A Quote, A Definition, and A Discovery

The Quote:

“I dream of painting and then I paint my dreams.”

Vincent Van Gogh

For many, many years I have carried around a greeting card with that quote on it, and for those same many, many years I have used it to beat myself over the head as an artist. I don’t dream of painting, I’m actually one of those people who rarely remember their dreams. I took that quote quite literally, like the children of The Night Before Christmas, but instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head I thought I should be conjuring up great works of art.  I paint from my photographs and sketches. There are gifted artists who can imagine worlds of their own creation, I’m just not one of them when it comes to painting, and quite frankly I’m not sure Van Gogh was either. He painted what he saw in front of him, from sketches he made of places he’d been, or places he lived, and maybe a little dreamy magic. I seem to have a gift for getting in my own way as an artist. I tell myself I’m failing at it, or somehow don’t have the right to call myself one. That leads me to…

A Definition: (Thank you Google)

art·ist
ˈärdəst/
a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.
a person who practices any of the various creative arts, such as a sculptor, novelist, poet, or filmmaker.
a person skilled at a particular task or occupation.
I started drawing at a very young age, I began to paint at twelve, and I sold my first piece at fifteen. Did I call myself an artist? Yes I did, at least in the beginning, but then the self doubt began to creep in. There’s the “I’m not good enough” monster that resides in my brain. I mentioned the monster back at the beginning of this blog four years ago. I was under the illusion that I had defeated it, but I haven’t and thought I couldn’t. I’ve spent a lifetime with this constant companion; it lives inside me as much as every other part of me. I think part of my artistic problem is last I’m living in the land of “Supposed To”. In my mind an artist was always a painter and a skilled technician in drawing or sculpting.  I realize that’s ridiculous. Read the definition. I should have it tattooed on my forearm so that every time I feel the monster raise its ugly head I can read it myself. I think that from a very young age I thought that I had to paint to call myself an artist. The reality is that I have no problem acknowledging the art of others and giving them the title, I just have a problem with myself.  Which leads me to…
The Discovery (actually discoveries):
I haven’t posted on this blog as of late because I had no work to post. Have I been working?  Yes, I have been working every single day.  The problem (in my own mind) is that I haven’t been painting. What I am about to write is so absurd that I can’t believe it myself. I have been embarrassed to call myself an artist because of the work I have produced. There, I said it out loud. I have spent the last several weeks producing work for a show, a show that calls itself an “Artisan Walk”. Was I invited to be part of the show because I am a talent-less hack? Nope, I am just being me again and getting in my own way.  I gave all of this a great deal of thought yesterday. Much of the thought was inspired by an outing with a dear friend on Sunday. This dear friend has a tendency to be highly critical of me, but when he saw what I have been producing he called me a genius. My discovery is this: I don’t dream of painting, but I have very magical and enchanting visions when I am awake. It involves fairies. That’s right, fairies. I have been making them for more than twenty years, and it has been my greatest financial success as an (dare I say it?), artist.
My second discovery or better yet realization is that as much as might dream of painting, I am more compelled by anything in my life to make children happy. I love creating enchanted worlds, of inspiring little ones to use their own imaginations, and to hopefully give them a moment of magic in a world that can be a very difficult place. I have loved the idea of fairies since childhood. At the last show I did I was approached by a woman much older than myself who was so excited by my work. She spoke to me of growing up in England near a forest. She and her sisters would play at the edge of the woods. Their mother would tell them tales of fairies, and leave them “fairy notes” tucked in tree trunks and flowers. While she was speaking to me her face took on a faraway look, as silly as it might seem in that moment she looked like a little girl again, lost in the memories of her youth.
I may never produce the masterpiece that I thought I was supposed to do, and in the years after I am gone no one may see my work hanging in a museum, but I have no doubt that in the imagination of many children I have planted a seed that they will hopefully remember and pass on.
If you happen to be in or near Fallbrook, CA on April 23rd, I will be at The Artisan Walk on Alvarado as part of the Fallbrook Avocado Festival. Stop by and say hello.

My Prayer To Father Time

And it came to me then,

That every plan,

Is a tiny prayer to father time.

