Sunday, December 21, 2008

Layering


I love the tactile stuff of art-making. I spent almost 30 years messing around with the textures and colors and patterns of fabric art. And I get so excited about the feel of oil paint sliding off a brush, its luscious smell, that it's all I can do not to eat it. So I never thought I'd want to work digitally, by remote-control on a screen, unable to directly touch my picture-in-progress.

10 years ago I was still refusing to deal with computers at all. A lapsed Luddite, that's me. The first week after my computer moved in, I had nightmares about my brain rearranging itself to suit the machine. I kept trying to click on my memories in my sleep.


Times change. I've found myself experimenting in Photoshop lately. I have only rudimentary facility with it, so the process
still feels clumsy. But clumsiness might be part of the fun--I don't have so many habits to streamline the raw experience of making.

I get utterly absorbed, if not obsessed. I lose awareness of time, forget to so much as take a sip of water--all the symptoms of surrender to the zone of creativity--even if it is virtual creativity.


I've used layers of sheer fabrics showing through each other. I've made works in chenille, which cuts down through many layers and shows them all. In oils I use a lot of glazes, building up an image from transparent layers of paint. But being able to decide the percentage of transparency I want in an underlayer? Yowz!

Some mysterious, dreamy images have emerged. I've been taking (even) more photos lately. It's not over....

Still Point Turning

This one, and the one at the top, Keeping Still, both started from the same puddle that my friend had dropped a rock into.



The Pause Between End and Begin

The one above evolved from the one below. Both made largely of hay bales....but the Pause used some steam from my teakettle, too, along with the sheep.


More:

Winter Walk

Make Yourself At Home

My current favorite:

Tunnel to the Unknown

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Solstice


What Is (Solstice Invocation) fabrics and paint '08


"Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, 'Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'"


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Crossed Fingers


My crossed fingers, with Obama vote tatoo (temporary) in front of portrait of Harriet Tubman.
We've come so far!

What Should I Do?


Criticism: Taking It and Dishing It Out

Feedback

How does your work comes across to other people? Is it almost done? Does that awkward place bother anyone but you? If you're in need of a reality check or just a fresh perspective, your wise and courageous Creative Guidance System might announce that it's time to get some feedback.

Great! A time honored part of the Process. Almost all writers give a gush of gratitude in the acknowledgments for the sainted partner, friend or editor who read every draft and "made this a much better book."

As Shirley Abbott says at the end of The Future of Love, "Sooner or later a writer turns to friends and family. ('Tell me what you think. Pull no punches. But don't hurt my feelings. And by next Monday.')"

Non writers, too, may need the helpful response of feedback. Seeing your work through others' eyes can open you to a world of possibilities that you'd miss on your own.

But feedback also means that ear piercing whine made by a microphone picking up and magnifying sound from an amplifier--it can hurt! Unexamined beliefs (about doing it right, seeking approval, etc.) and habits of self attack can amplify the sound of feedback to a painful screech.

If you're very closely identified with your work, feedback can be like hearing someone pick on your favorite child. While you're keeping yourself from grabbing the offender by the throat, it might not be so easy to open your ears and listen.

If you hear, "You are a dismal failure as a writer and a human being" when your friend says, "I'm thinking this paragraph could be shorter," you'll likely miss the full benefits of your collaboration.


What Do You Say Now, Dear?

Feedback can be rough on the giver, too. A friend offers you their precious creation to respond to; they swear they really want to know. But what if you take a peek and reel back from the smell of rotten eggs--what if it stinks?

If you Google constructive criticism, you'll find the repeated advice to make a sandwich. Say something nice first--that's the bread. The filling is made of mentioning what might could stand some trifling improvement. Finish with another slice of nice.

You imagine trying to scrape together at least a couple crackers worth of encouragement to make a rotten egg sandwich with, wondering if you'll be walking on eggshells around your friend for the rest of your life.

Croc Walking On Eggshells

First, Take It Personally

Whether you're giving or receiving criticism, it might help to warm up before you go tippy-toeing through the eggshells. Like anything worthwhile,feedback improves with practice.

