Saturday, November 13, 2010

When Jayn Reads - vintage article

This was written in 2007 for Connections E-zine when Jayn was 7. Since then Jayn, now 11, has become a near effortless reader, including reading unfamiliar complex material aloud when she wants to.

Jan 10, 2011 - This post needs some links!

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Granny is concerned that Jayn can’t read yet. She says that when Jayn can read, she wants to give her a present of the Nancy Drew books. With gratitude for her kindness and evident love, I nonetheless chuckle at her notion that creating a reward is a great way of pushing Jayn forward to what Granny erroneously believes must be my top priority, even while my willingness to read to Jayn any time she asks subverts her intention. Granny doesn’t get Unschooling. And now there is an upcoming movie to facilitate Jayn’s enjoyment of this character, Nancy Drew, even more easily.


There is no doubt that one day, in the fullness of time and at the right time, Jayn will become a reader. I have no doubt that she will slide into reading with the relatively effortless grace that so many other Unschoolers report of their children as they gain literacy with their parents’ support in their text filled environments.

Of course I will be happy for her, as a whole new world of ease will open up to her. I will be proud of her abilities and acceptant of her choices regardless of whether she becomes a great reader of literature, a researcher, a consumer of pop culture, a dabbler, or some idiosyncratic combination of all. She is already a story teller, so the ability to read and to write privately will expand her options there. But I’m in no hurry.

In keeping with my own increasing understanding of myself, believing someone has to take on being the “Black Hat Thinker” (see “Six Thinking Hats” by Eduard de Bono) I am always able to see the negatives of any situation. When I look at our life now, Jayn’s pre-literate life and activities, I can see that there are things that are likely to be lost once she can read for herself.

When I was young I was a huge reader of fiction. I am so still, time permitting. I have no recollection of not being able to read, but nor do I have any record of my age when I started. My grandmother had kept a box of my mother’s books from her childhood – delightfully quaint now but au-courant then schoolgirl novels with titles like “The Girls of Greycourt” and “The Dominant Fifth”; the entire collection of “Anne of Green Gables” books, as well as the lesser known “Emily of New Moon” trilogy; a few rare Australian novels written in the late 1940’s and earlier. I must have been about nine when Nan gave me these for my own and I made my first acquaintance with the bizarre gender confusion of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five (“as good as a boy” indeed) and the idea of novels in a long series. I still love the English boarding school novel genre, especially as it has been reinvented by one J.K. Rowling in recent years.

"Potter" Coburns

Reading novels was an escape from my everyday life. Like many others report, I was so able to immerse myself in the world of whatever novel I was reading that I would easily become oblivious to the real world around me. There were several occasions when I read past my bus stop – but then I got to read on the backtracking journey so that was a bonus, provided I looked up in time to hail the approaching bus. I remember once in high school suddenly feeling the silence, looking up and realizing that I was alone in the vast grassy play ground. The bell had rung and everyone gone inside all unnoticed by me at some undetermined time before. Luckily the teacher took a humorous attitude to my tardiness.

However my avid reading, during every spare moment, was not so valued by my mother. I remember being forbidden to bring my book along on outings, because it was “rude” to read while visiting. I will add that these were visits to aging aunts or adult friends of my mother, not places with other children to play with – afternoons of unending heavy boredom, desperately scanning for bookshelves or magazines, finding dog-eared Reader’s Digests in the bathroom, anything printed to make the time go by faster. I suppose my mother’s fear was that her friends would be offended if I brought anything along that hinted that I found them uninteresting (as if I were part of the adult conversations anyway!), whereas I always felt like having a good book along was like insurance against a bad time.

Perhaps my mother resented the complete self-reliance that my reading created. I was perfectly happy alone, perfectly independent and without need.

When, in due course, Jayn can read for herself, she will enter a world where she too will have a level of skillful self-reliance that will remove some of her need of me, remove me from her service.

As a non-reader Jayn constantly seeks my assistance mediating the world of text that surrounds her. She uses me as a checker for her guesses about meaning, to explain and read descriptions, to check labels or box contents, to read stories, to type her dictation, to spell words for her hand written missives. If something goes wrong with her computer game, she needs me to translate the error message. Even in her solitary pursuits, such as fantasy doll play, drawings become an illustrated diary, but I am the repository of her verbal journaling. I make the title, date and time notations on the backs of the drawings for future reference.

Jayn is also in charge of when she wants translating to occur. Often she impatiently says to me, “don’t read the descriptions”, able simply to ignore intrusive text in a way that readers - who automatically scan and decode any text that falls under their eyes - just can’t. Her pragmatic need for help fosters the connection between us. We have so much intimacy as I learn about her thought processes by helping her with her writing and recording of her ideas and I follow her developing interests through reading web page URL’s for her or typing searches in the Google window.

On the other hand, reading may diminish some of the assured self-reliance that she currently has. For example in pursuing her latest fascination, cooking, Jayn has no need of recipes. She follows her own creativity adding condiments or making sauces. She enjoys experimenting with the heat levels of the pans on the stove noticing when eggs cook too quickly or bacon frizzles.

Without captions directing her attention to any particular part of a picture or photograph, Jayn notices surprising features and makes unexpected connections to other bits in her visual memory. Without instructions, Jayn confidently builds a world where magic matters as much as physics, a world which functions perfectly well. Her imagination is unbridled by being undirected. My sad little fear is that her free experimenting will be reduced by reading spurred awareness of the “correct way”.

Of course the wonderful worlds of literature and information will be even more available to her once she can read. At present her access to the great stories and histories are filtered by my memory or the creative realization of others in films or pictorial media. Every film she sees, every museum diorama will eventually function as a hook of familiarity when she comes to read the novel or seek out the rest of the story. I suspect that when her reading skill initially flowers she will immerse herself in it for a time, possibly to the exclusion of her more manual activities. Or not. What wonderful uncertainty.

Staging Sleeping Beauty's Wedding

Jayn’s march to reading is as inexorable as her journey to physical maturity, her increasing empathy, her growing awareness as her world widens, and her increasing understanding of social relationships.

Inexorable and inevitable, and surely it will be with joy that I must welcome the new skill and all it will open for Jayn. Every new stage of independence must be welcomed because my alternative would be fighting nature’s reality or diving into overwhelming sadness for what is past. Our children need us to celebrate their development with them, and I know that celebration is better than sorrow.

But it will just as surely be as bittersweet as the time when my little Jayn lost her charming baby mispronunciations in favor of proper words. I lock these sweet moments in my memory. Perhaps we all share similar pangs and shed gentle hidden tears as we realize that once again our babies have moved on in the process of releasing us from the center of their innocent world.

Without any pushing, independence will come at the right time for Jayn’s needs. Without any pushing, her only struggles will be with her own impatience - not any of mine. At the right time Jayn will launch herself into the world of independent discovery through solitary reading, and I will see less of her. I will have to wait to be invited into her private world that presently is a place that is always open to me. And I will treasure the memory of when I was as essential to her understanding as I hope to always be to her heart.

She will be a reader. But I’m in no hurry.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tommy Roe

An old friend of James' family, Tommy Roe has been nominated for the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
Please vote at the website.

We recently sat with him and his lovely wife at the Operation Smile Gala here in LA. It turns out that they have another connection with the Coburns through their daughter in law who shares a great, great grandfather with my Jayn. Strange how things go.

He still plays music of course, but he is also a great landscape photographer. Like many creative people, his artistry will not be bound to one medium.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crafting with Plastics 1 Footnotes.

My column in the current Natural Life Magazine is about plastic pollution - the first of a series about crafting plastics. Here are links to the info presented.

