What’s Next?

As I mentioned in last week’s post, after the workshop, I spent a few days just puttering around. During this period, I made a few decisions.

  1. I need some down time.
  2. I need a break from painting. I need some time to sort out my goals and maybe even my styles.
  3. I have WAY too many paintings. I need to find an outlet.

Down Time

Before last week, I  had already decided to forgo a few of my summer staples. I did not sign up for the Willamette Valley Lavender Festival and I plan to limit or skip painting in the Paint the Town Events. I did not even attempt to sign up for the Ladd Marsh Festival.

Even more radically, I had made plans to NOT make plans this summer and instead head down to the beach house at every opportunity… and NOT for cleaning or other things. Just to enjoy this place I  love.

Painting Break

With all this potential free time, my first thought was that I would get a ton of painting done. On the first morning where I implemented “summer schedule” (getting up earlier to beat the heat) and began another summer goal of spending 15 minutes a day on my front porch, a radical idea hit me. Instead of painting, I would just spend the summer journaling! And not share these drawings and thoughts! Just for me. Already, I’ve broken that vow and taken at least one Instagram, but you get the idea.

When I was thinking about painting, I started to think about all the shows and events I wanted to attend. And the little voice that has been appearing more and more in the last few months asked, “But what do YOU want to paint?” I was stumped. Somewhere along the way I had started painting to meet show deadlines, not because it was just what I wanted to do.

Along with my thoughts about not taking workshops for a while, I’m hoping by taking the summer and just doing some simple art that it might make things a little clearer about my future direction.

Too Many Paintings

However, essentially, I am a goal-oriented person. And while I was thinking about this radical step of not painting, I started to feel a little panicky. What about all the pieces I had in progress? What about all the finished pieces that needed to be seen?

That’s when I started to consider a goal that came up a few months ago, during “The Mom Time”. One of the many people I met mentioned that he wished my site was up to date so he could see more of my work. For the new year’s goals, I talked about getting the site up to date; this would be a perfect opportunity to use my “studio” time to get things out the door.

  • I could update the website and add the ability to purchase paintings online.
  • I could look at doing Etsy or some other merchant site.
  • I could do an art page on Facebook.
  • I have a newsletter, though I rarely use it. I could do a summer sale.
  • I could have an open studio.
  • I could (gulp) even pursue gallery representation.

First Steps

Today I worked on cleaning out my studio. As a reminder, I went on a workshop in November, and when I came back, Mom had to move into the studio. So a bunch of packed stuff was moved along with the rest of the studio to the extra bedroom upstairs. When she died, it call came back downstairs, but I hadn’t done much more than shift through the rubble to find enough things to take to the Skip Lawrence workshop.

And so, today, I sorted. You can now see my workbench (or at least as much as you ever can…) I also started working on a complete inventory of pieces. The next step in that process will be to get photos and then to get them on the website. I am also spending some time researching a new website look. I want social media integration, mobile integration, and the ability to put items for sale. It may take a few weeks.

In the meantime, fair warning. If there is a piece of mine that you’ve always liked, it’s a good time to ask me about it before I go through all the work of getting it online (and increasing the price!)

Skip Lawrence Workshop

It’s been an intense few months. And I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. So on April 26 I started a ten day vacation that was arranged around a workshop by Skip Lawrence. This workshop was organized and put on by the frequently admired Ruth Armitage, who counts Mr. Lawrence  as one of her greatest influences. Over the years, I  have heard a great deal about his workshops and I had resolved to attend one if at all possible.

If you look at Mr. Lawrence’s website, you might be surprised I have this ambition. I will admit, his current painting style does not fill me with admiration, though I do think it has a very modern aesthetic that is currently fashionable in high art circles and museums. What I was wanting to gain from the workshop, and indeed what I heard his workshops excelled at, was help in taking “your” paintings to the next level. Again and again, I  had heard people talk about how good his composition instruction was and how he pushed artists out of their box to try new things.

I knew this wouldn’t be a workshop about new techniques and subject, but about why I was doing art and how I could improve. I thought this would be a good time to take the workshop; artistically I’ve reached the point where I can exhibit basic competence with paint and design, it’s the development of ideas that is challenging. My summary: Experimenting with ideas and stuck on composition issues.

Day 1

Bright and early on Monday morning I got up and headed for exotic Wilsonville (30 minutes away). The class was full with 25 students of various abilities hauling in equipment and ideas. I saw many people I had never met before, but a few I knew (hi, Janey). After introductions, it became clear this was quite a workshop, with artists from as far away as Salt Lake City, Seattle, and southern California. Luckily, there was another gal from Salem (Kathy) and we decided to ride back and forth together, which added a fun element and allowed some processing time in the car. In spite of the geographic distance between some of the participants, it quickly became clear that all of us were looking for about the same thing I was: a push in the right direction.

After introductions, Mr. Lawrence gave us his first lecture on the importance of MOSTLY.

Ask yourself, this painting is MOSTLY… select the obvious dominant element.

  • Color: – Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, etc.

  • Value: Light, middle, dark

  • Intensity: Clean (bright) or dirty (neutral)

  • Texture: Smooth or rough

  • Line: Straight or curved

  • Shapes: Geometric or organic

With that laid out, Skip asked us to work on our ideas, paying attention to UNIFYING a painting through DOMINANCE. In spite of my expectations, he was quite dismissive of the idea of composition, feeling that was all about design tricks. Unity and Dominance were what to work on this week.

