Leaving Smallish Footprints

Looking at paintings is like touching an artist’s soul – even if the artist lived 400 years ago. Most of my art is about finding a constructive outlet for anger or depression and not much of a soul to touch, but every once in a while I think, it would be great to create a painting or piece of literature that people are still enjoying in 400 years (even 30 would be awesome).

I think the drive to create legacy lives in most people. It drives a lot of parenting decisions, it creates careers. Some people leave behind buildings or stadiums. Others leave behind Love Canal. Most of us leave something in between. But, as I’ve been tossing out the things in my life that don’t ‘spark joy’ (my diet, my treadmill, my bills), I also think about the things I’m leaving my kids.

In 40 or 50 years Thing1 and Thing2 will still have to do a hefty excavation job (I don’t expect to develop a commitment to cleaning at this stage of my life), but as I try to make sure my unwanted items find new homes somewhere besides the landfill, I’ve started thinking about the things I acquire or keep and about the burdens I’ll leave behind.

Once you go down that road, the first lie you tell ourself is that you won’t ever buy anything brand new (except food or a new pack of underwear every once in a while). If you’re plus-sized like me, that’s not always an option (most second hand shops seem to stock lots of pre-shrunk size 8s), but you can make things last or (for the truly delusional) diet.

Dieting is tough, but the real tough stuff is the things I create.

My art is my outlet. Art, for me, is process and processing.

Art is also a pile of plastic paint tubes. It’s books. It’s covered canvases that may be recycled or hang on a wall or someday end up in the miscellaneous pile at a thrift store with the rest of the aging ‘masterpieces’ that served as someone else’s outlet. It’s something I’ve been considering more carefully as I think about the world I want to leave my kids.

Thing2 is a natural packrat and a sentimentalist to boot, so I know some of my unwanted art will end up on his walls someday, but I do worry about the plastic tubes and the chemicals. I think about the resources used to produce a book that will end up in the library tag sale room and wonder if my creating is taking something more important from Thing1 and Thing2’s futures.

Ultimately, I think it will come down, not to not creating, but rather being mindful about creation. And, mindfulness is what art is really all about.

Everything to be Thankful For – Giveaway

Acrylic on canvas panel, 9×12”

I’ve done clothes. I’ve made a dent in the pile of books so that I can put everything away.

Now I’m getting to papers. On her show, Marie Kondo makes it look very easy to get rid of papers, and for the most part I find that to be the case. I have financial records going back 17 years that could definitely be scanned and burned. But I also have stacks of sketchbooks and drawing pads chock full of drawings sketches and even little paintings.

A lot of them are pretty bad, but I love them all. They are proof that I have at least given my creative life a fair chance. But in my 10 x 10 office, there is only so much room, and right now that space belongs to the future. It belongs to the paintings that are waiting to be made and the books that are waiting to be written and illustrated.

About two months ago, I started scanning in the drawings, thinking I would make an e-book to sell on Amazon. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them once the scans were done, but now I think I know.

Thing2 has claimed dibs on anything I plan to discard (he hasn’t let the Big Guy know he’s second in line). But instead of burning doodles I don’t want, I’m going to start offering them here for a regular giveaway. I figure it’s a fun way to thank the drawings (and readers who like them) before sending them on their way and starting a new stack.


Tonight is the first giveaway. This is a painting I did at paint and sip in acrylic. if you like it, share the link and leave a comment. I will choose a winner at random from the comments on Wednesday January 16th and mail it out to you.

A(nother) Year of Living Gratefully

Wintry Road, 8”x10”,oil on canvas

New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken, so the only ones I make tend to be diet related (something I excel at breaking). The end of 2018, however, marks what we hope is a new beginning for Thing1 as he charts his course for recovery, and I’m trying to use the lessons of the last year to make it a new beginning for me as well.

Yesterday marked a blissfully boring beginning of the year for me as well. It was my day off. My one obligation was to get to the grocery store and then do some illustrating.

We got a halfway decent snowfall yesterday. It warmed up in the afternoon, causing most of the trees to lose that confectionery look, but it was still a lovely day for errands. The clouds were churning, and as I passed the church yard in Shaftsbury, Vermont, they raced far enough east to let a little sun shine through over the Green Mountains and the valley.

