how to paint grass


i remember vividly the day i learned to paint grass.  

i had recently moved to portland with james.  i didn't have a job and was holed up in my cluttered little studio daily, the living room of our tiny yellow rental house, trying to make art that would sell.  i was painting birds, people with birds, and landscapes, all from the pages of my old national geographics. when i wasn't doing that, i was sanding or finishing cabinets that james was working on.  i remember being pretty hand-to-mouth, pretty stoned most of the time to deal with the money stress.  i remember it being really hard, but also exhilarating, to be in a city with a million interesting places we hadn't been yet, a city that didn't know our names.  i thought i moved there to make it big as an artist. now i realize that i just wanted to be near my family.

my mom and dad lived in camas at the time, a tiny mill town twenty minutes east on the river.  my mom always worked as an artist and illustrator, was well connected in the local art community, and always had lots of random and interesting jobs.  a friend of a friend somehow recommended my mom for a job with a local duck hunter that wanted his boat painted in realistic marsh grass camouflage.  he wanted the best camouflage, so the ducks wouldn't see him but his fellow hunters certainly would.  my mom called to enlist my help, and i said sure, of course i'll do anything for a little cash. 

we drove over to his home in the woods and were greeted by two roaming horses, a sheep dog, and the largest mule i'd ever seen.  we were led into a shed filled with taxidermy, hunting paraphernalia, and the aluminum skiff, his pride and joy.  on that day, with four different colors of enamel, my mom showed me how to paint grass.  

we started with the middle greens, swiping the long fronds from the bottom up.  she told me i was too stiff, painting too slow.   "imagine how the grass moves.  imagine the wind in the grass," she said, swooping the brush swiftly upward.  "picture how random nature is.  each blade isn't perfect...there will be bent blades and curled blades.  each blade is different.  see, watch how i do it."  i tried to imitate.  we must have looked like amateur ballerinas, swooping our brushes in a lyrical interpretive dance, laughing hysterically at the awful country blaring from a tiny boom-box.  we moved to a darker color, filling in the shadows between the blades, creating depth and dimension, carving out the grass, adding in cattails.  last, we took the bright yellow, and highlighted each blade, our brush landing where our imaginary sun would land.  in a mere three hours, we were done, and boy that boat was glowing with its new paint job.  i'd venture to say that we were glowing too, as we posed together for that photo, mother and daughter team, victorious.   mission accomplished.

what do you see?

i'm pretty sure edison has ghosts.  talking to frog tonight really sealed the deal.  "it's an indian burial ground, you know."  he said.  i nod in affirmation.  

frog grew up here.  his name is actually thomas, and i'm not sure where his nickname came from.  he's usually donning some frog paraphernalia of some sort.  he's tall and lanky with long black hair and a goatee, with a hoodee and a baseball cap and skate shoes he blends right in.  but he's different.  he's a bit of a local celebrity, and an edison authority.  frog lives down the street in a house with his grandma, protecting her from aggressive vacuum salesmen and other opportunist-type people who would like to take advantage of an elderly woman.  what all i know about frog:  he has a heart of gold.  he stashes tall cans of rainier in between slough food and Marilyn's house.  he fell out of a tree when he was young and was paralyzed.  he learned how to walk again, but one of his hands doesn't work the way he wants it to.  he likes to buy me and james drinks, preferably shots.  he is extremely sentimental, and emotional, and will sometimes cry when a meaningful song comes on the juke.  tonight, it was someday never comes by credence.  at fourteen, he used to sneak into the town's then-slaughterhouse office and call 900-numbers with his buddies.  he saw many a cow get axed, and even tried to rescue one.  he dragged the calf all the way home, clipped its ear tag and shaved the burned-in numbers from it's fur to hide it's identity.  not knowing what to do from there, feeling helpless, he let the cow go free.  he doesn't know what happened to it.

i love frog, he makes life better here in this tiny town.  he makes life in edison more colorful, more meaningful.  he helps me realize that a town is not just made of it's buildings.  it's not just the architecture or the environment.   it's the people.  that's what makes this town special.   



i'm not sure exactly what happened.  but i went from being a non-knitter to a knit-a-holic almost overnight.  i knit my first hat in three short days, now i'm well on my way to finishing my second.  it's a new kind of escapism, perfect for those dull winter afternoons in the store or evenings in bed with a fire.  it puts me in a bit of a trance and scratches my obsessive compulsive side.  it is also one of the reasons i had a hard time doing my painting yesterday.  and today.  i was knitting instead.

i joined a local ladies knitting circle some time ago, not as an excuse to knit, or because i knit at all:  i didn't. i wanted to get to know some ladies, and maybe drink a little whiskey and shoot the shit.  but in that circle, i saw knitting and crocheting elevated.  i was jealous of everyone's pattern-following prowess, and their collaboration over questions of complex construction.  impatient with my own project that lasted over a year and went nowhere, i quickly finished the edges and went to ravelry in search of a pattern.  and i realized:  the potential is endless.