Go to the awesome Fake Plastic Fish first. You may not even need the rest of the footnotes because there are a lot of links at FPF.

The Plastiki Expedition official site.

The BP oil spill has a plethora of sites including the Wikipedia entry, BP's site and various ongoing news items and images if you Google it.

Kevin Costner and his oil spill cleanup machine was in the news at the time.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council - the state of the restoration.

Algalita Marine Research Foundation - voyages.

Dr. Marcus Eriksen's Junk raft, and here is a nice description of the gyres issue. And some more news on gyres.

Ocean Conservancy International Beach Clean-up.

Here are some sites about biodegradable  and new plastics science:

Elizabeth's Francke's book is available online.

Want to complain about plastic in envelope windows? Maybe we could start a letter writing campaign to the Envelope Manufacturers Association. Beth Terry (FPF) already collects hers. What if we all did and sent them on mass to the EMA on some particular day next year? Wait a minute - this could be something.....

***Stop the Presses: Since I wrote that article, apparently SunChips has ceased production of the biodegradable bags due to consumer complaints. Apparently the new bags are too noisy......Sigh.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stop the Presses

Via a circuitious path (isn't it always?) I found this magazine publishing site. I didn't know I had been searching for this all my life, but there it is. Print on demand or electronic delivery, eco friendly paper stocks, what looks to be very high quality photographically.

So now I'm contemplating my "Making, Mending, Mothering: Living an Artistic Life as a Family" book project which has been rattling around in my head and inside my computer for about a year now. It just suddenly seems to be shouting that it wants to be a magazine. My big question is how much people would be interested in a quarterly publication around those themes, instead of a single book.

I had actually been toying with the idea of converting the MMM project into a limited edition hand made art book. I would consider that much more compatible with a magazine type of project than a commercially published book.

The more I consider this, the more right it feels. OK I'm going to do it. I'm not sure when, but stay tuned.

Happy-dance time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Footnotes For Tee-Yarn Article

My article in the current issue of Natural Life Magazine is all about using yarn cut from tee shirts for a bunch of fun projects.

Here are some links to ideas and people mentioned for further reading.

Fair Trade source for recycled Sari yarns
History of Rag Rugs
Rag Rug how-to
A bit about Shabby Chic
Cate Blanchett wears granny squares
Belly Dancing Tassels
Knifty Knitter Looms

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Not Creative"

Above: Jayn at Live and Learn a few years ago, Barbie funshop.

I recently started a new job at Michaels. In addition to working for Provocraft, I’m also a Michaels’ associate, and I hope to soon be one of the crafting teachers.

I love it – I love hearing about what people are making, and I love helping folks find exactly the right product or method to finish their project. I’m finding that I know more about a lot of crafts than I realized.

However there is something that disturbs me, something I keep hearing from various customers, especially from parents coming in to buy their kids’ school project materials.

I’m not creative”, and the rarer variant, “I’m not artistic”.

It confuses me a little. The people saying this are in a craft supplies store, have made the plan and choice to come in to a craft supplies store. And yet they hold a belief about themselves as not creative.

I’ve seen panic on the faces of parents with their middle school aged kids. The kids will have a list from their teacher of the supplies they need, or a sketch of the project they are supposed to complete. The families pace back and forth along the couple of aisles pretty much dedicated to school project materials. They bite their lips and consult their lists. They want to know if a particular glue “will work”, if these colors go together, if this product is the same as the listed supply item.

Apparently some kids are allowed to use the Mission kits, while other schools insist they start from scratch. Sometimes it appears that the student has designed a fantasy diorama, but once the teacher has signed off on the design, then it becomes immutable. I remember a child in a futile search for a ready-made miniature figure wearing a scarf blowing in the wind, while riding a unicorn. I think it was to be a book report. I had several suggestions, but I don’t know how she eventually solved it.

Above: Jayn's Flower Shop miniature diorama - detail.

So while funding cuts destroy school art classes, crafty, artsy projects are all the rage in the other subjects.

I worry slightly about the effects of this trend on school kids’ essay writing skills – but then again not everyone enjoys writing like I do. The projects sound like fun, and give kids another way to express themselves. Or should if they are genuinely being allowed to do so. Hmm – we can trust school to let kids express themselves, right?

Picasso said, “All children are artists. The trick is to remain so as adults”. So these frightened, self-deprecating parents and other adults with the sadly skewed view of themselves as “not creative” – where did they come from?

The answer is, for the vast majority, school.

We already know that school does a wonderful job of making math seem difficult, poetry irrelevant, science confusing and history dull. Why would we expect that school would magically be able to keep art making and creativity alive, vibrant and exciting?

Maybe it’s a good thing that school arts funding is being cut.

More on this:
“Encouraging Creativity”
“Found: The Artist Within”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Notes From the Edge of the Abyss, or don't make the same mistakes I did