He also gave us these studio rules from Wolf Kahn:

  1. Don’t impose your will; just follow the brush.
  2. I just work here.
  3. I don’t give a shit.

Fair enough.

During the introductions and lecture, I  had worked on a variety of value sketches and eventually moved onto painting.

With the idea of focusing on dominance, I worked on these paintings for the rest of the day.

Yes, they are hideous. And in most cases I can’t even say there is a dominance. So, I ended the day by starting on this painting.
Day 2

Thank goodness for going home. That night I gave myself a pep talk. First of all, workshops are a BAD place to expect good art. In fact, it’s probably more productive to come out with hideous pieces because then at least you are trying something new.

Also, it was a chance to reconcile that this would be a class with a lot of “free” time to work on your own ideas. Some workshops have a lot of “parts” and “exercises”; other’s don’t. As this was clearly the later, it was better to work on a known idea such as my horse legs series rather than try something new.

With that in mind, when Mr. Lawrence told us the day’s focus was, “Thinking about contrasting things OTHER THAN VALUE”, I set out some parameters and went to work. Each set of paintings is on a single sheet separated by tape.

Yellow: Contrast – color,  Dominance – direction

Red: Contrast – shape,  Dominance – color

Blue: Contrast – line,  Dominance – texture

Mr. Lawrence helped me at the final stages of this piece, smoothing up the gray part at the top. My heard about stopped, but I have to admit that a few days later, I’m grooving on the contrast of it all.

In the afternoon, Mr. Lawrence gave a lecture on contrast using some of the following artists as reference.

Ending with this enjoyable quote by Michael Lewis:

“At some point during John Richardson’s superb biography of Picasso you begin to feel grateful to Art, not for the pleasure it affords the consumer, but for the outlet it offers the psychopath.”

At some point during the day, I also finished this, though I can’t remember where it came from.

Day 3

Day 3 started with a critique where Mr. Lawrence told us, he would not be playing “painting doctor” but challenging us to talk about the bigger concept of your work. The idea of unification (dominance) again came up. He pressed us to think about having a unified painting with variety as the thing that makes it interesting.

I showed this yellow series from day 2. He liked the little parts better than the big part, telling mere there too much purple in it. He showed a crop (far right above) so I could see what he meant.

One intriguing idea for the day was the idea that painters either paint environments (think of Jackson Pollack) or objects. I am clearly in the later category, but I did wonder what it would take for me to move to the former.

This was also the day I had my individual meeting with Mr. Lawrence. From day 1, he had been spending 15-30 minutes (occasionally longer) with each workshop participant to talk about their goals for their painting and what they need to work on. My unique issues were a lack of dominance coupled with negative shapes been repetitive and undefined, though my “object” was always lovely.

At the end of the day, I was starting to feel a little punch drunk and in something of an existential crisis. WHY was I painting? WHAT did I want to say?

So I did this painting.

Day 4

Wednesdays in a three day workshop are notorious for tears, hysterics, and a variety of other crisis. But I foolishly thought that since I had got past that big day, I could just plow on. Ha.

Mr. Lawrence announced in the beginning of class that today was SHAPE DAY and lectured on great shape makers.

Great shapes should have two DIFFERENT dimensions: longer than wide, taller than wide. Great shapes have interlocking edges with ACTIVE and PASSIVE edges. LOOK AT EDGES, he implored. Vary edges for visual interest. A hard edge will stop the eye, while a soft edge will transport the viewer.

This day I had decided to move away from horse legs because I felt like I wasn’t getting the results I was looking for. I decided to cut out some swan shapes and place them to create four different compositions. I arbitrarily decided color scheme, dominance, contrast, and an idea to each. While I did write these down on the edges of the tape, when I ripped the tape off, much of my memory went with them.

“Cold” using ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and white.

“Sadness at leaving” using indigo, moonglow, and white.

“Sound” using cobalt blue, brown madder, and white.

“Wonder” using turquoise, rose madder, yellow ochre, and white.

Most of the class had had their individual consultations by this time and Mr. Lawrence was alternately going around the room and answering participant requests to take a look at something. So, I asked him to take a look at these, because I was in the familiar stuck spot that we had discussed at our consultation the day before. He took one look at them and said, “I love the other three but I had that pink one.” That had been my favorite. “Those black things just stick out like a bug.”

Do you ever feel the little rubber band that holds you together just snap? Mine did. Because he was absolutely correct. We discussed a few other ideas, then I went outside and just sat around breathing for the next hour. I was DONE painting. Meltdown had occurred.

It was probably fortunate that Kathy had driven this day, because I was not able to pick up my toys and go home. I eventually came back where Mr. Lawrence gave a delightful little lecture on how to do simple and compelling figures and faces. While I was done painting, I was willing to apply paint to paper, so I whipped out some scraps and went to work.

Mr. Lawrence’s demo figures, started with a beat up brush and some simple gestural paint application.

Day 5

I suspect I was not the only one teetering on the edge of a breakdown, because Mr. Lawrence continued in the morning with more figure demonstrations in addition to a short lecture.

