I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kaleidoscope Eyes

I have to say, the glow from that first outing has kept its charge for some time now.  I find myself drawing on the experience of being out in public with my work and can feel myself changing.  Its a shape shift into something that has always been there.  Maybe it's a melting.  The melting of a persona that was fabricated over years of my life, applied as a mask to survive, please others, do what I was told, be what I thought I should be.  I have several talents and I have pursued most of them.  Success has rewarded some more than others but when I look back to my childhood my earliest impulses were to make things with my hands. 

I never drew very well.  My eyes didn't translate depth to the flat surface and though my hands were quite capable under well guided circumstances I just didn't draw well.  I longed to be able to sit under a tree with a sketch pad and good lead pencil and just sketch for hours.  I dreamed of what it would be like (still do) to see something in my minds eye and be able to translate that onto a sheet of paper.  But in reality, me, not so much.  And because of that I got it into my head that I wasn't and could never be an artist.  No drawing, no art school.  Never mind that I would spend hours in the art room of my hippie high school in Seattle working with clay, throwing pots on the manual kick wheel with its huge concrete wheel that looked like something out of a grist mill.  Just because I loved helping Don, the art teacher, set the hay on fire to do some Raiku clay firings didn't mean that I could make making things a way of life for myself.  My sense of color was just an additional asset when it came time to decorate my house when I grew up or helped me be a "good dresser".  No, it didn't matter that I loved having dirty hands and swooned over the smell of wet clay or loved the transformation of wax into metal or that even if I couldn't produce a realistic drawing, the sight of a blank sheet of paper gave me butterflies.  Blank, white paper.  Total possibility.  No holds barred.  Freedom.

Instead, I graduated from high school and took off for New York to dance.  I was better than most but I certainly had my limitations.  I lived in that skin for many, many years.  Eked out a living and always felt like a bit of an impostor.  I lived the life in full passion but at the end of the day I never felt like I was in my own club.

Through the years I have always had these spells (as my grandma Matie used to describe them) where I was overcome with the primal need to make something.  I would see a piece of embroidery and would have to run right out and buy a hoop, needles, thread and cloth to make something.  It never really mattered if "it" became something.  It was the doing.  I had to do something with my hands.  Sometimes it was as simple as painting something.  My BFF can tell you that when we shared an apartment in NYC all she had to do was mention changing a paint color and I was out the door to buy paint.  Christmas would come and I would get the urge to crochet and scarves and afghans and hats would abound.  I remember one year, in my deeply New Age period,  my BFF had started knitting and she had some beautiful yarn scraps.  I made little drawstring pouches from the yarn and put bits of sage, crystals, totems and a little scroll describing what each item meant and why I chose those particular things for each loved one.  I crocheted and beaded elaborate bags for tarot cards and rune stones but at some point the limitation of my skills and materials would burn out and my hands would once again be left idol and bored.

By the time my son was born I had reached the end of the line with my limited skills and all I ever got from my little forays into stitchery and house and furniture painting was a feeling of letdown.  It just didn't scratch my itch.  My hands were busy for a while but my heart was left empty.  I wasn't getting anything out of it anymore.  It all looked crappy and crafty and I wanted my hands to have something to take real pride in.

This is where the broken pieces mosaics come in.  I needed a new skill and this one seemed to be one I could teach myself.  It was also a technique that required multiple skills and materials and gave me a sense of multitasking.  I felt like I was doing alot.  The many steps gave me a deep feeling of accomplishment and the extended period of time it took to finish a project satisfied my need to work for something.  And there was room to grow.  Little things like knowing that earthenware tends to crumble a bit when you nip it but china cuts crisply.  Vintage Fire King splinters like the tempered glass that it is and those splinters usually end up in your fingertips (note to self to avoid).  Dishes that have started to discolor and turn brown and crackle are going to break with a dull snap unlike new plates from the damaged shelf at TJMaxx which snap with a bit of a ring.  I have grown to love the experience of being able to look at something, tap it, run my finger on it and know exactly how it is going to behave in my hands.  I recognize the clays and glazes and though I can't tell you the elemental composition of any of it, I know its ways. 

Glues and adhesives are the soap and water of my work.  At any given time I have anywhere from 5 to 10 different compounds to stick one thing to another in my studio.  Silicone, construction adhesive, tile mastic, craft glue, goop, E-3000, epoxy -  all do something different from the other.  I read about glues.  I have charts about what makes one thing stick to another.  Glass to clay.  China to wood.  Leather to metal.  Fabric to  fabric.  China to china.  These things are ridiculously important to me.  Grout!  OMG!  A science and an art.  Sanded or not sanded?  I almost never use unsanded anymore because it has less integrity but sometimes the sanded can scratch delicate china so every once in while I have to go no sand.  But that presents additional challenges because if I don't get the right water to concrete ratio, it tends to crack as it dries and it requires constant tending through the drying process.  Often I have to make a slip (runny grout) to fill the cracks and insure the piece is sound.

