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.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

On Drawing....The Search

The ongoing conversation about drawing continues in this post...there's much to talk about, it seems to me! Do feel free to chime in anytime, as I'm happy to have a dialogue and hear about your experiences with drawing. For the past couple of posts, I've been talking about my daily drawing practice, as a form of mediation and as a way to let go and watch what unfolds. 

It helps to approach the process from the inside out, rather than the outside in. That may not make much sense at first glance. Drawing in this way uses your brain, but the "thinking" comes through the senses, through the body, rather than just a cognitive approach. As a kind of meditation, you are open to the conversation and to what is happening within as well as without. 

I'll share some specifics with the drawings from the last couple of days to illustrate what I am talking about. Yesterday morning, I sat down with my little 6x4" sheet of Japanese paper and my trusty mechanical pencil. After dating the page, I began with a dot toward the top and without picking up the pencil, had the sense to let the the line wander from there, in a kind of aimless search...for something....for the drawing itself, I think. The meandering lines continued, making one shape then moving to another when the moment felt right. I understood through the mark-making that this meandering line was about "the search"....both in a literal sense and as a metaphor. 

I respond to drawings, to paintings and all manner of works that allow the sense of the search to come through. Some artworks appear to have emerged into being fully formed, but I need to see the quest, the false starts (there are none, really), the evidence of the search in the process of making. As a maker, it is through the search that I find the meaning, just as that little moment was revealed in the making of those meandering lines yesterday. After the initial pencil lines, I picked up my white ink pen and overlaid more searching, meandering lines.

The notion of "the search" reminded me that the process of drawing from life, from observation, is also fundamentally about the search. On another larger sheet of paper I began to draw the not-so-well-tended-geranium in a pot on my desk. If you want to draw from life, it begins with seeing....with looking, with the search. I allowed a searching line to flow from the pencil (and later that white pen again) as I let my eyes wander up and down the stem, following the edges of leaves, as they overlapped and intersected. My hand became an extension of my eyes...Drawing from life is fundamentally an act of eye-hand coordination. As many of my readers know, I'm not all that keen on drawing from life, as my work takes a much more indirect route. And yet, it's all a search....for being in the moment, for meaning, for discovering and describing what we see or what we know to be true.

Today's drawing began much as the one yesterday, but the dots came first, for the most part, and then a meandering line was back, wanting to connect these dots in most indirect ways....circling, looping, wandering in ways that made loose connections between these random dots. And there it was again...the moment of understanding through the work. We all attempt to construct meaning in our lives and this process of making connections between points, between events, is how we do it. Sometimes the connection between dots is a pretty direct, straight line...a kind of cause and effect, but so many times, it seems that the line between this point and that is meandering, looping, intersecting and overlapping with other lines. It's the never ending search.

Maybe this gives you a bit more understanding (maybe not!) as to how the process of drawing tells me what the drawing itself is about. It is a process of "inside out" where the meaning emerges through an evolving understanding as my pencil moves across the page, rather than one where I know what I want to say and set about saying it. The insights come through the searching marks.

I make many of these drawings available in my Etsy shop with the hope that they bring some moments of contemplation as well as joy and delight to others. I'd love to hear from you with your thoughts and experiences about the power of drawing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

On Drawing....From Within

In my last post, I mentioned the idea of inner language. I first understood this notion when I engaged in a drawing process that I think of as a kind of meditation. There is a great deal of information on meditation out in the world....on the internet, in books, recordings, etc. Recently, I found a nice explanation and guide to the process here.

The idea is to let go of any concern with results, as you are not engaged in making art, per se. Sit alone, in a quiet space with a piece of paper and a pen...or pencil or ink filled brush. Be somewhat still and focused for just a few moments while you let your hand move where it will. In a more traditional form of meditation you might focus on your breath as you breath in and then out...but it in this case, you watch, in a detached way, as your hand goes where it will. If you are one with the moment, you will know when to stop....it's not a process of thinking, but a process of "knowing" from a place deep within. Letting go in this way is very relaxing, even for just a few moments and while it is not about "liking" or "not liking" any particular drawing, I believe that if you do this for a number of days, you will begin to see that the marks you make....the marks on the page that come straight from you as easily as your breathing, are a part of you, syllables of a language that is yours alone. This can be very powerful and over time, allow you to trust your instincts....in the studio and perhaps in life. 

I never know when I sit down what will emerge in those few moments of drawing, but often I am delighted and always I feel a moment of satisfaction, of grounding and of peace. Sometimes the observer in me will see something that will come into play in a future artwork...perhaps some way of placing this next to that on the page, or a different way of mark making that seems ripe for exploration. Maybe you'll notice that those trees from November 20th showed up in this longer drawing I made yesterday, shown below.

I have been doing this daily drawing process pretty steadily, with different materials, for a number of years. When I stray away and don't do them for awhile, I begin to feel a bit lost and it doesn't take long to realize that I need to get myself grounded once again with the daily drawing practice. I began listing my daily drawings in my Etsy shop as a way to share them with the world. Over time, I have heard from many folks that they communicate in ways that are profound and that people find meaning and their own delight in having them. That means a great deal to me on many levels. It also reminds me that we communicate with one another in countless ways, but that drawing has a power to reach places that words cannot. 