  • Willy Nelson asked Norah Jones, “If all we knew about you was your work, would we know you?”
  • Don’t be crippled by the idea of having a great idea. HAVE AN IDEA!
  • What is the character of this painting? It is generally established by dominance.
  • You are playing with unity versus variety. How many visual changes to you NEED to make this interesting. And no more.
  • Just doing one good painting isn’t enough. Series!
  • All painting is about relationships or expression.
  • When you stop thinking, you start painting.

I worked on these simple faces (6 brush marks to get started…) during this period.

A final critique would be held in the afternoon where we would present one painting that you are working on today and one that you liked. We would also announce what we would work on at home.

As I mentioned, I had stopped painting, though I was willing to apply paint. So, I worked on covering this piece of paper, which turned out to be so drippy that I couldn’t do anything except that first layer.

“Alone with Her Thoughts 2” – first layer

Then I worked on some more figures, adding paint to change the mood per Mr. Lawrence’s demo.

One of these inspired me enough that I decided to try for a final painting (though, remember, I was DONE painting.)

“The Unconfidence of Pink 2”

It was this final painting and the gray legs painting from day 2 that I put up for the final review. As far as what I would be working on when I got home: drinking. You can see the link to the critique here: https://youtu.be/AyyfbHpihGU (Please note: At this point the group had had five pretty intense days together. I was not offended by anything that was said.)

Conclusions

This was an intense week. And frankly, well, I missed Mom. She would have listened to all stresses and breakthroughs of all the days. Without her, I felt a little bereft.

I walked away with less of a direction for my painting than I had originally hoped. But the thing is… I’m really the only person who can decide what I want to paint.

I did come away with these thoughts.

  • Stop doing techniques; use techniques were necessary.
  • Stop taking workshops for a while (2 years)
  • Stop relying on the next big thing (technique, workshop, color, whatever.)

Over the last couple days, as I have puttered around the house, enjoying my last days of vacation, a few more thoughts have drifted in; however, I think I will save them for another post. I want to go watch Game of Thrones now…

It wasn’t about the money

This weekend Mom’s estate took part in “The Great Oregon Coast Garage Sale“.

After the initial visit to Mom’s house, where I cleaned out her clothes (Marie Kondo, step 1) and books (Marie Kondo, step 2 (went into my Little Free Library and are still be distributed)), I decided it would probably be simpler to cart everything out into the garage and have a sale, rather than pack up everything to take to a thrift store.

The first step in this plan was to clean out the garage. The garage was very organized and more than capable of holding a car. But there were a lot of almost empty cans of paint, odd wood pieces, and garden chemicals that I decided to clean out before starting anything else. That was February, and every second at the beach the last couple of months has been full of taking things out to the garage.

Garage sale yard sale unnecessary decor items and things for home

You will notice in this stock photo, that things are priced. This is a step I did not take. Instead, I made this sign and placed it on every table.

It worked a treat. While a few people were obviously flustered at the idea of “making an offer” it turned the event, for me, into an exercise where I could just beg people to take it away.

But what really surprised me is that it turned the weekend into a people watching event, rather than a stressful “sale.” Mom liked Christmas and collected snowmen, which frustrated me a little. But watching people enjoy her things and then take them away made me appreciate the joy they brought.

Some people purchased things and I would share their story. “Oh, Grandpa made that.” Or “Oh, Dad used to wear that hat.” Other things were just too ugly to do more than rejoice when they left.

We had a version of this. Isn’t it hideous beyond ALL WORDS?

Mom’s pots and their plants sold pretty quickly, but then stalled out leaving the more battered specimens remaining. Then a lady came and loaded up her Prius with the remaining. The deal: All the pots you can put in your car are $1. She got her money’s worth!

Several packs of ladies came around several times, bringing a variety of friends to look through Mom’s decorative items. Mom’s closet of pillows was a hot commodity. One lady was looking for “real silverware” for an outdoor wedding. I cut her a good deal. Another lady was looking for glass serving items for a charity event; another good deal was had.

Yes, there were pickers who came through, scanning for things they could resell. Some people would have been worried about selling them something too cheaply. Not me! Take it!!!!

Mom’s piano is still looking for a new home.

Mom’s piano has not found it’s new home yet. And the media stand hasn’t sold. But we went from a garage piled with items on tables and the floor to five overfull tables of items of pretty questionable value. I started out the weekend thinking I would need to do a second garage sale, but most of what is left is pretty picked over.

The great news is that this is the last of the “Mom events” for a while. For the next four weeks I get to run amok, doing whatever I like. I’ll be going down to the beach for Memorial Day weekend, but it’s a friend weekend, not a work weekend. I haven’t signed up for many of my typical summer events, and I’m trying to get in the head space of having a “lazy summer.” I feel like I need to just spend some time at the beach without “doing things”. I feel that will help me with whatever decision I need to make.

In the meantime, the garage sale items are out of the way and dry, so they can just sit. If I decide to pack them up, I can always do that a little at a time. It’s SO MUCH less than it was.

