The Experiment

Several months ago I moved some of my basket-making material down to my studio.   It was kind of an experiment to see if I would work more on the baskets in the privacy and quiet of the room that had been just for painting.  For a while, it all just sat there in a kind of disorganized heap, and it looked like the experiment was going to be a failure.

Then not too long ago, I started looking over what I had brought down.  I took some time to sort through the material, and then I started playing with it.  And I have to say that it is feeling really good to be working on baskets right there in my studio.   Different somehow than working in the house where I am always distracted with this and that, or sitting down to weave while I watch a movie or talk with friends.  Different even than gathering with our basket group once a month.  Very different than taking a class.

Because in the studio, I am both the student and the teacher.  I think about everything that I’m doing and allow myself the time to do it right.  I am not thinking about finishing the basket anymore than I am thinking about finishing a painting.  It is all about the process, and so much less about the product.  Although ultimately, with both painting and basket making, a product would be nice at some point along the way.

So now in addition to the six unfinished paintings on paper that are tacked on the wall, there are six unfinished baskets.  It all makes me happy in ways that I can’t quite explain.  Holding the baskets, molding their shapes, and working with them so closely.  They become such a part of me.  Then turning to paint, holding the brush, feeling connected to the surface it touches.  Listening to what they are all trying to teach me.

Right at Home

Last weekend I took yet another workshop and learned yet another new thing that I am excited about making.  This time, I went off to San Juan Island and spent a beautiful day outdoors making concrete leaves.  It is a really fun process and wonderfully tactile, even though rubber gloves are essential.  It starts with making a mound of sand, then laying the leaf on top of that.  The really fun part is mixing the concrete and then laying it on the leaf.  It is earthy and sensual to feel the cool, mushy concrete as it gets molded onto the leaf, moving it and shaping it to the desired thickness with the right contour.

There is a lot of potential for these leaves.  They are fun to make and fun to paint.  And I could see getting really wild with colors and shapes that have nothing to do with the natural world.  A purple leaf with yellow dots for instance.  We’ll see.

I keep learning new things that I want to do, and then feeling panic when I don’t have enough time to do them.  Or to do them justice.  Or to do them at all.  Somewhere along the line, it has to stop.  Yes?

For now, this leaf looks right at home in my garden.  At home in my garden, outside my house where my cats and lover live, near my studio where I want to be.  When I’m not off taking more workshops, that is.  Oh you mean like the wonderful mini wire basket that I’m going to learn this weekend?

But after this, I swear I’m staying home!

something new

chakras

A good friend of mine asked me to create a set of chakra paintings for her office. It is always wonderful for me to be challenged in this way, so I eagerly said yes to her. Feeling into each chakra (or energy center) in this new way really allowed me to look at myself in a new way, too. To present each one in a glowing, healthy way, I had to align with my own first and visualize one after the other feeling strong and whole. And then I had to figure out what that would look like for each one. The seven paintings on paper are a combination of oil paint, watercolor, oil bars, pastel, pencil, and charcoal.

What a great opportunity to play and paint!

 

What’s Not to Love?

I spent three days with this fabulous group of women over last weekend, weaving this fabulous Tahitian Market Basket out of a beautiful material called Lauhala.  We all came to Shaw Island, and not only did we weave together during the day, we all stayed over at the guest house of one of the women (the only one not in this picture).  So we cooked together, ate together, drank together, worked on the basket well into the night, and got up early to do it all again.

None of us finished the basket completely, so it will be interesting to see how they look once they are embellished with various trims, shells, etc.  But each one already has its own personality, and that will only develop more in the last stages of completing them.  Out teacher, Lei McCornack, is in the middle of the back row.  I have my arm around her in gratitude, love and admiration.  We are a strong and close-knit group of women, and Lei did a wonderful job of jumping in and teaching us this very challenging basket, in her laid back, very Tahitian way.

Challenging?  Make that very challenging.  Many steps along the way.  It’s a double-walled basket which means that you weave an inside and then start all over again to weave the bias-plaited  exterior.  And there is sewing involved.  And trim to be made by hand.  All using this sensual and amazing Lauhala to weave with.  You see it at its thickest on the exterior of the basket, but it can be stripped down to it’s thinnest and will fit through the eye of a needle to sew with.

As the work progressed, we all had our individual moments of challenge.  I hit my own wall at about 3 pm on Friday afternoon while working on the bias-plaiting.  I got incredibly frustrated, and cranky.  I wanted to just rip the basket apart and throw it away.  I wanted to scream.  I hated everybody in the room, and of course, I looked around and saw only perfection in their baskets, while mine was a pice of shit!  I told my dear friend, “Don’t talk to me!”  It was not pretty!  Not pretty at all.  But I went off and sat by myself.  I drank a lot of water, and started to breathe.  I looked at the basket with acceptance, and began to pull and tighten, and pull and tighten again.  Yes, there are some weak areas.  But I began to love the basket in spite of them and maybe even because of them.

And I got to have a quiet little melt down in the midst of one of loveliest, most supportive group of women you’ll ever hope to find.  I got to be real and vulnerable, and that alone was worth it all.  We all got to deepen our friendships with each other, and we all accomplished a Herculean task in making this incredible basket.

Seeing in a New Way

Last week, I took my annual trip to Chicago, the city where I grew up and where my mother lived until her death over three years ago. While she was alive, I went there more and more frequently. But now I content myself with an annual pilgrimage to see family and friends, and to revisit my roots.  My continued visits to the city are somehow really important to me.  Yet another circular experience in my life.

How many thousands of times have I walked on Michigan Avenue where this photograph was taken! But not so often with camera in hand, feeling part tourist, part long-time resident. Waiting to be surprised by the city I still know so well.

So as I looked through the lens, I was really pleased to capture these three iconic Chicago landmark buildings in one shot.  In the foreground is a part of the original Water Tower, which is one of the only buildings to have survived the devastating Chicago Fire of 1871.  In the middle is just a small slice of the “new” Water Tower, a six story shopping center which has become a destination in itself.  How perfect that the words were the only things framed by this view. And in the background stands the distinctive Hancock Building, once the tallest building in the world, now not even the tallest building in Chicago.  The tiny shape of the tall building in the upper right corner is the Ritz Carleton Hotel, one of Oprah’s many homes.

I was truly delighted to see all this at once.  It made the proximity of all these buildings very real to me, and their juxtapositions brought thoughts about architecture, urban planning, and the symbolism attendant on the giants of commerce they house.  I gained new insight about the process of seeing and about the so-called happy accidents of photography.