I searched for this word/feeling on Google, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe it doesn’t exist? The feeling that you want to get somewhere, and you know the somewhere exists, but you have no idea how to get there. You aren’t lost. You know where you are. But you can’t figure out the path between where you are and where you want to be. Whatever the word for this feeling, that is emotionally and physically where I am. Thus, it is unsurprising that I am currently in the middle of an art piece that I know how it should look, but I don’t know how to get there. There is a lot of paint flying around the room.

Sabbatical Update

It’s been a month since I started my sabbatical. In most ways, I feel like I am (slowly) heading in the right direction. I’m not longer experiencing adrenaline attacks of anxiety and I’ve (mostly) given up on imaginary conversations where I “win”. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of things to do. The days go by quickly. By the time I have my morning coffee, take the dog for a walk, and play in the garden (weather permitting) it is easy to spend the afternoon working on computer projects or art. There are still errands and chores. If I am starting to feel a little panic about letting the days slip away without a plan, I try hard to listen to the kind part of my brain say, says, “Tara, it’s only been a month. You’ve been working full time for 30 years. Let things unfold in their own time.” Rather than the mean part says, “You need to do something to make this thing worthwhile!”

Looking at my work over the last few weeks, I really see this dichotomy playing out. Please indulge me as I try to explain.


A few weeks ago, during my initial decluttering phase, I decided to clean out and donate a bunch (a big bunch) easels. I put the various colors in mason jars (yellows, blues, pinks, reds, etc.) and have been working on using up these colors ever since. There is a little urgency to this quest; the colors are mixed with water and with some of the colors, mold has become a force. As such, I’ve found myself spending evenings just painting over various paintings. Just painting. Applying color. Painting.

I find this process spellbinding. Sometimes the colors completely obscure what is underneath, sometimes they blend, sometimes the old paintings show through.  I’m not sure where this is going, other than trying to use up the paint. But I think it might be going somewhere.


Several of these brushed pieces had a color range that reminded me of white-faced ibis. I had three pieces in the same color range as well as the piece below; however, the piece below also has acrylic on it, so it isn’t exactly the same, but it is also brushed with the same mix.

Earlier this week I received an email from the ISEA that their Annual Juried Exhibition “Innovations” would be opening in a few days. Unlike their other two annual shows, this exhibit is in person and exists at the location of the annual Symposium. I have signed up to go to the symposium this year due to Kimberly Santini giving a two-day workshop. It is in Grand Haven, MI, in September, and I figure the trip, symposium, and return will take the better part of three weeks. I’d like to have a piece in the show.

So, upon receiving the reminder email, I decided to work on a piece for the show. I had some papers I had overpainted on my desk, and the color reminded me of the iridescence of white-fronted ibis. I decided to stop fighting my idea and do a collage with the paper.

After sketching the ibis on tracing paper to get the sizes right, I used the paper to make a pattern, then cut out the birds. Seeing them on a blank background made me realize I needed to, you know, have a background. I decided I didn’t want to “waste” a half-sheet of watercolor paper, so I decided to assemble one with scraps of bad paintings.

This lead to a kind of party, with backgrounds assembled, glued, gessoed, and painted in a willy-nilly manner that promises to create fun, but may not exactly what I was looking for.



About three backgrounds later, I was applying the last layers of gesso when I accidently saw the assembled background from the back side (meaning the various failed paintings). It had a fun quality to it, so I decided to gesso the back (with color) instead of the blank fronts. Upon removing the cling-wrap texture, I was really enamored. I dismissed the idea of the piece being “good enough”, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it.

“Gifts” – 15″ x 22″ mixed media

I had just about decided to go ahead and give it a shot as-is when I picked it up and saw that I hadn’t completely covered the entire “area” of the paper. There were several little holes. I got out my faux-gold foil and filled them in, a little like kintsugi (repairing a broken piece of ceramic with gold).

A break between papers filled with “gold” leaf foil.

This piece feels like a reflection of me, at least right now. Unexpected, off track, and with holes. But, also, with beauty and grace. As I am going through this sabbatical process, I’ve read a few books on burnout and stress, but nothing seems to fit. So far, the closest I’ve come is “Braiding Sweetgrass” which is a delightful read that invites me to slow down and find balance. I see the themes of that book in this piece.

Gritty Gusto

The deadline for the AAEA show is coming up (July 14), and I really would like to get a piece selected. As I have mentioned before, I have been accepted three times (the minimum for juried membership), but not within the same five year period: 2015, 2017, and 2022. I need to be accepted twice more in the next three years to get that coveted membership. As such, I did this small study today, in preparation for a larger piece.

I’m pleased with most everything except the horse’s head. It’s overworked. I may fiddle some more with values and see if I can resolve it.

Looking Ahead

For this next week, there isn’t much going on. I am hoping to get in some good painting and project time. Starting in April, I’ll be gallery sitting (Pacific Artists’ Co-Op Gallery). Additionally, the WSO convention (with painting drop-off and pick-up) will be that first week, so it promises to be a busy month.

