I remember being more of a tomboy growing up, a Daddy’s girl, climbing trees and fishing, but there was a side of the younger me that strongly identified with ballerinas, Bambi, and the color pink. For me, there is something both appallingly sentimental and triumphantly courageous about putting these sugary little morsels in my painting. My grown-up analytical self tells me the work will be trite and ridiculous. My artist self tells me to listen to the naive (or fearlessly creative?) five-year-old inside and just go with it.

Since I was going so far out on a limb with the imagery, I decided to try some new acrylic techniques as well.  Rather than collage bits of drawings on paper, I created acrylic transfers of my drawings. The result is a transparent element that can be integrated into the painting in a new way.  After some experimentation, I settled on the best method of doing this.  Use waterproof archival ink for the drawings– my favorite is Sakura Pigma Micron pens. The best paper is a slippery vellum or heavy tracing paper. Allow the ink to completely dry, then paint over the image with Golden Clear Tar Gel in a thin layer. Allow to dry for at least 30 minutes until the gel forms a transparent skin. Then submerge the paper in water for a few seconds, and the acrylic skin will easily lift off the paper, taking the image with it.  You can then trim the shapes, paint color on the backside of the images, and adhere to the painting with soft gel medium. They are somewhat like plastic decals.

Acrylic Transfers with Tar Gel

I felt compelled to include Bambi because that was one of the first movies I remember my mother taking me to, and it really made an impression on me. During the most dramatic scene, when Bambi was frantically looking for his mother in the forest after hearing gun shots, a kid in the audience screamed out, “She’s dead, Bambi! She’s dead!” This little outburst certainly added some impact to the cinematic experience. After my own mother died, 15 years later, I actually flashed back to that moment in the theater, except this time I was the one looking for my mother.  I was a 20-year-old college student and a frightened baby deer all in the same moment, facing the unthinkable truth. Bambi eventually became a comforting symbol for me, both an innocent and a survivor.

Here is a close up of some transfers after they have been trimmed and colored. Their shiny plastic appearance seems appropriate to the content– each one a precious jewel-like object. Five-year-olds of course have plastic jewelry, but it is no less special to them.

Acrylic Transfers, Painted

The previous post, Ode to My Mother, explains much of the imagery used here, including the hot air balloons from Up, Up and Away, the castle entrance from the Enchanted Forest amusement park, and the central ballerina inspired by Degas’ sculpture, Little Dancer, which Mom took me to see many times in the Baltimore Museum of Art.  I added some turtles because my mother collected them, and often wore pins and jewelry with turtle motifs. The hyacinths are a reference to the garden from my childhood home, where my mother planted Spring bulbs. The fragrance of hyacinths always reminds me of her.  I also shifted the color palette to more Spring-like hues, inspired as much by the subject matter as the changing season here in Virginia.  Here is the final piece, and a close up of the central motifs.

Treasure Box, acrylic collage on panel, 12 x 12

Detail, Treasure Box, acrylic collage on panel, 12 x 12

Ode to My Mother

Me with Mom in the late 70′s

My mother’s birthday is coming up on March 4th. She has been gone for 20 years.  I was a college student and she was only 50 when cancer took her from us. After her death, it was easier for me to worry about my Dad and my sister than to face my own grief. I spent years denying my anger and sadness over this loss, feeling alternately foolish and brave. It took years of slowly rolling back the curtain on myself to feel those feelings and realize they would not break me.  My mom would not let that happen. The one thing that saved me was the knowledge that my mother would want me to find peace and happiness again, however impossible that seemed in her absence. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I was finally able to approach understanding how much she loved me, and how much I loved her. Eventually I learned how to feel that love again when I remember my Mom, and allow it to lead the way past the sadness.

As a ballerina and beauty queen in her youth, she was a hard act to follow.  My Grandmother relished pulling out the scrapbooks and recounting her achievements: Homecoming Queen, Harvest Bowl Princess, May Queen, Miss Roanoke College, and Sweetheart of Sigma Chi… My Mom was always quick to modestly remark that her popularity was simply a result of her having many friends, in many different groups, and her belief in the importance of being nice to everyone and taking an interest in all kinds of people. (Sub title: Not just the beautiful and popular ones.) My mother was a very humble, kind and sincere person, and it was these qualities that I aspired to more than the superficial standards I could never live up to.  A beautiful and joyful woman, my mother was known for her distinctive laugh that could be heard ringing through our home at any moment.  While I did not wind up with the Grace Kelly looks, I did inherit that laugh, whether genetic or learned, and it is one way I can remember her every day.