Want to explore some wholesome criticism? If you'd like to experience this exercise, please take a few minutes to write it down--doing it in your head won't work nearly as well, if at all.

1. Think of someone working in the same medium as yours who could do better. Write out your feedback for them in an uncensored way. Don't bother to have a humble opinion, just an honest one. What should they do differently? What, specifically, bugs you about their work? It doesn't have to be a big deal. But don't hold back.

I suggest you don't read further until you've done this. Give it a whirl!


Eggshells Walking on Crocs

2. Now, very gently, reread what you wrote as if it were neutral, factual commentary about your work, from someone who loves you and deeply understands. Look for where it could be accurate.

3. To go deeper, write three concrete examples of how each criticism applies to your work, and/or to some other area of your life--your meditation practice, your gardening, your spending habits, whatever comes to mind.

4. Next, look for ways that what each criticism points out about your work actually (also) helps it. Something that seems like a problem can turn out to be a strength in disguise.

(If in part 1. I wrote: They make everything so complicated, and in 2.and 3. I've found specifically how I make things complicated, here in 4. I might notice: by making things complicated I invite people to look more deeply, to understand a richer view and so on).

5. Finally, check out the opposite of each critical statement, and look for where that's true about your work or your life, too. (I don't make everything so complicated, or I make everything so simple). Find examples. Receiving (and giving yourself) positive feedback can be every bit as challenging as the apparently negative.

For Example


Say I think someone's article is repetitious. It says the same thing over and over. How many ways can it say that same thing in one paragraph? It gives example after example when I already got it. Don't they have anything else to say? Do they think the reader is an idiot? Ican understand saying something twice to make sure it came across, but this really belabors the point. Over and over, they just say the same thing, sometimes in the very same words!

If I become quiet and receptive and look for where my criticism of them is right for me, I usually don't have to look too far....


Play With It

You can play with this kind of exploration in many ways. When you happen to overhear criticism of someone or something else, you might check to see, with kind eyes, if it could be true about your work. Go looking for it. The world tends to be generous with criticism. It might be just what you need for a sticky spot in your work.

Those politicians all lie! Hmmm, yes, maybe I could be more direct and honest in my piece. I'm being so political about how it might be received that I've lost track of what I wanted to say. Brrrr, it's too soon for it to be so cold out. Aha! The transition into the cooler colors on the edge of my picture is way too abrupt, that's what's been bothering me....

Before you ask for feedback and the influence that may come with it, you can also take the direct approach, of writing out your own criticisms for yourself. Put down whatever you're afraid someone else might think.Look over what you've written as simply observations that may include valuable guidance.

Equality

This kind of practice reminds us of our basic equality with a friend who asked for or offered feedback. No one is the all-knowing expert on someone else's work, and anyone can potentially be helpful.

If, before dishing out criticism, we've sampled the fare ourselves, it nourishes our natural tact and courtesy. And if we've already gotten the habit of taking in useful criticism, even in surprising forms, we'll be more comfortable and curious about whatever our friend has to share.
Then the process becomes a fruitful, collaborative one, alive with possibility.

You Are SO Right!

More Pointers...

Ask for what you want

If criticism is a sandwich, it's best made to order.

  • "Only tell me about problems; I'm allergic to high-carb flattery."
  • "I don't know what I want yet, so give me whatever you've got."
  • "I'd like 100% lavish praise, please, as long as it's sincere."

The person serving may say, "Sorry, not on the menu--I am really only good for nit picky trouble-shooting."

Specific questions directed to what you want to know can help focus feedback and make it more useful. If possible, keep your questions open-ended, to leave room for a view you hadn't already thought of. Essay-type questions will probably get you more to work with than yes/no or multiple choice.


Use Genuine 'I' Statements

Even if you're on fire with the conviction that your opinion is correct, don't pretend to be a burning bush delivering the Objective Truth. It will be easier to hear coming from an ordinary mortal.