One thing that came up, especially on Friday, was how many people asked about Mom’s fused class pieces (the pieces, not just the equipment, which had already been dealt with by Mom.) I did not sell any of them because I wasn’t ready. Most people were respectful of that, though a few were pretty tactless. Coronado Shores has a craft sale in the winter; I am thinking about taking her pieces to that as a “final memorial.” But no decisions right now.

As for the inside of the house. Well, it’s starting to look a little spartan, which is great. I kept furniture to live on and haven’t changed the items on the wall. I did rearrange the living room, move the TV, and add a game table. But the storage rooms are cleared out and the knick knacks are moving along. There are still a lot of items I haven’t decided about (see all those items on the piano… there are five ikebana vases that I am considering. That should give you an idea of how much is left.)

And that can all wait for another day!

Happy medium no longer exists

Forgive me for this rant. It’s a rant about something distinctly first world, but I find myself unwilling to keep it bottled up.

Why is it so freaking hard to get a good haircut?

Pulling my hair out…

It’s been years since I consistently got good haircuts. I’ll fool around with the salon routine for a few months until the hassle of it all gets to me, and then I’ll return to a cheap chain store where I can get in and out whenever it suits me. More time goes by and then I’ll get an exceptionally bad haircut (really just random cuttings with me saying, “Ah, don’t you think that piece is kind of long still–“) and I’ll try a hair salon again.

Repeat.

If the hair salons gave a nice, simple hair cut in a nice simple amount of time and just let me be me (cut some off, in and out, don’t try to sell me things) I’d be happy to pay their price. If cheap chain stores would stop allowing clearly drunk or otherwise inebriated people to give haircuts, I’d be happy with that.

There is no way to find a middle ground.

According to the media, most women enjoy having their hair fussed over. I am clearly in the minority. My short hair is unfashionable and unaltered. I’m completely cool with that.

And I don’t think I’m that much of a minority. Men, can I join your club?

One half of the world’s population is allowed to get a nice, simple haircut. They are just able to go in and say I want a hair cut. They don’t get a million questions. “How do you style it?” “Do you like it shorter here?” “What kind of product do you use.”

I know that’s changing, but, men, I’m telling you. Don’t let them take it away. You don’t know what you have!

Why did I need a haircut? (you didn’t ask…)

I am giving some presentations at a conference over the next couple days, and then my mom’s memorial. It’s been about four months since I had a haircut. So I thought it might be a good time, and with these important occasions coming up, I thought I’d try the salon treatment to avoid an embarrassing disaster.

I told the salon I didn’t mind someone inexperienced, so they put me with a sweet gal who was on her FIRST DAY. I hope she gets better. She dropped things. She got her fingers caught in my earrings. And she took over an hour to cut my hair WITHOUT giving me a shampoo. I swear, she cut each individual hair on my head. And then cut it again. To say that she was slow is like describing someone driving 35 in the I-5 fast lane as leisurely. Not only that, she kept conferring with her supervisor, asking me questions about, “Did I want this to be short, too?”

Yes, my dear. I would like all the hairs on my head cut.

When I was finally able to escape, I came home and trimmed up the areas that I just couldn’t ask her to cut shorter for the third or fourth time.

I feel bad about complaining about someone on her first day. But what I’m sensing is that because this was a “salon” she just assumed I wanted a lot of cutting and fussing. No matter how many times I said, “Oh, do whatever you think is best,” she couldn’t take the hint.

The salon is clearly in the same mindset. When I entered, they gave me a questionnaire so they could “get to know my hair better.” Is this a date or a haircut?

The questionaire had as many questions as the standard doctor’s intake.

“What would you like today?”

A haircut.

“What do you like best about your hair?”

That I have hair.

“What do you like least about your hair?”

Currently, that it’s too long.

I had intended to go to my local Audubon birding night before I got involved with the epic poem of haircuts. That didn’t happen. And now I  need a nap.

Trust your intuition, you

As I mentioned in my previous post, this weekend was the Watercolor Society of Oregon (WSO) Spring Convention. The WSO conventions are always something of a highlight for me; they are events that I plan my year around, both time and painting.

I have been painting very little, if at all in the last few months, and frankly the next few weeks don’t look any brighter on that front. Still, I went to the convention hopeful that I would find a spark I could nurture when things calmed down a little.

And let’s not understate the value of seeing friends!

I’ve been tired and I didn’t want to fight Friday afternoon traffic, so I did not sign up for any Friday events. Saturday  morning I arrived and dropped off a little project I had been working on for WSO, then went to my first break out session.

“Learning How to Batik with Watercolors” with Kristie Mooney

I wasn’t sure about taking this session, but the only other thing in this time slot I was interested in was full, so I took a chance. I had seen Kristie’s work and it is lovely. It’s always nice to have another technique in the hopper!

The class ended up being more about choosing a strong design for your painting (ahh… if only it was that simple) but I think I learned enough that if I ever decided to try it, a quick Google search (for an article like this) could solve any gaps.

