Welcome to MissouriBendStudio!

This is an online journal of my artistic investigations and a way to communicate about my work, ideas, quandries and queries! I welcome comments and conversation and do hope you enjoy these musings. My artwork is available in my shop MissouriBendStudio on Etsy.com or on my website.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Notes From the Field

I'm planning to do a weekly post on Wednesdays that will go by the title Notes From the Field....or, perhaps Field Notes. It occurs to me that this is a way to share insights, questions and my latest pondering related to all things art....or life, as really they are one and the same!

Today, strangely, I seem to be full of energy and though I am not quite sure why, I am pleased to welcome such a forward momentum. Spent the morning in the studio....reordering and straightening, painting white acrylic on sheets of handmade paper in preparation for a new month (and new format) of daily drawings and drawing meditative lines in white ink on a couple drawings in progress, among other tasks. Always, the undercurrent is a steady observation...of myself engaged in the activity, the thoughts that run through, the connections made and the fluctuation in temperament depending on the flow. It is kind of interesting to be simultaneously the observer and the observed.

My field notes today focus on a kind of inner resolution to an ongoing open-ended question that, as artists, we all probably wrestle with. That question is...who is your audience? I've always kind of recoiled from that question, but as one who is trying to engage in the marketplace and sell my work to lovers of art, I'm supposed to ask that question. My husband is a faculty member of printmaking in a university art department comprised of undergraduate and graduate students and this question is asked of the students all the time, as they learn to find their own voice as artists. Sometimes, I think it holds them back.

My answer to this question, "who is your audience?" is me. I've thought this all along, but I think I felt that it was the wrong answer to that test question and so maybe I never allowed myself to say it. But I think that if you are a fine artist, making one-of-a-kind works of art that explore the landscape of ideas, the meaning of making or living in the world already saturated with images....I think the answer has to be you are the first audience. I say this because if it is otherwise, you may not reach a level of authenticity that is yours alone....you may not be making the work that only you can make. Of course, in the end I am more than gratified when others respond to my work or even fall in love with it enough to want to live with a piece. But I must be the one to first love the work. The work and the making of it must satisfy the yearning, the longing to express, if only for a moment. And this lifelong journey, which I suppose sounds as if it borders on narcissism, is really a generous gift to the world.

And now, I must extend a heartfelt thank you to a much admired artist and fellow blogger, Kaija, whose recent post I read this morning on her blog, Paperiaarre. I'm quite sure that her words, describing the fact that she likes (and sometimes falls in love) with her own work or she wouldn't be making it, allowed me to fully inhabit my view that we must like and even love our own work and not be ashamed to admit it. We are the first audience. I know that for me, I must make the work that I make and I always go off course when trying to meet some unknown audience approval. Whether or not they respond to my work, people respond to authenticity and we all will appreciate different works. And the other thing is.....it's a big, wide world with enough room for everyone, so while we can share techniques and learn from each other, we are freely encouraged to be ourselves in the process of creation!


And now a bit of sharing some work from long ago! This is a piece I made about 10 years ago, shortly after moving to South Dakota from Florida. I was in the process of reading a lot about the westward expansion and the displacement of the Native Americans, as I found myself on the land that was at the heart of that period of our nation's history. It was also a time when I discovered that my ancestors on both sides had lived in this part of the country for generations (since the mid 1700s on my father's side), that my bloodline ran deep on this land and those two stories may have been more intertwined than I realized. I found that here in South Dakota I was sitting in the middle of the circle of my ancestors. I like this piece....I made it for me and I am still in love with this piece 10 years later. 

