Thursday, January 7, 2016

Everyone Needs Art

A few months ago, I was lucky enough for the opportunity to teach eco-art to a couple groups of 8th graders as part of an outdoor education school trip.  Kids who come on these trips participate in chosen activities such as climbing tower, archery, boating, and team building activities.  Eco-art is one of many classes that the school can choose from.  For those not familiar with eco-art, it is simply a class that lets students take objects from nature to create their own two or three dimensional sculpture or design.  The first class I taught was awesome!  My students delved into the project with gusto, made cool natural designs, and even came up with profound explanations for them.  I felt like I was running a mini-art school class in the woods.  The second class I taught was also awesome, in a completely different way.  This group was much less enthusiastic.    As I launched into my passionate lesson about eco-art and art mediums that can be found in nature, I could sense a quiet air of disappointment that lingered over them for not getting to do something more exciting, like boating or ziplining, instead of something that had the word “art”in  it.  I steadfastly  led the somber group into the woods to gave them some ideas for how to start making their own artwork.  I watched students start an idea, only to abandon it to go in another direction.    Despite the lack of gusto, I saw how determined they all were to create a piece of eco-art.  All of them put some respectable effort into coming up with something, and I was proud of them for that.  Teaching in an outdoor setting like this has the added bonus of noticing small details in the natural world, that one can miss when simply on a hike.  One student picked up a beautiful chrysalis, and asked me what is was.  I was pretty sure that student had never seen one before.  At the conclusion of the class, I asked them what they found was the hardest part about this assignment.  Out of my very quiet group, one student answered “finding a place to start”.  As an artist, I can’t even begin to describe how much I relate to that statement.  Very often, the hardest part of any creative venture, is finding an place to start, and being willing to start over if an idea is not working.

Teaching this class of reluctant eco-artists made me realize just how much value the creative process is for everyone.  The basic exercise of coming up with an idea (without any concrete starting point), and expanding on it, is valuable for virtually any field of study. Art has the added bonus of teaching problem solving and how to deal with frustration. How important is creativity and art?  Imagine every field of study possible, from medicine and science, to business and engineering.  Now imagine each of those fields with a complete lack of creativity.  How can a scientist or business leader come up with an original idea without experiencing the sometimes frustrating creative process?  Art is not frivolous, and it is important for all to get the experience of practicing art in some form, for the wonderful lessons it teaches us.  I think fondly of my eco-art students when I am sitting at my work table struggling with finding a place to start.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Room to Grow

    So we have landed in our new home, and I have started to settle in to my new studio and let my creative juices flow again.  I have noticed with the few designs I have created this year, that my look is starting to change. My once frilly, Victorian, steampunk designs have morphed into earthy, bohemian, tribal inspired pieces.  This has led to an urge to re-hash many of my older pieces into new designs.  I still love working with found objects and vintage pieces, I am just exploring different ways to use them. Time off from selling and doing shows has given me much needed room to grow, and reminded me that change can be good.  I love the peacefulness of a still pond in the morning, but without some good rain every now and again to stir things up, the water can get quite stagnant.  I find the streams and brooks much more interesting as they are always full of energy and change, even if they can get dangerous with too much rain.  Stagnancy is not a fantastic thing, so I am embracing the new ideas and styles, even it is vastly different than what I started out creating and I end up having to create a whole new display setup to match!  I would urge you all to give yourself room to grow. Learn something new, change your look, rethink long held opinions, challenge the idea that something always has to be done a certain way.  Stay out of the stagnant pond and take a dip in the flowing river.  I can't wait to see where it leads me!

Monday, April 20, 2015

How a Major Closet Purge Helped Me Learn About the Slow Fashion Movement

Hello all!  It has been quite a while since my last blog post!  The primary reason for this is our up-coming move to Northern New Jersey at the beginning of the summer.  If you have ever moved at anytime in your life, you know that moving requires some amount of purging.  Outgrown toys, old papers, books read long ago, and many other things we tend to collect all come under scrutiny when faced with having to box them up and move them.  I was spoiled in our current home, to have a large walk-in closet which of course, was packed with clothes.  The house we are moving to has rather small closets, so a closet purge was absolutely necessary, and as it turns out, a really good thing for what it taught me.  The clothes that came out of my closet were mostly thrift store purchases as I am an avid thrift store shopper.  Like most women who love clothes, I am a bargain hunter. Paying as little as possible for clothing seems to have become a badge of honor.  Women love to share how little they paid for their clothing when someone admires an outfit.  "love your outfit", "can you believe it? $10 from Goodwill!" or "can you believe it, $15 from the clearance rack at X store!"  I well known discount chain actually encourages us to "brag about it" in their slogan.  I have been one of those women bragging about how little I paid for my clothes. Should we all really be bragging about being such incredible cheapskates?  I am going to make a bold statement and say that no, we definitely should not. Shirts purchased for $3 and skirts for $7 filled bags that went right back to the charity shops.  Indeed, I did feel good that most of the clothing I purged from my closet was second hand, thus recycled to begin with, but I did not feel good about having so much clothes in my closet that only made me feel "meh".