Notes:

  • Use Unryu paper
  • Repetition works well
  • 5 simple shapes works well
  • Take a photo, turn to black and white, change to 4 layers
  • Blue tape to batik on yupo; beige tape to batik on watercolor

Steps:

  • First layer – white – wax (candle wax or other parafin) (fondu pots work well)
  • Second layer – light – yellow
  • Third layer – medium – red
  • Fourth layer – dark – blue
  • Fifth – use iron and newsprint (no ink) to remove wax
  • Sixth – use mat medium to stick to a surface

Apps:

  • Camera Lucida
  • Pro Create
  • Comic Pic
  • Arat Card
  • Click 2 Comic

“Landscape Sketching” with Sarkis Antikajian

I was quite excited about this class, hoping for a class with an emphasis on landscape design. Instead, this class was about the power of sketches and how as artists we should not expect them to be a full painting. I enjoyed it a great deal… and it was interactive, so I got to apply paint!

Notes:

  • Use soft rigger (not pencil) for drawing
  • Use inexpensive WC paper with tape around as frame
  • DO MULTIPLES!
  • PICK WHAT INTERESTS YOU!
  • Put colors you like as something similar to what’s there. That’s style. Shapes and colors, mannerisms you like
  • The purpose of a sketch is to document a place as you see it.
  • “I like to be heavy handed. I lean toward strong colors right away and movement.
  • Pick and sketch what attracted you most. Everything else as you have time.
  • Sometimes I like the sketches more than the painting.
  • Use mop for large flat area. Use quite dry.

“Juror’s Critique 2 – Participant” with Jean Pederson

If “recent events” had not happened, I might have considered taking Ms. Pederson’s class. I liked her bright colors and interpretive manners. Upon hearing her insightful and constructive juror, I found myself even sorrier I was not able to take the class. But I got a lot out of it, not just for the piece  submitted.

“That’s Not the Shape of My Heart” – mixed media, 12″ x 15″

During the critique, the image would flash on screen and Ms. Pederson would ask the artist, “What was your intention with this piece.” Some of the answers were really good. Mine wasn’t. “It’s an experiment,” I whispered. She didn’t seem to mind and encouraged the group to try new things. She pondered the piece and came up with three things that I think are the root of my dissatisfaction with this piece.

  1. The “heart” shape is strong. Too strong. And jagged.
  2. The facial geometric area is too even.
  3. There is an not a clear emphasis on organic vs. geometric lines. There need to be more predominance.

Those are things I felt even as I was doing the piece, but Ms. Pederson “put her finger” on them.  Throughout the critique, Ms. Pederson told participants to “Trust your instincts” as I wasn’t the only person to have a list of issues with a painting that the juror echoed.

The critique was my last event of the day. I was tired and when I had signed up I knew I would be. So I didn’t make plans to go over the show. In fact… I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll have to make a special trip up later.

Jean Pederson Lecture & Demo”, with Juror Jean Pederson

The next morning I returned and listened to the WSO morning business meeting. My personal biggest triumph over the weekend is that I DID NOT VOLUNTEER FOR ANYTHING!!! My friend, Sandra, had orders to tackle me if I tried, but I was able to restrain myself all on my own.

After the business meeting, Ms. Pederson gave a lecture on painting with intention. I tend to prefer actual demos, but she said she was a slow painter, and you have to respect people who know what works.

Notes:

  • Who am I and what am I trying to say?
  • Integrity and authenticity
  • What they really mean is to have a value scale (regarding saving whites)
  • Catalyst for change / working outside your traditional practice
    • Memory paintings
    • Artist residency
  • Red Deer College (teaches summer courses)

All in all, it was a good convention. Not great, but that is probably 100% my current mood. But I left with a lot to ponder, which is really all you can ask for.

Extremity

A friend pointed out this week that I had not posted for more than a month.  I’m working on apologizing less, so I would like to say thank you for any remaining readers I may have. I can’t promise to be any better in the next few weeks, but please know that I have started many posts in my head and have rejected them for a variety of reasons, most of the revolving around the dark nature of my thoughts or the old adage “write it and regret it.”

So… here’s a recap.

March 9-10 I went down to the beach again and spent more time working on Mom’s house. In some ways, it’s nice to go down, but in other ways, I end up very tired and worn out. It’s not really like a vacation… it’s just more work.

The next weekend, March 15-17 (one of my three-days) I stayed here and did exciting things like taxes and housework. Then on Sunday Key went to a nose work trial and got his Interior 2 title. That was the end of a little rush of nose work trials and now we have to wait a while before more come along.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good. I could see some progress on Mom’s house and I was feeling a little more cheerful. Then I let the medical professionals in.

My knee has been bothering me and I have been having some more breathing problems. So, it’s been a while since I had seen the doctors, so I decided to go in and see what could be done. It was one of the worst appointments I have ever had. The details are just too much for me to recount, but I was given another medication and a very serious lecture.

Then a few days later I came down with a cold which I have been unable to shake since (I feel sure I picked up the cold in the doctor’s office). So the weekend of March 23-24 I stayed at home and was sick.

The following weekend (obviously, you know I’m going to work on all the in between days, right?) was a big weekend, the first of four consecutive intense weekends that may end up being the end of what I can take.

I met with professional genealogist and friend, Roxanne Cummings-Basey, to tackle the mountain of photos and genealogy materials left to my mom from my aunt Carol. (See my post about the first time I went back to the beach house after Mom died.)

A total of 10 bankers boxes of genealogy and photographs was originally stored on these shelves (in addition to all the photo books you see). In this photo, we are down to three bankers boxes. The photos are essentially untouched.