Color.  Choosing the grout color is, for me, the most challenging part of mosaics.  What will make the work pop.  Do I want it to pop or do I just want the empty spaces to show?  And there's many ways to color grout.  You can buy it premade and I have this nifty sample case with wands of color that I can hold up to a piece, like a color chip and choose a prefab color.  Sometimes those colors aren't quite right so I have to go the custom route.  I can buy concrete tints which are usually  powders and sometimes liquids but they tend to be earthy tones that you would use on a patio or floor.  I use acrylic craft paint sometimes and I can use that two ways - mix the paint into the grout or grout in white and then apply the paint to the whole piece and wipe it clean.  The grout drinks up the paint and wipes off the ceramic.  It creates two completely different looking finishes.

Okay, I'm boring you now.  I'll stop.  Here's my point.  Opening the door to a new skill changed my life.  Taking the leap to learn  how to do something new is a door opener of unforeseen proportions.  That new skill may seem basic and simple at first but it leads  you into a world of seeing things used differently.  Looking beyond the obvious and teaching your eyes, your mind to see and understand in a new context.  It's like looking through a kaleidoscope.  Initially the image is one thing but as you learn to turn the lens you can see the same elements in a million different ways.   You have new eyes and therefore new things to do.  You can change.  You can change what you see, what you do, how you do it, why you do it and how you feel when you are doing it.  You can remind yourself that everything holds new possibilities.  Nothing is static.  Not the things  you use everyday, not the vehicle you take to work everyday, not your home, not your body, not your kids or your friends or you pets, not your Self.   Everything is in constant motion and to live with the illusion that things stay the same, to assume oneself into "this is how I do things" is life numbing.

Learning something new is the most restorative tonic I know.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Coming Out

I bought a tent.  I followed the newspaper sale flyer to Sports Authority and I bought a forest green, 10'x10', true 100 sq/foot area tent, complete with a carrying case on wheels.  It weighs about 20 lbs, is about 4 feet long all packed up and I can pull it behind me more easily than a cheap suitcase thru the airport.  I was also saved the time of ripping off my compadre's cleaver weight system when I spotted 4 weighted feet for less than 100 bucks.  (They look like 5lb barbell weights with notches cut out of them to fit around the legs of the tent)  WooHoo!  $240.00 and I felt like I was half-way to nailing my goal of a craft fair.  A tall, strapping girl who didn't want any of the male employees to think she was a sissy, helped me out to the car and loaded me up (she reminded me of myself).  We shook hands and off I went.  I was becoming an artist out of cyberspace.  The alien had landed.

I got home, propped the boxes up against the garage wall and went into the house.  I immediately went to the laptop and clicked into the application for the Nyack Street Fair in October and typically found the pebble in the road that I would allow myself to trip over for a couple of weeks.  They want pictures of my setup and my tent isn't even out of the box yet.  Shit.

Alright, keep it moving, keep it flowing.  One step at a time.  Break it down.  The main table.  I need to design the main table and take a trial run at the setup and display design.  I had the little tole suitcases I had picked up at my local pharmacy/gift shop for an ultimate markdown price.  I had the large metal daisies designed to hold photos in its cute little curlicue tendrils but I was going to hang jewelry on instead.  I had my beloved Nell, the mannequin I had bought online that looked like a French coquette to model a few key items for me.  And I had loads of table cloths and vintage fabrics to drape for luxury.  I looked around the house for a place to set up the table and begin working.  The kitchen?  Nope.  Between the cooking and eating thing, there were the plants and the dogs and all of my son's cords and papers and Cd's and other garbage that he annoyingly just drops on the kitchen table when he comes in. It didn't feel like the path of least resistance.  Where would all that clutter end up if I take over this space?  Okay.  The Living Room?  No, not the "pretty room"  My studio?  I can't cram one more activity or storage area in that already exploding space.  The garage?  I could park one of the cars on the driveway for a few days.  No, that car would be up and down the driveway so that my son and his bros could play basketball every 10 minutes.  The dining room.  Move that buffet out of the bay window and cram it into a corner of the living room and I'll have a place to work.  Done.

I get the table set up, start bringing things up from the studio and in a day or so I had a table that I could live with.  (Bear in mind, I tend toward neurotic perfectionism so "I can live with it" is a good thing).  The next step was to set up the tent in the driveway and replicate what my tent would look like in a show presentation.  My husband assured me we would make time over the weekend for me to set up and take all the pictures I needed.  A couple of the fairs were not accepting jewelry so I also needed to take some shots with furniture and mosaics only.  Good enough.