The lyrics to one of my favorite songs, “What Sarah Said”, by Death Cab for Cutie. The last time I posted was January 3rd about my plans for the New Year, and my hopes that I would be creating. Alas the universe said, “Not so fast.” Have I created? Yes, of course I have because for me its like breathing. Unfortunately for me my other great talent in life seems to be finding ways to not be well, or to injure myself. I had spent December 30th in the ER because of unexplained chest pain. Long story short…in my own anxious little way I am well on my way to an ulcer. That discovery came only after many doctor visits and tests. That was January. February brought its own delights. Another Urgent Care trip, and from there to the ER again. I’m fine. Well at least I was until I got bronchitis. Oh, its March, and as I told everyone last week the Urgent Care and ER people were missing me and wondering where I was, so I sprained my ankle. I kid you not.

I had spent the latter end of December cleaning out and reorganizing my studio for the grand plans for 2017. I finally tried to work in there yesterday and now can’t remember where I put anything. Fortunately I also have a wonderful ability to laugh at myself. Go ahead, I know I have it coming. Last summer I went to see a doctor for my thumb which had broken and wasn’t healing well. The doctor gave me a cortisone injection in my right thumb (OUCH), I left his office and drove to pick Dan up from the airport where I closed the door on my left hand and broke a finger. Seriously. My friend Denise says she really isn’t laughing at me but with me. Which is true because it’s about all I can do.

Onward to art! In between doctor visits I actually did work a little. At my daughter’s request I created all the Peanuts characters for my grandson’s first birthday. Creating poster board sized characters for my kids birthday’s was always a tradition. I also wrote and illustrated a children’s book. I gave Timmy my first copy as a birthday gift.  I still need to tweak a few things before I’m ready to move forward with it. I’ve also sorted through piles and piles of paper that I’ve accumulated for inspiration and ideas. As I mentioned above, my studio is cleaned and very organized with the exception of labeling several boxes so I can actually find my supplies!

So here’s to My New Year, commencing today March 6th, with a little prayer to Father Time.

To Whom It May Concern,

April will be here before you know it. I’d like to not see the inside of a doctor’s office, an Urgent Care, or ER. I’m praying you’ll give me a break, and by that I don’t mean any bones.  I promise to look where I’m going, to stop worrying about every single little thing, and to continue to amuse myself at my own expense.

Finally, I include a piece of art from right around the holidays. My daughter Jessica had taken a photo of my son’s beautiful girlfriend, Olivia. From the moment I saw it I knew I had to paint it. I finished it in time for Brian’s Christmas gift, a portrait of Olivia in watercolor.

It’s Final

I wrote the following a week ago. Too much to do to sit and post, and now the time is here. As of five o’clock yesterday the house officially belongs to another family. We closed on our new home today. It was a bittersweet moment to be sure. When I heard it was official all I could do was cry.
I look to where a clock once hung; I’m reminded that the time has come. The boxes are packed, the echo of hollow walls sounds with each and every step. The day I had hoped would never come is imminent. I look wistfully out my windows to my garden, my sanctuary, and know now it will belong to someone else. The process of moving is never easy. Memories reside within these walls around me, and now they will have to live inside my mind. It has been a long and difficult road filled with job loss, fear, anxiety, and wisps of hope. I recently said to Dan that it has been like have a bandage pulled excruciating slow from a wound. There is a difference in deciding that it is time to leave your home and having to leave your home. We could have hung on, but we are tired of struggle. I remind myself that things will be better once we are settled, but I think that this wound is so deep it may never close. We are lucky, I know that. There are those who didn’t make it, who not only lost the life they were living, but the four walls that contained that life. My heart bleeds for them. We made it. Through the grace of God, through the love and support of family and friends, we had a house to sell. For that I am grateful. I look for the positive in all of this, and there is much good in this move. I, the one so intimately acquainted with orthopedic surgeons, will be moving to a one story house. I will also be moving to a house half the size of this one. Half the house means half the cleaning. There is also the challenge of a new space. I passionately devoted myself to this home for almost twelve years and it shows. I have loved design since childhood, and now I begin again. That has been the saving grace through the last few weeks. I have begun looking at colors, and redesigning spaces in my mind. I am more than anxious to get to work. The next few weeks bring a new life, lots of work, and I’m sure some nostalgic sadness as well. I haven’t been writing much, too much work to be done, and too many tears. I’m ready to go. This place that I have loved so well is no longer my home, without my things around me it has become a house for someone else. They already love the garden, and have chosen not to paint over my mural, that makes me happy. I wish them well, and hope they have as many wonderful memories here as we did.

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Riley is all set to go.