My closet purge led me to a recently published book, entitled "Overdressed: the Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion" by Elizabeth Cline.  She discusses the growing issue of our over consumption and how clothing has declined in both price and quality.  Many of my thrift store purchases came from popular mall chain stores, and when I researched some of these brands (not being a mall shopper), I was shocked at some of the prices, not because they were high, but because they were so cheap. My "bargains" were not really bargains at all, and some of them cost not much less than I would have purchased them for if they were new. The fast fashion trend is a recent development in the clothing world.  Trendy clothing stores aimed at the budget strapped millennials offer cheap fashion at increasingly low prices and rotate their stock every few weeks, offering new styles constantly. Their goal is to have shoppers buy more, and buy often, as they make it easy for women to justify such cheap purchases.  Many of these clothes end up quickly cast aside to charity shops, who are having an increasingly hard time re-selling the mountains of poorly made clothing they receive.

The slow fashion movement (yes, this is a real thing you can google it!), embraces the same ideas as the popular "slow food" movement.  Just as we should be suspicious of a carton of  eggs that cost $1.50, so we should also be suspicious of a new dress that costs $15.  Sewing is a valued skill, and garment construction once resulted in well made clothing that would last years, not just a single season.  It is easy to wag our fingers at the retail giants, but really it is us consumers, and our unwillingness to pay more than $10 for a tank top and $50 for a dress, that have helped drive the fast fashion trend.  I see this mindset in people shopping for jewelry as well, and I see where it comes from.  One popular mall retailer advertised trendy jewelry for $6, or "two for $10!".  It's no wonder some people raise their eyebrows at a $50 necklace.  Having gone through bags of "junk jewelry" for salvageable pieces, I can tell you that most of this kind of jewelry ends up in the garbage. Here is the thing that we seem to fail to realize: when we fill our closets with cheaply made clothing and jewelry that don't make us feel great, we are not getting a good "steal". We are being stolen from.  Slow fashion is not about having a boring, drab wardrobe, nor is it about running out and replacing your closest with every thing artisan made-organic-sustainable-fair-trade. It is about having less clothing and being more mindful of our purchases.  It means being willing to pay more for something well made that will last.  Indeed, as I cleaned out my closet, I realized that the clothing I most valued came from independent seamstresses, artisans, designers, and boutiques.  This was clothing I did not purchase at a "brag-worthy" price, but really were purchases more worthy of bragging as they will remain in my closet for years to come.  Adding up all the "bargains" I ended up not feeling great about and I could have purchased some better quality pieces that I would hold onto. Buying non mass-produced clothing also has the added bonus of not being easily recognized as out of style.  In other words, it's nice to wear clothing that a million other people are not also wearing!  Many small changes are what help make big changes, and being more mindful of both our clothing and accessory purchases can help our planet, bring clothing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., and improve working conditions in both oversea and domestic factories.  Think twice the next time you are tempted by that great bargain!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Art of Friendship

     It has been a long time indeed since my last blog post (September!).  Since my last posting I have barely made any new jewelry, despite some of the ideas that keep floating around in my head.  The past few months have seen some stress in our family brought on by an upcoming move.  Instead of throwing myself into my work as I normally would this time of year, I found myself packing away many of my tools, and clearing out my studio in preparation for our relocation next year.  As excited as I am about our move and the new adventure that awaits, it is not easy to pick up and move to a new area, leaving behind connections and friendships I have made.  Life is not always a smooth ride, as everyone knows, and dealing with some hiccups teaches you invaluable lessons.  Some of the things I have learned from this and other periods of stress in my life are:

*exercise can be a great stress relief
* no matter how bad things seem, it could always be worse, and there are people who would gladly trade problems with you.
*happiness is a warm puppy (yes, I stole that from the peanuts cartoon).
*laughter can be the best medicine
*anger, resentment, regret, and bitterness, whether directed at a person, place, or circumstances beyond your control, are toxic emotions.  Don't let these things fester in your heart, as no good will ever come of it.  Try to show those may do you wrong forgiveness and compassion, instead of anger and hate.
*times of stress truly remind you of who really has your back and is there for you.
*and many other things too numerous to list......

    Occasionally through this period I have had a rare chance to pick up my tools and do a little creating.  To me, it just feels like re-connecting with an old friend.  Those friends you have who you can share a good laugh with no matter how much time has past. I am lucky to have such friends in my life and to have the person who is truly my best friend, my husband.  I may or may not be creating much, during the coming months, but I know it will always be there for me when I am ready.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Live With a Creative Person Part 3: Appreciating Stubborness