I’m always mindful of the weather and the living landscape. It inspires me and informs my art, but yesterday, before inspiration took over, I felt something else. I felt grateful, not just to live where we do, but for that one moment of sun on snow. As I got to the supermarket parking lot in Bennington, I realized a good practice for the new year might be to start living every day looking for those moments of gratitude.

Last week my parents visited so we could celebrate a late Christmas. We took a day to visit the Clark institute in Williamstown, Mass which is featuring an exhibit of works by William Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner. I’m a huge fan of both painters, even though the two rivals produced very different interpretations of the landscape at the same time in history. Turner is passion, informed by travel and poverty, shaped at least a little by mental illness. Constable is observation and studied precision.

I once felt that Constable’s precision reflected an intellectual detachment from the landscape, that his work lacked passion. Seeing his paintings up close again and reading more about his life and work, however, I realized that what I was seeing was a love for the landscapes that had given him joy. I realized I was seeing the work of someone who was grateful for every part of his life.

It can be hard to be grateful when all hell is breaking loose around you. But when you think your child might die, when you see someone you love in pain, when work is stressful, or when you’re doing something as ordinary as getting a car unstuck from a snow bank, focusing on the things you appreciate in your life can also be therapeutic. I know I am more determined to see those things during the crises.

But, one of the lessons of 2018 that I’m trying to take into the new year is to not save gratitude for the hard moments. As I was sitting in the car, thinking about the burst of sun that had washed over a landscape that I have learned to love, I wondered if choosing to live gratefully every single day, even if it just means recognizing the smallest of moments once a day, might yield more lessons in 2019.

OK, I Get It

So far this is been a pretty good exercise. Sure there is a leaning Tower of clothing on my side of the bed, and the Big Guy could be suffocated if he tries to go to sleep too early. But going through this pile of stuff give me a chance to understand what it means to truly feel joy from something you own.

As I’m going through the contents of my closets and drawers, I’m realizing I have a little bit of a handbag problem, more of a footwear problem than I would’ve liked to admit, and a scarf problem.

I have a collection of scarves, but I tend to wear only one or two of them over and over again. my go to winter scarf was rolled up and put back in the drawer as soon as everything was emptied. It doesn’t give me joy, but I work constantly. Then I put another piece from the pile, and I smiled instantly.

It was a piece made from antique handkerchiefs collected and assembled by my friend Maria Wulf. I saw the scarf when I was a guest artist at one of her open houses, and I remember the moment I saw it. They were pinks and greens and blues, and two of the hankies had patterns in which Paris figured prominently.

As I rolled the scarf up and put it back in the shoebox I have now designated for these items, I felt myself smiling the entire time. Suddenly I realize exactly what this process was about. It was about being mindful of the things that surround us. Some people will certainly go through this process and find a lot more items in the collections that bring them back kind of joy. I realize (and I’m not terribly surprised) that a lot of my acquisitions only brought me joy when I was acquiring them.

The donation bags are filling up, and I’m going to try to hold onto that feeling of joy so I can summon some of it when I’m next to tempted to add to the collection of things in our house.

Decluttering

I had already decided to make 2019 the year of finished projects, but I was a little unsure of where to start and how best to prioritize them.

Last night I stumbled onto a new Netflix show, Tidying Up, and, having seen reviews of the host’s books on Amazon, decided to give it a whirl. I knew that the host, Marie Kondo, made her fortune helping people de-clutter. Some of the reviews had panned her strategies as being doctrinaire and extreme, So I hit play with healthy amount of skepticism.

Ten minutes into the show I was hooked. I recognized the people she was helping—parents of children a little younger than ours. they too had started the show as skeptics, but as they begin to think their relationship with their possessions, they begin to see the beauty and the advertised joy of illuminating what doesn’t make your life better.

I listen to the show last night as I struggled to settle on an illustration style for a book I’ve been working on for too long. I played with colored pencils. I played on the iPad drawing tool. And finally I got out what worked for me at the very beginning: a number two pencil and a $10 pan of water colors. It took me an hour to redo the first drawing, and it was the first time I’d been happy with the results for this book. I’m onto the next pages, issuing methods that I “should“ be using in favor of the one that works when I’m illustrating.

Focusing on the method that brings joy worked so well, I may actually have to try it on the house. My days of being able to write about being the world‘s worst housekeeper may be coming to an end.