"I thought..." "My response..." "To me...." "My feeling is...." These can help remind both people that they can only offer their own experience of a piece, which is all that is needed.


Don't Defend, Explain or Justify

If you start to feel defensive when receiving feedback, check in with yourself about your motives. Are you still in it for the sake of bringing out the best in your work, or are you after something else now?

It might be time to take a break, or to revise what you ask for."I could use some reassurance that you get what I'm trying to do here."

If you find yourself explaining and justifying, you've stopped listening. Since you already know whatever you're explaining, how can you find out something new that way?

Sometimes it helps to stay busy taking notes on what your friend says; you can sort through your reactions later.


You Can't Make Me

Your friend might have given you some brilliant suggestions. But if you rush to slap their insights onto your piece, you might find yourself disconnected from the process, trying to get it right in someone else's eyes.Then it's easy to become bossy, demanding and ultimately dissatisfied with your work.

Take some time to digest feedback and make it your own. Then your next moves will evolve organically, from your own creative spark that has brightened through contact with another.


The End: On Finishing, Or Not


Night Driving, fabrics, 12x13in. Jude Spacks '99

Endlessness

Have you ever had a project that dragged on and on, like a nightmare road trip?

Constant whining comes from the backseat, "Are we there yet? Far from it. No grand finale appears around the bend, no billboards full of accolades.

Sure, you could toss the whole thing out the window into the litter of false-starts and almost-dones beside the road, but you've already put so much into it....

"Are we there yet?" Did we miss a turn somewhere? How'd we wind up running on empty on a back road to nowhere, cranky and out of ideas? What drives us on to the finish, anyway?
What slows us down?

Danger: Judgment Ahead

Embarking on a creative journey can bring a grace period of pure potential. The work feels open and fluid. It seems too soon to evaluate and not too late to change.

But as completion approaches, the form solidifies. Judgments more easily grab hold. The possibility of rejection from ourselves and/or others cranks up fear of finishing. Meanwhile, fear of the consequences of not finishing pressures us to get on with it.
 

Competing fears make it hard to connect with the actual work right through to the end. Fear of failure may goad us towards completion, but it holds us back, too.


'Hope is as Hollow as Fear'

Hope of success might drive us on to the finish, too. There may be rewards for finishing, but does wanting them really help us get there? Is running after a carrot of success any more effective than fleeing a stick of fear?

When I'm frustrated with trying to complete something, I tend to believe that I can't have peace, freedom and fun until this thing is finished. As I focus on my hope for a future utopia of All Done, I reject my current condition. I divide myself. Attention disconnects from the present, where the source of creativity always lives.

No wonder the tank feels empty, like I'm running on the fumes of some earlier impulse that has abandoned me. My own thinking does the abandoning, by leaving now for an imaginary later.

 
"Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance."

--Tao de Ching, Stephen Mitchell, trans


Finding the Ground


What I call PressureHead--the state of mind that believes it has to keep hiking on that ladder--makes a misery out of the journey of creating. When I'm in PressureHead, I'm cut off from a genuine flow of creativity that might be followed to a satisfactory ending. I cannot fake, force or figure my way out of this fact.

Relief approaches when I notice (again) that I am not in charge. I am not the Creativity Queen, commanding my inner muse to cough up a conclusion, under threat of fear or lure of hope. My feet touch the ground of reality, and I can start taking one humble step at a time again.

What For?

I got very frustrated in the finishing stages of a fabric hanging recently. I worked doggedly for days trying to get it to lie flat against the wall, and it wouldn't. I told myself it didn't really
matter, but the part of me that was determined to get it 'right' took no comfort from that. PressureHead was about ready to blow her stack.

I remembered that the pain is in the brain, not the circumstances--the artwork couldn't really be causing my aggravation, only my thinking about it could do that. So I asked myself what I thought it meant if the piece continued to billow out asymmetrically on one side. Well, isn't it obvious? It meant that I was incompetent and unprofessional, and people would make fun of me behind my back.