It’s true that there is deep and horrific poverty in the world. I count my blessings every time I turn on my kitchen faucet and remember that I don’t have to haul water in 10 gallon loads on foot across five miles of gravelly scrub land. It’s also true that there are many people much worse off than me even in my local community. I still have a roof over my head, electricity, gas heating, even internet access and satellite television. My husband has two jobs, and I have two part time jobs, none with benefits or long term security, but we are managing. Just. The truth is that I have avoided looking sternly at my own lousy money management. I’ve refused to admit that I am a stupid spendthrift, short sighted, and did I say stupid with money? So here are some lessons, finally and painfully learnt by me after a lifetime. 1. Save money while you are young. I was so fortunate when I was starting out in theater in my early twenties, to have a great job at Her Majesty’s Theater in Sydney. I don’t think the old place exists any more, but at the time there was a wonderful sense of continuity for me to be working in the very company in which my mother got her start in musical theatre. I had an inexpensive rented home. Prior to that I had been lucky enough to live rent free for a few years in the small house my mother had bought as an investment property before leaving the country to marry. Trouble is, I was a party girl. Without many responsibilities other than work, recently divorced, and feeling free and unfettered for the first time in my life, I was determined to enjoy the night club scene with the other beautiful people from the theater world. Late work hours, foolishness and a steady income made a bad combination. If I had been thinking of the future for a single second I wouldn’t have spent so much of my paycheck on nonsense. I could have ventured out once a month and used the rest of my money to create a nest egg that could have earned interest very happily over thirty years. 2. Learn to cook. Learn to love to cook. I know this sounds like a silly thing, but I have spent most of my adult life avoiding the kitchen. Aside from being the only living person who actually likes my own experimental cooking, I’ve struggled with finding the enjoyment even in the basics. I wish now that I had stayed in home economics in high school, a subject I spurned as lowly status, not being academic enough. Plus I thought I would be able to learn cooking at home. But I never did make any attempt to cook at home. Nor was I invited to be part of domestic tasks, because I was always told that my job was to study. As a result way too much of my money has gone into supporting the restaurant industry. I used to tell myself that I was too busy, but the fact is I just don’t like it. I don’t mind baking, funnily enough, but you can’t live on cupcakes and gingerbread. It’s the chopping, the peeling, the fine prep work, that irks me. It’s the recollection of my grandmother whose entrapment in a miserable marriage for 60 years seemed symbolized by her endless pose at the kitchen sink, staring out the window hand washing her china, and boiling vegetables until the life was sucked out of them. How I love working in the movie business – they feed you every day on a feature film set. Usually at least a continental breakfast, snacks available all day, a catered hot lunch exactly six hours after call time, and if the shoot runs overtime, a second hot meal. Heaven. The perfect job, provided you don’t have a family waiting at home for you to cook for them. There are great convenience foods around the supermarket these days that were rare when I was young. Skillet meals, steam in the package meals, instant rice. They are somewhat more expensive per serving than starting from scratch. Not as expensive as ordering in Thai food. Not nearly as expensive as going out to eat. I used to eat at one particular Vegetarian Thai restaurant around the corner from my theater every night. I was the Technical Director then. I would stay at work until opening, then go and eat my favorite dishes, reading a book while there. After a leisurely meal I would return to the theater for curtain, and to get a report. If there were to be any kind of disaster, they knew where I was, and there never was a disaster in my absence. The irony of it is that my home was just a block further on. I could easily have gone home to eat, and still have been accessible. I could probably have been putting $400 a month into the bank – and this was twenty years ago. So learn to cook and find a way to enjoy it so that you can limit your eating out to special occasions and save your money. It’s amazing how quickly the costs of a ordering in even once a week mount up. 3. Find a rich broker to handle your investments. My husband and I had a bit of money early in our marriage and we invested a good part of it with a brokerage firm. It wasn’t much money in the grand scheme of things, not even enough for a down payment on a house in our high priced city, so I guess we were allocated to one of the junior brokers. We calculated that guy cost us about $100 grand over the course of about three years. Several times we had the same sequence of events. My husband, an avid technophile and online researcher, would find some new and cool hi tech manufacturer going public. These would usually be small companies starting out. He would call the broker and suggest buying up some stock. The broker would always talk him out of it, convincing him it was too risky and that our money was safer in the established high tech stocks where it was at the time. Every time we would watch as our “safe” stock slowly dropped and the new, exciting techno marvel that my husband had found would skyrocket in price, independent of whatever the DOW was doing. What we failed to ask ourselves quickly enough was if our broker was so good at picking stocks, why was he the low man on the totem pole working for an hourly wage and the meager commissions from our tiny sums? My husband was doing a better job of picking stocks than the so-called professional. Finally we needed the cash so we had to sell out at a small loss, so at least our tax consequences were minimal. But it still rankles when we think of “that guy”. 4. Pay your bills the old fashioned way - and use cash for daily expenses. For a long time we were paying our bills via paperless methods. The convenience and simplicity of joining the ubiquitous auto deduct programs would appear to mean that our bills would never be late. Unfortunately these are a lot easier to join than they seem to be to withdraw from, and once a company has your banking information online, they seem to be perfectly willing to continue to submit auto deducts at their convenience rather than ours. With several business accounts at the same bank all cross linked, instead of simplicity it added confusion and some e-bills were missed in the obfuscating stream of emails and spam from the various institutions. Above: Box decorations made from bill envelopes. It seems like a wonderful service to have “overdraft protection” too but beware. You may find yourself paying $34.00 for an iced tea. The banks will hold a series of withdrawals, POS debits and auto deductions until they have a collection, especially over a weekend. Then by policy they will withdraw the largest amount first, hoping to push the account into overdraft status and charge a hefty flat fee, unconnected to the amount of each deduction, for each charge. They will hold deposits and count them after they have accounted for the withdrawals also. You have to actively opt out of this “service” so that the bank will just do what banks used to do in the olden days and refuse to pay if the funds are insufficient. The main point is that it became increasingly difficult for us to really see our spending when it was all in the virtual world. It was entirely too tempting to just assume the bills were correct and skim over them or not even double check when the priority was speed and convenience. I became un-mindful of our expenses, from whence it was a short and comfortable slide into denial. After close to $1000 in these fines we closed our bank account and opened another so that our regular service providers and utilities do not have in their online records. A clean slate so we can wrest control of our outgoing money back to ourselves, and as inconvenient and boring as it may be, I have returned to paying bills individually. 5. Turn Ideas and Dreams into realistic action. For a while there I kept coming up with creative non-fiction book ideas – as the broad genre is called. Every time I had what sounded like a good idea, I’d jot it down and go to the online bookstore to start my research. Sure enough, there would be “my” book recently published. I chose to be encouraged, decided that this was a good thing – clearly my ideas had commercial potential and perhaps my finger was on the pulse of something or other. I just had to come up with an original idea first, something that reflected my personal interests and thoughts, my own aesthetic. Examining my interests and such expertise as I can claim have been the paths to originality. I’ve developed some ideas that should in due course fulfill their potential to be income producing. I don’t expect to become a multimillionaire from writing. I’m not writing the right kind of material for that. But I’d like to make a contribution to our family coffers. Unlike in the past where I would engage in a lot of talk and wishful dreaming, I have created timelines for completing certain tasks and moving these projects forward. They are fluid to a degree – I notice a tendency in myself to set overly ambitious goals with insufficient time allowed for the other necessary tasks of living and parenting – but they are written down and accessible. Tenacity is essential in the pursuit of dreams. Coming up with an invention in the endless playroom of the imagination is fun for a time, but eventually you must build a test of concept device if you want to see your invention in the real world. All the ideas in the world are useless if they are unexpressed. In my life I have attracted dreamers and schemers, people with outlandish ideas and plans, people whose ideas sound grand but are rarely realized or discovered, like my early book ideas, too late. I’ve been one of these myself. Our closets are full of aborted constructions and the leftover materials of failed dreams. Some of these have been fodder for new ideas, like the lavender sachets that I remade into purses to much greater success. We read so much about the entrepreneurial spirit being the way of the future, prosperity being connected to service industries, solution creators, the marketing of knowledge and ideas. It all sounds like a positive spin on dreaming. But dreams are not goals. Goals may spring sprightly or grow ponderously from dreams, but they are not the same thing as the dream. The paths, the stepping stones on the path, the direction of the path – these require more than wishing and desire. These require construction, making a map, pouring concrete, defining boundaries, spotting signposts, a consciousness of detours and debate over the value of such. There has to be action. Years ago I wrote down my five and ten year plans. Looking back – an essential component to realistic goal setting – I can clearly see those goals I reached, the majority, and those that are still simmering. I can see how my idealistic visions did not take into account the preferences or needs of the family I so earnestly wanted as part of my big life plan. Having a child does change everything. The great thing about life plans is that they can be reformed as they develop – and how much simpler it is to change something that is several years in the future than a serious plan for tomorrow. However from this place of distress and failure, I can also assess where I did not meet my goals and aspirations. By failing to maintain even a modicum my attention on these goals they just faded away. It’s not just that these particular projects were shunted to the back burner. They were truly forgotten and switched off. There is a connection between my poor financial situation now and the unintentional discarding of these goals. I can see where and how the community and network and family that I attracted and gathered around me were positive energizing influences. I can see also where some of these same spirits and individuals have increased my complacency and fed into the worst of my character – that part of me that is lazy, afraid, a procrastinator and able to justify anything, the part of me that fails to inspire, uplift, encourage and exalt others. I have written down my professional goals for this year. I have published these goals on my public blog for anyone who cares to see. I have communicated the posting of these goals on my Facebook page, so that even more people may choose to peruse them. I made sure that they were realistic, achievable while still ambitious. I’m still developing my action plans and timelines, but some of that is already out in public. As I said in my blog post, I’ll look darn silly if I reneg now. More soon.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's good to have challenges in life

As you know I've had the great good fortune to work for Provocraft and been given the use of a Cricut Expression, Cricut Cake and Gypsy so that I can tell people about these wonderful tools.

Having been yearning for an Expression ever since I first gawped at the late night informercial, and getting to go to my local Mecca, Michaels, I feel like I've won the lottery. Just this morning I was telling dh how much I was looking forward to going to work tomorrow.