Aunt Carol was an avid amateur genealogist in the 80’s and 90’s when records were still mailed to family and friends and EVERYTHING was done a word processor (not a computer). Over the years, Aunt Carol and Uncle Jack took quite a few genealogy related trips and self published many tomes of family stories and records. They distributed these to EVERYONE. And over the years many have filtered down to me, as first my grandparents, then my aunt, then my mom died.

The agony of having all this is that I have all but no interest in it, but I was concerned that there was information that was “important.” That’s when Roxanne stepped in. While I sorted the boxes for pictures, she went through the paperwork, sorting through what was basic information versus actual ancestry information.

In the end, we went from 10 bankers boxes to 1 bankers box of ancestral information. Even that information, Roxanne felt, while possibly personally priceless, was not terribly “valuable” as so much of it was not cited and sourced. It is probably readily available on the internet.

About half of what we eventually disposed of.

The piles of duplicates and discards were awesome, and of course had to be hauled home where I have recycling service.  In a lot of ways, it was a fun weekend. While Roxanne and I worked a lot, we also watched TV and talk, went out dinner, looked at the ocean, and knitted a little. However, by Sunday I was ready to be finished, not the least because Aunt Carol was a smoker and all the smoky paperwork was making me feel terrible.

Once back home, I scanned the information in the one remaining bankers box and I have put it on CDs which I will give to my cousins and Roxanne (she may do something with some of the information having to do with her professional development, but I don’t really understand.) However, I am confident that everything is as preserved as it’s going to get and that responsibility is off my shoulders.

Finally, this weekend was the Watercolor Society of Oregon spring convention where I was pleased that this painting was accepted. I plan to write another post about that tomorrow. (We’ll see if I do…)

I also found out this week that my painting, “Page 1” was accepted into the Emerald Art Center Exhibition later this month. That’s always very pleasant.

Next weekend is Mom’s memorial and to say I’m wound up is an understatement. The following weekend is the garage sale at Mom’s house (part of the Great Oregon Coast Garage Sale). I wish I could learn not to turn my life into some kind of extreme endurance sport.

Judgements

I did not go to work today because I had a nasty “stomach” and… well… let’s just leave it there.

After calling in sick, I went back to bed for a while, then made some phone calls (will the phone calls never end), then took another nap. By this time, I was feeling well enough to trot the dog around the block. And then I decided to “enter the studio.”

Career Day

Last week I took a couple hours off to go give a talk “as an artist” to Walker Middle School (6th-8th graders). Frankly, I don’t know what I was thinking. Is there a harder age? I created a PowerPoint (Decoding the Arts) and brought a box of paper and various mark-making equipment. I figured if the talk failed, I’d just throw art stuff at them.

All things considered, it did not go badly. I WILDLY overestimated the time before they started squirming (I had 50 minutes, I planned a 30 minute talk; 20 minutes would have been optimistic). But the part about “Black Panther” went well and the kids that were inclined to do so enjoyed the various supplies.

Watercolor

However, I was scolded once. I was trying to explain to the kids that one of the key requirements of being an artist is being brave, taking chances, and also accepting criticism (not that I’m an expert). I showed them a bad painting of mine as an example and the kids started to giggle. The teacher came over with a sign. “In this classroom,” she rebuked me gently, “we don’t put down our own art.”

Point taken.

It was an interesting day, but it had the effect of TRASHING my studio. So, I entered and started to put away the piles.

Studio Archeology

Eventually, under the mountains and forests of my studio tables, I was able to find work in progress.

I left off at an attempt to start the 50 bird paintings I must completed if I am selected for the Community Supported Arts & Culture program that I applied for. In December, I prepared for this job by purchasing a couple of packs of mats and envelopes; now I need to fill them.

I’ve started with these.

I was tempted to tackle some larger projects, but 50 bird paintings is a daunting task. So instead of actually working on that, I worked on finishing some of the smaller pieces that were on the lowest level of the archeological dig that is my studio.

As you can see, I had a little too much fun with the turquoise acrylic (I’m not sorry). Because I have trouble wasting paint, I ended up applying another layer (another…) to this painting.

One of these days I will figure out what to do with that thing.

Cherry Blossom Festival

Above an around all these activities, I have spent serious time working on the Artist in Action (AiA) Cherry Blossom Festival events, which I am heading up this year.

The first event is called Parasol Parade. Essentially, artists sign out a rice paper parasol, decorate it, then give it to a business to display for a month to promise the Cherry Blossom Festival which happens in mid March.

This year, AiA added a poster contest. This was my idea. I thought a show would be easier to arrange than having dozens of artists deliver parasols. I thought (and think) that if this is successful, the parasol project might be terminated.

I was working on organizing all this, just getting to the real details, when Mom got sick and then died. By the time I was functioning again, there just wasn’t enough time to make all my visions into reality. And this is the week when all that is being sorted out.

A version of this always seems to happen to me. I have a vision, I do lots of organization work to make it happen, and then on the actual “day of”, I fall to pieces. People don’t read directions. They don’t do what you ask. They don’t volunteer. They have their own ideas. And I end up flustered and agitated.

This pattern has happened… well, all my life. In school I would do all the work for the group project and then at the last minute, everyone else had an idea. When I was running Pawsitively Clean, customers and employees would trample over my carefully laid plans. Dog shows and art events inevitably end up with me strung out and hysterical.