After getting some space from identifying with these kind of thoughts, it became suddenly clear that in reality, there was nothing to lose and nothing to gain from getting it done or not. Obviously, I was incompetent at prevailing over the physics of heavy paint on light fabric, so those imaginary critics were right. If they make fun of me, I hope they enjoy it.

With that release of self-image, a realer self reappeared. What good luck! I fell back in love with the artwork. I felt infused with an enthusiasm made of indifference to outcome. Of course, completion came easily then.

Believe it or not, someone asked me at the show how I had gotten that piece to billow in that wonderful way--she loved how that added to its movement.


Integrity Check

When you're struggling to finish something, you might ask yourself: if you knew you had nothing to lose and nothing to gain, would you still do it?

If you answer no, maybe it's time to consider ditching the project. If you simply quit, voila, that makes it done! You can go out and play.

Or you could choose to continue, motivated by what you believe you stand to gain or lose.

If you answer yes, (to continuing even knowing there's nothing to lose or gain) you've rediscovered the freedom of a deeper motivation than the reward/punishment tricks the mind uses to feel in control.

The same creative Source that started the project
rolling is still here, whole, always new. It provides just what your project needs, but only in the present moment, in the open space left when you've given up, at least a little, on the win/lose success/failure hope/fear game.

You may not enjoy every minute of your finishing-up work. But when you reconnect with that ground of integrity in yourself, it doesn't matter. As trite as it sounds, you're in it for the journey, not the destination.

Are we there yet? Nope, we're still here.

"There is no there there."--Gertrude Stein

Friday, October 31, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

What Goes Around


A few Sundays ago I sat at a picnic table on a hill in a park, waiting for my laundry to cycle at the laundromat. It was a beautiful, quiet fall day. I wasn't thinking about anything. Suddenly it came to me that Obama would win the election. I felt calm and certain. I wept a little with joy and relief.

One day more recently, that certainty had left me. I felt anxious about the world. I saw a friend in the market. "How do you handle it when you get worried about the election and everything?" I asked. "Well, I remind myself that you got a psychic message that Obama was going to win!" (Someone else had told her).

"Actually, I got the same thing myself just this morning, so I can pass it back to you," she continued. "Also, I go outside. That helps. And I take
chamomila homeopathic remedy." "Do you have any with you?" "Yes!" and she dug the little blue vial out of her purse....

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Before Completion

Before Completion (Fire Over Water)
Hexagram 64 of the I Ching
fabrics, threads and paint, 10x21 in, Jude Spacks '08 $549

I love that the I Ching ends before it ends: its final hexagram is called Before Completion. The text describes the transition from a state of standstill or stagnation, to one of peace. "It points to the fact that every end contains a new beginning. Thus it gives hope...." (all quotations from The I Ching Book of Changes, Wilhelm/Baynes trans.)

Before Completion is a more auspicious oracle than the preceding one, 63, After Completion, which describes an evolution from peace to standstill. When everything is done and all in order, movement stops: "For it is just when perfect equilibrium has been reached that any movement may cause order to revert to disorder."

(This reminds me of a couple I heard of who were both studying Alexander technique. The woman found her husband lying on the bed. "Don't touch me!" he said, "I'm perfectly aligned.")

Young Fox, fabrics (prints available)

A key metaphor of both hexagrams is of a fox crossing an iced over stream. An old fox has the experience, sensitivity and alertness to cross successfully. A young fox may impetuously try to rush things to completion, and wind up with the humiliation of getting its tail wet at the end.

"Success. But if the little fox, after nearly completing the crossing, gets his tail in the water, there is nothing that would further...."

Then, after crossing, it's important not to turn back and get your head wet. When it's over, let it be over.

Before Completion, detail, viewed from the side

Completion calls for the tricky job of differentiating and harmonizing factors that don't easily accord with each other, like fire and water. The text explains that the only way to do this is to be in right relation with ourselves first. "...in order to handle external forces properly, we must above all arrive at the correct standpoint ourselves, for only from this vantage can we work correctly."