which brings me to knitta.  i've seen those brightly colored knitted cozies around telephone poles in bellingham and portland.  maybe they were made by the notorious yarn-bombers called knitta, maybe knot.  but all i know is:  edison needs one.  seeing photos of the knitted r.v.cozy, the bus cozy, the bicycle cozies, and other jaw-dropping projects, i now want a cozy for everything.  i adore this new modern hybridization, a perfect combination of craft and graffiti, domesticity and guerrilla art.



leave it to me to ruin a perfectly good thing.  you see, making yourself do a painting a day has a way of taking some of the fun out of it.  yeah, there are still days when it's just right: the music is right, the light is right, the motivation is right, the supplies are right...and it really shows up in the work.  those days, i create works of art.  then there are the other days.  because not all days are created equal.  and so some days, like today for example, i wait until after i've worked on other crap all day and gone to a party and eaten too much dessert and then i realize i ran out of paper and it's about all i can do to not have a tantrum all over myself.  you've heard this one before.  so here it is:  a half-assed sunset painting reminiscent of a hawaiian shirt on a dirty corner scrap of paper from a photo i took of the la brea tarpits in los angeles.  a sunset, with the silhouetted trees and reflection on the water, is about one of the simplest things you can paint.  in fact, it's kind of like a big  Rorschach ink blot, or the finger paint and folded paper experiments i used to do when i was little.  which brings to mind an artist i remember loving, who started every drawing from smashed paint in a sketchbook. yes, that is something i should try.  one thing leads to another, a little velvet underground comes on the radio, and i decide to take my own Rorschach test, just for kicks.   it told me that my sickness quotient was 77% and that therapy would be useful."1)You work very slowly. In fact, if you went any slower you'd be in reverse. 2) Everyone likes you. This is because your life is such a mess that everyone else is relieved they aren't you. 3)  Your personal motto is "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." Wrong. What doesn't kill you usually makes you hurt all over and go "Owie!" ".  okay, so i wasted ten minutes on some crappy excuse for Rorschach when i could have been working on art.  whoops.  i promise tomorrow's attempt will be better.


collection of the biddle family
today we celebrated the birthday of james reisen.  james, you're the butter on my toast, the apple in my orchard, the wood in my stove, the tea in my mug.  every year just keeps getting better and better.  how could i be so lucky?  thank you for being you:  everything, and more.



my family was traditional. we had our traditions, and for years and years we followed those traditions faithfully like the children of hamelin followed the pied piper.  for thanksgiving we would gather, aunt june crafting a ridiculously lavish meal. every course imaginable was arranged across the delicate crocheted lace tablecloth, the table set proper with a centerpiece and candles and matching china and silver and crystal glasses beneath the chandelier.  we would hold hands together, in a circle, heads down respectfully while uncle earl said grace. a devout man, a spiritual man, his grace was always a beautiful and simple expression of appreciation.  thank you, heavenly father, for bringing us together, for the nourishing food that you have provided, bless it to our body's use, amen.  we would eat forever, then fall down sleepy on the burgundy leather couch and watch television.  it was thanksgiving, and it was the same, year after year.

ever since mom died, holidays have been hard.  i suppose that goes without saying.  but holidays seem to emphasize her absence. when she left, we were all at a loss.  for a while, we tried to do the same old thing.  it was horribly lonely, staring across the table at each other, faces forlorn. we were trying with all our might to be thankful,  but only ashes remained.

this year is different.  i am thankful.  because this year, all the traditions we held fast to have been broken, shattered like a bottle on the mast of a ship.  because with every end, there is a beginning.  and for this, i am thankful.  this year, james and i spent our first thanksgiving together.  we sat at our oak table, the table handed down to me, in the chairs my mother refurbished with her own two hands, the table and chairs of many a family meal.  we ate salmon that was caught by james in our local river, and squash that was grown by the hands of a friend, all cooked in a cast iron pan on the woodstove that heats our home.  we finished with pomegranate seeds, the symbolic fruit of greek mythology from which the seasons were born.   it couldn't have been more perfect.


listen closely


the last few weeks were spent in preparation for tonight's daffodils show.  i bought a new drum stool.  we made a list of the forty or so songs that we know.  we practiced until exhaustion or impatience made us take a smoke or drink or potty or sleep break.  we watched a band we admired, looking for clues to the puzzle.  we even made an impromptu demo, and gave it to him at the show.  a shot in the dark, or a toe in the door, perhaps.  we listened to recordings of our practices, trying to pick out the good parts and eliminate the bad like a new recipe.  we practiced, and practiced some more.  all in preparation, for tonight, and for all the shows to come.