As I final note, I have added an item to my daily self-care report on Facebook (when I get get FB to post it).

Sabbatical Day xxx –
Useful Chore: xxx
Fun Item: xxx
Peaceful Thing: xxx
Self Care: xxx

Again, this is following Gretchen Rubin’s regime of a goal a month. I’m finding it difficult, much more so than decluttering. The voice in my head gives me a lot of grief about “wasting time” on things like moisturizing my legs or taking Qi Gong class twice a week, even those these are the kinds of things that make me feel better. I may have to spend more time on this one, but it’s an area I need to work on.

Because my gifts deserve care.

That was a hard sentence to write.

Taking my bearings

Bearing (noun):
a) the situation or horizontal direction of one point with respect to another or to the compass
b) a determination of position
c) comprehension of one’s position, environment, or situation

A couple weeks ago, I made my big announcement; I had decided to go on sabbatical for a year, walking away from my stable position at a state agency to explore the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. February 20th was the big day, and I turned in my computer and other equipment in a drama-free, anticlimactic ritual.

So, what exciting events have transpired since then? I’ve slept in, watched movies, done puzzles, painted, and decluttered the house. Yes, it’s all excitement, all the time around here.

Quite honestly, this low impact lifestyle is a carefully thought-out decision. I don’t know where I want to go, so it seems wise to focus on where I am and work from there. For the first few days, I would have random moments of dread and adrenaline, where I would have to stop and remind myself that I was safe and no longer needed to worry about work or what others thought of me. I’m happy to report that this seems to be happening less frequently.

As I’m not sure what I really want, other than to be happier and calmer, I have decided to (loosely) follow Gretchin Rubin’s awesome book “The Happiness Project“.  I’m not committed to every item on her list, but it seems like a place to start. For those who haven’t read the book, Ms. Rubin embarks on a year-long journey to improve her own happiness. Each month she picks a topic and works on it, trying to “roll” the lessons from previous months forward. Some of the topics included:

  • Clutter
  • Relationships
  • Work
  • Parenting
  • Play & Leisure
  • Friendships
  • Spending
  • Thankfulness
  • Finding your passion
  • Mindfulness
  • Attitude
  • Rules (self-imposed)

While all these items are fantastic, not every single one appeals to me equally. So, to get started, I decided to follow Rubin’s lead and start with a house delutter. Each day, I tackled a room or two, cleaning as I went. Several friends have commented that my house wasn’t that cluttered, but I think these things sneak up on you. Here is what I removed:

  1. one 40-gallon bag of yarn (donation)
  2. two 40-gallon bags of miscellaneous household objects (example: duplicate set of salad tongs) (donation)
  3. 4 c-pap sleep machines as used by my parents (donated to appropriate spot)
  4. four 10-gallon bags of extra art supplies (donation)
  5. 40 superfluous storage bins (sold)
  6. desk (sold)
  7. table (sold)
  8. rolling cart (sold)
  9. zip bag of jewelry (donated to local fundraiser)
  10. more than 20 puzzles (donation)
  11. two bags of books (donation)
  12. one 40-gallon bag of shredding (garbage)
  13. four computers of various ages (electronic recycling program)

So now, with the house looking fantastic, I am looking ahead a little further. In the next few weeks, I hope to do some work on my website and a few other art-marketing chores. And I hope to spend some time relaxing and having fun. I feel like my next stop will be something to do with my health, but I haven’t narrowed it down further than that.

Another thing I have decided to commit to is a daily summary of this project. Each day on Facebook, I answer the following question:

Sabbatical Day ? –
Useful Chore: ______
Fun Item: ______
Peaceful Thing: ______

Some days I’ve had to dig pretty deep to find a fun item.

With the exception of Gretchen Rubin, I’m struggling to find resources to help me figure out next steps. I spoke to my recovery coach about this process, and she came up with this list, derived from asking her supervision group.

  • Make it ALL about YOU.
  • You don’t need to have plans or goals.
  • Be comfortable in discomfort.
  • Be curious.
  • Ask yourself: When I’m on my death bed, what might I regret not doing?
  • Don’t have to do what society expects you to do.
  • Pour into yourself.
  • Reset your nervous system.
  • Reconnect with the body.
  • Avoid to-do lists.
  • Say YES, especially to your inner child and subconscious (the stuff that bubbles up that we often dismiss).
  • This is an adventure in unfolding, not another thing to achieve.
  • Learn how to rest.
  • Allow. Allow yourself to unfold. Allow yourself to process and feel and rest and learn who you are.
  • Be open.
In addition to this plethora of idea, the group recommended three books:

I love having a reading list. It makes this experience seem legitimate, somehow.

I hope to write a more “art related” post this week, because a lot of exciting things are happening on that front as well. But don’t hold your breath; I’m on vacation.