I have been making baskets for about five years, and I still think of myself as a beginner. It’s not that I haven’t made some nice baskets or that I lack the basic skills. I take a lot of basket making workshops, and for the most part, I am pleased with the results (with a few disastrous exceptions). It’s just that I lack confidence as a basket maker. Each time I start a new basket, I feel challenged. I wonder if I can really do it, let alone do it well. This is part of my basic nature in starting new things. I’m always wanting to try new things, but then all my insecurities and fears keep cropping up.
And then there is the issue of creativity. I so want to be a creative basket maker, not just a technician. To bring the element of art into it. I keep feeling that I am close to doing something unique, but then it eludes me. It doesn’t come out right or it’s just not good enough.
So when I sat down yesterday afternoon to try to figure out a project to teach at the San Juan County Fair this year, I was not feeling very sure of myself. So imagine my surprise when this cute little basket emerged. There is nothing really difficult about it. It is designed to be taught in an hour to someone who has never made a basket before. But I made up the pattern. I decided how many spokes to use, to twine the base and use white fiber rush for it, to add a spoke so that the sides could be a continuous weave, and to make a stripe halfway up the side.
It is a cute little basket. Art it is not. But it feels like my basket. It was a nice moment. And it feels like a step in the right direction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about communication. How precious and precarious it is. How difficult it is to get it right. And how much I have to learn about it. As much as I try, and as much progress I think I’ve made, it can all get weird in just a moment’s time. This has all been working on me and within me, stewing around inside my brain and my heart for the past few days. And I just got a small piece of the puzzle late last night.
I couldn’t sleep because we had an intense thunderstorm with lightening coming in like strobe lights, followed by huge explosions of sound. Very exciting. Very unusual for this small corner of the world. We get rain but not thunderstorms. Another facet of climate change? Sigh. But I digress…
So in the midst of the storm, it came to me that at the core of so much of my communicating is the need to be right. I like to think that it is about the need to be witnessed, to be heard. But when I am very honest with myself (as I try to be), I realize that after all this time and all this self-work, I still just want to be right. And I want everyone around me to think so too. The more I want it, the more tongue-tied and inarticulate I get. The more off-message, the more counter productive. The more someone disagrees with me, or if I have a minority opinion in a group, the more I dig my heels in. I get a little preachy. I keep trying different ways to make them see my point. I advance the art of communication not at all. Sigh. I need to go back to the drawing board. To breathe. To allow. To surrender. All good words for me. I have so very much work to do. This looking at self stuff is so not easy!
I did this drawing as a commission for someone. It represents the Fifth Chakra or the Throat Chakra, home of communication with ourselves and others. It is light at the center, but it gets a bit dark and messy at the edge, with many different layers and a lot going on. The words I thought of for her were easy and discerning. More sighs! More good words for me.
I’ve been reading the June/July issue of Art in America (my only contact with the art world when I am at home on Orcas), and it has provoked me, shaken me up a bit, and confused me about the art I choose to make. The theme of the issue is “Resistance” and it not about my style of resisting, meaning something that I don’t want to do or to look at in my own life. No, it centers on artists who are making strong socio-political statements with their art. Many of the artists live in countries with repressive governments and are making these sometimes very public statements at great personal risk. They are truly heroes, making difficult yet relevant art.
There have always been artists doing this kind of strong, issue-oriented work, and it never bothered me. My art has always been so personal to me, arising from my own inner need to create and exorcise my own demons. I study contemporary art and am passionate about knowing what is current, but have known and felt comfortable with the idea that my own work was not so cutting edge. Challenging in its own way. But not political. More spiritual than anything else in a kind of abstract, contemporary way. Not necessarily classically beautiful, but not unpleasant to look at either.
And I have kept at it for well over forty years which is an achievement in itself. But these are strange and significant times we are living through, and reading about some of this work is stirring something deep within me. Making me feel obsolete and a little guilty, causing me to feel that there is something else I could be doing other than signing endless petitions over the internet and donating a little money to several different environmental and human rights causes over the year.
But what would it be? It’s not that I want to be famous! I need to remember that my form of activism is done on a different scale. As a healer and a Reiki teacher, I can influence one person at a time, helping them to realize their own potential to become calmer and maybe a bit happier. My paintings can introduce people to other worlds, to my inner life, and perhaps to give them a glimpse into their own. My mandala art, with its one-word titles, is designed for meditation and contemplation because that’s what I need as I am making them. The one pictured below is titled Hope.
So I’ll keep reading and learning. My challenge is to care about humanity and the future of the world in my own way. To keep caring and to keep making the art I love to make because it’s how I keep myself sane and healthy. I do know that somehow it makes a difference, even if it’s only to create me as a better person.
Each of these small wooden circles measures only one and a half inches in diameter. Yet in each one, there is a lot going on. Some definitely are more simple than others. They just came together with ease, and felt finished. Others are more worked, and that is because they didn’t flow as well initially. A color may have been wrong. Or my hand slipped as I applied the enamel paint, so that a cover up became essential. Some of those become my favorites because they have more history. Enamel paint is fun to work with because it dries very quickly and is opaque, making layering possible.
Each one has a magnet attached to the back, so they are useful items to have.
I love making them for several reasons. It is fun to work with a water-based paint instead of oil. It is really fun and challenging to work that small. It takes concentration to do them. I need to keep breathing as I work or something inevitably goes wrong. I get a lot of information from doing so many of them at once. It is liberating to think of them as functional. Getting an energetic brushstroke with a tiny little brush is not easy for me. And doing them gives me a lot of information for doing my other paintings. Frees the hand, informs the eye, engages the brain.
I had a great holiday weekend! I didn’t go anywhere at all. Friends came over on Monday, so I cleaned a little and cooked a little and we all had fun. Just stayed home and wandered from the garden to my studio to my computer to the kitchen. Despite the lack of activity in my life, the feeling that it was a holiday was somehow still in the air, and I gave myself a vacation from stress, from haste, and from the need to cross things off my constantly growing list of things to do.
On Sunday, it was especially beautiful out, and I found myself picking up my camera and just walking around the house, down to the studio and back, and all around the house, down to the meadow, and back around again. I took a lot of pictures on that sunny day. For some reason, I wanted to fix that moment in time . It felt important to document the house where I live and the flowers that I nurture.
It was part of my holiday, like going away to an exotic place, and taking a million pictures to capture all those memories and visual treasures. But I didn’t even have to get in my car to have the holiday experience. I just stayed home and started looking at things with a fresh eye. Discovering the brilliance of the azaleas as if I had never seen them before. Watching the bees swarm around the chive blossoms, I felt like I was on a wildlife expedition.
It was too much fun! I picked out a few of my favorites to put here. Normally, I play around with photos trying to make them better, adjusting the light and the color to get what I want (or think I want). But this time, I just left them the way they were. No cropping or changing them in any way. Snapshots. Postcards. From my holiday at home.
I think that I’ll come back to this place again.