I find that in thinking about projects to make with the Cricut I am drawn to all kinds of home decor and paper crafting other than scrapbooking. I love making recycled packaging gift boxes. I'm very excited about the possibilities for the doll journals I can make. I've been working on collages and cards.

But...what about scrapbooking? For a number of years I've been reluctant to explore that hobby. In the absence of research I held what I ruefully admit was a prejudice - it seemed like scrapbooking was just a way to put fewer photos on to the page. It seemed like a lot of work being done just to close the album cover and put on the shelf. Plus it seemed like anyone could do it.

Scrapbooks meant something different when I was a girl. They were usually large scale books of cheap newsprint or butcher's paper, where people, often kids, could glue, with paste or rubber cement, news clippings, ticket stubs, postcards and other flat souvenirs for safe keeping. The more special versions had black pages. My mother had a scrapbook. It was filled with newspaper clippings about her or Dad's work and a few programs.

Photos, on the other hand, were kept in photo albums of various kinds, maybe with a note on the back or scribbled below a group of snapshots - "Robyn Age 6-7 months", "London May 1964". They call this "journalling" now. I have a lot of photos from my early childhood because my grandmother was assiduous in inserting the photos my mother sent her from overseas into the pages of the beautiful album with silk embroidered oriental covers that Mum had given her for the purpose. I also have endless photos from my husband's travels in his youth, wonderful vintage family photos from my grandparents' relatives, and a growing body of images kept digitally of us as we live now.

In other words I have plenty of high quality raw material for scrapbooking, some great tools and no excuses.

Except one. I've learnt scrapbooking is harder than it looks.

Making really good looking, creative and thematic layouts is harder than it looks. Choosing just the right cut out images and papers is harder than it looks. Combining the elements in a pleasing visual form is harder than it looks. Knowing what to include, that it is ok to include all kinds of extra stuff just because it is visually appealing - allowing it - is way harder than it looks.

No wonder there are so many scrapbooking magazines, blogs and websites out there with "sketches" - preplanned layouts ready for readers to use as templates for their own things.

I have a new respect for these designers. I don't understand why creating a journal for a doll character is so easy and fun, and then I find creating a scrapbooking layout of my daughter's trip to Disneyland to be so challenging. Perhaps if I imagined she was a doll with a story......

I'm still drawn to frugality - wanting to cram lots of images on each page, leaving very little room for ephemera and decorative elements. I am challenged by the idea of overlapping stuff. I am having a hard time mentally combining my old conception of a scrapbook as storage, all layers of paper and a certain fluid haphazardness, with my vision of a photo album, neatly regimented layouts of photographs in carefully designated spots. And as for tilting images off square....

So my first scrapbook pages are not fabulous.

Despite a strong urge to throw up my hands and return to my dismissive attitude, I will just have to embrace the challenge and keep plugging away at it. I bought a scrapbook album, 12x12 plastic sleeves and all. The great thing is that I can always pull up photos and remake a new layout as I get better at this.

It's good to have creative challenges in life. It's good to stretch. It removes complacency. It doesn't even matter that what I personally am finding so difficult and frustrating, with a steep learning curve, is something that so many others find simple and relaxing.

What matters is doing, learning, making - and persistence.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'm in this book.

I have been published in an upcoming new book, "1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse". One of the things that is very exciting about this right now, is here will be 1000 artists and artisans whose work almost certainly fits the parameters of REACTion. This will make my research so much faster. Of course there are certain artists, most particularly in the Art doll and fiber art communities with whose work I am already familiar, who I will be inviting to create a work especially for the exhibition. I also plan to debut my plarn figures at the event, and some of the projects from my Refashioning book. Other sources for invitees and participants will be Etsy research, scouring other galleries, and online communities such as www.Craftstylish.com and some its sister sites. Really finding artists will probably be the easy part!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

REACTion structure

This picture shows K-Cup coffee pods repurposed into pretty shades for Christmas lights. ***************************************************** I've been working up a game plan and a timeline. I've been researching exhibitions spaces online, and sending out a few letters. I have no idea how much leasing a gallery space would cost, so that's what I need to discover so I can work up a budget. Here are how my ideas are shaping up... Four sections – the concept of fluidity and blurred edges • Art of Daily Life – clothing and accessories, homewares • Monumental – Large scale sculpture and wall works (perhaps only a few), The Human Bird House • Mixed Media – paper and other works, smaller scale sculptures, furniture, wall art • Figurative – art dolls, human figure sculptures Artworks from exhibit to be for sale, and more handmade items in store area such as art journals, altered books, art dolls, cards and prints of the exhibit items - provided by artists. Portion of sales and auction of collaborative sculpture proceeds to be donated to environmental cause. Community events associated with the exhibit – ATC trade, children’s crafts like painting cereal box houses, collaborative mixed media sculpture (the Styrofoam covered with plaster), how to “plarn” tutorial, making prayer flags, entrepreneurial craft fair one weekend, Swap-o-rama-rama? Questions/Issues to be resolved Participation – International? Artist pays shipping there and back (unless sold) Charge to participate? – want to say no but need to explore the costs Percentage of sales – gallery/space contract? What is reasonable. Admission charge or donations. Space questions – insurance provided? Security? Hours of operation. What is provided by the gallery – tech support? Credit card acceptance for sales? Connected with internet – a store of their own and any sales percentages. Gallery publicity tools? Energy efficiency? Questions about monumental works – how large can be accommodated? Idea of collaborative sculpture – can that even happen in this situation? Human Bird House – individual parts for sale? Space for craft fair associated – outside, inside, compete with store? Same artists, different artists, kid’s selling space. Fee to participate? Publicity Tools Blog for exhibit with links to artists’ blogs/sites Gallery site Facebook page with fans Press releases – to all media outlets Twitter Blog giveaways for links My Space page You Tube – video of some WIP’s if possible – once a month and later once a week Ebay auction of something? Magazine article submissions – including encouraging artists to do their own Link with environmental groups for cross promotions Maybe a mini Swap-O-Rama-Rama event – what about a Denim swap – half way through the exhibition. Arts associations

More on REACTion..

So no sooner do I send my intentions out into the universe than things start moving. I was mentioning my exhibition idea (which is now turning into an exhibition plan) to some home schooling moms in my circle, and I two things happened immediately. First, I have been turned on to a fascinating website, www.kickstarter.com which is a way to raise funds for arts projects through individual pledges of donations, facilitated by Amazon. The rather interesting thing is that if you fail to raise the needed budget by your chosen deadline, no-one's credit card is charged. Donors may receive considerations determined by the project organizer. I'm thinking a sliding scale including a glossy souvenir catalog for donations over a certain amount. More to be determined. The second thing is one of the moms was in the process of devising a group sculptural project involving home schooled parents and kids that will be a perfect large scale item for the exhibition. Now I need to determine a budget for the project. I am starting to investigate spaces in which to hold what I am envisaging as a month long exhibition. I'm thinking that an established gallery space or public event venue would already have the appropriate insurance in place. I want the place to be in an affluent arts friendly neighborhood so I'm starting in Santa Monica. I've worked out a time line based on the actual exhibition being in July of next year. I'm going to find a non-profit environmental group to be a partner and be the beneficiary of some profits. If it's Santa Monica I'm thinking some thing like "Heal the Bay" . More soon.