May Queen of 1962, Roanoke College

My Mom had a way of showing a complete and total interest in me as a developing person. Having worked as an elementary school teacher before I was born, she had a natural way with children and an ability to inspire learning. There was that indescribable motherly love that seemed to emanate from her effortlessly, but there was also a conscious mission to her mothering. She was devoted to showing me a wide variety of delightful things in the world, and then was right there to share and listen to my every response. We reflected back each other’s joy and enthusiasm, like two shiny mirrors, laughing the same laugh.

Mom with Baby Me, Easter 1972

As a very small child, I remember her taking my sister and I to the Enchanted Forest, a storybook and nursery rhyme themed amusement park where you could climb into a whale’s mouth, visit the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, or ride in a pumpkin to Cinderella’s Castle. She loved reading to me, so it was especially fun to visit the Enchanted Forest where those same stories and poems would come to life. Sometimes she liked to surprise us with a mystery outing. We wouldn’t know where we were going until we got there. I soon learned to anticipate a trip to the movie theater if she brought along my cardigan on a warm day.  She didn’t want me to get chilly in the theater while watching Bambi or Fantasia, and I can still feel her leaning in to pull the sweater around me and button the top button.

Me at my sister’s birthday party

She cared for me with so many of those loving details, whether it was a special event or a regular day. For our birthdays, my sister and I would always get a homespun outdoor celebration.  Mom would set the patio picnic table with a red and blue checkered tablecloth and a homemade birthday cake. We would invite our friends and gather around in our party dresses for games and scavenger hunts in the shade of the poplar trees, surrounded by blooming azaleas and rhododendrons.  Home cooked family dinners each night were a part of our normal routine. From upstairs I could smell the pork chops browning in the pan, served with my favorite applesauce on the side. Mom always made a salad in a wooden bowl to accompany our meal, and placed the thinly sliced radishes that my father liked so much on a separate small plate so I wouldn’t have to pick them out.  She knew how to make everyone happy.

Mom with Me and Sis, Hawaii 1979

She took me regularly to the Baltimore Museum of Art where we marveled together at Degas’ dancers, the Impressionist paintings bursting with color, and Rodin’s larger than life sculpture, The Thinker.  We drove downtown to the Walter’s Art Gallery and explored the hushed rooms of medieval tapestries and suits of armor. At the Cylburn Arboretum we wandered the gardens and studied the pressed leaves and startling stuffed squirrels in the Nature Museum. As I grew up and began focusing on my own interests, she would encourage me in every way she knew how. Anything I was interested in, she would learn about and be interested in too.  She sent me to the best places for art lessons, violin lessons, music camp, field hockey and lacrosse camps…she never pushed me to do too much, just supported me in however much I wanted to take on. When I came home with straight A’s every semester throughout high school, she told me it would be OK if I got a B sometimes.  It was an amazing balancing act as a mother– to cheer me on as fast and as far as I could go, while at the same time letting me know it was OK to stop and rest, keeping me secure in the fact that I would always be loved for who I was and not what I achieved.

Mom as I remember her.

As a moody teenager, I remember the solid background of her support that I knew was always there behind my emotional zigzags.  In high school, I told her I wanted to be an artist… an unconventional choice for someone in our family.  I remember trying to explain to her that this was more than a hobby to me, that it was my life’s work, what I needed to do, what I had to do. She took in my words with so much love and patience, seeing through my teen angst into the core of my fragile young being. She did not dismiss my melodramatic rant, or hope it was a passing phase. Mom just listened, and incredibly, she believed me and understood.

When I was small, I used to love it when she would put on her Andy Williams record, and we would listen to Up, Up and Away. We would take the kitchen stools, turn them upside down, climb inside them, and pretend we were in hot air balloon baskets, flying up, up and away. I can still hear the lyrics of the song in my head:

If you’ll hold my hand we’ll chase your dream across the sky
For we can fly, we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

Mom, I’m still chasing my dreams across the sky. Thank you for showing me the way.