Thanks for reading my observations....more Notes From the Field next week!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Art of Wonder

“Experiencing wonder enables us to believe in the expansiveness of time, meaning, and beauty. In this openness, we often feel that anything is possible and that we are connected to something much greater than ourselves.” – Kaywin Feldman    

Mid-week greetings! I have taken down the works in the exhibition in Sioux City and am slowly photographing them to share with a larger audience. For me, the highlight of the show was the body of work that inspired the exhibition title, The Art of Wonder. The use of the phrase "the art of wonder" was inspired by a book of that name, published by the Minneapolis Institute of Art to celebrate their anniversary....filled with photos, essays and other inspiring pieces. The quote that began this post came from that book and reminded me of the wonder, excitement and creative energy I experience when looking at works of art. My husband and I love going to museums, especially art museums, and more often than not, build our trips around them. Visiting museums reminds me of the importance of art, the way it speaks to the deepest part of our humanity, across time and culture. I am always inspired by something during a museum visit.

But, there is wonder to be found absolutely everywhere....from the way the light falls on your teacup in the morning, to the teacup itself and how it was made....the tea and how it was harvested....and where and by whom. The wonder cascades, falling over itself...picking up steam as one thing leads to another and we are filled with awe over something ordinary. In this way, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. This, of course, does not discount the many moments filled with more momentous grandeur we all experience.

Below are some of the pieces that spilled forth as I experienced the flow and joy of making during the month of January in the studio. The Art of Wonder pieces are all 8" x 8", mixed media on Japanese paper dipped in beeswax. I did them in three sets of nine pieces each and hung them in three separate grids. Below is The Art of Wonder, Suite 1, nos. 1-9, which are now all listed in my Etsy shop!

I'll share Suites 2 and 3 in the coming days, along with some of the other work that was made for that exhibition. I do hope your week has started off well. We are having some cool rainy days mixed in with the warm and sunny ones....that's spring! Enjoy your week!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

When In Doubt, Make Art

Hello from the land my husband and I like to call coastal South Dakota. We all know South Dakota has no coastline, but it does have the big, wide Missouri River running through it and that's good enough for me! This was a view of some rather ominous looking storm clouds last week. 

Well, I have been in the studio, but I have to say, I'm feeling adrift about now. It was bound to happen....intense work every day from January through the beginning of February in order to create new work for my show....and then riding the tail winds of the energy that was left. And now....I find myself waiting for "what's next". Don't you have that feeling sometimes? As in....what's the next goal, the next big thing....is it a focused project, is a life change? How do I find it....where should I focus my energy....what am I most interested in at this point and how can I translate that into something large enough to fuel my fire?

I don't necessarily like to think that I am so goal oriented, but I think having a goal provides an extra boost of motivation. I am still in the studio making new work, as you'll see in a moment, but I recognize this restless casting about for something larger....something to satisfy the hunger. So, in the meantime, I go into the studio and I read.

Just finished the piece shown above yesterday and listed it in my Etsy shop. Notes From The Ancestors is an ongoing series that seems to keep me coming back for more. Drawing and hand stitching on paper...keeps my hands happy. This piece speaks to the thread that runs through my work....the reverence for memory and the layering of history. I so often wonder....what would our collective ancestors have to say to us now....as individuals and members of our various cultures. What have we learned, but also what have we failed to learn and what have we lost? 

I've also just listed these very spare, abstract collage pieces I made a couple of years ago.

Now that I've revisited them and decided to share them on Etsy, I may be inspired to make more!

I'm still working my way through Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It was written some years ago and was the book upon which the Broadway play, which I have not seen, is based. What a fabulous book....and what an insight it provides into the history of our country. The crazy political scene in which we currently find ourselves is nothing new really. It is actually astounding to think of trying to create a government from scratch....to create a union from a bunch of separate states, many of which would rather have left it that way. It's a fascinating story, so well told that I'm quite glued to the 700+ pages as if it were a novel. 

I'll keep you posted on my further investigations as to next steps in life, but in the meantime, I'd love to hear from you if you care to share your stories of discovering your next steps. I'll leave you with the view of today's overcast sky as the winter storm Selene heads our way. It's now fairly late in the afternoon and we were supposed to have several inches of snow by now....maybe it's a hoax! I can only hope....although, given that I now see the Denver airport is closed, I think we're soon in for it.
But really.....spring can't be far behind, can it?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Spring Meditation

Mid-March greetings! We had a nice getaway to the Twin Cities over the spring break, but as everyone knows, taking a break from the routine often creates more work once you try to get back to it. But things are unpacked, laundry is done and I got to spend enough time in the studio yesterday to make two new drawings!