Here's more about my book ideas

Again from the IT blog.... ********************************************* Some of you know that I am working on two book proposals at the moment. The first is one that I hope to have published commercially by an established publisher. It is about refashioning and upcycling your old clothes, using textile art and needlework techniques. The projects include garments and items for women, men, children (including toys) and the home, organized around type of source garment - men's shirts, tees, interlock cotton, denim jeans etc. A big part of the aesthetic is being able to do these projects with ordinary, household tools and facilities - like a pot in your own kitchen and ordinary sewing machine - and still complete a polished, well-finished project that people will actually wear or use. I have written most of my proposal, including four sample chapters. I'm still doing the competing title analysis, and the lab work to include samples of work for the proposal. Lucky for me I have tons of old clothes, especially men's shirts squirrelled away. The second book is one that I need help with, and I am considering self publishing in order to pick up the pace of completion. The working title, which I adore, is "Making, Mending and Mothering: Living an Artistic Life as a Family". Cool huh? Says it all, right... I will be interviewing parents who are doing this for part of the book - sidebars, examples, featured stories - families who are making creativity and artistry one of the cornerstones of their family life - how they do it, their children's creativity, art as a business, different kinds of artistic & crafting endeavour. I will also be writing my story and including creativity prompts and family activities that we like, and new ones too, wreathing a lot of unschooling philosophy into it I hope. At this time it's a bit like a research project. I don't know if families that are successful at this life have anything particular in common, or what kind of strategies they use. I'm kinda hoping to find out that unschooling makes this easier and better, although I do plan on interviewing other parents who are not unschooling. It's just that most of my contacts are unschoolers and home schoolers. I do read on crafty blogs, especially at this back-to-school time of year, a lot of "thank goodness the kids are back in school so I can work" sentiments. I'm probably not going to be willing to feature anyone whose business strategy is "carve out time despite your kids' needs", "be strong about defining your time", "be firm with your kids" etc. or anyone who actively wants to exclude their kids from their arts practice. That is kinda the opposite of the theme of this book. Instead I want to show that it is possible to live a life of vibrant artistic and creative expression, in all ways and all arts, as a family, including all members of the family, and the myriad ways how this wonder can be accomplished.

Exhibit Idea

I woke up this morning [last September!] with different idea in my mind. I'd like to create an art exhibit. I propose that it will be called "The Repurposed Art/Craft Invitational - An exploration of beauty and function from recycled and repurposed materials". [I've changed the title to "REcycled Art CrafT invitational"]. I'm interested in zoning in on the blurred lines between art and craft, examining the functionality of the purely decorative, and the aesthetic appeal of the designated functional. And I want every object or piece in the exhibition to be made from recycled, upcycled and (hopefully) post-consumer repurposed materials. The gallery space will be organized into fluid sections - I want the viewer to go on a meander through the space, around the 3D objects while pausing at the wall mounted works. I'd like to physically reinforce the notion that there is a gentle transition between practical, crafted objects and fine art. The artistry of craftsmen, the crafting skills of artists, all wrapped up with green sensibility. The pieces will be for sale, if the makers wish, with a reasonable commission going to the gallery. I'm tossing up between taking a small commission as curator or charging a small participation fee, as seems common with juried and invitational shows. Personally I will be finishing several plarn crocheted figures for it, and will also include a couple of new baskets in the "objects of use" section. I'm interested in wearable art and using paper from unusual sources, like the tiny coffee filters inside K-Cups. On the challenging side, I've never organized this kind of event before. I'll have to search out the right venue, which will include connecting with the manager/curator as a supporter and facilitator. I'll have a lot to learn about publicity for this kind of event. But that's all good.

Not modern......

Here is an IT blog post that I wrote in November 2008. I've decided to keep it and bring it here because there are a couple of ideas I'm still winkling out - ideas about proficiency and finesse, ideas about age, maturity, and the concept of many lives in one lifetime. Many of the people in the doll clubs of which I am a member are older than I am - venerable in fact. Some are both mature and very experienced; others despite being grandparents or retirees are neophyte doll makers. I would like to think that creativity is ageless - in fact it is one of the foundations of my life. I can learn something from every other maker, regardless of age. Anyhoo, I didn't reapply as planned, but not because I felt unwelcome, but because of changing situations in my life. I hope to return to craft shows in the next year or so, especially if I have some books to promote.... ****************************************************** I applied to a local (Los Angeles) craft show, but I didn't get in because my dolls, while acknowledged as beautiful, are not modern or urban enough to fit in. I was invited to reapply next time to sell my crocheted bags in the eco section. Fair enough, I'll do that. But it sure is strange to be reminded that I am getting old enough that my vision is no longer cool or hip. I should have applied as planned for the Pasadena Art Show, which is huge, established and has the grandeur of history behind it. But is is a big schlepp, and that deterred me. Too late now to apply, I think. Sometimes I think there is a philosophy in the "indie craft" world where being hip is more important than being technically excellent. There is a lot of work being done and published by young (not kids but young adult) crafters that has a level of craftsmanship (especially in the sewing) that I would consider unacceptable for something I was planning on selling. I think there should be both proficiency and creative thinking if I'm asking people for their money. Now I really sound like a crotchety old codger!

Encouraging Creativity

Originally published in Connections. Jayn now has an Etsy store all her own called "Smile Factory". ************************************************ “So how do you encourage creativity?” People often seem to be looking for ideas to encourage, or teach creativity. They assume it must be taught as a concept, and apparently it is pretty scary.

I’ve always thought it a bizarre question. Anyone observing even briefly in our home would surely dismiss the idea that creative thinking would be lacking were it not purposefully encouraged. I never feel any need to encourage creativity. I just try to keep up!

 Every day Jayn engages in a multitude of traditionally creative activities. She draws using a wide variety of media including pencils, crayons, markers of various types and even ink with a selection of homemade quills. Her subject matter includes dress designs for herself or her dolls, ideas for diorama backgrounds, renderings of characters from movies or illustrations of stories she has made up herself. Her art is a commentary on her daily life, reactions and emotional state. She builds sculptures and puts together installations.

One of her ongoing creations is called “Crystaltopia” a magical land where sometimes fairies, sometimes mermaids dwell surrounded by strange found or manufactured objects. It lives atop a small chest and is framed by a rich ornament of bead strings, lace and hanging jewels. Jayn loves working with paper - making stickers, layering, collage, paper dolls and exploring the malleable qualities of folded and cut paper. She works with cloth, wire, beads of all kinds. We do polymer clay and air dry clay sculptures. She has future plans for working in resin and wax casting. Jayn can turn a paper napkin into a baby doll with a cotton ball, sticky tape and a scrap of lace.

Nor is her imaginative visualization limited to traditionally artistic arenas. Jayn once decided to reorganize all the counters in our skimpy kitchen. Her space planning and efficiency put my prior efforts – a professional in the field of design – to shame. She was able to look at the proposed floor plan of her new room, and swiftly rearrange the furniture cutouts in a way that was both more effective than my initial idea, and employed the classic interior design techniques of defining space by usage and flow patterns.

I remember the first time I watched 6 month old Jayn solve a problem creatively using logic. I had placed a variety of cards around her field of vision on her blanket on the ground as she lay on her belly. One card was partially hidden behind a teddy bear. She gazed for a while. Then she slowly stretched her arm out, picked up the offending bear and placed it aside. She then reached to the limit of her fingertips to grasp the desired card. Two weeks later she worked out that she could get the donut rings off their stander by tilting it.

All the encouragement she needed was the tools and no one doing it for her. 

 Apparently something happens between infancy when parents notice a vividly obvious plethora of creative thinking, and the removal to schools some five or six years later when creativity becomes something requiring encouragement.