     One of the most astounding and honorable features of many creative types is the ability to try and fail, and try again.  To some people, this could very well look a heck of a lot like stubbornness and be very annoying.  Others will see in them a most admirable form of resilience that that should be regarded with a deep appreciation for the ability to overcome endless rejection and failure.  The truth is, creative types are stubborn, and that is a good thing.  Creative and artistic people possess ideas that they feel a deep desire to share with the world.  It comes in many forms, from visual and performing arts, to writers and business entrepreneurs.  To hold true to any vision means to experience rejection and failure over and over again.  In the plainest terms, it means a general lack of any kind of instant gratification.  In a culture where instant gratification is often valued, stubbornness about pursuing an artistic endeavor or business idea, can seen pointless to some.  There is always an easier way. Always. If you live with a creative person, count your blessings, because this person, more than likely, possesses the very noble trait of resiliency.  It is the type of resiliency that allows writers to deal with countless rejections from publishing companies, performing artists to be turned down at auditions and still come back to try again, and  business entrepreneurs to fail at their ideas and still find a way to pursue their vision.  As a jewelry artist, this resilience is what gives me the ability to wake at the crack of dawn, pack my car, set up my tent display, return home with disappointing sales, and still bounce back and try again.  I include creative business types in this discussion because I am married to one.  Although my husband is not an artist, he an astounding ability to think outside the box to come up with ideas to connect with communities, and help grow organizations.  He has faced resistance as well at times, but has vision, and therefore resilience. It is a trait I deeply admire in him.. Whether you choose to call it resilience or stubbornness, I say, honor it, because it is an awesome quality .  It is what has given me the ability to learn things like bellydance and hoop dance.  I have awkwardly bumbled through learning my 3/4 shimmy and various hoop moves, and come out scratching my head when I try to teach people who only say "I can't do it".  So give thanks to your own stubborn mule.  Mules, after all, are pretty cool animals.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to Live with a Creative Person Part 2: The Truth About Hoarding

     I must admit, I am not a big fan of the tend in reality shows.  I don't keep up with Honey Boo Boo, wealthy housewives that fight, or some family who created a fortune selling duck hunting tools.  I do however, have a weakness for the show "Hoarders".  I like to watch that show for the demented but very psychological reason that networks count on to makes these shows a hit: I watch it because it makes me feel better about my own hoarding tendencies.  I watch the people who don't have room to walk in their homes and think "well, at least I am not that bad!".  I do however, have to admit that I can relate somewhat to some of the cases on the show, minus the deep-rooted and sometimes severe psychological issues that always come up.  Take for instance, the show that featured the seamstress whose house was filled with fabric that she was going to use "someday".  I will freely admit to purchasing things that I will use "someday", but couldn't quite figure out what to do with it yet.  The above pictured necklace is the perfect example.  I purchased this beautiful mother-of-pearl equestrian pendant over a year ago at a flea market.  I has sat for that long until I finally found this little souvenir bracelet to pair with it.  Not every creative person is a supply hoarder, but many are.  There is just something about sitting down to create a piece of jewelry and having a bountiful array of tools, beads, findings and other materials at your disposal.  Not having that one little thing to make that you need to make that piece what you envision can be frustrating. I will probably always be a bit of a hoarder and my wonderful husband doesn't ever criticize me for it.  A great thing about being married so long is really being able to understand the other person and accept them for who they are.  He is the opposite of a pack rat.  He is a tosser.  Living with a tosser has helped me let go of things I haven't found a use for and balances out my hoarding tendencies.  Watching reality shows about extreme hoarders makes me realize I never want to be that seamstress with the house so full of fabric that it is a fire hazard.     So, if you live with a creative hoarder, be gentle and understand that they just want all the wonderful creative materials at their hands when they create.  If you have to clear a path in your home just to walk, perhaps it is time to have a chat with your partner, but otherwise, just leave them in peace with their creative clutter!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Live with a Creative Person Part 1: Understanding Creative Impulses

     Living with a creative person has its own joys and challenges, just ask anyone who has the privilege of doing so.  My husband and I are coming up on 17 years of marriage, which is a long time to figure out how the other person clicks.  Still, it takes a bit more delving into the artistic brain to really fully understand how we are wired.
     The first example is understanding the idea of creative impulses.  All artists have light bulb moments and also some form of writers block.  The latter can be frustrating.  Weeks can go by without feeling like I have one new creative idea.  The trouble with creative impulses is once you get them, you want to work on it RIGHT NOW!  This does a little to explain why dinner sometimes gets delayed in my house!  I have taken to writing ideas down when I get them, but to me, they always feel like delicate birds fluttering overhead and if I don't catch them they will fly away and never return.  The above pictured necklace was the result of one such creative impulse.  This one conveniently struck  let Thursday afternoon right before spring break.  Right before kids being home from school and a holiday road trip was when I finally had a new idea for how to incorporate these beautiful Victorian Buttons into a design I like.  If you are a creative person, you can probably relate to the crabbiness of having an idea and not being able to work on it RIGHT NOW!  If you are living with a creative person, this may explain to you the odd work hours they keep, stealing away a few hours on the weekend to work on something they needed to do RIGHT NOW!  So, be patient with your artist.  Understand that if he/she has cocooned into their studio or creative space, they are just trying to catch those fleeting creative impulses while they can!