today, listening to KEXP's live recordings of my favorite bands in the entire world, my eyes and ears were opened.  i realized:  there is a thin divide between us and them, that divide being fame.  it is something every band works toward, but few achieve on a large scale.  but typically, it's not the reason we all make music.  music is a force all its own, a force that binds us together in the expressions of joy and sadness and love and every other human emotion.  it is therapy, it is adrenalin, it is satisfying, to the listeners and the performers all at once.  because of the profound effect it can have on the listener, musicians are often put on some sort of artistic pedestal.  but listening closely to some of those live studio recordings, those raw, unedited moments, and listening to the artists talk, really brings it back home to how similar we all are.  and why we all need music.  it is a celebration of life.


eat it

sometimes things don't go as planned.  like when there's some kind of bug with blogger.   frustrating.  i spent the last couple hours on a painting, and then for no apparent reason the damned computer won't let me upload the image.  i might spend hours, wasting away at the keyboard, trying to figure out what is wrong, mad at the computer, sitting here saying "fuck you computer!" when really, truly, it is entirely out of my hands.  i should just walk away, peacefully.  and then the phone rings.  it will be a weird anomalous ring, and when i pick it up, it will be noone.  just a dial tone, a long, droning dial tone, reminding me i'm alone in a white room with large windows, fighting with a robot.  so maybe,  i suppose it's just one of those eerie, off kind of days.  and then, a breakthrough, i pull it all together in a moment of clarity, as if the troubling issue was just a backdoor way to victory.

life is like that.  weird happenstance can ruin a day, or make it, or ruin it and then make it.  and the chances are even steven.  like some days, unexpectedly, you or someone you know will be intolerant of the things that are normally allowed a hefty serving of patience. your adrenaline will peak.   you will get in a yelling match, you will be fired from a job, or you might fire someone, you might flip someone off or insult their character or tell them a thing or two about how your really feel.  you will feel an adrenaline running through your body, a numbness in your legs and a blankness in your mind afterward.  the conflict will consume you through and through, and you will replay it in your head, trying your darnedest to remember what you said or what they said that made you say what you said.  you might feel guilty, or defiant, or righteous, or embarrassed.  you might apologize, or hope it all washes away like garbage from a beach:  out of sight our of mind.  but it happened, it was real, and like many conflicts in our time, it was just a moment of raw, unabashed human emotion, necessary and unnecessary all at once.  "conflict is the beginning of consciousness," said m. esther harding.  yes, it is so true, how a conflict teaches us more about ourselves, our motives, morals, our fundamental wants and needs, more than anything else in life.  conflict may be necessary, but may every conflict lead to introspective learning.  for the sake of the future.



it's good to be home when the snow starts.  i woke up this morning and it had just begun.  within a few minutes it had powder coated the concrete in that familiar bend in the road outside my house.  i drank tea and watched it fall out the steamy windows.  i turned up the music and danced on the wood floor in my socks and felt a bit like a ballerina in a snowglobe.  it's funny how something so cold could make you feel so warm inside.  in my longjohns and stocking cap and rubber boots and wool sweater i worked with james to get the three woodstove fires that heat our home roaring to consistent and comfortable.  i looked outside some more and saw a bird flit on the windowsill,  hard pressed to find food in the arctic tundra.   i filled each of the three feeders out back.  later, when i saw four friendly rats climbing around chewing gleefully on the black oil seeds, i couldn't help but enjoy their acrobatic cuteness.  i was glad for their feast on my behalf, imagining how many creatures have to face this brutal cold, and what they have to do to adapt.  

i didn't mind feeding those little rats, evidenced by tunnels all around the garden, because that would keep them from under the barn, or in the cupboards.  they need food and shelter, just like everybody else, and they have as much of a right to live here on this planet as i do.  i remembered the time i found a nest, under a goose decoy, decorated with little scraps of cloth and straw and plastic.  it was adorable, and obviously cozy, and i felt kind of awful to displace the guy.  there was something familiar about that rat's nest; maybe it's because my house is busy and cluttered in a chaos that i find comfortable and cozy too.

we all need shelter and warmth in inclement weather.  when i was visiting the city, i was reminded of this again.  i was walking along on a torrentially rainy day, noticing how every tall building had a rain shadow.  sometimes the pigeons would gather there.  and the alcoves and entrances to many of the buildings were filled with sleeping bags, blankets, tarps and cardboard.  we all need to make our nests and hunker down, somewhere.  we all deserve a warm place to sleep.  seeing those folks making a home from nothing, barely scraping by using garbage as a resource and just trying to get through another day, i was reminded:  i am so fortunate.


the king's men

on exhibit @ the paperdoll, bellingham, wa

sometimes i get an artistic wild hair.  i want to try something new.  i'm antsy and i get bored with myself and my same old style of "painting the things i see".  you may know this about me from my blog and the random anomalous paintings in there.  they are awkward like the jokers in the deck, the black sheep in the flock.  how they usually come about: i see the art of my friends, like daniel long for instance, and think: i like that better.  i want to make art like that.  i told daniel about this conundrum in particular last night, about how i was drawn to his work because it is raw and emotional and immediate and has so many layers of interpretation.  i said i wanted to paint like him. i even tried. and he said the exact same thing.  he wanted to paint like me.  its stupidly funny how we were like suburban neighbors, looking over the fence admiring each other's greener green grass when our own grass was just green enough. and it served as a revelation, of sorts, about human nature.  we always want what we don't have.  usually, after dabbling in this or that style in search of excitement, getting nowhere fast, appropriating ideas from here and there like a bad medley from a cover band, i run back to my good old standby.  doesn't everybody?  because it works.  it's tried and true.  it's actually even faster for me than experimentation, because i know exactly where i'm going. it's like driving a familiar car: reliable, trustworthy. these are the comforts we can't take for granted. and the qualities that make us individual.