But first it has to be identified, quantified and categorized. The California State Education Standards are published here and are probably similar to other state codes. The language and enormous length of the requirements and expectations can be intimidating – so I personally ignore them. I have that luxury here in California with no reporting. Lofty goals and pompous language about integrating arts into a well rounded education are expressed in the Introduction to the Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards, “As they study and create in the arts, students use the potential of the human mind to its full and unique capacity”.

However the way the curriculum is then structured and expressed only promotes disconnection of the various art forms from each other and from the rest of the school experience. The arts curriculum seems represented as in service to the main academic skills areas, a kind of “do art because it gives you problem solving skills for your future employment in a high tech world”. It feels like an uncomfortable dichotomy.

By contrast at our house arts practice and undirected imaginative expression are the highly valued foundations of our daily life. Not coincidentally both my husband and I have been employed in creative arts fields that employ high technology for most of our working lives.

The heading for Visual Arts in each elementary grade is as follows:
 “ARTISTIC PERCEPTION Processing, Analyzing, and Responding to Sensory Information Through the Language and Skills Unique to the Visual Arts Students perceive and respond to works of art, objects in nature, events, and the environment. They also use the vocabulary of the visual arts to express their observations.”

Well there’s my first issue right there - “Unique to the Visual Arts”. When I returned to college, I was fortunate to attend a unique school. It was predicated on the Bauhaus principle, that all the arts were considered connected and that the greatest artists were those whose practices and thinking encompassed many media, art forms and other fields such as the sciences. The spiritual father of the school was ultimate Renaissance thinker, scientist and artist, Leonardo da Vinci.

All students were expected to take subjects outside of their main vocational discipline and encouraged to venture into other faculties of the University as well. All students from each year met once a week for “Theory”, a wide ranging art history and philosophy lecture/discussion with the key concepts being “cross fertilization” and “multi-disciplinary practice”. It was a lot of fun, and there were many mature age undergrads there like myself who had worked or studied in some other field entirely but had been irresistibly drawn to the creative arts, like the radiographer who was now an actor and painter.

The majority of the students embraced the multi-arts philosophy and relished the opportunity to have access to both the studio facilities and the community. I recall the classical ballet dancer who longed to direct avant-garde theater, a printmaker who embraced costuming via the textiles department, musicians who loved filmmaking and sculptors excited about collaborating with scenic designers.

 Maybe thriving at this university gave me an enhanced appreciation of blurred edges. I find the concept of interconnectedness of all knowledge, one of the tent poles of Unschooling philosophy, to be a no-brainer. Art as science as history as math as language studies as economics; skills acquisition as a function of activity rather than a separated pre-requisite. I believe creativity is the foundation of all activity.

Every now and then when I mention that Jayn is an artist, folks suggest that she should take some art classes in order to learn how to draw and paint “properly”. Often they enthuse about the progress that their own child has made with a kind and caring art teacher. I imagine that they are making assessments based on standards equivalent to the State mandates, either consciously or otherwise.

Or perhaps they are having fond memories of the kind of pleasure that a child can receive from being praised in class. I remember that feeling – but I received accolades for being a virtuoso copyist, a skill that has its place I suppose. It was more indicative of my ability to observe than any true artistry.

Actually I remember individuality and risky originality being less applauded than safely staying within the metaphorical lines and demonstrating the ability to follow instructions. Jayn seems perfectly satisfied with her own abilities, and seems to prefer self-instigated practice to any kind of instruction or suggestion. Well meaning relatives have given her stencil rubbing devices, the kind which enable one to draw an exact replica of a licensed character. She usually explores them briefly straight out of the box before putting them on the shelf to gather dust.

My concerns about the idea of art classes are manifold, especially since Jayn has never asked for any such thing. My first niggling fear is that Jayn might get the idea that she has been doing it wrongly up until now. She would probably react very assertively to being told what to draw, let alone how to draw.

I’m told that students should do still-life renderings of round fruits in a grouping to learn how to see and reproduce volume, but Jayn has never been remotely interested in this type of impersonal subject. Evidently it is part of a sequence of artistic development, and it is thought that a professional can lead or direct that development so much better than a parent.

Meanwhile Jayn, forging her own path, has already created works in a cubist multi-perspective style, depicted movement reminiscent of the Futurists, and deduced the existence of perspective, with distant objects being smaller in the landscape, all through her own discoveries. I can just hear her saying, “No I think I’ll draw x instead” and consternation ensuing.

I have noticed that Jayn will generally correctly extrapolate the method of completion of any kind of crafty task from just examining the finished object or seeing the beginning of the construction process. [I have since learned this is called "reverse engineering".] The few times that she has looked into how-to books, she has become frustrated, preferring her own fluid process to the classical step-by-step approach. She has no patience with waiting for the group to move on to the next step either.

Finally the story making process that is intertwined with all of her visual arts activity requires an attentive and focused listener. I suspect that she would be pegged as disruptive if she chose one of her colleagues as the recipient of her story, or excessively needy if she wanted to monopolize the teacher.

Just as Jayn has always sought information by making statements about her ideas rather than asking direct questions, she prefers to make her own first attempt and then query if it seems to be working. One example is cooking – and goodness knows this is not one of my strong suits.

Jayn has suddenly decided that she wants to cook dinner every night and make other food during the day. Yesterday she made perfectly grilled cheese sandwiches for her guest entirely by herself – she even turned on the stove alone, having asked me the day before about the correct level for this work. She has made Veal Scaloppini with limited and somewhat resented supervision, used the microwave for frozen vegetables, and produced two surprise desserts entirely unaided with the exception of getting me to reach down some ingredients from the high cupboard and put up her stepladder. It has been a delight to share this new interest with her.

Which brings me to the main reason that I doubt I will seek out an art class for Jayn in the near future. It is one of the same reasons that her father and I reject school.

Why should some other person receive all that is her best? Why should some stranger be the person to see her sparkle and be the one to participate in her enthusiasm, her sudden explosive “wow” moments? 

On the flip side I’m sure I don’t want to subject an instructor or the rest of a group class to Jayn’s frustrated outbursts or downright hostility if anyone tries to assist or worse correct her before she asked for help. 

Making art, telling stories, devising ideas for her next diorama, planning a meal, choosing fabrics – all of these are intense and intensely personal experiences for Jayn. She forcibly protects her own process.

So how do I encourage her creativity? I provide the multitudes of raw materials. I refrain from offering unsolicited advice. Possibly the hardest thing of all, I avoid trying to rescue her from the frustrations of making mistakes and a certain amount of wheel reinvention.

I listen to her big plans for the future and her ideas and her expositions and narratives. I exult in her dances. I clear a space on the table and happily tidy up all the messes afterward. I assume that everything she does has a creative, imaginative, wonderful thought process behind it.

Then I get the heck out of her way.

She's Not Me

Originally published in Connections ***************************************************** I’ve learnt something about Jayn. She’s not me.

Even in the places that we share fascinations, we are not the same.

One example. I will be contemplating making something – some jewelry, some ATC’s. I will then go and get out the fixings and materials and carry on with my idea.

Jayn needs her materials immediately accessible. When she sees the supplies, she is inspired to use them.

Conversely if she doesn’t see something in front of her she will not necessarily think of doing it. When we tried the experiment of putting Jayn’s art table and her materials in her alcove, the production of drawings, paintings and small sculptures dried up. The table became obscured by many other toys and games happening on the floor in front of it.

After a couple of months, I realized how rarely Jayn was drawing – which was only when we made an event out of it. I moved her table back out to the living room, with the supplies at hand, and her prolific flow of artistic commentary on her life resumed.