So as I was patiently (I hope) listening to an artist explain why the plan for that piece wouldn’t work, a thought flitted through my mind.

“Maybe I’m just bad at this.”

And then a feeling of relief swept over me.

If I am bad at this, I can stop doing it.

I tried to explain this epiphany to a friend, but she said, “Oh, Tara, you’re a terrific organizer. You just get frustrated with people.”

People. That’s the problem. Or…

“Maybe I’m just bad at this.”

I asked a different friend and she mulled it over. “I don’t think you should put it into terms of good and bad. You just can’t be successful in this role.”

I love that friend.

My mantra (interior as well as exterior) for volunteering to chair events (I’ll still work, I just don’t want to run anything) needs to be, “I’m not successful in that role.”

Finally… judgement

This theme of judgement is one I am struggling with right now. Mom was my great sounding board. I would run most things by her to make sure they seemed sound. Without her, I find myself struggling to come up with how to shape the boundaries of the world around me.

It isn’t that I don’t trust myself to be smart or to make good decisions. I’m finding it hard to know how to feel about things. Like evaluating my own art, there is a fine line between realism and harshness. There is a place for unwavering support, but there is also a spot where I need to put down the mantle of things that I don’t do well.

While I’m not done grieving, I’m starting to feel like moving forward is a good thing. What I’m discovering is that story telling is different than it used to be. I can’t tell this story to my mom, so how do I want to tell this story to myself?

That’s a big lift.

Hold your applause

I want to show you my accomplishment over the last three days.

I know. You just gasped in shock and amazement. Your heart filled with envy. I am sure you wish for a corner for your very own.

Yeah.

What’s exciting about this corner is that it does not have three boxes of paperwork left over from Mom (as well as a computer in need of decommissioning.) Instead, those three boxes have been filed in my filing cabinet (along with my stuff), shredded, or generally tossed out.

And that took me the better part of three days (plus the last two months).

Through a flex plan at my job, I get every other Friday off. I like to use this day to run errands, go to the doctor, and other little tasks. The theory is that it leaves my real weekends free to do other things.

As a theory, it’s a good one. The flaw is that Friday goes according to plan, then I spend Saturday and Sunday cleaning up the mess of what didn’t get done, or got started but not finished, on Friday.

Here is what Friday looked like (I’ll admit I lost track around 2pm).

  • Trim Key’s nails
  • Walk
  • Unload car from art talk on Thursday
  • Take back cans for deposit
  • Laundry (3 loads)
  • Fill up bird feeders
  • Fill up little free library
  • Unload dishwasher
  • Unload items in my studio from art talk on Thursday
  • Clean counters
  • Call NW Natural (Mom’s estate)
  • Call Point Pest Control
  • Call Medicare (Mom’s estate)
  • Get art from River Gallery
  • Lunch
  • Library
  • File (includes shredding and labels) (repeat…)
  • Email (repeat…)
  • Artists in Action parasols (emails)
  • WSO (emails)
  • Balance checkbook
  • Pay bills (repeat…)

I was still working on various things on my to do list at 10pm when I decided to go to bed.

The next day, I took Key to a nose work trial (he got his Level 1 Exterior and Level 1 Vehicle titles!) When I came back, I did more filing and paying bills.

And then today, I volunteered at the nose work trial. And when I came back, I got groceries, took out the trash, did another load of laundry, and did more filing and emailing and finally got the last of the boxes gone.

Doesn’t that corner look FABULOUS?

Yeah, I think so too.

Progress Report

I’m tempted to start off this blog post with an apology for the length of time since my last post, but I’m afraid I can’t really be sorry. So much is going on that any day I get dressed is a small victory. I am making progress on various areas of life, but I’m afraid that much of it is just too tiring to talk about.

Tonight’s post is just to break the “radio silence” and give an update about various things. I have some photos to make it more interesting.

Key

Last weekend, Key got his NW2 title. He was wonderful, but his handler was more than a little scattered. Still, a title is a title!

This weekend I chose to putter around the house because we have several big weeks coming up, including two nose work weekends. Key is delighted to report that puttering included an exploratory hike in Silver Falls State Park which was covered in snow.

Snow?

Yes, my friend.

Art

I’m not sure I ever reported that my art is in the Wild Women Show currently happening (for another week) at the River Gallery in Independence.

I’m equally unsure if I reported that my piece, “Page 1”, is hanging in the Salem Reads show at the Salem Library.

As far as upcoming news, however, I am delighted to report that my painting, “Loss”, was selected for the Spring WSO show.

I’m looking forward to the Portland convention that will accompany it. #traveloregon

I also have some deadlines coming up that I hope to make, so things are going apace.

Birding

I’ve been doing some birding. Here are some pictures from the last month to prove it.

Grief

Mom’s estate is in probate (it’s just me, so it’s really a formality). Occasionally something comes up and I have to do another round of notifications, but things are definitely slowing down. I’ve met with the lawyers, the money people, and the CPA. In less than two months I’ll do her memorial, which will be another little rite of passage.

People ask how I am doing. I think it’s best to answer this question in the form of a graph.

How sad I feel on any given day.