Questions Without Answers

There has been art this week. I am in the middle of something as I write this, but tonight isn’t a night for sharing art. It is a night about questions. I made a piece of art last week. It was a homemade postcard for my dad. It was a simple watercolor encouraging him to get well enough to come to California. Unfortunately that remains to be seen. If you have followed this blog over the last year and a half you probably surmised that my mother’s death wasn’t an easy one. That’s one of the reasons that I have questions about my dad’s condition now. For my sisters and I our mother’s death was a long three weeks of suffering, both ours, our dad’s, and obviously much more so hers. Now it is my dad who hasn’t been well for weeks. In his case it isn’t that he is even close to dying, but that we are losing him in another way. Again I won’t share details, his privacy, our pain. I can say that I am personally questioning why? Why again must we watch one of our parents suffer so much? I don’t have any answers. I only have bewilderment, pain, fear, and of course prayer.

There was another question in my life this week. Not my question, but one of an innocent eight year old who asked me what prejudice means, what racism means. Tough questions. There are of course definitions to be offered, but really no explanations. This is a child of mixed race. He is a beautiful child, a child who has unfortunately known incredible pain in his life far too soon. He is a child that some people might not like simply because of his beautiful warm brown skin. I explained the best I could, but in the end I offered him only this: We are all the same inside, and that I have no answers to why people are who they are. I wish I did. I wish I could offer him more. I wish that I had some magic that could make the world a better place. Maybe I do, maybe we all do, one child at a time.

 

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

So I dared 2015 to keep me down, and as my title states, be careful what you wish for. 2015 took my dare and ran with it.

I did start a few pieces of art, but nothing to post as of yet. Instead after the New Year’s pat on the back for creating something, I find myself struggling to create. New Year’s Eve my sister had to take our elderly father to the hospital. He has pneumonia, and worse yet has been diagnosed with some severe neurological problems. I won’t go into detail, I respect his privacy, but it is never the less a blow I hadn’t counted on. What is even more difficult is to be so very far away from him. I am not in the financial position to go. I have had some offers from my daughter, and one of my sisters to help, but I am choosing to hope for the best. For me that would mean my dad moving here as soon as he is able. I know it won’t always be easy, but it is the least I can do for him.

My dad worked hard his whole life, and he did it all to give us a better life in this country, his chosen home. I don’t know of anyone who loves Ireland as much as he, but he knew there was a better future somewhere else. He left Ireland for Canada, and Canada for Chicago. When he came to this country he talked his way into a job driving a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus. He had never driven one before, but he had a pregnant wife and two kids, and he needed the work. He always told a hilarious story about driving the bus down an alley in downtown Chicago. He was stopped by a police officer who took one look at my dad, who was clearly very young, heard the brogue, knew he was fresh “off the boat”, laughed and let him go. Later he learned a new trade; he became a painter and wallpaper hanger. He was one of the best. For a number of years he was “the painter in the zoo”, at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. I have fond memories of days spent there. When Jessica was a baby, my sister and I would bring Jess and my nephew John to have lunch with Papa at the Children’s Zoo. Just a few years ago while in his seventies, he cut in a portion of a wall for me. His normally shaking hand as steady as a rock while he held that brush. He often worked two jobs to meet the private Catholic school tuition for my sisters and myself. My mother worked as a waitress from four in the afternoon sometimes until two a.m. to help fill the gaps. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. Below is a photo of the First National Bank of Chicago, sixty stories high. My dad painted the outside of it, once dangling from its side from a safety harness when scaffolding broke. He was fearless, strong, and would go to the ends of the earth to take care of us. Now he is old, frail, and lost without my mother. As a friend said, “Sampson is lost without his Delilah.” How true.

1st national bank

So 2015, I offer my deepest apologies. Can we start again? I just want my dad to recover, and to hopefully have him spend some time here with me in sunny Southern California. I have lots of plans to keep him busy, including a few little painting jobs that will hopefully bring back some good memories. I love him dearly, and miss him terribly. For now all I can do is wait and hope, and when the time is right to head to Chicago and bring him back with me.

One more photo from happier times. Dad outside the Lincoln Park Conservatory with Jessica as a baby.

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Get well soon Dad, I love you.