The ideal organizing method for Jayn is wide mouth, clear containers on open shelving. Even transparent drawers are of secondary utility. I use the silverware basket from our old discarded dishwasher to organize her markers by color. Visible, plentiful, portable.

Me, I like to keep my art and sewing supplies tidily in enclosed boxes (with written labels on them). Ordered, simplified, like a hidden treasure trove. I like small chests of drawers (with printed labels on them). I like hooks in cupboards.

Jayn likes hooks on the wall. On one hand this makes Jayn a wonderful “strewee”. I can rotate some toys or activities out that she literally hasn’t seen for a while and they will be grabbed with gusto and lead to many games and new combinations.

It is particularly interesting to see Jayn playing in more complex ways with toys that were originally obtained when she was much younger. Luckily, through mindful parenting, I am empowered to give Jayn full ownership of all her belongings.

Hearing stories of parents purging their children’s “excess” stuff, or insisting that they get rid of the “baby” toys, or worst of all removing toys punitively because they weren’t tidied up or some such reason, makes me very sad. I would never discard anything of Jayn’s, which experience shows me includes the packaging, without consulting her first.

This means that we have to be very creative about storage in terms of keeping stuff available, and accept a certain lack of elegance in our decor. Frankly our one bedroom apartment is now bulging at the seams.

Jayn is not disturbed by what I might see as clutter – she sees a cornucopia. She rarely considers anything done with.

Which is another way in which we are different. I find a great sense of freedom in relinquishing the obsolete in my life. A long time ago I ceased keeping gifts which I no longer enjoyed simply out of guilt or fear. I do keep certain books that are special to me, and that is no small number and many are in storage, but I am also happy to donate or sell those I am sure I am not going to need again.

I enjoy purging my wardrobe and sending things to Goodwill. I recycle magazines immediately after I have read them. If I have lost enthusiasm for a craft project, I donate the materials – now usually to Jayn.

Nor have I historically seen value in packaging, usefulness in bits of ephemera. My daughter is a natural collagist, an intuitive transformer, an art form I have felt I had to approach with deliberation. I do a lot of planning and preparatory design work, and probably have too much concern for the original image or material that I might be transforming in a work of collage art.

Jayn will treat the objects, photos or images with a complete freedom. She has a kind of positive disrespect. She is ready to impose her artistic will on her art media, without self consciousness, without seeing any need to remain literal. The result is that her altered art will have a much more vibrant energy and interest.

Jayn is fearless, where I am timid. If the idea comes to tell a story, Jayn will launch immediately into something. She will extemporize a song with no concern for anyone else’s assessments. She is free from any self-judging embarrassment – which I impute at least partly to her freedom from school. Some of our differences clearly come from being differently nurtured, with support and acceptance, rather than from inherent differences in temperament.

Jayn has a collector’s mentality. Multiple versions of one thing are endlessly fascinating to her. Where I see the broad sameness of five Ariel dolls, Jayn is intrigued by the minutia of the differences in the iterations. She will usually forgo a completely different doll of the same price, in favor of adding to her collection. I am usually satisfied with a single example. (Except when I find the perfect pair of bootcut pants – but that’s another story).

The lesson for me was in learning to accept that there is nothing indulgent or sinful about having more than one – especially when I see her joy in sharing what she has with her friends. Having multiples of something fills Jayn with a sense of abundance. She has expressed long term plans to pass on her collection to her own future children.

Becoming joyously aware of the differences between Jayn and myself has allowed me to begin some internal healing of the painful relationship between my mother and myself. My mother’s favorite phrase was “The apple never falls far from the tree.” It was very important to her that she be able to think that she and I were alike – more alike than in reality. I have come to hate that phrase. I felt burdened by her determination to see me as a kind of miniature reflection of herself. For one thing a seedling that sprouts in the shadow of the parent tree is unlikely to have the room or light to grow healthily and fully. The concept of being like her seemed to diminish my achievements, skills and abilities, especially in our crossover areas, and make them simply genetics or her dubious influence.

She appropriated what I wanted to consider my special contributions to the world. For example Mum sought to take credit for me being a seamstress, as if she had taught me. In fact I learnt to sew by myself using the instructions that come in paper patterns, during the time she was away working on cruise ships in my late teens.

It was so important to her that we be alike, that I never felt comfortable sharing those facets of my life that were different from hers. Her usual response to my ideas, such as other spiritual paths or political beliefs, was derision.

Perhaps my greatest fear is that Mum and I are more alike than I would wish. There is no doubt that I do have many of her character traits in me, and they are all those facets of myself that I most abhor, most consider as defects, and would most wish to change. Those tapes of her in my mind are those I most seek to renounce; her voice coming out of my mouth, the voice I most seek to change with mindful parenting and positive actions; her influence the one I most seek to disavow.

However when I observe my daughter Jayn, when I see her unencumbered authentic personality and unique characteristics, I realize that she is not a prisoner of either genetics or my past. Neither of us need be. In fact I have no particular desire or hope that she be like me at all; nor do I fear any commonalities we may have. 

Just as being free of schools allows us to be free of expectations about what and how and when Jayn will learn, being free of any attachment to the concept of our similarity allows me to look at Jayn without cognitive bias, but with genuine appreciative wonder. I am allowed to view our future as a great and wonderful unexplored wilderness. The landscape “behind”, the past, has some picturesque moments, but it is not a template for our future life together.

Found: The Artist Within

Originally published on Imagination Tribe. *************************************************** For most of my professional life I have been a "Designer". I have worked in theater designing and realizing sets, costumes and lighting, with the occasional foray into sound. My work lives on only in memory and my portfolio which I wish I had paid more attention to at the time. I have worked in film in the art department, beginning as a scenic painter, and working my way through on-set dressing and set decorating to being the production designer on some low budget film projects. My work, good and bad, is immortalized forever as the silent character, the mis-en-scene, in these films that appear periodically on late night cable.

When I was in college, much of our philosophical discussion time was spent digging around the definition of "Artist". I don't think we ever came to a final consensus. I can tell you about the difference between an "Artist" and a "Designer" as it has worked for me, a distinction that I personally developed while I was in art school surrounded by people - students and staff - who were emphatically and demonstrably the former and others who were emphatically and demonstrably the latter, and the few who seemed to be both.

 An Artist is someone who is responding to some internal stimulus. The the message they wish to express and the desire to express it, using their artistry and craft and skills (including design skills) in whatever medium, is coming from inside them - a personal muse. In making the art the work/message itself seems to become alive, using the artist/creator as a vehicle. Artists often seem to talk about their pieces as if they had conciousness.

A Designer is someone who is using their artistic skills and craft and understanding of design principles to fill a need generated by someone else. In my case that someone else was the script or the play, and the director. Additional factors - the characters, the actors, the venue.

I can do great work in all the design areas, beautiful scenic painting, wonderful evocative lighting, sets that add an extra voice to the script, costumes that free the actor from having to "act their backstory". I have the technical skills, experience and know-how to do all those things. BUT the seed, the germ, the raison-d'etre comes from outside of me. My considerable artistry was always in service to someone else's vision.

When I tried to "be an Artist" as was sometimes necessary, like in Textiles class (a class I was taking in order to enhance my costuming skills, not for its own sake), I was less successful. I didn't know where to start. I had nothing to say particularly. I kept wondering if the fabric I was dying would be useful for the whatever play I was working on. I tried to express my ideas about ecology and the green movement in sculpture. Blah. But my set miniatures were wonderful. I sketched like crazy in charcoal drawing class but the drawings were soulless - until I was sketching some rough concepts for the set of "Macbeth" and some costumes for "Romeo and Juliet" which came alive.