Working from the correct standpoint in myself on this fire and water piece meant being a beginner. I'd never made anything quite like it before. It kept me surprised the whole time, following unexpected directions from inner guidance, like the idea of hanging one section of the piece from the other.

I experimented with a chenille technique and with making fringe out of some special threads (see The Support of Water). I didn't realize the title until the end. After it was "complete" I saw that the fringe suggested a fox's tail. Maybe it also implies the unraveling of ends--things coming and going from one form to another.

Another recent piece used thread to suggest fire. It also references endings and beginnings in the image of a phoenix, that burns and rises anew from its ashes. The hexagonal mirror can place your face between incarnations of the phoenix above and below.

Phoenix Mirror, Jude Spacks '08
fabrics, threads, paint, and mirror, 12x21in

detail, Phoenix (chenille and threads)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Red Envelopes

.
I have a friend who studied
Feng Shui (the Chinese art of balancing energies in an environment). She once mentioned that traditionally, Feng Shui practitioners are paid in 9 red envelopes containing money which is also in multiples of 9. This empowers the 'cure' for the environment.

I felt inspired to thank her for the free advice she'd given me over the years (including putting crystals on 9 inch strings in crucial spots).

So I gave her 9 red envelopes, which I made. (I thought making the envelopes might empower the cure even more; but clutter still reigns around here, so I'm not sure that's how it works.)

Inside one red envelope, I put a check for $18, in others, 36 shiny dimes, 9 five dollar bills, 54 pennies, all polished, and so on--I remember it added up to being quite a lot, and it was fun to give. She was touched, and slept one night with all of them under her pillow. Here are 5 of the envelopes--I can't seem to find a picture of all 9:




Since then, I've set most of my prices and fees in multiples of nine (though I skip the envelopes!). I like how this association to Feng Shui acknowledges a positive power in paying for the client (along with the benefit to the practitioner of being supported to continue their calling).

Framing the exchange of monetary energy this way has helped me receive money with an open, light-hearted reverence that heightens gratitude.

I don't have to tell the client about it, but I imagine that setting my prices in a way that works for my quirky magic-loving self may make the exchange more comfortable and valuable for both of us.
And maybe it really does increase the helpful potency of the work, its transformative power.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More on Show


Want to take a little tour with the artist? Step this way....


As you come in the door to the Belfast Free Library, directly across from you next to the elevator hangs this Portrait of Rodney Dennis.


Rodney Dennis was Manuscript Librarian of Houghton Library. He lived in Cambridge, MA and Union, ME. Thanks to Christie Dennis for commissioning and loaning the painting.


Across the room, you'll probably notice first the big picture called What Is, of Kathleen Hannan, conducting singing up to a high note at an interfaith celebration.


It's at the end of the wall across from you, which you might glance at...



...before you see that right next to you, as you still stand by the door, is a wall of little mirrors, ending with a small angel altar on the left.



At the right side of this wall is the artist's statement. Want to read it?


The first two (glass) mirrors have little vases inset in front of them, with an offering of a few small flowers. They are both called Made Mostly of Water, like the flowers are. If you look into them, you might consider that you are part of that same flow and freeze and melt, the drops and waves of life.


These two pieces were very loosely inspired by the photos of water crystals exposed to a variety of concepts, in Masaru Emoto’s The Hidden Messages of Water.




They're roughly 12" high, made with layers of handmade papers, some sewn together and then cut with a chenille cutter and raised in grooves. The one directly above has composition silver leaf crumpled and inset at the top.

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The piece in the middle is called Mirror of Transition. When my soul-sister died, I traveled out with her into the night sky. I heard myself say, "I'll go with you a little way, Joanne" as I lay in bed miles away. I experienced an indescribable sense of expansion, spaciousness, peace and awe. The next morning I learned she had passed at just that time.

Maybe 20 years ago Joanne gave me the piece of black lace with shot through with shiny hot pink threads that veils the mirror. (The post Anger tells one small story of what I learned from her). The veil refers to the Jewish tradition of covering mirrors after a family member has passed. As you look at yourself through it, you may see a mystery.