I've always loved white-on-white, but I fell in love with it all over again when I started adding white ink to the daily drawings I had been making of late. So, to extend it, I've made these two new pieces that start with pencil and white ink on Japanese paper. These are two different types of Japanese paper, one of which is much warmer than the other. The finished drawings are backed with a warm toned drawing paper, so they don't appear actually as white paper anymore, actually.

The white ink actually looks fairly inconsequential when I'm making the drawing...in fact, on the top one, it is barely visible....until the finished drawing hits the beeswax and then the richness and the contrast comes out. A bit like magic!

Speaking of meditation....last week I had a brief conversation with the gentleman that was taking care of a few "handyman" tasks around the house. He actually has an engineering background and seemed genuinely interested in the work that my husband and I do in our studios, which comprise the entire downstairs of the house.  As most of my readers know by now, I am the opposite of an engineer in temperament and in the intuitive way I work, so I was momentarily speechless as to how to answer him when he asked, "So where do you get your ideas?" He was working on changing the ballasts on some of the lights in my studio (so I could actually see again!) and I was working on a drawing. I relayed my usual response about thinking through my hands and the intuitive nature of how I work and thought, even as the words escaped my lips, how very strange that must sound to someone who works in a left-brain precision based world. It's quite a leap and hard to describe what it actually means to me when I say I think through my hands. I don't have "ideas" when I start....the work flows through me. I sound like some sort of nut! This brief moment made me question my assumptions about how I communicate just what it is I do...the how and the why of it. So, I've been thinking...

But maybe it makes more sense if I make an analogy that more people can relate to. What if I say...it's like taking a walk. How do you get the idea of how you are going to take your walk? You just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving....if you don't have a destination in mind, you saunter along....or even walk at a brisk pace, but you really aren't thinking so distinctly about the activity. You just take a walk....it's hard to describe that too, but it's something most of us do. Does that even make sense as an analogy? When I make a drawing, it's kind of like taking a walk and I don't know where I'll end up....I just put one foot in front of the other, so to speak It's one thingto be talking to another artist and say, "I think through my hands" and quite another to speak to someone for whom that will sound like a foreign language. 

Communication is important and how we relate to one another is so embedded in the communication between people. One of the many things that has stuck with me from my recent class in Intercultural Communication is that we cannot not communicate. Everything we do....our gestures, facial expressions, the spaces we inhabit and the words we use.....everything is communication. One simple conversation with a near stranger asking some genuine questions about my work is an opportunity for creating new insights and clearing new pathways as a result of the communication that unfolds. A reminder to be mindful!

I do hope you have a fine week. Love hearing from you and welcome your comments and insights!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Recent Discoveries

Greetings from a balmy South Dakota. Yesterday we had a lovely walk under sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 70s. Can't say the same for today, but we are definitely out of winter and into the spring transition....a weather rollercoaster. Below is a view of the gorgeous sunset over the river a night or so ago. Who could resist grabbing camera, phone or whatever was handy to hold on to such a moment?

Exploration continues in the studio. I revealed in my last post that while making my last scroll using paper and teabags, I realized that I should explore papyrus as a surface. Well, I've made a couple of experimental pieces at this point, to get a feel for how to handle it and how the material responds to ink, moisture, pencil, pen, etc. Although these are not scrolls, they have informed me in numerous ways and I'm not sure the papyrus is the material for me. It is interesting....yet strange. I suppose if I were living in the ancient world and papyrus was the only material available to me, it might not occur to me to yearn for something like the loveliness of handmade paper. But, I know better and I do yearn for paper.

It is a unique surface, with the strips of papyrus laid across each other crossways to form a solid sheet. Many years ago, I recall that I made papyrus as part of a bookmaking workshop. We laid those softened strips across one another and then pounded vigorously for some time in order to have them mesh into a single unit. 