I hope you'll try this process and see if you don't find it rewarding. I'd love to hear from you with your thoughts!

Happy Thanksgiving to friends near and far!

Friday, November 18, 2016

On Drawing...Or, Drawing on Drawing

I've been thinking a lot about drawing lately, as it is central to my artistic practice. No matter what materials I am working with, I think of everything that I do as drawing. I also feel that, as a general rule, the definitions out there of what constitutes "drawing" are too limited. It is such an absolutely fundamental process, like breathing, that it becomes an integral part of the process of making, whether you are a painter, sculptor, mixed media artist....or almost anything else. I'm certainly not a singer, but anyone who is a singer knows that breathing is a central to being able to sing well. Understanding the breath is fundamental for singing, dancing....so many things, and a connection to drawing (broadly defined!) is central to the process of creation.

I feel very strongly that each person possesses a core of creativity, though in our culture, almost everyone I talk to who is not an artist, doesn't believe they have it within them, which fills me with a kind of sadness. I believe creativity is part of our humanity and despite what our years of schooling have done to us, it's still there. It is this passion about creativity that has gotten me thinking about drawing.

In all my decades of being an artist, it has never occurred to me that I was a teacher or that I was interested in teaching, but these ideas I have about creativity have, for the first time, gotten me thinking about doing workshops. Each of us has an inner language, a way of mark-making, that is unique, like a fingerprint. Drawing, it seems to me, is fundamental to connecting to that inner core of creativity and being able to "draw" from within.

Below is the Merriam-Webster definition of drawing:

Simple Definition of drawing

  • : a picture, image, etc., that is made by making lines on a surface with a pencil, pen, marker, chalk, etc., but usually not with paint
  • : the act or art of making a picture, image, etc., with pencil, pen, marker, chalk, etc., but usually not with paint
: an act of choosing something (such as a winning ticket) from a group without knowing which one you are choosing
That seems pretty limited to me. "Not with paint"... I'm not buying that. I haven't yet come up with a satisfying definition of my own, but the one above doesn't capture it at all. The process of making with the hand is essential.....there is a flow from the senses, through the brain, back through the hand that is part of drawing. The body is part of drawing. Going back to my metaphor of the breath....we understand that breathing is a process that involves quite a bit more than the nose or the mouth. So, while I cogitate further on a suitable definition of drawing, I'll spend the next few posts sharing a few images from some of my favorite artists, whose works seem to me to be based in drawing.
The pieces below are paintings by Rick Johns, a painter from here in Vermillion, South Dakota. Rick is a fine painter, but also a fine craftsman builder....of houses, kayaks, you name it. These paintings have a wonderfully layered surface and a sensitivity to mark making that leaves a trace of the search. I love them....yes, they are paintings, but these are also drawings, according to my still nebulous definition.
No. 21

No. 43

So, I will continue to cogitate about this teaching idea and how I can create a workshop that will connect people to their inner language, allowing them to discover the richness within. It's important, because the process of making is fundamental to our humanity. 
Here in South Dakota, we've just had our first snow of the season....yikes, we were all caught off guard, having enjoyed more than our share of a perfectly lovely autumn. And now, here's to a perfectly lovely winter! Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Restored By Reading: The Current Stack

"Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. 
A great library is freedom." 
-- Ursula K. Le Guin

I just have to say, there are never enough books in my life. Our house is filled to the brim with books, in literally every room (okay, minus one guest bathroom, which is too small), many of which I've not read....and yet, I am forever making the trek to the public library or making purchases for more. I love a day with nothing on the schedule, with nowhere I have to be, so I can sit with a book, savoring the language that sparks ideas, deepens understanding and that takes me to destinations far flung and unknown.

Most of my library treks take me to the public library in Vermillion, but the other day I was on campus and made my way to the university library, which has a sizable collection of new fiction and non-fiction available for checkout. Uh oh....I couldn't resist coming home with yet another stack of "impossible to finish by the due date" books. In case you can't read the titles in the photo above, they are, from top to bottom:

Bottomland: A Novel / Michelle Hoover
The Exiles Return: A Novel / Elisabeth De Waal
The Blind Astronomer's Daughter / John Pipkin

My husband and I have a little ritual of "story time", in which we read a book together....me reading aloud to him. It doesn't happen every day, as life gets a little crazy, but it is the goal to have a chapter read at some point during the day. The book currently on our story time docket is The Last Days of Night, a novel that takes you into the intrigue between Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla in the early days of electric lighting. In my own reading, I am nearly finished with The Exiles Return and have already dipped into The Hidden Life of Trees. I'm like a kid in the candy shop!

But there's something else I want to share. The Ursula Le Guin quote that began this post, which pays homage to art and libraries, as well as the life of the mind, is one that I found on Brain Pickings, an online newsletter that provides a cornucopia of riches. If you follow the link here, you'll be taken to an issue with an article that highlights the sacredness of the public library. In revisiting that issue today, I just realized there is another book I need to add to my already-too-full list of reading material....The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination by Ursula K. Le Guin. I urge you to check out Brain Pickings for yourself....there is much thoughtful research that goes into its creation. Of course, I must admit, I don't really have time to devote to reading it, as I have all those library books to get through. And really, I should be down in the studio right now, but tomorrow is another day!