Every transition is a little death and ascension to a new and unknown form, or into formlessness. This piece has layers of transparent and semi-transparent fabrics; it tiers back and back as you look through, into an undefined light essence rising, a distant evocation of that moment of letting go into transformation. Or, that's what I was going for. What's it like for you?


Here's a detail of what's under the veil--a small advantage of a virtual tour, since I know in person you would never pick up the veil to peek, it's very delicate.


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Next comes Mirror of Aging Beautifully. Look in--obviously, you are (aging beautifully--admit it!) Here the mirror reflects the What Is picture across the room. To the left, the little angel altar; you can barely see the composition gold leaf inset center focus in the shelf from this angle.


Maybe you recognize this piece from the flyer that's up around town about the show:


It's intended as a magic mirror, like the ones in fairy tales--"Mirror, mirror on the wall..."

Something happens when you donate your face to the composition, right up close. All the symmetry and non-symmetry and near-symmetry, the dynamic balance of vivid and soft colors, the flowing, expanding lines of crows feet, or wings, the rising and falling and circling around of the shapes, all that harmonizes with your beautiful, changing face in this irreplaceable moment....

Well, sorry, guess you had to have been there....

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Let's take a quick look at the opposite wall, shall we? This one, Inner Reach, is a particular favorite of mine.




It's a new departure for me to show more abstract pieces like this. It's done with fabric paints on canvas, and colored pencil, sewn onto a heavy dark blue denim backing.

I like how you can't really tell what's on top of what, but you wind up with an impression of depth or spaciousness, full and open at once. Maybe it evokes an enlarged section of an imaginary scan of your mind...or maybe not.

Someone at the opening said he saw an unhappy face with slashing claw marks across it. Hmmm. The eyes of the beholder, that's where art lives...

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This one at the left corner is called Stick With Love. The story behind the piece is in Dogged Dedication. The image was done with pastels and glitter on black fabric, the border, with fabric applique.

An theme of the show is experimentation with ways of combining fabric art and painting/drawing. I worked primarily in representational fabric collage for 25 years and then returned to painting where I started, in oil portraiture. So I'm interested in how to integrate the different media.

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There's three more to look at on this wall, and I seem to keep talking your ear off here. Is that enough for now? Personally, I can't look at a show for too long without getting a little jaded. Want to go upstairs and get a book out? We can come back in another post to look at the rest. As you head for the stairs, you'll see the corner on the left:


And looking down on the right as you climb the stairs, maybe you'll want to check out this Phoenix Mirror and Angel Altar later...


Oh, one other thing. Yes, most of them are for sale, but since it's a free library, the prices aren't mentioned on the wall, and there's not even a price list out.

But if you see one that might be for you, send me an email at judespacks@gmail.com and I'll be glad to tell you more about the piece, and the price.

Hey, thanks for looking and reading so far! Seeya later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cat Love

Wilda drawing '08

As I've said before (see post Wilda) "my" cat is my guru. She teaches everything I need to know, and less, which is very helpful. I need to know less. If I didn't stuff my head with human falderall, I could maybe meditate like she does, for a second.


Maine Coon Cat (detail) fabrics

A friend (who happens to be wildly ga-ga about his cat--you can see pictures of the happy couple here) complimented the occasionally serious content of this blog saying, "It's not just pretty pictures of cats and sunsets." Being a stinkwanink contrarian, I resolved to include more cats forthwith. Sunsets can wait.


Kitty, fabrics

Here's what I don't really get: what's so laughable about being seriously in love, as an equal or equal-wannabe, with a cat? It seems sillier, to me, to believe that just being human makes an entity somehow superior to a feline, or to anyone else, like a mollusk, or a turnip, for that matter. Not that we can't have our preferences, and to each her own and all.



Black Cat fabrics


I know a very rapid woman who loves a tortoise. She hates cats. (Her husband is reported to have commented, "She doesn't like anything warm-blooded"). To each her own, as I said. Love or hate 'em, cats mind their own business.