cat man

when i leave the farm i always hear stories about it.  usually these stories have to do with the animals.  this time, stories were particularly centered around the two cats.  james, he's never really been much of a cat man.  they've grown on him, but i think his adaptability is more of a survival skill. that's because he lives with me, and i am cat-obsessed. i hold their paws when i'm sleeping, a baby talk them, i rub their bellies and feed them better food than i eat. i am a weirdo and do all kinds of funny things because of them and i can't help it.  maybe it's some kind of genetic disorder:  my crazy ukranian grandma and crazy aunt are breeders.  i need cats.  and i don't really pay any mind to their obnoxious tendencies, their hairballs and grass pukes and shedding and all.  and so james, well, he puts up them.  and they are lucky for that.

today began with james discovering that max had eaten a hole in the bag of dog food and splayed it all over the floor.  fat bellied, he went on to be a naughty boy all day.  he attacked james in a show of dominance, and persistently followed him around for food and pets.  all day.  chachie, she attacked an unsuspecting customer in the store, using her feet to kick at the poor guy's hand and her toothless gums to gnaw away.  when the guy finally got his hand back, she went for his leg. poor james told me the stories over the phone, exasperated, with max maxxing out on his lap and the fresh ground turkey for their dinner defrosting in the kitchen.  from here, it's clear to see:  the animals are head of the household.

a sideways glance

for some reason i can't get this hat to go the right direction.  i tried for a while earlier this afternoon, but got frustrated and gave up.  i tried again this evening after a busy night working and out on the town and now i'm exhausted and this is all i could do.  so the hat's off, the gig is up.  g'nite.



the rain.  it's everywhere.  on the freeway going south, it gathered in lake-sized hydroplane puddles in the low spots in the road,  and it sprayed my windshield in a thunder of solid mud as the semi trucks barreled past me.    in a thick cloudy mist it filled the air, and created delicate rockwall lace waterfalls where waterfalls aren't usually.  yesterday, it coated my wooden cityscape displays in the dark and made drippy soggy runny messes of my painted vellum cutout windows as i  stepped in puddles trying to avoid other puddles.  and today, walking the six blocks to stumptown get a cup of tea, it penetrated my wool jacket and my leather boots and my jeans and my socks and my wool hat.  and when i looked down to pour the soymilk into my tea, it flowed from my cap in a steady stream onto the counter.  defenseless against the wetness,  my wet wooly self smelling like a post-rainy-walk-dog, i succumbed and let it roll off me and down my neck and into my hair, marveling at the clogged gutters and broken downspouts and awnings all spraying like impromptu celebratory fountains to the concrete.  there, water meeting more concrete, searching for the storm drains leading to the underground maze of tunnels that will eventually drain to the river, the bulbous brown river of mud and motor oil and sewage and debris, the river that will drive itself swiftly out to sea, i wondered: how do the roots of the city's trees, hidden beneath the sidewalks and lanes, find the water?

an old friend

seeing an old friend after a long hiatus is like finding a pair of clean dry socks on a rainy day when you didn't think you had any: refreshing, comfortable, warm, cozy.  much needed.



it used to be a lot easier driving away from edison.  in those days, i still called portland home, and considered my transient stays in the morrison lumber building like a camping style vacation from my normal city life.  it was in those days i would sometimes tote my cat grey back and forth with me, meowing objectionably like a broken record in the passenger seat, because i was never in either place for more than two weeks at a time.  i had two closets, two sets of silverware, and two personalities.  the duality of my life was completely exhausting; leaving my husband to wrangle the inclement weather and woodstoves and weekend warriors by his lonesome, i never felt so off balance.  i was never really positive that edison was my place, or the place for me.  how could it possibly be?  and so i drove away, again and again, just to make sure.

these days, it's damn near impossible to leave.  this place, which was once just a cold drafty barn with spiders and cobwebs, has transformed.  this podunk town has changed too.  or is it i that have changed?  walking home from tuesday night knit night with the ladies, dreading driving away again tomorrow, i was simultaneously falling in love with my tiny town all over again, falling in love like it was the first time, feeling sentimental for the community that has grown around me.  here, i am home.