 

The First Day

 

A quick post just to pat myself on the back for following through. I finished the first step in a project last night. I would have posted it then, but my couch and I have a very intimate relationship. It lulls me to sleep if I sit for more than a few minutes in the evening. My first piece for the year. A little something for Valentine’s Day. There is more to do, but I think this is a pretty good start. Accomplished with a little home-baked clay, my fingers, a butter knife, and a toothpick. More to come later today…IMG_2511

A Year Of Possibilities

Happy New Year one and all. Another new year, another new beginning. Another chance to hope for better things ahead. We started out 2014 with Dan still unemployed. We started out worried, yet hopeful, that somehow, someway, better things lay ahead. Not everything came out as well as we hoped. A job that has definitely had its ups and downs, but employment none the less. We started 2014 with no idea of changes coming our way, including our daughter and son-in-law moving to the other side of the country, and our son moving out. To say that 2014 left me adrift is barely hitting the nail on the head. With Jessica and John so far away, Brian gone from home, and from enjoying Dan’s company every day for sixteen months to barely seeing him at all (thanks to a one hundred and ninety-four mile round trip daily commute), I’ve been feeling lost. I miss the kids. I miss Dan, but more so appreciate every day what he does for us. I had hoped by now to be moved somewhere closer, and to be gainfully employed myself, but as we all know life can be the ultimate magic act, taking hopes and dreams and making them disappear right in front of our eyes. I am no longer sure of my place in the world. One thing I have learned in this life of mine is that only I am responsible for my happiness. I think I forgot that for a while. December kept me busy in fairyland, but while my hands were working, my mind was thinking. I don’t want a job. No, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to work, but rather that I don’t want to work for someone else. I have all the employment that I need in my hands.  I need to begin filling my time, as well as my bank account, with what I do best. The amount of creative things that I can do is quite impressive (if I do say so myself!) So 2015 I dare you to keep me down. Life, I’m old enough to know the secret to a lot of magic acts, I’ve looked behind the curtain. No disappearing acts this year.

Just before I sat down to write I began my first project for the year. A few months ago I stated that I wanted to start a new 365 project, then my engine stalled (I think it was all the glitter), fairies were occupying my every waking moment. New year, and the holiday rush behind me, there are NO more excuses. Commence the creating. Whether I make it back later tonight with something to show remains to be seen, but I will be working, I will no longer be drifting, I will be anchoring myself to my life’s salvation, art. Here’s to a good year ripe with hope and possibility, and making my life better for myself. If things go as planned you might all just be hearing from me a little more often, and in the process have some beautiful work to look at.

Just in case…one of my photographs from here in the hills of Temecula.

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What It’s Really All About

Merry Christmas to all!

Now that the frantic shopping has ceased (at least for a day), I thought it was time to reflect on what this holiday truly means. I have a very simple story to tell that will say it all…

As you may or may not know, this blog began as a way to force me to focus on my art for a year. I had spent a lifetime putting the needs of everyone in my life ahead of my creative dreams. It worked for a while, but then life thumbed it’s nose at me and the blog became more about my life’s journey. I have however in the process produced a lot of art, and some that I am quite proud of. I hope to return to its original purpose soon. For today I am posting art, it just isn’t mine.

I have never posted the work of another artist on my blog, until today. Last week my dear friend Theresa asked me to pick her daughter up from school. Emily is six. We had a great time together, we made matching poinsettia bracelets out of felt for both Emily and her mom, and with me handling the hot glue gun, and Emily choosing the silk flowers, we created an angel for her bedroom Christmas tree. We weren’t quite finished when Theresa came to get her. As we continued to work on Emily’s angel Theresa and I talked about the holiday. I mentioned that I wasn’t quite in the spirit, missing Jessica, Dan’s long commute keeping his days away from me quite long, and that because we had packed to move I couldn’t find half of my Christmas decorations. Among them my nativity set. Emily left the room and came back bearing a shoebox she had come out of school with. “You can have this.” I opened the shoe box to find a nativity scene she had created in school. I said, “Oh Honey thank you, but I’m sure your Mommy wants this.” Theresa said, “No, she wants you to have it.” I said that I would put it out every year. Emily cleverly pointed out that it was only paper and might not last. I said not to worry. Amongst the many, many art supplies that I own is a small machine to do lamination. This morning I laminated my nativity scene. I will keep it forever and display it with a warm spot in my heart. That lovely gesture from Emily is what Christmas is all about. No UPC code, no brand-name tag, no fancy wrap. A simple white shoe box filled with love from the heart of a six-year-old. You can’t get a better present than that. I bring you my first guest artist, Emily Navis. Have a Happy Holiday.

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Big Changes Ahead

Back from Fairyland. No time to write in the last two weeks, the weeks and weeks of fairy making have left me with a sore shoulder from crouching over, and a house full of sparkle, but I’m not complaining. I made enough money to finance Christmas. I’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half, and gratitude for the little things is on the top of the list. We packed up this house months ago, packing much of the clutter in order to make the house ready to sell. I haven’t seen much of my “stuff” in months, and the truth is that I’m not missing it so much. (Although when we went to our rented storage space to get the Christmas decorations I was admiring many of my own belongings. I told Dan I’d like to shop my own storage locker.) We are learning to live with less, and since we will be downsizing that’s a good thing.