Generally, I am getting less sad. I miss Mom. I find I miss her advice and the ability to bounce ideas off her. I miss filing away little stories to tell her about my day. I’m slowly finding ways to deal with this. My resilience to stress if very low, which is a problem; something happens and it will take me much longer than normal to get over it. I think that will return, but it will just take time.

Thank you all for your support!

Disheartened & overwhelmed

Through the process of Mom dying, I rarely got stuck. When I started thinking, “I can’t do this,” my inner voice would say helpful things like, “Just make the next phone call”, “Take a minute to breathe”, or “You don’t have to fix this, you just have to be here.”

Over the last month, I’ve gone through some of the grief stages I know I must go through. I spent the first two weeks in a tired fog, and when I came out of that, it has been to the acknowledgement that this is going to be a very long process (practically and emotionally) and I’m just going to have to deal with that.

Frankly, there has been a lot of procrastination. Whenever it felt like too much, trying to take on the next form or sort through another website, I pulled a Scarlett O’Hara.

It’s been pretty effective. In the last month, I’ve  accomplished a lot. Probate started, insurance claims filed, banks contacted. But Mom’s house has been the “big thing” that I  have been dreading facing.

From the beginning, I knew that I wasn’t going to make a decision about the house (whether to keep it or sell it) for at least a year. (To recap, Mom’s house is at the Oregon Coast. Mom and Dad bought the lot before they had me, built it from scratch with their parent’s help, and I’ve been in and out of it all my life. While I was growing up, we’d go down there about once a month for a little break, and Mom and Dad retired there in about 2004. It’s been extensively remodeled and is well set up for retirement, being a single-story home with two handicap-accessible bathroom.) My original, long-term plan was to retire down there, but that was when I expected Mom to live until at least 2030.  Right now, my best guess for my own retirement is 2035 (and that’s an early retirement.) I don’t know if I want to “carry” the house for another 16 years.

Regardless of my eventual decision, the house needs to be cleaned out. Perishable food is really all that has been addressed. You can imagine the other details.

A few weeks ago, I sat down and with Marie Kondo‘s help, drew up a plan for tackling Mom’s house.

And then… well… I procrastinated. I had “too much to do” or “was too tired”. Or had to pet the dog. (Note to self: Now, look, it’s only been a month, and you know it. You get a break whenever you want.) At heart, I didn’t want to go down to the beach and do what had to be done. I knew I’d go down and work myself until I was sore and tired. I’d get emotional. I’d forget to eat and then have low blood sugar problems. Then I’d come back and have to to back to work on Monday and be reasonably professional.

Finally, I asked a friend (the amazing Gretchen) to come down with me and help me by saying things like, “Have you eaten?” and, “Let’s take a break.”  So, Friday I picked up Gretchen and we took off. The plan was to stop by Baskett Slough before heading down to the beach. Once there, we’d go for a walk with the dog and then start on the two tasks, per Marie Kondo.

The KonMari Method™ encourages tidying by category – not by location – beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.

Gretchen, Key (the dog), and I got down and did our walks, and then we hit it. I set Gretchen the task of rounding up clothes and books, then I started on bagging up Mom’s clothes. Gretchen kicked butt. It turned out that Mom’s clothes were very well organized and essentially in one room of the house. The books were scattered around, but easy enough to identify and bring to the designated area. It was hard, but in the end it wasn’t difficult to get rid of things when they don’t fit and are not your style.  They needed to go out into the world.

By the end of Saturday, Gretchen and I had loaded up the car twice to go to the thrift shop. I had given all baking items (including ingredients) to the next door neighbor and Mom’s friend Nancy had been excited about the Keurig. A total of twenty-five 30 gallon bags had been removed (in addition to the 10 bags that had been removed at my house.)

And I was nearly hysterical over the mountain photographs and memorabilia.

As Gretchen had been scoping around, she kept saying things like, “Do you want this photo album, too?” or “Gosh, this trunk is filled with genealogy papers…” And I kept saying, “Yeah, bring them out and put them on the bookshelf. That’s where I’m keeping the sentimental stuff for the last stage.”  Gretchen kept finding photo albums, Aunt Carol’s genealogy stuff, Grandma Eunice’s diaries, and Great Grandma’s family Bible.

What am I going to do? I am an only child. I will not have children. My mom had a sister, Aunt Carol. She had two children. While both my cousins have gotten married, neither has had any biological children. Aunt Carol was very into genealogy and over the years amassed a huge collection of material about both her family and her husbands. Neither of my cousins have shown any interest in it. My dad had a brother. Uncle Darrel had two children, and both of them have had children. However, they have always said they aren’t interested in any of the older photos and memorabilia that has been kept around.

In short, for whatever reason, I am now the owner of a huge collection of historical items that I have neither the time or interest in cataloging.

I can’t do this. I am just completely stopped. I can’t figure out the next stage for that pile.

Technically, the next stage in KonMari is Lesson 3: Papers. Mom was excellent at accumulating and keeping papers, so that’s going to be a very big task. I may cheat and do the easier (for me) kitchen lesson. Items like these photographs are Lesson 5; in other words, the end. The theory is that with everything else straightened up, you’ll know and understand what you really feel about things.

But still, that mountain awaits. And it’s really discouraging.

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