every once in a blue moon there comes a show that you know will change your life.  it's the kind of show that gives you butterflies like your first date with a crush.  neil young was like that for me, as was elliott smith, john prine, tori amos, and a few others.  tonight, i'll have a nervous twitch all the way up chuckanut to go witness doug martsch and his band, built to spill.  i've seen the band once before, in the oh so large yet strangely claustrophobic crystal ballroom in portland.  the venue, in the third story of an antique building, with bouncy dance floors from the rubber tires hidden beneath the wood and only two bottleneck exits, was packed to the gills.  the whole time, doug was a tiny lego-sized man on a stage far far away, and i was preoccupied with possibilities of fires or natural disasters and ensuing stampedes.  tonight, the show is in a small venue, and it's not even sold out.  which is one of the many reasons life in a small town beats the heck out of a city in this arm-wrestling match: it's suddenly a much more intimate experience.


crunch time

i'm always running out of time.  for my latest exciting project, i was given two weeks to create two three-dimensional three-layered plywood cityscape cutouts for two downtown portland window displays.  all this, to commemorate pink martini's forthcoming christmas album.   i was hired by client and friend thomas lauderdale, the official "band leader", and if i know one thing about thomas after five or so years of getting to know him, it's that he's wildly in love with everything christmas.  every year he takes great pride in lavishly decorating his two-story indoor christmas tree, and the crews don't stop until the tree is absolutely dripping with tinsel and antique glass.  all this to prepare for his annual holiday party, where hundreds of people gather together in spite of stormy weather, dressed fabulously over sing-along carols to a grand piano, no host bar, and cupcakes as far as the eye can see.  it is truly a magical affair.  and so i know this window display is no small ordeal. it must be perfect.  

now i'm the type of can-do girl that will say yes to almost any project.  but i don't always realistically estimate the time it will take to get a project done.  for this particular project, i didn't realize what it meant to cut two hundred windows out of a full sheet of plywood with a jigsaw.  not to mention that for each window hole i cut, i initially have to drill two pilot holes for my saw blade to go into, and then once the holes are cut, i have to carefully rasp the edges to sand off the splinters.  tonight, after a week full of sawing windows, my left arm is sufficiently taxed, my tricep a little buffer, the cityscapes have a slick base coat of paint, and are ready for the final touches of vellum, blinking lights, and silhouettes in the windows.  with one day to go until the album release, it's crunch time. 



there are two sides to every bottle cap.  here is the underside of the ranier bottle cap i painted the other day, as per michelle's request.  what's funny is, the underside was no bed of roses, and ironically, much more difficult to render than the top.   perhaps it's because the top of this bottlecap, with it's emblematic red "R", is so identifiable as a symbol of northwest history.  your mind is trained. you instantly know what it is, how it shines in the reflected light, what it means.  but the waxy underside, the one with the puzzle, not so much.  in painted form, the bottlecap becomes almost abstract.  and that is precisely what i like about it:  it's not automatically recognizable. it's not automatically beautiful.

today i was listening to my daily dose of bad at sports--my new thing--while i was painting, to broaden my philosophical horizons and my vocabulary.  today's installment was particularly thick and chewy, and had to do with philosophies of the aesthetic, the anti-aesthetic, and beyond.  i won't go into much detail, but i will say that artists can chase each other in circles debating beauty versus concept and everything in-between.  it boils down to the notion that we artists have been divided into two schools, the "flower painters" and the "conceptual artists", for far too long.  past schools of theory seem to imply that art for the sole purpose of aesthetic beauty lacks substance, politic, concept, and even potency.  yes, in some cases that may be true.  but in some cases, i believe that a thing of recognizable beauty can command more attention and communicate more clearly, and to more people at once, while conceptual art often begs for further explanation.  

in this modern era, with people upon people, technology quickening it's pace, and the media proliferating images and ideas at the speed of light, the lines between literal and abstract are blurred more every day.  that makes art-making a particularly diversified venture.  what once may have been a painstaking process can now be done with computers, projectors, and printers, making our jobs easier and  harder, simpler and more complicated, all at the same time.  ah progress: if it's good for anything, that's keeping us on our toes. 


time for a change

tonight, my plan for painting went all askew.  i went to the tavern for dinner, and was invited to joel brock's studio with his lady friend for some kind of extracurricular "art lesson".  now i know what you're thinking: it  isn't what is sounds like. it was merely a rare opportunity for two mildly inebriated artist-neighbors to collaborate and have some late night fun. and so what followed was a whole lot of laughter, had over pastels and matt-board and medium and white paint and wet towels.  every time i would say something like "that doesn't look right," joel would make me aware of my own aesthetic consciousness.  like, what is right, anyways? and where do we establish our notions of right and wrong in terms of art?  now i realize: sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.  what i also realize is:  i am a control freak.  i need to loosen up.  i suppose when you lose control of certain things in your life, lose control of the things that shake your entire foundation, you then grasp for control of the things you know for sure you can control.  in my life, that means i control my art.  my life may be a total clusterfuck, but at least i can paint the way i see.  it is a tonic of sorts, something i can rely on when things go haywire.  but to express myself, well now, that's a new challenge.