Whenever I was left alone to come up with some piece of "art" I just felt empty and adrift.

Over time I became reconciled to this. Why struggle with being an artist, when I was so very much better at being a designer? Design excites me. Collaboration thrills me. Exceeding the expectations of the director and receiving that validation - that is also good.

There it is really, isn't it? It's not just that artists are responding to their own muse, they are often satisfied with their own assessments of the success or worth of the their art. It may be that they need no one else's approbation at all. Whereas if a designer's whole motivation is solving some one else's problem, then criteria of success are largely defined by that some one else. Did the design solution "work"? All I could ever do was my best, and most of the time, that was good enough.

Cut to a number of years later and now there is a new debate in my life. Instead of looking at the overlapping spheres of "Art" and "Design", now the issue is "Art" or "Craft".

Clearly artists use craft skills to make art. When does craft become art? Are crafters more about exploring the inherent properties of the medium that they use? That sounds pretty Modernist. Are they concerned primarily the creation of the useful over the merely (merely?) decorative? Is something elevated (elevated?) to the status of art object when it has a political underpinning in addition to evoking an emotional response, or is it that craft pieces lack the capacity to inspire a narrative, existing simply as they are?

Or is the whole thing really just a bunch of snobbery detemined to maintain the old hierarchy with oil painting, architecture and marble sculpting at the top and basketry (have you seen some of the sculptures basket weavers are making?) and embroidery lurking around the bottom.

And don't even get me started with digital imagery, pop music, fashion and traditional "women's" art forms. Is there something in this idea of the inherent muse that could add to this conversation?

I don't know the answer, and I don't think there is THE answer.

But I do know this. I have found my art forms. Two of them.

Art forms where the impetus apparently does come from within. I'm not working for hire, I'm just doing it. Art forms where the work itself takes over and uses me as its vessel.

It wasn't that I was "just" a designer, not an artist. It was that my internal, personal muse was not awakened by the call of blank canvasses or large scale found object sculpture (or even collage really).

One I have found by journeying through the world of crafting, inspired by my daughter's passion. The dolls I make are coming from inside me. I am choosing what to make, what their story is. ...And yet....It is very odd to be working on a doll, and sew on something that the doll evidently doesn't like and for a split second see the doll grimace. The doll itself as the director? And yes, I took those sequins off and replaced them with something else while the doll radiated contentment. Are all artists a bit mad?

The other is scriptwriting - not plays or novels - scripts. I am making these stories, but the characters are telling me where they want to go. It's weird. It's different - and yet I can do it. I don't feel empty at all - I feel brimming with stories and ideas and concepts - and more keep on bubbling up. I don't have enough time left even if I live to be 100 to get them all out.

And I still get to hand it over to a designer or two.

Call for Book Participants

This post originally appeared on my Imagination Tribe Ning blog. That site will shortly be dismantled and we IT'ers are moving our activities to Facebook. But in the cause of keeping a proper record of this book project, I am copying the original post in its entirety. Later I mention a blog for the book - this blog is it. I have received many contributions so far - and at this time, I'm not really looking for more contributors. If that changes, I'll announce it here and elsewhere. ************************************************************************** I’m writing a book currently called “Mending, Making and Mothering”. It’s about living an artistic lifestyle as a family, with case studies from parents who are doing it. I’m interested in documenting how artists combine a continuing arts and crafts practice with parenting, as well as how they prioritize creativity in their family life, schedules and spaces. I’m investigating whether and how parents, especially unschoolers, are able to create a synergistic creative arts practice that is part of, perhaps the core of, their learning environment. It’s about creativity exercises, practice and philosophy. The focus will not be on strategies for parents to “carve out” time for their art away from their children, or artisan parents compartmentalizing their life into private adult art activities versus doing “kid crafts” with their children as busywork. It’s not that I think artists don’t need time alone to work, or that the demands of family life and young children will never conflict with the burning desire just to paint or play or write. What I am interested in is how artistic families manage to resolve these issues when the priority is family centered living. Creative living – making, designing, writing, crafting, making music, performing – can be a lifelong vocation or avocation. I hope in the course of writing the book and compiling to case studies, to give equal time to the activities of all generations in the family. Part memoir, part how-to, I’ll be including my own family’s story as well as creative activities and inspirational practices and ideas that seem to work around here. I’m not sure how the chapters will be organized. Possible as a conceit I might organize it around the four seasons. I want to wait and see if the information I gather naturally suggests thematic organizing principles. Initially I will send an email questionnaire to the people who are interested in participating. Give answers as long or brief as you like. I may have follow up questions, mostly because I will be learning how to phrase questions best and discovering any holes in my interview. If you have photos that you would be willing to include that would be wonderful, especially of art work and artists in action. There will be photo releases for the participants and the photographer, and a contract/release for using your story. My plan is to have a blog with the participants profiled and links to your own blogs and especially Etsy or other online stores. Later this blog could be a collection place for readers’ stories of being inspired. At this time, for the sake of speed, I am thinking of self publishing through Lulu – where the copies are printed as they are ordered, and the quality of illustrations looks very high. I’d like to offer all [contributing] families a free copy. Can I get back to you on that? If you would like to be part of this book project, will you please let me know, and we can get started at once.

Pricing and Value

I've recently landed an awesome new job. I'm demonstrating the Provo Craft Cricut in my local Michaels craft store. I spent two and a bit days in Las Vegas doing intensive training in the product and sales techniques. When I interviewed over the phone - twice - for the position I was a little thrown by some of the sales jargon in the questions. I had to pause and think, which has got to be a good thing, before answering. However pauses in the middle of a sales pitch had better be brief, or the prospect might wander off without a conversion. As you can see I've been researching some of this jargon that eluded me during my interview, to be better prepped for my working days. I've also been researching the Cricut and reading on the blogs of scrapbookers and artists who use the Cricut. I've learnt that really the only criticism anyone has of the product is the price. I was asked a question about price and cost in my interview, and although I can't remember my exact words, eventually my answer came down to talking about "value", rather than "price", demonstrating to the potential client how the product has value to them. All this reading about sales, marketing and Return on Investment (ROI), and thinking about the concept of value TO THE CUSTOMER, has got me looking at my Etsy store and the objects I have for sale, and rethinking about my pricing. I make and sell a couple of decorative luxury items. My art dolls, especially the Bead Head dolls, have no practical purpose beyond the spiritual lift created by seeing and appreciating an object of beauty. The Bead Head doll currently for sale is priced at $250.00, while the eight inch Dream Star dolls are only $30.00. No one has ever complained that the Dream Stars are too expensive based on examining the amount of work involved and their pretty appeal. However evidently in these times of economic downturn, most people think two fifty is too much to pay for something that is essentially eye candy, even if it is thoughtful eye candy. I have come to realize that the process of setting a price based on how much work I have put in, how much time I took, how costly were the materials I used, leaves out the one thing that might be the most important factor - the customer's need. In my product description - my sales pitch - I have completely left out why my art doll at this price would have value for the customer, what would make this doll, beautiful as she is, worth the relatively high price to the customer. Doh! The workmanship is obvious, the photos show plenty of detail, her story is cute. But where is the value of her to the customer? Why would a customer want her in their home? What good and positive result will the customer have from having her there to look at? "She costs this much because of the time she took me," isn't much of a pitch, is it? So I'm going to be doing some brainstorming, and some more reading of product descriptions on the Etsy stores of people who are run off their feet making sales, whose items appear and are snapped up, and see what I can do better. I know "Journey" has a home somewhere out there, where she will be valued, and I just have to make sure her future owner realizes what that value will be.