A couple of not-so-recent dailies I just added to my Missouri Bend Studio shop. I had a stack of these 3 x 3 inch pieces and had forgotten all about these little collage items from a few years ago. Kind of fun! Enjoy your weekend....happy reading! Since you know what a book fanatic I am, feel free to share your reading joys here...always looking for wonderful finds.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Savoring Slowness: A Progress Report

In my last post, Exploring Borders, I shared the first piece in a new series of mixed media on paper works. Now that I've fully settled in to the exploration, I'm here to report that progress is slow....but like a long slow meal that allows you to savor the experience, I'm fully immersed and enjoying the moments. Engaging in this kind of tiny, repetitive mark-making is like a kind of homecoming for me. I delight in the push-pull of watching the pattern and richness slowly unfold, even as I become antsy to move faster. My sessions last only an hour before my eyes start to lose focus!

As I've mentioned in more than one post, I am truly in the flow when the creative process becomes a kind of conversation between the piece unfolding and my inner being. The quiet and slowness allows me to understand the content. The truth of that experience came upon me once again as I realized the piece above to be a contrast between the worlds of the micro and macro. The right side of the drawing speaks of the micro.....tiny seeds, or perhaps cells, filling the rectangular shapes ....a cross section of some botanical form, perhaps? At a certain moment, I knew that the opposing side will express the macro, perhaps with countless dots, made with paint and ink, that suggest galaxies...the infinite cosmos. Ultimately, I have a sense that those worlds are not so far apart. The paradox is that they are not polar opposites perhaps, as we often think, but part one infinite whole. Infinitely small and vast, simultaneously.

This piece above (details below), also in progress, is related to a kind of fascination I have with language, with the alphabet and with words. In a way, it's somewhat like the childhood game of connect-the-dots. Any number of us may experience the same set of spoken or written words, yet we will construct different meanings, based on all manner of variables....background and experience, our physical boundaries, mood, etc. Each of sees the world through a different prism and sometimes we see the same set of words through such opposite sets of lenses, it's no wonder there is so much turmoil in the world.

On the right, lines of text are represented by the tiny dots of ink on each line....words or pearls on a string.

On the left, a scattering of dots....maybe those very words on the right, fill the space and are connected to form a constructed shape. But those dots could be connected in any number of different ways to make different shapes....to create different ideas, meanings and experiences. 

It's all a metaphor for the complexities we encounter through life....making art is how I make sense of the world.

The two little drawings above are about to be listed in my Etsy shop, MissouriBendStudio. These are a couple of the daily drawings (3" x 3") that I made in early 2013. You know, when you make a daily drawing....as in, a small drawing every day....before you know it, you are swimming in little works of art. If you do that over a period of years, well....there seems no end to them! Rather than sitting in little piles in my studio, they are slowly making their way out into the world. If anyone is interested in gathering a set of these, let me know and I am happy to work with you to create a delightful grouping!

Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Exploring Borders

When setting out on a new adventure, it's best to decide a mode of travel first. I suppose if you knew the destination, that would help. When I'm in the studio, I never know the destination....I just set out! I do find when setting out to explore some new ideas through the process of making art, choosing some of the formal qualities, helps me set sail, so to speak. I love the square format and as my readers know, I also love paper! I'm also intrigued by compositions that are split in half, with both sides having a kind of conversation with one another. And pattern....well, I could get lost in making tiny lines, layering drawing on drawing, delighting in the surprises that unfold.

So, I'm off on another exploration with these parameters: 11" square (suitable for a 12"x12" shadow box frame), B.F.K. Rives paper (sturdy enough to take a bit of paint, as well as ink), in compositions that are divided in half. I don't know the destination, but through these formal means, I can explore:

the way different patterns interact with one another
the way different materials play against each other
the notion of borders, as the content on one side comments on the other
the idea of juxtaposition
illuminating sameness and difference
relationship of micro and macro
an expression of an as-yet-unknown content

and more!

Because I work intuitively, I find the meaning of the work through the process of making itself. This means that I am often frustrated, as I can never seem to set out with the content of what I want to say in mind, and make anything worth sharing with the world. The flip side of this is that, through the process of observation and listening, both inside and out, as I draw....the work tells me what it is about. I never know....until I know....through the inner voice that speaks, in a language only I can hear. 

The piece above, is a kind of prototype, a maiden venture in the new 11 x 11" "vessel". I came across some of the paper my husband often uses for printing and found it suited my needs....good thing he has a nice stash of it! I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I'll report in on the progress. 

Here are a couple more just started....I think this will be fun!

Today's daily drawing continues the exploration of the format!

Daily drawing, November 1, 2016

Amazingly warm here in South Dakota for November 1st...upper sixties and pushing 70. I keep hearing people say it's supposed to be a bad winter, which remains to be seen. At least we will have had the longest lasting autumn I can recall! Cheers!