how to be an artist

reserved for s. russell

this is a motivational speech.
and a recipe for success: 

as far as i'm concerned, if you decide you're an artist, you are an artist.  i mean, that's the advice my mom gave me.  so it must be true.  yeah, it takes some work.  like my old painting professor said one day in class, "if you really wanted to be an artist, you wouldn't be here.  you'd lock yourself in a room and you'd be working".  so yeah, it takes lots of patience and diligence, but it's just like anything else that's worthwhile in this world.  i don't think i have ever been asked once for my degree, or any kind of proof that i went to school for art, not once, not in any of the jobs i've had or opportunities i've earned as a professional artist.  because the proof is in the pudding.  i work my ass off, and that's that. i repeat what works, and i eliminate what doesn't, in an attempt to create the perfect formula.  i read books.  i seek information.  i observe.  i ask for advice.  i practice, and i practice, and i practice some more.

so in conclusion: 
we're all artists in training. 
every last one of us.
seek and ye shall find.



collection of j. lynch

i had a massage today and i now feel all rubbery.  all the little bubbles of tension and all the toxins held in my muscles are currently flowing through my veins as a result, swift like autumn leaves in a muddy river after a heavy rain.  the massage helped me form an awareness about my body that i didn't have before.  for instance: now i realize that i cross my legs when i sit and paint, and every time i sit for that matter, evidenced by the knot in my hip.  and the tension in my calves and my shins, that may have something to do with me never wearing socks, because i can't find any, and my chronic cold feet.  on top of that, my painters arm and the attached shoulder is all full of tough spots, and my neck too, from holding my head steady at a 45 degree angle while i'm watercoloring at my table easel.  and then there are the long term muscle memories:  scar tissue from that one massive strawberry on my thigh after a skateboarding accident, the clenched muscles around the gentle bend in my spine called scoliosis, the sciatic nerve pinched once and forever changed in a volleyball drop-and-roll, and even some scar tissue hiding under my tattoos.  who knew that my muscles were withholding so much information about my physical patterns of use and abuse?

when i was talking with jill bliss the other day about the perils of pricing artwork, she explained why she absolutely had to raise hers. "i have a whole team of health professionals i have to pay in order to keep on working," she said, in dealing with common artist's problems like carpel tunnel and tendinitis.  luckily, my one hour massage cost me exactly as much as one painting, and so it works out.  but it amazes me how doing something so seemingly low-impact, yet repeatedly for years on end, could take a gradual but enormous toll on your body.  it would appear, by the amount of ailments some of us artists struggle with, that we were doing some king of tough manual labor, like digging trenches or felling trees.  yes, after another long day at the easel, these words by andy warhol sum it all up:

"Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job." 


the growth of a movement

i love talking to artists.  and hearing artists talk.  and i love reading what artists have to say.  because it seems like we are the type of people to analyze and then over-analyze everything.  it keeps things interesting.  artists see art in the banal, in the mundane, in the elaborate...we see art in almost everything--even a cardboard box.  we scrutinize the symbols of society at large, we dig apart our behaviors and the behaviors of others, we anatomize patterns in nature and those outside of nature, and we discover new pieces to the puzzle everywhere we look.  we dissect patterns and reproduce patterns and create patterns of our own.  we discuss things upon things, and their relationships with the world at large.  we brainstorm and throw ideas and possibilities around. and then, we toss it all in the blender called our psyche, and we create.  we make things. things that are banal, things that are intriguing, things that can't always easily be explained or pigeonholed, things that defy description.  things upon things.   these things have been birthed from intricate fractals, layers of personal experience, cultural paradigm, trial and error, and discourse.  we are artists, we are weird, we don't usually fit a mold, but we always have each other in common.

while listening to my first podcast on Bad at Sports: Contemporary Art Talk today, i was reminded of the nature of artists.   it's good to know lots of artists, and expose yourself to lots of artists, because although we might be bad at sports, we're always pushing to find new forms of inspiration and expression.  each time one artist gives birth to a new idea, or unearths a new discovery, it's like the whole crew has just struck gold.  so today, i found the link to Bad at Sports in a link list from Jeremy Okai Davis.  it's not the first time this guy has inspired me, either. listening to that podcast while i painted gave me more food for thought than a thanksgiving dinner.  as practicing artists, we share, we appropriate, we critique, we collaborate, we challenge the status-quo, we push past mediocrity, and we grow together, as a movement.  that's our job, should we choose to accept it.