This material is quite fragile, so that when I tore the large sheets down to these 11" x 8 1/2" sizes featured here, the strips started to come apart and not surprisingly, it didn't tear cleanly at all. In the top one, I've just used ink, but still the material doesn't quite lay flat and wants to curl, so I may have to attach it to another sheet of actual paper. Perhaps I'm not able to let go of my paper-centric notions! In the bottom piece, I scumbled a very thin layer of white acrylic paint on the surface of the lower half before drawing. Naturally, the papyrus really buckled with the moisture. I did do a little spritz of water on the back of both of them and dried them under some heavy books so they'd flatten, but I think the wrinkling and natural curling is part of the deal. These photos were taken post-spritz and supposed flattening.

I also have to say that, given the tiny marks I am prone to make, those very visible strips did a number on my eyes. Since they are not strictly parallel or evenly placed (I admit that would be quite boring!), I was constantly second guessing myself and feeling the strain in my eyes. Well, I suppose this all sounds like a rant and that I'm complaining, but I think I'm just coming to terms with the limitations and the changes in ways of working that are required. And.....well, working with papyrus makes me appreciate paper all the more. As my husband pointed out, there's probably a good reason that paper took over the world and that we are not continuing to use papyrus as a writing surface!

On another note, above  (and below) is a simple little drawing I made that began with the need to use up some gold acrylic paint. I had painted the edges of another panel piece that is being donated to a fundraiser and of course, squeezed out way too much paint. I just grabbed a sheet of this nice drawing paper (ah!!!) that was on the edge of my desk and drew a free form square and used up the paint filling in the square. Somehow that gold square spoke to me about all things precious, so I added a ladle beneath it. The ladle allows us to fill our lives with all the intangible moments that lift us just slightly off the earth, so that the times when we hover, airborne, buoy us up and lighten our load for those days in which we find ourselves simply plodding, one foot in front of the other. We all have our share of plodding, but the secret is to remember the airborne days!

This view captures the iridescence of the gold in a better light. The simplicity of this piece felt just right after working on the papyrus. 

So, a scroll in papyrus? Not so sure, but we'll see. It's spring break for my husband, so we'll take a few days off and head up the Minneapolis/St. Paul. Enjoy the rest of your week!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Scroll for the Letter C

Midweek greetings! I have now finished the teabag scroll that I mentioned in my last post earlier this week. I did enjoy the process of making this scroll, which is part of the long-ago-started series in honor of the alphabet. I sold the first two, Scroll for the Letter A and Scroll for the Letter B, some time ago. Each was filled with cut out words beginning with the letter A or B.

Scroll for the Letter B

I made Scroll for the Letter C differently by perusing the dictionary in search of all the words beginning with C that I didn't know. I wrote down page after page of them! Now these words may be familiar to many people, but they weren't to me, so this scroll contains most of those words. What a fascinating exercise...in finding the words, reading their definitions and then transcribing them onto the scroll. I felt like a medieval scribe....given my penchant for tedious monotonous mark making, I probably would have been suited for such a life. Anyway,  I broke up the long expanse of the scroll with a series of illustrations from the dictionary and then hand wrote the words, using a red pen for each initial C.  I know the scroll would be much more refined if I was a calligrapher, but alas.....it has a nice, rustic feel that suits the teabag background.

As I was making this scroll, it dawned on me that I could be using a material more suited to the history of the scroll....papyrus! You can read more about papyrus here, but it is the material that scrolls were originally made from in ancient Egypt. Layers of the pith of the papyrus plant are compressed together to form the material known as papyrus. I've just purchased some from Dick Blick, which I unpacked it this morning, along with another parcel of Japanese paper.

It's quite rough and textured, not surprisingly....but also seems fragile and like it could crack if rolled tightly, so I'm a bit intimidated. Have any of you, dear readers, ever worked with papyrus? If so, would love to hear from you with any tips you've learned. I'll just have to take the plunge and experiment. If the ancients could use papyrus for centuries as the material to pass down knowledge through the form of the scroll, well surely I can figure out how to use it in my art making practice. Let the exploration begin!

Enjoy the rest of your week!