It’s been a rather strange holiday season so far. Our son moved out this year, and our daughter and son-in-law are happily ensconced in New York. I found myself struggling for a little Christmas spirit. Brian has agreed to spend Christmas Eve in the guest room, and I am so very grateful for that. This will be our first Christmas without Jessica. Sometimes it seems strange that she is so far away. With all the means of communication available we talk a lot, text almost daily, Facebook, Skype, I even sent her some old-fashioned snail mail. I still miss her terribly. There’s nothing like seeing the people you love face to face.

One of the faces I miss very much belongs to my Dad. He is eighty-two now. I haven’t seen him since September of 2013. Our finances being what they are, and his health making it hard for him to travel, we have been be unable to see each other. I talk to him every day, actually several times every day. He is my first call every morning as soon as I wake, and I am the last voice he hears every night before he goes to bed, and sometimes many, many calls in-between. He knows that I will answer when I see it is him. He is having a harder time remembering things, and suffers from much confusion. Lately he has been having episodes of paranoia. I think his days of living alone are through. Dan and I decided this weekend to see if we can move him here with us. The timing seems right, we will be looking for a new home once this one sells, so I will now be looking for a home that we can share with him. I’m not sure if we can work out all the details, but I plan on doing my best to make it happen. My mom has been gone for more than seven years, and my sisters have been incredible in caring for him. I have the luxury of having a talent that allows me to work from home. I hope to move him from Chicago to California. No more long cold winters, and for him the security of having one of his “girls” around all the time. It will be a huge change in our lives, but one that I feel a call to do. It is the least I can do.

Like I said, I’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half. Coming close to losing everything makes you really understand what matters in your life. It’s the people that we love, not the things that we own. Just remember that when you open “stuff” this Christmas.

Validation

I didn’t expect to be writing again so soon, but as always I write when I am moved to by the universe, recent events, or sometimes because I need to blow off steam. This morning I write for a different reason. For many years when people asked what I did I would say, “I am an artist”, while the entire time in my heart and mind I felt like a fraud. Last year in one of the earlier posts of this blog I wrote about a woman I met who in a way challenged me on calling myself an artist. She asked if I had sold any work, the implication being that if I hadn’t, that somehow I couldn’t claim the title. I have also heard of others being called “professional artist”, again the implication being that unless one is earning a living by selling their work, they are somehow an amateur. I was angry about it for some time, that is until I came to understand that the proclamations of the judgmental crowd are merely words of jealousy cloaked in self-righteousness. Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Wood, O’Keeffe, names sound familiar? There was a time in each of their lives when they didn’t earn a living as artists, they still painted, they were still artists, they just weren’t selling any work yet. I guess if you read my blog you know by now that judgement is a sore issue with me.  I honestly didn’t intend to head down the rabbit hole of defending myself to these people, but I feel my temper rising when I think about being judged as an artist by people who can’t or don’t create…..breathe…breathe…

OK, so now the real reason for my writing this morning. Last night I mentioned my work on etsy. Again, there are not as of yet many offerings in the way of prints of my work. It is at the moment more crafty kind of stuff. One of the things I have listed is a box. It is called the “Key To My Heart” box. It’s a small box made of paper, not quite cardboard, though it is sturdy, and inside this box I made an accordion of paper sentiments about love. A few days ago a young man on the other side of the world reached out to me. He said that he couldn’t think of a better way to express his love for his girl than with my piece of art. We have exchanged a few messages back and forth. My offer on etsy is to create a personalized version for the recipient, including quotes, verses, song lyrics, etc., anything the purchaser wants included. Last night he told me that the reason he wants this box is to use it as a means to propose on New Year’s Eve. There are no words to describe what this means to me as an artist. That someone is so touched by what I have created means everything to me. I have had to deal with more than a few detractors in my life. People who are not supportive of what I do, and have no respect for my talent. On the other side of the world there is a young man who is anxious, excited, and thrilled in anticipation of receiving my work in the mail so that he can give it to his love. The last page will be his proposal. I am hoping she is as moved by it as I am in creating it for her. When you can create something through words, through music, through painting, photography, or even craft that causes someone else to feel, you are successful, you are an artist. I need no more validation than that. I may not be Picasso or O’Keeffe, but I am no less an artist than they are.

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