there are few things worse than hurting someone's feelings without knowing it.  today, i realized i had done just that.  i put my foot in my mouth in a major way.  it's not cute, it's not laughable, it's just a pain.  let me explain:

a few days ago i wrote a blog entry about the art show that james was participating in, called Art's Alive.  i made some comments off the cuff, some haphazard observations, about the way the art was presented.  my comments were pretty judgmental, snobby even, and wholly inconsiderate of all the people who spent hours upon hours organizing an event with limited financial resources.  i felt the need to throw my opinion out there, without realizing 1) that it could possibly get back to the organizers of the art exhibit, 2) that it could offend, anger, and infuriate them, and 3) that my comment could further alienate me from an art community i was already struggling to understand.  oops.  i guess i didn't even think people took me seriously.  i mean, it's pretty easy to feel invisible out here, in the quiet black of night middle of nowhere, typing these stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto the screen.  i wasn't prepared for the power of my own sharp tongue, my editorial opinion in it's rawest, most honest, unedited moments, nor for the repercussive backlash that followed.

in an angry email from one of the organizers, it's firmly stated: "you're not coming across as justified and righteous, or even funny, you're coming across as bitter...volunteers were hurt and insulted by your words...It's ironic that a person who fully embraces the "use what you have to make something great" approach to art is so quick to shit on an event that did just that."  double oops.   now i've got hurt feelings too, if it's any consolation.  lesson learned.

so here, i would like to wholeheartedly apologize, to Art's Alive and to everyone who read what i wrote and got hurt.  i know well what hurt feels like, and anger too, and i'm embarrassed to think i could have caused those feelings in someone else.  i didn't mean to do that to you.   i only wish to spread positivity and love and good vibrations. and honesty.  in a world so full of negativity, of hate and war and bitterness and waste and loss and deceit and haste, it is amazing when people get together, work together for the sake of beauty.  you did just that, and i commend you.  it takes a lot of courage.


a love letter

reserved for p. senter

i must be doing something right.  in the last three days, i sold twelve one-a-day paintings.  a few were sold online, but mostly i sold them the old-fashioned way, through the store.  i put a small basket on a table at the lucky dumpster so folks could easily thumb through them all.  i was dumbfounded and amazed by the positive response.  as a result, i'm feeling wholly encouraged and super motivated.  today, i would like to offer a hefty thanks to all y'all who take the time to look at this thing:  it makes me feel so proud to hear you say, "i love your blog,", honored to see you sharing it with your friends, and so grateful that you would take the time out of your busy lives to look.  every day, when i sit down, i do it with you in mind.  these paintings, these words, are for you.  honestly.


beneath it all

reserved for a. werder

 some days are charmed.  last night leading up to today were particularly so, making up for all the preceding moments full of moody malcontent.  thank you universe, for starting me off on the right foot, for keeping me optimistic and productive and in a darnright sociable good mood, for making my interactions with the world stimulating, inspiring, and full of positive reinforcements, for helping me understand why i am who i am.  it's not always easy, but it is always worth it.  so go ahead: bulldoze through the bullshit and reveal that solid foundation hidden beneath it all.  

today's chance visitations to the lucky dumpster (how in the world they got here, i don't know, but thank you dear lucky stars for gracing me with such brilliance):
the lovely musicians:
rose melberg
darren hanlon
talented artist
jill bliss



yesterday i drove to bellingham to meet two-week-old baby enzo for the first time.  i was excited to see the little man, and also to witness the transformation in my friend annalee.  i know that giving birth changes you in profound ways, and although i don't know from experience, i've witnessed it in several friends.  it is a mysterious and magical thing, that notion of making a baby inside one's self.  it still blows my mind.  looking at enzo's tiny toes and fingers, the features that will combine the best of his parents and develop to become uniquely him, soaking in the beauty of the vulnerable creature that will one day talk back and make his own grilled cheese sandwiches, well that's just a downright miracle.  and watching the way annalee already knows his cues, knows what to do, and is so comfortable in her own skin:  i am awestruck bordering on envious.  at times i struggle with it all, maybe because i was once that squishy warm suckling ten-pounder in the arms of my own mother. my mother is gone now.  the nurturing of a mother, a comfort irreplaceable, is at times an irreconcilable emptiness for me.  so sometimes, i catch myself staring at those beautiful glowing young mothers and their babies, trying to grasp at the intensity of that loving bond i once felt.  i have to catch myself,  just to keep from falling apart.



today i went with the boys, james and tom, to help with the installation of james' sculptures in the "emerging artists" room of LaConner's Art's Alive! weekend festival.  When James was first asked to participate, he thought they were asking for us both, and was surprised and confused to find out that they wanted his work only. I pretended to pout, whining "why didn't they pick meeeee?", but really, i was excited for him.  Since leaving art school to pursue cabinetry, james has mostly built furniture, kitchens and other functional wooden gear to make a buck.  i've been known as the artist of the family.  but i do know there is truly a brilliant artist inside james, waiting to explode onto the scene.  i encouraged him to move outside of function and conventionality for this one, to take the opportunity to show what kind of sophistication he's really made of.  and he did.  with the help of tom, he assembled some dramatic pieces that hearken to his influnces, from tsutakawa to northwest natives to nature to demolition and destruction to collection and resurrection.  we proudly packed the back of tom's trusty red pickup with the creations from the past couple weeks and drove the sunny fields to laconner.