Remembering being a child with Mom

Week 8: Winters Past and Present

While this project began with the intention of embracing the present moment, I have found that confronting the here and now often pulls me back into the past. Understanding who I am today has a lot to do with where I came from, how I got here, and what I learned and came to value along the way.  Watching my son rejoice in the snow brought back so many memories of my own childhood: the big slope in the front yard, my old wooden sled, and building a snowman in the shape of Winnie the Pooh with my father.  For this week’s collage, I created a montage of two places– the home I live in now, and the childhood home of my past, coexisting in the same space as they often do in my consciousness. Here is the collection of small drawings I began to work with:

I take extreme delight in recalling the specific details of my childhood: the snow sliding down the slate shingles of the cottage roof, the soaring poplar trees in the yard, the feel of the wooden sled and the crisp sound of the runners in the snow.  It was a time in my life when everything made sense, there was no uncertainty, and all I knew was wholeness and love. There is a slippery slope to this reverie, and the fear of falling down the rabbit hole of nostalgia with all its mixed emotions… clinging too hard, wanting so desperately to remember something that was once perfect, then prying loose the fingers to let go. If there could possibly be a disadvantage to having an idyllic childhood, it would be the difficulty of growing up and letting it go.  One of my biggest challenges as an adult has been learning to balance that yearning for security and safety with the rewards of facing uncertainty and mustering the courage to take risks. Here is the finished piece:

Winters Past and Present, 12 x 12, acrylic collage

I love drawing with fine tip ink pens, the way this medium allows me to dig into every corner of a memory, or explore the finest details of a subject observed. At the same time, I love painting loosely with thick paint and sticky gel mediums, smoothing and scraping the snow down the hill, or layering the light into the trees. Acrylic collage allows me to combine these two modes of working.  I enjoyed juxtaposing my old wooden sled with my son’s contemporary snowboard. Two parallel universes?  I hope my son will one day look back on his own childhood with the same fondness I have for mine, while at the same time having the strength and courage to say goodbye, and live fully and joyfully in the present.

Detail, Winters Past and Present

Snow Day

We woke up Monday morning to a wonderland of snow.  The sun was sparkling and the trees were frosted in white. My son rolled out of bed at 8 AM, pulled on his snow pants and ran out the door to play.  I clicked on Holly’s leash, grabbed the camera and soon followed him.  There was no giddy anticipation of school closing because of the snow since there was already a scheduled holiday for President’s Day. Nonetheless, the thrill remained. I still had to go to work, but I work from home, and there was time for a short walk. It was the perfect snow: the roads were mostly clear but there was just enough for sledding, snowballs, snowmen, and some winter cheer.

The quiet stillness of the morning soon gave way to the sounds of neighborhood children romping and hollering in the snow. There was snowboarding, giant snowballs, and an impressive igloo smartly constructed in the deep shade along the side of a house to prevent premature melting. My son Max and his buddies played outside the entire day, with just a few short breaks for lunch and hot chocolate.  While we have experienced some inconvenient blizzards over the years, we usually only get a few light snow days each winter, so it always feels special.  While enjoying the beauty of the snow and the sounds of children playing, I indulged in a few fond memories of winters past:

Max's First Snow Man, 2006, Age 2

Me and My Snow Bear, 1978, Age 6

Winters Past and Present, ink on paper, 2012

Week 4: Collage for My Father

My studio table and the collage in process.

Time folds back on itself. This collage celebrates the memories of my Dad when I was a child, while honoring him now as a father and grandfather in the present.  I have explored the symbol of my old treehouse in previous works, and brought it back here.  My Dad built this treehouse for me at our weekend home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  It was here that we spent many hours together on the Choptank River- fishing, crabbing, and watching the birds. The treehouse was a place of reverie, a place I would go by myself.  I enjoyed being alone, but never felt lonely.  I filled the branches of the tree with a tossed assortment of the things my father and I loved and shared: fresh figs, a ripe peach, sliced tomatoes, fishing, boating, blue crabs, waterfowl, lacrosse, physics, art, and piles of books.

 

It was great fun to work on this collage while my Dad was here visiting.  It is too easy to forget to let the ones we love know how much we appreciate them.  I wanted to pour a lifetime of love and gratitude for my father into this 12 ” x 12″ panel, and then share it with him in person.  While I was intent on getting enough studio time this weekend to finish the project, I reminded myself to balance that impulse with just spending time with Dad in the present.  That is the whole point after all– each of those special memories happened in the present moment, and more are constantly unfolding if we can only pay attention.  We spent an afternoon together downtown, had lunch at Orzo and went to see my show at Chroma Projects.  We went to my son’s basketball game, and sat outside on an unseasonably warm afternoon to watch him throw the football with his Dad, cheering him on with each spectacular catch. We cooked some great meals and had long conversations around the table.  I feel so connected to my Dad, and feel peace in the thought that there are no things left unsaid.