Like many places in the world right now, we have been having some freakishly uncomfortable weather here in the beautiful state of New York so I began to track the weather reports for the upcoming weekend.  As we got closer it became clear that Saturday and Sunday were going to bring oppressive humidity, unbreathable air and temperatures hot enough to bake the peach pie on the deck that I was going to make with the farmer's market fruit I had just purchased.  That will be fun.  Dragging all that stuff out to the driveway, dripping sweat and trying not to get into a fight with my husband about how he doesn't know how to zhuzh a tablecloth.  Yep.  That's what I call ideal conditions .  I took solice in the fact that we were not living in the upper parts of Siberia where people who are accustomed to temperatures of -90 degrees are freaking out over the 90 plus temperatures that are causing their potato fields to spontaneously combust!  (Don't anyone panic.  There is no climate change or global warming going on.)

Lucky for us it rained all weekend but I still had no pictures and the clock was ticking on those applications.  Around Wednesday I got a call from the Events Producer for our Suffern Farmers Market asking me if I knew any artists that worked with recycled materials as she was trying to put a last minute event together featuring local artist/recyclers.  My mind raced.  Dare I tell her?  Can I do it?  Am I setting myself up for a disaster.  A nervous breakdown?  Is this another one of my self-sabotage moves to beat the crap out of my confidence by not doing well?  "Well, as a matter of fact, that is exactly what I do", I heard myself say to Alex.  "Really!?  Would you be willing to do it?  I know it's short notice but you'd really be doing me a favor."  "Sure", I said as my stomach tightened and I felt a twinge of migraine grabbing my left temple.  "Yeah, I'll do it".  "Great!  See you at 7:30 on Saturday".  "Okay.  7:30." 

I don't even need to comment on the 7:30 thing.  But I had just said yes to stepping over the line from the private vacuum of cyberspace to the bright, people populated realm of an open market.  This moment felt exactly like the moment I had had last summer as I hit that button on the Etsy site that launched my NellsBells Etsy and put my work on public view.  Now, I was crossing the threshold from how many hits Google calculated I got on any given day to actual face-to-face responses to the "Flights of Fancy" I toil over day in and day out.  I was going to know, for certain, by looking at people, how they really felt about the work that I hold so dear to my heart.  Holy shit.  It was a worse feeling than the first day of school.

Being the engineer's daughter that I am, I packed my stuff in a very organized and calculating manner including how it was placed in the back of the car so that the tent, then the table, then the the cloths came out first so that the set up was done in order of need.  I raced around putting together last minute necessities like signage, order forms and a change bank.  I went to bed that night ready to get up, get dressed and pull out of the driveway.  May I tell you, it was a fitful sleep at best.

When I woke up that morning and opened the back door to let the dogs out I almost dropped to my knees and wept - in gratitude.  It was a crisp, breezy morning with one of those cornflower blue skies that only New York has.  It was about 70 degrees with a cooling breeze that was strong enough to ruffle your skirt but not powerful to blow your tent over.  By golly, it was a perfect day!  Woohoo for me!  I am actually going to enjoy being outside today!

At 7:25am (we live about 2 miles from this market - another plus for a training wheel venture) my husband and I pulled out of the driveway, arrived at the site, parked the car and I was set up and in my soccer-mom chair enjoying a home brewed cup of french press coffee in about 20 minutes.  Honest to god, it was one of the most serene moments of my life.  I felt like I had crossed the Mojave desert and was now lounging by a fresh water stream feeling satisfied at my survival.

The people began to arrive.  Mind you, they were there to buy food for the week, not a necklace or a house number.  Yet as people passed they would smile at my little NellsBelles universe.  Many of them stopped in to browse and  they enjoyed the stories I told them of the genesis of the vintage jewelery components of my work and asked me to tell them the stories of the pieces they liked.  Some even recognized the folk art roots of some of my less understood pieces and loved that I was crafting in that tradition (Memento Morie, a Victorian practice of creating death art which includes hair jewelry, death portraits and Victorian Memory Jars which I create.)  The young 20somethings were drawn to the more fun pieces like the Betty Boop bracelet and the Eyes on the Top of Her Head headbands, just as I had anticipated.  The middle aged funksters loved the vintage compositions on the biker chains.  Men liked the daintier vintage pieces and a couple of them bought something for their wives for a "just because" gift.  (Yes, you heard me.  I actually made some sales!)  I got orders for a couple of house numbers, one for a woman who was returning to her home in the Bahamas the next day and was looking for a number for the post at her front gate.

 All in all, I was a chatting, charming fool and for anyone that really knows me, that is no mean feat.  I felt comfortable and in my element.  It was never stressful, I never felt anxious (not even when one of my daisy displays blew over and sent about 5 necklaces skidding across the pavement).  I felt at home.  I felt like myself.  My real self.  It was quite simply, a joyful experience.