so i guess i've been spoiled when it comes to seeing interesting art in well-designed environments.  Living in portland and being an art-junkie of sorts, i've been exposed to everything from guerrilla galleries to boutique galleries to formal museums.  there are so many artists in the world, and equally as many ways to exhibit the art effectively.  and also so many ways to ineffectively exhibit the art, to butcher the experience altogether.  walking into the art's alive exhibit, i felt as if it should be called art's dead.  The room looked like a glorified county fair art exhibit:  carpet paneled office room dividers lining the walls, embellished with 80's style white telescoping clip lights. and then the art.  most of it was decent, and some was downright lovely, but the presentation was so tacky and distracting it had a de-emphasizing effect.  luckily, james' pieces look good darn near anywhere, but the ladies seemed perplexed by the work to say the least.  we left, feeling confused ourselves, but accomplished still, for making a small dent called "non-conventional" in the facade of laconner-style "sophistication".  driving home, we laughed like kids, making beavis and butthead style dirty jokes about the "erection of our giant totems", in light of all the stuffiness we'd narrowly escaped.  well done, team lucky dumpster.



collection of j. shainin

crumpled pieces of paper are like snowflakes: no two are alike.  two days ago, when i was exasperated in search of subject matter, i resigned to a tiny piece of crumpled brown paper towel on my table easel.  because i was feeling particularly crumpled myself, it seemed entirely appropriate.  that day, in doing that painting, i felt as if i made a miraculous discovery.  somehow, the deceptively simple subject matter of a crumpled piece of paper was one of the most challenging subjects i've ever attempted to paint realistically.  faceted like a diamond, as intricate as a mountain topography with its many peaks, valleys, and crevasses, the paper was a maze of detail and an endless exploration of shadow, light, line, and color.  who knew?  and now, i'm kind of obsessed.  i want to be that painter who paints crumpled pieces of paper.  sure, it's probably been done lots, but who cares.  crumpled pieces of paper are like snowflakes: one is a surprise, but it takes tons and tons to make any kind dent in the landscape.  so tonight, in preparation for my painting, james and i went straight to the recycling bin.  we sat and crumpled paper, experimenting with all kinds of different techniques, the loose crumple and the tight crumple, large pages and small, with  pictures of faces and pages of text,  newsprint ads and  glossy junk mail ads... just to see the aesthetics or expressions or effects each one produces.

i feel fortunate to have made this discovery.  sometimes it seems like the most obvious moments of beauty are so close under our noses that we don't even notice them.  like today: i finally noticed the ducks.  today when i was outside, i noticed their collective quacking, ecstatic in the marshy distances.  and driving the dusky roads home, i noticed them by the thousands, tiny black dots, barely visible as V formations in the sky, then swarming, swift tornadoes of black dust, spinning collectively in a lyrical dance to land in the fallow fields.  miraculous beauty, every day.



emptying boxes from a move is emotionally taxing.  each box is its own time capsule.  each box contains too many memories in the form of objects.  for each object you remove from a box, you have to evaluate its importance to you.  you also inadvertently go through a mental chronology of where the object came from, how you used it, how people before you used it, and what it's future value might be.  then you have to find a spot for it to go.  a new home.  you have to look around your space, your new home.  you then have to evaluate your home, and the patterns of use yet to be established.  you might get frustrated because you have nowhere for your object to go.  you're overcrowded.  you may not even understand why you have the object, why you've kept it so long, or why you bothered to move it two-hundred and thirty some odd miles.  maybe then you put it in a new box, designated for donation, recycling, or trash.  or you put it in the store, to sell.  or maybe you just move it a little to the side, and try a different object.  it is an unending prospect, these boxes made of cardboard and plastic, these boxes filled with fragile things wrapped in newspaper, filled with precious tiny pieces of things, filled with beachcombed flotsam, filled to the brim, every last corner filled, filled, filled.  filled to the brink of emtiness, the brink of dizziness, to the brink of a breaking point.  so you go outside, you go for a walk, and breathe in the space around you.  you decide to wait, and empty the boxes later.  some other day, perhaps.  when you're feeling stronger.



the best laid plans do sometimes fail.  that is why today, when i opted not to go to portland, i was okay with it all.  i made the appropriate calls, canceled my appointments, explained my circumstances, said my i'll see you soon's, and even got my train tickets refunded without controversy.  everyone was so understanding.  they gave me their i told you so's, and their are you sure this is what you want's, but in the end, it all settled in quite nicely.  the experience of sleeping in, knowingly letting myself fail, and deliberately missing my nine o'clock train, well that was humbling. as was the immediate quietude of not going somewhere, of not having anything pressing to do, of drinking my hot mug-o-tea in my jammies, of drifting around the house picking up a little at a time, of making a wholesome meal for me and my man and my dog...  somehow, the backup plan turned out to be the best plan of all.  

as the old proverb goes : 
 we learn little from victory, much from defeat.
and besides:
hurry only catches flies
the heart at rest sees a feast in everything.